Best of Indonesia Photo Diary
In anticipation of my trip to the Galapagos with Zegrahm Expeditions next week, I have finally put together a comprehensive photo diary from my fantastic journey through some off-the-beaten track parts of Indonesia with the very same expedition cruising company (what a terrible delay, I know!).
An archipelago of over 17,000 islands, the country of Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world, as well as the most populous Muslim-majority country. However, since so much of it is remote and accessible only by boat, it’s easy to find wild and off-the-beaten-track gems, where the friendliness of the local people is unrivaled anywhere.
Culturally, Indonesia is an incredible melting pot of people, with influences ranging from Indian to Arabic to Chinese. With over 300 different ethnic groups, Indonesians speak over 700 different languages or dialects; but, the fact that shines through when you meet any of them is their kind and welcoming nature.
We spent most of our time exploring the nooks and crannies of contorted shape of the Island of Sulawesi, a massive island consisting of a mountainous, almost impenetrable centre with four peninsulas radiating from it. We dove and snorkelled amongst vibrant and some of the most beautiful coral reefs I have set my eyes on, we ventured inland to immerse ourselves in the craziness and elaborate funeral rites of Tana Toraja for a couple of days (full article here), as well as setting foot on some of Sulawesi’s little neighbouring islands, followed by a day amongst real-life dragons on Komodo Island, and finishing with a welcome dash of tranquility in Bali.
Our first stop was Bunaken National Park in the North of Sulawesi, known for its exceptionally rich coral ecosystem, a habitat to nearly 400 species of corals as well as a colourful array of sea creatures of all shapes and sizes!
These pictures below were taken in the fishing community on the island of Bunaken, one of the five islands within the constraints of the marine park (only 3% of the park is terrestrial). People living here participate in maintaining the area as marine protected area. This harmonious Christian community was a joy to wander about in the morning, before going diving amongst a dizzying and exuberant array of corals and fish in the afternoon.
Our next stop was in port city of Bitung, a starting point for our road trip inland to see the elusive nocturnal tarsiers, also known as the smallest primates in the world, in the Tangkoko Nature Reserve. Bitung is the gateway to the indigenous Minahasa people, and their warriors greeted us with their menacing energetic dancing with a belligerent look in their eyes. They bodies were adorned with elaborate headdresses and clothing made of feathers, cuscus, macaque and tarsier skeletons, along vibrant (mostly blood red) textiles.
Tarsiers, named for the very long bones in their feet, are fascinating primates, only seen as dusk falls and they come out looking for their supper. Found only in Southeast asia, tarsiers are the only entirely carnivorous primates still alive today (feed mostly on insects). They are absolutely tiny – perhaps slightly larger than the size of my palm!
These tiny creatures are known for their huge eyes for night time activity – each eye is as large as their brain! In fact, their eyes are so big, they cannot rotate them within their sockets. Luckily their heads can be rotated nearly 360 degrees, which means that they vision is not compromised.
The following couple of days were spent acquainting ourselves with Bajau people, or the sea people. Following their heritage, the Bajau prefer to live away from the land and who spend most of their lives at sea.
First, we visited a small Papan village, a fishing community consisting of the Bajau people set over crystal clear waters. Many houses are on stilts veering off the main boardwalk, and surrounded by fishing boats.
We came across a couple butchering a freshly caught giant guitarfish and marbled stingray, whose fins will later would have been sold to the Chinese for a good price. The local people often struggle for money, so this catch will bring in much needed extra income.
Where I came across a local rather rustic supermarket selling island-grown produce…
The next day we came across a unique stilt village, constructed over a reef platform miles away from land. Bajau people, sea people more comfortable with crystal clear waters around them, live in this unusual settlement, often weeks at a time without setting their foot on land. They were delighted to see us, showing off their recent catch of many different types of fish and molluscs.
We later visited another Bajau village on Kenccil Island. As always, local people and especially little children, the majority of whom had never clapped their eyes on foreigners and fair-skinned people were tremendously excited to greet us. As I wandered amongst the houses making my way to the other side of the island, I was surrounded by myriads of children in my wake, all chatting and vying for my attention.
A girl with local school in the background…
The next morning, we spent a few hours scouting a deserted beach – one of my favourite things about expedition cruising is the opportunity to spend a handful of blissful hours enjoying the quietude of untouched stretches of sandy shores.
A few local fishermen came by and sold some freshly caught fish to us, which was later prepared by our Indonesia expert, Leksmono.
We even had a poisonous puffer fish, a beloved delicacy with the Japanese. Can I just say that it was perhaps the most delicious fish I have ever tried?! Simple, grilled, and, most importantly, as fresh as you can get. Three Michelin starred restaurants in NYC or London cannot compare. Slightly gluttonous and somewhat famished, I managed to eat almost two whole fish, as well as a squid. The way to my heart is through my stomach, so I fell in love with Indonesia there and then.
A few snapshots from my two-day trip into Toraja Land, where life is all about the celebration of death. You can read a comprehensive article about my fascinating time in the highlands of Sulawesi here.
We stopped at a colourful food market on the way back, as well as a durian stop, where I tried this strange fruit that divides opinion for the first time in my life. Not sure, this is something I will be putting in my mouth again…
Sampling some durian…Afterwards, we spent a day in Komodo National Park, established in 1980 to protect the habitat of Komodo Dragons, and a few years later it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a gorgeous day, and we passed the first few hours of it searching for real life dragons. Our morning of reconnaissance was fruitful, and I spotted about nine or ten, both males and female, as well as a baby!
The Komodo dragon is the largest living species of lizard in the world, found only on a smattering of small islands in central Indonesia, the most famous of which is the island of Komodo. This enormous monitor lizard can reach lengths of up to 10 feet and weigh 150 pounds!
Komodo dragons were first documented by Europeans in 1910, when rumors of a “land crocodile” reached the Dutch colonial administration. The first live Komodo dragons arrived in Europe in 1927, to be displayed at the London Zoo.
Unique among lizards, Komodo dragons often hunt cooperatively, taking down prey as large as deer (and the occasional human even!). They have septic bacteria in their mouths that cause nearly every dragon bite to become severely infected, allowing them to bite their prey and then just wait for it to die.
Afterwards I went pearl shopping. There were dozens upon dozens of sellers of pearls, all extolling their wonderful pieces of jewellery, regardless of the fact that their neighbours’ things were practically identical. A chaotic shopping experience resulting in me walking away with half a dozen of strings of large, imperfect pearls…At least, I gave a little boost to the local economy, I suppose….
The day ended with a cocktail party on the Pink Beach named after a noticeable lovely pink tint to the sand…The trip finished in wonderful Bali, where we spent the whole day exploring Ubud and its surrounding areas. Bali and the rest of Indonesia we visited was like chalk and cheese. You can read my full article on Bali here.