Java, Indonesia

Prambanan temple

Prambanan temple

After Mount Bromo I took the train from Melang to Yogyakarta (Yogya or Jogja) . Trains are more expensive than buses because they are faster and a lot more comfortable. Economy tickets usually sell out fast so try to buy your ticket at least the day before you travel. Meal service is optional on the trains but it is more expensive than street food and closer to restaurant prices. There were a few vegan options but I had brought my own food from Melang. I arrived in Yogyakarta at night without a reservation but it was easy to find a guesthouse across the street from the train station in the Malioboro area.

Bas relief carvings in Borobudur temple

Bas relief carvings in Borobudur temple

Yogyakarta is known as the city of culture and education. It is also a good place to arrange tours of the Borobudur and Prambanan temples.  There are many universities in Yogyakarta as well as batik textiles, wayang (puppet) shows, and gamelan orchestras. It is a good place to study the Bahasa language and there are many yoga classes and vegetarian restaurants to enjoy. You can easily get around the Malioboro area on foot but to get across town to Prawirotaman you’ll need to take the public bus or a short taxi ride. Please do not support animal cruelty by patronizing horse carriages, called andongs or dokars. There are plenty of men pedaling trishaws (becaks) who are happy to take you on a slower scenic route around town. Just make sure you agree on the price and exact destination first.

mushroom satay at Milas Veg restaurant

mushroom satay at Milas Veg restaurant

Vegetable Mie Goreng (ask for no eggs, no butter, no chicken, etc)

Vegetable Mie Goreng (ask for no eggs, no butter, no chicken, etc)

I booked a day tour of Borobudur and Prambanam for around $30. Unless you pay extra for the 5am departure time you are not going to see the sunrise over Borobudur. Some tours are marketed as sunrise tours but they depart too late to view it over Borobudur. I met three other women in my tour group who wanted to share the cost of hiring a guide. It is optional to hire a guide and can be done after you arrive at Borobudur. You should make sure the guide is an official or registered guide. Each of us paid around $3 for our guide. He explained each level of the temple complex and some of the stories represented in the carvings/ bas-relief sculptures which adds considerable meaning to a visit. Another way to see the temples is to take the local bus and plan to stay overnight in Borobudur. You can also rent a motorbike or car for the day. Tickets to enter the temples may be more expensive if you buy them individually whereas if you book a tour the tickets are included in the price and your driver will purchase them for you. I spent a few more days in Yogya with friends I met at a restaurant before catching another train to Jakarta.

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One of the friends I made in Jogja had just traveled extensively through Sumatra. She told me about the forest fires happening while we were there. Last year’s fires were so huge they smoked out Singapore and could be seen from space. People were advised not to go outside due to the thick smoke. This year has not been any better and the fires are causing respiratory problems in many Sumatrans.

2013 forest fires seen from space, photo by NASA

2013 forest fires seen from space, NASA

Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. It is also the most populous city in SE Asia. 40% of the city is below sea level and is prone to flooding. I visited during the dry season and still ended up sloshing through rivers after a day of rain. It’s not very hygienic to wear flip flops when it floods because the rain washes all kinds of wastes into standing puddles. Rain boots or any kind of boot would be better. Jakarta has an extensive network of buses and trains but taxis are inexpensive and faster. I only had a few days in the Big Durian. I spent most of my time in the Jalan Jaksa area. Everything you may have heard about Jakarta nightlife is true. Everyone drinks a lot of alcohol and most women who are not tourists are prostitutes.  I only saw a fraction of Indonesia but I would love to go back and explore some more. My next post will be about Thailand.

