Tag Archives: snorkeling

Vespa Across Indonesia Part I

Jakarta to Bali, Traveling at the Speed of Whim.

Text and Photos Terry Donohue
Published in “Indonesian Expat”, March 2018, Issue 209
Follow the trip on Instagram @donohueterry

fishing boats, indonesian fishing boats, Java, Terry Donohue
Fishing boats, north Java

Ever had a crazy notion to ride a Vespa across Indonesia? Well, for years I’ve had this idea stewing in the back of my mind. Pouring over the maps and talking with friends and motorcycle enthusiasts, I plotted a trip from Jakarta through Nusa Tenggara all the way to Timur. Sure enough, most people thought I was crazy.

Now that I am free from the shackles of the “nine to five” and still blessed with a wife who is also my best friend, I set out on this solo adventure one hazy Jakarta morning last January. Riding my Vespa GTS, affectionately known as “Big Budi”, I spent weeks zigzagging across Java and Bali, visiting places that I have always wanted to see and discovering places that were totally off my radar. This trip confirmed that Indonesia is as fascinating as ever, and one of the world’s great touring destinations.

There is a long list of cultural and natural wonders that can guide you across the archipelago. Just pull out a map, start drooling and stick some pins in it. You can climb volcanos, explore rainforest, surf, dive and snorkel, however, one thing I learned is that the real thrill is in the journey, not in the destination. After a few days you will find yourself not caring where you are going or how long it’ll take to get there – and the feeling is liberating!

Java, Gunung Bromo, Bromo, Mt Bromo, Bromo Crater, Terry Donohue
The abyss of Bromo Crater

There are a lot of big name places to pin on your map like Bromo, Borobudur and Ubud, just to name a few. And though there is nothing like gazing into the fuming abyss of Bromo Crater, realize that many not-so-famous places will feed your adventurous spirit. Like following the bamboo bridges and walkways over headlands on the south coast of Java, or body surfing perfect waves in Bali at a beach more popular with cows than people, or cleansing your soul in sacred baths nestled amongst the oldest Hindu ruins in Java. There are also little-known waterfalls, canyons and villages throughout Java and Bali where you can hike into the clouds, stumble upon Viking-like fishing boats bedecked in Hindu and Muslim motifs, or be the first traveler that people have ever seen. You can do this if you have your own wheels and take the roads less traveled.

After a few days you will find yourself
not caring where you are going or how
long it’ll take to get there …

Java, Indonesia, Terry Donohue, mattresses
Stacked high with mattresses

Then there are the little things in life. Take time to have breakfast at a tiny warung on a busy street corner. Watch life go by. Men pushing carts stacked high with mattresses, becak drivers in search of the day’s first customer, or jamu ladies pedaling bicycles jingling with bottles of herbal medicine. Life in Indonesia is rich.

I stopped in a small town one morning to watch villagers carry their bananas to market. Sipping coffee and munching on fried bananas, I was approached by an old woman in a tattered batik dress. She lifted the load off her head and sat down next to me. Silently, she unwrapped a banana leaf and ate a steamed banana, and together we gazed onto the busy street. It was our “banana moment”. A precious slice of life.

When you speak Bahasa, people in the countryside may be shocked. In rural Java I stopped at a crossroad to ask directions from a group of farmers. They looked at me, eyes dilating as I spoke, and when I finished they all just burst out laughing! I asked again, but they couldn’t stop laughing. I never did get an answer…

Java, Indonesia, Terry Donohue, south Java, beach, green coconut
Go local with a green coconut, it’s a drink and a meal all in one – only 50 cents

Adapt to the Indonesian way of life and you’ll never have to worry about food or gas. Almost every village has a warung serving up nasi goreng or bakso. And if there aren’t any gas stations, who cares? Eventually you will see someone squatting and smoking next to a rack of recycled bottles filled with bensin. Let them finish their cigarette, then fill up your tank.

Though national roads will often get you to places faster than back roads, avoid them when you can. National roads are the domain of speed freaks racing from point A to point B. It’s unnerving when a behemoth, like a Pariwisata bus, sneaks up from behind and sounds a horn so loud that it blows your helmet forward.

