The eastern part of Indonesia is a magical place where peepers can find plenty of surreal sceneries. Mount Kelimutu is not an exception. Located in Flores island, Kelimutu is famous for the three lakes at its crater. They were turquoise, darker turquoise and black when I was there. However, due to geological phenomenon or weather condition, the colors are always changing. Some sources said that the colors can even turn to red, blue and white—very interesting!

In the local language, “keli” means mountain and “mutu” means boiling. The literal meaning is quite representative since some parts of the national park is forbidden for visitor due to geothermal instability. The safest trekking path, about one to two hours walk, lies between Moni (the entry point to Kelimutu) and the mountain.

Kelimutu is 66 km from Ende, or 83 km from Maumere. There’s a bus service, called “oto kol”, from Ende to Maumere that passes through Moni. The best time to go there is in July and August. Peepers are advised to wake up before dawn to walk the trekking path so you won’t miss the early sunrise—it will leave you breathless.

Derawan Islands

Being an archipelagic country, islands hopping is one of the must have journeys for travelling in Indonesia. Derawan Islands is a spot in Borneo – in the coast of East Kalimantan – that has heavenly islands including the famous four: Derawan, Sangalaki, Kakaban and Maratua. Pristine seascape is in the main menu. The turquoise sea with fishes, coral reefs, manta rays and sea turtles are within vicinity. Most people will always be tempted to jump and roam the ocean in these islands, either by snorkeling, diving or just by swimming.

Yet the place is heaven not just because of the landscape and the seascape, but also the warm tropical sunshine and the calm atmosphere of the village life. Derawan and Maratua are the only islands that are inhabited. Peepers usually fly to Berau or Tarakan (where it will be the last stop to collect cash as there will not be any ATM in Derawan Islands) and travel 3 hours by speedboat to Derawan or Maratua island. There are more options to stay in Derawan while Maratua offers more of private/honeymoon-type lodges. From these two islands, peepers can rent a boat to go to the other islands or to certain dive spots.

Another points for Derawan Islands is the unique ecosystem. The entire area is considered as a Marine Protected Area due to its rich biodiversity. Some say that the diversity of underwater life in Derawan Islands is among the top five in the world. In addition, Sangalaki is the nesting site for the endangered green turtles, where everyday there will be turtles laying their eggs in the sand or swimming to the sea. As for Kakaban, this island is very unique because it has a large pond of brackish water inhabited by thousands of non-stinging jellyfish. Swimming surrounded by jellyfish? Definitely sounds like something you must do before you die.

Garut Sheep Fighting

Garut, a city located in West Java, has a unique breed of sheep called Domba Garut (domba means sheep). Famous for its long circular horn, this kind of sheep intuitively likes to bang their head against the wall, trees, or other sheep’s head.

This unique behavior inspired people in Garut to have sheep fighting as their tradition. Sheep fighting is normally accompanied by Sundanese gamelan performance and held with a strict rule of game. For each match, the maximum number of charges is 20 times and the referee has the right to stop the fight early if necessary. If there is no clear winner, a panel of judges will determine the outcome based on the courage and endurance of the contenders.

Competing sheep belong to padepokans (communities of sheep owners) all across Garut. In every match, every padepokan will bring supporters to cheer on their ram fighters.

Sheep fighting are held every weekend. However, the location changes from place to place, from one livestock market to another. Don’t miss it the next time you visit Garut.

Semeru Mountain

Semeru is the highest volcano in Java island with its Mahameru peak rises 3,676 meters high above sea level. The volcano is located in East Java. From the capital city Surabaya, take a bus to Malang or Lumajang and go straight to the small city called Tumpang. Visitors can continue the journey by car or by hitchhiking trucks transporting vegetable to reach Ranu Pani village, the entry point of Semeru.

Around 5 km trekking through the hillside, which is full of Edelweiss flowers, you will reach Watu Rejeng where the beautiful scenery of steep stones, pine forests and sometimes puff of smoke from the crater are waiting. With another 4.5 km trek, the crystal clear fresh water lake called Ranu Kumbolo is expecting to host your night stay until very early in the next day. The magnificent view of sunrise at the lake will drag you to a relaxed morning. Climb a steep hill to reach Cemoro Kandang, a pinery forest with birds and deers.

