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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 indohoy.com 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.

From NASA

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, 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.