Since my last post, I decided to take a 15 hour bus from Kuta, Bali to Yogyakarta, the cultural capital of Indonesia.
There I was lucky enough to hang out with some locals from CouchSurfing who showed me around and told me more about their city, their country, their cultures, etc. They happened to be Muslim, and I was very curious and they obliging, so we shared great conversations about Islam and Christianity and their personal beliefs and their religion´s beliefs regarding love, relationships, homosexuality and gender roles
I hoped my questions didn´t bother them, but I was really curious as one of them was a gay Muslim guy so I was intrigued of how he felt about his faith and how he thought his faith felt about him. I was also very curious about and was asking his female friend how she felt about her gender and her faith and vice versa.
While in Yogyakarta I also went on a sunrise tour to see the sun come up on a mountain near the temples of Borobodur and Prambanan, pictures and information below.
In Yogyakarta I went to visit the Borobodur Temple. The World’s Largest Buddhist Temple from the 9th Century. As Wikipedia says: It consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa. It is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, as well as one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. It was very beautiful and impressive and overlooks some beautiful vegetation.
I also went to see the Prambanan Temple, below, it is the biggest Hindu temple site in Indonesia and is from the 9th Century.
I then took a van 12 hours to the east of the Island of Java to visit Mount Bromo. An active volcano that is named after Brahma, the Hindu creator god. I went to see the sunrise from a mountain that overlooks the Bromo volcano and it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life. The pictures and video don’t do it justice, but will give you and idea of what it was like.
This was actually the inside of the volcano as seen from the edges around the crater. The smoke that came out had a strong smell of sulfur.
When I came down from Mt. Bromo and was having breakfast with some locals, a woman approached and they yelled out “Catalina!” I was surprised to hear this Spanish sounding name so I asked her where she was from and she told me Colombia I jumped up in delight. It was my first Colombian sighting in Indonesia. I learned she has been living in the US for the last 20 years and is on a similar trip to mine. We exchanged contact info and then actually met up weeks later to travel together.
I then decided to go to Sumatra. The biggest island on the west of Indonesia, which is an island full of intense beauty and excitement.
It is famous for its earthquakes, tsunamis, has great surfing, is full of jungles with orangutans, tigers, rhinos and is full of active volcanoes (including one, Sinabung, that erupted 150 Kilometers away while I was in Lake Toba and it actually woke me up in the middle of the night as I thought it was an earthquake as my bed was shaking), etc…
Medan is the biggest city in Sumatra. Below some images from the biggest mosque there, Masjid Raya Medan. It was my first time at a Mosque and it was beautiful to see the Mosque from the inside and outside and be able to quietly sit and meditate and observe people praying.
I met up with my friend Catalina, (whom I had met below Mt. Bromo) in Medan. When she arrived at the airport met a local woman that ended up inviting her to stay with her and her family. I was lucky enough that they picked me up the next day with Catalina and invited us to have lunch at a local place. It was a beautiful experience because you don’t use utensils, but use your hands to eat and we had great conversation about our countries and cultures and food. Ahmad and Fitri were very kind and on top of it they didn’t allow us to pay for our food, and then took us to find our bus to Bukit Lawang.
On a side note, I have very much enjoyed the way in Indonesia often you sit on mats on the floor, eat with your hands when you want to (I think its nice to do as the locals), and drink warm or iced tea and have a large array of street food dishes to choose from.
Lake Toba is the site of a massive super volcanic eruption estimated that occurred 69,000 to 77,000 years ago, (Wikipedia)representing a climate-changing event. It is the largest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years. According to the Toba catastrophe theory, it had global consequences for human populations: it killed most humans living at that time and is believed to have created a population bottleneck in central east Africa and India, which affects the genetic make up of the human world-wide population to the present.
It has been accepted that the eruption of Toba led to a volcanic winter with a worldwide decrease in temperature between 3 to 5 °C (5.4 to 9.0 °F), and up to 15 °C (27 °F) in higher latitudes. Additional studies in Lake Malawi in East Africa show significant amounts of ash being deposited from the Toba eruptions, even at that great distance.
I stayed on the island in the center of Lake Toba, Samosir, in a town called Tuktuk. Toba and Samosir are home to the Batak people, Christian people who have a history of cannibalism that was allegedly witnessed by Marco Polo. Samosir and Lake Toba were incredibly beautiful and peaceful and is full of interesting Batak structures like the houses with dramatic roof shapes.
Some noodles and Roti pancake I bought from people who would get on the public bus to sell food on the way to Lake Toba. Out of hunger, boredom and adventure I have become keen on buying the food they are offering on public transport, which many times I don’t even know what I’m buying until I open it/unwrap it, etc…
Charlotte and Marion from France who I traveled with for a few days and practiced a bit of french.
