“No,” Bart said forcefully, “Not here. The view isn’t the one I saw in my friend’s photo. We have to go further.”
On a grassy ridge at the top of Gunung Prahu, the mountain shaped like a boat’s hull, I was getting exasperated. “Close enough,” I thought. We’d pulled ourselves out of bed at one in the morning, as the rest of the village slumbered peacefully under the brightness of the full moon. Captivated by the rugged scenery around Dieng, a fertile basin in Central Java’s volcanic highlands, our group had unanimously agreed to a sunrise hike some two days earlier. By this time, on the cusp of dawn, I had grown so tired and miserable I almost didn’t care. Read more
Under the veil of darkness, I saw little more than a hulking presence that towered in the distance. Our flashlights illuminated small details along the path: heavily worn steps, the edges of a gateway, and then a bell-shaped, perforated stupa. I had arrived with Bama, my longtime travel companion, and fellow bloggers Bart and Badai. All of us were repeat visitors to Borobudur, but none had yet witnessed the glory of a new day from its terraces. Read more
Several years ago, while asleep in a bungalow not far from a beach in Lombok, Indonesia, I was rudely awakened by the shrill sound of a mosquito buzzing in my ear. Bama and I eventually killed the thing, but I couldn’t forget what it said to me that night: “Uaaaaaang.” For the mosquito had been speaking a language I half-understood. Uang, it turns out, is the Indonesian word for money.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015. Two weeks have elapsed since the end of Ramadan, and we are back in Indonesia, in the wilds of Baluran National Park. Bama and I are transfixed by the sight of deer and peacocks congregating in the shade just below our perch. We observe them in silence from a nondescript observation post, its concrete parapet and makeshift barriers of woven palm leaf enough to disguise us from the skittish animals. Read more
It isn’t long after daybreak when Bama and I find ourselves in a small slice of Europe. Across the tree-lined street, not yet spoiled by the din of motorcycle traffic, the painted copper dome of a church glints in the first rays of the morning sun. Around us rise noble structures in brick and stone, some crowned with the narrow, steep-sided gables of a country halfway across the world. Semarang has one of the best-preserved historic centres of any major city in Indonesia, and we are standing at its very heart. Read more
The hike to Kawah Ijen begins with a struggle. It is most likely the sulphurous fumes rising from the depths of the volcano, combined with the effects of little sleep. Bama tells me he doesn’t feel well – he is gripped by nausea. We limp along a trail of volcanic ash, taking refuge on the gnarled, low-slung branches and tree stumps beside the route.
Imagine an island seven degrees south of the equator, blessed with rich volcanic soil, where broad coastal plains rise to the hills and a chain of mystical 3,000-metre peaks. An island roughly the size of Greece, of sprawling cities, endless rice fields, and raw, otherworldly landscapes where you might find boiling lakes and plumes of steam billowing from the earth. This island is known as Java, and it is a food-lover’s paradise. Read more
If we only believe the sensationalism of Fox News, CNN America and other media outlets, Indonesia is the kind of country a lot of people might want to avoid. Historically, it has made world headlines for all the wrong reasons – plane crashes, violent protests, terrorist bombings and large-scale natural disasters. Read more
Overwhelmed. That is the feeling I get on arrival at the guesthouse on the outskirts of Banyuwangi. We have just finished a six and a half hour train ride from Surabaya, and the owner tells us we can get a better deal on a hike to Ijen if we decide to go that night – which means leaving at 1:00am. Read more
Indonesian TV stations these days have been peppering their news broadcasts with “suka-duka Idul Fitri”, a round-up of the positives (suka) and negatives (duka) over the long weekend. It has been a privilege to spend Idul Fitri, or Eid, with Bama’s family, and experience the celebrations firsthand. For me, the similarities between our home cultures have been brought into sharp focus – I now realise that this festival is a lot like Chinese New Year. Read more
Just before 5:30pm, we find ourselves in the middle of a restaurant packed with patrons. At the next table, more than 15 university students load up on white rice and a rich assortment of main dishes. Some stir their ice-cold drinks in anticipation of the coming feast. It is the perfect representation of a scene that my father described from the days before I was born, when my parents lived in Kuala Lumpur. Read more