Sunset at a Hindu and sunrise at a Buddhist temple

To say that the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of impressions, activities and interesting encounters would be an understatement. Every day there was something new to take in that hardly allowed me to make space for getting photos uploaded, let alone videos edited or writing blog posts to digest it all.

There was one afternoon, much needed, where I captured my thoughts on Wamena in Papua but I didn’t manage to wrap up Indonesia with the last destination – Yogyakarta and the temples we visited. I can’t believe that we’re off to another country, I absolutely loved Nepal, though more on that in future posts. Sitting on planes, thriving on 3 hour sleep, sugar and caffeine sure make a good foundation to get some brain cells on “paper”.

After Wamena, Yogyakarta (or Yogya as preferred by the locals) was a welcome and uplifting surprise. It has a bit of an independent status and staying in Kraton, the Sultan’s city, was fabulous. We loved our Airbnb and the host (Ifa ; I can highly recommend it. Staying in that area makes everything somewhat of a walking distance and there are great places to discover culturally and food-wise.

We only planned 3 days for Yogya, which for me wasn’t enough to explore, but we got the absolute highlights in there.

Getting to the centre from the airport

If you’re feeling adventurous, get the local bus. We got the 1A to Tasman Pintar, which stops opposite the post office and is right around the corner of one of the Kraton entrances/the foot of Marlioboro Street. The ticket was only IDR 3,500 per person and the ride took about 40 minutes (though I suppose traffic can impact that a little).

Rent a scooter

We hired one for 3 days and got a discount. In total it was IDR 180,000. We fuelled up for about IDR 35,000 over the three days and we drove to both main temples and one of the beaches in the south. There is a tourist area (Jalan Prawirotaman) with lots of restaurants offering western inspired food and there are a lot of scooter rental places.

Prambanan Temple

We did both temples independently as much as we could, i.e. we didn’t book any special tours or guides. Prambanan Temple is known to for great sunsets, so that’s what we did. It took us just under an hour by scooter. I suppose it helps having a I-want-to-be first-at-every-crossing driver, so it’s best to plan about an hour. There is parking on site for a fee. Not sure what happened but the people at the ticket counter gave us a huge discount when we left. Maybe it was because we were literally the last tourists to leave the grounds.

Entry is a bit steep compared to the general price-value ration in Indonesia, but also cheaper than other touristy things we’ve done on other islands before. The prices tend to change, not sure based on what, so best to check in a current leaflet or at a tourist info centre. We paid IDR 362,500 per person.

By the way, the Prambanan Temple is the whole complex. It is a collection of quite a few temples and the main one everyone is swooning over is actually called Roro temple. There are also 3 other smaller ones and the Sewu Temple was rather stunning as well.

Borobudur Temple

If the sunrise is something you want to experience standing with a few hundred of other tourists on top of the stupa of Borobudur, there is only one way to do it. Manohara hotel has monopoly over providing the experience though I have to say it was worth it. We got up at 3.20am as it’s a bit of a longer drive than to Prambanan to get there. Still, we made it in a little over an hour and arrived at 4.45am in time for our torches and badges. Note to any future travellers, check the location for entry; it’s not the one that pops up on google maps.

The ticket per person was IDR 450,000. You’ll have to bring a passport (we had copies on our phones) and you’ll get some decent snacks and drinks after you’re done doing the rounds of the temple, and also a little souvenir.

Regardless of the many tourists popping up in your photo shots, the view is absolutely stunning. Colours changed by the minute, the two mountains (volcanoes) in the distance looked majestic and the fog far below made it all look mysterious and jungle-like. It’s worth going around the upper levels to see the intricate carvings and stories being told.

Food

A typical local dish to try is godek. It’s some kind of pulled jackfruit cookies in something delicious with rice and usually duck or chicken with a black egg. If you don’t eat meat, just ask for it to be served without.

Milas Vegetarian is a bit off the beaten path but once there, a lot of happy tourist faces await you. Shouldn’t deter you, cause it is actually really nice in both the atmosphere, place and food. For us it was a nice dinner out compared to cheaper options on other evenings.

