The Adventure of Indonesia
Trip Start Oct 20, 2010
14Trip End Feb 07, 2011
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We started out wanting to make this SE Asia an adventure but we never expected the adventure in Indonesia to start out with Mount Merapi's eruption. For a few days, our whole itinerary in Indonesia was in chaos. The first city we were suppose to visit was Yogyakarta in Java which is only 40 km from the volcano. For a few days, many international airlines cancelled their flights due to safety concerns . We had no idea whether we would even be able to get to Indonesia or not. After a few tense days watching the news and talking to my contacts in Jakarta, we decided to skip Yogyakarta but tried to keep the rest of the Indonesia itinerary intact. My two friends from Beijing, Shiqiu and Xiaoqiu flew to Jakarta early 11/10 morning and waited in the airport for us. Since they don’t speak English, they had some anxious moments until we finally arrived. Jakarta has the reputation of being a crowded, congested and polluted city that is hard to get around so my friend Chad from Singapore suggested that we spent our extra days in Bandung – a "resort" town about 2 hours drive SE of Jakarta
Bandung is the 3rd largest city in Indonesia and supposedly the escape for people who live in Jakarta. Unfortunately the city looks a little run down and really need s a face lift. We visited a volcanic crater and a hot springs park nearby. Both were quite commercialized and unimpressive but we met one Taiwanese who is selling organic salted duck eggs there. We tried several new fruits we never tasted before. The snake fruit with the skin just like a snake is our favoriate. At the hot spring park, I had a “free” foot message from a local young man. He used sulfur stone to make my skin whiter
We returned to Jakarta airport and continue to the next segment of our trip which is the Orangutan tour. We first flew to the town of Banjarmasin. We stayed at one of the Lonely Planet recommended budget hotel ' Peranda’. At 150,000 rupiahs (about $18) a night, it is one of the cheapest hotel I have ever stayed at, It is clean but we lost electricity several times during the night and there were several small critters roaming around the place. Shiqui, however, was happy because there are 4 Chinese TV channels she can watch. I guess next time I will have 2nd thoughts about staying at one of Lonely Planet recommended “budget” hotels. Banjarmasin is one of the bigger town of Kalimantan (the Indonesia side of Borneo island). We met both Chinese and European business people at the airport and they are all here for one reason - coal. It turns out that Kalimantan has one of the richest coal deposit in the world and it is at the surface which makes mining it easy and economical
Edwin took us to visit one of the villages along the river where he lived for 3 years to help with the reforestation effort
I was awaken early morning by the jungle calls of two huge bird with black bodies and white faces. There are also some brilliantly blue and gold colored kingfishers chattering around. Before we reach the first feeding station, we start seeing wild orangutans hanging from the trees. These locally known “red forest people” were driven to near extinction due to the lost of habitation and poaching. 30 some years ago a Canadian researcher Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas came to study these giant apes and established the International Orangutan Foundation in 1986. With her dedication and lots of international pressure, the Indonesian government set aside a large area for the preservation of Orangutan. The feeding stations around the research camps are mostly for the animals previously rescued from injury or captivity. The keepers know them all by name but nevertheless warning us that they are still wild animals and can be dangerous. The male orangutan Durak we met at the first feeding station weights about 125 kg and is 7 times as strong as a man. When he finally came down to the station to dine on bananas, cassavas and “sweetened” milk, all the other orangutan stayed respectively at a distance. Once Durak had his fill and left, a young male came down cautiously from the trees and snatched up most of the remaining food as quickly as possible. He grabbed bunches of bananas, several cassavas in both hands, both feet and still able to stuff more in his mouth while leisurely climbing up into the trees. He showed the dexterity and cleverness of an orangutan who is well suited for life in the jungle. After lunch, we stopped at the big Camp Leakey where most of the orangutans who came to feed were females with babies. We did meet the King ‘Tom’ who blocked our way toward the feeding station and Edwin had to bribe him with some bananas to let us pass. Tom is famous for being unpredictable and destructive so we all passed by him carefully
The Orangutan tour is excellent, the services and guide are great, I only wish is that we could stay on the river longer. The original itinerary of 3D/2N was adequate if it wasn’t cut short by the unpredictability of flight changes in Indonesia. Since I first booked the flights online, the flights had changed several times, mostly without advanced warning. Our guide told us that we are lucky because sometimes the airline just cancel the flights all together without advanced warning
1. Be sure that you leave a local contact phone number( e.g. your tour guide or travel agent) with the airline so the airline can text message you the changes of the flights (which happens all the time)
2. Watch out for travel days that are Muslims holidays because Garuda (Indonesia National Airline) canceled our flights to Bali in the morning because of just such a holiday. We ended up staying at the Banjarmasin airport for 7 hours waiting to be rebooked on next flights to Jakarta then to
3. In smaller cities like Banjarmasin, most people do not speak English and the communication with local people could be difficulty. It is useful to learn a least some basic Indonesian words like basic greetings, the name of different foods and the currency units
4. Electricity is unpredictable and a flash light is very useful. Most of the plug are two round holes. Adapter for your cell phone, ipods and computer is necessary.
5. Indonesia rupiahs started out in the 1000s. With so many zeros in their bills, it is easy to get confused about the numbers. 100,000 rupiahs basically is worth only about $12. It didn’t help that the 100,000 bills are similar to the color of 10,000 bills. Although the exchange rate is about 8900 to $1, I usually just take out 4 zeros in the bill and estimate it to the closest US$.
I hope you enjoy this segment of our “million miles of SE Asia tour!