Archive for ‘Travel in Indonesia’

June 1, 2012

Race Report: Bintan Triathlon

by Tabitha Kidwell

Well, it’s been a week since the triathlon, and I think I am fully recovered! (Actually, I went for my first post-race run this morning, and now my foot hurts! What gives? I guess it’s okay, I can chill out for the next few weeks and not run, but I wanted to get back into more frequent running to start marathon training in July. Maybe this is a sign that I need to chill out. I’ll try.)

How was the race? In a word – HARD! I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be. I knew I could do each event individually without too many problems, but doing them one right after another proved to be really difficult! I probably should have expected as much, huh? I was surprised at how hard the transitions were – I thought “Hey, no problem, just changing your shoes and putting on a helmet… I could do that when I was, like, 4 years old.” I didn’t know how hard it would be after swimming half a mile, or how tricky it would be to hop off the bike and run into the transition area – my legs felt like jelly, like I was just learning to walk.

Well, to start from the beginning, the swim was pretty rough at first, with the tangle of humanity all charging into the water at the same time. I had never done a running start to a swim, so starting a little out of breath was a challenge right from the beginning, not to mention the 200 other competitors kicking me in the face. It took until I got around the halfway buoy and started heading back that I found a good rhythm, though trying to find myself a spot among the other competitors caused me some trouble with swimming straight. I would try to move a little to the right to get some space, then would look up and see that I was headed almost parallel to the shore rather than perpendicular. Oops. That probably wasted some energy. Direction just isn’t an issue when you’re swimming alone in a pool. So some more open water swimming is definitely called for.

But after only 19:11, the swim was over and I raced out of the water to the transition area. I had a pretty slow transition (2:31), because I forgot to eat my energy gel until the end, and then wasted some time drinking water to choke it down. I should have been doing that while putting on my shoes, helmet, gloves, etc., but I got caught up in the moment and forgot. So, still a bit out of breath, I ran my bike out of the transition area, hopped on, and pedaled up the hill that marked the beginning of the bike course (yes, pretty annoying to start with a hill, but if you are swimming in the ocean, the only way to go is up.). There were rolling hills throughout the 12.4 miles. When I biked part of the course the day before, I thought the hills would be no problem, but I definitely noticed them during the race! All-in-all, though, the bike course was pretty nice. I did the 20k in 51:51, then headed back into the transition area to drop off my bike and get ready for the run.

I haven’t started using clips, so I was already wearing my running shoes, meaning this transition was basically just a matter of dropping the bike and heading out. I think I had drunk too much water on the bike – I was a little sloshy in the tummy to start out. It was an odd sensation, too, to start a run out of breath and tired, so the run that I thought would just be autopilot was much more difficult than your usual Sunday morning 5K. Those rolling hills were back, too, and I have to admit that I walked up the first couple. At least I wasn’t the only one – I was passed while walking by a woman whose race bib listed her name as “Flash,” then she started walking and I passed her, then she passed me, then I passed her, etc., for the first 2K or so. We also passed a bunch of dudes in fancy matching biking jerseys – since the men had started 15 minutes earlier, that meant they were really the back of the pack, and that maybe buying that fancy jersey was maybe the most race prep they had done. But, hey, I still passed them! After a hilly first half, we were headed back to the beach, and it got a little easier as I got into a good rhythm. It felt like I was running really absurdly slow, but my chip says I ran the 5K in 30:11, which is basically just about the speed I run most days. So not too slow at all, especially counting those walking spells.

When the finish line was in sight, I was ready to make a break for it – unfortunately, that meant I accidently ran into the Elephant-riding-area in a delirious attempt to head straight for the finish when the course actually curved around. Oops. So I had to double back to avoid the elephant, but then I headed down the chute to finish at 1:44:51! I was really happy with that time! Actually, upon finishing, I was just happy I didn’t have to move anymore, but once I ate a banana and regained my mental facilities, I was pretty psyched! For a first triathlon, my goal was really just to get through it, but I thought my time might have been closer to 2 hours. I was pretty psyched that nothing had gone wrong with my bike or transitions, and that everything had just gone smoothly. Right afterwards, I told myself I wouldn’t torture myself like that again, but then 3 hours later I was already googling races for this summer. I guess another tri is in my future. It seems that to become a successful triathlete, you have to have selective amnesia and be able to block out the parts of the race where you were thinking things like “This is terrible! Why am I doing this? I hate myself.” If that’s the case, I guess you can consider me a triathlete! Bring it on, swim, bike, run!


