This page is a wrapup of our trip in indonesia, go to main page to see the other posts.
First, we our time in Bali was great thanks to our guide and driver, Tawan. If you need someone to help you in Bali, contact him at email@example.com.
While we didn't get to see a lot of Indonesia (mostly Bali), we still got to see Bali, Makassar, Sorong for long enough to know that there isn't much to see, and Jakarta. Clearly, there is a big contrast between Islands that are more Muslim than others, although Indonesia allows all religions. Ok, the religion part became a longer rant, so I'll leave it at the end.
What to visit
We didn't get see a lot of Indonesia, but from what I've seen and read about, Bali is most likely the one place in Indonesia where you can spend the most time to see and experience different things. It's also more liberal (i.e. less Muslim) and therefore less likely to have rules or restrictions that would be offensive or needlessly restrictive for most foreigners.
People were super nice everywhere. Obviously we mostly dealt with people in the service industry, people in Bali, and people in hotels elsewhere, but they really all were great.
We spent most of our time in Bali and we were mostly inland where the roads were much worse than down south. It was all 2 lane roads, with often one lane being blocked by someone drying their rice on it, or someone parked because there is no parking. As a result, short distances take a long time, and we were happy to have a patient driver. I'm however not optimistic about the future because unless they're willing to tear down rows of houses that are smack in front of the two lane road, there is no way to widen the road to allow for more capacity. When you see bigger tour busses on them, it gets scary.
In Jakarta, it was not unusual to stay blocked in one spot for 10 or 15mn, while vendors walk from car to car to sell you food or other things.. Before long, they should sell you gas for your car :)
Crossing the street in Jakarta without getting killed took all my skills as a seasoned jaywalker, while Jennifer said she wouldn't walk in the street anymore and take a cab to cross the road if need be.
Depending on where you are, sidewalks have huge holes where you can not only trip, but even break your ankle. I was happy to have a flashlight with me when walking on the street in Ubud at night, because with dark streets and random holes or very uneven pavement, you had to pay attention.
Some road were pretty narrow and still had rice drying on them
In places where muslims get to dictate their dietary restrictions and impose it onto others, the food was fairly poor (or maybe ok if you're a vegetarian). They do pig very well in Bali, and fish is hit or miss, but all the other meat I tried was disappointing to doubtful. Other foods, including croupouc, a favourite of mine, was tasty. The Hindu influence is likely responsible for not many cows being eaten, and the ones that are, not being the best beef around. For comedy relief, a funny video about Indonesian cooking, which is obviously an exaggeration, but funny nonetheless :)
Ok, this video is more funny than fair or accurate, most toilets we used were western style, but all of them I used had a flush that was so low that you had to bend over with your head almost over the bowl you just sat on, to reach and use it. Why, oh why?
Ok, like many countries that only got their independence recently, their past has colorful and not so great pieces history. I recently happened to watch The Act of Killing a documentary I heard about on the Daily Show of all things, and portrays the mass killings of about 1 million indonesian by death squad leaders who were there to remove all traces of communism (the goal is understandable, but killing tens or hundreds of thousands poor villagers who happened to be associated with communists without really knowing any better, is harder to understand). The group responsible is currently still in power as far as I know, and also wrote their own version of "history is written by the winners" that we got to read in the diorama under a couple of national monuments we visited in Bali and Jakarta.
A fine example of impartial story telling :)
Religion clashes and influences
Buddhism and Hinduism were not an issue at all, and on the contrary responsible for most of the nice temples and historical places we went to visit. Christianism and other non Muslim faiths also existed but were more limited. I believe the most widespread religion across all of Indonesia is Islam though.
Like Malaysia (which unfortunately did host some of the 9-11 hijackers and their planning meetings), Indonesia also welcomes many religions. To me, this is great as long as they are all accepting of one another and don't try to push their views onto others. Obviously, I'm biased, but nowadays Islam has a track record of heavily pushing their views onto others, and setting/changing local laws to match their religion (a bit like if there was a law preventing alcohol or pork in a random country). While it was thankfully possible to get tasty pig in Bali, that's not true of many of the others Indonesian islands. Similarly, the food in local flights that doesn't offend anyone was the worst food I had ever eaten, and I'm not that difficult with food.
Similarly, they have the same problem in schools where kids have to wear uniforms so that they can all be treated alike (while I didn't grow up with this, sounds like a reasonable idea to me). However, Muslim girls had their own uniform to allow for their religion mandated hide your face veil. To me, that defeats the purpose of an "everyone is the same" school uniform:
Yes, Islam is supposed to be peaceful religion of course, except that it contains easily manipulated followers, some are turned into extremists and around the world they sure have given the entire religion a very bad name in the eyes of most.
I was not very surprised to learn that Islamists have also done bad things in Indonesia, namely bombing the Borobudur Buddhist temple in Indonesia, the largest one in the world, or more recently bombing Bali which pays less attention to sharia law (Islamic law for all, even non islamists) and over 200 people got killed for the islamic crime of drinking alcohol at a pub.
On the plus side, outside of bombing a major Hindu temple, muslims in Indonesia haven't started eradicating all the christians like they have done in Egypt, so I suppose it could be worse...
Again, I know that most Muslims are peaceful and nice people, but I'll be happier when make a serious world wide effort to curtail their own extremists, treat their women better and stop pushing their values and religious laws onto non willing others.
Yeah, sorry, this was too long, but to end the topic on Indonesia, all the people we interacted with were fantastic, it's only in the airports on crappy cheap flights that were glorified bus with wings that we had to fight line cutters and people trying to push their way through. While Jennifer was frazzled by this, it was not a problem for me, I know how to handle that and make sure not to get pushed around.
We had a great time, and we've already made plans to go back and trying a new diving cruise on the Banda Sea out of Maumere and ending up in Ambon.