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Indonesia

The Rite of Passage

There were thousands of people surrounding the race track, they were packed in the stands and pressed in crowds ten deep around the edges. They sat on top of the walls and some had even climbed into the branches of the tall trees overlooking the field to get a better view. This was the big event of the year and nobody wanted to miss out on the races.

As the flag dropped there was a roar from the crowd. Two pairs of bulls pounded down the race track, kicking up a cloud of dust behind them as they hurtled for the finish line towards the crowd standing at the finish line. The race was neck and neck, but with just five metes to go, one of the teams pushed slightly ahead and then it was chaos.

From where I was standing it was impossible to figure out who had won and looking back it was difficult to believe there hadn’t been any casualties. The crowd had parted for an instant enveloping the racing bulls that just seconds ago had been running full speed.

I walked towards the finish line and watched as a small boy who couldn’t have been more than twelve years-old walked rowards me. An enourmous smile was spread across his face and people were running up to congratulate him and pat him on the back. He had won the race and the prize money that went with it; today he was a hero.

For the people of Madura, there is nothing strange about letting a young child race bulls. This is a rite of passage, a chance for the young generation to prove themselves. Although I might find the custom strange, who was I to judge? I come from a country where turning into a man involves drinking so much alcohol that you might forget simple things like, your name or what planet you live on.

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Indonesia

The Secrets of Java

The South Java Sea is notorious for its gnarly surf and wicked undertow, a boon to surfers and serious challenge to leisurely swimmers. But if big waves, fine sandy beaches, and dramatic volcanic outcroppings are your thing, head to Pantai Sadranan and its sister beaches. What follows is a quick guide to best beaches near the city of Yogyakarta – the Javanese cultural capital and a fine base for any backpacker to explore Central Java.

Pantai Krakal

Pantai Sadranan, Selili, Krakal, Kukup, Sepanjang, Baron, Indrayanti, Ngandong, and Sundak to name a few of the most scenic beaches, cover a 25 km stretch of coastline in the southeast corner of Yogyakarta Province. Though only 60 km from Yogkarata, I would not recommend making a day trip out of any of these beaches. With traffic the rout can take up to three hours each way. Predictably, the congestion is worst on weekends when locals flock to the coast for fresh air, serene views and tasty ocean fish. Also, avoid traveling by motor bike, unless you’re going during the week. The reckless drivers, intense smog and searing heat make for a poor start to any relaxing beach getaway.

Pantai Krakal

Pantai Sadranan, Selili and Krakal are the least crowded of these beaches. They are the furthest east, and hence the longest drive from Yogyakarta. All are equally stunning and empty during the weekdays, but if you’re going on a weekend, I highly recommend venturing as far east as you can.

Pantai Krakal

Once you arrive, you’ll find a variety of accommodations available, ranging from 10 – 60 USD per night. Basically, you get what you pay for. The first place we checked out was on Pantai Sadranan and it was pretty much the worst hotel in the world . It cost 20 USD per night. Despite the gorgeous hill-top view, it was incredibly dirty and was infested with wasps, tree frogs and roosting bats, amongst other lesser creatures.

Pantak Krakal

If you’re the outdoorsy type, pack a tent and camp for free on the soft sandy beaches. You can buy fresh fish at the market and cook it up right on the beach. To me this sounds ideal – a slice of paradise enjoyed properly.

Pantai Krakal

During the height of the sun, from 11:00 – 3:00, escape the heat by renting one of the beachside gazebos on Pantai Indrayanti. It will cost roughly 2 USD and you can stay as long as you want. The nearby restaurants serve fresh caught “ikan bakar” (barbequed fish) and tropical juices, which you can eat picnic style under your gazebo.

Pantai Krakal

Swimming is best from 3:00 – 5:00 when the sun and the heat abate. The sun sets around 6:00 every day, and the colors are spectacular. Hike to the top of one of the many volcanic outcroppings between Pantai Sadranan and Pantai Selili for the best views. After dark, theres not much to do other than eat and drink. Reward yourself by heading to one of the local restaurants for a second serving ikan bakar and a cold beer to cap the day.

