Indonesia is an amazing country, filled with natural beauty. I experienced some of the most extreme lows (metaphorically and literally) and highs (metaphorically and literally) of my travels to date. I used my camera far less than I usually do (partly due to the battery charger not working) and so had fewer photos to choose from for this album.
A is for… Active volcano. Indonesia is full of volcanoes. Pretty much every other thing is a volcano (and every other OTHER thing is a tour guide offering to take you to the volcano). This is the view I had as I descended from Kawah Ijen (see B is for… and C is for…). There is something breath-taking about an active volcano. Sure, it wasn’t spewing out jets of red hot magma, but just the ash cloud pumping into the sky is a sight to behold.
B is for… Blue fire. After a relatively easy two hour hike up the Kawah Ijen volcano, you then descend into the crater. This area is a sulphur mine that was featured on the BBC’s Human Planet as one of the world’s hardest jobs. Miners carry 90kg across their shoulder (see J is for…) whilst breathing toxic fumes. If you go in the (very) early morning, you’re treated to naturally occurring blue flames. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to capture without a tripod – I did my best by balancing the camera on rocks, but the photos just would not come out. You’ll have to make do with an abstract image of a broken barrel with the suggestion of blue fire in the background…
C is for… Crater lake. Once the blue fire spectacle is over, the sun gradually rises and the most spectacular view is slowly revealed. It was impossibly beautiful – the venting sulphur fumes rising from yellow rock, orange sand beneath your feet, an aquamarine lake and the red of the sheer caldera walls. It was truly like being on another planet, and I absolutely loved it.
D is for… Damn. Kuta in Bali is a popular surf spot, though most surfers there are complete beginners who have just rented a board from one of the many vendors along the beach. As a result, the view out to sea is generally of people in various states of failing to surf. This man’s expression sums up their collective experience… “damn.”
E is for… Exposed. Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, located near Yogyakarta. On the top level, there are 72 perforated stupas that each contain a statue of Buddha. This is the only one that’s exposed to the air, though it’s hard to decide if this was just done for tourism purposes or if the stupa is genuinely in disrepair. Borobudur represents the conclusion to my visits to the three big archaeological sites in SE Asia (after Bagan and Angkor Wat). It ranks third in that list, but it’s a pretty good list to take a bronze medal in.
F is for… Frown. This puppeteer in Jakarta did not seem happy. Nor, for that matter, did his puppets…
G is for… Gili Trawangan. Gili T is one of three small islands off the Northern coast of Lombok. There are no motorised vehicles (just bicycles and horse-drawn carts). I visited in order to do my advanced scuba diving course, which I booked when I arrived. I then went for lunch, and slowly but surely developed food poisoning from it. At one stage, I wondered to myself whether the G is for… photo was going to have to be “Gili bathrooms”. Luckily, my stomach calmed down and I completed my diving course – and saw some spectacular sunsets. It wasn’t all good though, in my disoriented state I managed to leave my bank card in the ATM…
H is for… Hobbit. With all the trekking around on misty mountains, it’s hard not to feel like a hobbit sometimes. This is the view from the final night on Rinjani (See R is for…)
I is for… Istana Jeruk. (which translates as “orange palace”. Or at least it does according to Google translate…) In order to save some money, Martina (see V is for…) and I decided to buy a tent and to camp our way through Java. This was our first campsite, with a glorious view of Mount Bromo. It was a truly spectacular thing to be able to open your door to such a vista (and play cards as you gaze out, of course). I’m now a convert to camp-travel and fully intend to do more in the future. Just with a slightly bigger tent. One that’s waterproof when a cloud enshrouds it…
J is for… Jesus Christ that’s heavy! As we ascended from the Kawah Ijen crater, there was a prepared load of sulphur. By my expression, you can tell that carry 90kg on your should is bloody difficult!
