Indonesia (English version) 🇺🇸 🇬🇧
It was May 12, 2019, when I arrived in Indonesia. The first Asian country that I stepped on, my first encounter with cultures completely different from what I was used to. The culture shock was as huge and abrupt as it was inevitable and unpredictable.
There are many things that I have learned from this country that I did not know. I was very surprised to learn that it ranks fourth in world population.
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world in terms of area and is in fifth position in terms of number of islands with more than 17,500. To get an idea of how big it is, here I show you a comparison against the territory of the United States.
The middle island, Borneo, is not only the largest island in the archipelago, it is also the third largest island in the world.
From the air you can see geographic formations that stand out above the clouds and the funny thing is that all of them are in the shape of cones, they are all volcanoes, some great others small.
Over time I learned that the volcanoes of Indonesia are big tourist attractions and I began to plan visit those that I would like to climb. But it wasn't until after 2 years that I learned how impressive the data was in this regard.
Most of Indonesia's volcanoes belong to the Sunda Volcanic Arc, which extends over 3,000 kilometers, associated with the islands of Sumatra and Java, the Sunda Strait, and the Lesser Sunda Islands. A chain of volcanoes forms the topographical backbone of these islands.
The arc marks an active convergent boundary between the eastern Eurasian plates - especially the Sunda plate and the Burma plate - which includes Indonesia, and the Indian and Australian plates that form the seafloor of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Bengal. .
Indonesia leads the world in many volcano statistics. It has the highest number of historically active volcanoes (76), its total of 1,171 dated eruptions is only surpassed by 1,274 in Japan, although not much is known about volcanic activity in the time before the arrival of European colonialists from the XV century. Indonesia has suffered the largest number of eruptions that have resulted in fatalities, damage to arable land, mudflows, tsunamis, domes and pyroclastic streams. Four fifths of Indonesian volcanoes with dated eruptions have erupted in this century.
Two of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in history took place in Indonesia: the massive Tambora eruption in 1815, the largest known eruption in the world during historical times, had such far-reaching effects on climate that, for example, Europe experienced 1816 like the year without a summer. In 1883, the disastrous eruption of the Krakatau was deeply etched in the collective memory of mankind. The Krakatau eruption was followed by severe tsunamis that killed 30-40,000 people.
In 1920, the government led by the Netherlands established a study of volcanoes, which led to much better monitoring and reporting of volcanoes. The Indonesian Volcano Survey (VSI) now operates a network of 64 volcano observatories that continuously monitor 59 volcanoes.
The good thing is that I did not know anything about this data in December 2019 when I went camping on the slopes of the Rinjani volcano in Lombok, considered active.
In this photo I am looking at the cone of the Rinjani volcano and on my left you can see a small volcano of recent origin called Gunung Baru Jari that was smoking on that day.
Its currency is the Rupee (Rp) and 1Rp = 100 sen. These coins and bills are the most fragile I have ever had in my hands and the most abused. People are not used to organizing bills in a wallet and they keep them in a lump and crumpled up. The old bills emit a very peculiar smell, like musty.
The cost of living in Indonesia is very low. GDP per capita in Indonesia is expected to reach $ 4,450.00 by the end of 2021. Here the money from Western economies pays off so there is a lot of foreign investment and a large population of expatriates taking advantage of this situation. If you are attracted to visiting Indonesia, its exchange rate is a real incentive to do so. You will be surprised how cheap everything is here. The exchange rate is very favorable, around 14,000 RP for $ 1.
To give you an idea of how cheap life is, I will give you some examples here.
The working class or any person with limited resources who goes out to buy something to eat, regularly buys a Nasi Jinggo, this is a portion of cooked white rice with small portions of 1, 2 or 3 stews with a small piece of meat of chicken or fish and sauce wrapped in paper or banana leaf to take away, its cost is between 5,000 and 7,000 RP or between $ 0.35 and $ 0.50 USD.
This is chicken (ayam) shredded (sisit) and it cost me 5,000 RP
The working class or any middle class employee who goes out to eat regularly pays between 10,000 and 20,000 RP or between $ 0.70 and $ 1.40 USD for a larger portion of cooked white rice with 3 or 4 small portions of stews on a plate and they sit down to eat it in places called Warung that are range from small pop up stands on the street to big established restaurants and they are everywhere.
Here I show you a menu as an example and also what I usually eat. It's called Nasi (rice) campur (pronounced champur and means mix or cocktail). I eat a lot more than the locals so my plate is full. On my plate there are 6 medium portions of assorted casseroles plus a bowl of soup and I pay between 15,000 and 20,000 RP depending on the location.
(Slideshow of 4 pictures)
For the upper or privileged class, going out to eat sushi or a good cut of meat or to some American place like Kentucky Fried Chicken that is considered expensive and normally prohibitive for most of the population costs between 50,000 and 100,000 RP per person or between $ 3.50 and $ 7 USD.
