Indonesia reflections

Travel reflections after 3 weeks in Indonesia

If I’m honest, I felt nervous about this trip. “The world is unsafe” has been the media message of the year, like a relentless drum tapping heightened vigilance into my nervous system. It seems I let those suspicions in a bit, and felt an unusual sense of solo travel trepidation as my plane took flight to Istanbul (gunmen! ISIS!) before pushing on to Jakarta. 

It took a week at least before I fully let those fears go. With each interaction, they became weaker and less sure of themselves. Every broad smile, every open-handed welcome, every ‘hello miss!’ shouted from giggling kids emerging from homes in a gaggle to catch a glimpse of us – the foreign people. The fears were drowned out by the sunset orchestra of clacking cicadas and 90s Bryan Adams tracks blasting from old radios. They were extinguished by the echoing thump of torrential rains, the crack of twigs underfoot, the soprano calls of unfamiliar birds at 4am, the shared laughter at language misunderstandings, the silence. It started to seem like there’s far more peace beyond our green and pleasant lands than there is within them just now.

It’s been good to be out here – travelling across Flores not seeing another tourist for days. Out where the seas crash on black sand shorelines, where hot volcanic springs hit cold mountain waterfalls and dense rainforests stretch for miles in a tidal wave of deep green. Where 2016 was a good year because the rains came and rice crops were good and babies were born healthy. 

In these more remote Indonesian islands, most people smile on sight. They don’t know the word Brexit. They haven’t heard of Trump. Villages and towns work the same as they have done for centuries, save the screen shine of mobile phones. It’s been good to remember there’s a whole wide wonderful world outside our bubble. 

That world is changing, of course. People tell us that the weather isn’t always so predictable, but it’s ok for now because when it rains more than usual they just plant peanuts instead of rice. Luckily, on Flores, they’re mostly out of site from the big companies and government contracts. But on islands beyond the ones we visited ancient forests are being cleared and rare animals find their territories shrinking. This unruly planet is being forceably tamed.

While at the same time, we foreigners seem to be less at ease. In Bali a teacher said to me that she thinks my country is “agitated”. She said she sees it more and more in people who come here from the UK – a quickness to react, an expectation of threat rather than goodness, a readiness to reward cynicism. I recognise this in myself sometimes.

So here are the things I want to do in 2017: keep travelling to new places. Don’t let unfounded suspicions about the world take hold. Donate to the Rainforest Trust. And maybe listen uncynically to Bryan Adams once in a while.

And big thanks to Martin and Jen for being really great travelling friends – it was wonderful to share this trip with you!

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