Adventure looms large in this vast and steamy archipelago, where the best of Southeast Asia’s spicy melange simmers tantalisingly. Heady scents, vivid colours, dramatic vistas and diverse cultures spin and multiply to the point of exhaustion, their potent brew leaving your senses reeling.
Rippling across the equator for nearly 5000km, Indonesia encompasses more than 17,000 islands, two-thirds of which are inhabited and richly layered with character. On Sulawesi, the elaborate funeral ceremonies and timeless traditions of Tana Toraja are light years from the surfing culture of Lombok. But so too are the mighty saddle-backed Batak mansions of Danua Toba and the volcanic lakes of Sumatra from the mummies and deeply etched gorges of Papua’s Baliem Valley. The resorts and restaurants of Bali pamper precocious style cats, while at the same moment threadbare backpackers are adopted by homestays in Kalimantan.
Indonesia’s cities are in a constant state of urban evolution, where dense populations, technology and construction live in hectic symbiosis. But most of the archipelago’s territory remains unexplored, concealing a wealth of cultures and a myriad of landscapes. Oceanic rice fields and ancient sultanates in Java are humbled by haunting volcanic cones. Maluku’s alabaster beaches and desert islands remain pristine while the tourist trail heads elsewhere. The jungles of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua are zoological wonders, revealing impish monkeys, stoic sun bears, leopards, orang-utans and remarkable marsupials.
And then there are the micromoments, equally exquisite but entirely unexpected; impromptu English lessons with school children, instant friendships in crammed bemos, lending an ear to your becak rider… In Indonesia there is plenty of cause to pause, except when dodging hurtling traffic – but that’s all part of the adventure.