Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In and Out of Indonesia

Country Summary with Ange

Frankly, we spent basically all of our time in Indonesia in Bali and Lombok. We were only in the country for about two weeks and one week of that was in a mountain or partying in Gili T. Indonesia, like the Philippines, is spread out over thousands of islands, so it requires months to actually get a feel for the whole thing. I would love to come back but with a couple of months and a bit of a base in Bahasa.

The people were so welcoming and kind. There is less English than the Philippines but lots of smiling, gesturing and passing back and forth of calculators for bargaining facilitated a pretty easy trip. And we were primarily in touristy areas so there was a basic level of English in a lot of cases.

Indonesia is also the most populous Muslim country in the world. On Gili T, which is a party island full of tourists, we elected to dress modestly (shoulders and legs to our knees covered) except when in the water at the beach. We were definitely the only foreign women with covered shoulders that I saw those four days and I'm happy with that decision. It was a topic of conversation throughout our time in Indonesia. Our friend Bianca, who we met on Rinjani, had been in Indonesia for nearly two months and speaks basic Bahasa. She told us how much the women she has met hate the tourist areas, in part because of this lack of modesty. I think there is a huge lack of awareness among tourists. Or, as one Australian expressed to me, the attitude that since these communities make money off tourists, they've already sold out; they should expect that kind of behaviour and deserve it. We beg to differ.

1 word/sentence: Intense awesomeness of the views, body of the coffee, spice in the food, beauty of the art and architecture, energy of the dances and ferocity of commerce/bargaining.

Major 5 sites in order of appearance in life:
  • Mount Rinjani: Totally worth it if you are in shape, low maintenance and like a challenge.
  • Gili T: Paradise. We had a fantastic nearly 5 days to laze on the beach, drink Bintang beer and meet really cool people from all over the world -the UK, Australia, Indonesia, the US, Sweden, the Netherlands...the list goes on. Beautiful clear water and white beaches with mountain views -it was just unreal. I saw the most beautiful sunrise of my entire life on the beach, thousands of stars at night and biked with T (and our roomie Alison -holla!) across the island to watch the sunset.
  • Ubud: The culture capital of Indonesia. Over-priced and a little touristy but with beautiful art everywhere, even at the cheapest hotel we could find. We watched a fire dance, bought art, jewelry and souvenirs and went to the Neka Art Museum. The Besakih Temple was a highlight: colourful, extensive and BIG!
  • Sanur: Nicknamed “Snore”, I thought it would be the perfect place to kick back and get started on lots of serious writing. There was no inspiration in Sanur, only overpriced everything, hotels with no personality and lots tourists everywhere. I resolved as soon as I checked into the hotel that I would leave the next day and seek inspiration in Malaysia or Thailand. I had a delicious and fairly priced Bali coffee on the beach in the morning, hiding from a brief thunderstorm, and played with some children. I thought, after a glorious final swim in Indonesia, that maybe I could stay a bit longer and get some writing done. And then a large Indonesian man in a speedo began to stretch on the beach.
  • Kuta: Where Ania and T learned how to surf! Touristy and expensive but lots of fun to check out on motorbikes.

Food for Thought with T

Indonesian food brought new flavours to our palates. Often consisting of rice with random vegetable and meat options, the food offered little variety in terms of dishes, but many options within those few popular plates. Indonesians also turned up the spice! Most things were cooked with chilies and often topped with extra sauce to take the heat up another notch. Where rice and spices may fall short for some, the sweets definitely delivered. Pastries, juicy fruits, and sweet renditions of salty snacks offered great relief from the burning sensation of most traditional dishes.

  1. Nasi Campur – Rice topped with a variety of vegetable and meat concoctions
  2. Banana Pancakes - a mushy thick crepe with bananas cooked into it. Sounds gross, but is actually quite tasty.
  3. Tea/Coffee – The best coffee in the world, alongside plenty of hot tea to keep us warm during our 3 day trek up Mount Rinjani.
  4. Sugar Crackers – Sugar coated salty crackers. The name kind of says it all. They are super delicious and necessary after a half day of trekking in the rain.
  5. Snake Fruit – A dark purple fruit with a semi pear consistency and slight grape flavour in the shape of a giant Hershey Kiss.
  6. Surprise Bread Loaf – A sweet loaf of bread divided into 4 sections, each of which reveals a surprise flavour. Some of the ones we encountered were strawberry, blueberry, raisin, chocolate, cheese, and vanilla pudding.

Overheard on the Radio by T

While Indonesia doesn't find the same joy in top 40 hits as the Philippines, there was one artist who thrived regardless. Yes, Justin Bieber. But besides the odd Bieber leak, Indonesia surprised us by bringing back some classics. And where Western music was not present, the strong Bollywood presence offered some interesting variety.
  1. Justin Bieber – Yes, the Bieber fever continues to infect the Asian continent
  2. The Offspring – Who brought the 90s back? Indonesians.
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers – A fresh surprise.
  4. Indian music – Locals love Indian songs and Bollywood films, so Indian music plays a large role in traditional music. *Ange's addition: guide Abdul explained to me that there isn't really much in the way of Indonesian entertainment. Western movies are too complicated for people to watch, as many are not literate enough to follow subtitles. Hindi cinema, however, has such simple plots and entertaining song and dance sequences that the movies are thoroughly entertaining whether of not you can understand the dialogue!
Coming up next, our journeys out of Indonesia: Ange's backpacker rites of passage and Ania and T's adventures through Singapore and Malaysia. 

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