Continue the journey, stay overnight in Kalimati and take one hour trek to reach Arcopodo, the last vegetated area at 2,900 meters high. It is suggested to leave bulky luggages in Kalimati or Arcopodo, and start hiking to the peak at around 2 a.m. to avoid toxic gas blowing from Jonggring Saloka crater.

The best time to climb Semeru is during the dry season (around June to September) to avoid storm and land slide. Despite the quite challenging environment, climbing Semeru is enjoyable with panoramic and breathtaking scenery along the way. Furthermore, it is an undeniable achievement to be able to reach the peak of one of the highest active volcanoes in Indonesia, don’t you think? Happy climbing!

Samosir Island

Located in the middle of Lake Toba, Samosir is the largest “island within an island”. The lake itself is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. With 630 km2 area, Samosir is also the fifth largest lake island in the world. This place is about 5 hours by car plus an hour ferry ride from Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra province.

This island brings not only a breath-taking scene, but also the uniqueness of local people tradition. Along with its exotic history, this island becomes a popular tourist destination. It also contains two smaller lakes, Lake Sidihoni and Lake Aek Natonang. Uluan Peninsula lies across the lake on the eastern part of the island. The island is linked to the mainland of Sumatra on its western part by a narrow land connecting the Pangururan city on Samosir and Tele city on mainland Sumatra.

Most of the people who live around Lake Toba are ethnically Batak, more specifically Batak Toba. The Batak Toba people, usually referred to as the ’Toba people’ or often simply ‘Batak’, are the most numerous Batak people of North Sumatra and often considered the classical ‘Batak’. The Batak Toba people speak in the Toba Batak language, and are centered around Lake Toba and Samosir Island. Yet, Batak Samosir is different from Batak Toba because they have other variations of Batak like Ambarita, Gurning, Pakpahan, Simbolo, Sinaga, etc.

One of our contributors, Astaka, came to Samosir for the fifth time last year. Another exciting experience, that’s what he feels on each visit. In hist last visit, he completely enjoyed the beautiful landscape and the local hospitality. The Samosir itinerary is very simple. Start the day by walking around, enjoy the fresh morning air in the small town called Tuktuk, where most of the tourist accommodations are concentrated. Afterwards, go towards Ambarita, where the carpet of rice fields will welcome every visitor. Simanindo is the next destination, where a museum, restored from a house of a Batak king, is located. The museum, with a collection of ancient relics and a unique architecture, also showcases a group of human-sized puppets called Sigale-gale, used in traditional dances. Their brawny jaw marks the strong character of Batak that complement their hospitality, ready to greet everyone who visits Samosir.

Pura Gunung Salak

Pura (Shrine) is a place where people of Hinduism religion pray. In Indonesia, puras can be found not only in Bali. In a “kampong” called Warung Loak, Bogor, West java, there is one famous pura. Its full name is Pura Parahyangan Agung Jagatkartya Taman Sari Gunung Salak, but it is mostly known as Pura Gunung Salak.

Pura Gunung Salak was constructed since 1995 and finally was open for public in 2005. They built the shrine atmosphere to be similar with puras in Bali as an honor to Prabu Siliwangi, the leader of Padjajaran, which is the last Hindu Empire on Java Island. Prabu Siliwangi was believed to be last seen in this area.

Pura Gunung Salak is divided into several areas. The main area is called Ning Mandala. It’s a sacred area and only accessible for people who adheres to Hinduism. Another area is Padmesana where God is believed to reside. There is also an area called Balai Pasamuan Agung. Here, visitors can climb the shrine’s steps to see the amazing scenery. At the end of the steps, visitors can see a vast grass field, with two Saungs (a kind of Gazebo) on the left and the right end. This area is called Madya Mandala and unfortunately it is also only accessible for Hindu people.

