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For now tourists welcome in Indonesia; visit offers endless possibilities

For now tourists welcome in Indonesia; visit offers endless possibilities ...

For now tourists welcome in Indonesia; visit offers endless possibilities

Duck man

The duck man walks his ducks up the road and sends them into the field to eat the little snails growing amongst the rice plants. It is quite a sight to see about two dozen ducks waddling along with the duck man following behind.

Gudeg warung

Yogyakarta’s gudeg is famous all over Indonesia. Gudeg is made by cooking unripe jackfruit with palm sugar, coconut milk and various spices for several hours. When cooked it is the consistency of stew and can be eaten alone or with accompaniments like buffalo, chicken or crisp beef skins.

I awoke to the sound of “adhan” and looked at the clock. It was about 4 a.m., and I was still feeling the residual jet lag caused by my journey from my Elmo farm to Yogyakarta, Indonesia. A distance of nearly 14,000 miles, considering flight time and layovers, the journey had taken close to 30 hours total.

During this trip I actually flew completely around the world as upon departure from JFK airport in New York I flew to Doha in the Middle East then onward to Indonesia. From there I continued on to Southeast Asia, then upon my return I flew from Bangkok to Hong Kong to Chicago then on to the Raleigh Durham airport. Total distance traveled was nearly 24,000 miles.

Adhan is the Islamic “call to prayer” which is heard in Islamic countries five times a day, beginning before dawn. Followers of the Islamic faith are expected to worship or “salat” at all five of the designated times. Adhan is broadcast loudly from the minaret of the local mosque.

Myself, as well as many westerners, often find the unusual chanting in a foreign tongue almost haunting. It would remain my daily wake up call for the rest of my stay in Indonesia.

Over 87 percent of the estimated 266 million inhabitants of Indonesia are Muslim, making Indonesia the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Over half of the country’s population lives on the island of Java which makes Java the most populated island on earth.

There are over 700 languages spoken in Indonesia, but the official and most common language is a form of Malay. Around 1603 the Dutch established the spice trade with Indonesia before colonizing the country as part of the Dutch East Indies. Dutch architecture and street names are still quite common.

Indonesia has been a budding democracy for over 19 years with the next presidential elections planned for 2019.

Indonesia is a country made up of islands, over 17,000, as a matter of fact, with about 11,000 of those un inhabited. Indonesia with its thousands of islands is spread across the “Ring of Fire.”

The Ring of Fire is a large island located in the Pacific, and it is where more than 75 percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes exist. Indonesia has over 400 active volcanoes and records an average of three earthquakes a day.

My original travel called for my Indonesian journey to begin in the Komodo Islands, home of the Komodo Dragon, which are the largest lizards in the world. Males can grow to be over 10 feet long and weigh over 200 pounds.

After seeing the largest lizards in the world I had intended to spend some time in Bali often known as the Island of the Gods. Unfortunately, my schedule changed which resulted in shortening my original itinerary. Since I no longer had enough time to visit Komodo Island and Bali, I chose to spend my time near Yogyakarta (called Jogya by the locals) on the Island of Java.

Yogyakarta with a population of about 400,000 was by no means a small town; however, its size paled in comparison to Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, with a population of over 10 million people.

My home while in Jogya was a wonderful place called Alamanda Villa. My lodging was located just outside the city in a small village. I stayed in my own private “joglo” which is the local term for bungalow or cabin. As is common in the Indonesian style of architecture, my bathroom and shower were open to the sky. With the weather so pleasant, it was a very pleasant experience to take an evening shower and look up to see the moon.

My joglo was one of only six that were all constructed in the middle of a rice field with rice growing both to my front and rear. Workers tended the rice daily and periodically a local, “I called the duck man”, walked his ducks up the road and sent them into the field to eat the little snails growing amongst the rice plants. It was quite a sight to see about two dozen ducks waddling along with the duck man following behind.

From my front porch, I could look across the rice field and see Mount Merapi in the distance. Mount Merapi is considered to be the most active volcano in Indonesia and has been documented to erupt regularly since 1548. Its last major eruption was in 2014 when ash spewed up to a mile into the sky.