Ready to go! (Or I thought so at least!)


After the race


At the end of an amazing day – check out that sky!

April 29, 2012

Pulau Weh & Banda Aceh

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’m currently am wearing an exfoliating face mask made of volcanic mud that I actually purchased on-site at a volcano! It’s not exactly tested by the FDA, so it might give me a chemical burn or make my skin fall off, but it feels pretty nice and soothing. Sometimes it’s fun living in the Ring of Fire.

Of course, sometimes it is not so fun, like two weeks ago when there was an earthquake off the coast of northwestern Indonesia that led to tsunami warnings. This happened in the early evening here, which means it was all over the news when my friends and family woke up at home, so a bunch of people messaged me asking if I was okay. I was – I actually didn’t even feel the earthquake. It was in Aceh province, which is like 1,000 miles away. Unfortunately, this is also the province that was hit by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, so it brought up many sad memories for the people there. All of Indonesia watched the images on the evening news of people panicking and evacuating the city, hoping and praying that the warnings would be false alarms this time. Not having a TV, I kept refreshing my browser for new reports. I’ll admit to a selfish ulterior motive for my online vigilence: the evening before, I had purchased an airline ticket to go visit my friend Jonthon up there, and I was a little concerned that my tropical paradise vacation might be transformed into a disaster zone. I was, of course, first concerned with the people living there. But also for my vacation plans. Just a little bit. I’m a terrible person. I’ll just admit that now.

Luckily (for the Acehnese people and for my conscience) no tsunami developed, and there was not even much damage from the earthquake. So I hopped on a plane a week later to visit! I figured it was a perfect time – given that there had just been a big earthquake, what were the chances of there being another? Probably all the plate tectonic stress had been worked out, so I was safer than ever, right? Nope – there were actually like two earthquakes while I was there. But they were small and we didn’t even feel them. There are risks everywhere, what can you do?

Threat of geologic armageddon aside, it was a great vacation! We had two weeks for midterms at STAIN Salatiga, and I scheduled mine the first Monday and Tuesday and the last Thursday and Friday so I had the week from Wednesday-Wednesday free!

On Thursday morning, Jonthon and I headed up to Pulau Weh, the most northwestern point of Indonesia, and site of some amazing scuba diving. When we got there and it was time to figure out transport to the beach side of the island, Maude (French) and Adrien (German) came up to us and asked if we wanted to share a car. And we had two new traveling buddies from that point forward! We ended up getting a hotel together, and they were tons of fun!

From the port, we headed to Gapang beach, a beautiful little crescent of sand overlooking a tranquil bay. For my triathlon training, I went on a few swims in the bay:

And on a few morning runs on these hilly roads:

I also did my open water scuba diving certification, meaning I can now go on dives up to 30 meters, including at night. It was beautiful underwater – I saw octopuses (octopi?), turtles, eels, shrimp, and more tropical fish than I know names for.

Then we returned to Banda Aceh, and did the tour of Tsunami-related sites:
-One of the Tsunami buildings, which people are supposed to go to if there are tsunami warnings, rather than battle the traffic to get out of the city. Apparently no one went there last week, preferring traffic to government-built structures. I can’t say I blame them, but it did seem pretty sturdy.

-A 2,000 ton ship that was carried a mile inland. When I say 2,000 tons, that doesn’t fully convey the face that this ship is freakin’ ENORMOUS and the fact that it is sitting in the middle of the city shows just how scary and powerful the tsunami was!

-And the “Boat on the Roof,” a smaller ship that is perched on two houses. This might be more shocking because it is on a more human scale. You can look into people’s bathrooms and bedrooms and imagine what life might have been like for them, had they not lived in a tsunami-prone region and had the misfortune of having a giant boat land on top of their house.

Lastly, we visited the Mosque, a testimony to the strength of the Acehnese people. This was one of the regions that held off Dutch colonialism the longest. There were battles here for centuries. At one point, the Dutch burned the mosque to the ground (just because they could), then to reconcile, they built this beautiful mosque. Good plan, until the Acehnese killed the representative they sent to the dedication. Snap. It’s that kind of spirit that probably helped the mosque to survive the tsunami – basically the only building to do so in it’s area of town, apparently!