From a distance, behind a short concrete wall, visitors can see several sacred buildings as part of the Pura. Two of them are black temples which are believed to be the palace for Sri Baduga Maharaja Prabu Siliwangi, the origin of Sundanese people.

Considering the physical size, this pura is set to held “Utamaning Utama”, the highest level in Hinduism religious ceremony structure. In the ceremony, Hindu people from all over Indonesia come to the shrine to pray.

Although there are some restricted areas, Pura Gunung Salak is not only open for Hindu. Anyone can come to enjoy the majestic pura and the natural beauty of the surroundings. This location is also open for anyone who wants to meditate. There is a temple erected next to Padmasana (worshiping God in Hinduism) building that can be used for anyone of any religion to meditate.

The composing calm and peace are true to every soul who comes to this Pura.

Ujung Kulon, Banten

Ujung Kulon, located in Banten province, is one of many Indonesian natural parks. In traditional Javanese language, “Ujung Kulon” literally means “the end at the West”. The name aptly describes its location at the western-most tip of Java island. The park consists of natural forests on Ujung Kulon peninsula and also some small islands nearby.

The main destinations of this park are in Handeleum and Peucang islands. People can go to these islands by renting a boat from a port nearby, Sumur, which is about 5 hours driving from Jakarta. It takes 1.5 hour to get to Handeleum island by boat, another 1.5 hour to reach Peucang island. Along the way, lots of floating fish cages (keramba) decorate the sea. Birds can sometimes be seen diving into the sea to catch fish.

In Handeleum island, visitors will be greeted by groups of deers. They look tame but they will run if they are approached carelessly. Try to approach them very slowly and get a picture or two. In Peucang island, not deers but it is groups of monkeys that will welcome visitors. Please make sure to safely guard your food as these thieves will not hesitate to take them when they have the chance. On another note, it is recommended to use mosquito repellent while visiting the park.

Sea-related activities like snorkeling and fishing can be done in this area. Thus, bring along snorkeling gear and fishing rods and try your luck to catch some fishes. Finally, the seaside is perfect just to sit or to walk around while enjoying the nature.

Sunrise at Borobudur Temple

Borobudur Temple, Central Java, never fails to reap admiration from both domestic and international visitors as the center of many points of interests. From architectural side, the temple was built in 9th century as a single complex that represent Buddhist cosmology, with 72 Buddha statues seated in the perforated stupa and spread around its circular upper platforms. From religious side, Borobudur is the center of annual gathering during the full moon in May or June, where the Buddhists in Indonesia observe Vesak, the day when Siddharta Gautama attained the wisdom to become the Buddha. These are some of the reasons why it is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among many ways available to explore the temple, it is best to see at dawn where the sun is still favorable and the place is not too overcrowded with tourists. Borobudur is officially open at around 7 AM. For earlier visit, there are two spots to experience the sunrise. First, is from the upper location such as from Amanjiwo Resort and Stumbu Hills, Karangrejo Village, 2.5 km from southwest Borobudur where the entire complex of this gorgeous monument will be visible gradually among the mist. The other one is from Manohara Hotel that is located inside the complex.

To see the sunrise, visitors must come to Manohara Hotel lobby at around 4.30 AM. Bring along a warm jacket and comfortable footwear for this trip. After checking in at the lobby, each guest will be given a flashlight to climb up Borobudur until the top of Arupadhatu. Do not be discouraged after climbing in dark and find only blackness. Find the best spot to view the sunrise and wait for some minutes. Then, the dramatic and exotic view of the sun rising and peeping through Merapi Mountain, shining on the stupas of the temple, will surely take your breath away. After a while, go around the temple on its each four sides to view different kinds of landscapes. Enjoy the morning sunlight while taking a closer look at the dewy historical sculptures and statues. The unique tranquility of the temple at the early hours may also be used for meditation. These are indeed luxury most people will not have during official opening hours due to the crammed tourists and hot daylight.

The experience of visiting Borobudur at sunrise will surely give visitors more insight and appreciation for this world heritage, left by our ancestors centuries ago.

