So my birthday wasn’t what I had hoped. These things happen. Why then did I pick Java Indonesia as a place to escape?
Indonesia is an incredible country, but it’s another one full of contradictions. Indonesia is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. A full 12.7% of the world’s Muslims live here. The most common complaint on hotel reviews is the sound from 4:30am calls-to-prayer. In fact, Lombok, my second stop of the trip, is known as the land of 1,000 mosques. The country is often identified with intolerance and corruption. And you can read about some examples from events such as the the recent protests to jail the capital’s Christian mayor or the documented governmental bias against LGBT people.
But this is also a country where I see Islam differently from the Western media version. The fifth president of Indonesia was a woman. She was the sixth female president in a predominantly Muslim country. Last year I spent a day hiking with locals and found that the women in particular were friendly, open, confident, and loved to take photos. Which, let’s have an honest moment here, is not what Westerners generally associate with “Muslim.”
And none of this touches on the most common travel associations with Indonesia: Bali. Land of gorgeous beaches, ancient history and superstition, wild parties, titillating tales of drugs and murder, and the Love chapter of “Eat, Pray, Love.” It’s a country full of incredibly diverse experiences and even the landscape and micro-cultures vary considerably.
This was my fourth trip to Indonesia. I had two specific goals: see sunrise at Mount Bromo, an active volcano, and see the Gili Islands. I also had a third, unstated goal: get away from everything.
It turns out that my goals required a significant amount of driving. As in, I drove about 4 hours a day almost every day of my vacation. Definitely a miscalculation on my part. I also didn’t sleep enough. I stayed in the Singapore airport hotel on layover from Bangkok my first night, which was surprisingly nice but I didn’t get much sleep. Since I had never stayed in an airport transit hotel before I kept wondering what would happen if I overslept. Definitely a face palm moment.
The second night my hotel had a party in the restaurant in front of my room. Until 12:30 in the morning. When I had to be awake to catch my jeep across the volcanic sands of Bromo Sengger Tenjuru National Park at 2:30am. Two nights without sleep is not a good look on me. And extensive travel for a short getaway is not an ideal way to handle vacation. I hadn’t miscalculated this badly since I spent 8 hours in one day driving across Sri Lanka two dozen trips ago. Let’s chalk it up to my interior world being out of whack.
But sunrise is spectacular.
Everyone thought so.
Crazy crowd, right? This is pretty typical of traveling in Asia when seeing popular tourist sites. But I usually don’t show this side of things and a friend mentioned it was a fascinating contrast. So now you know a little more of the truth behind the photos!
I took the chance throughout the drive back to the airport that afternoon to see more of the interior of Java. The mountains are incredibly steep, and I was entranced by the patchwork of farms on the mountainsides. Everything was green and vibrant at the end of their rainy season. And while my body and mind were bruised, I couldn’t help but take deep breaths of the sweet, clean air. That evening I flew down to Lombok, which is even further East and South in the Indonesian archipelago. I splurged on my own pool villa (at a rate of about $180/night) and then spent the next two days trekking to waterfalls and snorkeling. And hopefully now you see why I chose Indonesia to escape.
There are heftier things to consider and learn when traveling. I learn from the political environment of a country, the interaction of religion and life, the food, the culture, and so many other items. But sometimes we all just need to get away. Sometimes I just need to see beautiful things and not try to interact too much with the actual world around me. Although several people have recently recommended Jakarta to me, it’s places like Java where I tend to go when I want to just get away because of the incredible variety.
Lombok is a short ferry ride from Bali if you’ve been there, but it’s also a world away. The Gili Islands are an even shorter boat ride from Lombok, and are breathtaking. Vehicles aren’t allowed on most islands, and they’re not needed. Many of the Gilis are too small to need more than push carts. As a result the beaches and nature take a front seat. Gili Trawangan is known as a party island, but I followed my guide to lesser known Gilis where the snorkeling was better and there were fewer tourists.
Next time I promise to rent an underwater camera! Swimming with a turtle was one of my favorite moments.
After 4.5 days away I wasn’t quite back to my old self. And the next two weeks were a rollercoaster of themselves. But I light up when I take the time to look back to my photos from these few days. Sunlight, mountains, greenery and grand times have an effect in person and in photos. So I certainly don’t feel the time was wasted.