And then I headed back to Salatiga. All in all, a relaxing, interesting, geological-disaster-free vacation. It will probably be my last long-ish vacation of this year. A good way to go out.

April 16, 2012

Midterm Recap

by Tabitha Kidwell

Wow! It is already midterms, and an entire half a semester has gone by without me posting much at all about what I have been doing! Truth is, it has been a really busy 6 weeks!

This semester, I am teaching more at STAIN Salatiga (the State Islamic University of Salatiga, if you don’t speak Indonesian acronym), including a class on using Media in Language teaching. This is the first time I have taught a teaching methods course – it’s a great opportunity since I wouldn’t be qualified to do so in the states with only a master’s degree. I have been putting a lot of (wasted?) effort into it. I’ve made elaborate power points, only to modify those power points after the first class so they’d be somewhere close to my students’ English ability. I’ve crafted assignments (complete with beautiful rubrics and detailed examples) that attempt to prompt critical thinking, then graded those assignments and realized that students still didn’t quite understand what I wanted them to do. I’ve been a little frustrated (can you tell?). I’m coming at teaching methods from a student-centered, formative assessment, standards- and mastery-based paradigm, and they are coming from a rote learning tradition, so we’re speaking two different languages (oh, and to make it a little more difficult, we are also literally speaking two different languages). It’s been a little frustrating, but I know it is not wasted effort. Some students seem to just get it, and have submitted some incredible lesson plans and activity ideas. And I think I am getting most students to think about how to be a better teacher, so they’re getting something out of the class. Turns out, it’s hard to improve the entire Indonesian language teaching system one teacher education student at a time. But I think I’m “moving the needle,” as Eran, the Regional English Language Officer (and my boss) says.

In addition to teaching, I did a bunch of different presentations in March:

On Multiculturalism in America, at a middle school in Boyolali, a small town nearby:

And on Public Speaking and Character Building for the STAIN Salatiga Communicative English Club:

And another Multiculturalism in America, this time at there American Corner at IAIN Walisongo (A university in Semarang, a town just north of here):

And on Games for Language Learning at the American Corner at Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta in a town south of here:

In addition to all that, I’ve been out of town 4 out of the past 6 weekends!

First, I went to Yogyakarta, where my friend Katie (who also happens to be from Columbus) and I acted on our ambition to get into the Dispatch:

Two weeks later, I went to meet my friends Jackie and Jess in Lombok. Lombok is the island just east of Bali, and for a long time it has been billed as “the next Bali.” Much like Dippin’ Dots are the Ice Cream of the Future, I think this may be a prediction that will always stay in the future tense. For the time being, it is a quiet beachside paradise. We relaxed on the beach, swam some laps to train for our upcoming triathlon, played scrabble and ate cake:

Can you beat that?
We also did a really fun trail run with the Lombok Hash House Harriers, a group that can be found throughout Southeast Asia which is typically a running cum drinking club. Here, it was a running cum drinking water club, which was fine by us. The run took us up into the hills overlooking the ocean, but of course I didn’t have my camera so you’ll just have to take my word that it was incredible. See how happy we are afterwards?

The next weekend, I joined a whole bunch of blue at Wonosobo and Dieng Plateau, an incredible region full of natural beauty and ancient Hindu temples. I was happy because we finally had enough people with connections to Ohio to have an authentic OH-IO shot:

Dieng Plateau is basically a huge collapsed volcanic crater, so there was lots of volcanic activity:

We also hiked into a cloud:

It doesn’t look that high, but maybe the look on Ab’s face will convey that it was really freakin’ high!

The weekend after that (Easter weekend), I visited Jackie in Jakarta so that I could join her triathlon training group’s open water swim. We swam about a mile and a half, which is great since we only need to swim half a mile in the triathlon. And we still looked happy:

Maybe thanks to the incredible views:

We were less happy the next morning, when we unwittingly attended a 3 hour plus Easter Sunday church service. Actually, the church service was only about one and a half hours long – it was followed (confusingly) by a graduation ceremony and the dedication of a partnership between the church and the a seminary in America. The church service was nice, but once it was nearing noon, we left for lunch:

And shopping:

And that brings us to last weekend, when I just stayed in Salatiga. It was such a relief to just stay home and have no real plans. I hoped to get through a long to-do list, including blogging, but instead I mostly just read old issues of The New Yorker on my iPad. But now I am blogging on Monday. I promise yet again that I will be a more consistent blogger in the future. When Lombok is the new Bali. And all ice cream is freeze dried.