These beautiful designs in white, black and red are often seen around Samosir and are typical in Batak houses and design are believed to ward off evil spirits.
Description of Luwak Coffee that you should read. I finally tried and liked. Amazing story of how the indigenous people´s curiosity and desire to try the coffee led them to find this amazing way to enjoy it.
I’m no coffee buff, but I actually liked it.
We visited this archeological site where the Batak people would have trials and beheadings in some cases. There were some beautiful sculptures and figures.
I then went to Bukit Lawang , a small village at the bank of the Bahorok River in North Sumatra , and it is known for the largest animal sanctuary of Sumatran orangutan, where there was a rehabilitation center for orangutans founded in 1973. The main purpose is to preserve the decreasing number of orangutan population due to hunting, trading and deforestation.
One of the reasons for this deforestation is the chopping down of native vegetation to make way for the planting and production of Palm Oil. Palm oil is used from biofuel to cosmetics to food products.
While biofuels are a positive thing, chopping diverse vegetation that is home to many species, including Orangutans, to plant only biofuel, is devastating to the biodiversity. Here is a video I coincidentally came across after my visit that is worth a look to see how our consumption can impact these species:
Bukit Lawang is also the main access point to the Gunung Leuser National Park, where I went to do a 2 day trek in the jungle with my friend Catalina, Roel from Holland, Marta from Hungary and some others that were in our group and we were lucky enough to see several Macaque monkeys, a few Thomas Leaf monkeys, Gibbon Monkeys (we actually saw 2 having sex hanging from vines!) and a few amazing Orangutans.
The highlight was being able to see orangutans from up close on our hikes. I have never been in the presence of something so human-like. Looking into their eyes and watching them make the exact same expressions we make and it is evident that they are no different from us in many respects. We also swam in the river and climbed up several waterfalls and saw some spectacular nature. It was a truly beautiful experience. Unfortunately I didn’t take my big camera and the “side weapon” small camera came up short, but I do have some images to go with the memories.
And to set the tone for oraguntans, here is a blast from the past, that was always playing in my head during the hike:
I know that looks a little freaky, but lovely species!
I then took an overnight bus to Banda Aceh, a city on the northern tip of Indonesia that is most recently famous for being the epicenter of the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004. It suffered great damage in the earthquake and further damage when a tsunami struck shortly afterwards. 167,000 people died as a result and many more were injured (Wikipedia).
Banda Aceh is also the only place in Indonesia where they observe the strict Islamic Sharia Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia )
On a more positive note, the aftermath of the tsunami has seen the cessation of much of the religious conflict that was taking place in the city and province.
From there we took a ferry to Pulau Weh, a spectacular island I loved, that is the on the north western tip of Sumatra and Indonesia and is famous for it’s amazing waters for snorkeling and diving. Sadly it is said to have lost a lot of its amazing coral and biodiversity, in the 2004 Tsunami but I was lucky enough to do 2 dives there which were beautiful (it is very affordable here), and I was blessed and find myself staying with good people on at a very special place. Staying at ocean front bungalows with spectacular views of the beautifully colored water. And the price for these magical place bungalows were $5 dollars a night! (I shared so $2.50 😉 It was a very beautiful place that I almost didn’t leave, or want to…
That’s actually tea by some guitar playing and good company.
As my visa was expiring and I was in between extending my stay in Indonesia or move on to another country I opted for the latter as I feel like Indonesia is so big that it deserves another visit some other time to see Borneo, Sulawesi and especially Papua that might keep me another 3 months just to see. So I decided to go back to Jakarta to request a visa to go to the south of Thailand (I had the chance to go to the North a few years ago).
While in Jakarta I was lucky enough that Tisa, my host on Couchsurfing the first time received me again while my visa processed and she was kind enough to take me around to see a rather large “theme park” outside of Jakarta that has a city block size replica of the different islands and regions of Indonesia, with the architecture on these islands looks like, what the people wear and exhibits displaying and explaining the particular culture of these islands.
This was nice to have an idea of the places I wasn’t able to visit or to learn more about the places I did visit. My Dutch friend Roel also passed through Jakarta while I was there and we explored a bit of the city and the the grand Mosque with him as well as the National Museum which was pretty impressive and informative!
Istiqlal Mosque, or Masjid Istiqlal, (Independence Mosque) in Jakarta is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. It was built to commemorate Indonesian independence (from the Dutch) and named “Istiqlal”, an Arabic word for “independence”. The mosque was opened to the public 22 February 1978. It is beautiful, massive and has a capacity for 120,000 worshippers! A kind man gave us a tour and explained and answered all our questions.
This beautiful girl was the daughter of the vendor who sold us our lunch as we sat on one of these mats they have around cities for eating that sometimes are on the sidewalk. This one was on a little piece of dirt near the grand mosque and national monument. Roel and I had some very cheap and tasty food.
