When looking back into the many trips that I made for my book, I think that as a whole, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I visited more than 70 locations in three years. Several sites were just concrete-and-steel metropolitans like Pontianak, Surabaya or Manado. But the journey also brought me to visit small towns, beautiful villages and gorgeous islets. Names of islands such as Weh, Karatung, Karakelang and Mansinam, for instance, barely ring a bell among most people living in Indonesia, especially on the main island of Java.
I climbed Mt. Kelimutu on Flores Island, seeing sunrise near its breathtaking three-color volcanoes: red, green and dark brown. Unfortunately, when climbing down the mountain, a car hit my motorbike. The motorcycle driver, a teenager from Ende, suffered a bone fracture.
In Aceh, I hopped into a chopper when visiting the tsunami-ravaged Lamno. I once took a small wooden boat to visit an unpopulated island called Ndana Island. The waves were pretty tall. The boat almost capsized when its fisherman suddenly jumping into the sea to catch a pair of mating giant sea turtles. In western Kalimantan, I took public buses. I Java, I could easily used trains. Seasick is not my problem. But small cockroaches that inhabited my Manado-Miangas cabin obviously posed a problem.
My son, Norman, also accompanied me, during his school holidays, in some trips. He was only six years old when his father began the journey. Three years on, he turned into a healthy fifth grader, fond of snorkeling, daring to jump into the sea from a moving ship. He also collected several exotic items such as a stone ax from Timika in Papua or wooden statues from Bali. He visited a Dutch-inherited cocoa plantation in Kalibaru area in eastern Java. In the farm, he helped milk the cows and saw rubber processing. His favorite place is Papua. He loves the pristine rainforest in Papua. In one summer afternoon, Norman played soccer with children on Tomea Island. He was a goalie and lost the game! We then tasted a bulu babi soup.
I disciplined myself by reading books prior to each trip. In Aceh, I stayed mostly in Banda Aceh, but also traveled to the Aceh guerilla-controlled areas like Tiro, Sakti, Sigli and Lhok Nga. I also crossed the Aceh strait to do some interviews in Sabang and visited Iboih Beach, Balohan seaport and the Ujung Batu tip on Weh Island. Ujung Batu is the site of the "Republic Indonesia Kilometer Zero" monument.
In Borneo, I didn't cross any sea –it is already one of the largest islands on Earth-- but used wooden dong-dong boats to travel into remote villages in swampy areas. It was one of the most grueling trips as I visited many killing fields of the Madurese settlers. I mostly traveled by bus in western Kalimantan. They included Pontianak, Singkawang, Selakau, Pemangkat, Tebas, Jawai, Sentebang, Sambas, Semalantan, Bengkayang, Sanggau-Ledo, Menjalin and Mempawah.
In Sulawesi, I began my trip in Makassar and Manado. Makassar was only a brief stop to do some quick interviews. From Makassar, I flew to Manado, the metropolitan in northern Sulawesi. I took a car from Manado to visit the Minahasan’s intellectual capital: Tomohon. Later I used speedboats and ferries to travel around Sangihe and Talaud islands. They included Tahuna (Sangihe Island), Lirung (Salibabu Island), Melonguane and Beo (Karakelang Island), Karatung Island and Miangas Island.
In a separate trip from Kendari in southeast Sulawesi, I boarded a Bugis ship, a phinisi, to see Baubau and Pasarwajo (Buton Island). It also brought Norman and me to roam around Wangiwangi, Kaledupa, Tomea, Binongko and Hoga islands.
In Java, I traveled to Semarang and Salatiga, where I used to live. Later I visited Blitar (the tomb of Sukarno), Panataran village (the site of Palah Temple of the Majapahit era), Malang, Surabaya, Pasuruan, Probolinggo and my hometown Jember. Norman came with me to see plantation areas like Glenmore, Kalibaru and visited a turtle-breeding beach called Sukamade.
In the Lesser Sunda islands, I began with Timor Island. I went to do some reporting in Kupang, Soe, Nikiniki, Kefamenanu, Atambua as well as crossing the border into East Timor to visit Matoain, Liquisa and Dili.
When returning to Kupang, I took a ship to visit Baa, Nemferala and Oeseli on Rote Island. From Oeseli, I took the small wooden boat to see Ndana Island.
The Ford Foundation, which gave me a grant to partly do the trips, helped me to go to Maumere, Wolowaru, Detusoko, Mt. Kelimutu and Ende on Flores Island.
The Ford Foundation grant also allowed me to go to the Malukus islands: Ternate as well as Galela, Tobelo, Kao, Malifut and Sidangoli on Halmahera Island. I took a speedboat from Ternate to visit Soasiu on Tidore Island. It was the first place ever where I realized that Christians were not allowed to settle on the Muslim-controlled island. I did an extensive reporting and interviews on Ambon Island, which included a visit to the Waiheru prison, near Ambon.
When the Ford Foundation grant finished, I used some freelance assignment to be in Papua. This is a very vast island. I have to use planes wherever I wanted to go. They included Jayapura (Abepura, Padang Bulan, Kutaraja, Sentani), Manokwari and Mansinam Island, Biak as well as Merauke and the SP-2 transmigration area near Merauke, where a Benny Moerdani monument was established.
What a trip! Donald K. Emmerson of Stanford University, who regularly advises me on this book, said that probably I have reached a new record among journalists who have ever traveled this much in Indonesia.
What’s the most beautiful? Well, Sabang on Weh Island is my favorite destination but a bus trip along the Liquisa-Dili beach is also enchanting. I felt in love with Tobelo on Halmahera Island. But walking inside a Papua jungle, near Timika, is also a lot of fun. Shopping for freshly-caught fishes in the Biak fish market created an unforgetable memory. This archipelago is still beautiful.