Beauteous Belitung

Nestled in the Java Sea, off the coast of Sumatra, lies a small, yet wondrous island.  At about 1,800 square miles, the island of Belitung is right in the middle between the size of Rhode Island and the size of Delaware.

Being only a 40-minute flight from Jakarta, this island was a perfect weekend getaway destination.

The capital of Tanjungpadan was where the “hustle and bustle” of the island seemed to be.  It was easy to arrange a cheap inn for the night before heading directly for a coffee shop.  It was so early in the morning that some energy juice was needed before any exploring could begin.

The coffee shop was only a few blocks away, and it was already packed at 7:30am on a Friday morning.  The coffee was thick and strong and the men were extremely happy to see foreigners.  Usually I find posing for pictures monotonous after a while, but everyone was very nice.  One nice gentleman who spoke very good English even answered some of our questions, gave some suggestions and paid for the coffee.  It was a sincere gesture of generosity with no sense of awkwardness or possibility of false pretense…how refreshing!

I was able to acquire a tourist map after a little searching and made the first stop the Museum Pemkab Belitung.  This local government museum had displays of various pottery and metal fragments of days gone by.  The attached mini zoo was also an interesting place to wander around with its over-sized animal sculptures.

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Aft the zoo, it was time to make our way down to the fisherman’s pier and markets.  It was nice to see the colorful boats and beautiful food selections along the waterfront.

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A much-needed nap was taken back at the inn, in the comfort of AC.  At around 2pm it was time to grab lunch and then get a taxi to Bukit Perahu.  On an island known for its white-sand beaches and abstract granite boulders, every bit of coastline is gorgeous.

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I  able to explore this beautiful area just before, and then during, sunset, in magnificent, peaceful solitude.  At this time of day the heat and humidity had finally subsided and I was struck by the allure of twilight.  I could have stayed on that beach all night.

The next day we were up early, ate our complimentary breakfast of fried noodles, met up with a friend traveling to meet us and headed out to Tanjung Tinggi in the north.  This area is famous for an iconic boulder-ridden area where an Indonesian movie was filmed.  It was a fun place to climb on some rocks, pose for pictures, take a dip and eat some amazing BBQ fish.

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The weather was very hot on the island, so a day of meandering around marvelous beaches was the perfect remedy.  After a few hours of combing the coastline, we found another perfect spot to watch another beautiful sunset.

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We were now in a homestay in an actual family’s house, which worked out to be absolutely amazing.  After a home-cooked breakfast, our homestay helped us book an island-hopping excursion.

Our first stop was the island of Burung.  This was an island so tiny that it was almost non-existent.  A tiny patch of sand and a few boulders may not sound like much, but this little area is covered in starfish.

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The next stop was the island of Lengkuas.  This island was a bit bigger and drew quite a crowd.  The first task was to climb to the top of the 129-year-old lighthouse for an unbelievable view!

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Then we ate a delicious picnic lunch and made our way back to the boat to begin our snorkeling adventure.  The snorkeling masks weren’t the best and I’m not the best swimmer, but it was amazing to see so many beautiful fish and colorful coral formations.  I had a blast.

Our last stop was the island of Kepayang.  After snacking on tea and fried bananas, we made our way to the turtle sanctuary.  There were quite a few babies and only a few larger turtles being taken care of.  After making friends with the animals, our group took a moment to look around before heading back to the boat.  The water was getting choppy and we needed to get back home.  This had to be one of the best days I’ve ever spent on the water.

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The island may be relatively small compared to other parts of Indonesia, but the three full days I was able to spend here were probably some of the most memorable, and I would classify this island as one of my favorite places that I’ve ever been to.  Natural beauty, kind people and a peaceful, simple way of life…what more could one ask for?

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Cirebon

As the number of weeks I have left on my contract dwindles into the single digits, I really feel the push to organize as many weekend trips as I can manage.

So on a late-September weekend, a few friends and I were up and traveling at 6:30 am! We started by heading to the Central Jakarta area to pass through the remnants of the delicious night market for snacks, and then on to the Senen train station; destination: Cirebon.

About 3-hours east of Jakarta, near the coast, lies this small town.  My local friend was organizing this getaway, so she had us on a tight schedule.  Luckily, within five minutes of walking out of the train station, we saw a handful of hotels, so renting a room was extremely easy.

Once we dropped off our bags, we ate an early lunch of Padang food and the local soup.  With full bellies we headed to the Taman Sari Gua Sunyaragi temple.  It was a unique cave-like temple complex with lots of interesting passageways and levels.  Our tour was about an hour in the hot sun, but completely worth it.

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After that we headed through the town, in pedicabs, to the Kraton, or local Palace.  We saw the museum, house and original wooden carriages.

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No trip to Cirebon would be complete without going shopping for Batik. This area is known for its colorful Batik fabrics, so we all did a little souvenir shopping.  I scored a beautiful piece of silk for a wrap-skirt.

