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We’re learning that modern civilization is not all it’s cracked up to be and many of us can’t help the desire for a getaway to a place where religion, creative art and harmony with nature are still alive. One such faraway land blessed with these hallmarks of culture is the Mentawai Islands 100 kilometers off the coast of West Sumatra.
Although the ‘Batik City’ of Pekalongan is not a huge production center for its famous vibrant-colored textiles, the city harbors a plethora of natural wonders in the mountainous area surrounding it. Among the region’s star attractions is the 3,000 hectares Sokokembang Forest near the Kayupuring village, Petungkriyono subdistrict, in the southern part of the regency—one of the very few pristine tropical forests left in Java.
Occupying prime rice growing real estate on a fertile, plain, the Gorontalo region boasts a rich local culture, historical remains and handicrafts, magnificent scenery, an extensive 600-kilometer-long coastline, rare endemic fauna and flora, panoramic mountains, forests and valleys and numerous other natural attractions.
From the air, life on Ternate Island seems to be concentrated on the coastal areas. It is understandable, given the location of its small and large harbors, center of commerce and points of departure and arrival of ferry boats serving the surrounding islets.
Ternate City, capital of North Maluku, is just the right size to be toured on a motorcycle, and there are plenty of ojeks (motorcycle cabs) to choose from at street corners, as elsewhere in the country. The first stop, as recommended by a few tour books, is the tower of Tolukko Fort at Dufa-Dufa. Situated at a high altitude, it offers an open view on parts of the island and the sea.
The flight from Sumbawa disgorged a planeload of small businessmen, missionary families with young children, a few white-veiled nuns, a smattering of French and Dutch tourists, two Australian surfers and myself onto the tarmac of West Sumba's Tambolaka airport. We rode through a dry countryside of steepled churches atop hills, fields of galloping horses, clusters of stone slab graves, roofs of riotous bougainvillea blossoms, and rows of scraggly shops and squealing pigs being loaded into pickup trucks. In the late 1990s, I remember seeing loin-clothed wild pig hunters carrying spears along the road with their dogs, but not this time.
The landscape is still raw and relatively unpeopled-no factories, no billboards, no supermarkets-just gardens and country farmers markets. Sumba's famous top-hat alang-alang (thatch)-roofed traditional wooden dwellings are relentlessly being phased out and replaced by cinder-block buildings that cost considerably less to build. Like the rumah adat (traditional house), horses as transport are also being replaced by a dramatic proliferation of Japanese motorbikes. Cables creeping out from under grass roofs lead to meter-wide satellite dishes. People's calm reaction and behavior indicate that they are getting used to tourists.
The ride was full of jolts as we passed through huge swaths of picturesque hills and paddy fields tapering down to the Savu Sea on the southern shore of Flores. The road then took a right, skirting the sea to the fishing village of Dintor next to a craggy Mules Island.
From there, the road swings uphill, passing the village of Denge with a charming Catholic church and homestays for foreign travelers, up and up till the road runs out.
I must have rushed through the port of Banyuwangi a hundred times over the past 45 years. The first time was in 1971 when I waded through surf to board a rusty LCU from World War II to cross the Bali Strait to Gilimanuk, at the time just a one-ferry port. The old amphibious landing craft lurched to a stop on the sandy beach beside the single pier. In the shadows, a bemo (three-wheeled motorized vehicle) driver waved and I climbed in for the lonely, all-night drive to Denpasar.
Sometimes I'd stay a few days to take note of how this underrated, curious city has grown and changed over the years. Depending on your perspective, Banyuwangi sits either at the beginning or the end of Java, it is the most easterly major town and the last stop on the railway network that meanders across the island. The administrative capital of Banyuwangi regency, it has a population of around 110,000.
UNTIL three years ago, a forest in Uganda called Zika was largely unknown. Even the indigenous people of Uganda were confused when asked about the forest's location. However, today the name is widely mentioned due to the spread of the Zika virus.
In fact, the virus emerged 69 years ago. Now, long after being seemingly forgotten, the virus is back in the spotlight, having spread to 23 countries in Latin America and possibly, the United States. Zika is increasingly believed to pose a serious threat, as it targets newborns and causes paralysis. In 2015, 1,248 such cases were reported in Brazil.
We had heard about an implausibly remote and isolated ecolodge called '4 Pohon'. We were told it was not for everyone, only for those looking for a bit of adventure. That's all we needed. Located in the northwest center of Flores between Pota and Riung, 4 Pohon is in the middle of a totally natural environment. Off a dirt track that feels like the very end of the road, only a small sign announced its presence to the occasional passing car or motorcycle carrying a cloud of dust in their wake.
