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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie

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 Travel Diary : An Indonesia that smiles to me

After Australia and an arrival by plane-hitchhiking, I get to Indonesia, an archipelagos of around 17000 islands, just that! This is also the fourth more populated country in the world, with around 250 millions inhabitants.

This is also for me the arrival in the last continent that I will cross in this world tour by hitchhiking: Asia.
To be honest, when I arrived in this country, I didn't know so much about it. The information that is coming from the medias doesn't really help me to get a bright idea of the country: tsunami of 2004, bombings in Bali in 2002. Unbelievably, may I say, because there is so much more to say...
 
The culture is so diverse that I could spend a life in this country and still asking myself questions about the meaning of this or that. This article about Indonesia has for goal to give you my impressions about this country, about the people I met and of course to add a little bit of hitchhiking in all of this.
 
From Bali to Sumatra, passing by the highly populated Java, follow me to discover some part of the multicultural Indonesia.
 
Let's go, Selamat datang di Indonesia !
 
 
The Bahasa Indonesia

I am going to start this article with what I started to do when I got to Indonesia: learning the Indonesian language. 
As there are many different ethnic groups using different dialects, the government, to unify the country, introduced in 1928 a language that everyone would have to learn: the “Bahasa Indonesia”, the Indonesian national language.
 
This language is very easy to learn. As the Bantou languages like Swahili, there are no conjugation, no gender, no plural neither. Subject+Verb+Complement. It almost like you just need to learn the vocabulary. Adding to this, the words are easy to pronounce and to understand. In three weeks and about 300 words of vocabulary assimilated, my life changed in Indonesia...
 
Of course, if you can communicate with the locals in their own language, you have great chances that your journey will socially change. To  learn a language is a way to show your interest in a culture. The Indonesians appreciated this a lot and they gave me back so much in return. I have been invited several time to sleep at some local people places, just after having had a discussion in Indonesian. 
 
 
The Indonesian

A smile on the face of its inhabitants. A contagious smile that inevitably ends up on another face, mine. It stayed there for two months, the time of my stay in Indonesia.
Some say that to not smile to an Indonesian is showing arrogance to him.
Some Indonesians say that smiling is just a way to not be impolite...
Some Western studies showed the effectiveness of the therapy by smile. Smiling helps to become happy.
So the Indonesian only smile to not be impolite? Let me doubt about it... There are things that can't be hidden... Like happiness...
 
 
Honestly, after having spent two months with them, I have to admit that it has been a real pleasure to get to meet them. In few words, I can say that thanks to its inhabitants, I put Indonesia on top of the list of my favorite countries with Colombia and Sudan. 
 
The Indonesian is very curious. It is also true that as a “buleh” (name given to the “white western person” in Indonesia, as the “gringo” in Latin America or the “Muzungu” in Kenya), you attract more the attention. The Indonesian usually doesn't want to let go the opportunity to know who you are, where you come from and what you are doing here. I let myself playing the game and it helped me to meet a lot of people. 
 
During a conference that I gave in a University in Yogyakarta, I found that the student were very careful and curious to know more about the world. Good on them!
 
 
A melting-pot of beliefs
 
Islam
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Around 80% of its 250 millions inhabitants are supporting Islam.
 
The Istiqlal mosque of Jakarta

 
Islam in Indonesian appeared to me as moderate while respecting its values. The message of tolerance seemed to me as understood. There, Islam is often introduced presented like a personal choice and I have never felt judged about my own beliefs. In other parts of the world, for this same religion, it wasn't the case.  
 
Maybe the local culture influenced this, but when an Indonesian was asking about my religion, it was all the time made with delicacy:
« I am very sorry to ask, but what is your religion ? »
 
A circumcision ceremony near Bandar Lampung, in the south of Sumatra

 
After having traveled in many countries where this religion was dominant, I think that the messages of the Koran are peaceful and encourage to peace. However, those messages are sometimes not understood or voluntarily distorted and in consequence the practice of Islam becomes doubtful.
As in many religions in fact, including the Catholicism in France, there is sometimes a gap between the Holy texts, the understanding of it and its practice in the daily life.
It seemed to me that Islam in Indonesia was generally close to the good sense in the practice.
 
Here is a proof of tolerance between different beliefs, a cathedral and a mosque next to each other in Jakarta

 
The Hinduism in Bali
Bali, contrary to the rest of the country, is mainly Hindu.
My first impressions were visually very impressive. There are temples everywhere on this island, small or big, sometimes and even very often magnificent.  
 
One of the countless Hindu temple in Bali, towards the center of the island
 
 
Amongst the most famous, there are the temple of Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Kemuning or even Tirta Empul. Some seem to have different function in the Hindu belief and I have to admit that all of it seem to me very complicated for a uninitiated. I imagine that I will learn a lot more about it when I will travel in India. 
 