Then there are the long-suffering traffic lights where you will bake in the sun while people indiscriminately flick cigarette butts out the window in your direction. No thank you. Get on the back roads where smiles beam from beneath coolie hats and people wave to you from fields so arrestingly green that you will have to stop and take a picture. This is the real Indonesia.

Bali, Indonesia, Terry Donohue, Ubud, Ubud market, puja
Daily puja at a Balinese temple

Besides packable clothing, a bathing suit, mask and snorkel, hiking sneakers and a warm jacket all you really need are the following:

  • A Scooter: Contrary to western belief, you don’t need (or want) a 1500 cc motorcycle in Indonesia. In fact, 125 cc will do just fine. I can see my friends back in North America falling out of their chairs as they read this, but it is true. If you have a scooter, buy a top box and go! If you don’t have a scooter, pack light and rent one at your next destination.
  • A Map App: There are many good apps, but I prefer Google Maps as I like the lady’s perky voice. Just be aware that she knows your every move. So when mother nature calls and you sneak off into the bushes with your phone in your pocket, you may be caught off guard by one of her sudden tirades: “Turn right! Continue north! In 400 meters do a U-turn!” which, of course, will alert anyone nearby of your whereabouts. Google Maps also offers alternative routes that will get you off the main roads and into some spectacular countryside.
  • A Booking App: When booking homestays and hotels, I find that Booking.com works great in Indonesia. Don’t book too far in advance, as you may find a gem along the way and change your plans.
  • Music: Load up your phone before you go as you will have lots of time to hear your favorite tunes and explore new music. Tip: I found that the Bebop will help you improvise your way through any convoluted traffic jam!
  • Language: Lastly, learn enough Bahasa to greet people and ask directions. Then load a Bahasa podcast onto your phone, learn more along the way and dazzle everyone.

Yes, maybe heading across Indonesia on Big Budi was a crazy idea, but what a great way to intimately explore this fascinating country – traveling at the speed of whim.

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The Resurrection of Krakatau

Published in Indonesian Expat magazine December 2017

Destruction

When Krakatau erupted in 1883, it became the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history. Scientists stationed in Batavia (Jakarta) used seismographs to measure the earth’s movements and this information, along with eyewitness accounts, were telegraphed around the world through new transoceanic cables that connected every continent. It was one of the world’s first global news stories.

View Anak Krakatau, Krakatoa, Rakata, Indonesia, volcano
View from Anak Krakatau

There were no settlements on Krakatau itself as the ill-tempered island had been rumbling for centuries. However, the nearby coasts of Sumatra and Java were well populated by both Indonesians and foreigners, attracted by the rich volcanic soil, the fisheries and the strategic Sunda Strait, a busy shipping lane use for the Dutch spice trade.

The forces that had formed Krakatau Island lay deep within the earth’s crust where the Indo-Australian tectonic plate grinds beneath the Eurasian plate. This subduction process sends island-forming magma to the surface. In 1883, the island actually had three ominous volcanos: Rakata, Danan, Perbuwatan – and all of them were active. However, the magma chamber had been plugged by viscous rock for hundreds of years and the pressure that built inside intensified the eventual eruption on August 26, 1883.

Boat to Krakatau, Krakatau, Krakatoa, volcano, Indonesia
Heading to Anak Krakatau

It must have been a terrifying sight that afternoon when all three volcanos erupted, spewing columns of ash and mushroom clouds 50 km into the atmosphere. Pyroclastic flows (fire, debris and gases) ran down the mountainside and across the sea, traveling at over 160 km per hour incinerating everything in their path. For the people in South Sumatra and West Java who witnessed the event, their world turned black and warm, sticky ash began falling from the sky. It must have felt like the end of the world.

Scientists believe that the partially emptied magma chamber was then filled with a hotter, darker magma from deep within the earth, creating a lethal mixture. Gases expanded, pressure increased and by 5:30 the next morning there was a cataclysmic explosion that ripped the island apart.

