Monday, May 31, 2010

Last days in Indonesia

May 30

Today I continue my mad rush to get to a ferry to Malaysia before my tourist visa for Indonesia runs out on June 1. I’m not sure how strict the Indonesian government is about that sort of thing but I don’t want any trouble so I’m making my way to Dumai, the nearest place where ferries leave from. Two days ago I caught a shuttle car for the six hour trip to Mukomuko (during which the Duel incident took place) and stayed the night there. It’s a tiny settlement and I had a pleasant walk in the countryside that evening. The next day I got another shuttle car to Padang (which is one of the bigger cities in Sumatra but which doesn’t sound too interesting in the lonely planet guidebook) taking eight and half hours, and then another three-hour bus ride to Bukitinggi. Bukittingi is up in the mountains so is a lot cooler and rainy which makes a pleasant change. It’s quite touristy with hotels and shops selling tacky stuff and I visited a museum and a small zoo. I stayed only one night. There are tours that one can take to lakes, handcraft villages, waterfalls, and other places but I don’t have time so I’m sitting in a bus at the terminal, waiting to depart to Dumai. The ride will take ten hours and I’ll stay the night, catching the ferry to Melaka in Malaysia tomorrow morning.

A painting on black velvet of Bukittinggi

It’s a bit of a pity I’ve had to rush out of the country because of the days I lost when my wallet was stolen. It means I haven’t seen some things which Sumatra is famous for like orangutans and Lake Toba, but I’ve still enjoyed my time here. There was some fantastic scenery along the coast between Bengkulu and Padang. A place called Painan seems to be where to go if you should ever come here. It had beautiful beaches and places to stay but with few tourists.

Last night in Bukittinggi I saw the first westerner I’ve seen in many days since I left Jakarta, in a cafe opposite my hotel. I thought I caught a glimpse of one in Kalianda but not sure about that. Westerners are seldom seen here and I’ve been asked dozens of times to have my photo taken by and with locals.

Elections are being held in Indonesia sometime soon and there are millions of posters up advertising candidates. Here are a couple of billboards. These posters are everywhere, much more prevalent than other advertisements. I think the country should spend less on election posters and more on the roads.

It's been an varied month, with good times and bad. Not sure what I think of Indonesia overall. It's a country with an interesting history, being used centuries ago by traders and as a source of spices. It's been influenced by traders from India and China, and then from the seventh century by followers of Islam from Arabia. Then it was occupied by the Portuguese, the Dutch and briefly by the Japanese in the Second World War. The Dutch tried to retake it after the war but rebellions led to an independent country being formed in 1949, with Sukarno as its first leader. In the 1960s he was replaced by Suharto who led the country until 1998 when protests following the financial crisis forced his resignation. There were worrying anti-Chinese riots at the time, and conflicts between Muslims and Christians a few years later. Sometimes it seems as though it is hardly a single nation since it is made up of many different groups, religions, and cultures. Since independence there has been an effort to create a single Indonesian nation, where there is a shared language and history, as well as separate cultures. I'm not sure that effort will succeed. The last twenty years of world history has been dominated by nationalist movements and the desire of national groups to have their own state and I think that'll happen here as well. Nationalist struggles seem to occur less when economic times are good. But when times are tough, they assert themselves. The economic situation in Indonesia did not seem good to me. People were poor and underemployed. That kind of situation makes people think that they can do better if they can rule themselves rather than be ruled by a central government. The conservative Muslim province of Aceh, in the north of Sumatra, already has a kind of quasi-independence: it has been given some authority to enforce sharia law. East Timor of course broke away a few years ago. Similar may happen in places like Papua and Kalimantan.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Don't check on you for a week, and find that you have been robbed and experienced a bunch of other emotionally exhausting experiences all in a few days. I feel wiped out just reading about it! Best wishes to you,