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Alternate Routes · Asia · indonesia · Indonesia · Renārs Bīrmanis

Native Tribes and Secret Surf Spots

Author: Renārs Bīrmanis0 COMMENTS

Having returned from Bali, tourists often brag - Oh, of course, I have been in Indonesia! It is, however, more than just chic hotel chains and a surfing paradise. Each of the islands has its unique flavor. Wind, so strong at times that you can hardly stay on your feet. White sand, shells and corals that crunch under each footstep. And Indonesians with their peculiar customs and traditions...Do not be surprised to see them chewing and spiting out something orange every now and then. It's a bean or a chestnut, dipped in grind shells, which can inebriate real fast, as they say. It's a land of contrasts - simple wooden huts and skyscrapers, taxis, carrying tourists, and obsolete local buses. And coexistence of different forms of religion - Islam, Hinduism and Christianity, closely side by side. You cannot experience and savor it on just one of the island as Indonesia has more than 17 thousand of them...

Flooded Java Island

Housing a population of 124 million, Java is the world's most populated island. It is among the most densely populated areas of the planet as well. Before landing in Jakarta, it seems that there is nothing but water, giving an impression that the whole island is flooded. It is rice fields, in fact, that occupy every single centimeter of the land. It still does not hamper the island to play a dominant role in an economic and a political life of Indonesia, and to develop more and more rapidly each day.
Following advice of the airport's Lost & Found department coworkers, we manage to reach an area about 5 km from there, making our way in a wobbly microbus, so typical to Asia. What a thicket of people and chaotically built huts and hotel-like buildings opens up there! In one of them we are confronted with an extreme Islamic religiosity - if you and your girlfriend aren't married, you are not allowed to share the same room! An obvious attempt to make you pay for two rooms instead of just one, however, fails if you are firm enough and do not give in.

The capital city Jakarta strikes with sort of oddity in spite of huge amounts of money, obviously being invested there. Unthinkable construction works are carried out side by side with utter poverty. You can easily lose your way there and a map doesn't help much either. Unfortunately, even Lonely Planet recommendations may let you down. A suggested by the traveler's bible five-bucks-per-room hotel offers a rotten room with no window...So called middle range „apartments" for 15 dollars per night does not shine with much comfort either - just a bed, a little table and a window. Another choice, of course, is five-star giants, cheaper than anywhere else in the world. Although do not search for genuine Indonesia there, whereas small designer hotels and restaurants prove to be pretty charming. One, which I would like to name, is Lara Djonggrang (Jl. Teuku Cik Ditiro 4, Tel.: +6223 153 25200). Its greatest asset is its tranquil neighborhood, somewhat like Mežaparks in Riga. Guests from nearby hotels and villas flock up to enjoy a genuine Asian cuisine there. A visit to The Champa restaurant is also highly recommended (I/50 Jl. Wijaya. Kebayoran Baru, Jakarta - 12170, phone: +6221 727 88668,

Accommodation options in Jakarta:
Hotel Margot, a budget hostel, 15 Jl. Jaksa, phone: +622 39 13830.
Hotel Marcopolo right next door to the Lara Djonngrang restaurant is also a good choice: 19 Jl. Teuku Cin Ditiro,, phone: +622 230 1777.

Dangerous Coconuts and Black Plastic Bags

Getting to Sumatra, the biggest Indonesian Island, presents no difficulties whatsoever. Almost all the major airlines fly to Bandar Lampung, situated at the southern-most tip of the island. Just chose one, endure a huge queue at the Jakarta airport, followed by just 40 minutes flight, and you are there! A further way of surfing enthusiasts leads to the bus stations and from there - to Krui. It offers the very best waves from May to October, with almost no other surfers competing for them. If you are lucky, you may find excellent waves also in winter - if there are no hurricanes. A seven-hours sweating and bumping in a bus, though, is not a pleasure trip at all. It drags like a snail, hitting every single pothole on the road. No space for legs and a ghastly smell of local tobacco, smoldered by passengers, could kill an elephant. Moreover, it is hot as hell and a bottle of water is an only salvation. But there comes another problem! An urgent need to relieve yourself makes you ask a driver to make a stop. He just mumbles back something about patience and steers onwards. Another hour passes, the pressure grows, and again you plead the driver to stop. This time he gestures towards black, plastic bags, hanging at the handles. Suddenly it strikes that you have already seen those bags flying out of windows, filled with some unidentified liquid...yuck!

Hitchhiking, too, is different than elsewhere in Asia. A bus door is never closed, but not for passengers' convenience. Seeing someone at a roadside, local guys, who sit in front of the buss, tap at the window with pebbles, giving a signal to a driver that he will have to stop. Already from afar they shout to potential passengers, asking where he want to go. The bus stops, a person inquires what the route is and how much it costs, thinks for a while...and decides not to go. It repeats over and over again every few kilometers.