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Indonesia

Ultimate Safari Park of Indonesia

We don’t have many zoo around Indonesia, but one of the best is Taman Safari Indonesia. Like a Burger King, it’s part of a chain and Safari has several locations around the country, one of them is just two and a half hour drive away from my house in Jakarta.

I had only once been to Taman Safari before, when I was a child, so a visit to the park wasn’t something I had been thinking about; even though I knew seeing the animals was always going to be a very fun thing to do. The reason I hadn’t been in so long; just like most people, I had delayed visiting any kind of tourism attraction close to where I live. For example, if you grew up in Paris I bet you would not be in hurry to visit the Eiffel Tower would you? In your mind the Eiffel Tower isn’t something you need to see, it’s not going anywhere, so you can do it later on. That’s also what happened with me and the zoo.

Several days ago I made up my mind to go there. I can’t say anything else except I really enjoyed the safari tour! Pretty amazing! I had the feeling of being in Africa without the heat. The leopard was very pretty, too many llama’s were crossing the road (I know they’re not African), which made me excited, all the lazy hippos and so much more.

I think running a zoo is quite hard in Indonesia so they attached a-not-so-amazing amusement Park to the Safari. The other challenge of running the zoo is the people that work there don’t seem to have a passion for animals. Some of them just work for the sake of make a living, but on the other hand we also met several people that were really taking care the animals with all their heart.

I am glad to have visited the zoo again; it was 15 years since my last visit. Animals can be just like your friends, so I really enjoyed having the time to catch up with some old friends and make new ones.

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Indonesia

Minahasa – North Sulawesi Indonesia

Minahasa, North Sulawesi, Indonesia has everything one could wish for: mountains, white sand beaches, volcanoes, hot springs, turquoise seas and some of the best diving spots in Southeast Asia. It’s a place I like to return to, for all these reasons, and because there is one particular place that’s perfect for a real good rest.

Pulisan Jungle Beach resort, located in northern Minahasa, was set up by Katrin, a German national, in 1996. Northern Sulawesi was then becoming famous for its world class diving, particularly the island of Bunaken, a stone’s throw away form the city of Manado. But Katrin’s vision was one of a haven of peace away form the hustle and bustle of the typical resorts. So she built her dream deep in the jungle, at the end of a long beach of white sand.

To get to the eight wooden bungalows, you can take a boat or a long taxi ride and walk 20 minutes along a small path through the jungle. This walk is enough to remove you from the chaos of life on the outside and set you up for a real relaxing time. The bungalows all have an en-suite bathroom, and you will be treated to the best food around. For the vegetarians out there, this is also a welcome break from the white rice and tempeh you will, no doubt, have had to endure any place else in Indonesia.

Pulisan Jungle Beach resort also has a fully equipped dive center, where you can take your diving license or any other specialty courses as well as just do fun dives at the amazing sites a short distance away by boat.

But the seas in Minahasa, North Sulawesi are threatened. It is, once again, the same old story of greed and corruption as anywhere else in the world that is endangering not only the marine life but also the people of Minahasa. The land is cursed with gold, and many illegal mines are already operating. As you might know, the process of extracting gold is extremely polluting, with products such as cyanide being used and tailings being released in the rivers or sometimes directly in the sea. And as if it wasn’t bad enough, Indonesia is granting mining licenses left, right and center, putting at risk the livelihoods of communities relying on fisheries and tourism in the region.

Bangka island is a perfect example, as it was designated a region for tourism development until it was changed to a area designated for mining development, following overt bribing of local politicians by Chinese companies. There are attempts to develop iron ore mining on the island and rumors of gold and even uranium deposits lurking below, and the population is doing everything in their power to stop it. Pulisan Jungle Beach resort has a long history of involvement in social actions in the area, with education programs and sponsorships. Now the fight has shifted to fighting these multinational and Indonesian companies. So, as a show of support, and for a good rest too, head out there!