February 23, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 5: Sulawesi Lecture Tour

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I originally thought about plans for my January-February break, I hoped to use my program activity allowance to travel around, stopping at each of my colleague’s schools to do a presentation. I even planned out how to hit all 50+ people over the 6 weeks (which was a little bit crazy, actually). But then my mom planned a visit and I wanted to learn to scuba dive and conferences got planned in the middle… and I only ended up with 10 days leftover. Luckily, that was just enough time to get around to most of the sites in South Sulawesi, and the 6 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) in the area were happy to invite me to their schools and also to act as tour guides.

Throughout my time in Indonesia, I have been surprised by the narrow image of “Americans” – that we are all white, tall, Christian. Being white, tall, and Christian, I was perhaps not the best candidate to give a presentation about multiculturalism in America, but that is what I attempted to do. In the 5 schools I visited, I presented in ETA’s English classes, clubs, or (at one site) the whole school assembled, perhaps against their will, on a Saturday morning. It was a fun presentation – we started by looking at pictures of people and guessing where they were from. Invariably, the students said that all the non-white people were from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, China, Mexico, etc. (all were actually American) and the white people were American (all were actually from other countries). The rest of the presentation attempted to convince them that, yes, there are African Americans (besides Barack Obama and Michael Jordan), Asian Americans, Latin Americans, even – gasp – Muslim Americans. It was, admittedly, a little basic (I didn’t talk about racism or the Koran-burning controversies or anything) but I think students got the basic idea. If not, they were at least entertained for a little while. I had fun giving the presentation, but I also really enjoyed visiting the schools – I realized I teach future teachers, but I hadn’t set foot in a high school until this trip. It was great to see what goes on in the many types of high schools I got to see (a Christian boarding school, a Muslim boarding school, a vocational high school, and two traditional high schools).

Besides going to schools, I had lots of time to explore Sulawesi. If you look at a map of Indonesia, Sulawesi is the crazy island that is basically made of four peninsulas stuck together. There is a lot of unrest in the center of the island, and besides that, it is a huge place, so I only visited the southern province. First, I traveled up to Polewali, where my ETAs Beth and Chris live. I had an amazing chocolate milkshake at a beachside cafe and watched the sunset…

…then Chris and I visited the brand-new Alfa Midi, the new convenience store in town. Having gone from zero convenience stores to one amazing convenience store, Chris was pretty excited about it… and the ladies that worked there were excited that another white person came into their store…

We also climbed to the top of a “mountain” to overlook Polewali. It was more of a small hill, and there was no one around at the top, so we took the liberty of climbing the cell phone tower for a better view – and got it!

Then I took a longer-than-it-should-have-been, un air-conditioned bus up to Tana Toraja, the major tourist attraction in South Sulawesi. ETAs Rachel and Eda live in the two big towns in the region, so I got to visit both of their schools as well as see some amazing things. Toraja is known for it’s many interesting customs related to death, like special graves cut into trees for babies who die before they have teeth…

… and displaying effigies of the deceased at their burial sites…

…and sometimes just leaving bones sitting around.

Their traditional wood-carved homes and rice barns are also really stunning…

I stayed in Toraja a little longer than the other locations, giving Rachel and I time to make lots of delicious food:

Then I moved on to little Sidrap, ETA Emilie’s site. It was a Muslim boarding school, and the kids didn’t get off campus much, so they were REALLY excited to have another foreigner on campus. I think every single kid asked me “Hello, what is your name?” and gave me a high 5. It was really fun for one day, but I think Emilie is really incredible for responding to that kind of energy with patience and grace every day. The kids were so sweet, but a little intense!

Then I moved on the Makassar and ETA Katy’s school. After presenting, Katy and I went down to the waterfront and ate a pisang ijo

…then saw the most amazing sunset I have seen in a long time!

It was the perfect ending for an amazing 42 days of travel all around the country. It was an amazing trip – especially because it made me appreciate coming home to Salatiga!

