Indonesia September 2016
In September 2016, I had the good fortune to travel to Indonesia. Although Indonesia has great natural and historic sites, what impressed me most was its diversity. Indonesia is comprised of thousands of islands. Many of these islands are home to unique cultures that have only become unified as a single country by an accident of their shared Dutch colonial history.
I visited three of the largest Indonesian Islands- West Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), and Java. From the 3rd to 16th centuries, Java was home to great Hindu and Buddhist empires. These empires produced astonishing architectural monuments such as the gigantic stupa of Borobudur (c. 800) and the Shiva temple Prambanan (c 850). The Borobudur temple is particularly magnificent. It consists of nine platforms and is covered with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. Java is also home to the otherworldly volcanic landscape of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park where I spent two consecutive nights trying to photograph the star-filled night sky above the volcanoes. In Kalimantan, I traveled on a private houseboat in search of orangutans. They are quite adorable. However, the most memorable portion of the trip took place on the incredibly muddy island of Siberut. I spent four nights in the home of an indigenous Mentawai family. The Mentawai people deep in the jungle of Siberut are one of the few remaining cultures in the world where modern technologies have not yet made a dramatic impact. The closest electricity to the home I stayed in was an 8-hour trip consisting of a long hike and dugout canoe ride. During my stay, I participated in the family’s daily activities. These included hunting for birds and monkeys with poisoned tipped wooden arrows.
I enjoyed the trip so thoroughly I plan to return to Indonesia soon to explore some of its other diverse islands and cultures.