Some Hindu doing aquatic prayers in the basin of the Temple or Tirta Empul

 
In front of every Hindu house, it is possible to find everyday some little offering made to the Gods. After the time of the surprise, I had to focus where I was putting my foot to not make an irreparable mistake!
 
You will see many Hindu offering in front of the houses in Bali
 
 
I also have been invited to a Hindu wedding. The ceremony was happening in a Balinese community building. As the culture wants, the temple was build inside the property. The newlyweds had the skin whitened for this day. The guests were coming  to give their blessing to the couple. The ceremony is mainly religious and is generally happening during the day.
 
With the Hindu newlyweds in Bali

 
Other beliefs
Indonesia welcomes as well other beliefs at a smaller scale. Christian, Buddhism, different forms of Animism... The country is so diverse that it is almost impossible to quote everything, because knowing everything would mean to have explored intensively 17000 islands...
 
Lets quote at least one of the most famous building: the Buddhist temple of Borobudur near the city of Yogyakarta in the island of Java
 
The Buddhist temple of Borobudur

 

The Indonesian cuisine
 
I missed them so much.. The street vendors, the little shops on the side of the road...
Adding to this, my arrival in Indonesia means also for me the discovering of the Asian cuisine. From the first meal, I already knew that I would delight myself for a long time.
 
The main food in Indonesia is rice. It comes with almost every meal. Otherwise, you may have noodles. 
According to what you get on your plate, the landscape had to adapt to this. Translation: if there is rice at every meal, there are great chances to see rice fields at every corner of Indonesia. 
 
The rice fields built in terrace are enlightening the landscape from their green color, like here in Bali

 
I spent a bit of time to discover the local cuisine in the “warung”. A warung is a small restaurant in Indonesia. Often, you can choose amongst different food that are already cooked. Everything comes of course with white rice. 
You have also the meals that are prepared on demand, as the famous “nasi goreng” (fried rice) or the “bakso” (meatballs in a soup) or even the “Pempek” (fish cake).
 
A “bakso” in Pasuruan in the island of Java

 
A street vendor in Yogyakarta
 
 
Cooking some meat for a ceremony in Lampung

 
I found that the Indonesian cuisine was delicious and diverse. It is possible to stop pretty much everywhere to eat in Indonesia and this is also the chance to go to meet the local inhabitants who like to eat outside as well.
 
Going to meet the local vendors, like here with those sugarcane vendors in Probolinggo in Java

 
 
Hitchhiking in Indonesia
 
How to hitchhike in Indonesia
Like everywhere, hitchhiking is a very good mean to go to meet the local people. Hitchhiking in Indonesia has been relatively average even though absolutely possible.
 
The main difficulty is that hitchhiking is a concept that doesn't really exist in Indonesia. Showing your thumb on the side of the road doesn't help at all.
The best way that I found to stop the cars was to do the same sign that the locals were using to stop the public transports: to wave the hand, with the palm orientated towards the ground, while of course looking at the driver.
 
This can be called «menumpang ». Menumpang is a word used to explain the action to invite someone at his place, but also on his vehicle.
 
I explain the concept of hitchhiking in Indonesia to a TV channel in Palembang

 
The other difficulty is that hitchhiking in Indonesia is indeed very tiring. In most of the country, the roads are very bad. If “by chance”, you stop a truck that goes at an average of 10km/h, you have the lucky ticket!
 
Between Palembang and Pekanbaru (around 700 kilometers), I needed 64 hours including 3 nights in the cabin of a truck. The roads of Sumatra are indeed a nightmare for most of them.

 
The kindness of the Indonesian helped me to live some funny experiences in Indonesia. 
A morning in Kotabumu in Sumatra, a local ,that hosted me the day before, brought me to the train station of the city. When the train arrived, he went to talk directly to the driver, and this one agreed to allow me to train-hitchhike all the way to Palembang, which was 9 hours further.
 
By train-hitchhiking in Sumatra

 
Police-hitchhiking in Indonesia was also possible. However, as a passenger in the Indonesian vehicles, I could witness a big corruption from the police all over the country. The truck drivers, for example, had to prepare a wad of bills that they were giving to the police along the way.
 
By police-hitchhiking in Indonesia 

 
Then, there are also the less usual vehicles. Indonesia has a lot of them. Enjoy!

 
Ferry-truck-hitchhiking between the islands
It has been also possible for me to go from one island to another by hitchhiking. As the Indonesian archipelagos are huge, it is not a bad thing that this activity was quite easy.
Between Bali and Java, then between Java and Sumatra, there are ferries that are carrying trucks. The trick is quite simple, you just have to hop on a truck before one goes on the ferry. To make it even easier, there are huge parkings in front of the toll for the ferry.
 
