Cultural Notes and Observations: Indonesia

  • The most popular religion is different depending on which island in Indonesia you visit.
    • Bali – Hindu
      • Every morning locals put out offerings of flower petals and other items in banana leaves in temples, restaurants, everywhere
      • There are many small Hindu temples everywhere! There was even one in WaterBom – Bali’s water park.
    • Lombok – Muslim
      • Many schoolgirls and women wear hijabs
      • There are mosques everywhere and you can hear prayers several times a day
    • Flores – Christian
  • On each island there are also aboriginal peoples which have their own dialects. For example, the Sasak tribe on Lombok.
  • To enter holy places such as temples, one must wear a sarong
  • Motorbike is the most popular form of transportation
  • Uber and Grab are outlawed in some areas. As a result, taxi drivers are like the mafia and will harass you and your Uber driver if they see you trying to get in their car. Beware!
  • The language of Bahasa Indonesia shares some words Malaysian
  • In Kuta, Bali no street food was sold
  • The fast/ food of Indonesia is Bakso (a soup)
  • Prices of most items and services and are negotiable
  • Indonesian currency has a lot of zeros and is slightly confusing. It took me a while to get used to it. $1,000,000 is $100 CDN
  • Some of the food is similar to Malaysia, for example Nasi Goreing and Mie Goring
  • Seaweed is a popular snack
  • Indonesia concentrates on serving fresh fruit juices/shakes at restaurants. Most of them are watered down and do not have as much sugar in them as Malaysian drinks
  • Desert is a rarity
  • People often transport goods by balancing them on their heads
  • Driving on a scooter is fun, but watch out and drive on the left. Road rules are virtually non-existent. For example, even though traffic drives on the left, sometimes cars and scooters will go right around round-a-bouts

Food I’ve tried:

  • Cap Cay – Indonesian curry
  • Shrimp Chips
  • Lalapan
  • Gado-gado!
  • Amazing peanut butter!! It’s sweet and mixed with a soya sauce. It is popular to have on satay or barbequed meat
  • Ikan – Fish
  • Traditional “Tiapet” – rice balls with a peanut sauce and sprouts
  • Bintang Beer
  • Coto Makassar
  • Kari Sasak – A delicious style of curry from Lombok
  • Oxtail soup
  • Snake fruit
  • Ranbutan
  • Sirsak

Jan 25, 2017 – Beach Day in Labuan Bajo, Flores


Sharing some Es Sop Buah (Fruit Soup) with Willow

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On my second to last day in Indonesia, Willow and I rented a motorbike to explore Labuan Bajo and the surrounding are. We were staying in the same hostel and had become friends. About a week earlier, Willow had been in a motorbike accident and severely scraped a lot of the skin off her knee and arm, but she’s a tough cookie and was not afraid of driving again.

Pantai Pede is only a couple kilometers away from town, so we headed there first. It is a small beach with a pretty view of the water. Only locals were relaxing there. We enjoyed some ice cream while watching the waves and listening to a group of Indonesians sing Feliz Navidad in the background.

For lunch we stopped at a small restaurant on the side of the street. It also happened to serve a dessert called “Es Sop Buah”. Willow and I could not resist trying this fruit soup. It was composed of large chunks of ice, fruit (including apple and avocado), coconut milk, and some grated cheese on top! Perfect for a hot day!

We continued onwards and stopped at Alice View Point. We hiked up a small hill to see the surrounding landscape which was spectacular.

Finally, after battling a motor that continued to cut out as well as some potholes and mud, we made it to another beach after driving into one of the fancy resorts. It seemed pretty deserted and no one seemed to mind. The water felt amazing! Unfortunately, we had to cut our stay early because it started to rain. On the ride back Willow and I got completely soaked!



Jan 24, 2017 – Diving in Komodo National Park – Giant Reef Manta Rays!


A Giant Reef Manta Ray (4 meters wide) Circling in the Current

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I booked my diving through Divers Paradise Komodo. Although, it is not the best company, it was the cheapest. For three dives they charged only 1,375,000 IDR or $137.50 CAN. Additionally, they had revamped their entire team and procedures from last season so I thought I’d give them a try.