Prambanan temple

Prambanan temple

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East Java, Indonesia

The Ijen crater (Kawah Ijen)

The Ijen crater (Kawah Ijen)

To leave Ubud I had to take a bemo to Denpasar then a bus to Gilimanuk. From there I caught a ferry to Ketapang on the island of Java. It was a short bus trip to Banyuwangi which would be my base to explore the Ijen Volcano. Banyuwangi is a small town with some warungs and convenience stores which is 38 km from the Ijen crater. I was there during Ramadan so most places were closed until about 8PM (after the sun sets). I found a Chinese restaurant on the main street that was happy to make me some fried vegetables, soya and rice for dinner. I booked an ojek, or motorcycle taxi, through my hotel. I was a bit scared to ride on the back of a motorcycle up a volcano but it was a lot cheaper than hiring a car or jeep.

trail along the crater rim of the Ijen volcano

trail along the crater rim of the Ijen volcano

If you want to hike to the crater you should approach from the town of Bondowoso. You can take public buses to Paltuding, which is just two kilometers from the crater. You will need to change buses in Wonosari, Sempol and Banyuapit. Buses do not run at night so make sure you start early if you choose this approach and bring lots of food with you for the journey. Many tourists choose to start walking to the crater rim at 3AM to see the blue fire in the crater lake before the sun rises at 5AM. It can get close to freezing at night at the top of the crater so make sure you bring warm, dry clothes. The blue fire is a result of sulfur gas mixing with oxygen.

photo by Olivier Grunewald http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/01/140130-kawah-ijen-blue-flame-volcanoes-sulfur-indonesia-pictures

photo by Olivier Grunewald, National Geographic

I asked my ojek driver to stop at a fruit stand half way up the volcano for some bananas. There is also a cafe near the parking lot at the start of the trail (from the Banyuwangi approach) serving hot coffee and hot meals. However the only vegan option was steamed rice. It’s a good idea to bring food for your trip to Ijen from Bali or Melang. It is three kilometers from the parking lot to the crater rim which takes between 30 minutes to one hour each way.

The trail around the crater rim of Ijen covered in sulfur smoke

The trail around the crater rim of Ijen covered in sulfur smoke

The views are amazing from the crater rim but I was not prepared to breathe so much sulfur smoke. It is very difficult to catch your breath once you inhale a lung full of burning sulfur dioxide. You should bring a gas mask from home if you plan to hike down inside the caldera with the miners.You can also donate your gas mask to the miners when you’re done with it. I tried to hike into the caldera with a simple face mask and had to drop to the ground a few times to breathe. A wet cloth or bandanna works better than a simple face mask. Also there is no barrier to prevent someone from stumbling and falling into the caldera. A hike around the caldera rim will take about eight hours. The later in the day you visit the more sulfur smoke you will experience. It is recommended to start the hike no later than 8AM so you reach the crater rim before 10AM.

sulfur miner at the Ijen crater volcano

sulfur miner at the Ijen crater volcano

The miners work very hard carrying 50 kg to 100 kg of sulfur rocks on their shoulders up out of the crater. They suffer respiratory and eye problems from the sulfur smoke. Their shoulders are covered with scars from their heavy loads. The miners make between $5 to $10 for a day’s worth of labor. Sulfur mining pays twice as much as picking coffee but is nothing compared to wages in a developed country. The sulfur is sold to the petroleum and cosmetics industries. Some workers will try to have their photo taken, sell you sulfur carvings or accompany you as a guide. Any donations you can give them will go a long way. Here is one organization helping the miners.  Apparently many of the miners want to learn English in order to get a better paying job in the tourism industry so they can leave the mine.

inside the Ijen crater

inside the Ijen crater

The lake inside the Ijen crater is the world’s largest acid lake with a pH of 0.3. You can not go swimming in it or touch it. It also contains many toxic metals including fluoride. Unfortunately the highly polluted water from the crater flows out and becomes the Banyupahit river. People use the river water for drinking, cooking and irrigating crops. Dental fluorosis is common among people in the surrounding villages. Nearby crop production is also declining due to soil acidification. One proposal is to dam the lake to prevent drainage from the crater. A more complicated alternative would be to remove the water from the crater.

