I am back from Indonesia where I spent a week together with other fabulous travel bloggers on a famil trip sponsored by the Indonesian Tourism Authority.
It was an exciting trip beyond Bali and away from the beaten path: We swam with manta rays in the Komodo National Park, and we stared with racing hearts into the dry forests of Komodo Island to make out the dragons that live there. We ate grilled fish with the locals at a street vendor in Labuan Bajo, and we haggled with children who sold us sweet pineapples on a beach in Lombok. We bathed in ice cold waterfalls, and we dressed in traditional sarongs in Sade Traditional Village. In short: we were spoiled with unrivalled insights into the many faces of the Indonesian culture.
Normally, I would post my leftover photos at the very end of a series of posts that would cover a given destination. But in this case I decided to turn things around and start with the leftover photos first. These are, by the way, photos that are too good to discard but not suitable to be featured in a full blog post (it has become sort of a tradition for the blog now; check out my leftover photos of Fiji and Paris, too!).
I am sure they will give you a first glimpse into our adventures, but they should also give you a patchwork collection of information and inspiration about Indonesia. Expect more to follow over the next couple of weeks – have you subscribed to the newsletter yet? The form is on the bottom of this post!
A taste of Balinese Hinduism
I found this little note pinned to the front of building in a woodcarver’s compound in Bali. It must be some kind of Hindu blessing and is just one of the many examples of how you can see this religion reflected around the island. Next time you visit, have a look around – you may notice little trays made of leaves in some corners of businesses and even in the taxis, filled with offerings of flowers and food. The idea is to request a blessing by the Gods for the day’s undertakings and work.
Bali is the only coherent stronghold of Hindu faith in Indonesia which is otherwise dominated by a moderate Islam. Here and there you will also find hints of animist and ancestor cults in Indonesia, in particular in traditional and remote villages.
I find Hinduism a rather attractive and pretty religion. Just look at the famous Bali temples around the island, three of which will be frequented at the very least by each faithful, depending on family background, profession and location. Or check out the incredibly dramatic statue compositions in the major roundabouts in the south of the island which are enormous in size and absolutely terrific.
I think it’s one of the main reasons why Bali is such an outstanding tourist destination within the Indonesian archipelago. The flowery decorations and compelling stories make for a fascinating travel destination.
The Snake Skin Fruit
I always get excited like a child when I find a new food that I have never heard of before. At a coffee plantation I got introduced to the snake skin fruit, also known as salak. It’s the dark skinned fruit in the picture above, and its name comes obviously from the fact that the hard skin resembles that of the scaly skin of a snake.
To open it you just need to use your fingernails, and the hard skin will easily give way to the flesh, not unlike peeling a lychee. Inside, the fruit looks a bit like a cross between a lychee and a garlic bulb, with three lobes making up the fruit. Up to all three of the lobes will hold the brown, polished seed.
We found the flesh of the snake fruit tart and fibrous and rather dry after the initial bite. I realise this doesn’t sound very appealing but in fact the snake fruit is a great snack fruit and will travel happily in your pocket without risk of getting crushed or spoilt along the way. I really warmed up to it over time and if I were ever to find it in an Aussie supermarket I would take some home with me.
Regardless of whether you like salak or not, isn’t it great how travel can still make us try new and exciting foods?
Mount Batur: eye to eye with an active volcano in Bali
Instead of climbing the old lady ourselves, we were transported to a lookout in Kintamani to enjoy the views of the majestic Mount Batur in Bali. This is an active volcano, and while it hasn’t erupted with full force since the 1960’s the people here are very aware that this volcano has a lot of destructive potential. The dark areas that you can see in the pictures above are the lava fields that were the result of that last fatal eruption.
Standing on our lookout we were greeted by a flock of “seagulls” – another typical Indonesian phenomenon. These are the street hawkers selling you souvenirs, sarongs and food in the most obtrusive way possible, armed with little toddlers strapped to backs and chests, and loaded with their merchandise which they pile on top of their heads and all around their bodies. Mind you, these people only want to make a living, and they were not pulling our sleeves or trying to scam us, yet a simple “no” wouldn’t keep them away while we were trying to take in the views and take our pictures. And all of this in a spot that had been selected for us specifically because there were less vendors than the first one where we would have probably felt more like falling into a shark tank.
Never mind, that’s all part of the experience, and I am more angry at people that take my wallet which is far more likely to happen in a civilised European country than in the Balinese highlands.
But let’s divert our attention back to Mount Batur: The caldera of this volcano is part of the UNESCO Global Geopark Network and is becoming increasingly popular as a hiking destination. Views and scenery from here are wonderful, and viewing the sunrise from top of the mountain is the highlight for many adventurous Bali visitors. So next time you are in Bali you might want to check this out!
I read the other day that Lombok has been hailed as the next new Bali for the last 25 years or so. And yes, this is exactly what we have been told by the tour guide when we were visiting the island. Indonesia has great plans for this island in terms of tourism, but it is still woefully behind the offerings of the more famous Bali Island.
What a shame, for when you look at the pictures above you can see that Lombok is boasting some outstanding natural beauty. It is the perfect location for tourists who want to see the “real” Indonesia rather than the overdeveloped tourist centres. There are some really dreamy beaches to be found here, and if you need even more remoteness and exclusivity check out the outlying smaller islands called “Gili islands” which are popular with budget travellers in particular.
