Indonesia (210 million inhabitants) is the world's largest archipelago and one of the most populated countries after India, China and the United-States, stretching over 5,000 km. Its 17,000 islands and more rise onto a spine of 500 volcanoes, 128 of which are active today. Over time, volcanoes have reshaped some islands, and provided an incredibly fertile and rich ashen soil base. Plants of all sorts grow in this environment and some islands (Java and Bali) yield two rice crops per year.
Indonesia is home to a number of ethnic groups, with about 500 tribes speaking 500 languages and dialects. About 60 % of the population lives on the island of Java, the world’s most populated island, with over 13 millions in Jakarta alone. Indonesia is proud of its uniqueness, as reflected in the national slogan: ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ (Unity in diversity).
The archipelago is divided geographically into four areas. From West to East:
1. The Sunda Islands (Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi)
2. The Lesser Sunda Islands (Bali, Lombok, Flores, Sumba, Sumbawa, Timur)
3. The Maluku archipelago
4. Western Papua (former Irian Jaya)
Each island has a unique flora and fauna. Relative isolation has produced an amazing regeneration of both soil and wildlife, giving to each island a unique charm. In addition, few are aware that 10 % of the world’s rainforests are found in Indonesia. As a result, Indonesia supplies some 300 species of rare and medicinal plants for the pharmaceutical industry.
Close to 30,000 plants are foundthroughout the archipelago, including over 15 % of the world’s entire plant species. Indonesia’s rainforests are among the richest in the world, with over 4,000 varieties of trees. Some are over 40 meters tall (diptocarps) and bloom once or twice every second year.
These rainforests are also home to a large variety of orchids, including the ’lovely ladies‘ slippers,’ the beautiful but seldom-seen “black orchids”, and 14 species of rare raflesias, the world’s largest flower.
For fruit-lovers, Indonesia is simply a piece of paradise: imagine! over 25 varieties of bananass to select from! Other products grown in the archipelago include rubber and rattan trees, gums and resins, but also tea, coffee, and rice.
An archipelago of fragmented islands naturally provides a diversity of wildlife, and Indonesia is home to an incredibly rich and diverse fauna. Rare and endangered species alone constitute an impressive list, including the Javanese and Sumatran rhinoceros, the clouded leopard, the golden cat of Temminck, the ajak wild dog, and orangutans... Wildlife specimens can easily be observed along trails and roadsides, particularly at dawn and dusk. The country shelters about 210 indigenous species (birds not even included!). Among its 1,480 species of birds, 370 are indigenous and most only live on one or few small islands in the archipelago: a true delight for birdwatchers.
Speaking of birds, the most famous bird across the archipelago in fact… does not exist! It is a colourful mythical creature, half human, half bird. To this day, the Garuda is a revered symbol and the prevalent theme among dances and artistic creations.
Other wild animals include small lizards, the most notorious reptile: the Komodo dragon (over 4 meters in length), crocodiles, and an outstanding variety of colorful butterflies.
Indonesians enjoy a strong artistic heritage and several regions are known for their textiles, woodcarving (woodcarving from Bali, by Kalimantan’s Dayaks and Irian Jaya’s Asmats), jewellery and general craftsmanship. Although the dip in the country’s export trade has somewhat dulled the initial growth in this industry, the sheer volume and advantageous prices of these items make shopping in Indonesia a delight and a great opportunity to meet artists or craftspersons. And an activity which can easily become an all-consuming pastime.
Indonesia’s currency is the Rupiah. Always carry with you small notes and coins. Indeed, in most parts of the country, change for Rp 50,000 notes is hard to find. The largest available denomination is Rp 100,000.
Euros and dollars are accepted in tourist areas, including in the islands of Java, Bali, and Lombok. American Express are the preferred travellers’ cheques. Moneychangers are found everywhere in main cities. Prior to changing large sums of money, please ensure that the bank or moneychanger you are dealing with carries sufficient cash. Credit cards are not widely accepted. They may be used however in main cities, large hotels, some car rental facilities and exclusive restaurants.
Indonesia is a paradise for amateur and experienced photographers who wish to capture forever its unique people and cultures. Films and film processing are inexpensive and of good quality, particularly in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bali. Color films are cheaper than in Europe, Australia, and North America and are widely available. A piece of advice: please be respectful when photographing local people as some do not wish to be photographed, others are shy, and others still want to be paid in return).
In October 2002, a bomb exploded in Bali, in front of a popular local club. It killed both foreign tourists and locals and destroyed cars and buildings in the vicinity. The incident had a major impact on the lives of Balinese. The memories of this event will live on throughout the years among the people of Bali and those who love the island and its people. But Balinese reactions have shown one more time how peaceful these people are. Despite the overwhelming impact of the Bali bombing, Balinese have refused to be intimidated by this act of terrorism. They maintain a warm and friendly attitude, in particular when it comes to their relationship with Muslims. Many had said that Balinese might feel anger and resentment against this religious community. Nevertheless, the reality is different.
People are indeed workingvery hard to have visitors return to what was, and still is, Beautiful Bali. The island is slowly but surely getting back on its feet. Tourists are now aware that Indonesia is no more dangerous than other Asian countries. Still a major tourist spot, Bali is holding festivals, important conferences and other events more intensively than ever.