I got to their shop early for a free breakfast of pancakes and tea and then headed out with a group of divers. It took about 2 and a half hours to get to our first dive site “Batu Bolong”. It’s a wall of sea life with strong currents on either side of it. It was absolutely incredible! Besides seeing a plethora of fish (lion fish, scorpion fish, snappers, sweetlips, barracuda, box fish, bumperhead parrotfish, etc), I also saw the largest moray eel of my life! Its head was the size of a small watermelon! The wall is a little short so we zig-zagged our way up and down it. I loved this dive site so much I was reconsidering diving only one day in Komodo National Park and maybe diving two instead. This was also the first dive I had done with strong currents.

The second site we went to was Manta Point or Makassar Reef. Our group of 4 divers and one dive master saw a white tip reef shark, spotted eagle ray, and cow fish. But besides that we found several Giant Reef Manta Rays!

Reef Manta Rays are unbelievable!! When we saw the rays, all divers must release the air from their BCDs and hang onto dead coral at the bottom of the ocean because a diver who is vertical may seem like a threat.  The Reef Manta Rays enjoy hanging out in the currents because all the plankton is swept into their mouths. As a result, they would swim in circles in front of us with their 4 meter wide wing span. Lots of fish were also on the manta’s back cleaning it. We watched one Manta Ray for about half an hour.

The third dive site we went to was Wainilu which is famous for macro life. I saw a peacock shrimp, eels, boxfish, more reef manta rays, clown fish, lionfish, cuttlefish, devil rays, longhorn cowfish, and a snowflake moray. This site seems less impressive than the first two sites, but was still great.

Overall, it was a spectacular day and I met some great people too!

Jan 23, 2017 – Padar Island, Komodo Island, and Pink Beach


Padar Island – Photo by Elizabeth Brown

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I woke up at 4:50am to meet my guide agent at 5:20am. At his shop, I collected my snorkeling equipment and then headed down to the docks to meet the rest of my group.

One of the women in my tour group was from Montreal, two were from new Zealand, and four others from Indonesia. The trip costed 450,000 IDR which is about $45 Canadian but that doesn’t include the additional park fee of 250,000 IDR or $25 CAD.

The boat ride was fun and our first destination was Padar Island. It is absolutely beautiful! Although, it contains only a couple komodo dragons, your odds of seeing one there are slim to none. We spent about an hour hiking to the top of the peaks and enjoying the views.

Next stop: Komodo Island!!! As we approached the dock, we spotted several deer on the beach. We walked up to the ranger office and paid our fees before starting our guided hike. Our group wanted to do the medium trek, but I’m pretty sure they took us on the shorter route. Unlike Rinca, our hike was mostly in the jungle and we did not see the island’s suroundings from a higher elevation (which would have been nice). We passed by one komodo dragon nest, and saw lots of wild boar, deer, and birds. We did spot one dragon near a watering hole and then about 8 near a ranger station building. Komodo dragons are such incredible animals and very relaxed (most of the time). Our guide was not as informative as the one I had on Rinca Island.

Our last stop was Pink Beach! I always find pink beaches underwhelming because I always expect them to be pinker than they actually are. If you look just where the water meets the sand that is the most pinky part. As well, if you pick up the sand you can spot flecks of pink coral in it. However, below the surface, pink beach was great for snorkeling! I saw lots of stunning fish and coral.

On our way back to Labuan Bajo I saw a couple dolphins coming up to the surface and a turtle poke its head out of the ocean!

Jan 21, 2017 – Searching for Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island, Komodo National Park


We Found A Dragon!

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I met Bob, Pia, and Farich the day I checked into my hostel in Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. After spending the evening together, they invited me on their day trip to Rinca Island and I gladly accepted!

The next morning, we each grabbed a free doughnut from our hostel for breakfast and headed down to the docks only a few minutes’ walk away. Finding our cute tiny boat named “Silalona” was easy. Getting out of the harbour is the tricky part. The docked boats are so interlocked that our crew had to use other boats as leverage to make our way to open water.

After that, we were chugging along (quite loudly) for about an hour. The island hills loomed around us and look like they were plunked down from a plastic model display store. Most of the hills or mountains are covered by grass and only have a couple trees on them. Komodo National Park is made up of three main Islands Rinca, Komodo, and Padar Island as well as 26 smaller ones.

The first island we arrived at was Rinca Island! The park fee was the most I had experienced in Indonesia (301,000 IDR which is about $30 CDN). The park fee also included a local guide (who lives on the Island). Our guide was wonderful and provided the tour in both Indonesian Bahasa and English.

