David and Lili's World Tour


May 2014 - Timor and Rote Islands

The local people smile and wave. "Hello Mister!" Never as travellers have we felt so welcome. Compared to other islands in this vast archipelago, the scenery in Timor is not spectacular; go there to meet the people. They're so friendly that they often asked us to please take photos of them (most unusual). Children also yell, "Bule!" (Foreigner!)

West Timor has better infrastructure than East Timor, but that does not extend to the tourism sector, so to get around one has to go the local way. To visit certain villages however, one really needs a guide. We hired Prince Pae Nope (Timor royalty), to drive us to several remarkable, remote locations, for example a former head-hunting village where old traditions prevail (except the people are now Christian and no longer hunt heads). Pae Nope also took us to Boti, the one village that has (so far) resisted the missionaries in favor of their ancient pagan beliefs. This was an excellent cultural programme! Once again we observe that some of the happiest people on Earth are those with the simplest lives (and the least amount of stuff), assuming adequate fresh food and a strong community, of course.

We also made it to Rote Island to relax on Nemberala Beach and hang out with cool Australian surfers, because that is what tourists do in Nemberala, they hang out and they surf.

Oh yeah. Indonesia is vast and diverse, and we are just getting started... On the one hand, it's a shame that most Western tourists see only Bali; on the other hand, we are glad they are not here. Timor is unspoiled by tourism.

June 2014 - Flores, Sumbawa, and Komodo National Park

After a month of travelling in Indonesia, we finally experienced culture shock in the city of Labuan Bajo (Flores) - not from the local people however, but from other Westerners! Labuan Bajo is the gateway to the Komodo National Park (home of the dragon), and as such, we entered the Tourist Zone.

Our culture shock occurred as we walked into an Italian restaurant (unable to resist a rare chance to eat cheese). The place was packed with white people who were not interested in the better, cheaper food down the street. Many were focused on their electronic gadgets instead of other people. Many wore inappropriately immodest clothing (short shorts especially). And outside, many conspicuously drank beer while loudly proclaiming their ignorance. Almost all of these people arrived by air from Bali to see the dragons and to scuba dive, but not to enjoy bona-fide Indonesian culture.

We are now on Sumbawa island, predominantly Muslim with no famous attractions, and as such, we are no longer in the Tourist Zone, so things are back to normal :-) Compared to Flores (predominantly Christian), Sumbawa is poorer, and we haven't seen any pigs (instead we see more goats), but with virtually no foreigners, the locals are super friendly. Over and over we hear, "Hello Mister!" Note: one's attitude has nothing to do with one's religion.

By the way, the giant Komodo lizards were amazing, and the snorkeling in the National Park was stunning.

June 2014 - The Gili Islands

Welcome to the Tourist Zone.

Foreigners have completely taken over Gili Trawangan but there is no obvious clash with the locals. It seems as if they made a win-win deal, as if the Lombokians said, "Party all you like. Wear bikinis in town. Drink alcohol. Whatever. Just keep all of that over there. Meanwhile we'll try to make as much money from you as possible."

There are three Gili Islands: Party-central Gili T, less-is-more Gili Meno, and Gili Air, which was just right for us to rest for two weeks, a place with bicycles and horse carts but no motor vehicles, a place to walk barefoot to the pub at 3am to watch Brazilian World Cup games.

Many Indonesians live on the three Gilis but this place does not seem like Indonesia. Despite the mosques' electric speakers blasting out invitations to pray five times a day, the tourists here get what they want, tropical paradise with beach bungalows, quality restaurants, late-night clubs, scuba diving, friendly locals, and lots of comfy places to chill out, all on the cheap (compared to Europe) and close to Bali's international airport.

Yeah it's touristy but it's tourism at its best. Come here to relax and have fun. Everybody seems happy.

July 2014 - Bali

Bali is different, primarily due to unique religious traditions that blend Hinduism with pagan spirits. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, this island has ubiquitous artwork, like an open-air museum. Bali is crowded with tourists for a reason, because the place is stunningly beautiful, plus it has beach resorts and lots of shopping. This island is crowded with locals too, because they breed. Indonesia as a whole is gaining some 10,000 people per day.

On Rote island we spent time with Bali's original tourists, surfers. They told us fascinating stories from the good old days (forty years ago) before the crowds. The foreigners here still include salty old ex-pats, but it's more common to meet newbies who just got off the plane on their first overseas trip ever.

