We had a 36 hour journey to Indonesia, 13 hours of which was spent in the Tokyo airport. Luckily it was amazingly clean (with surprisingly complicated toilets). We were so pleased to be able to feast on the best udon noodles, sushi, and pork ramen I have ever had. If you are ever stuck in an airport in the middle of the night with a 13 hour layover, you wish to be at the Tokyo Haneda!
Landing in Jakarta we were instantly transported to a different world. The balmy island air was further thickened with the smell of clove cigarettes, Sumatran coffee and tea being sold by large family groups camped out on every parking block. The long and often confused looks from every man, woman, and child was confirmation that we were about to embark on a true adventure. Everyone was so curious, wanting to know where we were from- and if Arnold was still governor (they often call me Arnold)- which was always followed by a smile. We were instanly welcomed by everyone.
Our first meal was a traditional west Sumatran meal called padang, composed of dozens of dishes brought out by a waiter who carries them all at once skillfully balanced on both arms. It put waiters in the states to shame! The diversity and balance of each dish was impressive. My first introduction to beef Rendang was incredible. The reason I traveled half way around the world was in this dish!
Jakarta is the capital of Java which is home to the largest fish market in all of Indonesia, large enough to supply fresh seafood to all of the twelve million inhabitants! The sights, smells, the people at the market were things that you only watch on travel shows of far off lands. Large porcelain bowls and old wooden crates were filled with every squid, clam, crab, snail, lobster you could ever think of. Even attempting to find this place, let alone try to buy anything, would have been next to impossible if it wasn't for our new friend Hatta!! Without him, we would have been truly lost. A very welcoming man, he was full of knowledge- and amazing driving skills! He would be our savior for the next few days.
We decided on red snapper, tuna & huge prawns and then headed off following Hatta towards the smell of burning coconut husks and grilled fish. There were rows of shanty style shacks where large families, seated on elevated platforms, were enjoying huge meals. The time from ocean waters to porcelain market bowls was only hours. We passed off our fish to a young local grill master who split the snapper, then waited for the fire to burn down just enough. Each side of the fish was prepared in its own individual preparation.The head, collar, and spine on one side and beautiful fillet on the other. The prawns were prepared with garlic, onions, sambal, palm sugar and lime. The tuna was grilled and served with sweet soy and hot chillies, rice and young coconut. The feral cats (and even bigger rats!) kept us company. The higeine practices- or lack thereof- were shockingly apparent as soon as we touched down. As a chef who is hyper aware of sanitary practices, it took a bit of letting go, and going with the flow.
After a few days in Jakara we were ready to move on. We rented a villa in a traditional village called Sentul. It was a welcome escape from the never-ending stream of motor bikes and people in Jakarta. We stocked up on local provisions: avocado, bananas, jack fruit, papaya, ginger, garlic, turmeric, sweet potato, green onions, kombocha squash, mandarins, rice, coconut milk and of course Bintang (the offical beer of Indonesia). We relaxed by our hot mineral spring-fed pool, and trekked through the rice fields, to rivers and waterfalls. It was our first experience of the local culture. We received the same welcome smiles and everyone eager to say hello. Their simple dwellings and primitive way of life was inspiring, reminding us that you don't need much to be content and happy. After three days of relaxing poolside, it was time to hit the road.
We learned that despite how small Java looks on the map, it is quite large- and would take more time than we thought to traverse. For the next week we will be traveling by mini bus, plane, train, jeep & donkey powered cart, seeing the vast expanses of the interior of Java. We saw the large rice fields, corn, sugar cane, cassava, tobacco, sugar palm, a large vaiety of tropical fruits, tomatoes, peppers... and in the mountans, coffee, clove, pepper, onions & cabbage. We visited many temples, both Buddhist and Hindu, as well volcanoes, often waking and trekking early enough to catch sunrise. We climbed to the top of Mt. Bromo, and did a midnight hike to the sulfur mines of Mt. Ijen.
We finally made our way to the island of Bali, by way of ferry, and again felt instantly transported. The island pace was slow with very little traffic. We booked a bungalow from a local Balinese couple who at the age of 30 started building their amazing oasis in the hills of Lovina. It is also a small six seat "restaurant" where she makes everything from scratch- and I mean everything, from the shrimp chips to the lumpia wrappers and even the bamboo skewers. We ate dinner- a feast- there every night, each meal equally impressive. From tuna grilled in banana leaf with chilis and coconut milk, to water spinach, pork curry, amazing soups, and the best chicken satay I have ever had. It was a true pleasure to eat real home cooked local Balinese meals from a truly talented cook. We liked it there so much that we stayed another night just so we could eat her food again.
Once again we forced ourselves to keep moving. Our next stop was Gili Air, a small island of the coast of Lombok. It's a truly picturesque island with white sand beaches, amazing snorkeling and a pretty happening night life- our first taste of what we all imagined Indonesia to be like. It was quite a journey getting here, but the sites we saw and people we met on the way was all part of the adventure.
With two weeks left on our journey there is so much more to explore and absorb. Stay tuned for the unwritten ending to an epic adventure!
From Indonesia with love