We started the shortest of the 3 available hikes and walked passed the ranger station where several dragons were sitting and relaxing. I got about two meters from them. Apparently, they like the smell of food lingering in the kitchen above. Luckily, all buildings and major walkways are slightly raised due to the dragons. We also saw a baby komodo dragon about a foot long. It seemed pretty agile and climbed a nearby tree.

We continued our hike and saw some spectacular views and learned more about the komodo dragons. At the end of our tour we also witnessed a buffalo running towards a nice patch of mud in the shade and saw a few monkeys as well.

Komodo dragons are my favourite wild animals and not enough people know how amazing they are! According to “The Journey” Bi-monthly Indonesia Tourist Magazine, Komodo dragons:

  • Are the oldest living lizards
  • Can be found on Komodo Island, Rinca Island and Gili Motang, the Islands that form Komodo National Park (a UNESCO world heritage site)
  • Can detect scents up to 5 Km away (This is why women during their periods are not allowed to visit the island, to avoid being attacked)
  • Mainly hunt deer, water buffalo, and wild boar
  • Use the classic strategy of bite and release. As their bite is toxic (septic) they wait for the animal to weaken and die and follow the scent
  • There are over 60 types of bacteria in the dragons’ saliva and one of them can cause septicemia
  • Can run up to 18 km /hr in a straight line

Our next stop was the beautiful Kelor Island. It looked as though a giant stuck a massive straw in the ocean and sucked up a mound of sand.  While snorkeling, I saw some cool fish, a sea snake, and a giant prawn!

Bidadari Island was the last island that we visited. It is a private Island that has a twenty year lease to a British individual. Luckily, they allow the public to dive and snorkel in the islands surrounding corals.

Jan 17, 2017 – Finding Pink Beach or Tangsi Beach


Pink Beach (… or Not So Pink Beach)

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In the afternoon, I decided to motorbike to Pink Beach which is about 2 hours from Kuta, Lombok. The drive was spectacular and filled with rolling hills and beautiful small rice fields. Nevertheless, the road does get progressively rough and patchy as you near the beach. At one point there was so much mud, I seriously considered turning back. However, some other drivers were able to help me out and even carried my scooter over one section.

I had heard that Pink Beach would look its pinkest before 8:00am or after 4:00pm. However, when I arrived after 4:00 it was not as pink as I thought it would have been. I found it underwhelming. Thinking back, a lot of the images of pink beaches on google are heavily photo-shopped. However, I took a look closer and found that if you pick up the sand, it does have flecks of pink coral in it. Additionally, if you look as the sand where it meets the water, it does look pinker. Overall, I enjoyed the scooter ride there and back more than the beach. Unfortunately, it also started to rain shortly after I arrived, so I did not spend as much time there as I would have liked.

January 16, 2017 – The Cultural Village of Sade and Chasing Waterfalls


Benang Kelambu Waterfall

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This morning I met Richard, a fellow Canadian at my hostel over breakfast! He had lived in Kelowna for a few years, but is originally from the Philippines. He decided to join me in my quest to find Sade and some waterfalls.

We got on our scooters and headed out. Sade is only a 15 minute scooter ride away and easy to find. In order to view the village and have access to the inside of people’s homes, it is required to have a guide. Our guide was superb and provided us with a greater understanding of the of the Sasak tribe living there.

According to our guide:

  • The village is 15 generations old (but no one know the exact date it was established)
  • The Sasak people utilise their own form of calendar, and as a result, hey don’t have birthdates and do not know how old they are
  • A monthly tradition includes polishing the floors of their homes with cow dung because cows are sacred and it makes the clay floors last longer
  • The grass thatch roofs need to be replaced every 6 or 7 years
  • The village chief is the primary decision maker and his responsibilities are passed down from father to son
  • Farming rice, vegetables, and livestock are the main activities of village residents
  • Education is not a high priority because even though its free; uniforms, supplies, and textbooks still need to be purchased
  • Women take part in traditional weaving
  • Everyone in the village is related and it is normal to marry cousins
  • In order to get married, a man must “kidnap” a woman from her home and run away with her. Once the woman’s parents are no longer mad the couple will return to the village. If the woman refuses to be married, the man will be punished and will pay a fine to the village
  • Homes have no windows which in theory are to keep it cool
  • The village has greatly expanded and continues to grow
  • Men sleep in one room and the women sleep with the children in another

Overall, it was very good tour and we had a knowledgeable guide. I’m glad we went in the morning because it was a bit quieter. One of my friends who had previously done the same tour said he felt pressured to buy a lot of the stuff for sale, however, I didn’t have that happen to me.

