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Indonesia, West Java March 22, 2012

Surviving Krakatoa (and Some Facts on Krakatoa)

Java, Indonesia

Through the front windows of our little speed boat we saw nothing but a wall of green sea water.

My mom was throwing up on the side of the boat, our guide standing by her side holding on to her just in case she got thrown off. All around the water of Sunda Strait, the stretch of water separating Java and Sumatra, was bucking in giant swells. The sky was grey and the wind was so strong vomit splattered back into the boat. Nobody cared. We were all too busy holding on.

(and thus the lack of pictures, but in my head the scene looked like this –> )

Each time we looked back, a menacing 12 ft swell was chasing us. Mentally, I was pushing the boat to go faster. But its little motor was having problems pushing us up against the 12 ft swell in front of us. Just when it sounded like the motors would die, leaving us stranded in the middle of the angry ocean on a boat without a radio, the captain would throttle the motor down.

He would then manuveur the boat in such a way that swell behind didn’t crashing on to us, but instead propelled us on forward, like a giant surfboard.

It was hard to believe that just a couple of hours ago we were enjoying a climb up Anak Krakatau (‘Child of Krakatau’) in beautiful sunny day. Which was then followed by a nice picnic on the beach of freshly grilled shrimps and fish.

2 hours previously on Anak Krakatoa…

Running down Anak Krakatoa slopeSeafood lunch on the beach

In front of smoking Anak Krakatoa

In front of smoking Anak Krakatoa

What and where is Krakatoa volcano?

Some Krakataoa Facts

  • Krakatoa is located on the Sunda strait, a stretch of water between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia.
  • In 1883, Krakatao erupted sending 45 m high tsunamis that killed 40000 people.
  • The eruption of Krakatoa was considered the loudest sound ever recorded in history, reaching as far as Australia.
  • The ash from eruption covered the sun around the world for months disrupting harvests and caused the global temperature to drop by 1.2 degree Celsius.
  • There is no more Krakatoa volcano per se. What’s left from the 1884 eruption is 3 islets that used to be part of the volcano: Panjang, Rakata, and Sertung.

The good kids of introduced me to Pak Samsul that became our guide. His price was steeper than what we could’ve gotten from one of the touts that prowl the beachfront hotels of Carita. But Pak Samsul definitely inspired a lot more confidence in us than these touts did. So we shelled out a not insignificant amount of cash and promised to meet him the next day at 7 am.

Our first stop was Anak Krakatoa. Anak Krakatoa (or The child of Krakatao) was a relatively new volcano that emerged close to the spot where Krakataoa’s magma chamber used to be. It first appeared in 1933 and it now stands at 350 m and growing at a rate of a foot a week.


It’s a cone made of loose sand of volcanic material released during its previous eruptions. I tried to convince Pak Samsul to let us climb all the way to the top, I mean, after all I’ve stared into a pit of splashing lava in Ethiopia and I’d like to compare. But despite the cajoling and the begging, he said ‘no’ so we only got as far as the top of an embankment, about halfway up.

Experts predict than in 1000 years it’s going to be 1883 Krakatoa eruption all over again. Phew, so glad we’ll all be gone by then.

Apparently during its more active phases, you know, like when it’s erupting, people would come and camp on the nearby islands and watch the glowing lava show.

The beach on Anak Krakatoa island

A deserted beach on Anak Krakatoa island

There are all sorts of activities you can do in Krakataoa National Park: trekking in Rakata, checking out some Japanese bunkers in Panjang Island, wildlife spotting, and more. We didn’t do any of that.This is what we did instead:

Lounging on a beach. Having a picnic of grilled fish and shrimps – delicious! Snorkeling (which was nice – but we didn’t stay long because of the weather). And of course, surviving our ride back to Carita.

A trip back from Krakatoa should’ve taken 1.5 hour, but it took us close to 3 hours to get back. We arrived pale and shaken, stinking of vomit. Inwardly I swore not to go through anything like that ever again. There’s a reason we evolved out of the ocean to be land dwellers.

To charter a boat costs about $300 – cheaper if you go barebones without a guide and food/beverages. So it’s not cheap, and I can’t even say that it’s worth it but for the novelty of it all. I’m still glad we went though. Gladder that we made it back.

We didn’t even get our own “I survived the boat trip to Krakatoa and back” T-shirt. You know, to replace our vomit-covered ones.