February 10, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 4: Pontianak

by Tabitha Kidwell

The next plan on my tour was to go to Pontianak, a city in West Kalimantan, the province on the island of Borneo. My friend Angela lives there, so I returned with her from Geek Week. We got back just in time to head up to Sinkawong, a city 3 hours north, for Cap Go Meh, the final celebration of Chinese New Year Festivities (a lot of people in the region are of Chinese descent.)

The town and the temple were all decked out and full of people…

And there was a special market full of food that had received a special blessing…

And there were, of course, dragons…

But the real attraction was the parade of tatungs. I didn’t get a perfect understanding of what was going on here, but I think that tatungs are people who have a special connection to the Gods on this holy day, so they go into a trance during the trip to the temple, where they will communicate with the Gods. Being in this trance means that they will not feel any pain. There were more than one thousands tatungs, all riding on specially equipped chairs and platforms.) Most were standing on nails, or were sitting on knives, but the really impressive ones were doing things like eating light bulbs, rubbing their faces with broken glass, holding hot peppers in their mouths, and wearing live snakes around their neck. The ones that really got me were the ones with wires, swords, and even bicycle parts piercing their cheeks. I couldn’t even look at those ones, thinking about how that had to hurt. But, they didn’t seem to be feeling pain, so who knows? (WARNING: POTENTIALLY DISTURBING PHOTOS AHEAD

The parade was incredible to see, but after about an hour, I was sweltering in the heat and a little nauseated by all the seemingly torturous displays, so I had to go sit down. 1,000 tatungs, though, means that the parade lasts for like 3 hours! I spent most of the rest of my time doing soft diplomacy – doing interviews with the press, letting students practice their English with me, taking pictures with every teenager with a camera phone, and even holding one lady’s baby for her.

We headed back to Pontianak the next day and were sad to hear that Angela’s boarding house had been robbed! Her host mom had lost like $1,000 in cash and $1,500 in gold jewelry! Luckily, Angela’s rooms were locked and secure, and I had put my computer in there, so all her stuff and my new MacBook air were all fine. I had unpacked my backpack about halfway when re-packing to go up to Sinkawong, leaving “stuff I didn’t need” in the bottom. The thieves took the half-full bag. If they were going to take anything, that’s the best case scenario, though “stuff I don’t need” could also be called “stuff that is easily replaced but really nice to have,” like my hiking boots, leatherman, headlamp, swimsuit, goggles, Lonely Planet, etc. I’ll buy all that stuff again, so it’s not a huge deal. The only irreplaceable thing that was taken was a bag with jewelry from Madagacsar, the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Costa Rica It isn’t all that valuable, but was meaningful to me. I’m trying to take this as an opportunity to lose things gradually and be less connected to material things, but I was a little sad. Maybe I’ll just have to return to all those places…

So the last few days in Pontianak didn’t start that well. We had to go to the police office and had to spend some time comforting her host mom, so we were distracted by doing some of the touristy things I had wanted to do, like visit the Equator museum (Pontianak is smack dab on that imaginary line!). We mostly spent the time eating the local culinary specialities, which is my preferred way to travel anywyas. We had bubur pedas, (bean stew),I the local version of nasi pecel (rice with peanut sauce) and a smorgasboard of fried foods.

By my third or fourth fried treat, I’d forgotten all about the robbery. It ended up being a nice few days in a very different part of Indonesia – Kalimantan is less developed than Java, Madura, Bali, or Lombok, the other islands I have been to in the country. In just a couple of days there, I only noticed that in terms of worse roads and fewer mini-marts. My friends who are really out in the little towns see a very different Indonesia. Next week, I’m popping around Sulawesi (another island), so hopefully I’ll get a better feeling for the “real Indonesia” then!

February 5, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 3: “Work” in East Java

by Tabitha Kidwell

Some of the pundits have sent me comments regarding the fact that I seem to be on vacation quite frequently. Ok, yes, I have had approximately 7 weeks of vacation during these first 6 months here. I suppose that would be regarded as a “generous” vacation policy by my friend who are slaving away with something like 10 days a year. This is true, and I feel for those of you who are working in unfair and usurious labor conditions. I suggest you become more like me by joining a union, becoming a socialist, and voting for Barack Obama in the next election. Alternatively, you could become more like me by quitting your job to move to southeast Asia to teach English. Either way, it looks like becomeing more like me will probably get you more vacation.

