A second trip to Indonesia …
By coincidence or by grace of the Djinn of Alun-Alun Kidul, I was heading back to Indonesia only four months on from my first visit. After winning a week’s trip to Indonesia, I shall never again say “I never win anything”.
What is a Familiarization Trip?
As details filtered through, I learned that I and another London winner would be joining a ‘Familiarization Trip’ tour to Java. (Cue ‘Happy Dance”).
FamTrips – for short – are junkets for travel agents and journalists, spotlighting particular locations for media attention. Our FamTrip was sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism to promote Java as a go-to holiday destination.
Let it be known, FamTrip tours are not a free ride. They are ‘an exchange of mutual benefit’. And, as a journo friend advised “… this is work, not a holiday”.
From my pre-trip research, I discovered the ‘FamTrip’ would involve being shepherded around key destinations, in a group of 20 or so people. There would be photoshoots of us having fun, holding a banner for marketing – and bonding – purposes. And there would be many educational experiences.
Reading some statistics, I learned that in recent years Malaysia had hosted a proportionally higher number of tourists per annum than it’s nearest friend and neighbouring archipelago. Understandably, the Ministry of Tourism is wanting Indonesia’s numbers up so off we’d go!
In time, news arrived that ‘the London duo’ – we two prize winners from London’s first Indonesian Weekend festival – would be annexed to a group of journalists and bloggers from The Netherlands. “Great!” said my fella winner – a fiery Latin photographer – “We’re gonna be traveling with the oppressors”.
While I might not have gone quite so far … on my first trip to Indonesia in May 2016, my Javanese sister-in-law had said – that dressed for a wedding in kabaya and sarong – I looked “like Old Dutch“. How curious, as she said that, I’d felt a slight shiver, of a cool wind blowing in from the north and distant past.
The Familiarization Trip was scheduled for sometime in late September. Aware that LHR to CGK is a very, very long trip … after much consideration I opted for the full FamTrip experience. Rather than organising an extended visit, my choice was to do Java in 6 Days! Banzai!
Following a long flight, a middling flight and a short flight, our FamTrip gang gathered in the foyer of the Inna Garuda in Yogyakarta. I was tired to a point near delirium and I was longing for a nap. Instead, a well-traveled travel editor from The Netherlands requested that our tour briefing take place immediately.
So it was. A Ministry of Tourism official whistled straight through his ‘Welcome to Indonesia’ Powerpoint slides, landing at the Q&A zo snel mogelijk. Following the presentation, there was only one question, from the travel editor who’d wanted done with the briefing: “On the beaches in the Yogyakarta region, is there a problem with tourists wearing bikinis?”
Now I wonder whether I’ve manipulated my own memory in recalling an uncomfortable pause … ummm … there could be a problem with tourists wearing bikinis on rural beaches. ‘We do not welcome bikinis. We prefer to promote our culture.’
Providing context … later, an editor of a prominent women’s magazine said: ‘My readers aren’t interested in culture. The weather in Holland is grey and damp. So when my readers go on holiday what they want is sun’.
Weather is here, wish you were lovely …
Ah … here I sensed that there might be a misunderstanding – if not a conflict – of interests. Imagine the different expectations of sun-starved visitors from the northern latitudes and residents of the host nation who, albeit having reservations about exposed flesh, still offer a warm welcome.
Add in the fact that sometimes, tourists are less cultured than they might be. From the Vatican to Hermitage, visitors can need gentle persuasion to take cover at hallowed places, and well, to take interest in cultural pursuits in the first place.
Likely, certain aspects of this discussion would be ‘lost in translation’. For many travellers ‘island’ equals ‘beach’. Beach equals ‘bikini’. And some bikinis leave little to stretch the imagination. (And don’t mention the alcohol.)
How to negotiate this divide? Indonesia wants more tourists. As a predominantly Muslim country, surely Indonesia can invite guests on its own terms.
But what if some of Indonesia’s prospective guests don’t want what Indonesia is offering? Here’s the loop. Suggestions for resolution on a postcard please.
At the end of the tour, I wondered if the journalists from The Netherlands would encourage their readers to visit Indonesia – ‘kini-free’. Surely there’s room for compromise so tourists can enjoy Indonesia’s paradise islands, dressed for tropical heat in a way that recognises local sensibilities. Truthfully, as I was never much of a beach bunny, too much exposure is hardly an issue for me.
I loved Indonesia and here are my top 10 reasons why I think it’s a great holiday destination:
The heat is lush.
Plants and flowers … crotons, bamboo, epiphytic ferns, orchids … come straight out of ‘The Garden’.
Fried bananas. Indonesia has about 30 varieties of bananas. Yum.
Volcanic Rock, in the form of mountains, temples, and statues.
Gamelan music. Melodies with bell-sounding tones quickly become earworms.
Batik, Wayang Kulit and wood and stone sculptures will delight lovers of detail.
Curious people, who will go out of their way to meet, greet and treat you like a rock star.
Lots of fun ways to get around – bike taxis, horse and cart and local mini-buses. You’ll be able to tell stories about the legendary traffic jams.
Satay. Pretty much Satay anything … tofu or aubergine for vegetarians
Brightly coloured clothes and jewellery. Inappropriate for northern latitudes? ‘Course not! They’ll remind you of tropical sun through a grey winter.