How to visit to Krakatoa: First, get yourself to Carita, a 3 hour drive from Jakarta. Then you’ll have to charter a speed boat that will take you to the islands. The cheapest we were quoted was 2 million IDR (about 220 USD).
Photo credit: The picture above was a by the artist Hokusai – A Japanese print from 1700
Indonesia, Yogyakarta February 10, 2011

Getting Scammed Buying Batiks in Yogyakarta, or Not

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

She was desperately trying to get rid of the Indonesian guy who was following her footsteps. Harassment is too strong of a word, but the blond girl was visible annoyed. As they passed, I overheard the guy saying, ‘So, you already know about tonight-only batik exhibition?’

Not until the next day did I realise what that scene was all about.

Our turn to get approached

We were walking along Malioboro browsing the various t-shirts, souvenirs, keychains, and what not. Jack was a little ahead of me and I noticed he was carrying on a conversation with a guy with a very wide smile who seemed to be giving Jack some sort of a direction.

Being the pessimistic person that I can be, I was like ‘Uh-oh… an overly friendly local in a touristy place. That can’t be good.

The guy went on saying,

The batiks on Malioboro are low quality. Very expensive. You need to go to this place… it’s an art center where students learn to make batiks. Much cheaper and better quality batiks.’

A 'student' at 'Novi Art Studio'

A 'student' at 'Novi Art Studio'

Our scam alert went off the radar.

What threw us off was the fact that he didn’t insist on taking us to the place. He pulled out a map (how convenient that he happened to have a map with him) and drew us the direction to get to ‘Novi Art Center’.

Headfirst into the scam

Well, we didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the day so we decided to check out this so-called batik ‘Art Center’. It’s about 10 min walk from Malioboro and located off a small alley.

Inside was a very big collection of batik paintings of various qualities, each was given an ‘A’ to ‘ZZ’ rating with ‘ZZ’ being the most elaborate and thus most expensive.

I didn’t know much about batiks, but there were some very pretty and colorful batik paintings there. The patterns varied from traditional characters to abstract splashes of colour. When you held them against light from a window or an open door, the colors came alive.

Check out the video below to get an idea at how varied and colorful these paintings are:

I kept wanting to tell Jack to stop looking so interested (haggling lesson no:1), he was practically drooling. But that’s the hard thing about shopping in Indonesia: the merchants understand BOTH Indonesian and English (we have to come up with a third code language).

The guy was a pro and observed very quickly that Jack was the weaker point. He stopped talking to me altogether and was catering completely to Jack’s wishes.

You like the dragon on silk, Sir? How about this much-bigger one we have? Big dragon, Sir. Made by famous artist.

At this point Jack would like to intercept to say that:
It wasn’t drool — I just took a sip of water and some got on my chin. Stop exaggerating.’

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind having some of these batiks on our walls. But I was wary of starting a negotiation without knowing a base price. The salesmen kept bringing more and more paintings out. Whenever he noticed we were interested in a particular style or color, he’d bring out the larger version of the painting.

After haggling back and forth for almost an hour, we ended up with 3 large paintings for $200.

Now, do we think that the guy with the map was being paid by the place?


Are the batiks genuine?

I was told that a genuine batik doesn’t have a front or a back. The dye goes through the cloth making the pattern indistinguishable on both sides. A ‘fake’ batik is produced by a machine and the dye would only show up on one side. If you turn it over, it will be obvious that it’s the ‘wrong’ side.

The batiks that we got from the place look the same on both side. So maybe they’re real? Who knows.

Batik for sale at Novi Art Center

The 'Mahyar' we got is very similar to the bottom one

Were we scammed?

We were sure from the very beginning that we were walking into a crafted scenario. We were told that the shop was only open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and guess what day it was when were there? Tuesday. Subliminally they were saying, ‘You can’t come back tomorrow. Today is your last chance to buy.’

But we also wanted to buy the batiks. We bargained really hard and ended up paying 70% of the opening price. Later on in the day, we checked out other ‘exhibitions’ (also courtesy of other friendly locals) and we could happily say that both the selection and the quality of the batiks at ‘Novi’ was much better. If we had found similar types of paintings in these other stores for cheaper, we would feel really bad.

But we didn’t.

And thus we left Yogyakarta pretty happy with our purchases. I guess that’s all that matters.

Now we’ve just had to hold on to our batiks until after we came back from our RTW trip — whenever that happens to be.

