Sumatra & Java, Indonesia | A Travel Photo Essay

Photos and words by Shawn “Flash” Parker.

From sunrise over an active volcano on Java, to the rice paddies of Sumatra, join intrepid travel photojournalist Shawn “Flash” Parker in Indonesia as he shows you around his favorite county.

Indonesia is a complex land of scattered islands, epic landscapes, fascinating people, heartbreaking history and beguiling customs. At once we were frustrated by, and fell in love with, the pace of life and rugged countryside of Sumatra. The hustle and bustle and jumbled mass of humanity that is Java does not lack for charm or grace, though you have to dig a little to find it.

I used to tell people that Cambodia was my favourite country in the world; after a month in the fertile hills of Indo, there is a new champion.

Mount Penanjakan view of Mount Bromo, East Java, Indonesia.

Bright and early, just before the light shines bright view of Mount Bromo, Mount Semeru and Mount Batok, with ample rolling fog and an epic eruption for good measure.

We climbed Mount Penanjakan in our Toyota 4×4 pre-dawn in the headlights of some 1,200 other vehicles. Once at the viewpoint Megs and I decided against the same shooting vantage as everyone else – all 3,000 tourists, gah – and climbed down the hill for a better look (and a few square feet to dig in our tripods). As soon as the sun started to shine and illuminate the volcanoes in the distance, all the nuisance and discomfort of the day, all the pain and suffering associated with actually making the trip to Bromo, it vanished. We spent the next hour shooting one of the most incredible sunrises I have ever witnessed.

Ancient Stupas, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia.

I could have and should have done more with the morning mist at Borobudur. Instead, we raced to the monument’s zenith to take it in before the rest of the hordes clamored up. By the time we made our way back down to the 4th level the light and the mist had changed, leaving me with this single, hastily made frame.

Western Shore, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Life slowed down while we were making these frames on the sparsely inhabited western shore. Here the karamba – floating net cages – are few and far between, the landscape is rugged, the roads rough and the water calm. This lone fisherman was the only person we saw during our time on the west side.

Highlands Lookout, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

The magnificent architectural designs of the Minangkabau. Touring Indonesia is a lesson in epic, ancient building styles. You can keep your gothic revival and Victorian and whatever else it is that the Europeans can dish out; for my money, Sumatra is more impressive.

Maninjau Village, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

This, my friends, is a Maninjau tako, and it is better than any taco you have had anywhere, at any time, in your life. It is stuffed to the brim with ground beef, grilled vegetables, eggs and spices. It is oven baked. It is succulent. It is savory. It is $1.25.

Long live the tako!

Basin Rice Paddies, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

I have had this frame in the back of my mind since the day I landed in Asia. It took me two and a half years and nearly a dozen new countries to find it.

I made hundreds of frames in the hour we trekked through these paddies yet it is this one, the first frame, that I return to. It captures so much of what I love about Sumatra without saying much at all beyond what is captured. I like that.

Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

This elderly lady was sorting her fruit and veggies when she spied Megs and I wandering about. She called me over to check out my camera and quiz me on goings on. She even decided to try her hand at shooting portraits of me. I was more than happy to return the favour.

I look back at these Indo portraits fondly; not once was I turned down when asking for photos and more often than not I was asked to shoot before throwing the question out myself. More importantly, I was able to share some genuinely fantastic moments with incredibly interesting people. It makes the experience of the road that much sweeter.

Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Like every other destination in the world (save maybe Iraq, I guess?) Lake Toba has a fair share of tourist traps and gift shops selling assorted mass-produced crap. Off the beaten path, however, there are some fantastic shops selling really beautiful stuff.

We stocked up on hand-carved masks, as we are prone to do in every country we stop. What I really wanted, though, was this chess set; pieces eight inches high and a game board, carved into the table, four feet squared. Sadly, with my underwater camera and flash equipment, my suitcase was already a little bulbous. Plus, I’m not much of a souvenir guy; I’ll collect a little sand, a little bottle of water and the aforementioned masks, but other than that I take nothing more than photographs.

Buddhist Statue, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia.

A Buddhist statue faces South on the cardinal compass (if my records are correct). My research indicates that this statue is in the Vara mudra group and represents benevolence and alms giving – as noted by the position of the hands. Mario might be able to tell us more about this. I, on the other hand, am a man of simple pleasures, and spend the days contemplating eternity in a position similar to this.

Mauro Beach, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Another look at the gorgeous sunset over Lake Maninjau, one of the finest I have ever been witness to in my life. I can’t comment on sunrise, as each time I woke up prior to the 5:45am sunburst it was pouring down. So, for the sake of this argument, I will say that sunset is superior. Ha!

These karambas belong to the family that owned our villa and our wonderful hosts would head on down to the water each evening after we ordered dinner and pluck out a slippery footless delight for supper. I have a few frames of our fisherman/chef diving, spear in hand, after these fish. Not a bad way to get on.

Oh, the best part of all this, of course, is that I didn’t experience the Mudd Butt at Maninjau. Not at all!

Bromo Rim, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, East Java, Indonesia.

This wild stallion understands a little something about epicality, as you can plainly see. Rolling fog in a volcanic valley is the new softbox.

The Bird Market, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia.

I wonder if you can tell why Megan loved the Bird Market? It’s hard to imagine, really. Seems like such a brutal, viscous place, with multi-coloured chicks running amok and whatnot.

Alas, she left disappointed; I could not in good conscience let her buy a dozen of these. She hasn’t spoken to me since.

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  • How to get there from Korea: A number of airlines make the 7 hour flight from Seoul’s Incheon Airport to Jakarta for around 700,000 – 900,000 won (depending on the time of year).
  • How to save money on your flight: China Southern Airlines has some of the most economical flights you will find to Jakarta from Korea. The flight time is longer since you have to transfer planes in China, but the cost reduction may make it worth your while. China Southern also offers service to/from six Korean cities.

*You might be wondering how Shawn got some of those dreamscape-like images. Learn how to add colors to your photos by reading Shawn’s Basic Filter Guide.

**You can also find more great tips in these articles by other photographers.

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Shawn "Flash" Parker

Biography: Flash is a writer and photographer originally from Toronto, Canada, and spent two years living in Osan, Korea (2008-2010). He is a screenwriter (film credits include Wireless and I Hate Dating) and author (Night Has Fallen, 2008) and travels extensively on assignment as a photojournalist. In 2010 Flash has had articles and photographs published in Conde Nast Traveler, American Way Magazine, CNN Traveler Magazine, Groove Magazine, SE Asia Backpacker Magazine, Eloquence Magazine, 10 Magazine and more. He has been nominated for a 2011 PATA Gold Award in destination journalism.

Blog: Flash Parker: Love The Light

Flickr Photostream: Flash Parker

Book: The Ubiquitos Kimchi (Korean Food and Culture)

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  1. Flash says:

    This looks really great, pal. Thanks for taking the time to put it all together – you’re a legend! Looking forward to seeing what you do next.

    Shawn

    • Tony DeMarco says:

      Shawn,

      You are a great photographer! I’d love to get a hi-rez jpeg of the Sumatra volcano featured here for wallpaper on my PC. You should sell your shots for that!

      Pete’s Dad

  2. [...] to read a great travel essay and get some inspiration for your next adventure, then take a look at Shawn “Flash” Parker’s article. As he takes you through his travels, you will see a true professional at work. Not only are the [...]

  3. Gorgeous photos! I had just been to Bali and wish I got to get out to Java and Sumatra. Looks like I just scratched the tip of the iceberg!

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