Loving Hut in Melang

Loving Hut in Melang

After Ijen I took a bus to Melang so I could visit another volcano, Mount Bromo. The bus was very cheap but it took six hours to reach Melang and we did not take a bathroom break. There are many supermarkets, several vegetarian restaurants and one Loving Hut in Melang. Bring food when you go to Mount Bromo. There are not many stores in Cemoro Lawang with vegan food except for coffee and bananas. I found three other travelers at my hostel to split the cost for a tour of Mount Bromo.

view over Tengger crater near Cemoro Lawang. Mount Bromo surrounded by the Sea of Sand

view over Tengger crater near Cemoro Lawang. Mount Bromo is the first cone.

We got up very early to start our trip at 3AM. It was freezing cold by the time we reached Cemoro Lawang to see the sunrise over the Tengger caldera which includes Mount Bromo, Mount Batok and Mount Semeru. It was raining and too cloudy to see the sun but we enjoyed some hot coffee at a small cafe before heading into the Sea of Sand inside the Tengger caldera.

Hindu temple Pura Luhur Poten

Hindu temple Pura Luhur Poten from Mount Bromo

Hindu temple, Pura Luhur Poten, from Mount Bromo

Hindu temple, Pura Luhur Poten, from Mount Bromo

The jeep let us out downhill from the Pura Luhur Poten, the Hindu temple of the Tenggerese people. We walked from the temple up to the crater rim of Mount Bromo (about 30 minutes to one hour each way). There were many horses available to take people up to the top but they looked tired and not well cared for. Please just walk up to the crater and save your money.

guard rail around Mount Bromo

guard rail around Mount Bromo

Unlike Ijen there was a guardrail around part of the crater to prevent people from falling in. You should definitely check the web to make sure there is no unusual volcanic activity when you decide to visit. Mount Bromo is a very active volcano and tour companies will not stop operating unless conditions become severe. You will probably be fine but you should be aware that people have been killed in the past by a sudden explosion of rocks. The most I saw from the volcano was some white smoke. I thought visiting both volcanoes was worth the risks involved.

Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo

a solitary horse on the Sea of Sand

a solitary horse on the Sea of Sand

 

Bali, Indonesia

boats anchored off Gili Trawangan with Lombok's volcanoes in the distance

boats anchored off Gili Trawangan with Lombok’s volcanoes in the distance

Indonesia is the most beautiful country I’ve visited. It consists of 17,508 islands of which 6,000 are inhabited. It is the country with the most volcanoes and the second highest biodiversity. Unfortunately it is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses through deforestation and peatland destruction. It is the fourth most populous country. There are about 300 ethnic groups and over 700 languages and dialects. The official language is Bahasa Indonesian. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country with the exception of the island of Bali, which is mostly Hindu.

Offerings are placed on doorsteps and temples to bring good luck

Offerings are placed on doorsteps and temples in Bali to bring good luck

I visited the most populated parts of Indonesia from Jakarta to Lombok. I flew into Denpasar, Bali’s capital city, and stayed in Kuta for one night. It was extremely crowded and loud. I found the streets too crowded to enjoy walking around but the beach was big and beautiful. Kuta has many shopping malls, restaurants and night clubs. The next day I moved to Ubud to experience traditional Balinese culture.

Vegan food in Ubud

Vegan food in Ubud

Ubud is a haven for vegan food, yoga and Balinese dance. There are many cafes you can relax in while enjoying picturesque views of rice fields. I found vegan options at every restaurant I visited. Make sure to ask if a dish contains butter or palm oil. The spicy sauce sambal usually contains fish paste. The Bintang supermarket has fresh tempeh and tropical fruits.

fresh tempeh in Ubud

fresh tempeh in Ubud

In Ubud there are guesthouses or pensions instead of hostels. Sometimes families will let you use their kitchen for cooking if you talk about it before you agree on a rate. Side streets have restaurants called warungs that are popular with locals and usually much cheaper than restaurants on the larger streets. I saw two different kinds of Balinese dance at the Royal Palace which were very exciting. I also went on a tour of the rice terraces, some temples and the Kintamani volcano.