Other notes:
– Sometime the person would claim that the shop is a government-sponsored shop and the price is fixed by the government. Don’t fall for it. Always negotiate the price.
– Beware of those saying today is your last chance to buy them because they’re either being shipped off somewhere or today is the exhibition’s last day.
– The two main batik paintings we bought were signed ‘Mahyar’ and ‘Novi’. A quick Google search revealed that they’re both, indeed, well-known Indonesian batik artists. Looking at the prices online it seemed that we did score a decent bargain after all.

Indonesia January 2, 2011

7 Endearing Quirks of Indonesia

There’s no place like home…

The wet bathroom

A bathroom at Jill's parents' house -- Jack and Jill Collection

It can be tricky trying to find that one square foot spot that will stay dry in the room to put your clothes (hint: definitely not on top of the toilet). The trick is hold the shower head (instead of leaving it attached to the wall), and point it strategically. In the end though, you just have to accept the fact that your clothes might get a little damp. And that’s okay.

Let me tell you one embarrassing thing: the first time I used a western bathroom, I didn’t close the shower curtain. As you can guess. Water got everywhere! The worst part? Having so used to wet bathrooms, I didn’t even know that I did anything wrong and I left without cleaning up, soggy bath mat and all.

The ‘kobokan’

The little bowl of liquid with a slice of lime they put before your meal? Not soup. Nor water to drink. In restaurants where eating with your hand is the norm, they provide you with this to cleanse your fingers. The lime is supposed to help cut through the grease but it’s also fun to try squeeze all the seeds out of it underwater.

Toilet paper as napkins

Toilet paper dispenser at a snack stop -- Jack and Jill Collection

And the many varieties of toilet paper dispensers they have that make this possible. At first, it was a little weird. Then I thought, ‘why not?’ Toilet paper is cheaper than paper towels, it’s made of the same material, it’s easier to get the exact amount that you need.

Everything comes in travel size

Sachets of stuff for sale -- by IAmal

why by the whole bottle of cough syrup when you can get a day's worth of meds in your pocket?

From shampoo, soap, and cough medicine they come in single-use wrapped sachets. They can be very polluting. Lots of trash on the ground is made up of these wrappers.

The 1001 different ways to call rice

Nasi tumpeng -- by yuni rere

We, Indonesians, love our rice (nasi). As to prove the point, there are so many rice dishes and each has its own name depending on how it’s prepared, what it’s prepared with, and how it’s supposed to be consumed. Some examples include: nasi gudeg (simply rice eaten with ‘gudeg’), nasi tumpeng (yellow rice shaped into a cone — eaten during events such birthdays and weddings), nasi jamblang (bite size rice wrapped in teak leaf), nasi lengko, nasi campur, nasi liwet, the list goes on.

The indoor ‘wildlife’

Cute house gecko

Not so cute, slightly creepy Tokek -- by joeks

I love our resident geckos. Since they eat mosquitoes and I have a mild allergy to mosquito bites I see them as my little, beady-eyed, guardian angels. I’m not so sure about its much bigger cousin, the Tokek Gecko, though. One time in a restaurant in Bali, I saw a Tokek gecko on the wall and I almost fell out of my chair. That thing is about a foot long! It was very pretty… and creepy all at the same time.

They make people wear ‘no tipping’ shirts

We found it hilarious (and sad too) that they made people wear shirts with ‘no tipping’ written on the back of it. This poor guy has a pretty nasty job of managing parked cars in an extremely crowded parking lot. The funny part was it actually made us want to tip him even more.

What are some oddities or quirks you’ve come across during your travels? Share them in the comment section below.

Indonesia, Jakarta December 22, 2010

Top 10 Favorite Vegetarian Food in Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia

As a vegetarian, growing up and traveling in Indonesia poses very little problem. I lived in Indonesia until I was 16, and when I was 12 – I announced to my family that I no longer would eat meat. My parents were like, “Uh huh. Just eat the side dishes then.” 

Even though meat dishes are common, they’re usually eaten with side dishes that are vegetarian friendly. As a family, we were already eating mostly vegetable anyway. We ate a lot of tofu, tempeh, labu (gourd), and eggs. Not to mention that there’s plenty of fresh tropical fruit abound: mangoes, mangosteen, duku, papaya, pineapple – so much fruit!

All of the food on this list are vegetarian-friendly Indonesian food I grew up with and I always make it a point to have them every time I visit my family. Now that I live in the States and I can’t cook to save my life,  I miss Indonesian food so much.

