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INDONESIA

Report: a car trip through Java and Bali, meeting indigenous people and breathtaking views
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INDONESIA: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Here below some of the most fascinating photos from Indonesia. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/indonesia.htm.

Bromo Volcano
Bromo Volcano

INDONESIA TRIP REPORT AND PHOTOS

As a kid, looking at the Indonesian archipelago on the globe, I was fascinated by that vast array of strangely shaped islands and islets, randomly placed between Indian and Pacific Ocean. I wondered how many wonders those lands enclosed… At least 42.
Therefore, organizing a trip to Indonesia must address this philosophical dilemma: which islands should you visit? (Unless you have six months of holidays – damn!). Bali and Lombok, the most tourist-friendly? Java, the most populated? The wild Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi?
Since we were five guys going and it's never easy to get everyone to agree, not to mention that the trip was organized in a month, we based our decisions on random improvisation. For example, even though our destination was Indonesia, we booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as flights to Indonesia were too expensive. Then, from "KL" we planned to reach Singapore and, from there, Java and Bali thanks to the excellent low-cost carrier Air Asia.

In Kuala Lumpur we found confusion, cheap Asian food and a mix of poverty and flashy modernity. We sneaked into a Buddhist temple where we attended a ceremony held by a bare-chested man wearing a tight yellow pareo. It was probably the most fashionable trend of Buddhist summer. It was interesting to hear those songs and follow those rituals, but of course we didn’t understand anything.
Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur - The capital of Malaysia is full of markets, skyscrapers, temples and contraddictions.
Kuala Lumpur hit us also for its sultry heat, that at some point knocked out all of us in a green common in the city center. We were in one of the main squares of KL. Its four sides featured respectively skyscrapers, colonial buildings, typical Malaysian architecture and a sort of Swiss chalet. I believe that the town plan had been written by a seasoned drunkard.
Then we walked through a city park - actually it was a small jungle. We reached the Menara Tower and its panoramic terrace, 276 meters high, from which we could admire the skyscrapers of the city, including the famous Petronas Towers.
In the late afternoon we drove to the typical vibrant markets, which in the evening became the heaven of cheap food. We had dinner in an ill-famed place, run by a proud opponent of hygiene, where there was a buffet with meat, vegetables and some colored, unidentified stuff. It wasn’t too bad, considering that we spent a couple of euros each.
The next day we took the train to get to KL long haul bus station, that was out of town (a little inexplicably). From here we went to Singapore: a six-hour bus trip plus the time spent to go through customs.
We arrived at sunset and Singapore City immediately stunned us, with its shiny and shameless modernity.
Singapore
Singapore - A modern, lively city.
We reached the town center and looked for a hostel. Surprisingly, everything was full. Since we were travelling on a budget, but we didn’t want to sleep under a bridge, in the end we took two rooms in a shady motel run by an alien enthusiast. He was a crazy, but nice man, who initially thought that we were eager to have a gay orgy, as its typical customers did. But we weren't: strangely enough we simply wanted to sleep. Then the man explained us that extraterrestrials would save the world. We nodded. The two rooms were in very poor conditions (they really needed a help from the sky).
It was quite late when we went out for a quick dinner. Then we headed to Clarke Quay, one of the most vibrant areas of the city. It was located along the Singapore River and it made a beautiful sight: the lights of the bars on the riverside and those of the skyscrapers were reflected by the water in a myriad of colors. There were nice pubs and a joyous atmosphere. There was no shortage of tourists, some of whom were Italian.
The next day we followed the Singapore River up to Marina Bay, a natural harbour surrounded by a jungle of skyscrapers that create one of the most spectacular skylines in the world. It was a nice walk under an acceptably hot sun. On one side of the bay stood the Marina Bay Sands, a skyscraper composed by three towers connected at the top by a huge structure shaped like a ship. On the roof there were infinity pools and a bar that provided a truly unique viewpoint. We went up to the roof and we visited the areas open to all tourists; then we sneaked between the swimming pools, an area reserved to the guests of the hotel. We dove in a hot tub with a view over the world, but we were soon driven out with severity.
Singapore Marina Bay
Singapore Marina Bay - Marina Sands skyscraper is the weirdest of all.
Once we left the skyscraper we hailed a taxi that brought us to Ski 360 Degree, a cable-wakeboarding (waterskiing on a board) park. It was a sort of circular skilift in a water basin: the wakeboarders had to hold to a handle pulled by a rope that carried them around the lake, making them glide above the water and allowing the practice of stunts and jumps. Well, stunts were for the most talented: we tried the wake-skate (skateboard on the water) and we had a lot of fun, but we didn’t dare jumping or doing other strange stuff. Not drowning in that warm and slightly putrid water was good enough.
