This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
“Wonderful Indonesia” and the Drive Toward Development
W o r d s b y Dav i D C a r r u t h , s h o t s b y M at t h e w C r o M p t o n a n d Dav i D C a r r u t h *
10 Magazine February 2012
While Indonesia struggles to bring new facilities, investors, and tourists to underdeveloped regions, the country’s unpolished beauty speaks for itself.
Top Hikers overlooking the caldera of Lombok Island’s Mt. Rinjani from the Sembalun crater rim at sunset 1 A three-wheeled bajai, a common sight on the streets of Jakarta A demon figure in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali Man examining a batik at a gallery in Jokjakarta, Java Boat on the shore before a stormy sky in Pangandaran, South Java
am at the Indonesian Minist r y of Foreign Affairs in downtown Jakarta. Outside, the heat is unrelenting, and an endless stream of Kawasaki mopeds and three-wheeled bajais rattle down the thoroughfare. Inside, the AC is on full blast. I am sitting in a large conference room with the other journalists on this press trip. Across from us are Indonesian journalists and ministry officials, many wearing colorful batik, a traditional Indonesian fabric. We are listening to a presentation by Henky Manurung, head of the Subdirectorate for Tourism Investment of the Indonesia Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This is why we are here: to offer advice on how to bring more tourists to Indonesia. Despite the fact that Indonesia is a vast country with thousands of islands and more than 230 million citizens, its tourism figures are middling at best. Political unrest, a handful of terrorist attacks, and the resulting negative press in the middle of the last decade resulted in plummeting numbers of international tourists. Meanwhile regional rivals Thailand and Malaysia, despite being less than half the size of Indonesia, get more than twice the international tourists each year. Even tiny Singapore – a city state – has stronger figures. To counteract its disappointing showing, Indonesia has gone into tourism-upgrade mode. The country has angled to rebrand itself as a more desirable destination by coining the new slogan of “Wonderful Indonesia” and promoting MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) tourism and eco-tourism. Officials are also attempting to diversify the tourism market to reduce dependence on Bali, which is by far the country’s most popular vacation destination. In 2010, there were 2.49 million foreign visitors to Bali, almost one third of Indonesia’s total visitors. There are signs of progress, and Indonesia has bounced back from the dismal figures of the first half of the past decade. From a low of 4 million international visitors in 2003, the country recorded a record of 7.6 million in 2010. However, that’s still a far cry from neighbor Malaysia’s 2010 influx of 24.5 million people. As Henky summed it up, “We need so many investors, so many tourists to come to Indonesia.” With Bali tourism at full capacity, Indonesian government officials want tourists to start experiencing more of Indonesia’s diversity. Few countries can boast Indonesia’s rich tapestry of islands, cultures, cuisines, languages, and traditions. For every wave on Bali’s Kuta Beach, there is a living dragon on Komodo Island, a serpentine stream in the untouched rainforests of Kalimantan (Borneo), or an echo of the past like the blasted-out volcano of Krakatoa. On our trip, we visited three largely unknown sites currently under development, each of them in its own way as fascinating as better-known destinations. The plans for development at these spots are drawn up and the plots are for sale, but the resorts and investors have yet to come. It’s tourism, under construction. And that’s half of the charm.
T h e L o n g a n d B u m p y R oa d Ta n j u n g L es u n g , java
2 3 4 4
We drive west along the Jakarta-Merak toll road toward Tanjung Lesung on the west coast of Java. After we exit onto a local road, traffic slows as the well-paved asphalt of the highway gives way to a pothole-pitted surface with abrupt speed bumps and piles of sand. Five hours out of Jakarta, with the sun below the horizon, we reach
10 Magazine February 2012 | 21
AsI A n DesTI nATIon
the resort area. We are in front of Kalicaa Villa, one of the resort’s two accommodations. The darkness conceals the ocean, but we can hear the waves gently breaking on the beach just out of sight as we enter a straw-thatched pavilion. As we dine on a buffet of succulent soups, beef satay, and vegetables marinated in peanut sauce, we watch an indigenous Debus performance – a magic show, of sorts. A gnarled old man and woman, along with their young assistants, perform spell-binding, gut-wrenching tricks: hammering a large iron nail into their stomachs, slashing their arms and necks with knives, and setting a burning coconut on a girl’s head - while stirfrying rice above it. The next day brings a boat tour of the Tanjung Lesung Beach Resort. The 1,500 hectares of developable land in the resort are largely empty. Currently, in addition to the Kalicaa Villa, there’s a four-star hotel, a beach club, and a sailing club. Slightly further afield is Ujung Kulon National Park, the only remaining habitat of the endangered Javan Rhinoceros, and Krakatau Volcano, whose 1883 eruption killed thousands and was heard thousands of miles away. Much of this information I learn later, reading the brochure – the tour guide’s voice can hardly be heard over the roar of the motorboat’s engines. Our next stop at Tanjung Lesung is the sailing club. The owner is a tall, tanned Englishman named David who has spent the past 50 years in Asia. David relates the long-running plans to attract tourists and residents to the region by constructing an airport, a 300-berth marina, a university. All have been delayed by a string of upheavals – changes in government, the tsunami, the recession. Despite this, his sailing club survives with patronage from expat businessmen, diplomats, and well-to-do Indonesians.