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Later that night, we all went to a big square not far from the hotel.  We enjoyed the live music while eating the local dish of Soto Betawi…delicious.  We also enjoyed Martabak…a delicious custardy pancake.  I naturally chose bananas and chocolate as toppings, and it also comes with a standard drizzle of sweetened-condensed milk.  Terrible for your health, but tastes amazing.

The next morning it was time to make the return trip back to hustling and bustling Jakarta….  A great getaway.

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A Must-See in Central Java

Central Java is one area of Indonesia I had to see before finishing this year abroad.

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Being a fan of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I was pretty excited to visit the area which boasts TWO of the best in the country.

Yogyakarta is Central Java’s capital city and is a great cultural staple to experience.  There is so much national pride surrounding this city and expats as well as local Indonesian’s alike make the trek to this area to enjoy super cheap shopping, impressive natural beauty and famous cultural icons.  With it’s small-town feel, it was very easy to feel right at home is this area.
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After getting some requisite shopping out of the way, the real exploration could begin.  I was able to rent a vehicle and driver for about $45 for the day to see all the main points in an all-consuming, action-packed 12 hours!

The first stop was about an hour outside Yogya at the Borobudur Temple Compound.  Built around the 8th or 9th century and made of more than 2 million blocks of volcanic stone, this is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world.

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I was able to get there right after sunrise and it truly was a magical time to see the structure and walk around in the peace of the morning.  After about an hour, the hoards of school kids began to arrive which felt pretty crowded, so I was very happy to be heading on to other sites as school groups filled every nook and cranny.

The next stop was a set of two smaller temples: Mendut and Pawon.  These smaller structures were beautiful and isolated.  It almost seemed like if they weren’t on your drivers’ or tours’ agenda, they would be lonely and overlooked.  It was great to see these bite-sized Hindu temples in the early morning sun, with no crowds, and no lines.
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Just outside one of the temples was a shop offering the infamous Luwak coffee.  A tasting sounded great after getting up VERY early in the morning to begin the day.  After visiting the Civets in their cages and trying a sip of the strong brew, it was time to stop for a quick lunch before heading on to the last temple complex.

The Hindu temple complex of Prambanan was built around the 10th century.  It consists of about 240 temple structures and is the largest complex dedicated to Shiva outside of India.

Like a row of pointy skyscrapers, this structure dominates the skyline as you enter.

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It was neat to see how the Buddhist structures were curved and wide and smooth, while the Hindu structures were tall and rocky and jagged.  Each used beautiful dark stone to convey feelings or emotions that words can barely describe.  I wasn’t just impressed with the architectural styles or in awe of the sheer magnitude…I was at peace.  I appreciate when different ideologies can exist harmoniously.  People from all over the world came out to see these structures for many reasons, and all left happy.

Having the highlight of the journey accomplished quickly, my last two days in town were spent walking up and down Malioboro Street, looking for the best souvenirs, eating plenty of street food, hanging out with some birds, visiting the huge Sultan’s Palace and taking pedicabs everywhere.

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Yogyakarta was a fun, laid-back city with the best combination of old-world charm and modern conveniences.  It’s high on my list of places to return if I’m able to continue working in this amazing country.

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A Successful Failure

Since my workplace was closed for the week of the Eid holiday, I decided to take just a few days and leave the city to explore another peaceful, sandy location.

My intention was to spend a few nights of the island of Karimun Jawa.  I had heard stories and seen lots of pictures which convinced me I was guaranteed to thoroughly enjoy myself.  As soon as I could, I booked a plane ticket to Semerang and a hotel on Karimun Jawa, being assured that it was easy to get a taxi from Semerang to Jepara, and then a boat from Jepara to the islands.

Its a good thing I took my plans with a grain of salt, because  I never made it to Karimun Jawa.  :-(

After a smooth flight and a comfortable taxi ride to Jepara, I found out that, for some unknown reason, no boats were going to the islands that particular day.  I was immediately stranded.  There was a chance that I could get a boat the following day, but there was nothing else to do except try and find somewhere to stay for the night, during one of the busiest traveling holiday’s of the year.

Luckily, I found a place not too far away from the marina.  For about $30 I was able to stay at the Segoro Hotel and restaurant, which included breakfast.

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Since it was so early in the day, I decided to take a much-needed nap before venturing out.  I basically had no cell reception and I was eaten alive by mosquitos, but beggars can’t be chooser’s.  I was just glad not to be homeless for the night.

Feeling refreshed, I hopped a pedicab to explore the area.  Known for its wood carving, Jepara boasts many skilled artisans.  As expected, just about every other building was a carpentry shop, each displaying a more intricately designed headboard or dining set than the last.

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After my tour of the town, I had a relaxing evening with some good books and a soft pillow, while enjoying “room service,” thanks to the attached restaurant.

The next day was more of the same as I tried to arrange a boat ticket again with no luck.  The entire boat was mysteriously “sold out” five minutes after the boat office opened….  I, along with a few other tourists, was forced to change my plan and forego my island destination due to this suspicious development.  Luckily, the hotel I stayed in the night before still had space, so I was able to stay another night with no worry.  Needless to say, I got a lot of reading done the next day as well.