I was able to hire a car with driver during my stay at Alamanda, so each day my driver, Hastono Setyaji nicknamed Tono, and I traveled about the countryside visiting various attractions, businesses and farms.

The roads were generally paved and in good condition. Traffic at times was atrocious, and it wasn’t uncommon to share the roads with animals, people, bicycles, trucks, cars and buses.

Generally speaking the basic necessities of life in Indonesia were rather inexpensive. A typical lunch for Tono and I was just a few dollars. The local currency was the Indonesian Rupiah. I withdrew $300 in the local currency from an ATM and r eceived over 4 million rupiahs. The exchange rate was almost 14,000 rupiahs to one U.S. dollar.

We traveled to several fruit orchards where common fruits, like mango, banana, papaya and passion fruit were grown. We also visited orchards where fruits I had never seen nor heard of were grown, like soursop, mangosteen, sugar apple and snake skin fruit.

I was offered the opportunity to try all these unusual fruits. Some tasted very good, like mangosteen, and some not so good, like snake skin fruit. Indonesia has a plethora of exotic plants, many that I never seen anywhere else in the world.

Of course, rice was grown everywhere. It could be seen in both the rural areas growing in larger fields and in smaller fields in more urbanized areas. In the village near where I stayed, besides rice they raised fish in small ponds and a few cattle for meat and dairy. There was almost nowhere for the cattle to graze, so they were mainly kept inside stables. The farmer cut fresh gras s by hand each morning and delivered it to the cows to eat. The cattle were walked periodically, so they could get some exercise. I also saw sheep and goats, but of course, no pigs were to be found, as the Muslims find pigs dirty and don’t use them for food.

The Dutch introduced coffee production to Indonesia during their colonial rule in the 17th and 18th centuries. The country quickly became a worldwide exporter of coffee, and it was first exported to Europe in 1711. The island of Java is the largest coffee producing area in the country, and it is world famous for its top quality, Arabica beans. The word “java” has become synonymous with coffee around the world.

Certainly one of the agricultural highlights of my stay was learning how Luwak coffee was produced. I visited the tasting room of Pawon Luwak, a coffee plantation known for producing Luwak coffee. The Kopi Luwak is the name for a cat like animal (also called a civet) that lives in the jungles of Indonesia . The animals live near the coffee plantations and eat coffee berries which they are unable to fully digest. Most of the coffee berries end up passing straight through their digestive system and exit intact when they defecate. The beans are then collected, washed, roasted and made into coffee. The resulting product, often called “poop coffee,” is known for its rich smooth taste.

Luwak coffee is arguably the world’s most expensive beverage as it is made from coffee beans that sell from around $400 a pound and up.

At Pawon Luwak Coffee, I was able to see the animals and taste the coffee made from their “poop.” Though not a serious coffee drinker myself, I have to admit, the coffee tasted very smooth. I purchased a small bag of the beans as a gift for the farm manager to try upon my return.

Indonesia is home to many unique foods. By evening, on almost every street corner someone had fired up a small grill and was cooking satay. Satay was usually chicken, goa t or mutton marinated in spices and skewered on a piece of bamboo. After being barbecued over the hot coals, the tasty meats were served slathered in peanut sauce. It was really yummy and very inexpensive.

Another highlight was eating gudeg. Yogyakarta’s gudeg is famous all over Indonesia. Gudeg is made by cooking unripe jackfruit with palm sugar, coconut milk and various spices for several hours. When cooked, it is the consistency of stew and can be eaten alone or with accompaniments like buffalo, chicken or crisp beef skins.

I had mine with chicken and rice, and it was very good. It is found in local warungs (small restaurants), and one entire street in Jogya had nothing but gudeg restaurants. It was common to see diners purchasing small clay pots and having them filled with gudeg to take home for later.

Often found accompanying gudeg, as well as most meals, was krupuk, a deep fried cracker. I was able to visit a small factory that made krupuk. Krupuk was made by cooking up large cauldrons of tapioca with anchovy paste, garlic, salt and other spices. The ingredients were cooked down until they turned into a doughy paste than extruded into what looked like a round noodle. This was then formed into a small cake about the size of the palm of your hand.

