Although seemingly inconspicuous, however located in a strategic strait between Indian Ocean and Java Sea, a volcano erupted and shook the world.
It was not just a simple "boom". Consequences of this eruption were enormous and the news spread around the Earth quickly via just established underwater cable network system.
It was the famous Krakatoa.
Guts of the Earth were exposed. Big wound in the surface and our planet was roaring...
Tsunami wave destroyed towns and villages located around the Sunda Strait. Clouds of ashes moved across Java and Sumatra changing day into a night. Thrilling headlines appeared in European and American magazines for weeks after eruption. The dust from the eruption remained in the atmosphere for a long time, causing spectacular sunsets and sunrises caught on canvas by many painters including a British painter William Ashcroft (and Edvard Munch a few years later in the famous "The Scream").
The same dust caused global cooling and the average annual temperature dropped as much as 1.2 °C (2.2 °F)!
Indonesia is a large country located on over 13400 islands (yes thirteen thousand and four hundred!) with over 250 million people living there. The natural history of many of these islands was really dramatic and we can be almost sure that it is going to be as dramatic in the future.
Many Indonesian islands (such as Java, Sumatra, Bali, Lombok) are associated with so-called Pacific Ring of Fire. These volcanoes (over 150 in Indonesia) are related to geological process known as subduction (subduction zone between the Eurasian plate and the Indo-Australian plate; Indo-Australian plate is consumed beneath Euarasian plate. The subduction zone is also marked by a system of deep oceanic trenches. South-west from Sumatra and south from Java island is Sunda trench as deep as 7725 metres (25,344 ft), the deepest part of the Indian ocean). Can you remember our posts about Oman? There we saw oceanic crust thrust onto the surface. In Indonesia, we have an opposite story. Earth is hungry and is consuming old oceanic crust.
When the cold oceanic rocks are "sucked" into the Earth’s interior their temperature rises they start to melt. This melt (which has lower density than the surrounding rocks) tends to migrate upwards (known as magma), like small air bubbles in a bottle of sparkling water. Eventually, hot, melted rocks get into the surface and this is manifested as volcano eruptions. If this is happening under water the volcano may eventually emerge as a volcano island.
The process of subduction is also associated with big earthquakes. In 2004 one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded released an enormous amount of energy (moment magnitude of 9.1–9.3) which caused a powerful and disastrous tsunami (with waves up to 30 metres) that killed over 200 thousand people.
Indonesian volcanic islands are grouped in a chain known in geology as volcanic arc. They mark so called destructive margins of tectonic plates
We spent a few weeks in Java, Bali and Gili Islands. In this and next posts we will show you a few places that you can visit to enjoy wonderful landscapes, culture and cuisine (which is awesome! mmm).
Indonesia - When to go?
Climate in Indonesia (here Java, Bali & Lombok) is tropical through the year which means that you may expect some seasonality. There are dry and rain seasons which are governed by the Indian Monsoonal System. Wet season is between November to March whereas dry season lasts from April to October. However, some rainfall may happen anytime but it is usually only in the afternoon. And if rains it really rains, seriously, it is a tremendous amount of water pouring from the sky. Temperatures are relatively stable at approx. 28-30°C. High in the mountains it may get chilly.
Indonesia - How to get there?
As you imagine, the easiest, fastest way to get to Indonesia is by plane. There are some flights from Europe (direct or via Gulf countries) and prices depend on the season. If you are lucky and flexible you can get there relatively cheaply.Another option is a flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and then trying to catch a cheap airline flight such as AirAsia, LionAir etc. You can also travel to Jakarta by land, from the continent. You can try from Singapore via Sumatra but of course it is quite a long and possibly dangerous drive (or you can go by train; see here for more details) and you would need to use a few ferries. Note that before the Chinese New Year or some major Islamic national holidays (e.g. Eid) bus and train tickets can sell out weeks ahead and travelling may be a pain in the neck.
