One Exotic Island – Three Amazing Worlds of Indonesia - My Family Travels
Puncak House
Bali Ulun Danu

It’s all about perspective – looking out from a temple across the ocean at sunset, walking crowded streets and hearing motorists whiz past, or breathing in sweet mountain air while watching the fog roll over rice paddies. When I went to Indonesia to experience my mother’s heritage, I found three worlds that amazed me with their splendor and contrast. Traveling from Bali to Jakarta to Puncak, I discovered how three extremely worlds could come together.

Bali is known for its enchanting beauty and it was truly an exotic beginning to my journey. The vivid magic still kindles my awe as I let my surroundings fade and imagine before me the rocky ocean island, peaked by the thatched Tanah Lot temples. Golden, water-colored streaks of light from the setting sun cast fiery shadows and I hear a man calling in Bahasa Indonesia from a low tide cave – three-thousand rupiahs to witness a two-headed snake. Tour guides expound stories about the gods of Bali and the Island of Ten-Thousand Temples. I also remember the Balinese kecak dance in Denpasar. I see the golden headdresses of the dancers and hear the pings of the gamelan. I feel a rush of wonder as I see the floating Ulun-Danu temples sitting on the clear waters of Lake Bratan, cupped in the hands of low mountains. Bali is not its fancy hotels and souvenir shops. Bali is a world of a majestic, archaic magic.

Jakarta is a strikingly different Indonesia. The pristine beauty of Bali is stripped away, replaced by bustling streets, rising skyscrapers, and clamoring vendors. I remember going to the 2009 presidential election polls with my ema. We stop because of traffic and she rolls down the window to haggle the price of gemblong from a man walking with large baskets as children with ripped clothes play soccer in the street. When we arrive at a wide alley, I watch as ema goes in to a canopy to vote for Indonesia’s president. This small tent contrasts starkly with the image I see next – Taman-Anggrek, the enormous four-part mall with stories and stories of apartments atop. I think of my uncles, who’s labor transformed their small bicycle shop sheds into a street of automotive parts retail. I think of their proud mansions and their teeming shops in contrast with the slums they grew up in. Jakarta is a world of construction and juxtaposition. And yet, it is also a world of persistent energy, bustling life, and disheveled beauty of its own.

My journey finally brought me far from the city to Puncak, in the mountains of Java. Tea plantations and rice paddies wind around the hills. Workers in straw hats bend over to set down the baskets they have been carrying. Here, vendors sell delicious kue-putu and manggis. Children extend jewelry, toys, and souvenirs toward passerby‘s. Cobbled streets curl around cottages with irregular facades in Villa Kota-Bunga. The quiet fog fills me. It is awe inspiring – volcanoes in the distant, dormant yet alive, the ever extending green of the landscape, cascading down in terraces of flooded rice. The diligence of the laborers and the rawness of the homes returns me to earth. Puncak is a world of serenity, humility, and endurance of the land.

From the mountaintop I found a new perspective – I finally put the pieces together. In this diverse and rich land, I was refreshed by the juxtaposition of the changing views. Indonesia is beautiful, yet clamorous. It is strange, yet deeply true to the human spirit. In the differences, I found the raw exotic wonder of my heritage.

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