Tag Archives: indonesia

Two long days in Aceh, Sumatra

Are we there yet?

We had our first glimpse of Indonesia on our first trip to the Far East and we started with one of the less popular islands, Sumatra. We only had 12 days, barely enough to make quick stops at four distinct destinations: a volcanic lake, the top of an active volcano, the bustling capital of Aceh and a real tropical paradise, the Island of Weh.

More pages from an old travel diary…

Tuesday 11th July 2000

It’s Tuesday today, the first day of a long and not the least pleasant journey. The entire trip can be divided into 7 smaller sections, the half of which takes place today.

After breakfast (not porridge for a change) the minibus transformed from a pickup to suit the high local demands sets off from Iboih to Sabang, the port of Weh, with a little delay (this word will gain special importance later on). Following an hour’s jolting ride, spent sweating and sticking to one another, we are dropped at the ferry, 20,000 rupiah poorer.

We suffered at this place for three days and our bungalow even boasted with a bathroom - the others had their bath at the public well...
We suffered at this place for three days and our bungalow even boasted with a bathroom – the others had their bath at the public well…

We no longer worry about the timetable just wait in the shade patiently. We have a few words with an elderly man, whose hobby is to collect tourists’ addresses and coins from their countries. He proudly shows us his collection and gets a 100 forint coin from us.

Unlike when we arrived here, we now settle down on the upper board with the captain’s special permission. It’s certainly better than the smelly and crowded lower deck but it’s also stifling hot. Luckily, it’s only 2 hours to the mainland!

A short break in the capital of Aceh province

You can take a minibus to Banda Aceh from the port. We quickly hop into one and it leaves within fifteen minutes.

We kind of feel at home in Banda Aceh now; everybody says hello and shakes our hands, etc. We find an internet cafe and get up-to-date with our letters and then head to the CFC (next to a Burger Queen). We try to buy some souvenirs to get rid of our remaining rupiah but only find some basic stuff.

At the time Aceh was far from being a tourist destination. The province had been suffering from civil war conditions for years as the local community wished to become independent, which the central government didn’t quite support. We were chatting with a young Acehnese man by Lake Toba and he said we were in the middle of a half-year ceasefire. It was enough for us to go. Then the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 abruptly ended the fights but it demanded the lives of more than 170,000…

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh is arguably one of the most beautiful of its kind in Indonesia and the symbol of Acehnese culture and nationalism.
Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh is arguably one of the most beautiful of its kind in Indonesia and the symbol of Acehnese culture and nationalism.

We take two becaks to the bus station, where we find the bus to Medan after a little search. It is indeed a luxury bus with large comfy seats and even seat belts.

We set off and it all goes fine until…

Wednesday 11th July

…until the driver hits a huge pothole somewhere between Aceh and Medan (it’s not hard, there are plenty of them) and it destroys one of the tyres. However, they decide to carry on after a short examination and discussion. It’s only in the car park of a petrol station some time after 5 that we learn from one of the passengers why they didn’t change the wheel. It’s because they’d lent the spare wheel to another bus. Right now we’re waiting for yet another one to fit its spare wheel on ours.

The rescue bus finally arrives and we can get going again at 6.30. By the way, we were supposed to arrive in Medan at 8 the latest in our “nonstop express bus” to catch the free ride to the ferry.

Meat for sale - in one of the small towns where we stopped for a coffee.
Meat for sale – in one of the small towns where we stopped for a coffee.

All’s well that ends well

It turns out that we have another 80 km ahead of us, which means a good 2 hours in this part of the world. Two nerve-wrecking hours for us. At 8 it becomes clear that we’ll miss the bust to the port so now we pray to get there at least by 9 and somehow reach the ferry, scheduled at 10.

At 9.30 the bus finally stops somewhere in the outskirts of Medan and we get off. After a mild physical insult of the driver (Anita, the little spitfire), we get in a taxi.

Although we clearly explain to the cab driver that our ferry sails at 10 and he should hurry, he drives as if we were on a sightseeing trip. At last we reach the port at 10.10, park and then run to the gate. Of course, we didn’t miss anything and still have to queue for half an hour.

To our surprise, this boat doesn’t swing up and down like mad and nobody vomits. In only 5 hours we are back in Malaysia.

 

Java highlights

As I read the worrying news about the earthquake on Java, I remembered the first time we set foot on this magical island. It was our second visit to Indonesia. We were eager to discover a second island after Sumatra and so we spent around two weeks on volcanoes, beaches and in cities before we took the ferry to Bali. This is a just a small selection of photos and the most memorable memories.

A sea of clouds in the ancient crater of Mount Tengger

Monkey terror in Pangandaran

Pangandaran is a small town on the south coast of Java. It is famous for two things: its superb surf and the nearby Green Canyon. I can imagine it is much busier these days but when we visited there were only a handful westerners on the beach. We loved the sunsets.

