Population: 225.3 million (UN, 2005) Capital: Jakarta Area: 1.9 million sq km (742,308 sq miles) Major languages: Indonesian, 300 regional languages Major religion: Islam Life expectancy: 65 years (men), 69 years (women) (UN) Monetary unit: 1 rupiah (Rp)
The Republic of Indonesia is then again one of the MUST-SEE places in Southeast Asia a small hop from the Indochina Peninsula. Although it has previously lost some of its charisma to the world with the 2002 killings of 164 international tourists and 38 locals in Kuta, Bali, tagging along tectonic hyperactivity scares that brought about almost instantaneously the tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that took 167,737 lives in North Sumatra, was yet another big blow to Indonesia’s tourism industry, the island paradise is simply tantalizing as ever. With raison d’tre, the Java Man, one of the world’s earliest species of man, has found his home here around 500 millennia to 2 million years ago. And rather surely with its 17,508 islands that can result to pleasure overdrive, travellers can’t resist the ethereal music, spectacular dance, delightful storytelling and exquisite craftsmanship – great manifestations of a rich and spiritual life. Indonesia just knows how to tingle the pleasure centres of each of its travellers be it by flavour, spectacle, aroma, or sensation, in addition to the size of this place, possibly the largest paradise that causes more often than not a rethinking of one’s departure. Perhaps another night?
Fact remains, travel to Indonesia is dynamic exploration chasing after islands and wildlife, which is quite a lot. Indonesia is, after all 1,904,569 km2-territory with 17,508 islands with great biodiversity, 6,000 of which are inhabited, making it the largest and most populous country in the Southeast Asia. Indonesia (5 00 S, 120 00 E) is made up of forest-clad mountains and lowland plains and coasts that have served as the home to nomadic and more advanced civilizations of the archipelago. Mountains can be found inland, toward the island centres of bigger islands, the highest of which is the Puncak Jaya at an altitude of 5,030 metres above the sea level, the Indian Ocean in this part.
The climate just can’t get better for a Southeast Asian travel, tropical climate as usual as Indonesia straddles the equator. The traveller can’t ask for more sun or heat with average temperatures varying very subtly throughout the year from 26-30 C. But the highlands and mountainous regions like Kalimantan, Sulawesi, W. Java, and W. Sumatra and Papua offer a different kind of cool, regardless the two seasons of wet and dry.
Indonesia is the 4th most heavily populated country in the world succeeding the United States with 240,271,522 people, or officially, Indonesians. Its high population and rapid modernization entail environmental concerns of excessive waste and poor management of it, large-scale illegal deforestation and massive air and water pollution with related forest fires that threaten neighbouring countries Brunei and Malaysia. The Javanese are the most numerous ethnic group with almost 45% of the population, and the island of Java, the most populous island in the world with 130 million of inhabitants. After which comes the Sudanese with 15% of Indonesians and some 300 groups such as the Madurese who are at odds with the Dayak, the Minangkabau, Bajar, Banten, Betawi, and the Bugis.
The republic nation prides on being the country with the largest Muslim population on the planet with almost 90% of a Muslim demographic. Naturally, Islam is the way of life here, that main ideology to every action, every principle from preparation of meat and food to governance and law. Christianity is a budding faith in many small villages where missionary work is chiefly directed to especially in North Sumatra with 9% of the population in practice and still adding. Hindu and other pagan or animist beliefs incompletely identified are also in practice.
BAHASA INDONESIA, a modified Malay language, is the official language of the state. ENGLISH is widely spoken in major cities and is the language used for foreign matters and the hospitality industry, DUTCH, the colonial language spoken as more of a creole by a minor senile generation, and a few local dialects have dotted the linguistic landscape.
The rich and hearty Indonesian culture is the perfect accent to the allure of sights of this island paradise. Nothing quite epitomizes Indonesian allure as the rich biodiversity at the coral reef kingdoms to which the traveller can scuba dive and witness colours and creatures so diverse, so flamboyant, possibly none that anyone has seen anywhere on earth, until now. We’re talking possibly hundreds of shades of blue, red, green, yellow, and so on. Sulawesi is a place to site rare animals found nowhere else in the world that have evolved to survive in the island of heat and volcanic activity. Crater and volcanic lakes of Sumatra, alabaster beaches of Maluku, more volcanoes of Java, resorts of Bali, surfing sites and fine woven village textiles of Lombok, rainforests in Sabah and Sarawak, Borneo, West Papua, and thousands more places offer pristine nature experiences that is are constantly threatened, it is heart-breaking. In the Orangutan Sanctuary at the Indian Fire Islands-volcanic hotspot, the traveller will also feel a certain over-joy that suddenly shifts to melancholy realizing that these beings are in danger as well.
The irresistible and accessible charm of the people and the places create a truly phenomenal experience. This is home away from home being a place that is totally different but so familiar. From big island hopping trips from Sumatra to Kalimantan or Papua, or cheap thrills of watching Katchak in southern Bali, the common attraction and the genuine beauty is from the people scarcely touched by modern living, thriving in harmony with nature. But life is no beach, at least for the locals with 17.8% living below the poverty line with so much of a health care system as herbal medicines, and as they get a daily dose of the salty-smelling cool sea water, the Indonesians in small villages can never be calm about their own dear lives.
Nonetheless, none can take the festive element of the culinary epiphanies to be had here. It does not matter the place, rest assured a guest will have a wide and colourful spread of dishes that are out-of-this-world in colours and flavours. The nine essential gastronomic elements of Indonesian cuisine are rice, fuel, cooking oil, flour, corn, salt, sugar, eggs and meat. A country of many faces, so is Indonesian cuisine combining Indian, Middle Eastern, European, Chinese, and Malay influences with their use of spices and methods of cooking and food presentation, but not without sharing some of their own like nutmeg, clove, and galangal, spices native to Indonesia.
Most popular to the world are dishes such as satay, beef rendang, sambai, lumpia, pangsit, and many others. Authentic Indonesian cuisine is not a solid concept per se. Rather it pertains to the cuisine in Indonesia which renders localized versions of others. Rice is a staple not restrictive to main meals as it is also used in desserts using a variant called “sticky rice” cooked in coconut milk or buras. In some dishes, food is so hot and spicy, it can kill microbes.
Indonesian food also offers some Eastern exotica of spicy brains, lungs, and gizzards, but besides its high cholesterol content, there is no reason to not eat it. Islamic food prohibitions are practiced but with some leniency. The rationale is that alcohol has been in existence even before Islam and is part of traditional and cultural practices. There’s a big and beautiful world out there, but, a world of its own, Indonesia is a tough contender.