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Chan Cham Perou

Indonesia

A quick glance into an archipelago with 17,000 islands. We have all heard of Bali, Lombok, Flores, Gili Islands, Komodo, and parties on the beaches that last until the wee hours of the morning.

Our objective is to avoid popular paths, so we tried to plan an original itinerary without excluding the must-sees and the obvious trails.

This trip provided us with the opportunity to experience an Indonesia that is different from what we have learned so far in the media and have seen on thousands of photos, to discover a complex culture with spiritual diversity, scenery that leaves us breathless, people who are particularly welcoming and energetically curious...

Biking through Javanese villages

We first took a small excursion in the province of Java, at Borobudur, to allow us to recuperate after our long flight (30 hours) and to find the right pace in our new environment. And what an environment! The perfect place to start a stay in the Indonesian archipelago!

We biked through the villages, greeting students and local farmers, who turned as we passed with a big smile. This is when we first heard our first "Hey Mister!"  a greeting addressed to both men and women, and the usual way for Indonesians to approach a foreigner. A greeting that will become music to our ears in the weeks to come.

Crossing the almost surreal lime-green rice fields in equatorial heat made for a very “Zen” moment on two wheels that will stay with us for a long time.

The inviting hotel Rumah Dharma was our haven for the first few nights: a real treasure! Small bungalows are built in a rice field outside the city, from which we could take long walks in the fields, meet the locals, enjoy exquisite meals, clumsily try to plant rice, etc. Calm, serenity and a warm welcome allowed us to recharge our batteries and to adjust to a few time zones at our own rhythm.

A visit to Borobudur inevitably led to its temple, one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world. It is also known as one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in Southeast Asia. It offers a stunning view of the rice fields, palm trees and volcanoes all around: it is an impressive monument, worn by time and natural disasters, but always welcoming a huge number of visitors.

Ring of fire with a headlamp

Indonesia is on the “Pacific Ring of Fire”. The largest volcanic zone in the world, it is the perfect destination to discover this type of geography. In addition, Java houses many volcanic cones. In a night expedition, guided only by our headlamps, we climbed the Gunung Merapi, in Celo, close to Borobudur, and were rewarded with an exceptional sunrise once at the summit. Since the volcano is still active, we were also able to have an interesting experience marked by the smell of sulfur, the view of the chimney, etc. Unfortunately for the population nearby, the Gunung Merapi might someday wake up and erupt.

After our descent, we headed towards Surubaya to catch a flight to the Maluku Islands. The road is splendid and is worth seeing, bordered by small villages that grow rice on terraced fields in the mountains and the fresh air.

Of course, Java has many more opportunities for discovery, but traveling is all about making choices, after all!
Let’s head to the Maluku Islands!

The Spice Islands on motorcycle

The Maluku Islands have been known as the Spice Islands thanks to the nutmeg and clove. Not as easily accessible as other Indonesian islands, they now seem to have been forgotten by the world. This is a good reason to stay there for a while, enjoy the warmth of its people, explore the reef and discover the heavenly beaches before the tourists discover this paradise, still preserved and natural with the most beautiful beaches of the Indonesian Archipelago.

Our intention was to go to the Banda Islands to get lost in their coral reefs but it was the Holiday Season and for lack of availability of transportation, we ended up on the Key Islands.

An escape to town to taste one of the varieties of fish, take the pulse of urban life and to do some errands before getting settled in a bungalow on the beach for a few days.

Sharing the boat of a fisherman, taking a breath of sea air, swimming or diving, enjoying a picnic on one of the numerous deserted islands or simply relaxing… this is what the Maluku Islands were all about for us!

One long day is needed to motorcycle around the island and discover a fascinating universe: changes in scenery – seaside and luxurious countryside – people happy to meet us, colors and scents, white sandy beaches… Careful, though: fill the motorcycle with gas as soon as you see someone selling gasoline, otherwise your dream day may end up being something quite different!

This idyllic environment has everything to sustain us, but the trip must go on… Let’s head for Sulawesi.

Sulawesi: after the chaos, a change of scenery

After our relaxed stay on Key Islands, Macassar, the metropolis, (south of Salawesi) proves to be a bit chaotic, although charming. It was, however, a nice visit, which allowed us to enjoy good cuisine, to make use of the opportunity for an “urban” stay (with running water and air conditioning, etc.) and to regain energy before continuing towards Tana Toraja.

More than 12 hours later, after riding in a bus, we reached the traditional region of Tana Toraja. More precisely based at Rantepao, we are now surrounded by mountains, strolling though a public market, discovering fresh local products with their colors and odors, admiring a new architectural style with the tongkonan: traditional painted houses with a roof in the form of a buffalo with rolled-up corners.