1 2 3 4 Sunset from the jetty of the Togian Island Retreat in central Sulawesi A traditional wedding procession blocking a road on south Lombok Island A monkey in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali Off-shore view of the lighthouse on Lengkuas Island, near Belitung
oa s i s i n T h e o c e a n Ta n j u n g Pa n da n , B e L i T u n g i s L a n d
The next day, we head to another of Indonesia’s untapped treasures: Belitung Island, located 45 minutes by air from Jakarta in the strait between Sumatra and Kalimantan. From the airport, we are shuttled to the Billiton Hotel and Klub. The distinguished building has history in abundance: it was first owned by a Chinese man named Ho, turned into a Dutch social gathering hall called the Societeit, and in the 1950s became the Government’s tin mining company office. The hotel preserves its past: the Toapekong, or Chinese place of worship, can still be seen today inside the hotel grounds alongside the old Dutch ballroom. Over brunch, we learn more about the island. Largely unknown, the island’s one claim to fame is that it was the shooting location for scenes from the (largely unknown) upcoming film The Philosophers, starring (also largely unknown) British actress Bonnie Wright. The bulk of the island’s inhabitants and attractions are crowded into Tanjung Pandan, the town on the east side of the island. Though most of the hundreds of hectares of land slated for development are still awaiting buyers, there are ample hotels and restaurants, as well as eco-friendly tourist activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, cycling, and horseback riding. But instead of seeing more of the city, we are herded aboard a small blue-painted motorboat. On the water, we pass by curious rock formations as we gaze at the emerald waves and doze on the sun-warmed planks of the boat. About an hour later, we reach Lengkuas Island, which houses a tall white lighthouse built by the Dutch in the 19th century. On the island, several Indonesian families are picnicking on the beach, but no foreign tourists are to be seen. There is no music playing or products for sale, nothing but the waves lapping on the beach, the swaying palm trees, and the lighthouse stretching above our heads. We enter the lighthouse and climb up, floor after floor, until we reach the top. The only thing to be seen around the lonely islet is the wide expanse of the Java Sea.
10 Magazine February 2012
B a L i By a n y o T h e R n a m e M a n da L i k a R es o R T, Lo M B o k i s L a n d
From Belitung, we fly through Jakarta on our way to Lombok. A few months after we leave, Lombok’s new international airport will open. But when we arrive, we land on a small runway at the eastern city of Mataram and pass through a terminal smaller than most elementary school classrooms. We do visit the construction site of the international airport, a shell with flooring and girders, and no planes. Construction has so far taken seven years. In addition to the new airport, the southern part of the island is the site of the Mandalika Resort, a 1,249-hectare area managed by the Bali Tourism Development Corporation. This is the staterun company that transformed the Nusa Dua area in south Bali into the cluster of 5-star resorts it is today. The Mandalika resort on Lombok stretches across five beaches, but at present the only resort that is open is the Novotel Lombok Beach Resort. The local authorities in Lombok find themselves stuck in a quandary: Lombok has all of the beauty of Bali with none of the hordes of tourists (and tourist traps). As our Lombok tour guide told us, “If you can find something in Bali, you can find it on Lombok, but what you find in Lombok isn’t always in Bali.” But of course there has to be some kind of infrastructure in place to help travelers locate, access, and enjoy the island’s charms. Lombok officials are trying to preserve the natural splendor through strict regulations: each building must be 100 meters from the beach, there can be no tall buildings. The persistence of the old ways here is, from one point of view, inconveniencing. But it is also picturesque. Lombok seems to exist in the past—Bali, only 30 years ago, our guide intones. Instead of the constant stream of cars, we see horse-drawn carts hauling goods to the weekly market. While modern architecture has made inroads, some villages maintain the traditional way of life of the indigenous Sasak people with their thatched houses. We visit a workshop of women weaving tablecloths and scarves on wooden looms – it can take as long as two months to complete a single piece. On our drive back to the airport, we are even delayed by a traditional wedding procession, with hundreds of villagers escorting the joyous bride and groom along the road. Our bus moves slowly, but we are too absorbed in the procession to notice.
B a L i aT L a s T
From Lombok, a short flight to Bali lands us in the middle of tourism central. Our two days on “The Island of the Gods” are, in many ways, more relaxing and more pleasant than our previous stops. No more long rides on bumpy roads. No more smoke breaks at neglected truck stops, and no more motorboats. Instead, we tour ritzy resorts in the Nua Dusa development on the southern tip of Bali like the Club Med, the Westin, and the Bali International Convention Centre (this last one a subtle reminder that a substantial number of Indonesia’s visitors come for business, not for pleasure). We wander around the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park to see fragments of the still uncompleted statue of Hindu god Vishnu riding the mythical bird Garuda. We sneak by sandal-stealing monkeys at Uluwatu Temple to see the Kecak Ramayana and Fire Dance at sunset. And we pay an obligatory visit to Kuta Beach on the morning before we leave. If Lombok is Bali thirty years ago, then Bali is Lombok thirty years from now. It has the appeal of well-developed transportation, numerous amenities, and armfuls of tourist pamphlets. It even has its own magazine, called hellobali. But it lacks something that persists in Tanjung Lesung, Belitung, and Lombok. It lacks the naïve innocence, the awkward charm, of less-traveled places. Development, when it comes, will be a step forward, but for many travelers, a step back into a vanished time is the ultimate adventure.
10 Magazine February 2012 | 23
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.