Nevertheless, I do work here. I don’t blog much about the day-to-day grind because, well, the day-to-day grind is pretty boring. I love my students and plan pretty good classes for them, but that never seems worthy of a blog post. I’ll be on the lookout next semester, though, for fun classroom anecdotes to share. Besides teaching, I also do other “work,” like presenting teacher training workshops, hosting teacher training webinars, doing special programming at the American Corner libraries in neighboring towns, helping students try to get scholarships to study in America, researching and writing articles, and spreading a positive image of America by taking pictures with lots of random Indonesian people on the street.

I even am doing some work during the Indonesian Grand Tour, believe it or not. It’s getting to be something close to a grueling working vacation. Well, maybe not. But I did do some work this week. On February 1, 4 of my colleagues and I went to Madura, an Island off of the Northeast coast of Java, to do a teacher training on using traditional games in the classroom. Indonesian people love pomp and circumstance, so the event began with an opening ceremony (complete with it’s own opening and closing procedures!), a speech from a representative from the American consulate that didn’t exactly relate to the topic of the workshop (but you have to invite the consulate!) and a coffee break (before any “training” has actually taken place!). I sometimes think all this ceremony is silly, but it seems to be important to Indonesian people. If an event didn’t have all this, it wouldn’t have the same air of officialness. After the first two hours, we got down to business and I gave my presentation on American road trip games (think: categories, 15, guessing game, have you ever, and other games that get people talking) to three separate groups.

Then everyone returned to the main hall for the panel discussion, when participants were supposed to ask questions related to using games in the classroom, but when we actually fielded questions on topics ranging from how to motivate students to the differences between British and American English.

And then we concluded the workshop and headed down to Batu, in East Java, for a couple of days of collaboration with a few more colleagues. The mid-year conference for the English Language Fellows had been cancelled this year, but several of us decided to have our own anyways. We rented a house, bought a bunch of food, and arrived ready for “Geek Week.” We did lots of important things, like:

Setting up a system to transport materials to and from the second floor without using the stairs….

Making and consuming delicious tacos…

Making and consuming delicious pancakes…


(that’s honey, not beer. I promise)

Oh, and we also shared our best practices, ideas and resources, like Angela’s color vowel chart:

Geek Week was also a great opportunity to get advice and suggestions on upcoming classes and projects. It was great to hear what everyone else is doing, and to pick up ideas and feedback to take back for the second semester. And, okay, we had a lot of fun, too. Work, vacation, work, vacation… I feel like all my time in Indonesia is a combination of both. Whatever you call it, it’s just life in the end. I’m lucky to have work I enjoy and vacations that are meaningful.

February 2, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Interlude: How Rubber is made

by Tabitha Kidwell

Did you know how rubber is made? Me neither!

First, they cut diagonally across one side of a rubber tree (our guide said it had to always be the same side, but I don’t know why) and let the sap drain out. Each tree produces a bowl about the size of a coconut everyday.

Then, the sap is rinsed. The foamy part is scraped off the top and set aside to make lower grade rubber for things like flip-flops, while the pure rubber is separated by metal dividers and left to dry (see the tank in the background below).

The next day, the strips of rubber are taken off the metal dividers and hung to dry.

The third day, they are moved into a room with a fire below (kind of like a huge oven) and dried even more.

When it is totally dry, the ladies at quality control check it and put it in piles.

Then these guys take the piles and use this machine to compress them.

And they sit for a few days to get further compressed.

Then they are wrapped up and put in this warehouse, presumably to be shipped somewhere and made into tires, galoshes, bouncy balls, and whatever else we use rubber for.

What I don’t get is, who originally looked at a tree and said “I bet, if we drain the sap from that tree, wash it, let it dry, then heat it a bit, it would be something really useful.”? I’m going to just start trying procedures like that at random and just see what I get!

February 1, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 2: “Trekking” in East Java

by Tabitha Kidwell

With a little hole in my plans, between scuba diving in the Gilis and meeting colleagues in East Java, my friend Jackie and I snuck in a tour of East Java. It’s a little tricky to get around, so we booked a car and a guide for a private tour. We were especially interested in climbing some volcanoes and trekking though the rainforest, so we were sure to include those things in our tour itinerary.

After this long in Indonesia, though, I should have realized that things in Indonesia will almost certainly not follow the itinerary. Our “trek” to Bromo volcano for “sunrise” ended up being more of a “drive” to Bromo volcano to “stand inside of a cloud.”