The last moments of light on Pangadaran beach
The last moments of light on Pangadaran beach

There is a less-known sight near the town, a small nature reserve with rich wildlife. One morning we decided to have a little excursion. The tropical forest captivated us and we wanted to see more and more. There was a rickety bridge and the rest of the area was fenced off for some reason. Of course, we entered.

Soon we came across a whole family of macaques. I put down my backpack and started to take photos while Anita was capturing them on video. The next moment the bag was in the strongest male’s hands. He ran to a bush a few metres away and tried to open it, hoping to find food, I guess. There was no food in it but all our money, our passports and all the film for the whole trip. I grabbed a stick to scare him but he was not afraid of me. Instead, he flashed his huge canine teeth and stepped towards me. We stood there for maybe ten seconds but it felt like an hour. Finally, he decided the bag was worthless and they all left. I grabbed the bag and we hurried back to the permitted zone without a word.

Bodobudur and Yogya

The journey to Borobudur was anything but comfortable. The bus was only half full when we left Wonosobo so we went slower than a tractor as the driver saw potential passengers in every bush. The town itself is forgettable but who cares when you have one of the world’s largest Buddhist monuments next door.

Borobudur's main facade in daylight
Borobudur’s main facade in daylight

We were lucky with our hotel. The laughable price included free tea and breakfast and the owner arranged a special sunrise tour for his guests. We were woken at 3.30 and then led to the fence of the temple complex. A bamboo ladder was prepared for us and a guard took a bunch of banknotes from our guide before we climbed in.

The sun rises in Borobudur
The sun rises in Borobudur

The next two hours were worth the discomfort and all the money. It was pure magic how the sun slowly illuminated the stupas around us.

The soft tones of dawn in Borobudur
The soft tones of dawn in Borobudur

The bus ride to Yogyakarta wasn’t problem free. We had to get off bus some 15 km before the city I felt so sick. We exchanged a few words with a sympathetic passerby and took a smaller bus into town.

Ornamented becak in Yogyakarta
Ornamented becaks (cycle rickshaws) in Yogyakarta

But we loved Yogya. It was cooler (in both ways) than Jakarta, youthful and much less dirty. We enjoyed gamelan music and a wayang golek performance in the Kraton (the Sultan’s palace). Then a friendly man showed us the Taman Sari, the Water Palace. Sure, he then took us to a batik store but shared a lot of interesting information with us about the Sultan and the old days. Did you know that the Sultanate of Yogyakarta still exists in the middle of Java? The present monarch is Hamengkubunowo X.

End of the shift for a guard of the Sultan's Palace
End of the shift for a guard of the Sultan’s Palace
Boy in Yogyakarta's water palace
A boy is angling where once the sultan’s wives swam

Mount Bromo

Generally we try to avoid well-known tourist traps and prefer less crowded places. For example, I resisted Bali’s Tanah Lot or the Vatikan’s Sixtine Chapel for years. But the postcards with Mount Bromo convinced us we had to take this opportunity.

Mount Bromo and Mount Merapi from the plane
Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru from the plane

We bought tickets for a big bus and they promised to take us to Ceromo Lawang (near the crater rim) in 9 hours. The bus left 90 minutes late but this was the least annoying problem. It was a small bus with hardly any legspace, the trip took 12 hours and they dropped us at their own hotel near Nyadisari (6 km from the crater).

The least we could do was that we stayed in another hotel. But it now seemed impossible to reach the crater rim by sunrise we were so far from the trail head. Because we wanted to reach the top the old way, on our feet.

Mount Bromo, Indonesia
The magic colours of the five volcanoes

No trail, no water

The day started at 2.20 and we had no idea when it would end… We were told the night before that Ceromo Lawang was just 4 km but it was around twice that far. Luckily, a minibus stopped and they gave us a lift. It was carrying local guides so we saved the price of the entrance tickets and got back the hope to see the sunrise from the rim.

The first part of the trek was easy, if only we had slept more and drunk something since midnight. But then the stairway suddenly disappeared. There must have been a landslide and it was still completely dark so we almost gave up when I noticed little holes on the hillside. We climbed up and soon found the trail.

Enjoying the well-deserved view of Bromo and the other volcanoes
Enjoying the well-deserved view of Bromo and the other volcanoes

The sun was just coming up as we reached the first viewpoint (Penanjakan 2). The sight was unbelievably beautiful and we stayed until the sun rose completely. And it was a good decision because Penanjakan 1, the top of the crater rim, was so full of tourists, jeeps and souvenir shops that we could only stand it for a few minutes.

Walking on the crater rim of Mount Bromo
Walking on the crater rim of Mount Bromo

We walked down to the Sandsea (the caldera floor) and although we still had nothing to drink we climbed young Mount Bromo before we returned to our hotel.

The crater of the young volcano
The crater of the young volcano

Hardly alive in Jakarta

From Java we went to Bali and Lombok. Then we flew to South Sulawesi and when we heard that the central part of the island was a no-go zone we spent almost three days on board a ship to Manado in the north. We returned to Jakarta from there at the end of our holiday and had three days for the capital.

