You knew I was coming back, right? You must have. You must have known I needed to see you and that my soul needed to climb a volcano, see orangutans in the wild, get food poisoning in front of 50 people, think my boyfriend was proposing (read on for that one), see a few sunrises and sunsets, and snorkel the most amazing waters – you knew, you crazy, beautiful, chaotic, fascinating nation, you knew didn’t you?
So how does a girl get a two week vacation in Indonesia in late August and early September 2016? The simple answer is quit the job where you’ve been miserable for months (thanks rounds of layoffs) and convince your new boss that starting a job in financial journalism in August when everyone is on vacation is not a great idea. Then you get Victor to talk you into going to Indonesia (a country you’ve talked about incessantly for the past four years) instead of a new country. So in less than two weeks I planned a two week Indonesia trip that would take us to Java, Sumatra, Lombok, and the Gili Islands. Planning this meant I got to choose places I never made it to while I lived in Indonesia and also avoid the heavily touristed places (while still great, I’d much rather do off season).
After running through the Dubai airport (the most intense workout of my life) we caught our connecting flight and made it to Singapore. After traveling for 24 hours you deserve a cocktail or two and sometimes you get lucky and a truly fantastic place, Hopscotch, is right near your hotel (oh my god the Jewel of Maxwell cocktail with gin, lychee, yuzu, rose cordial, grapefruit, and fresh citrus I’m still thinking of you – don’t worry full restaurant, hotel, adventure list at the end of this post). We spent 24 hours running around Singapore exploring, eating, and catching up with friends.
Of course I would sit down next to Mr. Retra (whose business card says business manager) on the flight from Singapore to Jakarta. Within a few minutes we were chatting and he said I should call him if Victor and I needed a ride or just wanted to hang out while we were in Jakarta (Indonesian hospitality and kindness is always heartwarming). I was surprised how quickly my basic Indonesian came back to me. It’s true about things hiding in the back of your mind somewhere.
It had been four years since I set foot in Jakarta. My friend Niar was there to greet us in the morning and spend all day with us exploring Kota Tua, having lunch in Grand Indonesia, going to the spa, and eating a big Indonesian dinner. I still recognized Jakarta despite the continuing building boom. Traffic has gotten worse, but the city is actually looking a bit cleaner. A lot of that, in Niar’s opinion, is thanks to the governor Ahok. In late August sitting in a cab in Jakarta traffic talking politics with Niar neither of us could predict that in less than a year Donald Trump would be elected president in the U.S. and that Ahok would be charged with blasphemy and face two years in jail. It’s a crazy, unpredictable world these days and Indonesia’s echoes of 1998-1999 are really scary to me especially when it comes to mentions of Chinese Indonesians.