Here we go for ferry-truck-hitchhiking in Merak on the way to Sumatra

 
Ferry-hitchhiking between Indonesia and Malaysia
This time, it was a bit more difficult. I didn't find any ferry carrying trucks between the two counties, so I had to be convincing. The situation was quite stressful because I only had 5 days on my visa and I was talking to the only ferry company, at my knowledge, that was organizing the passage between Indonesia and Malaysia.
I went to Dumai on the island of Sumatra. From there, I had to convince in Indonesian (thank you to the 3 weeks learning this language) the people in charge of the ferry company, that ended up to accept my proposition after some bargaining. 
 
Hitchhiking is indeed possible in Indonesia. It was by the way a wonderful human experience even if I have to admit that it cost me a bit of energy. Thank you to the Indonesian people!
 
 
Protecting the beauty of the country
 
A beautiful country
Indonesia is a beautiful country. Some of the landscapes are breathtaking. It is good to know that most of the Indonesian islands are of volcanic origin, so the landscape is often beautiful to look at.
How to not quote the volcano “Bromo”. During the sunrise, the view is just incredible. I don't remember to have seen many times a view like the one of the Bromo.
 
The panorama of the Bromo during the sunrise

 
From closer, we can see the volcanic activity of the Bromo
 
 
I can imagine that Indonesia has a lot of unknown wonderful landscapes. In Bali, I remember that the Uluwaty temple was built on the top of a cliff, from where the view was outstanding.
 
 
The pollution
There, this is a real nightmare. The sense of responsibility, on which concerns the protection of the environment, is just close to nothing. I experienced many times my driver throwing his plastic bottle through his window. The side of the roads is a disaster and eliminating the trashes seems to be a constant problem.
 
In Ubud in the island of Bali, a part of the landscape has been mistaken with a bin

 
In Jakarta, the capital of the country, breathing or simply seeing a bit of blue sky are things that are becoming a daily challenge. The traffic is inhuman... The public transport is a school of patience. Traveling 10 kilometers normally would normally take you two hours, and that is during holiday time.
 
The sky of Jakarta, or what remains of it

 
I didn't like the Indonesian cities. I found a great interest to travel in Indonesia, but mostly by meeting the Indonesian people who are, for me, the real reason to visit this country.
 
 
Facts of life in Indonesia
 
I lived my first moments in Indonesia as a constant astonishment. Then, I wondered myself how I could explain Indonesia to someone that doesn't know it. There are so many details that came to my eyes that it seems impossible to quote them all, but here is still some views of Indonesia that can give you a better idea of what you would discover there. 
 
The smell of incent that you can find everywhere actually comes from the cigarets perfumed with cloves. I have to say that I pretty much liked the smell from those cigarets!

Here is a cigaret seller in Merak

 
The Indonesian traffic is an organized mess. There are scooters everywhere and they go between car and trucks. All of those vehicles are driving on the right, on the left, around potholes that you can find everywhere on the road. I learned how to drive a scooter in Bali. This is surely one of the best place to learn and to become confident to drive this vehicle. Still, I felt down two times and have seen many other accidents. However, the lack of rules doesn't seem to be more fatal than in more organized society. It is a matter of adaptation I believe. 
 
A minivan in a survival state going into the traffic in Dumai
 
 
At each street corner, you can expect to witness some curious things that could be unbelievable for a westerner like me.
In Bali, many people were busy to put a musical instrument into a car
 
 
The toilets are also different. In Indonesia, we can find the Turkish style toilets and the toilet paper disappears to be replaced by water. You have to take it from a “mandi” ,which is a container filled with water, with a plastic bucket and there you go.
As every country using this way, the left hand is considered as impure (I let you know why) and the local people are using their right hand to eat.
In the restaurants, the customs is to not use cutlery, even if a fork and a spoon are always available. The knife, though, disappears from the table.
 
There are many little details like this, but I would need to write a book to quote them all!
 
 
 
Traveling in Indonesia has been a total cultural pleasure. The differences in the ways of living can be a reason to connect to the local life, so to the population that will be happy to help you and to explain you how and why.
I found that Indonesia was a safe country. I definitely felt safe.
The inhabitants, the landscapes, the safety, the culture, the food.. .All those reasons make Indonesia interesting to travel.
 
Now, I am currently in Malaysia and I keep traveling to the North. I should be soon reaching Thailand and discovering, I believe, another culture.
I will be posting very soon for an article about Malaysia and Singapore that, from what I saw so far, surprised me by their level of development.
 
See you soon,
 
Jeremy



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