Talking about cheaper options, Avocado within Kraton is a nice little Warung type place. They have a short menu or noodles and rice, some fried vegetables and we’d like to think it was actually prepared by the Mama of the house. Very delicious.

We were lucky to have access to a kitchen, so we also cooked at home. The supermarket Super Indo is good for fresh fruit and veg and anything else you might fancy.

If you fancy having a look at photos, check out my Flickr, or have a watch of the video below I did of our time in Yogya.

Venturing to the middle of Papua

One of the things we wanted to do is see a little bit of Papua and it’s people, so we flew to Wamena. It is only accessible by plane, the road from Jayapura was given up on after a landslide several years back.

I have been pondering for the last weeks how to attempt to write this post. So far, it was my least favourite place. Though this was the place I was most excited to see mainly because it’s advertised as being able to see traditional village, the original Papuan tribes and possibly interact with them.

What I ended up experiencing, was a city with clear separations between the Papuans and the “yellow” people, Indonesians that came mainly from Java. The atmosphere was eery, it seemed every Papuan was eating betel nut, and a giant white cross comparable to a control centre is overlooking the city.

It became clear that most Papuans don’t like the situation. A situation where the other Indonesians organise the city and life for them, running businesses, making the money, and also, where tourists come to visit local villages and to meet the “real” Papuans. We, like probably many other tourists, wanted to visit a local village, but were forbidden entry by some locals. I am not sure whether that was because we were tourists or whether there was an issue with our guide. We couldn’t get a clear answer.

A bit of history, Papua used to be under Dutch rule and then annexed by Indonesia in 1969. Before that, the Dutch started a transmigration programme to move people from densely populated areas of the country to less populated areas, such as Papua and West Papua. This programme was only ended three years ago. Missionaries were also busy converting Papuans from animism or other beliefs to Christianity, and a geologist found the biggest gold mine (there’s also a load of copper) to date near Puncak Jaya, the Grasberg Mine. Naturally, it’s run by an American company you’ll have never heard of that also happens to deal with Petroleum.

You can imagine that the local, indigenous people wouldn’t be too happy about the situation and I suppose every white person coming to town wanting to visit the locals is just a reminder of their situation. If you google Papua, you’ll find that in recent news this sentiment was confirmed.

After our failed attempt to visit a traditional village, we ventured to Jiwika by hitchhiking there. A minibus of teenagers, some drunk likely escaping the Sunday rituals, dropped us off at Jiwika. It’s the hotspot for white people to see a traditional village with the locals wearing traditional outfits. Suddenly, local women surrounded us, first wearing tops, then none to resemble their past cultural lives. They have a mummy in the village to be whipped out any time a tourist comes, though we politely declined. We read about a saltwater well, Air Garam, which included a hike. The online world recommended hiring a local woman as a guide, so we did after some negotiating.

Though the video below doesn’t show it, it wasn’t the best of experiences going up to the wells and have the woman show us how they originally got salt. It was not at all about getting to know their culture, but more about the money. It was a running theme throughout our stay, at the same time, it is also a conflict and contradiction for the locals. They don’t want to be taken advantage of, but they need the money, so they “sell” their culture to a point where it feels like you need to buy air to breathe as well.

It is such a shame that the current situation is like this and I wish I had a better experience and feeling leaving Wamena. It’s infuriating and sad, really.

Waigeo – Seeing the bird of paradise and discovering underwater beauty

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. We’re now on our way to Nepal and there is still so much to share about our last few weeks in Indonesia. I haven’t written or posted anything cause, one, of non-existent or very slow internet, and two, I have been focusing on getting the videos done instead. It always takes longer than you think and as I have limited tools to get it done, it just takes more time than it usually would, if I had a laptop, unlimited storage space, internet, etc.

But here we are, on our way to Nepal, with so many thoughts and images in my head from the recent weeks. Our stay on Waigeo, to date, is still my favourite despite being at the height of a cold there. It was just dreamy. The food was amazing, the people were friendly, the sounds of exotic birds in the morning added to the jungle feeling, the beach and water was just stunning. Did I mention the food? We didn’t realise that when booking on Raja Ampat Homestay, that it was full board. It makes sense because you’re not close to anything really to quickly grab something, let alone have a kitchen available to cook yourself. Though I did get to cook on the last night with Christine, the owner, in their kitchen.