Driving through the front gate was like happening upon a small village. The resort is named after four great tamarind trees found at the entrance. The moment we entered the compound we were in the hands of Olivier ('Oli' for short), Roland, Renza and the rest of the friendly and attentive staff, all knowledgeable about Flores and Indonesia with plenty of stories to tell.
Occupying more than 225,000 square kilometers of West Papua Province, the BHS encompasses not only Raja Ampat's world-renowned reefs, but also the extraordinary undersea wilderness near Kaimana, called Triton Bay, as well as Indonesia's largest marine park, Cenderawasih Bay. Within the BHS, marine scientists have recorded a record-shattering 1756 distinct fish species, over 75 percent of the world's known hard corals and over 50 percent of the known soft corals. A network of twelve Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) keep reefs safe from commercial trawlers and destructive practices like dynamite fishing.
Beyond the MPAs, an unprecedented partnership between BHS coastal communities, local, regional and national authorities, and regional and international NGOs seek to balance the needs of the Seascape's human population while effectively protecting its rich natural resources. The BHS exemplifies the priorities of the six-nation Coral Triangle Initiative, and is being promoted as a national model for Indonesia's future marine resource management. Indeed, a movement to protect manta rays and sharks had its roots in Raja Ampat, which became the Coral Triangle's first shark and ray sanctuary. The movementspread throughout Indonesia. In 2014, the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries declared a nation-wide manta sanctuary, the world's largest, for both species of manta rays.
The southern coastline of East Java has the splendid beaches Goa Cina and Bajul Mati, but the offshore island of Sempu (pronounced sem-poo) is totally unique. The irregularly shaped island lies opposite the picturesque fishing village of Sendangbiru, the province's most important fishing village. A channel roughly 0.5 kilometers wide runs from southwest to northeast between the mainland and the island.
When I finally arrived in Sendangbiru close to noontime, the last of the fishermen's catch unloaded earlier that morning was being sold at the fish market. Boats were still available to make the crossing over to Sempu, but since there are no guesthouses, I was told that I may have to spend the night on one of the island's beaches.
Different types of cancers and tumors seem to plague Labudiala's family. Labudiala, also known as Budi, came to this conclusion after losing six of his siblings to bone and colon cancers, as well as two of his own children to brain cancer and leukemia. "So I wasn't shocked when the doctor said that I, too, had colon cancer," he said last Wednesday at his home in the Condet area of East Jakarta.
Budi received his diagnosis three years ago. Fortunately, the National Land Agency retiree learned of his illness early, while the cancer was still only at the third stage. Hoping to avoid the same fate as his family members, he decided to undergo surgery later that year.
To see these extraordinary creatures, we faced a rough road and rivers to cross. We were told that we needed a four-wheel drive vehicle and were strongly advised against taking our old Toyota Kijang. As it turned out, the difficulty only added to the overall experience of visiting this wild, totally undisturbed, empty and inhospitable three-kilometer-long stretch of coastline pounded by the dangerous deep green surf of the Indian Ocean.
Along with majestic Pekerisan River in Gianyar and the stately Taman Ayun Temple in Mengwi, Jatiluwih was nominated a World Heritage site in 2012. It is a great honor for Bali to have its natural and cultural wonders recognized, as the sites will take their place right alongside world-famous Borobudur, Prambanan, the Sangiran archaeological site, Ujung Kulon, Lorentz and Komodo national parks and the magnificent tropical rainforests of Sumatra.
A few kilometers north of Lawang, on the road to Surabaya, we turned into the expansive 85-hectare botanical gardens and were immediately enveloped by its peace and serenity, a salve for city dwellers. Our original intention was just to shop for houseplants, but we ended up spending the whole afternoon in this beautifully landscaped enclave and came away with new-found respect and appreciation for the world of plants.
At 300 meters above sea level, with an average annual rainfall of 2,366 millimeters, living organisms do not have any trouble at all prospering in the limey soil of this sprawling live museum of dry habitats: a total of 11,429 specimens representing 3,000 plant species, including many that are endangered and seldom seen outside of Indonesia. Among the highlight is an Arecaceae collection of perennial lianas, shrubs and 80 different kinds of palms; 114 bamboo species; 15 species of rose apple (Syzygium); 80 species of fern; a legume, pea and bean family collection; 300 species of medicinal herbs.