Fabulous scenery unfolds at Krui - a little, hilly town with a small bay, lapping it. No need to look for further transportation, as locals with their rickshaws instantly surround travelers as soon as they get off the bus. My advice, however, is to inquire about good surf spots in advance or you may find yourself on a narrow strip of a beach littered with branches and other rubbish, washed out from the sea. Even if you find a decent-looking bungalow for only 10 dollars per night, including meals, it does not make this place fit for hitting the waves. Nothing doing, hop back onto a rickshaw and carry on searching for a right spot and that may take time. A tank is empty soon and you have to stop to fill it up (fuel has to be carried along in special jars as there are no petrol stations on the way). Then a heavy shower strikes, bringing a sudden chill. At this rate, even a distance of just 25 kilometers does not seem a short one.

Kierang Nymbor Guest House, suggested by Lonely Planet and World Surf Guide, however, is an excellent discovery. Owned by a local American, it is located 25 km to the south from Krui (Lonely Planet incorrectly says 10 km to the north). It can hardly be called a village at all, consisting of only about five houses and guesthouses. A volcano looms in the distance, encircled by clouds and occasional typhoons. Kierang Nymbor is a true paradise for surfers, featuring about 10 perfect surf spots with barely 20 enthusiasts visiting them during a whole season! Just unbelievable!
And it seems that living there makes you younger! The owner, in his late forties, looks at least ten years less his age, while his wife, a local girl, is just a little over 20. A daily routine is a total chill-out - get up at 6 a.m., surf a bit, then loll in a hammock and enjoy three sumptuous meals a day. In a word - live like a king for a modest amount of 15 dollars per day. A room is very simple, too, although what else a surfer might need? Sit outside and enjoy a perfect view of waves. A genuine South Sumatra feeling, however, can be experienced choosing a locally owned lodging. Staying at so called losmen (guest houses) costs at least 10 USD per day, including meals. The best service and food is available at the ones, located close to the above mentioned American's residence. And it's also much cheaper and cozier there.
December is not the best time to enjoy South Sumatra. Heavy rains may drag on for several days and wind reaches 30 to 40 m/s. Beware falling branches and coconuts as they may be quite dangerous in such weather.

Unfortunately, public catering is a stumbling block in the otherwise pleasant picture. A cook carelessly throws some rice into a bowl and tops it with a piece of fish or chicken, fried in oil. His nails, painted white, underneath are visibly dirty and make you shudder in disgust. It definitely is the worst meal I have ever had. Moreover, it smells of a detergent already from afar. Yuck...This is another reason in favor of a local guest house.

Karang Nyimbor Beach Hotel,, 25 km south of Krui, phone: (Andy's) + 628 52 697 77555.

Almost Across New Guinea

Foto: Native Tribes and Secret Surf SpotsFoto: Native Tribes and Secret Surf SpotsFoto: Native Tribes and Secret Surf Spots

Looking out an airplane window, New Guinea with its green mountains and lakes among them resembles New Zealand. And what an amazing sight! New Guinea is the world's second largest island - a half of it belongs to Indonesia while the other half forms an independent country of Papua New Guinea. Outwardly, people on both sides look a little different, too. Typical Indonesian features, although a little less pronounced than of indigenous populations of Java or Sumatra, prevail on Indonesian side, while people in Papua New Guinea look more like Australian Aborigenes - they are smaller, with well developed muscles and physically strong. Inhabitants of controlled by Indonesia western part of New Guinea are treated haughtily and face a discrimination on labor market. They live mostly outside big cities and engage in hunting and fishing. Yet, religion on both sides of New Guinea is predominantly Christian, although Indonesia itself is a Muslim-majority nation.

Unfortunately, border-crossing from Indonesian side to New Guinean is not so easy at all, especially if you haven't obtained a visa in Jakarta or in Europe. During Christmas time consulate in Jayapura is closed and a Lonely Planet's advice to put 20 bucks in a passport in order to promote a process, so to say, does not work either. With or without dollars, a consular officer informs that you will receive a visa a week after. A passport's copy has to be sent to the capital city of Port Moresby and "it takes time," he explains. A remark that by fax it might be much faster does not change a thing. In a word, local bureaucracy flourishes there. An illegal border crossing by ocean would be maddens. If militarists may attack you with questions while you have a meal at a café, then one can only imagine what happens at their prisons.