Visa and entry regulations:
Citizens of most countries can obtain visa-on-arrival (or visa-free) valid for 30 days at a few international airports. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Holders of passports who possess an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) with "IDN" code can enter visa-free for business trips for up to 60 days.
Before entry you will need to pay $35 at the airport (special counter) before your passport will be stamped by border control. By the way, before you leave Indonesia you may have to pay so-called departure tax (around $12) however it is now usually included in the airfare.
Hiring a car and driving:
I would never ever suggest driving by yourself. Unless you like a high dose of adrenaline. But if you have to/would like to drive (either car or motorbike): you will be driving on the left side of the road. International Driving licence is required. Be aware that the traffic in Indonesia is crazy and is not difficult to get into trouble. Overspeeding is normal, road conditions are poor, the traffic control is only theoretical and congestion is unbelievable. Lanes on the roads are only theoretical as no one seems to be using them properly – you will often see three columns of cars on a two-lane street with loads of motorbikes, rickshaws (called becak) and bikes amongst them, some of which will be going in the opposite direction to the rest of the traffic. You can hire the car at the airport.
Petrol in Indonesia is not expensive (8000rp/litre = $0.6/litre).
Driving while being drunk or stoned is a serious criminal offence.
Travelling in Indonesia:
You can travel around by plane, by bus, by taxi, by car etc. Taxis are cheap but taxi drivers very often won’t know the direction when you ask them to get you somewhere and many of them cannot read maps. It is worth having your own GPS and a cached map on your smartphone for your safety. Always make sure taxi has the meter on. Taxi drivers will often want to negotiate the price with you rather than using the meter- it will always be more expensive, so not worth trying. The only exception is if you want to head out of town and hire a driver for the whole day.
Internal flights from Jakarta Airport (Soekarno–Hatta International Airport) are not very expensive. There are plenty of cheap airlines such as Air Asia, Lion Air, Batik Air, Citylink. Domestic flights are mostly from terminal 1 (except Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya Air, NAM Air and Indonesia AirAsia).
You can get around by car with the driver as well which are easily hired everywhere.
A popular way to travel around the cities is to use becak, cycle rickshaw. They are cheap but you will have to negotiate the price first.
To get from one island to the other it is best to get on a ferry, which are relatively inexpensive. Getting to the ferry port and ferry tickets can be booked or online. Ferry companies often offer to pick you up from your hotel.
Tourist infrastructure is well developed and accommodation is easy to find, ranging from cheap hostels to luxurious hotels. You can always find good deals on booking.com and remember, sky is the limit. We were in Indonesia at the beginning of dry season and usually booked our accommodation only a day in advance since we had no strict plan for your journey. We never had any problems finding accommodation on such short notice. Some few-day trips organised locally will have accommodation included in the price and you will not have much choice. It may sometimes be quite low standard if e.g. you are going on a trip to the jungle, but hey, you will be in the jungle!
Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. Please make sure you follow their rules because you may accidentally offend someone and get into trouble. Islamic tradition and conservative regions in Northern Sumatra or NE Borneo are quite strict, if you are not Muslim you should not enter a Mosque, both men and women should dress relatively modestly (cover knees and shoulders). Topless or nude sunbathing or swimming is forbidden. In other places, however, the rules are not so strict and you can get away with tank tops and shorts. During Ramadan you should not drink or eat in public from sunrise to sunset, and local restaurants may be closed. This doesn’t apply to hotel restaurants. Elsewhere in Indonesia rules are less strict.
In Bali, most people are Hindi and different rules may apply.
If you fancy watching a traditional Indonesians dance, we would recommend Ramayana ballet. We watched it at Purawisata Theatre in Yogyakarta, where it is held regularly every night. We bought ticket a day before at the Theatre. The ballet is based on an epic Hindu story and combines traditional dance, music and beautiful costumes. When we got to the Theatre we received a summary of the story in English.
A few villages on Lombok island are known for their traditional hand weaving. On our way back from Bangsal Harbour (coming back from Gili) to Mataram, our bus driver stopped in one of such villages so that we could see how the weaving is done. After showing us how the women were weaving we were, of course, ‘encouraged’ to buy some of the local textiles.
