4 am. What the hell is all this singing? Oh of course- call to prayer. I should have been exhausted. But no, I was wide awake. The cityscape of Makassar and Bau-Bau lay before me, the sun was just rising on a fresh day, and I was taking my first steps into an entirely new world.
My first impressions of Indonesia: The Cityscape
It’s a wave, a literal wave of heat, bright colours, and noise. From every angle loud, cheerful calls of “Hallo Mistar, Hallo Missus” follow foreigners passing by in the street. Usually this is accompanied with a wave; a return gesture invites laughter and smiles.
City life is a veritable hive of activity. Horns honk every five seconds, herds of scooters fly past and street stalls blossom outwards from hubs of activity. Sarongs, coolie hats, and other tourist gifts are peddled at low prices. So too are freshly harvested coconuts, cracked open upon sale and a piece of shell offered to scoop out the fruit. And on the note of fruit, there are whole markets devoted to their sale. In the city of Bau Bau I came across “Snake Fruit”, so named because of its skin. It is very sweet but somehow nutlike in texture and leaves the mouth dry.
To my surprise however, there were some fruit which I found in the jungle which were not to be found elsewhere. Neither the encompassing markets of the city nor the island markets of Wanci and Buton could source “Dongin” or “Bigi”. Incidentally, since Indonesia is so diverse, with over 3,000 different languages and countless dialects spread throughout the 17,500 islands or so, these two names confusingly describe the same fruit. That being said, it is definitely worth learning a bit of the language before leaving. A little linguistic knowledge truly goes a long way, especially in the countryside.
My first impressions of Indonesia: The Hut Life
I spent the best part of six weeks in the countryside of Indonesia and, for three weeks, the village of Labundo Bundo was home. My landlady, Fira, was like a second mum- even in the height of Ramadan, she would ensure that I was well fed during the day for work in the field. And this seems to have born true for my colleagues. Out there, guests are welcomed as family and looked after as such; the best way to repay their kindness is a friendly chat every once in a while, and gifts upon arrival or at parting don’t hurt!
For the other three weeks of my stay, I settled in a hut on the island of Hoga. It sat atop a coastal coral hole so at night, the waves lapped beneath me as I slept. Island life was, if possible, even more relaxed than life in the jungle.
Maybe it was the hypnotic sound of the sea, or perhaps it had something to do with my less-intense level of work; I can only guess. Labaron- the final day of Ramadan and a massive festival for the locals- was the one busy day in the coastal countryside. The entirety of the front beach was taken over for games and boat races: food was in no short supply and the spirits all over were feverous with excitement. My friends and I were called over for even more photos than usual with locals because we looked so different and that just added to the ebullient atmosphere!
All in all, Indonesia is an incredible place, hugely diverse even within as small an area as I visited. There’s no two ways about it- I’m visiting again.
Photo credit: Robbie Leeson