Beach on Anak Krakatau, Krakatau, Krakatoa, volcano, Indonesia, volcanic beach
Black sand beach on Anak Krakatau looking towards Rakata Island

Over the next four and a half hours, there were two more explosions. The first one was so loud that it was heard in Perth, Australia 3,200 km to the south and Rodriguez Island 5,000 km to the west. It reverberated around the globe seven times and to this day remains the loudest sound in recorded history. The next explosion was so powerful that the island literally blew itself to bits and whatever was left standing collapsed into the magma chamber and disappeared into the boiling ocean.

The explosions caused deadly tsunamis. Boats in the Sunda Strait witnessed immense walls of water and the coastlines of South Sumatra and West Java were slammed by mammoth waves up to 40 meters high. By the time the damaged could be assessed, 165 villages had been destroyed and almost 37,000 people had lost their lives.

Resurrection

Today the only thing that remains of the original island of Krakatau is half of the Rakata volcano. Left scorched and devoid of life in 1883, Rakata regenerated at an amazing pace. Algae and ferns took hold within three years. Then grasses appeared. Over time trees took over the grasses and within 40 years the island was covered in dense jungle. Visitors today can explore the jungle and find two-toned chunks of lava, testimonials of the magma mixing that triggered the massive explosion and tore Krakatau apart.

Anak Krakatau, Krakatau, Krakatoa, volcano, Indonesia
Sulphuric gases rise from the top of Anak Krakatau

In 1930 Krakatau proved that it wasn’t finished yet. After three years of churning magma onto the seabed a new island was born: Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau). Regular eruptions have raised Anak Krakatau to the lofty height of 400 meters in less than 90 years – comparable to the height of the Empire State Building.

There are a few black sand beaches strewn with granite and lava rock. Areas undisturbed by volcanic activity are now covered in jungle. Birds sing and cicadas drone in the mid-day heat. At sunrise one is likely to be greeted by a biawak or two, cousin of the famous Komodo dragon. At dusk retiring egrets and seed-dispersing bats will cast silhouettes against the sunset.

Snorkelers will feel sudden currents of hot water, bump into chunks of floating pumice and get a fascinating look at underwater lava flows. New corals grow from the flows, temporarily providing food and shelter for marine life, waiting to be buried in the next eruption.

Above the jungle is a fascinating transition zone where pioneer species of grasses and trees establish themselves in the sterile ash and rock, laying the groundwork for future forests. Beyond the transition zone looms a barren and foreboding volcano. The trail zigzags upward through silty ash and lava flows of varying color. Sometimes the ground will feel warm as Anak Krakatau radiates from the inside out. Then the landscape becomes an other-worldly scene of bright yellow fumaroles belching out clouds of toxic sulfuric gas.

From the top of Anak Krakatau, looking out over the ocean at the distant Rakata, it’s difficult to comprehend forces so destructive as to make an island disappear, but gazing into the mouth of the crater, one can imagine how it is being reborn.

Anak Krakatau, Rakata Island, Krakatau, Krakatoa, volcano, Indonesia
Where there once was an island, now there is ocean – the view of what is now Rakata Island from the top of Anak Krakatau

Practicalities

The best way to see Krakatau is through a travel company

  • Door-to-door service from Jakarta can be arranged
    • Overland to/from Jakarta to Carita or Anyer
  • Boat to/from the west coast to Anak Krakatau
    • Volcanic activity will determine the trip – be sure to inquire
    • Boats do not operate during much of the rainy season

There are three types of trips

  • One day trips including hiking and snorkeling, returning to the west coast or Jakarta the same day
  • Overnight camping trips including hiking and snorkeling staying on Rakata or Anak Krakatau
  • One-day dive trips including hiking, returning to west coast or Jakarta the same day

On Java

  • Visit the ruins of the Fourth Point Lighthouse and see a 600-ton chunk of coral washed up by the tsunami in 1883
  • Visit the hills behind Carita to see what stopped the tsunami from advancing further inland

 

Solo Kayaking in the Banyak Islands

Unplug in Paradise

Published in NOW! Jakarta magazine; November, 2017

See magazine layout     See online magazine

I paddled out of the little harbor serving the village of Haloban, returning the greetings of fishermen and kids along the way. An hour later I pulled the kayak up on a deserted beach and dove into the crystalline water. Welcome to paradise.

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