Indonesia seems to be relatively safe place to travel in comparison to many countries however a few terror attacks happened in the past (e.g. in Bali or Jakarta). The political system seems to be stable right now however in the past unrest were much more common and violent riots happened. Do not take part in any political demonstrations as it may end miserably.
Vaccinations are not required however it is strongly recommended to be inoculated against hepatitis A/B, Tuberculosis, Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio and flu.
Rabies may be encountered in some rural areas.
Malaria is a nasty disease. Whereas main cities are free of malaria, going into the tropical forest or to remote areas you may be in malaria zone (e.g. Lombok, Papua). See here for details.
There may be some risk of dengue fever in Bali and elsewhere especially during the rainy season. Recently Zika virus spread over Indonesia (check WHO updates).
It is good to have some DEET-containing insect repellents on exposed skin. Mosquito net would be helpful as well. In malaria regions it is good to take antimalarial drugs such as Artesunate, Chloroquine & Paludrine, Doxycycline or Malarone. Some of them may have some nasty side-effects (still better than getting Malaria though). Seek advice before you go.
Nature may kill you: earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunami, wild fires, wild animals (both on land and underwater), heat. Make sure you are accustomed with the place where you stay, you know where emergency exits are etc.
You will get a lot of attention, especially if you are blonde and/or tall (also applies to man). School children will often ask if they can take a picture with you. You may also get some unwanted attention especially when walking along the streets less frequently attended by tourists. I wouldn’t recommend solo female travellers to leave popular tourist places on their own.
Official language is Indonesian. Knowledge of English is rather poor, however in tourist places people always speak at least basic English. Some people can speak Dutch. Alphabet is Latin.
There are not enough words that could describe how great Indonesian cuisine is. Indonesian food is tasty and rich in flavours. You will find delicious nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles) everywhere. Our favourites were Gado Gado, Ketoprak (noodles), Bami (noodles), Soto Betawi (beef soup), fried chickens, nasi undruk (rice with meat/tofu and vegs) and curries. Excellent Lager beer Bintang.
Try some food from street stalls, it is also great and super cheap! We had no stomach problems while we were in Indonesia, even after trying the street food.
Variety of fruits is amazing, we don't even know the names of many of them!
We were using Lonely Planet ‘Indonesia’ and Globetrotter travel guide ‘Indonesia’ by Janet Cochrane and Debbie Martyr.
Books about Indonesia:
‘Krakatau’ by Simon Winchester. From editor: Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, examines the legendary annihilation in 1883 of the volcano-island of Krakatoa, which was followed by an immense tsunami that killed nearly forty thousand people. The effects of the immense waves were felt as far away as France. Barometers in Bogotá and Washington, D.C., went haywire. Bodies were washed up in Zanzibar. The sound of the island's destruction was heard in Australia and India and on islands thousands of miles away. Most significant of all -- in view of today's new political climate -- the eruption helped to trigger in Java a wave of murderous anti-Western militancy among fundamentalist Muslims, one of the first outbreaks of Islamic-inspired killings anywhere. Krakatoa gives us an entirely new perspective on this fascinating and iconic event.
- Electricity is 220V/230V/50Hz with "European plugs and sockets"
-Internet speed varies and may be difficult to get signal in remote areas.
-Always have international travel insurance which covers all medical expenses. The medical service may be painfully expensive and very often the medical centres want payment in advance.
-Drink a lot of water or isotonics (such as Pocari).
-When diving/snorkelling be aware of venomous animals. Do not step on fragile corals
-Credit cards are accepted in most ATMs. Make sure that ATM belongs to major bank chains and are not somehow weirdly "wired". Some tourists were ripped off. Scams are common.
It is good to have some cash in hand as well (Indonesia Rupiah; IRD).
- Toilets is Indonesia are quite odd: they are usually squat toilets with large water tank and plastic scoop. After you’re done, just take a scoop and clean after yourself. Try not to contaminate the water tank.