The traveller's challenge used to be getting to like places Bali (with no direct flights, no ATM machines, no Internet, no guide books, and no English), now the challenge is getting away from all the people. Our solution: rent a motorcycle and leave early... It's easy to experience local culture, for example, by eating lunch in warungs, visiting temples off the beaten track, wandering through the rice fields, and avoiding beach resorts.

Regarding touring by motorcycle, the crowded chaos is intimidating at first, until one learns the rules: don't worry about what's going on behind you, use your turn signal, and don't hit anything in front of you (easy once you get used to it - go with the flow).

Indonesia is so big that it's impossible to see with a thirty-day visa, and it's challenging to get an extension. We've had to do this twice already, and both times took a week, with local sponsors and lots of paperwork. This forces us to plan ahead and pace ourselves. Next stop: Java...

July 2014 - JAVA

With 140,000,000 people, this is the world's most populated island. Of course this implies mega-cities and traffic jams, but Java also has volcanoes, ancient temples, and a lot of rice. From an Indonesian point of view, Java is the center of money and politics.

This vast nation did not exist until 1949 when it broke away from Holland, just as some districts today are keen to break away from Jakarta (Java's capital), especially resource-rich districts that get exploited and taxed but get little in return. With all that cash flowing in, Java is where Indonesia's elite casually stroll through air-conditioned shopping malls. Indonesia... another island, another culture.

Java is predominantly Muslim but used to have more Hindus and Buddhists. People say the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 expedited the transition, because so many Javanese blamed Hindu Gods for the volcanic mega-explosion, a fact that Islamic propagandists exploited. (No country has more active geology than Indonesia.)

Regarding those ancient temples, we visited Prambanan (Hindu, with beautiful artwork), Borobudur (the world's largest Buddhist stupa, and Indonesia's number-one tourist attraction), and Candi Sukuh (with sexually explicit detail carved into stone, oh how times have changed). Great stuff.

Java isn't the easiest place to be a tourist, but it does have fascinating cultural and geological features. The people we met were all very friendly also, albeit paranoid regarding theft and crime.

We happened to be here during the presidential election. Almost everybody we talked to voted for the guy who won, Jokowi, whom they say is like Obama in that he is an honest populist with little experience. (The candidate who lost, Prabowo, is a corrupt former general, and son-in-law of the late president Suharto). We wish Jokowi good luck and good skill.

August 2014 - SUMATRA

Sumatra is one of our favorite backpacker destinations! The authorities gave us thirty-day visas, but thirty days is not enough to explore this island properly. It is gigantic (bigger than California) with much to see and enjoy. We skipped Southern Sumatra (by airplane) only because of logistical constraints, so we already want to return (next time with sixty-day embassy visas). Returning to Sumatra sits at the top of our future-travel list!

Upon arrival in Medan (no traveller's favorite city) we left immediately for Bukit Lawang, home to wild orangutans, the largest animal to live in the jungle canopy. Unlike monkeys, orangutans seldom jump, instead relying on their body weight to bend the tree branches. It is amazing to watch these great apes play! We feel an especially strong connection with these furry critters because speech and tree-climbing abilities aside, they are us. These are the people of the jungle (orang means people, and utan means jungle). It's a shame their habitat is shrinking so quickly!

Lake Toba is Planet Earth's largest volcanic lake, a lake so large that one island, Samusir, is about the size of Singapore. This is our favorite place in the world to swim. We recommend that you get yourself a lake-side cabana here, and stay for at least a week.

The northern tip of Sumatra is a state called Aceh ("ah-chay"). The capital, Banda Aceh, achieved worldwide notoriety in 2004 when the city was flattened by a tsunami. This devastation brought a halt to the civil war of the time. Now there is peace, and a strong sense of new beginnings. Controversially as part of the peace deal, Aceh won the right to implement Sharia Law, the Islamic code that governs every aspect of daily life from high crimes to casual dress. Don't let Sharia Law stop you from visiting Aceh however, just dress conservatively, don't drink alcohol, et cetera. Not a problem! The Acehnese people are generally welcoming to tourist infidels.

Just north of Banda Aceh is an island called Pulau Weh. This is a backpacker paradise, with no conventional tourism but with phenomenal snorkeling (big fish), lovely people, and Indonesia's best roads (built from foreign-aid money that arrived after the tsunami).

Ah yes, Sumatra! Hopefully some day we can make it back (a third time) to explore more!

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