Cooking with Christine at Warimpurem Homestay

We stayed at Warimpurem Homestay, about 30 minutes drive away from Waisai, where all the boats and ferry arrive and some leave for the other islands. The airport doesn’t seem to work anymore, a local said that flights were unreliable and people ended up going by ferries in the end. It only takes 2 hours from Sorong, so it’s quite alright considering the time you’d have to wait at the airport.

Sunset at Warimpurem Homestay, Waigeo, West Papua

Back to the homestay. It was basic, clean and everything you needed. The day slows down here, starting with the sounds of birds and waves. Eventually, we strolled over to the common dining/dozing-off-on-a-hammock area where we had breakfast and pondered what we’d do next. The first day we picked up our lost luggage at the harbour on a scooter driving over bumpy roads (I think people’s bums here become conditioned at a young age. I’m afraid mine will not get used to the pain) and learning that Sundays here really are Sundays. Everything was more or less closed and we could only fuel up with an overpriced bottle from a street vendor. The second day we went on a hike early morning (read before sunrise) to see the Red Bird of Paradise, which only exists on Waigeo, and the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. On the third day, we went snorkelling around islands nearby and I got a sunburn on me bum. On the last day we explored the local village. Our stay there honestly felt so much longer than four full days. It was the right kind of activity-relaxation-ratio considering I also tried to get over a cold.

Saporkren Village, Waigeo, West Papua

What also helped with slowing down was one of their cats, Manis. I called her Meryll, cause her meowing reminded me of one. She rendered us immobile by wanting to snuggle or sleep on our laps all the time.

When in Labuan Bajo

We spent 10 days in around Labuan Bajo and though we are no experts for every little corner of the town like some expats working in dive centres, we did get to try enough to have some recommendations, should you ever decide to visit this place.

I admit, we could have eaten out more, gone snorkelling every day, stayed in a bustling hostel meeting plenty of other backpackers. But we didn’t. This was the first destination of our six months long travel adventure so we have to watch it a little. It is easy to get overexcited and want to try it all or get sucked in by all the delicious restaurants attracting all the tourists.

We had a budget and with that in mind, we planned a little around the things we really wanted to do whilst here and what we could probably give a miss.

Choosing the diving centre – Divers Paradise Komodo

Obviously, one of the main reasons for coming to Labuan Bajo was snorkelling and seeing the Komodo dragons, so we were hardly not going to go on a boat trip. I recommend going to a few of the shops to ask for a couple of different options of trips to get an idea for prices and feel of the people selling the trips. I think it is important to feel like they know what they’re doing and it’s not just a touristy thing where they drop you off and you have to fend for yourself.

We booked our trips with the Divers Paradise Komodo. They were a little cheaper than most, but they were professional and knowledgable, made us feel welcome, were conscious about the environment and impact of plastic and tourists, and made the best banana pancakes for breakfast and popcorn when you returned from your day trip. If budget is really tight or you’re short on time, make it a half day snorkelling and half day visiting the dragons. We did that a) because we wanted to see the dragons, b) didn’t want to spend a whole day on an island in sun burning weather and c) to give the snorkelling a test with this dive centre to see, if we liked it. Like it we did, so we booked another full day snorkelling tour. Even though everyone else was diving, we were well taken care of by our snorkeler guides and sometimes even got to see more of the underwater universe than divers did.

For the half day snorkel/half day trek, we paid per person:

  • IDR 500,000 for the snorkel/trek
  • National Park fee: IDR 165,000
  • Ranger (local guide) fee: IDR 115,000 (this varies day by day though)

Discovering the surroundings

Rent a scooter, if you’re staying a bit outside of Labuan Bajo or think that you will want to explore more than the city on foot.

A scooter for a day should costs IDR 75,000. If you’re renting for longer, I’m sure you could negotiate a better daily rate. In fact, we should have done that for our stay a bit north of Labuan Bajo.

Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami are well worth a visit. You’d need a day for each of these unless you’re taking off at sunrise. Getting to Cunca Wulang is a little easier on the bum and on the arms for the person at the helm of the scooter. It also involves a jump of a rock, if it tickles your fancy. With anything worth seeing, there is local guide fee. We formed an impromptu group with two other couples and got a cheaper rate per person. It wasn’t cheap, but well worth it. We paid IDR 94,000 per person. I think it should only be IDR 50,000 but they are hard to negotiate with.

Cunca Rami isn’t too much further but, man, it’s a journey, alright. It says it’s 7km from the main road but it took us just as long to get there as it took us from Labuan Bajo. It paid off with a great local guide showing us all the trees and fruits on the way there and inviting us to his Sunday family lunch. We paid IDR 50,000 for the local guide and IDR 50,000 per person for the waterfall entry. We also gave a little to the local guide afterwards as a thank you for the free food. We felt it was right but may not be expected.

Food places in Labuan Bajo

Again, since we are on a budget for our longer trip, we didn’t have the luxury to go out every day and explore every restaurant created for backpackers and tourists. But we still tried a few and here are the places we recommend:

  • Warung Mama – cheap place, great local food, popular with young people and backpackers. Recommend anything vegetable, traditional rice, fried noodles and tempeh.
  • Warung Blue Corner – similar price range as Warung Mama. Great homemade local food. Recommend fried noodles.
  • Bajo Taco – Mexican inspired. Nice mocktails, great burrito. Brilliant view for the sunset over the harbour, though right next to a mosque and may be a little loud during sunset and dinner.
  • Happy Banana – Japanese and healthy fusion food. Most expensive of the four places, but worth as a treat. Good, if you want to have more vegetables and something closer to western food. Recommend, the vegan wrap, juicy quinoa burger, vegan dumplings, and any of the desserts. Coconut coffee also very delicious. Great atmosphere too, friendly staff and lots of cosy corners to sit and relax.

On days we didn’t go out and eat somewhere, we turned to instant noodles. It’s the most convenient life saver, if you are hungry, need to save money and just want to chill in your room/on your terrace. Also, if you have access to hot water, try making your own with the Asian noodles, instant flavoured sauces, some vegetables, chilli and sweet and sour sauce. The latter two are sometimes provided in homestays.

I definitely recommend staying in Labuan Bajo, if you’re not after a beach holiday. There are places that are not directly on the main street and are quite nice and being in the town makes it way easier to go on trips either organised or by yourself.

More photos from our time in Indonesia

Seeing real life dragons

One of the main reasons we came to Labuan Bajo was to go to the Komodo National Park and see the Komodo dragons. They only exist here and are very old as a species and seem to be gifted with the genes for survival. They can swim, but not far, which is why they only exist on the islands in the National Park. They can be fast, if they want to, have a poisonous bite (killing their prey slowly), young ones can climb trees, smell each other, trace blood from kilometres away and they just look impressive. They can’t fly however, but that might be just a matter of a few thousands of years.

We went on a combo snorkelling and trek tour to see the dragons on Rinca Island where there are the most dragons and you have the best chance of seeing them. We were lucky enough to see all age ranges, male and female, with a bit of action from one of the older male dragons wanting to claim his spot next to a female. I got it all on video and let me tell you, once you see them make even the smallest move, you’ll happily stay behind your local guide who is equipped only with a forked stick.

Not sure how effective the guide and the stick would be, if a dragon would decide to launch towards you. Overheard someone saying that there is no warning and they could be happily dozing away (or seemingly so) and start and attack.

Mating season just finished more or less and females have now hoarded loads of eggs in one hole with multiple decoy holes kindly dug by some kind of bird which used it during their hatching season before. The females eat some of their own eggs for a couple of months, so in the end, if I understood correctly, about only 10% hatch. The young ones then climb trees and eat their smaller kind, lizards for breakfast, lunch and dinner. How lovely!

Check out the video below. It has a few bits in from the days before we went to see the dragons as well.

