Indonesia: A Land of Travel Dreams
As the flight count increases, the number of pictures taken surpasses 20,000, and the list of memories grows, our travel-weary soles welcome any new experiences that come our way. Indonesia was full of new experiences – some a lot more stressful than others.
We’ve been bedridden with debilitating stomach issues, and we’ve been stolen from – but nothing will compare to the nightmare of being stranded in a foreign country with no access to money. This emotional roller coaster of our battle with Indonesian ATMs began on our first morning in Jakarta. Being stuck in limbo with no ability to pay for accommodation or transportation was an awful experience that left us praying that it would only happen once.
Little did we know, the same issue would plague us for our entire month in Indonesia. ATMs were hit and miss, and it didn’t help that even our bank couldn’t explain what the problem was. The chattering noise of cash being dispensed at an ATM turned into the sweetest sound in the world. That thief in Nepal, who has our backup Visa card, has no idea just how much grief he has caused us.
No access to money at key times meant changing our travel plans and leaving out certain things that we would have loved to do. We’ll just have to keep dreaming about that sunrise over Mount Bromo.
Speaking of dreams, many were fulfilled in this country. From Jakarta to Lombok, Gili Air to Bali, the authenticity of our experiences was exactly what we search for as travellers.
In Jakarta, we were able to connect with a local who provided so much insight during our short stay there. She was able to translate, take us on public transport and introduce us to the local food and life of the city. We got to experience Jakarta in a way that is very difficult to do with the label of “Tourist” looming over your head. No matter how much we want to immerse ourselves in a culture, we will always be recognized as foreigners, and the barriers that come with this prove tough to penetrate. Making a local connection opens up so many doors.
Lombok, an island East of Bali, and Gili Air, a tiny island West of Lombok, proved to be some of our favourite destinations so far.
Picture a quiet island paradise surrounded by crystal-clear, turquoise waters, white sand beaches and towering green palm trees. Add to this a community of wild sea turtles steps from where we stayed, and you’ve got Gili Air. We contentedly made a home here for one near-perfect week.
As we took the $1 public boat to Gili Air, we had discussed our chances of a sea turtle encounter. Within only minutes of heading out to the reef, a mere 20 metres from shore, we spotted our first new friend. Our hearts melted as we swam happily alongside him, watching as he munched down his lunch and glided gracefully through the water. It was a dream come true that would happen 10 more times in our two days of snorkelling.
Don’t go thinking that Gili Air was frivolous beach indulgence and nothing more. We also had the pleasure of attending a traditional wedding ceremony – truly a memorable experience. As we walked up timidly, we were instantly welcomed into the celebrations, each of us being handed a plate full of amazing food and a box of cake. Being a traditional Muslim affair, we left each other to sit in the gender separated dining areas, seizing the opportunity to interact with locals.
Lombok was a dream come true in a different sense. We were able to experience what an island paradise would be like before everyone discovers that it is an island paradise. With its wild green landscapes, stunning mountains, and pristine beaches, it is inevitable that tourism is going to spike in Lombok in the coming decades. We are grateful that we got to see it before it became an overdeveloped, sterilized destination.
Our last stop in Indonesia was the famous island of Bali. Despite it being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, we had some of the most authentic travel experiences we could have hoped for.
In Bali’s cultural capital of Ubud, we finally found the cooking class we’ve been looking for. After taking us to the morning market to select our fresh ingredients, our instructor (and new friend) Putu apologized for the fact that she didn’t have a restaurant to host us at, like the other cooking class options in town. We explained that being welcomed into her home and introduced to her family was exactly what made the experience so special. Something as authentic and culturally revealing as that is rare and rewarding to us as travellers.
As if we weren’t already overwhelmed enough by our time in Indonesia, we were in for one final dream come true, courtesy of an old friend in Lovina. It has been 12 years since Stephie last visited Bali with her family, where they met a dive shop employee named Adi, and kept in touch. With nothing to gain in return, Adi welcomed us as if we were family. He arranged our accommodation in Lovina, lent us his motorbike for 2 days, introduced us to his co-workers, let us use the dive shop’s kayaks, accompanied us dolphin watching, took us out for some incredible barbecued fish, and hosted us for an authentic home-cooked meal.
He even had a day trip out to a few waterfalls planned, but car troubles sent us on an adventure on public transport instead. All of this is a testament to the kind of person he is: genuinely kind, generous, and eager to show us a good time. How refreshing after months of feeling like walking wallets.
The extraordinary nature of our long-term trip means that we count our blessings on a daily basis – we are well aware of how privileged we are to be on this adventure. But specific positive experiences, such as the ones we had in Indonesia, are always overwhelming, and the feeling of gratitude swells to near bursting proportions. We understand that things don’t necessarily have to happen this way; things don’t always work out, let alone work out so incredibly well. But we take the good with the bad – the dreams with the nightmares – and strive to see them as equally valuable. The negative experiences make us stronger as we learn to adjust and solve them independently, while the positive ones turn into the memories we will try to hold on to forever.
Six Degrees Hostel, Jakarta, $25 for double room with shared washroom & breakfast – Recommended
Pop Hotel, Yogyakarta, $38 for double room with A/C & breakfast – Not Recommended
Borobudur Village Inn, Borobudur, $32 for double room with A/C & breakfast – Recommended
Tulips Hotel, Yogyakarta, $28 for A/C double room – Recommended
Billy Pendawa Homestay, Denpasar, $23 for A/C double room – Recommended
Rinjani Beach Eco Resort, Medana (Lombok), $32 for bamboo villa with fan & breakfast – Recommended
Sejuk Cottages, Gili Air (Lombok), $38 for double villa with fan & breakfast – Recommended
Kuta Garden Homestay, Kuta Lombok, $15 for double room with fan & breakfast – Not Recommended
Desak Putu Putra Homestay, Ubud (Bali), $24 for double room with A/C & breakfast – Recommended
Rini Hotel, Lovina (Bali), $20 for double room with fan & breakfast – Not Recommended
Stephie – Ikan bakar (barbecued fish) in Lovina, Bali, $5.50 per person for two types of BBQ fish, fish curry, steamed rice, spicy vegetables, tomato sambal and a beer
Eric – Meal prepared at Balinese cooking class in Ubud: corn fritters, tomato sambal, tempeh manis (sweet tempeh), gado gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), chicken with fresh sambal, steamed rice with fried onions; $20 per person for the cooking class, including meal