If you still have decided to stay there for few days, it's better to go out of the city as Jayapura is quite unappealing and there is nothing much to do.
Mandala is a hotel on the water. Although a bit pricy (40 USD), it is very pleasant and attractive. Do not be surprised if some fish join you during a morning dip in a swimming pool - it is connected with the ocean!
According to Lonely Planet, a restaurant, adorned with letters FKC at its entrance, is the only decent eatery in Jayapura - and this time it is true.

Swiss Hotel, the poshest hotel in Jayapura, will also provide excellent accommodation; it is located in the very heart of the city.

Native Tribes and New Year Blast

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A tempting spot, according to Lonely Planet, is an Indonesian island with white-sandy beaches, located to the north of the main land - a true paradise, indeed. Yet, having arrived at Biak Island, you realize that almost all the hotels concentrate in its capital city Kota Biak. Papuans, inhabiting the island, instead of Indonesian speak their own native tongue and no one knows any English at all. With no other choice, we rent a funny looking buss and make our way along the North West shore of the island, searching for surf spots - yet, to no avail. We stop here and there but there are no waves. When it's already dusking we decide to find lodging. We hope to rent a room from local fishermen as it can easily be done in Sri Lanka, Madagascar or some other exotic corners of the Earth. What a naïve idea! In any village a white man is met like a wonder. The natives just smile and wave, while smaller kids follow you around. Inquired about lodging, people look at you and smile, not understanding a single word you say.

What else can you do but return to the capital! Luckily someone can suggest a hotel in the nearby town of Bosnik about 20 km from Kota Biak. When we finally find it, settled above some shop, it is 10 o'clock at night and everyone, naturally, has gone to bed. Persistent knocking, however, does not stay unnoticed and a drowsy hostess of Bosnik Beach Guest House opens the door. 10 dollars and a room is yours! Moreover, a lady speaks English and busily starts to prepare a dinner (already accustomed chicken rolled in flour and fried in oil). As it turns out a while later, she is married to an American from Alaska.
On the next morning an amusing sight opens up. People start to stream to the shop below, as if to buy something. Obviously it is just a pretext as almost every "customer" tries to cast a glance at the strangers, sitting on a small balcony above.

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Aside from surfing, there is really nothing much to do on the island. Another choice is to rent a scooter and scrutinize the nearby ocean shore and small villages. Here and there weird-looking cabins rise on the beach. Geared up with music equipment, they play cheap pop of the 80ies. Although some of them can take in no more than three people, merriment runs high - if not inside then outside. Someplace else, sticking out from the jungle, stands a huge, abandoned five-star hotel. Its balconies and swimming pools already weatherworn, although have never served their real purpose. A building seems fully finished, yet it is neglected due to some unknown reason and left deserted in the middle of nowhere...A strange idea to build a large hotel if there are no tourists. No wonder there is no place to have a meal. Finally we find out that a shed-like building made of branches at a lakeside might be a restaurant. A hostess, asked if she could make a fish for dinner, smiles and nods - yes, yes. Everything seems fine, yet when we return an hour later and ask if food is ready she smiles again and says „No". Puzzled we ask again if it really means „No?" Now the woman replies „Yes". Confused we repeat her - „Yes?", and the answer is „No" again. It takes quite a while to understand that saying „Yes" she just confirms that there is no meal waiting for us.

Biak Island is full of surprises. Speeding along the road on a small scooter, a tire suddenly bursts. Any hope of reaching the hotel before dark has vanished, when two Indonesians appear from a nearby wood. They turn out to be just rambling around and can take the travelers to their destination. And it's a sight to be seen! While one of them steers, another sits at the back and strums a guitar all the way long! A boat trip along the nearby islands is a little less amusing. A long and narrow fishing boat is so unsteady that a slightest gust of wind threatens to capsize it, and it has no oars, even! Three to four hour trip is still worth the efforts. Bigger and small islands emerge before eyes, inhabited by native tribes, untouched by civilization. Just as depicted in movies, people live in huts in the woods and wear grass skirts. Although they do not eat foreigners, they follow on every step, even when you need to relieve yourself...

Pretty relaxing holidays can be enjoyed on Biak Island, too. It's a total chill-out! Swim and spend time in a company of local fishermen as there is nothing more you could do. An exception is the New Year's Eve, perhaps. At 11 p.m. nothing goes on yet. At 11:30 - still no sign of celebration. Suddenly, at quarter to twelve, all the islanders flock together, a huge bonfire is made and a big blast may start! With enormous joy and enthusiasm natives blow up anything they've got and earsplitting noise and jollity runs high and go on for an hour at least. The New Year Indonesian style, so to say...

