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Posts from the ‘Indonesia’ Category

Bali’s Zero-Waste “Creative Village”

We all remember the last trip we took before coronavirus turned our world upside down. Going through hundreds of photos from the first week of March 2020, when I flew to Bali for a last-minute reporting assignment, brought on a pang of nostalgia. At first glance they seem to depict the Bali that was: a thriving tourist destination just weeks before face masks and social distancing became de rigueur, before Indonesia closed its borders and foreign visitor numbers dropped to zero. But, in a strangely comforting way, the pictures also offered a hopeful glimpse of the Bali that will be. Read more

Reviving Old Semarang

Barely a decade ago, the Old Town quarter of Semarang was a place best avoided after sundown. The former hub of trade and commerce in one of Indonesia’s greatest port cities had been slowly deteriorating since the seventies, as the ground sank and businesses decamped for areas less prone to tidal flooding. When darkness fell, its abandoned Dutch colonial buildings were taken over by squatters or used as places for prostitution. Unsuspecting visitors who walked the narrow, dimly-lit streets of the area would have rubbed shoulders with small-time criminals who made a living through extortion and common thievery. Read more

Tales from Ternate, the Clove-Scented Isle

Some time ago, I promised I’d write a post on one of my favorite places in all of Indonesia, an island that has remained well off the tourist trail in the five years since Bama and I set foot on its shores. The following entry – which may be the longest I’ve ever written at over 5,800 words – was compiled from my notes. This is the story of how we almost didn’t make it to Ternate, and of the fascinating things we saw and heard when we finally got there. Read more

Batujaya: A “Quack Escape” from Jakarta

Waking before dawn is about the last thing I want to do on a Saturday after a hectic work week, but the promise of going someplace new cannot be ignored. In my half-asleep state, it feels as though we are preparing to flag down a taxi to the airport for an early morning flight, except that this time we leave with no backpacks or suitcases: just our camera bags slung over our shoulders and two bottles of water. This admittedly crazy plan, hatched just the week before, was Bama’s idea. Neither him nor I had left the greater Jakarta area since early March, and we were eager to hit the road for a short excursion into the countryside of West Java. Our destination? A village called Batujaya, home to ancient red-brick temple ruins even older than Borobudur. Read more

An Ode to Opor

Food has enormous potential to connect and unite people, to cross the barriers of language, race, and creed. There is power in the simple act of sharing a meal with people whose backgrounds are different from your own. For what better way is there to understand a place than to meet the local people and eat their traditional cuisine? A shared interest in cooking is the basis of a special bond I have with Bama’s mother, who I call Auntie Dhani. “She loves seeing people enjoying her food,” Bama told me recently. “And no one appreciates it like you do.” Read more

Jakarta on the Weekend

I never thought I’d miss Jakarta’s notorious traffic jams, but this pandemic has turned an annoyance of life in the Indonesian capital into a strangely reassuring sign of normalcy. On one of our last outings before the city’s half-hearted lockdown began, Bama and I finally made it to a restaurant I’d raved about ever since attending a work event there several years ago. Read more

Flores: It Takes a Village

One thing I relish about travel is the fact that it turns our daily routines upside down; it jolts us out of our comfort zones and tends to flout the unwritten rules we live by. I realize this one bright Monday morning in Kampung Melo, a small mountain village on the Indonesian island of Flores. It turns out that any visit here must involve a welcome drink of sopi – a clear, colorless spirit distilled from the sap of the areng palm – in a shaded pavilion beside a small field. “If you don’t drink alcohol,” a spokesman says to our group, “just touch the glass.” Read more

Sleeping Dragons and a Stirring Town

Five years ago this June, Bama and I embarked on an unforgettable week-long adventure across the island of Flores. It remains one of my favorite corners of Indonesia not just for its astonishing natural beauty. Here, in a predominantly Muslim nation, the Catholic faith brought by Portuguese missionaries mingled with tribal traditions; the rugged landscape held megalithic villages that seemed nearly as old as time itself, perfectly formed volcanoes, and superb coffee made with local arabica beans grown in the mist-laden highlands. At the end of our journey lay Labuan Bajo, a sleepy fishing village turned tourism boomtown, where a glorious sunset bode well for an overnight cruise around the UNESCO-listed reefs and islands of Komodo National Park. Read more

Surviving Jakarta

At a recent dinner inside a five-star hotel fronting Jakarta’s most-photographed roundabout, hosted by a visiting uncle, an Emirati diplomat based in Hong Kong recounted her experience of a weekend traffic jam from a beauty parlor down south. “On the way here, the driver told me it would be another 15 minutes but it was really 45. I wanted to hang myself!” she half-jokingly declared. “How do you even live here?” Read more

An Afternoon at Ancol

Jakarta is not a beautiful place. Not, at least, in the conventional sense. No decent travel publication would describe this gridlocked, teeming megalopolis of 10 million people – or 28 million if you include the surrounding suburbs and smaller cities – as “picturesque”, “stunning”, or “postcard-perfect”. Unlucky commuters associate the Indonesian capital with unbearable, hours-long traffic jams; civil engineers proclaim it the fastest-sinking city on the planet; and environmentalists warn of Jakarta’s worsening air and plastic pollution. In short, it is not the kind of place most people would fly halfway around the world to see. Read more