Shannon, my partner in crime and also frequently mistaken as my life partner, spent a month together in Indonesia. We saw breathtaking beauty, met kind and compassionate people, and constantly engaged in self discovery. We also experienced some of the inevitable challenges of traveling as women, witnessed poverty, and at times had to be guarded to avoid scams. A month came and went, although we were sad to go we knew that we had enjoyed it to the fullest. Below are some of my most memorable highlights from our time in Indonesia:
Women’s Empowerment through Ecotourism
In the foothills of Mount Rinjani there is a local group focused on empowering women through the creation of work opportunities. One of the ways they do this is training local women to be trekking guides. Shannon found this amazing local organization and coordinated a trekking tour for us. Two women, Deni & Ellie, met us at our hostel and we headed out with them for the day. The language barrier was significant but its amazing how much you can connect with another soul despite the inability to communicate verbally. They took us through a local village and then on a hike to a beautiful waterfall. They held our hands through two water crossings, swam with us in the waterfall, and watched our belongings when we ventured off alone. After our hike, they invited us into their cousins home who cooked an authentic Indonesian meal for us. We hung out with the whole family playing our own version of charades to communicate and laughed from the depths of our bellies. We ended the day on the back of their motorbikes. When we got back to the hostel, we spent the evening with Daniel, a 24 year old who worked full time at our hostel. He told us of his life; that he was Muslim, married, and stopped going to school at 10 years old (also the age he started smoking cigarettes). He was kind, welcoming, and open.
I gained such perspective in Senaru. Daniel worked 6-7 days a week, depending on the week. I experienced a deeper awareness of my privilege and the luxuries I took for granted in my everyday life in the USA, e.g. clean running water to drink whenever I pleased, having almost any amenity at my fingertips, having a disposable income, deciding where to go on vacation or what to do with my weekends, the list could go on forever…I noticed how the people I met found joy and beauty in every moment, they did not seem to over-complicate things. Finding happiness is so simple. It does not depend on what you have or who you are but rather what you think.
Senaru was one of my favorite places. Shannon and I had meaningful connections with local people and were completely immersed in nature. I felt grateful and at peace. Nature and genuine people have a way of helping you sink into the present moment and flow with it.
Surfing in Kuta
Shannon and I were on a high when we got to Kuta. We must have been sending out good vibes because a local approached us as I was trying to teach myself how to drive a scooter. He saw that I was clearly struggling and knew that without his help, I would likely endanger myself and most definitely the lives of others. His name was Yogi and we ended up spending the day with him. He was very kind and taught me how to drive a scooter. He brought us to two beautiful remote beaches and a monkey haven tucked away that we otherwise would not have found. He told us about his life and we listened. When I discovered Yogi was a surfing instructor, I asked him to teach me. The next day, I learned the basics of surfing. I had so much fun! I felt at peace in the water. The beach teaches you to use your mind less, relax, and use you body and heart to feel. It also does one hell of a job humbling you – right when you think you’ve got it, it takes you out!
Shannon and I were sad to leave Kuta, Lombok. Not only did we share a beautiful exchange with a stranger but we also did a ton of yoga and ate vegan Rendang at least a handful of times each! If you’ve never had it…you must try it!
Shannon and I spent many sunrises in temples throughout our month in Indonesia. Most notably, in the span of 24 hours we visited the largest Buddhist temple in the world (Borobudur), a magnificent Hindu temple (Prambanan) , and an underground Mosque (Taman Sari.) Our beliefs have the power to move mountains (literally). I am personally inspired by the Buddhist noble truths and aspire to know and live them everyday. I will dedicate space in another post to what I have learned thus far…
Sunrise Hike & Active Crater Exploration in Bromo
Shannon and I took a $7 ten-hour train ride (economy class) from Yogyakarta to Probolinggo. If you’re looking for an opportunity for self-discovery, spend ten hours on a cramped train without Internet, cell service, or television. We were very hungry on this 10 hour ride and had limited food supplies. We were fortunate to be sitting opposite a kind older woman who insisted (with forceful body language and in her local dialect) that we eat her delicious homemade bread/pastry balls. We politely refused but were secretly grateful for her persistence. They were delicious and hit the spot! I spent the 10 hours journaling, listening to podcasts, and reflecting. It was wonderful.
We finally arrived in the remote mountain village of Cemoro Lawang and went to bed early. Our hostel had a shared bathroom but no sink so we improvised brushing our teeth in the woods. We woke up at 2am and took a 4×4 jeep to the national park. From there we trekked 1.5 hours underneath the most brilliant Southern Hemisphere sky — Venus was especially shining. We reached a lookout point and waited patiently for the sun to rise. It slowly revealed the crater, volcanic cone, and surrounding desert and mountainous landscape. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.
Miraculously our sweet Indonesian driver was able to find us after our hike, despite the significant language barrier, and we drove to the base of the volcano. From there we rode horses through the desert to the crater, and we climbed to its top.
Shannon said it so well, “the powerful rumblings of Bromo had a calming effect as we sat on its rim, basking in the sun. Views of the volcanos and varied, dramatic terrain greeted us below. In the Pacific’s Ring of Fire, we marveled at mother nature’s beauty and formidable force.” It was epic 🙂
- Our cultural observations:
- For the most part women don’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol but the men do.
- We noticed so many men with at least one long finger nail. We tried to ask locals why but the language barrier was too difficult. We later read about it online and some “forums” say that it was a mark of status.
- Not all Muslim women wear the hijab, in fact we saw and spoke with groups of women walking together where within the same group some were wearing it and some were not.
- Indonesia’s relationship with drugs: We witnessed a striking contrast…while on Gilli Trawagan we were offered mushrooms by locals at least 12 times in a two day period but on every domestic plane ride we took, it was casually mentioned (as part of the normal safety briefing before taking off) that any possession of drugs was punishable by death.
- Traveling can be tiring: It is so important to give yourself downtime and rest while traveling. Shannon and I ended up staying 6 nights in Amed during our last week in Indonesia when we had only planned on staying 2. After traveling for 3 weeks and going to 9 different places (before Amed), we decided to just stay put for about a week. It was amazing to have some space to just be, live, and recharge our batteries before we headed to Singapore and Sri Lanka. My advice to other travelers (if traveling for longer periods of time) would be, minimize the planning ahead and just go with the flow!
- It’s a privilege to travel- Obviously I knew that intellectually before leaving but the privilege sunk in on a deeper level. So many locals we met had never traveled or left the island they were born on. For some, travel was not really an option. In Bali we were told that much of a family’s disposable income goes into preparing for religious ceremonies. The practicing Hindu’s make offerings at least once a day (sometimes 3x a day) and have a big ceremony every 6 months that costs money. Nobody complained to us about this but it was humbling to mull over the concepts of disposable income and travel both in the context of Indonesia but also for others back home in the USA.
On July 28th we celebrated a month of being on the road and on the 31st we left Indonesia. Our travels in Indonesia were rich in experience and reminded me of my love of nature and exploration. It gave me a deeper sense of gratitude and perspective. Shannon and I have since continued our travels together to Singapore and Sri Lanka. I look forward to sharing how it felt to transition to a new country, insights from a Sri Lankan Ayurvadic retreat, my experience as a solo female traveler, and where I’m off to next!