Mount Merbabu, Central Java

Hiking Journal of Mount Merbabu, September 2010

After more than two hours trekking from the entrance post, the majestic landscape was finally opened before our eyes. The view from this first savanna comprised of hills filled with shrubs of Cantigi (Vaccinium varingiaefolium) and Edelweiss (Anaphalis javanica), as well as the bashful Peak of Merapi in the south trying to sneak among the clouds. In this spot, the top of Mount Merbabu was still nowhere in sight while the valley between Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu could be seen as wrinkle green layers.

The uninvited fog had returned, marking the time to continue climbing onto the second savanna, where the beauty was multiplied because expansive panorama appeared in this second spot. Aside from Merapi, Mount Lawu was also visible in the far east, showing silhouette resembling the face of a pretty lady in her sleep. A perfect spot to set up the tent and relax.

While sipping the warm ginger concoction and musing around the bonfire, the scenes of early trekking alongside the villages before reaching the tent were flashing around my mind. The distance between the last stop of public transportation to the hiking registration post was quite far, providing an opportunity for every hiker to enjoy more of the life in the village. Regardless of the urgency to register in the post, I wanted to stay longer for a cup of coffee or two with the friendly people to capture their sincere smiles and to savor the tableau of vast tobacco and vegetables plantations.

First thing in the morning, amidst the fog and cold, we were climbing onto Peak of Merbabu. The open savanna hinted the condition of trekking path. Some were steep ascending paths in between of wide and open savanna, complete with broken white blossoming Edelweiss to contrast the wide array of greeneries in its surrounding. My eyes seemed did not want to let go the sight of Merapi by kept looking back just to admire the beauty of the active volcano, or looking head to east to view the peaceful Lawu. Around 8 hours later, we finally arrived to the Peak of Merbabu marked with expansive view of grassland and rocks. Just a minute in this spot, embracing the mountain, the view and its refreshing air, will instantly make you feel in love with mother nature, all over again.

Mount Bromo, East Java

Mount Bromo is one of the most popular active volcanoes in Indonesia. Located in East Java, it offers a spectacular view of sunrise highlighting rows of adjacent mountains and “the sea of sand” around it. This entire volcanic complex is officially named as Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and is located 50 km east of Malang. To enter the park, it is very recommended to rent a Jeep with an experienced driver (for about USD30/car) available in abundance at the entrance. The driver will take visitors through the curvy and narrow paths with steep ravines to reach Mount Penanjakan, the prime area to capture the beautiful panorama of the surroundings.

Aside from a fully-charged camera, strong will and a functioning alarm clock will be necessary to greet the sunrise in Mount Bromo. To get the best spot for sunrise viewing, people usually start to gather in the veranda of Mount Penanjakan before 4AM, regardless the cold and freezing pre-dawn temperature. Nevertheless, when the sun starts to rise and beam its light upon these landscape, all of the adrenaline poured during the Jeep tour and facing the chills will certainly be paid off.

From the veranda of Mount Penanjakan, the mountains are beautifully presented across the sea of sand in the caldera of ancient Tengger volcano. This unique feature is declared as the only desert-like area in Indonesia and thus has been protected since the early 1900s. Among its significant numbers of mountain, the scene covers Mount Bromo, Mount Batok —the only mountain that is no longer active— and Mount Semeru —the highest peak in Java Island. Seeing this group of mountains covered in mist under the clear blue sky is an exotic package that is rare to find.

After the sunrise, the Jeep tour usually takes visitors to Bromo foothills where people can walk or ride horses to climb the mountain and view the caldera of Mount Bromo. These horses are rented out by Tengger people, the remaining indigenous Hindu communities of Majapahit era that inhabit the area, both in and around the park. This community still strongly performs their religious duties including to respect Mount Bromo as a sacred place. Once a year, Tengger people hold Kasada Festival in the modest temple located in front of Mount Batok. They then climb up the mountain to deliver offerings of foods, flowers and other sacrifices by throwing them to the caldera of Mount Bromo.