K is for… “Kite festival”. I had read about a kite festival that was due to start in Sanur on the 18th of July. Having confirmed the details online, I arrived on the 17th. It is reportedly a spectacular event, with thousands of kites filling the sky, Gamelan bands playing and mountains of tasty street food. The next day, I walked the length of the coastline looking for the competition ground… but there were no kites. When I asked an old man if the kite festival was happening, he laughed and said they had held it on the 1st of July. Apparently, if the wind is good, they go for it – even if it’s 16 days early. I had to settle for a smaller scale version of the kite festival, provided by these two boys.
L is for… Lifeguard. A lifeguard nonchalantly strolls along Kuta beach, looking on as tourists convince themselves they can surf.
M is for… Monkey spa. Thanks to the book/film “Eat, Pray, Love”, Ubud is awash with youngsters travelling to find themselves, and features a wide array of spa treatments to facilitate their self-discovery. I preferred hanging out in the monkey forest, where hundreds of monkeys roam within a few feet (or sometimes millimetres) of you. As shown here, they too have their own range of monkey spa treatments – though they are less “Eat, Pray, Love” and more “Scavenge, Fight, Shag”
N is for… Nawwwwww! One monkey photo was not enough. Nawwwwww, look at the little feller!
O is for… Over the top. This is a view down into the crater of Mount Bromo. Most visitors choose to climb it (you can just make out a trail of steps to the crater rim to the left of the mountain). However, when we woke up, the prospect of battling tourists to climb a flight of stairs to peer over shoulders into a volcano didn’t fill us with excitement. Right next to Bromo is a dormant volcano, Mount Batok. It’s 50m higher, has no obvious route up and is entirely devoid of people. We chose this instead. The trail was mighty dusty but entirely climbable. Reaching the top looking like coal miners, we gazed down into the mouth of Bromo. Far more satisfying! The area isn’t the most colourful, hence the hipster black and white treatment here.
P is for… Pigeon racing. The beginning of being lost in Yogyakarta (see Y is for…) was this pigeon racing site. We couldn’t quite work it out, but a group of men took it in turns to stand on the platform whilst holding a bird which would then attract another bird flying high in the sky to race down to. I spotted a much better vantage point all too late. Still, have some fun with a simplified version of Where’s Wally; can you spot: -The disused carcass of a fairground waltzer -Standard SE Asia safety procedures whilst working on a building -An elephant -A pigeon just about to land (please note: one of the above is a lie)
Q is for… Quietude. The old town square in Kota, Jakarta is filled with street entertainers in the evenings. These mainly consist of people charging to have a photo taken with them, from living statues to ghoulish teenagers in Halloweenesque costumes. This guy mainly sat on his bucket looking glum – well, as glum as you can when you’re dressed as a 6 foot baby.
R is for… Rinjani. Mount Rinjani is a beautiful active volcano on the island of Lombok. It is a popular trek for tourists, though comes with many online warnings, such as “This was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done.” Fully forewarned, I decided to give it a go. The first day was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. Hour after hour of what felt like vertical mountain stretched out before me. Unfortunately, a cloud enveloped the group for most of the climb, so you had no idea how much further it was until the top. To make matters worse, the groups have porters who carry all the camping and cooking gear on poles across their shoulders, climb the mountain in flipflops, smoke twenty a day, and still manage to get up faster than you. Finally, after an exhausting day’s climb, we arrive at the crater rim to camp for the night. This photo shows the volcano-within-a-volcano that occupies Rinjani’s caldera. Day two would begin with a 2:00am alarm call for those who wanted to attempt to climb to the summit. Did I make it? You’ll have to read on and see if S is for… Summit!
S is for… Starlight. Unfortunately not. When the 2:00am alarm call came, my body screamed out in protest and I declined to do the summit trek. Instead, I experimented with starlight photography (using walking boots as a tripod). Without proper gear (or knowledge) and with bleary eyes, this was the best effort I could muster. The trail of lights going up the hill are the headlights of the intrepid climbers setting off. By all accounts it was sheer hell; the ground is too loose to walk on and for every two steps you take, you slide back one. The wind was also apparently stronger than our guide has ever known it to be (even he didn’t go all the way to the top).