Kecak dance in Ubud

Kecak dance in Ubud

the Subak system based on the Tri Hita Karana principle of respect for nature , spirits and other humans.

the Subak system based on the Tri Hita Karana principle of respect for nature , spirits and other humans.

the Water Temple (Tirta Empul) near Ubud

the Water Temple (Tirta Empul) near Ubud

Unfortunately my tour included visiting a coffee farm. As I was learning about the different kinds of herbs and coffee grown on the farm I was horrified to see a small cage with a wild animal kept inside.

A civet kept on a coffee farm near Ubud

A civet kept on a coffee farm near Ubud

I had heard of the civet before and the coffee made from its poop but this was the first time I had seen one. Civets are nocturnal wild felines captured and kept in small wire cages where they are fed coffee beans. The beans are collected after the civet has finished digesting and fermenting them. The cage I saw had no floor or comfortable place for the civet to rest. Its feet looked swollen from standing on the metal wire all day and all night. Since the demand for this type of coffee has increased more civets are being trapped and wild populations are declining. It’s also incredibly cruel to keep an animal in a cage it’s whole life. Please do not buy Luwak coffee.

I also visited the ARMA museum in Ubud. I learned a lot about Bali from the modern art exhibits. Several installations brought attention to the over-development taking place in Bali and the rest of Indonesia. Occupy the Rice Fields was an art installation in a rice field outside of Ubud. The intention of the piece was to persuade locals to stop selling off the rice fields to foreign investors in the tourism industry.

beautiful beach in the Gili islands

beautiful beach in the Gili islands

From Bali I also visited Gili Trawangan. It’s one of three very small islands off the coast of Lombok but can be reached in a few hours by boat from Bali. There is no agriculture on the island with just a few shops selling groceries. I found restaurants with vegan options. The night market also had vegan food but I could only determine this by asking in Bahasa (it’s easy to learn with a pocket dictionary). I would recommend bringing food from Bali if you plan on staying in the Gili islands for a few days. There are no cars on Gili T but there are some overworked horses. Please avoid patronizing the horse carriages and just walk with your stuff because the island is very small.

an overworked horse on Gili Trawangan

an overworked horse on Gili Trawangan

There are many tour operators in Gili T that offer the chance to see sea turtles and coral reefs. Please make sure your guide is knowledgeable about maintaining a safe distance from coral reefs and sea turtles for their protection.

a mangrove tree on Gili Trawangan

a mangrove tree on Gili Trawangan

Timor-Leste (East Timor)

I ended up in Timor-Leste because all of the flights to Bali were full. I’m really glad I got to visit East Timor because I learned a lot about it’s history which is now an inspiration for the Free West Papua Movement for  Independence.

rice fields near Baucau in East Timor.

rice fields near Baucau in East Timor.

East Timor was a colony of Portugal until 1975 when Indonesia invaded. East Timor gained its independence in 2002 but has had periods of social disruption until 2011.  The official languages are Portuguese and Tetum but Indonesian is also spoken. The currency is the US dollar. It is the poorest and most food insecure nation in SE Asia. Most international aid is focused on alleviating hunger and poverty but East Timor has many natural resources that also deserve protection. It is a beautiful country with lots of jungle covered mountains, a coral reef and many endangered species.  Unfortunately a lot of developed countries want the oil, gas and timber that East Timor has.

UN initiative to get girls to stay in school.

UN initiative to get girls to stay in school.

Most people I met in East Timor were not backpackers or tourists. Many worked for NGOs or were studying the country for their PhD. There is almost no tourist infrastructure in East Timor. You can travel on local buses or rent a car (which is very expensive and dangerous because of the conditions of the roads). There are a couple of dive shops in Dili you can arrange a dive trip with. There are no ATMs outside of Dili so make sure you bring enough cash in small bills when heading out of town. Also be sure to bring plenty of bottled water when you go to the countryside. Sources of clean drinking water outside of Dili are rare and many families only have enough to get by. There were two supermarkets in Dili and a few small produce stands in different neighborhoods. Dishes at most restaurants are prepared with a meat base so my only option at most places was steamed rice with steamed vegetables. Watch out for butter and palm oil.

