Any discussion of Indonesian history needs to begin with “Java Man”. Discovered near Java in 1891, the remains are the earliest homo erectus skull and bones ever found. It is believed that Java Man was part of an early group of pre-humans that evolved in Africa and migrated across Europe and Asia. This particular species either died out or merged with another about 50,000 years ago.
More recently, by 1602, the Dutch colonized Indonesia and claimed the area for themselves. The small island of East Timor escaped Dutch control, only to be claimed by Portugal. The Dutch did not willingly relinquish control, however, because the Dutch East Indies (as it was called at the time) was a wealth-producing colony for them.
The beginning of the 20th century was a time of unrest and change in Indonesia. Many upper class Indonesians were educated in the Netherlands and saw the need for changes in their homeland. Attempts to regain their autonomy were thwarted and leaders were often jailed.
The Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation of Indonesia during WWII provided the final impetus for change. In 1945, after the defeat of Japan, Indonesia quickly claimed her independence rather than return to Dutch rule.A sometimes hostile stalemate over this decision between Indonesia, the Netherlands and the United States lasted over 4 years until a weakened Dutch economy forced them to relinquish their claim.
Unfortunately for this island nation, the beginning of the 21st century has been equally difficult, due to recurring natural disasters. The tragic tsunami of 2004 was devastating and its effects can still be seen. Over 130,000 were killed from the events of that fateful day and another 500,000 inhabitants found themselves suddenly homeless. Earthquakes in 2005, 2006 and 2009 have further slowed the process of recovery.
Indonesia is comprised of over 17,500 islands, making it the largest archipelago in the world. Only 6,000 of those islands are occupied, however.
Indonesia’s islands each have their own characteristics and flavor. In fact, for this very reason, her national motto is “Unity in Diversity”.
While the theory that a land bridge may have helped early settlers travel back and forth between the archipelago and the mainland has recently been de-bunked, Indonesia has always been a great jumping-off point for traders from both Japan and China.
This island nation is reported to have close to 150 active volcanos. The most recent eruption took place in September 2012 on the island of Sulawesi. In fact, the general area around Indonesia has earned the nickname “Ring of Fire”, due to the sheer number of eruptions.
- The impressive Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world, makes its home in Indonesia. It can consume 80% of its body weight in one sitting and, despite its size of 6-9 feet at adulthood, can take down much larger water buffalos, deer, and cows.
- Indonesia is the largest Islamic nation in the world. Other religions, including Christianity, Hindu and Buddhism are also widely accepted. Interestingly, their constitution guarantees the freedom of thought, as opposed to the usual freedom of religion.
- Badminton is a popular sport in Indonesia.
- Indonesia’s rainforests are home to many endangered species including the Sumatran Tiger and the Komodo dragon. It is 2nd only to Brazil, in terms of biodiversity.
- In addition, over 10% of the world’s plant species are located in Indonesia, which is amazing, as this tiny island chain houses less than 1% of the earth’s land. Furthermore, of the 20,000 plus plants found in Indonesia, over 40% exist nowhere else on Earth.
- Indonesia is the stomping ground of the Sumatran elephant. Surprisingly, scientists suspect that the elephants migrated centuries ago by swimming from mainland Asia.
- Indonesians like crackers, both for snacks and with their meals. The flavors, however, may be quite different than the Saltines you are used to. In fact, sweet potato, shrimp, fish and cassava are popular options.
- Jakarta: If you like the bustling city life, Jakarta is for you. The capital of Indonesia is full of everything from nightclubs and traffic to water parks and a SeaWorld!
- Ubud: Traditionally this small town is home to the Royal Family of Bali, but visitors can enjoy the cultural activities, which include numerous art galleries and museums.
- Bali: Recently made popular by the book, and subsequent Julia Roberts movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”, Bali has long been a mecca for those seeking quiet meditation in a deeply spiritual setting.
- Lake Toba: This lovely lake was formed close to 70,000 years ago during a massive volcanic eruption. It holds the honor of being the largest caldera on Earth and, one could argue, the most beautiful.
- Komodo National Park: Designed to protect the mysterious Komodo dragon, this park encompasses 29 islands.
- Tanjung Putting National Park: Another highlight of any trip to Indonesia is a trip to this park on the island of Borneo. In fact, many travelers opt for one of the many eco-tours of the area that include observations of gibbons, macaques, leopards and much more.
How to Get Cash
Many travelers may find it necessary to get additional cash after arriving in a country and Indonesia is no exception. You might, however, not need as much as you think. The average Indonesian lives on just 2 USD a day.
Credit Cards: If you’re planning on booking inter-island flights or staying at an upscale hotel, your credit card can easily be used. It won’t be of much use beyond these types of purchases. however. Cash advances on your credit card can be obtained in many banks in the larger cities.
ATMs: Cash machines are becoming more and more prominent in Indonesia but, unfortunately, repairmen are not. Quite often repairs can lead to machines down for days, if not weeks.
Moneychangers: There are two points to be aware of regarding moneychangers in Indonesia. They do not accept wrinkled, torn or otherwise defaced money nor do they accept bills older than five years.
Traveler’s Checks: You can use traveler’s checks in the tourist towns of Bali and Java, but elsewhere, the process will normally not be available.
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