T is for… Tooth filing (note the single L!) This boy lives in a small village in the Ubud area of Bali. The platform he is sitting on is the centrepiece for all of the village’s ceremonies; birth, marriage, death and… tooth filing. He will return to lie on this platform at some point in his adult life to have his canines filed down to the same height as his incisors. Our guide suggested that this was done without anaesthetic, but was not too painful. I only believed one of those facts. Anyway, this boy did not know that this was being discussed, and yet still managed to look perplexed at the idea.
U is for… Underwater. I have discovered that I love scuba diving, having completed my open water course in Bali and my advanced course in Gili T. Whilst I could wax lyrical about how incredible the experience of being beneath the waves can be, I know that you are all here for a different reason – to judge the winners of the “What do you think Tom’s bouffant will look like underwater?” Allow me to be the first to congratulate the “Mushroom Hat” supporters on your victory. Notable mentions go to the “Furry Tortoise” and “Chocolate Bagel” camps; you guys came mighty close.
V is for… Village people (not those ones). Arriving at my first hostel on Java, I quickly started chatting to Martina and Thiago. Martina casually mentioned that she had a contact who was arranging for her to visit a local village in order to take books and toys to the children. A few moments later, she suggested there might well be space for me to join as well. My eyes lit up… and the deal was done. What transpired was a truly magical experience. Our hosts, Hans and Selly collected us and took us to their home. After briefly relaxing, we went to a local bookshop and stocked up on supplies. A long and bumpy dirt track through forests and farmlands brought us to the village. We got out of our truck and were swarmed by the villagers, who each wanted to come and shake out hands (this took nearly 3 minutes in total). Soon, we were sitting in a large circle and exchanging smiles. Eventually, I found myself in the middle of the circle and did what anybody else would do in that situation… taught them all “heads, shoulders knees and toes.” We then spent the afternoon reading, playing games and chatting with the children (who have virtually no access to education). This is me posing for portraits.This was the beginning of the most amazing week of my travels so far. As Hans and Selly said, “Forget plan A or plan B in your journey… just use a very simple plan. Plan O: Optimism” A huge thank you to them both for providing such a fabulous and unique opportunity that I shall remember forever more.
W is for… Welcome band. Whilst we wandered (lost) through Yogyakarta (see Y is for…), we came across this band of kids. They took virtually zero encouragement to play us a raucous welcome song, complete with baton twirling/swapping in midair.
X is for… Xiphophyllous. Taken in the rice fields surrounding Ubud. Xiphophyllous means “having sword shaped leaves”, which rice sort of does. Well, more like a fencing sword… Look, X is a hard letter, okay?! (I mean, I can’t call her a Xanthippe as she had kindly posed for me, and as for xanthodant, I didn’t get a chance to look at her teeth…)
Y is for… Yogyakarta. Martina and I decided to take a walk through Yogyakarta and managed to get lost (which is far more fun than finding yourself anyway). We ended up walking along the river through small village communities, and had one of the best days EVER. I love this photo as it perfectly captures a moment. The old woman had been obsessing over Martina’s dress as we walked along, suggesting (through gestures) that she wanted to swap clothes with her. When I later asked to take a photo of them, the old woman promptly spanked Martina’s ass – hence the expression in the photo. I particularly love how minx-like the old woman’s face is!
Z is for… Zzzz. Usually, these guys can be found dressed in the puppets that surround them in Kota square (See Q is for… Quietude). I found them nearby at 8:00am, sleeping in the shade of their costumes. I asked the one guy who was awake if I could take a photo and he obliged. However, whilst I am getting better at approaching people and asking if I can snap them, I then panic and fire off a shot as quickly as possible (with little consideration for composition) and run away.