Subsequently, Richard and I continued to the waterfalls. We drove and drove and drove for another hour and a half. Indonesian drivers are a little crazy but the traffic was not too bad (thankfully)! Most of the people on the road have scooters and frequently pass each other.

At the base of Mount Ringani lie numerous waterfalls. I was particularly interested in Air Terjun Benang Stokel. Its cool clear water falls from a height of 20 meters over a cracked rock wall covered with green foliage. This waterfall is a five minute walk from the car park.  Benang Kelambu Waterfall is my favourite. Its water flows from crevices of rock from a height of 35 meters and the has has several pools running at the bottom that you can swim in. This waterfall is about a 25 minute walk from the car park. I’m glad I brought my bathing suit and went for a dip!

Jan 13, 2017 – Beach Day in Kuta, Lombok


Oxen Grazing with Mandalika Beach in the Background

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After the Big Tree Chocolate Factor Tour, my best friends (Ranah and Franki) split up. They decided to stay a month longer in Bali. I was determined to see more of Indonesia, headed east on my own. To get to Kuta I took their 24 hour bus-ferry-bus-ferry route which was exhausting.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Kuta, Lombok is a surfing town! Many of the scooters are outfitted with racks to transport surfboards and the town exudes a very laid back vibe. The many nearby beaches are excellent for relaxing and swimming, and certain ones are perfect for surfing!

I started off with Serenting Beach which is located on the way to Seger Beach. It has a long coastline with white sand. The beach is very quiet and not very popular among local and foreign travelers. I only saw a handful of people there which was great!

At Seger beach, I enjoyed sipping coconut water while watching many locals catch intermediate-sized waves and enjoy playing in the water. Next to the beach is “Sunset Hill” which is great to climb up and see the view from! I loved the cows grazing on the hill. There is something about seeing cows on or near a beach that makes me ridiculously happy. Most likely because that would never happen in Canada!

Afterwards, I went swimming at Mandalika Beach which is actually on the private property of Novotel Lombok Resort and Villas. The water was very shallow so it was a bit difficult to swim.

The last beach I went to was Tanjung Ann. It is a beautiful white beach but it is also very touristy. I didn’t spend too much time there because it was starting to get dark.

For dinner, I scootered up to Ashtari, which is one of the fanciest places in town. It advertises that it has a great sunset view. However, when I went there, the sun had set over a mountain already so you couldn’t see the entire sunset. Luckily, their pumpkin soup was delicious and not overly expensive!

Jan 11, 2017- Big Tree Chocolate Factory Tour


The Creation of Chocolate!

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The Bali Silent Retreat is quite remote and there are no taxis or Ubers nearby. Thankfully, the retreat helped coordinate a ride for me half way with another guest who was a part time yoga instructor and retired from a career in finance. He now works in travel journalism and was on his way to evaluate the Ritz Carlton in Ubud. He was one lucky guy! I then took a taxi to the Big Tree Chocolate Factory where I met Franki and Ranah.

The tour started promptly at 2:00pm and costed 60,000 IDR which included chocolate tasting. I was surprised at how intensity of the security confident leaving my large backpack with them. I had to check in at the entrance and was provided a visitor pass. Afterwards, I was escorted to the waiting room with the rest of the tour group. Even when I stepped outside of the room to find a toilet, I was instantly greeted by security who gave me directions.

The tour was magnificent and went above and beyond my expectations. First, we were led upstairs in the beautifully constructed bamboo building to the visitor area. We got to try coco beans from the actual pod! The outside tasted like mangostein and once you crunched into the bean it tasted like a vegetable… similar to a raw string bean. We got the chance to try the chocolate at every stage and even the completed form! An overview of the manufacturing process was also provided. From the hand peeling of the coco beans from their shells, to the Swiss machine of the 1930s used to help form the chocolate. I loved the tour and would definitely go back! Franki and my dream of trying raw chocolate came true here. In the end, I ended up purchasing one 61% Dark Chocolate bar. It’s called Wonder Chocolate – Cold Processed & Coconut Palm Nectar Sweetened and tastes incredible!