Bosnik Beach Guest House
Biak, Irian Jaya, Papua, Indonesia
Phone: 011 62 981 81078 (ask for a landlady Augustina)

Secret Spot and Easygoing Fisherman

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Island of Bali is among the most favored tourist destinations in Indonesia, though not because of streams of professional surfers. Airplanes land every 3 to 5 minutes, bringing hundreds of passengers and only 1% of them have ever stepped on a surfboard. Even elderly English ladies buy surf theme T-shirts at local shops, just because everyone does the same. Yet, Mecca of surfers gradually fades into a myth. Even if you manage to discover a so called secret spot, never marked in any guide book, you will have to compete with at least 20 more surfers, already waiting in the water.
Near Denpasar or Kuta beach the situation is even worth. The place is crowded with tourists and vendors and the life moves on according to one and same routine - shopping, eating and a local bash, to wind it all up. It's not easy to escape the mainstream activities, as shops are following one another in an endless line and beaches are packed with people, frying themselves in the sun. As for Turtle Island, located off of the South East coast of Kuta, the story is practically the same. Loads of surf seekers, some of them every bit like characters form The Godfather movies - do not dare to come too close. Bali is a favorite surfing spot of Japanese kamikazes and Australian welters. Wide choice of lodgings and accommodations is available there, too. A bunch of locals surround every new arrival and a usual interrogation may start: „Where do you stay? How much it costs? I charge a half of that!"

Yet, even here you can find beautiful remote places. Women, according to some ancient Hindi traditions, float flowers in the water, everybody smiles and a lonely wave at a dark-sandy beach waits just for you... A village of Bingin, a half an hour ride by moped to the south of Denpasar, features several lovely boutique hotels and a few modest inns. Some of them are situated on the top of a rock, others at its foot. And you instinctively feel - yes, this is the right place! And not for nothing - once swarming with hippies, it was a venue where a cult movie about professional surfers In God's Hands was shot at Bingin Imposibles, Padang Padang, and Dreamland beaches.

Foto: Native Tribes and Secret Surf SpotsFoto: Native Tribes and Secret Surf SpotsFoto: Native Tribes and Secret Surf Spots

Noyman Losmen hotel cottages seem partly built into the rock. Only a narrow pathway leads up to them, being the only way how to get there. A landlady tells that the most expensive part of the building process was just getting materials up there. Be as it may, the place is just fabulous! Sit on a porch and watch the ocean, unfolding in front of you! The same way as Tom Curren or Kelly Slater, two of the world's best surfers, once did. Yes, they have stayed there, too!
Noyman Losmen herself remembers everyone. "Hello, Jessica!" she exclaims, seeing a lady who had stayed there about eight years ago and has returned again, together with her husband this time. Even at the most exclusive hotels no one ever remembers your name! A pretty fascinating personality is her brother-in-law. All day long he lounges on the beach, seemingly doing nothing at all. Yet, according to locals, he is the best fisherman of this neighborhood. He is the person you need, if you wish to order a dinner. Asked about what's on the menu for tonight, he replies: "Just wait and you'll see." And when a wave hits the coastal reefs, he calmly goes to collect his catch. My advice is to agree about a price ahead as it may be considerably cheaper.

Sanur Beach with lovely vacant surfing spots is to be found about 40 minutes drive from Bingin. One of them is located deeper into the ocean and you will need a local fisherman with a boat to take you there. Waves are fantastic with almost not a living soul around. Yet, for safety reasons (underwater rocks and reefs may occur in your way) surfing alone is not advisable there. Therefore, when a boat owner wants to row away, promising to return after an hour or so to pick you up, better promise him 20 dollars and ask to stay!

Few good surf sites: Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Imposibles - South Bali; Sri Lanka - South East of island. It requires an intermediate level of proficiency, however, meaning 3 to 5 years of surfing experience. A local surf atlas is available at any surf store and proves useful.

Useful Information

- The best way to go to Indonesia is flying Riga - Prague / Frankfurt - Abu Dhabi - Jakarta. Another choice is through Singapore or a direct flight to Bali from Amsterdam, UK or Germany

- Surf season at Sumatra, Jawa, Bali, G-Land, Sumbawa lasts from April to November. In winter waves are to be searched at the eastern side of the island, yet conditions are not as good as during the season. It depends on dominating wind direction, however - who knows, you may be lucky...

- Before traveling by bus, be sure to ask people, how much a ticket costs, otherwise a driver may demand three or even four times more. The same goes for taxies. Just roll the money and give it, a driver will not even bother to recount it. 7 hours trip by bus costs about 1 - 2 dollars.

- Indonesian visa can be obtained at the airport, too.

- The local Indonesian airlines do not meet the international safety standards and are barred from flying to Europe, America or anyplace else for that matter, farther than China. And EU life insurance does not cover such trips either.

Posted in 2008.

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