Neighborhood produce stand in Dili, East Timor

neighborhood produce stand in Dili

The hostel I stayed at in Dili had a kitchen and a friendly atmosphere.  After a couple of days in Dili I decided to visit Jaco island. I caught the bus to Los Palos which took about six hours because of the road conditions.  There was a large produce market in Los Palos where I even found homemade tofu. After a night in Los Palos I caught a ride in the back of a truck to the village nearest Jaco island. I spent all day hiking to Jaco but a pair of angry looking water buffalo ambushed me on the path. I decided to turn around. I did not want to risk a stand off with two water buffalo just to see a beach. I found a family to stay with that night in the nearby village since I missed the last bus back to Los Palos. Buses start running at 5am and do not run after 5pm.  It took me two days to get back to Dili but I made it in time for my flight to Bali.

village house near Jaco island

village house near Jaco island

Unfortunately dog meat is culturally acceptable in East Timor and can be found in restaurants. People do not keep dogs or cats for pets but they will occasionally adopt baby monkeys. When the monkeys get older and larger they exhibit behavioral problems and are neglected or abused. I saw one very large primate chained and sitting by the road while I was on the bus. On a more positive note things are changing. Since my visit there is one animal welfare organization, TOHA, and plans to start another.

the Tais cloth is used to make skirts in women's traditional dress

the Tais cloth is used to make skirts in women’s traditional skirts

this is the traditional Tais skirt

this is the traditional Tais skirt

Before You Go

Here are some things to consider before you go on a long trip overseas:

Write down how to order a vegan meal in the language of the country you will visit. Not everyone will know what “vegan” or even “vegetarian” means so be prepared to describe it. I used the Vegan Passport but I noticed that occasionally people were not able to read the language they grew up speaking (or they just didn’t want to take the time to read a paragraph of text). If you have a smart phone you might want to download a free translator app or offline dictionary. Vegan Travel Cards is a free app for Android which is similar to the Vegan Passport.

page from the Vegan Passport

page from the Vegan Passport

Bring vegan vitamins or supplements from home. Most nut milks are fortified with vitamin B12 and can be found in most large supermarkets around the world. I chose to carry some dried super greens. These were great when I could not find fresh greens or did not have access to a kitchen. Remember in developing countries fresh produce needs to be cleaned to prevent food poisoning. The exception is fruit which can be peeled or cut with a clean knife (that has not been used to chop uncooked meat). A Swiss Army knife and travel size can opener make things easier. Small Tupperware containers are great if you have room to pack one. Dried, packaged food products have a better chance of clearing customs when you pack them in your checked luggage. Fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds and liquids will almost always be confiscated. Vegan yogurt and pudding count as liquids.

dried super greens mix

dried super greens mix

The website Happy Cow is extremely helpful in locating vegan restaurants, grocery stores, and businesses around the globe.Vegan personal care products (shampoo, soap, lip balm, sunblock, bug repellent, etc) can be found in most major cities in developed countries. Apple cider vinegar, essential oils and coconut or almond oil are safe to use as personal care products. Tampons and condoms can be difficult to find in developing countries. The diva cup is an ecological alternative to tampons. Remember to stock up in major cities on things like peanut butter, dried lentils, granola bars, nut milk, personal care items, etc. before venturing into the countryside. Bring enough food for long bus trips so you will have more than just chips and soda to eat.

vegan scallops with asparagus from Real Food Daily

vegan scallops with asparagus from Real Food Daily

If you’re going to be traveling in a developing country for a while you might as well get a water filtration system. It will save you money in the long run and reduce the amount of plastic (which usually ends up in a landfill or in the ocean). I’ve used a Katadyn filter before but every year there are newer, lighter and better filters available. This is the best article I’ve found to help you choose the best type of water filter.