Indonesia 2013

For one month in late 2013, to explore this enormous archipelago. We kept moving, island-hopping from Bali to the Gili Islands, Lombok to Komodo and Flores, then over to Northern Sumatra and Pulau Weh. And we barely scratched the surface.

Pulau Weh (Part 2): Farewell to the Sun

We took a bechak from Freddie’s to the island’s western horn. So steep was the road through the forested island that I had to walk alongside the bechak at one point. But after endless climbing came the freewheel descent to Iboih. The settlement comprised just a little cluster of bungalows, shops and cafes, although development was clearly in action. The slow silence was interrupted in places by the drills and saws of construction sites, from which the workers looked up, stopped their tools and yelled enthusiastic helloes at us. We had to leave the bechak and navigate Iboih on foot, clambering over steps above the shoreline to Yulia’s, a place they call the “last resort”. Yulia’s was everything we had hoped for back at home in Belfast – a collection of detached wooden shacks overlooking the water. But initially we found it hard to be excited because we were stuck […]

Pulau Weh (Part 1): Where the Sea Meets the Sky

The fast ferry took us off the northern tip of Sumatra, cutting a smooth course through the waters between the mainland and Pulau (“island”) Weh. We haggled with pushy bechak drivers for a ride over to Freddie’s, a place recommended by Lonely Planet. Good quality roads took us through a hilly land ravaged by fecund nature, bursting green around us. Heavy grey skies flattened the light but we had to expect a wet climate. Weh, or Sabang as the locals call it, gets two monsoons a year, one from the west and one from the east. This produces not only abundant life on the land but also in the water, in what is known as the Sea Garden. The island is U-shaped with two peninsulas forming the northern extremity of Indonesia, jutting like horns into the Indian Ocean. We spent the first two days of our short stay on the […]

Banda Aceh: Almost a Touch of Class

We allowed three hours to get from Friendship Guesthouse, in the jungle village of Ketambe, to the airport at Kutacane, 35km to the the southeast. We were a few minutes late starting and the next bus took longer than expected but such delays were accounted for in our schedule. The bus was typical of the area, a light truck with a caged flatbed containing two facing benches. Some passenger space was sacrificed to allow for a big speaker unit with a ten-inch sub-woofer so we could all be treated to pop ballads on the road. At Kutacane we transferred into one of the small bechaks that are standard there. I rode on the back of the bike, with Maeve and the bags in the sidecar. We made aeroplanes with our hands and the driver seemed to understand that we wanted the airport. He drove out of town. Time wore on. […]

Medan to Ketambe: Into the Wild, Misty Jungle 2

The flight from Labuan Bajo was in a propellor-driven plane. We turned in a wide arc after leaving the runway, to look down on the town and the islands and reefs splodged throughout the coastal water. We then flew straight back across the island chain, retracing the route we had taken by boat over the preceding two weeks. Amidst green volcanoes and uncountable bays and islands fringed by azure reefs, we saw Rinjani’s peak breaching the cloud over Lombok. We landed in Medan, the principle city in northern Sumatra around 20:00, stepping out into hot, thickly humid air. Taking Lonely Planet’s recommendation, we checked-in at Pondok Wisata Angel in the city centre. The blue walls of our little room were blackening with damp. The leaky aircon unit sounded like an aircraft engine all night. A tiny window overlooked a few tin roofs and a busy street. There was an en-suite […]

Lombok to Flores: Here be Dragons

Our boat departed from Bangsal in northwestern Lombok around 13:00. We were 23 passengers, mostly german, six spanish, two irish plus Maeve, one danish, one swiss, and me, plus four crew. When ordering the trip in Gili Air we’d seen a photo of the boat and I’d asked if that was the actual boat. The agent replied enthusiastically, “No, old picture. We have a new boat, a bettter one”. In reality it may have been the worst boat in the eastern hemisphere. We stepped onto a high-sided wooden vessel with a clunky, disproportionate shape. There were no cabins, just an elevated aft deck covered in 21 thin mattresses with only enough headspace to crawl over. The wheelhouse was a tiny box amidships with awful visibility of the sea. The crew operated at the stern, where they had an area for preparing and cooking food and a keyhole toilet for everyone […]

Lombok: Climbing to Dawn on Top of the World

abA smooth twenty-minute water taxi ride landed us on the Gili’s big neighbour island, Lombok. By horse-and-trap then taxi, we finally saw Indonesian life in the daylight, lurching through overtaking manoeuvres past rice paddies dappled with the little sandy peaks of farmers’ straw hats. To one side, glittering gun metal grey beaches hinted at the volcanic foundations of the island chain. Lombok is a similar size to Bali and a little further back in the race for development. Like its neighbours throughout the western end of the Nusa Tengarra chain, Lombok is a ring of palm-fringed beaches encircling, high, steep jungle-covered hills. Its northern half is dominated by Indonesia’s second highest peak, Gunung Rinjani. What I guess was once a huge singular peak had burst open in an ancient eruption to become a spectacular crater. We had seen it in guidebook photos months earlier and dreamed of reaching it. Now […]

The Gili Islands: Upgrading to a more Perfect Paradise

We staggered like refugees onto the beach at Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three tiny islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok. Dogs and motorised vehicles are banned on the islands and the infrastucture is nascent, making them peaceful idylls for sunseeking travellers. The lack of dogs might also contribute to the prevalence of cats, patrolling the beaches and eateries, brushing and scratching bare legs to beg for scraps of freshly barbequed fish. The main strip is a small village of bars and tourist accomodation, its traffic a trickle of flip-flopped walkers, bicycles and jingling ponies pulling small traps. We found a fish market full of barbeque smoke and flourescent light, selling Red, Black and White Snapper, huge shrimps and squid, Baracuda, Parrot Fish and many others. We picked a particularly beautiful “Sweet Lips” fish, with narrow yellow and blue stripes on its sides and leopard print fins. […]

Bali: Wish You Were Here

It was a Friday at the start of Autumn. Besides a few excited text messages between Maeve and I, it felt like any other Friday. We were working hard, me at my home desk, Maeve in the hospital a mile to the east. I rushed to get my work finished but it was never going to happen. I just did what I thought would be enough and cleared my desk at lunchtime. I made one lap around my bedroom, stuffing clothes and travel accessories into my rucksack before rushing out the door to meet Maeve by the bus station. The bus narrowly avoided collision with a mobile home but otherwise rolled into Dublin airport with inevitable ease. As we checked-in and ordered a glass of cheap bubbly in Departures it still wasn’t close to sinking in. We were adventurers again, we were free and moving, we just couldn’t quite believe […]