The following day was the only day I was actually supposed to stay in Jepara.  I had a separate reservation at the Joglo Putu Inten hotel, so I just hopped into another pedicab to get to my final destination.

This was a really nice place: traditional Javanese style, beach, pool, restaurant…and the best part was the semi-secluded area.

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Even though I completely missed the Karimun Jawa islands, I at least got plenty of rest and relaxation, which is what vacation is all about after all.  Plus, I was still able to explore a new location.  I ended up really enjoying my short stay there.

There were miles of endless back roads and alleys that were unpaved and unnamed.  It was really interesting to see how people navigate through a lifetime of community connections and landmarks.  It felt as if the only way to truly know where you are going is if you’ve already been there.

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Once again I found myself exploring a sleepy seaside town with oodles of charm and boatloads of welcome.  Even though my original plans fell through, something great managed to fall together.

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Taman Mini

Thanks to the Eid Holiday at the end of July, Jakarta seemed like a ghost town…at least comparatively.  Which means it was the perfect time to take advantage of the sites around the city.

An amusement park called Taman Mini was high on the list.  Yes, this place has food, handicraft shopping, a water park area, theatres, bird parks and museums, but I really wanted to go because it also had full-scale models of traditional houses for each of the countries’ provinces.

I started the experience with a cable car ride from one side of the park to the other and back.  This allowed me to see what the park had to offer so I could decide where to focus my energy once I was back on the ground.  I was also able to appreciate the pond in the far corner of the park that had islands in the formation of the Indonesian map…very impressive.

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Back on the ground, it was decided to hire a tram for about an hour and a half.  The driver would drive around and make requested stops to get the desired photo ops.  The different architectural styles were pretty amazing.  Many of the houses are built on stilts to deal with flooding in the rainy season, but apart from that, the styles, colors and decorations are very different.  It was really nice to see how the people of this country live and how the different designs suit their needs beautifully.

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It was a great afternoon to spend outdoors, taking advantage of the quiet city and taking in so much of the widespread and varied Indonesian culture without leaving the area.

Jakarta should be very proud of this cultural resource.

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No Woman is an Island

Wandering souls still need constants, a North Star if you will, to remain grounded while reaching for the heavens to fulfill ones dreams.

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Constants are important to everyone, to humankind.  We are comfortable when we can depend on staples of our existence: The sun rising in the East, the smell of the ocean, the sensation of wind in your hair.  These staples could include more intimate notions as well: A loved ones laugh, a mother’s home cooking, a warm embrace.

Only after removing myself from these personal staples do I appreciate them deeply, and yearn for a temporary substitute.  Just like the absence of the sun rising, the absence of these human comforts can easily tip the scale from balance to chaos.

I love considering myself a world traveler, even though there are scores of people out there that perform this lifestyle much better and who have been doing it for a much longer period of time.

Traveling takes a certain kind of person and a certain kind of temperament.  I’ve never liked the assumption that the people who travel must be “running away” from something.  Sure, a few of those people may exist, and ultimately have will have their demons catch up with them…eventually.  But, I feel that I (and many other travelers) keep running towards things, like I’m being pulled by a strong magnetic force to this random place or that unique experience.

Something magical happens when you travel.  Those far-off exotic destinations on the map no longer scare or intimidate you because you’ve given yourself the opportunity to digest that experience.  You realize that people are people.  They may look, sound and believe differently, but we are all very much the same.  We all rise in the morning and go to bed at night.  We all eat when we’re hungry, schlep ourselves from our homes to our jobs and develop comradery within our local community.  We laugh, cry and inadvertently stare at things which are uncommon or unfamiliar.

Once you realize that people are the same all over the world, and you’ve had an experience that has taken you far away to gain that perspective, the world seems so small…in a good way.  No, it a great way!  We have the reassurance of our constants, so balance is maintained and fulfillment is almost guaranteed.  Those interesting spots on the map no longer seem like “a world away,” they are merely “one continent over from that other place I’ve visited.”

And so it goes, in an avalanche of understanding, that we all want, desire, need and appreciate the same things.  No matter if you are exploring the entire world or simply enjoying life from one remote location, everyone longs to keep experiencing things that are familiar  in order to keep us grounded.  Whether it’s the oceans breaking waves or merely a picture of something meaningful, we find comfort in the constants of life.  They remind us of who we are, where we’ve been and propel us forward into the darkness.

Wanderers aren’t necessarily wayward, we just identify our constants everywhere we go, so we never feel alone.  And if we never feel alone, we always feel we are moving in the right direction.

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The Big Blog Exchange

I just heard about The Big Blog Exchange.  It’s pretty cool to come in contact with other bloggers and get the opportunity to change places with one of them.  Sounds like a blast, so if you think my blog would be a good candidate, please follow the link or search for The Big Blog Exchange, look for me (Exposed Latitudes) and vote for me!! Let’s meet new people together, and make the world feel like a neighborhood :-)

 

http://www.bigblogexchange.org/profile/2014/5764640680181760

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