The old port in Jakarta
The old port in Jakarta

It must have been the nasi goreng we had in Manado that caused a serious case of food poisoning to us. We spent two days in our hotel room (and the toilet). The third day we felt a little better so we looked around the old port and bought some more souvenirs.

After three days of food poisoning even this short sightseeing trip was a challenge
Not in my best shape in Jakarta

Since then we have returned to Indonesia twice but never to Java. Maybe next time.

 

Mount Agung: 5 faces of Bali’s holy volcano

 Mount Agung from the airplane

Mount Agung is Bali’s most holy mountain, the abode of the gods.

With its 3031 metres, Mount Agung is visible from many locations and provides great photo opportunities. Looking through my archives, I picked my top 5 viewpoints.

Pura Agung Besakih

The Mother Temple of Bali is a complex of more than 80 temples sitting 1,000 metres high on the western slopes of Mount Agung. The Balinese believe the top of the majestic volcano is where the gods live. It was first mentioned in 1007 AD and today it is one of Bali’s top tourist attractions. Besides, it is still a centre of worship and arts.

Besakih Temple Complex on the slopes of Mount Agung
Besakih Temple Complex on the slopes of Mount Agung

Pura Agung Besakih is a delight to visit any time of the year. But if you happen to visit the island at the time of the Odalan, it will be the highlight of your holiday. During this festival, the temples receive special decoration and you can see processions of women in traditional costumes and hundreds of people praying. The next Odalan will be on 13 October 2017 and then on 11 May 2018. More information here.

Klungklung (Semanapura)

The official name of this pretty provincial town has long been Semanapura but locals stick to the old one. It lies 25 km from Mount Agung just a few minutes from the sea. Today it is a sleepy, perhaps even a bit boring, place but it played an important role in the history of the island. It used to be the capital of the famed Majapahit empire. The title of the king was Dewa Agung. Then it became known as the last Balinese kingdom to surrender to the Dutch.

Mount Agung peeks from behind the clouds
Mount Agung peeks from behind the clouds

There are a number of sights to check out nearby so it’s a good idea to choose it as your base. The Puputan Monument in the centre of town commemorates the 200 heroes who died for independence in 1908. Two buildings of the old Klungklung Palace were restored and can be visited. There is an intriguing museum, a Hindu temple and a busy market, too, to keep you entertained.

Lombok

For many visitors, Lombok is just a stopover to the popular Gilis but the island has a lot more to offer. Mount Rinjani, the second highest peak in Indonesia, dominates the skyline from most corners of Lombok. For an unforgettable hiking experience, I highly recommend a multiday walking trip to the top of the volcano. Or just to the crater rim, depending on your level of fitness.

The sunset with Bali's Mount Agung from Lombok
The sunset with Bali’s Mount Agung from Lombok

The original inhabitants of the island, the Sasaks have their own language and culture. If you venture away from the beaches, you can visit their villages and see how the traditional songket cloth is woven. Of course, the main attraction is the beaches. The most accessible is Senggigi beach in the west. You can enjoy the sand, the sea and the breathtaking view of Bali’s Mount Agung as the sun sets.

East Bali

The perfect cone of Mount Agung accompanies you wherever you roam in the eastern part of Bali. There are black sand beaches lined with colourful fishing boats, palace ruins and excellent diving spots in this region. But what impressed me most were the rice fields, banana and coconut plantations in the rural areas.

Endless banana plantations in East Bali with Mount Agung
Endless banana and coconut plantations in East Bali with Mount Agung

Looking for a relaxed beach in East Bali? Pasir Putih near Candidasa is exactly that. And the sand is (almost) white, just as the name suggests. Another coastal town that offers some secluded beaches is Padang Bai. And from its port you can reach the last destination on this list.

Nusa Penida

My personal favourite is a small island off the southern coast of Bali. When we first visited back in 2004 there were hardly any hotels. I had to stop people in the street to ask if I could rent their motorbikes. The second person said yes and we were speechless for two days. We returned two years ago and it was still incomparably friendly and quiet after Bali. And I believe Bali is still a magical place despite the tourist hordes.

Alga plantations on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung in the distance
Alga plantations on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung in the distance

Arriving from Sampalan or Kusamba, you find yourself on the northern coast of Penida. There are incredible views from here of Bali and Mount Agung. The first photo is from 2004, when most of the coast was occupied by alga plantations. I took the second one in 2015.

Sunset on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung across the sea
Sunset on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung across the sea

Rent a scooter and you can explore a world of breathtaking beaches, rocks and quiet villages with the kindest people on Earth. And the sooner you go the better. Though Penida is still unspoiled compared to Bali or the Gilis, things change fast. Two years ago this place had no visitors or facilities at all. I looked down from the edge of the rock but didn’t try to climb down because I thought I had things to do in this life. And now anyone (with guts) can walk down to one of the most amazing beaches you’ll ever see.