Sadly this was the end of this Indonesia chapter for me.
I would love to return and explore more than anything Papua, as the images I saw from this region look like it is the most “wild and undiscovered”, and sadly because of this lack of infrastructure and tourism, getting there is supposed to cost almost a thousand dollars which wasn’t an option for me right now on a long term trip.
I highly recommend you visit Indonesia. It is beautiful and a fascinating mix of so many things with so much diversity and different and distinct ethnic cultures and even languages (more than 700) from all of the different islands of the Indonesia archipelago that is composed of 17,000 islands. It has historically been an important country within trade throughout Asia and is the world’s fourth most populated country with an estimated total population of over 252 million people.
It is also considered the world’s most populated Muslim country with 87% of the people identifying themselves as Muslim. This was special for me as it was the first Muslim country I have been to and it was very interesting to see the Mosques, see the praying, hear the sounds of the calls to prayers, and to be on the end of generosity of some amazingly friendly and generous people. I was lucky enough to see a little bit of the celebration of the holy month of Ramadan where people fast, or don’t eat or drink anything from sun up to sun down, which is impressive anywhere, especially in the heat. I was curious and fasted one day and it was a tough yet rewarding. It made me be really grateful to be able to have the luxury of almost always being able to eat and drink something when I want to. This is something that I think all of us take for granted and it is a great exercise to do to fully comprehend how lucky we are. When I got to break my fast. (Tisa was supportive and we went for a 6pm-ish dinner which is quite early for dinner for me).
The food in Indonesia was good with their being lots of great noodles and rices and seafood and dishes like Gado-Gado a spicy peanut curry type sauce on fresh veggies.
A Masadan Padang place from the inside, that has the different dishes on display at the window and you come in and choose what you want. It was interesting to see that during Ramadan they had a sheet covering the window so as not to cruelly tempt people fasting.
Here in this picture you can see on the top plate something very common in Indonesia, Tempe, which is made of soy. And below from left to right is some fried eggplant and rice, in the middle some veggies in sauce, and on the right I believe that was some squid.
In this picture you can see some rice and egg and kale
that I would often get something like this at the Masakan Padang
shops, which were like buffets where you go and choose from some options of ready made food to eat.
Here is a meal from a stand I went to many times in Kuta
where I would get fried noodles with veggies and a side of rice and iced tea of course. It was tasty, cheap, and I always met curious locals who would talk to me so it was great.
I am also going to miss being able to communicate as much as I could in Indonesia as I learned quite a bit and people were often surprised
with how much I had learned of Bahasa, the official language for the 2 months I was there. But it was so nice to be able to say as much as I could and be able to negotiate and haggle prices knowing the language, and more importantly connect with people.
As for my top recommendations:
1. Go to and explore around Komodo Island on a boat. There are some boats the leave from different points of Indonesia to Labuan Bajo, the closest city from where exploration takes place of Komodo Island and natural park. The amazing biodiversity and nature you will see around there and in the water for snorkeling and diving is amazing. Spectacular landscapes and views of gorgeous mountains coming out of beautifully colored waters full of underground magic of vibrant corals, fish and marine life, like turtles, manta rays, and small sharks, and fish of every vibrant color. While you’re on the island of Flores where Labuan Bajo, lies explore it towards the east and visit indigenous villages with beautiful customs and cultures.
2. Resist the temptation of Bali. While it is a pretty special place for its Balinese culture of everything looking a temple, it is full of people (the most touristic place I have ever encountered after a lot of travel) and more expensive prices and less adventurous things to do.
But if you go, I hear Amed beach is beautiful which I didn’t make it to.
3. Go to Kuta on the island of Lombok (not Kuta Bali unless you just want to party and surf), I missed out on this and everyone spoke highly about this place for being beautiful and chilled out.
4. Go to Sumatra and hike in the jungles of Gunung Leuser National park like at Bukit Lawang or Ketambe and see Orangutans, Gibbons and depending how into the jungle you go you can see wild tigers and even Rhinos. Also on Sumatra see Lake Toba, preferably on the island of Samosir, and go up north to the amazing island of Pulau Weh. Sumatra is a good alternative to going to Indonesian Borneo which is more famous for the Orangutans, while Sumatra also has the Orangutans and a lot of other amazing things and is less visited and even cheaper.
5. Climb volcanoes. At least one. Be it an easy one like Mount Bromo on the island of Java which you can watch the sunrise at and is spectacular. Or a more difficult one like Mount Rinjani on Lombok that will be difficult, but will reward you with some of the most beautiful views you will see. Or go see Mount Semeru in Java that erupts almost every half hour. Treat yourself to the Gili Islands (Air, Trawagan or Menor), off of Lombok after your volcano.
Going to Australia Next!?
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