We returned later to Marina Bay, which at sunset, in the area of ​​the Esplanade, became a lively place with restaurants, bars and music. After an excellent dinner at a Thai restaurant we listened to the music played by some young rock bands on a spectacular open-air stage. They mostly played covers of famous classic rock songs. Behind them, there were illuminated skyscrapers and coloured light reflections on the water surface.
Singapore
Singapore skyline - Besides the view, live concerts and restaurants make Marina Bay a perfect night destination.
Even if Marina Bay buildings and music mock western countries, in Singapore there are also traditional Asian markets. I mean, if someone really hates hygiene, they can find their environment in Singapore as well.
The next morning, we continued our random travel itinerary by flying with Air Asia from Singapore to Yogyakarta, in the middle of the island of Java, in Indonesia. The arrival at the airport was not as we expected. The information office did not inform, the car-rental companies did not exist, everyone wanted to sell us something. It didn’t look like an airport, it seemed a cooperative of small shops on the brink of bankruptcy. We were proposed a minibus with a driver, but we refused. We didn’t have a clear mind on what to do anyway. Eventually we noticed a guy with an “Avis” cap, we asked some info and we told him that we liked the idea of renting a car. He answered in a good Indonesian and we congratulated him for his knowledge of the language. Unfortunately we didn’t understand a thing. So, he gave us a ride to the Avis agency, which was not far away. There we met another Avis employee, who didn’t speak any English either. We had to bargain the price by writing numbers on a piece of paper, but in the end we managed to rent a Toyota Avanza, a charming (not!) SUV made in Indonesia. We would return the car in Surabaya (East Java).
Proud of our new vehicle we drove into the city center to visit the Sultan’s palace, but it was closed. There were many hotels nearby. We picked one where we got a luxury room for 12 euros per person. Then we wandered around through streets full of rickshaws and alleys surrounded by huts where poor people lived and happy children played. It was a good walk.
Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta - In Java, Indonesia, people and buildings are poorer... and it's an understatement.
We had dinner at the hotel - Indonesian food was good, but far less tasty than the Thai food we had enjoyed in Singapore. We relaxed by the hotel pool and soon we went to sleep.
The next day we drove to the fascinating temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, impressive Buddhist buildings of the ninth century in the countryside near Yogyakarta.
Borobudur Temple
Borobudur Temple
They are relatively famous, but they aren’t certainly a mass tourism destination: the "restaurants" around the temples, for example, are cheap and decrepit. They offer the typically poor Indonesian food (rice or noodles with meat and vegetables stored for ages behind a dusty window).
Prabanan Temple
Prabanan Temple
The temples deserved the visit for their impressive monuments and the quite mystical atmosphere. In the evening we began our drive towards east, in direction of the Gunung Bromo, but along our travel itinerary we had to fight against the worst traffic in the world. It was a two-way street, and each lane was an endless line of broken-down vehicles moving at twenty miles per hour, while at the side of the road there were scooters loaded with bananas, people and weeds.
Our travel schedule was inevitably slowed down (in Java there are 100 million people and two roads, so maybe we could have imagined that situation). Even by night the traffic did not get less jammed, so at one o'clock, after having been rejected by a couple of motels, we stopped at a hotel for truckers. We were welcomed in dirty rooms full of insects. It was about 4 AM when a bat flying around the room woke us up. We went to the reception guys and we imitated a bird (even if bats are mammals). One of them followed us into the room with a broom to chase the beast. After a strange dance between the young Indonesian and the bat, with lots of scared screams shouted by both of them, we went back to sleep. We woke up at 7 am, barely rested, and we kept on driving towards east, with the traffic still jammed.
It was impressive that, alongside those 350 kilometers of road, there were always shacks and huts and houses, without interruption. It was, I think, the world longest city. After some other interminable hours spent among battered pickup trucks and toxic fumes, we arrived at the feet of the Bromo volcano. We took a narrow road, finally with no traffic, that climbed up the mountain through a dense jungle. Every now and then, at the edge of the road, there were cultivated fields and farmers who looked much more relaxed than their compatriots living in the chaotic and polluted "civilization".
We made peace with Indonesia and we reached the village of Wonokitri. Its wooden houses had beautiful views on the jungle and the surrounding valleys. There were aggressive people willing to sell us a tour to the volcano or a room. In the end we chose a small, elegant hotel with no heating nor hot water. I think we were at two thousand meters above sea level, therefore a cold water shower could be terrible… but there wasn’t even a shower, just a big sink, so no problem.
The hotel manager suggested us to take immediately the trip to the Bromo Volcano. We had read that at dawn it was a fantastic view, but we thought that at sunset it had to be amazing too, so we accepted. Our more-or-less-English-speaking guide came moments later driving a fascinating yellow jeep.
Bromo Volcano
Bromo Volcano - This is a sacred mountainfor Hindus.
