By Jordan Coates
“Maybe it’s similar to people who stumble upon Westmoreland County. It’s not so far from the big city, comprised of farms as well as a nearby history of moonshine.”
Indonesia is a place full of so many marvels one description would not be appropriate. For many, Indonesia means Bali, the beach -going, yoga-practicing, party paradise. While Bali does provide one experience of Indonesia, it is not fair to sum up the rest of this amazing country this way. I have discovered this type of misrepresentation of America and Virginia. For many, Virginia is summed up as “near Washington D.C. where the White House is.” But summing up Virginia this way leaves out the beauty of its landscapes, the richness of its history, and the differences in lifestyle between north and south. Much the same can be said for Indonesia – and I’ve only seen a small amount of this marvelous country.
If not jetting straight to Bali, many tourists fly into Jakarta. Jakarta was once a booming backpacker location, but with past terrorist attacks occurring every couple of years, tourism has taken a nosedive. The backpacker area hosting small restaurants and cheap guesthouses still remains. As we walked around the old town, people stared in awe as if to see if we were real. It’s a place where you can be standing with a male on the train and not realize it’s an all-female train carriage until asked to move; where beggars and the homeless adorn the pavement; where children and adults dance in the street or sing you a song until you’ve given them some money.
But it is also a place where the streets are so full that traffic crawls, where above the pavement where homeless lie are opulent shopping malls. Here is where you will speak to the other side of Indonesia, who when you tell them of your experiences of the people in the old town and your own confusion on the train, they listen with curiosity for they have not experienced either. Of course, this statement stems from my brief experience in Jakarta, but it seemed to me that people were either “up” and prosperous, or they were “down.”
Moving on from the city and on to East Java, history comes alive. Ironically, the number one tourist attraction in predominately Muslim Indonesia is the Buddhist Borobudur Temple. After a 3 a.m. wake up, we rode bikes to the temple as the fog crept through the temple pillars providing a beautiful view. Although I would argue that it does not deserve the honor of being the number one attraction in Indonesia, it is a must-see as is Prambanan Temple. The crumbled formations and green fields surrounding that temple can easily take up hours of your day, enough to make you forget about the uncomfortable ride to get there.
Another great place is the city Yogyakarta. A smaller city, it escapes the evils of traffic, pollution, and skyscrapers, and replacing them with small cafes, Batik art shops, puppet shows and small unique sights. We visited the Sultans palace, the underwater palace, and perhaps most interesting, the bird market.
Next, we headed to the nearest city with an airport and we flew to Medan, a place most people will tell you to leave immediately. Unlike Jakarta, this was not an American friendly city. Many taxi drivers and others droned on about how they were Christian, but it seemed merely a ploy for their services or for a higher payment. We had no time for sightseeing, but a bike driven taxi provided for a scenic drive. There were many mosques, some elaborate and beautiful. The noise of the microphones at prayer time was loud as were the voices of the people within the mosques. At the start of Ramadan, it was an enlightening experience to witness such devotion.
However we were on our way to Lake Toba, an island in Indonesia that is home to Christians. On the ferry over, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset. The boat slowly drove around the island dropping off each group of tourists at their respective accommodations, most large and beautiful, and likely expensive. Natural pools had been made with the lake water, and bungalows sat at its edge. We were the last stop: A small hostel. We stepped off the boat and within a few steps were at the porch of our bungalow with an incredible view of the stars.
The largest lake in Indonesia, Lake Toba is a super volcano. A bike ride or walk around the island, Samosir, is a great way to see its natural beauty. The lake glistens against the greenery of the island and the sky melts into pink and blue. At the end of the day, you can feast on a freshly caught fish grilled with sambal, a chili sauce. It is an interesting place. Although you are in Indonesia, there are churches and Christian crosses throughout, but also signs advertising magic mushrooms. Maybe it’s similar to people who stumble upon Westmoreland County. It’s not so far from the big city, comprised of farms as well as a nearby history of moonshine.
In two trips to Indonesia, totaling about three weeks, I saw the gaps between poor and rich, the pollutants of the big city, the influence of American politics, historical temples, natural wonders, a Sultan’s palace, mosques alive with the practice of Ramadan, and a Christian island surrounded by the largest volcanic lake in the world. This list still leaves out Indonesia’s great population of exotic animals, many of its islands and great volcanoes and much more.
As Virginia is not just D.C., Indonesia is not just Bali. Each comes with its own set of delights and differences, all of which are worth exploring.