Indonesia was a mystery and a surprise right from the start. Neither of us knew much about Indonesia coming in, and we were both caught off guard by our lack of general knowledge of this huge SE Asia nation. It was both humbling as well as a delight to have so many blanks to fill. After almost a year of getting used to living in this part of the world, Indonesia reminded us of how much of the world there is still to discover. This is why wanderlust never goes away.
His Final Thoughts
Indonesia felt like the most vast country we have visited yet. More than 18,000 scattered islands together form Indonesia, spanning for more than 5,000km from west to east and 2,000km from north to south. It is the 15th largest country in terms of land area and the 4th most populous country in the world. In other words, Indonesia is huge! Being used to the mostly smaller nations in SE Asia, we consistently underestimated its size. As a result, we barely scratched its surface.
Starting in Jakarta, in west Java, we got lost in the concrete jungle of this major Asian capital. Making our way east, we took a train through the countryside to Yogyakarta in central Java. There we saw the spectacular sunrise over Borobudur temple, an item off the bucket list. From there, a strenuous but exciting journey took us volcano trekking over active Mount Bromo and deep into the crater for the blue flames of Mount Ijen in east Java. We finally finished off at the world-famous Bali, with a side trip to the Gili islands in west Lombok. If this sounded like a long journey, I assure you it wasn’t. We were only surprised when we plotted our course on a map – we could barely see the line within the entirety of Indonesia.
People often ask us what our favorite place during this trip has been. When we fail to provide a satisfactory answer with one name, they ask us which country would we return to. Indonesia certainly makes the top three! There was just so much we missed here. From Sumatra with the largest volcanic lake in the world, to Flores with the mighty komodo dragons, to the cannibal tribes of Papua and the underwater wonders of Raja Ampat. Indonesia has so much to offer and we have so much more to see in future visits. We learned this time around that the developed areas of Indonesia were easy and cheap to travel through. However, once you hit the other more remote destinations I just mentioned, prices go up sharply and that was another main reason why we missed so many of these places.
I will always remember Indonesia as the country that we saw the least of on this trip, the only one where we cannot earnestly say that we extensively traveled or thoroughly explored. At the same time, that is in and of itself the appeal of Indonesia. Despite the 30 days we spent there, we can surely look forward to many more.
Her Final Thoughts
The longer the trip has progressed, the harder it has become to find new adventures to be excited about. We’ve seen so many beautiful temples, amazing beaches, etc. that we’re not nearly as easily impressed anymore. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of being on the road for so long – who knew even traveling could get old? Coming into Indonesia, we made the conscious effort to find new ways of challenging ourselves and a different approach to relishing the joys of traveling. Luckily Indonesia had many novel adventures in store for us such as volcanoes and komodo dragons (even though we ultimately didn’t get to go). Indonesia marked a new lease on our traveling life, so to speak.
The diversity in all aspects of Indonesian culture and geography certainly helped. Not only is cultural diversity and religious pluralism admirable, it signifies a wealth of exotic and unique experiences waiting to be discovered. Indonesia has been our biggest opportunity so far to experience Muslim culture, especially during the month of Ramadan. On the other hand, the wide-ranging geography throughout the archipelago meant a plethora of possible nature-related activities. Along with a high level of biodiversity both above ground and underwater, Indonesia offered visitors chances to follow the well-worn trail or go off the beaten path. Between all the cultural tours and natural excursions, there were plenty of choices for how to spend our time.
When it comes to Indonesian food, I feel the same as I do about our exploration of the whole country: that we’ve just seen the basics. Sure, we tried all the most popular dishes. Nobody does a better sate or a more colourful plate. But it was a good start at best. I’ve always been conflicted about foreign cuisines I’ve never tried before. On the one hand, having something brand new to eat is exhilarating and the tastiest kind of adventure. On the other hand, it’s difficult to explore a cuisine without a basic understanding, and impossible to truly appreciate it without the knowledge and experience that comes from… well, eating. At least we’ve made a valiant effort to begin to appreciate Indonesian food.
For most people, Indonesia conjures up images of fancy resorts and exotic temples in Bali. For me, Indonesia has been and will always be so much more than that. Bali is just the very tip of the iceberg; there are vast wildernesses to explore, a kaleidoscope of people, customs, food to get starry-eyed about. In short, Indonesia remains a mystery to be fully solved, a surprise to anticipate.