the ring of fire – indonesia

“I’m not sure what I’ll do, but – well, I want to go places and see people.  I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

To sum up my feeling for Indonesia I just need to say that it was love at first sight.  From the people to the array of cultures, religions and the food…. oh the food.  I never knew you could make so much magic with tempeh and tofu.  I have simple wants, it’s true.

After Papua we flew to Jakarta and wandered around the seedy harbor – which was in part where the spice trade was born.  Hit up Chinatown (of course), and met some nice Jakartans with whom we had a few too many beers while we talked religion, politics and learned a few bar tricks, all of which involved fire.

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The next few days were a whirlwind of touristic activities but after being in remote New Guinea for a month we had the energy for it.  The erotic fertility temple of Candi Sukuh had all the phallic images you could ever hope for??   We checked out the location of the Java Man’s discovery and admired a few skulls.  On to Mt. Bromo we witnessed one of the most incredible sunrises with our new Dutch friends.  They taught us about the Dutch colonization of Indonesia and in a bizarre twist they had learned half-way across the world from Holland, decades before, their grandmothers had actually known each other during the colonization.  Another murderous day in a minivan, blaring karaoke in our hotel lobby and up again before the sun to volcano hop on over to Mt. Ijen.

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Mt. Ijen was perhaps one of the most memorable days. A couple sulphur porters wanted to be our guides and were so nice we couldn’t resist.  However, every time we got to a hill he grabbed my hand and ran me up.  Out of breath and heart pumping I wondered why I was getting this special work-out when no one else was.   Down in the crater the sulphorous fumes were noxious.   These guys may make up to $10-15 a day for carrying up to 400 pounds of sulphur.  This is triple the amount they can make picking coffee and their motivation for working one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  It was incredible – beautiful and horrifying.  This lake has the same pH as battery acid.

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It’s just as easy as another van, bus, ferry, bus and taxi and we’re in Bali. We decided to stay a couple days in Denpassar to be close for when my parents arrive.  I didn’t do much other than eat, study up on some Bahasa Indonesian and get some essential oils mixed by my “bartender of perfume.”  Then my parents arrived and it was so wonderful to see them.   We started their adventure out right by dragging them up hundreds of steps ladened with all our luggage looking for our cute little place in the rice fields.  Then Ezra lost his wallet so we spent the next hour up and down looking for it in the dark.  Even so, we were so happy to be together and they were good sports the whole time.  We spent a few nights in Ubud walking around town, catching up and took a little stroll through the monkey sanctuary.

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Further south we went to a cute little surf town of Padang Padang and just enjoyed the chill atmosphere and took a dip in the water.  There were more beautiful sunsets at temples and plenty of monkeys to keep you on your toes trying to snatch your glasses or bags or as we saw one do… a flip flop from off a girl’s foot.

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We head back to Java to the town of Jogjakarta to see the Buddhist temple of Borobudur and Hindu temples of Prambanan.  We watched a cool shadow puppet show (ask my dad how he liked it – he got a good little nap) and the Ramayana ballet did not disappoint with lots of fire. We also met some of the most incredibly kind and friendly people.  There was a group of students that we met at the Sultan’s palace that were studying English and befriended and chatted us up for hours.  Addresses, emails and phone numbers were exchanged and I think my parents will have many new pen pals. We did Java proper and now on to Kalimantan in Borneo.

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Our three days on a houseboat felt a little surreal as we went up the river looking for Orangutans.  Watching these hairy beings you couldn’t help feeling connected somehow watching their human mannerisms.  We also saw proboscis monkeys and it was hilarious watching them taking a running start and jumping as far across the river as possible.  The shorter the amount of time in the water means the less chance of being eaten by crocodiles. We had a great first day and then unfortunately my mom got pretty sick and as she was lying on the deck of the boat with a fever, in the heat and the jungle passing us by,  I couldn’t help but think “we’re in the middle of nowhere and I’m killing my mother!”   Even though she insisted we stay I made an executive decision to head back a night early and once in a cool room and with a good night sleep she bounced back.   In the end she thought it was a bit of an exotic experience.  I on the other hand still feel a bit traumatized and don’t think I’ll be dragging my parents into a jungle again anytime soon.

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Indonesia was a special place.  I really like archipelagos and with so much to explore I have no doubt we’ll go back. Whenever someplace new, whether it be a small town back home or someplace half way around the world, I can’t help but ask myself if I could live there.  We overstayed our visa (whoops) and just played dumb as we were called into the immigration office.  But no problem, just a small fine and we were sent on our way with an invitation to come back.  Oh yes, we’ll be back.