The raw krupuk crackers were then taken outside where they were spread out on drying racks and dried by the sun. After they were dried, they were deep fried in a giant wok, left to cool and then bagged for sale. They were crunchy and salty with the slight taste of fish and a strong taste of garlic.

Like crackers they were served with everything and went really well with a cold Bintang beer. Bintang is the number one beer in Indonesia and has been brewed there since 1929.

I should mention that beer and alcoholic beverages were not very common nor openly sold in the majority of Indonesia. They were easily found in the major tourist areas but not readily available elsewhere.

Several years ago the sale of alcohol was banned in mini markets and small shops. This was primarily due in part to stem the rampant alcohol abuse that was plaguing the country.

However, since Islam prohibits the use of alcohol, there has been and continues to be attempts to totally ban production, distribution and consumption of alcohol everywhere in the country.

Likely the only reason that has not already occurred is the concern that a total ban will have a drastic effect on the tourism market, which currently attracts nearly 12 million visitors a year.

Indonesia is famous for a technique of dying cloth, known as batik, which is believed to have originated there. Selected areas of cloth are covered in hot wax, and then the cloth is dyed. The part of the cloth covered in wax remains its original color.

This process of dipping and waxing can be repeated any number of times to produce elaborate and colorful designs. I was able to visit one of the more famous factories and observe the technique first hand. It is very time consuming and labor intensive, but the results are very beautiful. I was able to purchase several items of clothing made from the uniquely dyed cloth.

There were several very special places in and around Yogyakarta. One was the Kraton of Yogyakarta. Kraton is Japanese for “royal palace” and is the residence of the “ratu” or ruler.

Yogyakarta’s Kraton is only open to the public in the mornings, because it is still an active functioning center of political activity. This Kraton is also the official residence of the Sultan of Yogyakarta and his family.

The sultan holds the title only in name and not in power since the Indonesian declaration of independence in 1945. However, the sultan, by virtue of his title, is the governor of the region and his home, the Kraton, is also used for official functions and political meetings. Since 1755 the title of Sultan has always passed from fat her to son.

The present sultan’s official title and name is His Majesty Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X. He is the 10th sultan and was born in 1946. He has no sons but five daughters. Recently the sultan announced he will break the 200 year tradition of having a male sultan as he intends to empower his eldest daughter as his replacement.

Though I didn’t meet the sultan, I met one of the palace guards. To be a Kraton guard is a great honor that stays in the family and is passed down from one generation to the next. The guards literally dedicate their lives to the protection of the royals, and once a guard, he remains so for life. Today in total, there are about 2,000 guards with about half that number being active.

When a guard gets older and unable to physically work he is looked after rather than being removed from service. The guard I met wore a sarong and carried a Kris in the small of his back. The Kris is a dagger-like weapon, but also for the Kraton guards it is considered a spiritual object and believed to possess magical powers. Those powers are supposedly bestowed by the special craftsmen that forge the blades.

Arguably the most famous attraction on Java is Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist monument in the world. The temple is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site and is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction.

Though predominantly a Muslim country, Indonesia has strong Buddhist and Hindu influences dating back hundreds of years. The Borobudur Temple resembles a nine-tiered mountain, and its top is 115 feet from ground level.

Believed to have been built between the 7th and 8th century, it said to have taken over 75 years to complete. The temple had not been well cared for over the years, and it had deteriorated badly in some areas. However, it was still very imposing.

While visiting the temple I encountered numerous domestic tourists from distant places in Indonesia. Many of them were unf amiliar with Caucasians, and it wasn’t uncommon to be asked to join in with various groups, so they could have their photo taken with me. It was rather comical to say the least.

Indonesia offers a unique travel experience, and I suggest anyone interested in the country should travel there sooner than later.

There is an upcoming political faction within the country that has been working on changing the existing laws to be more in line with followers of the Muslim faith. These changes may result in a less tourist-friendly country in the future. However for now tourists are welcome, and a visit offers many interesting possibilities.

Source: Google News Indonesia | Netizen 24 Indonesia

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