We were also able to share another regional custom: the popular funeral ceremonies. For Toraja families, death is very important and they invest time and money for ceremonies that honor the departed. Buffalo and pig sacrifices and traditional dances are only a few of the rites that are practiced during these celebrations. Many are open to the public, although it may be embarrassing at times…

Hike from Rantepao

Rantepao is a perfect base to discover the region. We started a trek for a few days in the mountains around. With a guide, we crossed rice fields growing on terraces, by far the most beautiful ones we have seen during our whole trip. It was a work of art, an incredible, meticulous and rigorous work!

We met farmers who were vigorously tilling the earth with buffalo in the mountains, who never failed to turn as we passed, offering us huge smiles with their usual salutation. Surrounded by the scent of lemongrass and nutmeg, these moments were even more intense.

Our night was hosted by a local, which was also exceptional. I don’t have enough words to describe the unique and profoundly human experience we had.

The next day we walked through the equatorial forest where bamboo grows to impressive heights, before returning to Rantepao, where we headed to the Togian Islands.

On and under the water in Togian

After a stop in Tentana, some 12 hours from Rantepao, we reach Ampana harbor, ready to board our boat to sail to a quasi-deserted island that will be our nest for the coming days. Coral reefs, virgin nature, feasts of fish and seafood, a calm sea and …calm.

Exploring the surroundings by boat allowed us to discover villages erected on the banks of tiny islands, to fish with unusual techniques, to dive, to swim in a lake with jellyfish, lots of them (but harmless to people), to greet dolphins… That’s how sweet life was on Togian Island!

A few days later, a boat took us to a harbor on the other side of the bay. The road to Gorontalo (Sulawesi North) is worth every minute, with sights and scenery we will not forget. Without making a huge detour, Gorontalo is a good place to return back to earth… and it offers many connections that helped us continue our odyssey.

It was not easy to turn our back on the hospitality of the locals, but Bali was waiting for us.

Bali as a stop

Hotels, clubs and boutiques in Seminyak, Legia and Kuta, were only a pause before we reached Jimbaran in the south.

We chose lodging there in order to stay away from the usual entrance into Bali, which is more populated and agitated by the mass tourism. A bit tired from the transportation and our rhythm over the past weeks, Bali was an excellent stopover for the final days of our trip.

We found a comfortable hotel that offered a lovely courtyard with a pool – a nice change from the salt water – perfect for the extreme heat and offering affordable body treatments, as is usually the case everywhere in Bali.

After an afternoon of rest, we went out for a drink at a bar laid on the Balinese coast, le Rock Bar, at the AYANA Resort and Spa Bali (Jimbaran). It was a bit expensive but worth it, if only for the exceptional sunset we admired.

Surf in Bingin 

After a good night’s sleep, we rented a motorcycle to discover the beaches around Bingin and the famous surf sites along the coast. Needless to say, the Bukit peninsula lives with the rhythm of the wind, the waves and the sun. This beautiful day ended with an excellent meal at the Balique (Jimbaran), a culinary coup de cœur. The ambiance was relaxed, the décor sleek and the menu affordable. As a matter of fact, we had dinner, went back for lunch and if we hadn’t been to embarrassed, we would have returned.

We rode a motorcycle for a few days, discovering the mountains, the rice fields and the tropical vegetation of the eastern part of Bali. Be warned: to venture on a motorcycle in this part of the country, you need a good dose of patience and confidence.

Yoga on black sand 

It is nice to stop here and there in the lovely small villages of Aas and Amed for example, and even to spend the night. I recommend the charming Zen retreat Meditasi (Aas), house of yoga and meditation on a black sandy beach. The food is excellent as is the tea and herbal tea, made from locally grown herbs. The bungalows are lovely and built in such a way that one can enjoy the scenery and benefit from the deep-sea marine draught.

We headed for the mountains in the centre to discover Gunung Batur and its lake, and then left for Ubud, known to be one of the loveliest cities in Indonesia, which explains the affluence of the tourists. Zen and centered on art and culture, it is possible to see many shows, to discover local hand-made products and to enjoy relaxing in one of the many spas of the city.

A break before going home 

We went back to our base (Jimbaran) to return the motorcycle, refresh and retrieve our bags before boarding our plane back home.

Even though the islands of the archipelago are accessible by plane or boat and can be reached by bus, a vehicle or a motorcycle, one has to keep in mind that transportation is really an issue when traveling to Indonesia. Especially if you want to go off the beaten track!

Besides the experiences shared here, we focused on the different points of interest in the regions and cities we visited. We decided to keep a few things to ourselves, in order to maintain a certain mystery for those who might be inspired by our itinerary but would like to shape their own, original one.

Indonesia has so much to offer!

Véronique Lavoie


 


Temple at Borobudur


Borobudur

Borobudur

Moluques

Moluques, Key Island

Moluques, Key Island

Sulawesi, Togian Islands

Sulawesi, Togian Islands

Sulawesi, Togian Islands

Sulawesi, Tana Toraja region

Sulawesi, Tana Toraja region

Bali, Balique restaurant

Ubud

Photos: Véronique Lavoie 

 

 

 


  

 

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