Jan 9-11, 2017 – Bali Silent Retreat


My last dish from the buffet (the rest I ate too quickly!)

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Before heading out to my silent retreat, I had to try a yoga class at Ubud Yoga House. I had a wonderful time and it is now my favourite yoga studio in Ubud (out of the three that I tried)! Having the studio located in the middle of rice terraces definitely sets the atmosphere and mood for your practice. I loved that my instructor was Indonesia. Although he was casually dressed in a white tee-shirt and khaki shorts, he gave great instructions and moved around the class to correct poses. The instructor was also able to accommodate multiple skill levels. The class I went to was considered to be large (17 people) but I was happy to get a front row spot next to an older woman from Norway who had come to Bali for three months to practice yoga.

Although my morning was relaxing and very enjoyable, it quickly changed when I was trying to catch an Uber to the Bali Silent Retreat.

First of all, the price had increased three times the normal price so I had to wait over 30 minutes for them to drop to a reasonable rate. Once I confirmed my Uber and she came to pick me up, a taxi drivers from the street came over to harass her and wouldn’t let her drive me. So I got out and kept walking. My Uber driver circled a couple more times before I had to literally jump into her car and closed the door behind me. The retreat was about 2 hours away and we had to detour once because a bridge had been broken. I was so thankful when I finally arrived at the retreat!

I was warmly welcomed at the reception of Bali Silent Retreat (where you can talk) and was provided an overview of the rules, amenities, program schedule, etc. Next, I was given an in-person tour and shown where my dishes, lockbox, and dormitory was located. There is a bit of a misconception that you must be silent at all times during the retreat. That is true about 90% of the time. If you have a question, you are welcome to ask any staff member. During workshops you are also welcome to ask questions. Also, after meditation or yoga meditation many participants will say “Namastay”.

I had arrived just in time to catch the afternoon meditation class. I grabbed a yoga mat and cushion and joined about 6 other people. It was the first time I had ever meditated in my life and I found it difficult to concentrate. In the future, I think I may start with 3 minutes per day and work my way up. As I tried more meditation during my stay, I found the exercises quite interesting. For example, during one of them, you visualize looking at yourself from the front, back, and sides. Then look at yourself internally. Then listen to all of the sounds around you and let go of any thoughts.

I also attended a meditation workshop during my stay which was really thought-provoking. The speaker was originally from Sweden and coordinates yoga retreats all over the world. He believed that the definition of meditation for himself was “accepting life as it is”. I liked that he recommended siting in the most comfortable position when meditating and not in the traditional Instagram pose (cross legged with your hands on your knees). Meditation is different for everyone and I liked hearing about how meditation had helped balance out the high and low points in his high life. I also learned that you can meditate anywhere (bus, airport etc.)!

After having my first dinner, I realized that the food was absolutely incredible, and over the next couple days I sometimes felt uncomfortable meditating or doing yoga because I was so stuffed! Everything was inspired by “New Balance Earth” cooking. All the dishes were either vegetarian or vegan. The tea station was set up so that you take the leaves or cut the root of an edible plant that you want and then add it to boiling water. The salads at lunch included homemade dressing and again, you cut off the amount of foliage that you wanted from the table. Every meal was a buffet and you could go back as many times as you liked.

During my stay there, my body would rise and set with the sun, waking me up around 6:00am and going to sleep around 8:00pm. The retreat is off the grid so most areas do not have light after the sun goes down.  I was impressed by some of the sustainability solutions they had implemented. For example:

  • Bathroom lights in the main building have timers
  • Tea and salad options are literally leaves that you tear from a larger part of the plant
  • Cows for composting food
  • Banana leaf cups in the yoga studio
  • Bags made of recycled newspaper
  • Retreat participants wash their own plates and cutlery and keep the same set for the duration of their stay

Overall, I loved my experience! During a silent retreat, there is no pressure to meet people or make new friends. The property was large enough that I could be alone almost anywhere (ex: the jungle walk, labyrinth wall activity, etc), but was close enough to others that I didn’t feel isolated.  I enjoyed being able to participate in group activities or having the option to do whatever I wanted. My favourite place was the water temple where you sit on a stone while cool water pours over your head. It is a great place to ponder. Ultimately, the best part of the retreat includes discovering more about yourself. I loved that I got to disconnect from my electrical devices. No beeps of notifications or nagging emails. Just being ever-present felt very freeing.