Ijen Crater, which would have been a 4-5 hour hike, was closed due to poisonous gases.


(those aren’t clouds!)

And Alas Purwo, where we were supposed to stay overnight at a lodge in the rainforest, was mysteriously closed to visitors. I didn’t totally understand why. One person told me it was because of corruption, because the government officials wanted the lodge to always be available for them and no one else. Another told me that there had been a shipwreck of refugees in the South Java Sea, and bodies might wash up on the beach. In the end, the only thing that was clear was that we were not allowed to stay there.

So the trip didn’t end up looking much like the itinereary we had planned. For one, it ended up being more sitting in the car than we had thought. Still, the guide did a really good job of replacing the things we couldn’t do with other interesting options.

The first day, after the morning fog burned off, and after we were asked to be in many photos with Indonesian tourists, Bromo volcano was very cool.

That evening, we stayed in a little town that had a hot springs and a really impressive waterfall that was overworked after a rainy afternoon.

The change of plans meant that we met up with our friends Megan and Elizabeth who, because of flight timing, were on a similar but different tour. We went to go see another cool waterfall the next morning, which was yellow due to the high sulfur content of the volcanic rocks and soil.

We also stopped the car at various intervals to see how coffee, cloves, cinnamon , and chocolate grow.

We stopped at a seaside town and visited a harbour full of beautiful, intricately painted wooden fishing boats.

Though Alas Purwo was closed for the night, we got to go on a little day hike, and saw monkeys, buffalo, and deer in the wild. (I was hoping for a panther, but it’s okay that we didn’t see one.)

We also got to see the beach, thankfully free of dead bodies.

And we got to visit the oldest Hindu temple in East Java!

We stopped the next morning at a rubber factory. The process of making rubber was so cool that it will get it’s own blog post!

And we got to meet some nice ladies making gula jawa, the palm sugar that is used in traditional sweets here.

In the end, our trip ended up being more of an agricultural visit than a trekking tour, but it was still fun. We got to see a region of East Java that a lot of people don’t get to. And we didn’t see any dead bodies, die of poisonous gas ourselves, or get mauled by a panther. With parameters like that, this definitely qualifies as a good trip!

January 28, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 1: Scuba Diving and Fine Dining in Gili Trawangan

by Tabitha Kidwell

I am very lucky to have an extended mid-semester break from January 12, when I finished giving speaking exams, to February 27, when classes start up again. I should be planning classes for the upcoming semester, but I figured I could do that even if I wasn’t in Salatiga, so I’m using the time to see a lot of the Archipeligo! I started with the trip with my mom that I described in the last post, then took a 4-hour “speed boat” to Gili Trawangan, an island off of Lombok, the island just east of Bali. Lombok is often touted as “the next Bali” thanks to it’s comparable beauty and relatively undeveloped status. The Gili Islands, three little specks of land off the northwest corner, are long-established tourist destinations, though the absence of cars and motorbikes makes them seem quiet and peaceful compared to the bustle of Bali.

I met up with my friend Megan Lennon, who is also an English Language Fellow here, and who is an avid scuba diver. As in, she has done, like, 275 dives in the last 16 months. I hadn’t ever really thought about scuba diving before, but she talked it up so much that I thought it was worth a try. I signed up for the open-water class, which takes three full days. The first morning, we suited up and practiced skills like clearing our mask and finding our regulator, and, you know, breathing underwater. That afternoon was our first dive. Trying to stay as a group with 12 inexperienced divers was a little hectic, but otherwise, it was amazing! I was mesmerized by everything there was to see underwater! Fish, coral, plants, rocks, trash, whatever, everything is cooler underwater! I loved it and couldn’t wait to come back for the second day.

We spent the second morning in the pool again getting familiar with the equipment and procedures. That afternoon, we headed out in a much nicer group of 4 to practice in the real ocean. I felt a lot more comfortable this time, and was able to just enjoy being underwater, though I still had some trouble clearing my ears and staying at the right buoyancy. There’s just a lot to get used to. By the third day, I felt pretty confident and really enjoyed our morning and afternoon dives that day. And then I was declared an officially certified open water scuba diver, meaning I can go diving to a depth of 18 meters if accompanied. So, the next day, that is exactly what I did – Megan and I went out in a “buddy” team for my first dives! We had a great time, and I did a fairly good job of avoiding “newbie” mistakes like using up my air too fast, kicking sand up all over the place, or bumping into coral.