(Slideshow of 2 pictures)
Despite being one of the most populous countries in the world, it has been able to achieve food self-sufficiency in strategic crops and increase general levels of food security. Even so, it has a high rate of malnutrition among its population. Other nutrition indicators show that around a third of Indonesian children are underweight and children under 5 are stunted, worrying statistics for a middle-income country like Indonesia.
On the other hand, at 71 years of age, the average life expectancy is relatively high.
I had lived the pandemic here and I must say that since Covid-19 arrived in the country I had not met anyone who has suffered from it, until just a few days ago and much less have I known someone who has died within my social circles. It is as if the Coronavirus does not exist. Apart from the fact that everyone here wears face masks, they all continue their normal lives.
The national language is known as Bahasa Indonesia (Bahasa = Language or idiom), although later, when I visited Malaysia, I found out that they share the same language only that there it is officially called Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) but there they commonly call it Malay. Over time I learned that in the 70's they decided to unify their languages into one and today it is spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and East Timor. The normative standard is Bahasa Riau, the language of the Riau Archipelago, considered the place of origin.
Although Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, it should be noted that there are more than 580 regional languages and dialects. For example, on the island of Java they speak Javanese, in Bali its inhabitants speak Balinese, on the island of Lombok where I lived for more than a year people speak Sasak and on the island of Sumbawa they use a dialect that bears the same name.
Unlike the vast majority of Asian languages, Indonesian uses a writing system based on the Latin alphabet. The pronunciation of Indonesian does not pose difficulties for Spanish speakers as the pronunciation of its letters is very similar with few exceptions. The c is always pronounced as ch. A very common example is the car wash signs that you see everywhere. Cuci Motor Mobil (Cuci = wash, Motor = motorcycle and Mobil = car) is pronounced <chuchi>.
I arrived in Indonesia landing in Bali, this terminal is very different from western airports.
After assembling my bike I went out to the street and was again surprised by the roads and their traffic dominated by scooters. Fortunately, I was already used to riding on the left side from New Zealand, but even so it was difficult at first to move in this new, quite chaotic and fast-paced environment.
Roads and traffic
Wherever I have traveled, whether in Bali, Lombok or Sumbawa, which are the islands that I have visited, I must be very vigilant because violations of traffic laws are the most common, in large part because the police shine for their absence. It is very rare to see policemen patrolling the streets. In the 2 years that I have been here, I have only seen patrols escorting politicians or large vehicles such as trailers transporting heavy machinery and supporting demonstrations or mass events. I have never seen them stopping violators or giving fines. Before the pandemic, in Bali, corruption seemed to be the police focus, they liked to grab tourists to extract dollars from them under any pretext of infringement. They pulled me to the side of the road at a red light where there were many motorcyclists and they looked for a pretext to fine me, which they did.
Here are some examples of what I have had to learn to be alert while traveling in Indonesia:
They run red lights with ease.
Regardless of the size of the road, for them it is very easy to circulate in the opposite direction.
They invade the opposite lane, the wrong way, assuming they have already been spotted.
They indicate that they are going to turn almost at the moment of doing it, they do not signal with enough anticipation.
Many circulate without lights at night, I call those ghosts.
Rear-view mirrors are conspicuous by their absence, and those who have them, do not use them to change lanes or turn, most have them adjusted to see themselves, vanity over safety.
Therefore, they are used to change lanes without checking who is next to them.
They enter the transit flow without considering the traffic.
The vast majority drive extremely slow, as many are new drivers, first generation as car-owners.
They consider themselves superior to motorcyclists and make maneuvers that put them in danger.
They overpower motorcyclists by forcing them to brake or pull over.
There are many animals on the rural roads, mostly dogs and chickens.
The absence of curbs or sidewalks in the countryside forces pedestrians to walk on the asphalt strip.
There are sections with trees on the side of the road and sometimes in the lane.
Here is what has been outstanding for me during my stay in this country.
Wherever I go, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, it highlights that their communities are organized in villages, with a strong ancestral family roots. Society in Indonesia is very respectful and gentle. They have a smile always ready for you, they are generous and hospitable.
In Lombok I found a typical Muslim restaurant called Sukma Rasa where from the beginning I was welcomed with open arms. From the employees to the owners they made me feel like part of the family. Here is a photo taken the day I said goodbye.
Traveling through Indonesia I have realized that it is a country dedicated mostly to agriculture, the basis of their diet is rice and in that they are self-sufficient. Below is a photo of the beginning of the rice cycle. First the seeds germinate and it is at this point that they collect the tender shoots in bunches and then take them to replant in the fields. There they sow them by hand one by one but more apart.
No matter where I go, there are rice fields everywhere, it is what strengthens the social fabric of Indonesia, I even see them in urban areas and overpopulated cities. Here I show you a semi-important road that crosses a plain and connects the south coast of Lombok with the east coast of the island.