I spent a month galavanting around Indonesia with two of my closes friends. Ross, Darcy and I met working in Nicaragua and when Ross said he would be in Indonesia in May. Darcy and I took it as an invitation to join him & explore this vast archipelago.
Long storey short. Darcy and I flew into Northern Sumatra where we divided our time between Lake Toba & Pulau Weh (plus a quick afternoon stop over in Banda Aceh). Four flights and a very hangry Ashlee later and we arrived in Lombok. Two became three. A week in Kuta, a few days hiking Indonesia’s second highest volcano and to wrap it up a few days of R&R on Gili T. I jetted off the Bali to catch up with my high-flying, Bali-living bestie while the boys retreated back to our beach oasis in Kuta. Indonesia is by far my favourite country in South East Asia. Tasty food, a diverse landscape and many undiscovered treasures. However, what really makes this place so incredible is the local people.
It all began with a man at a bus stop. An overnight sleep in BKK followed by numerous travel hours meant we were tired and hungry! So when we arrived at the bus station to discover that the bus was about to leave we were shattered. Seeing the look on our faces a kind man told the driver that we would be getting food. He then proceeded to take us to a warung, order our food and made sure we were back on the bus in the blink of an eye!
Within five hours we had left the busy, hot, humid city of Medan and were enjoying the cooler weather in the hills. However, please note that buses in Sumatra do not often stop, so take plenty of water. We didn’t and cried salvation when that magical liquid finally touched our lips. At the harbour people were all smiles and greeted us warmly. On the boat ride to Tuktuk we came across Eric. Initially he was trying to sell us a room but when we declined he didn’t turn away. He actually became more friendly and sat with us for the duration of the boat ride. He told us how he taught himself English in order to better understand people and the world. We later witnessed his passion for music when he played guitar and sang for us. He told us how he moved to the big city for a work opportunity but was unhappy so returned to his home on the lake where he was happier and carefree. Finally he told us how sad he was that the lake, due to increased fishing and tourism, had turned a much murkier colour. We ended up staying where Eric worked (it was by far the best deal) and everyday he greeted us with a big toothy grin. A motorcycle ride around the island inside the worlds largest volcanic lake got us a thousand waves from excited school children.
When it was time to move on we decided to head to Indonesias most western and northern point. A little island called Pulau Weh. Finally I was to be reunited with the ocean! At the port we were again helped to get a quick meal before the boat departed. On arrival at the small dive town, Ibohi, we were greeted by some locals at a dive shop and finally called out by a jolly old lady affectionately known as ‘Mama’. “Do you need a room?” She asked. We did. For $10 a night we had a bungalow on the ocean, hard to beat that! Mama made everyone feel right at home and if you ordered food from her you never went hungry! Her $1 pancakes fed two and when you asked for one glass of juice she came out with the glass and a blender half full telling you to drink up so she could refill the cup.
Once we had settled into our bungalow we set off to explore. The same dive shop locals who had greeted us earlier called us over. Had we settled in and found a place? Where were we from? Did we need help? Ramadan and Eron were awesome. Chilled out and no cares in the world. We ended up diving at their shop Ibohi Dive Center for a steal of a price. They were not at all after our money they just wanted to have some good chats and help other appreciate the beauty of their home.
Five days later, sadly, we left Pulau Weh. The last boat was at 230pm and then we had an afternoon to kill in Banda Aceh before heading to the airport for our early morning flight. Banda Aceh practices Sharia Law and I had read that it was unsafe and unfriendly. Well I don’t know what happened to those people but I have never seen locals more excited to have foreigners there. Our tuk tuk driver on Pulau Weh sent his friend to pick us up. Ray greeted us and took us to our awaiting chariot. He drove slowly and gave us a recent history of the area. Banda Aceh was the worst hit area in Indonesia in the 2004 tsunami. Waters flowed 15km inland and were up to 20m high. Ray had lost his wife. We were also informed that sharia law was not a want of the local people. Instead it was enforced by the government as they believed the area was hit because the locals were being ‘bad Muslims’. He asked where we would like to be dropped. We explained our situation, we were going to sleep at the airport but did not want to go so early. coming to our rescue, he suggested that we wait in a nearby park until after prayer time. He would then pick us up and take us to a cafe with wifi where we could hang out until he would then pick us up and take us to the airport. Legend! When we arrived at the park he arranged for us to leave our big packs at a cafe so we could go wandering. The park was full of people, it was so nice to see everyone outdoors its friends. We began to walk around the park when a girl in full marching band attire jumped in front of us and yelled ‘PHOTO?!’. Sure we said. Suddenly we were swarmed by band kids (there also happened to be a marching band contest going on) who wanted to be in the picture. We continued walking and were pounced on by a different lot of band kids. However this time they all wanted individual photos, even the mums joined in. After a thousand photos we were released and set off again. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating street food and returning the smiles of our local admirers. Ray picked us up and took us to the cafe. When it was time for us to go to the airport we were greeted by a different tuk tuk driver as our man needed sleep. That’s okay! However he felt bad that he called the tuk tuk driver and asked to speak with us. He told Darcy that he was sorry he didn’t come but that his friend is reliable and he hoped we are okay. What a sweetheart.
Then came time for us to meet Ross in Lombok! We checked into Roy’s homestay and were treated like family. $5 each a night got us a private room, breakfast, free coffee and assistance with anything else we needed. KD was constantly ensuring that we had a good time. We could not have asked for a better host! His best buddy who runs T&T homestay also gave us a bunch of useful advice. It was lovely to see the businesses trying to help each other out rather than making it into a competition. Just off the coast of Lombok is the infamous Gili T. Ross convinced Darcy and I to go along with him, ahh the perils of having party bro boy friends. Our host Gola was one of the most chilled out characters on the island. He knew everything and everyone. Although Gili T is , by default, more expensive than Lombok. He made sure we got a good deal on our bungalow and the transfers off the island. Gili T was full of friendly, good natured locals . From the Cocomart kids who laughed at us for drinking so much coffee, to the soto Ayam man and all the locals we passed in between.
The locals certainly made Indonesia that much more special to me. I don’t know what happened to all the people who left negative comments online. What I do know is that if you go to a new place with an open mind and positive attitude good things will follow. Life is about how we perceive it. Embrace unpleasant feelings and experiences as without these we would never appreciate the good. Be mindful. Things won’t be the same as they are at home, people will think/feel/act differently due to their culture. But this is the best part. If you want to go somewhere like home I suggest not leaving.