So now that I am a “scuba diver,” I’m starting to look at traveling totally differently! There are so many incredible places to dive in indonesia, and I’m starting to make plans to get there. I can’t wait to explore the 71.1% of the earth’s surface that I have been missing!

When above water, Megan and I also had a great time! Of the three Gili Islands, Trawangan is known as the “party island.” While we didn’t exactly relive college spring break, we did have some delicious food and beverages on our evening strolls – there were good restaurants serving every kind of ethnic cuisine!

Megan was happy because there was diet coke:

I was happy because there were tapas:

And we were both happy to see the sunset on our last evening.

All in all, a great 6 days on Gili Trawangan – and in the surrounding ocean! A great kick-off to my mid-semester travels!

January 24, 2012

Ibu visit

by Tabitha Kidwell

Back in November, my mom lost her job – which was great! It was just a job to her, and leaving it freed her up to develop her spiritual direction practice, which is her passion. Also, it meant that she could take off one and a half weeks to come visit me! She was here for about 8 days, and it was wonderful!  She was a real trooper, having new and unfamiliar experiences and just rolling with the punches.  Whole fish with their heads on?  No problem.  Squat toilets?  How interesting! Fried rice and chicken wings for breakfast?  Better than American breakfast anyways!  She was great!

First, we headed up to Ubud, the “cultural capital” of Bali. As a “mature” hippie, my mom fit right in. We got to learn a lot about Balinese culture and life.

We learned how to make offerings:

We took a bike tour, which began with drinking Coffee Luwak The coffee beans are eaten by the sifat cat, processed by their digestion, and collected from their droppings to grind and make coffee.  Sounds gross, but it’s actually quite nice – and it has a price tag to prove it!

Then, we learned about how rice is grown, and mom almost fell in a rice paddy.  Luckily she was saved by the cute Dutch guy in the coffee photo.

This was before the fall, which is why she is still smiling.

We also got to visit an ancient banyan tree.

To round out our 4 days in Bali, we also learned to play the Gamelan, got spa treatments, and ate delicious organic food.  Then we headed to Java, where we went directly to Borobudur temple.  We stayed at the Manohara hotel, directly inside the temple complex, so we could just stroll over there in the morning.  The evening we arrived, we went and snuck into the smaller Mendut temple after it was closed for the evening.  I did the same thing back in October, and it is one of my favorite places on earth – so beautiful and peaceful in there.  Then we headed over to the Mendut Buddhist Monastery to pray evening prayer with the monks – very cool.

The next morning, we visited the temple early, before it was besieged by student groups trying to practice their English and take pictures with foreigners.  It was still quiet when we walked the huge, labrynth-like temple.

We got picked up from Borobudur and went to Salatiga, where my university had an action-packed 2 days for us.  First, we had a welcoming ceremony with five different dances prepared by my students (SO AWESOME!).

Including a dance where the girls brought out a gift for my mom.

Much to her surprise and embarrasment.

The next day, I feel like mom really got the full Indonesian experience, when my counterpart took us to see an objek wisata (tourist “object”) and we didn’t really understand what we were looking at.  A closed, off-season amusement park overlooking a lake full of grass?  It was unclear.  Then we ate fish and didn’t understand why we were there either.  But it was fun.

The full Indonesian experience continued when we got back to our hotel totally exhausted but still had to go have dinner at the house of the president of the university – which was a VERY kind and generous invitation.  I feel lucky to be at such a welcoming and thoughtful institution.  They were great to show us all over town and invite us to lunch and dinner and everything… but it might had been nice to sit by the hotel pool.  That sentiment somehow got lost in translation.

But no fear, after 2 jam-packed days in Salatiga, we headed back to Bali.  We stayed at a resort in Sanur, a quiet beach town on the west side of the island.  It was a splurge (okay, at $130, only a splurge compared to the even cheaper hotels we had been staying at) and it was awesome.  We had all our meals on the beach, saw the sunset from a floating gazebo, and generally unwound from a busy trip.

And then the trip was over and I was saying good-bye to Mom at the airport.   It was so sad to say good-bye and know that I won’t see her until July.  It was incredible to spend time with her here, and to show her my life here.  It was really the mother-daughter trip of a lifetime – unless she wants to do it again!  What do you think, Mom?