Welcome to the tropics!
Indonesia is a hot country, and when I say hot I want you to imagine that you stick your head in a hot oven while drinking a bowl of soup. Take this and multiply this by ten, and you get the kind of heat that creeps up on you the second your leave your air-conditioned hotel room in the morning. Ten steps more and you are sweaty under your arms, finish breakfast and you need to have another shower. Expects days with a t-shirt wet with sweat sticking to your back, with fingers that are sticky from suncream, and a sun that seems to sizzle your brain.
Yes, that’s how hot it is, and there is no relief, not even at night or in the early morning hours.
Why am I telling you this? Because the picture above was taken only two hours after a torrential rain shower which surprised the whole touring group in the middle of the jungle. It is a reminder and a warning that Indonesia is a tropical country with only two seasons: the dry season and the wet season. There is no winter here, there is just the abundance and the absence of rain. And when the rain comes, it comes in buckets.
So be prepared for heavy rain, in particular but not exclusively when travelling in the wet season. And be also prepared for hot temperatures all day long. Wear loose cotton clothes and make sure you cater for multiple clothes changes during the day. Protect yourself from the sun with shades, suncream and a hat. Measure your pace and stay out of the worst heat as much as possible. Drink plenty of water.
It’s the perfect temperature for when all you want to do is lazing around the pool with the occasional dip, but it’s way too hot for much else including sightseeing, shopping, eating, sleeping, hiking, etc. It’s not that I want to discourage you to visit but please take your time and go slow.
The perfect sunset
Holidays are great to capture the most magnificent sunsets, and vacationing in Indonesia will give you plenty of opportunity to take in the vibrant colours of a marvellous beach sunset. This one here was taken at the Holiday Resort in Lombok which I will make sure to review in a later post.
Horse Carriages in Kuta, Lombok
Many developing countries still have a long way to go when it comes to a humane treatment of animals, in particular in Southeast Asia, and I have read countless comments on the internet that it’s no different when it comes to animal treatment in Indonesia.
These little horse carriages were everywhere around Kuta Town in Lombok, and I think in general it’s a great idea to use horses for short distances rather than motorbikes or cars. Less pollution, less noise, more romance. But all of this needs to happen in a way that the animals don’t suffer, and I hope that this quite ingenious transport option can be developed into a key tourist activity one day that people can use with pride and a good conscience.
And the prize for best airline food goes to….
During our week in Indonesia we flew four times on domestic routes, making extensive use of the national Indonesian airline Garuda. Always a surprisingly hassle-free and comfortable experience, no matter whether we were sitting in a propeller plane or a bigger jet.
Our plane food usually was nothing exciting to write home about: usually a sweet roll filled with a sausage or similar, and a piece of brightly coloured cake.
But on this one flight we were all surprised by something that can only be described as a phallic coconut lolly wrapped in young coconut leaf. This little beauty (which by the way wobbles beautifully once wrapped out of its leaf) is an Indonesian delicacy called kue clorot. On the inside you will find glutinous rice flour sweetened with coconut sugar which has been steamed until cooked.
Which brings me back to the snake skin fruit and wonderful ways we encounter new foods when travelling.
Flying over the Komodo National Park
Since Indonesia is an archipelago, travelling from one place to another might involve booking some form of transport. Many people will make use of the ferries that connect the islands quite conveniently. However, if you do have the budget don’t hesitate to book flights to destinations such as Lombok or Komodo.
We took four domestic flights in Indonesia, and never once were we disappointed by the views. Flying to Flores, which is the island with the brand-new airport serving the Komodo National Park, is incredibly scenic and beautiful, in particular if you are sitting in a smaller propeller plane which cruises rather at a rather low height above the islands.
The volcanic landscape of the archipelago with the sugar hat peaks and shallow reefs, the green jungles and the dry highlands, all of this is simply spectacular to watch from above. There really is no need to book another scenic flight once you have landed in Flores, it’s all been served on a silver platter right on arrival.
The faces of Indonesia
Look at these cheeky monkeys! We found them in front of the supermarket late at night, hanging out and playing with balloons. Not just the kids but everyone in Indonesia was extremely welcoming and friendly which made our time in the country so special.
Not sure exactly what these boys were doing with their fingers there but we all had the suspicion that they were showing us some naughty gestures. Good fun!
Street Food in Labuan Bajo
The fishing town of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores really touched my heart. It’s a tiny little place with a small port, a fishing fleet and a sizeable navy of tourist boats that will take you to the nearby diving grounds and the wonders of the Komodo National Park. For us it was the departure and arrival port for our trip to Komodo.
After our return we celebrated our last night in this little town enjoying some amazing street food right by the harbour. You wouldn’t find fresher fish anywhere in the world, it was literally taken from the very waters where the kitchen was set up next to. The makeshift restaurant occupied the kerb on the harbour promenade and served up fish and seafood grilled over hot coals, matched with cool beers.
Of course you would want to adjust your expectations when it comes to hygiene and comfort (no air-conditioning under the stars, and it’s quite hot next to the fire, too!), but as a general rule of thumb, and this applies to any destination you might travel to, if the locals eat here the food must be good.
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