1. Bakwan Jagung

Corn fritter. Deep fried, doughy, corny fritter. Eaten hot with rice, chili sauce on the side. Mom knew to have these waiting for us after she picked us up from the airport. Heavenly!

2. Sayur lodeh

Sayur lodeh

A type of vegetable soup/stew with coconut milk based broth. There are many different varieties, but the one that I’m used to has a type of gourd (labu siam) in it along with other vegetables such as tofu, long bean, egg, and chili sauce. Eaten over rice or rice cakes, this is a staple food during the big Muslim holiday at the end of the fasting month, Idul Fitri.

3. Keripik tempeh pedas

Another favorite. Thinly sliced tempeh, fried, and doused in spicy, sweet sauce. Eaten with hot, white rice, and usually served as a side dish or add-on for many of the soups/stews listed here.

4. Jogja gudeg

Gudeg with tofu and egg

Young jackfruit, boiled until soft, and marinated with coconut milk and sugar. The resulting look and texture is just like beef. Slightly sweet and savory. Usually eaten with a bunch of other side dishes like boiled egg, tofu/tempeh, and chicken.

A traditional dish of Yogyakarta, it can be found in many street food stalls lining the city’s famous Malioboro Street in big enamel pots.

5. Tahu bacem

I would eat a whole bucket of this when I was a kid! You get a piece of tofu (or lots of tofu if you’re making it for me), then have it sit for hours in a concoction of sugar, coconut milk, and about a dozen spices until the it absorbs all of the flavor.

Fried just before serving, it’s a delicious and flavorful surprise especially if you’re used the (more) bland way tofu is often prepared in the western world.

6. Lontong Cap Gomeh

Lontong Cap Gomeh

Another type of coconut milk based vegetable stew, served with or over rice cakes. I try not to eat too much of it because of the coconut milk, but it’s sooo good. You usually get to choose what you have it with. Options include: tofu, egg, crackers and chicken for the non-veggie.

7. Sayur asem

sayur asem
It’s the Indonesian’s answer to Thai’s Tom Yum soup. Translates to roughly “sour vegetables”, it’s a light vegetable soup that gets its sour taste from tamarind. It usually contains peanuts, corns, ‘melinjo’, some leafy greens and long beans. By itself, this dish doesn’t impress, but eaten with something fried (like corn fritters, for example)… it helps cleanse the palate and adds a little zing to your meal.

8. Telur Belado

Telur Balado

Fried boiled eggs covered in sweet chili sauce (balado sauce). Balado sauce often used with other types of meat as well. It’s a very flavorful chili sauce made with shallots, garlic, lime, and sometimes shrimp paste.*See note below

9. Mie Tek Tek

Stir fried noodles with eggs and veggies. It’s so simple, yet so delicious. In Jakarta, this is sold by vendors who go around neighborhoods with a cart. To announce their presence, they hit 2 wooden sticks together making “tek tek” sounds, thus the name “mie tek tek” or “tek tek noodles”.

10. Gado gado

Freshly made peanut sauce poured over assorted boiled vegetables. Sounds simple enough, but the peanut sauce either breaks it or makes it. Recipes call for various spices such as shallots, brown sugar, garlic, and other ‘secret’ ingredients that make one gado gado establishment different from the other. Eaten with rice cakes, crackers, and fried shallots it can be had either as an appetizer or a main meal.

Like ‘Mie tek tek’ in #9, Gado Gado has made it to the big league from its humble beginning as peasant food and can easily be found from street card vendors to fine dining establishment.

Indonesian snacks and sweets

Various Indonesian snacks - all vegetarian

Various Indonesian snacks – all vegetarian

Whenever you get a chance, I recommend visiting the market and check out Indonesian traditional snacks and cakes. Made usually with rice flour, coconut milk, palm sugar, with bits of cassava, yam, or banana – they’re very unique, vegetarian, and delicious.

Vegetarians won’t go hungry in Indonesia, that’s for sure.

* Strict vegetarians: Be wary of shrimp paste (terasi) that’s ubiquitous in Indonesia. It’s easily hidden in soups, stews, and other innocent looking vegetable dishes.

I go home to see my family once a year and on each visit, I try to see parts of Indonesia I’ve never been to. Some of my favorite include Belitung Island, Sumba, and Flores. Although being born in Java, I’m partial to this island as well. See all of my Indonesia posts, here.