Rice paddies, volcanoes, white sand beaches, exotic animals, smiling faces and laughing children are part of every day life here. Welcome to Indonesia, the massive archipelago of around 17,000 islands (8,000 inhabited), with hundreds of unique cultures and languages and a wide diversity of religion. Distinctly Hindu architecture, statues and temples give Bali a traditionally spiritual vibe, while the Muslim call to prayer rings out from the numerous mosques five times a day on Java and Lombok. Our next stop, Flores, is Catholic, and there are sects in each religion that are mixed with animist beliefs. We are enjoying the differences, and the propensity to live and let live, no matter how your religion or culture differs from the norm.
Our first week in this tropical paradise has been....well, paradise. We've swam in the ocean, eaten spicy local food, driven motorbikes around an island, hiked through rice paddies, gotten sprayed by a powerful waterfall in the jungle, had (slightly one way) conversations in Indonesian, participated in the Balinese new year celebrations, climbed an active volcano with a crater lake inside, seen dozens of monkeys, lounged around a pool drinking beer and meeting other travelers, and of course we've rested, read books, napped, and written down some thoughts. Jealous yet? I got to have noodles for breakfast this morning.
The downsides are oppressive heat, sunburn, crazy bugs, and feeling disgusting all the time from spreading new sunscreen, lotion, and bug spray on the old, sticky stuff. But if you ask me if I would take a scorpion sting to the leg in exchange for the group of monkeys that comes around every afternoon, I would say yes (though the answer should probably be no, this thing really hurts). I freaking love monkeys. And while the threat of malaria or parasites may be present, we have high hopes, for the upside to this incredible country is enormous.
Before I was born, my parents lived on Java in a small town called Cilacap for a little over two years for my dad's work. There they adopted a little boy, my oldest brother, Rudy. Therefore, Indonesia has always been a part of my life from the few words my parents used in everyday vocabulary to the beautiful works of art spread around the home including wood carvings, batiks, and large ceramic floor vases. It has always been a far-fetched dream of mine to visit, ideally with Rudy in tow, but since we are flying by the seat of our pants and could only give him a few week's notice, it didn't work out. Too bad. We are learning Indonesian, which is a very new language and extremely easy. No verb conjugations, no past or future tense, no articles like 'the' or 'a,' no masculine or feminine, no real grammar, just vocabulary. It's fun, and since for every local it is their second language as well, it's fairly easy to understand too.
Our favorite thing about the country so far are the people. Especially the children. In some places we've been, like Colombia, people stare at us because we're white. I mean really stare. But here, everyone smiles, waves, and says hello. Or "hello, mister," even to Abby. The children are especially enthusiastic, and say hello even as we are zipping by on our motorbikes. We even had an episode with a school group where you would think we were movie stars with how many photos they wanted to take of us with their camera phones. The girls were swarming Mike and squealing, and when one of them took off their head scarf to take a picture with him, the others gasped and giggled. "Very handsome, your husband," they told me. "I know," I said.
So stay tuned to this next portion of our trip, it's going to be wild (though the scorpion was a little too wild, I could do without more of those)! For those of you who missed out on the South American portion of our great adventure, here is the link if you'd like to look at that.