AFTER WORKING AS A TEACHER in China for a year with my husband, we were desperate for some beach time. We’d been to the sands of many South East Asian countries and wanted to see something new.
We’d heard that Indonesia was home to some of the most beautiful beaches. When I turned up in Bali, I found that beautiful beach, and it was riddled with trash. Indonesia surprised me in many ways.
1. Indonesia has the 4th largest population in the world.
Home to the largest enclave of Muslim people, Indonesia is made up of 17,508 islands (6,000 of which are inhabited) and about 300 different ethnic groups.
2. Lakes change colour.
Atop the Kelimutu volcano on the Flores Island, three crater lakes change colour periodically: Tiwu Ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People) is usually blue, while Tiwu Muwa Muri Koo Fai (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake) are typically green and red, respectively. The lake colours vary periodically, likely due to the sub-aqueous fumaroles triggering chemical changes in the minerals found in the water.
3. Flat tires can be patched over a campfire.
Indonesian roads are ruthless and damaging to your car. But, should you have a tire blow out on you, you’ll get to watch the process by which locals repair them.
4. Scooter scams are common.
Be mindful of where you keep your scooter parked and make sure that you lock it. Some scooter shops have been known to steal their bikes back from you, then demand you pay a fee for its disappearance.
5. You can drink cat-poo coffee.
On the island of Bali, there is a process of making coffee that involves the excrement of civets (a type of cat). The product is properly called Kopi Luwak, and is arguably the most expensive coffee in the world. The coffee beans are eaten by farm civets, then pooped out. The crappy beans are then collected and roasted for coffee production.
6. The world’s worst road is here.
In Kuta, Lombok, the main road that runs through the town and up over towards Mawun Beach is possibly the most pot-holed road in existence. Out of our scooter group of three, there were three topples due to the dangerously rugged terrain. According to Kuta, Lombok locals, the road is expected to see repair by 2013.
7. I could live in Gili Trawangan forever.
Gili T, as it is called for short, has no motorized vehicles operating on it; you get around by bike, horse, carriage, or by foot. You can walk the entire island in about two hours.
8. Indonesia is home to both the most beautiful beach and the dirtiest beach I’ve ever seen.
In Kuta, Bali, the main beach has novice surfers littering the water, as well as piles of garbage along the sandy banks closest to the water’s edge. The litter stretches the length of the entire beach.
But on Lombok, about 3.5km east of Kuta Beach, is Seger Beach, a shallow, clay-bedded, white-turquoise bay. The best sunset view (complete with sheep encounters) is accessed by climbing up the adjacent grassy hill.
9. Extra Joss shots are pretty good.
A mixture of vodka and Extra Joss energy powder (illegal everywhere except Indonesia and the Philippines), the shot can be found at an Irish pub called Tir Na Nog or in the privacy of your own island accommodations.
Empty the entire packet of Joss into your mouth, but don’t swallow. Pour the vodka shot into your mouth with the powder. Close your mouth because the combination fizzes up like a fourth grade volcano project. Shake your head to mix the contents and swallow.
10. Children make good jockeys.
The first ever Sasak Horse race was held on Lombok while we were visiting. The horses are decorated and designed with a shaver and coloured paint. Riders ride bareback and without reins, their small size helping them finish faster. Only these aren’t adult jockeys; they’re children no older than 12.
11. Worms are lucky.
The annual Putri Nyale festival is celebrated in early February on the island of Lombok. Sasak people flock to the beaches to retrieve water said to contain glowing worms that bring good luck to the beholder.
Legend says that the worms represent the hair of a goddess that drowned herself in the waters here because she would not share her love between her home country and a man whom she was to marry. She killed herself to show that she wouldn’t love anything, or anyone, more than Indonesia.
12. Peanuts grow on trees.
Don’t judge me. Where I come from, we don’t have peanut trees.
13. Anyone can cook like an Indonesian.
In Kuta, Lombok you can learn how to cook any Indonesian cuisine you’d like. Yanti’s Cooking Class takes you to a local market, where you hand-pick your own fresh ingredients to take to her family’s home in a small village, where you will drink a hand-picked coconut and learn Yanti’s special recipes.
We learned how to make Gado Gado, Nasi Goreng, seafood curry, and chili prawns. Thank you to Ralph, Yanti, and Raya for your generosity and kindness.
14. The mangiest cats live here.
Inbreeding is the main reason behind the strange looking Indonesian cats. Because of the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia, the cats have shrunk their own gene pools by mating within the family chain. The cats are typically quite small in size and have about an inch of tail.
15. The bugs are big.
That’s no bird. That’s a moth.