Driving aimlessly and jumping off a rock

What a whirlwind of a few days it has been. We’re now on day 5, but spent two of those getting to this incredible place. The plan was to be in Lombok right now and get over the initial shock realisation that we’re actually doing this. Instead, because of the earthquakes, we changed things around and arrived in Labuan Bajo on Flores. The beach/read/relax bit is coming up tomorrow, but husband is feeling poorly (too much sun already), so we’ll see how that goes.

Labuan Bajo is a small town, mainly living off tourists coming here to see the Komodo dragons, dive or snorkel. There are a few bits inland to see, but the islands, underwater beauty and the Komodo National Park is kinda it, and don’t get me wrong, enough of a reason to come here.

Labuan Bajo Harbour

Labuan Bajo Harbour

Because this town mainly lives off tourists going on boat trips, the harbour is full of boats, sometimes even ferries. It also is a place where most of the plastic gets dumped unfortunately. On the bright side, they are trying to keep the National Park clean, doing some education for the locals and tourists on the impact plastic has and an organisation started an initiative to have less individual plastic bottles around for single uses. Like most people, we bought a gallon of water and reuse the same bottles we got on day one.

Before I go into what we’ve been up to, I just have to mention the Roti. I am still not entirely sure what’s in it, but the closest thing I can think of is a sweet milk bun with a crust of coffee paste on top. Sometimes they have a filling, but not sure what that is. Anyhow, it’s delicious. Also, shoutout to instant noodles. They saved us in Surabaya, cause everything was meat and we didn’t want to risk starting off our trip getting stuck on a toilet.

Another tangent, sorry, we craved vegetables already on the first day of being here. I think travelling for two-ish days didn’t help the feeling that we needed something other than rice and noodles. So we treated ourselves at Bajo Taco to some guacamole and a vegetable burrito. Since then, it seems, I am cured and also, we found local food that doesn’t just consist of chicken and rice, so all good now.

Labuan Bajo

Happy, tired and sweaty after eating some veggies

Cunca Wulang Waterfall

Day outside of Labuan Bajo on Flores

I highly recommend renting a scooter. It was IDR 75,000 for the day for one scooter. Helmets are included, though sizing was a big generic I think, cause mine was a bit too big and had to adjust it every time we hit a bump, which was basically every 30 seconds. But that was alright with me cause it was amazing to drive aimlessly towards inland on the one and only road. With no real plan, bathing stuff and a full tank, we just started driving. I knew there was a waterfall somewhere, but didn’t know how to get there. On the map the road just cuts off. Turns out there are two waterfalls, Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami.

Day outside of Labuan Bajo on Flores

The closer we got, the more white people we saw and figured we had to go, if that many made an effort. At this point we were joined by two other couples and we teamed up to get a group price for the waterfall and guide. It ended up being slightly cheaper than had we gone just by ourselves. It does seem to be a bit of an arbitrary bargaining.

What we didn’t prepare for was that our sandals would be a bit of a challenge getting us through the “jungle”. I slid and fell, lost my sunglasses, realised I lost them only after we’d been swimming and found them again on the spot I fell.

Cunca Wulang waterfall on Flores

To get to the waterfall you have to cross a wooden bridge that looks questionable. I mean, the planks where only held by two nails each in the middle and some of them stood out. But not thrill enough, you have to jump off a rock to see the waterfall. Technically, you don’t have to. You can also climb in and then swim, but where’s the fun in that. I say that now, but I’ve never jumped from that high before (husband said it was 5-6m), so yes, I had butterflies and nervous tingles and my adult self saying “just climb down”. I know many might be saying “that’s not high at all”, but 5-6m is a long way down. Enough to think about what you’d just done on the way down. To think that “shit, I’m going under really far” or realising that you close your eyes too soon cause there is still a bit to go, or “hope my contact lenses make it through”.

But let me tell you, once you’re down, it’s gorgeous. Rocks formation carved from the turquoise coloured water. you have to swim a bit to get to the actual waterfall that comes through a circular opening, but it’s worth the price we had to pay and the jump I did.


More photos from our time in Indonesia