It was a spectacular trip in the middle of absurd landscapes. We descended into the caldera, then we rented five horses to ride to the top of one of the most recent volcanoes.
Bromo Volcano
Bromo Volcano - A horse ride led us to the crater.
It repeatedly blew smoke and sulphur.
Sometimes it was scary. Thinking about the tragic eruptions that occur with disturbing frequency in Indonesia, we rode back to the jeep. Then we were driven to a viewpoint from which we could admire the sunset over the caldera. It was wonderful. You should go. Really.
Bromo Volcano
Bromo Volcano - One of the many active volcanoes of Java.
In the evening we had dinner with the guide in a shop / bar where we tried some tasty dishes: in addition to the usual noodles, there were fresh products of that land, such as poultry, vegetables and bananas, not to mention the flies that buzzed in the store. Then, we even found an internet point.
The next morning we left that beautiful place. We drove towards South, following battered streets, and we soon got lost in the jungle. We were wandering around randomly, but it was beautiful. No traffic, only nature and, sometimes, a farm or a small village. At a certain point we drove in front of a school. We decided to pull over and take a look. A young teacher came to stop us. With a smile, he said that the headmaster was off and that without him nobody could enter the school. We were really naughty boys, so we didn’t listen to the teacher and we entered. We were stared with curiosity by the children playing volleyball on a clay court. Four of us joined the game while one of us stayed with the other kids showing them photos, Euro coins and other "exotic" things.
Indonesia School
Indonesia School - We entered a school and playing with the enthusiastic children was an amazing experience.
When we stopped playing, a sort of party began. The children lost the initial shyness and started talking and laughing with us. The girls, with their hair covered by headscarves, asked for our autographs. So we signed their schoolbooks, that they pressed to their chests, with joy. The teachers spoke to us with admiration. Then everyone went out of the school to see our Toyota Avanza, which wasn’t really a nice car, but still it impressed them. It was an incredible feeling. Had those guys ever met a European? How many vehicles had they seen in their lives (excluding broken-down tractors)? In the next lesson, would the kids write an essay about us? I don’t know, but we felt like 18th century explorers.
Indonesia School
Indonesia School
After that exciting experience we continued to drive towards South. We reached the main road and we were back in the middle of the typical Javan traffic. We found a road signal for Sedangbiru, which apparently was a seaside town, and we decided to follow it. These secondary roads were very nice, passing through jungles and villages, and it was even better when we arrived on the coast, with its display of palm trees and white beaches. Sedangbiru was a typical fishing village with colorful boats and giant tunas.
Sedangbiru
Sedangbiru, Java - A quaint fishermen village that saw few to none tourists.
Sedangbiru
Sedangbiru, Java
We drove for another ten minutes and we reached a beautiful beach. Ocean waves, a calm lagoon, palm trees, lots of coconuts, two fishermen and a canoe. We approached the characteristic fisherman, wearing only a pair of pants and a cap, and we asked him if we could take a ride in his pirogue. He nodded and we tried it. Then we left him 5000 rupees as a reward. He accepted them, but he laughed. He didn’t know what to do with them. We realized that they were barely 50 euro cents. Well, in Indonesia it was enough for a simple meal.
Sedangbiru
Sedangbiru, Java
A little further along the beach, there were a few houses. We were hoping to find a hotel and a restaurant. Instead, there was only a small shop, whose owner, that we nicknamed Mowgli for a clear resemblance to the book character, made us an interesting proposition: he would buy some fish at the market and grill it for us. Then, we could sleep on the sand, next to a bonfire which he and his family would lovingly tend to. We agreed immediately.
Sedangbiru
Sedangbiru beach, Java - This desert beach was amazing.
Mowgli's family was Catholic and the only inhabitant of that area. There were neither tourists nor other Indonesians. One of us went to buy fresh fish with Mowgli by scooter. The price was about two Euros per kilo. The BBQ was great and the following chatter around a hot tea even better (despite the huge language difficulties). We smoked cigars, but the Indonesians were not used to them: Mowgli's father tried one and proudly did not want to give up, but then practically fainted on the table. Sleeping around the campfire was fascinating, despite the sand was humid and uncomfortable and the night damp and cold (really surprising at the equator).
Mowgli
Our friend Mowgli - We'll never thank him enough for cooking us some good fish and for lighting the fire that kept us warm while we slept on the beach.
We woke up at dawn. The misty morning light was magic. It was a pity that our backs were broken forever and ever. After a walk and some relax on the beach, we drove away, but it would have been nice to stay with Mowgli for a long time, and perhaps we should have. The volcano, the school, the beach… it had been the most beautiful day trip ever.
Sedangbiru
Sedangbiru
Sedangbiru
Sedangbiru
The next task was to survive the Indonesian traffic. We had some success, so we managed to reach a hotel on our way to Bali. It was a luxury hotel with perfect rooms, park, swimming pool, restaurants… all for 13 euros per person per night.
The next day we visited another pretty destination along our itinerary, the Meru Bitiri National Park, featuring jungle, monkeys and beaches. Too bad we had to drive along slow dirt roads for miles and miles: if you are in a hurry, Indonesian traffic could make you really unhappy.
Meru Bitiri National Park
Meru Bitiri National Park
In the National Park there was a nice lagoon with mangroves and bloodsuckers. A small boat took passengers from one coast to the other. We asked the ferryman for a ride and, as it was just us on the boat (probably because it was almost sunset), he gave us a nice tour of the wetlands.
Meru Bitiri National Park
Meru Bitiri National Park - A trip on this ferry was a real adventure.
Meru Bitiri National Park
Meru Bitiri National Park - Mangroves.
When it was time to get back, the ferryman told us that the price would be 10 euros each. It was a lot for Indonesian standards. He made us understand that if we did not agree, he would leave us alone in the wetlands. (Bloodsuckers were thrilled by that option). After long and tense negotiations (all by gestures and figures written in the sand), we agreed on 5 euros each and we returned by boat. Meanwhile the low tide came and the poor ferryman had to refloat the boat several times. Somehow we arrived sound and safe at the departure dock and we paid the man what we had agreed plus a good tip.
Meru Bitiri National Park
Meru Bitiri National Park
After another pleasant night in the luxurious hotel we headed to Bali. We had a walk on the unmemorable city of Banyuwangi, then we took the ferry and reached the famous island. Beaches, rice plantations, Hindu temples and a hellish traffic welcomed us.
Bali
Bali
Bali
Bali - A mysterious ceremony was held on this beach.
A nice bus driver decided to kill us, I don’t know why: he was coming from the opposite direction and he overtook a car just behind a turn. We found ourselves driving straight into a big pullman. We went off the road to avoid a collision and we ended up in a trench. Then, by pushing and outgassing and swearing we managed to leave again.
We reached the great city of Kuta in the evening. After some research we found a hotel that suited our needs (low-cost, in the city center and with private parking). We were exhausted. After a shower we went out to enjoy the vibrant Balinese nightlife, full of Australian surfers, Indonesian prostitutes and European students on holiday.
The day after was dedicated to some long-board surfing. For beginners, like us, there were dozens of instructors who offered lessons and board rental at good prices. The waves tried to kill us as much as the bus driver, but we had a lot of fun. We spent another night in the most exclusive clubs featuring disco or live music (mostly classic rock covers as in Singapore). The following morning we surfed a bit more, then we drove towards north, across the island. Finally the traffic was not a problem anymore and while travelling through terraced rice fields, lakes and green hills we felt at peace with ourselves and with Indonesia.
Bali
Bali, rice terraces - Bali is a surfing paradise, but it also boasts a nice countryside.
We arrived in the evening in the northwest of Bali, where we found a nice hotel near the sea.
The next day we wanted to go snorkeling on the coral reef: a reasonable demand, in Bali. So we headed to the departure port for trips to Menjangan island. We met a nice guy who offered us an excursion on his little boat. It was fifteen euros per person including equipment: a lot of money for Indonesia, but well spent. We could admire crystal clear waters, beautiful landscapes and the most colorful seabed you could imagine, inhabited by a myriad of tropical fish species.
Menjangan Island
Menjangan Island, Bali - This island just off balinese coast features beautiful coral reefs.
Menjangan Island
Menjangan Island, Bali
Menjangan Island
Menjangan Island, Bali
Unfortunately after this excursion it was almost time to end our journey. We began our long travel itinerary to Italy. We drove to the harbour where ferries leave to cross the strait between Java and Bali. Here we had a small problem. Just before loading the car onto the ship, one of the officers asked us for our car documents. Surprisingly, we didn’t find them. In fact, the Avis employees had forgotten to provide us with the documents! It really smelled like big trouble. However, in the end we solved every issue by donating 8 euros to the officer. The cheapest (and most embarrassed) corruption ever.
Then we drove to Surabaya, stopping along the way in some nice spots on the north coast of East Java.
Indonesia
Indonesia, pirogue - In Java we were often surprised by amazing views.
Traffic was not as jammed as on the southern road. From Surabaya we flew to Kuala Lumpur and from there, after a long night at the airport, we got the plane to Italy.
So another exciting holiday ended. We saw many wonderful places. The biggest emotions came from wandering freely in Java and visiting the villages outside the tourist routes, where we got almost by accident. In hindsight, it would have been nice to spend some more time in the typical territories near the Bromo Volcano, while we could have tried to avoid some long drives like the one from Yogyakarta.
Anyway, this trip was a big success and maybe one day - who knows - we will return to Indonesia to meet Mowgli of the jungle.
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