The Bare Necessities: Gunung Leuser National Park

Trekking Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra in search of endangered orangutans in another world.

Ever since Leonardo DiCaprio hit local and international news headlines with his short but sweet visit to North Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park, I couldn’t stop thinking about the place. It wasn’t only the 41-year-old actor-cum-environmentalist who drew me to visiting this area, but the message he conveyed through his Instagram channel: that this was a special place that needed to be protected.

The lowland forests of the Leuser ecosystem are still home to ancient elephant migratory paths followed by some of the last wild herds of Sumatran elephants, numbering less than 1,000. “But the expansion of Palm Oil plantations is fragmenting the #forest and cutting off key elephant migratory corridors,” DiCaprio said on his Instagram page, which is making it “more difficult for elephant families to find adequate sources of food and water.” DiCaprio’s self-named foundation supports the protection and conservation of the Leuser ecosystem.

Gunung Leuser National Park covers an area of 7,927 km2 in Sumatra, and sits right on the border of North Sumatra and the Shariah-governed Aceh province. Along with Bukit Barisan Selatan and Kerinci Seblat national parks, Gunung Leuser forms a World Heritage Site known as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. This is the only place in the world where the orangutan, elephant, rhinoceros and tiger still coincide. Today, the Leuser ecosystem exists at a shaky crossroads, however ecotourism is playing an important role in assisting in the conservation of this glorious stretch of pristine rainforest that is under siege from palm oil plantations and other development projects.

Although you’re highly unlikely to encounter a tiger or rhinoceros in these forests unless you hike for many days deep into its depths, you will almost always have the chance to see orangutans on a two-day hike. These gorgeous creatures can sometimes even be seen right from the balcony of your accommodation in Bukit Lawang.

Bukit Lawang is the gateway village to Gunung Leuser National Park and the Bohorok River is the only thing that separates mankind from the wilderness
Bukit Lawang is the gateway village to Gunung Leuser National Park, and the Bohorok River is the only thing that separates mankind from the wilderness

Bukit Lawang

The gateway to the national park can best be described as a hyper tourist village. Bukit Lawang sits on the edge of Bahorok River, and has a cemented path large enough for two motorbikes that runs through its entirety. The river is the only thing that separates mankind from the wilderness.

In 2003, a terrible flash flood swept away almost the entirety of the village – which back then was made up of only a few cottages. Thirteen years later, Bukit Lawang has developed into a happening tourist hub filled with orangutan enthusiasts and those in search of a more simple and chilled existence.

The drive is approximately 4 hours from Medan international airport. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted in English with “Welcome to the jungle, brother!” and the rushing sounds of the river will start to relax those tired-from-travelling minds. The village is filled with riverside cafes, Bob Marley bars, and ‘eco’ accommodation.

Lodging in Bukit Lawang is simple sans air-conditioning or hot water. Electricity isn’t stable, but this adds to the charm. People come here to experience wildlife and trek into the jungle, not to lounge around in five-star luxury.

Jungle fever

Most accommodations can organize a range of trekking options for you. On our two-day, one-night hike into the national park, we spotted our first orangutan in the trees above us only an hour into the hike. Semi-wild and used to people, you can get really close to these endangered animals, who have been given names by the locals.

An orangutan in Gunung Leuser National Park
An orangutan in Gunung Leuser National Park

The hike itself is quite strenuous, as the region is hilly – which is actually the saving grace for why it has not been exploited by oil palm plantations. It’s extremely humid and hot, therefore not suitable for elderly hikers or people without a moderate level of fitness. Although the hike is a bit tough, you can stop and rest whenever the need arises.

We trekked 6.5 kilometres through the dense jungle, stopping for a light snack of fruits and a lunch of nasi goreng. One thing I noticed is that the trail is extremely clean, with no litter to be found. The guides have been taught from the beginning that rubbish means no guests, which in turn means no money, so even cigarette butts are brought back to Bukit Lawang, a refreshing change from other hikes in Indonesia.

Glamping

We arrived at our riverside camp at 4.30 pm; with accommodation made of bamboo and tarpaulin. Our guide, Ipong (we like to call him Mowgli as he was so in tune with the forest) made a fire while we delighted in a refreshing bathe in the crystal clear waters of the river, with virgin rainforest towering above us on either side.

A campsite in Gunung Leuser National Park
A campsite in Gunung Leuser National Park

A team of cooks prepared a delicious dinner and we dined on the ground under the stars. It’s rare that we have the chance to experience pitch-black darkness – a welcome change from the incessant lights of the city. You will be provided with a yoga mat to sleep on, and although sleeping bags are provided, an extra set and a blow-up pillow wouldn’t hurt to act as a buffer from the hard ground beneath you.

Waking up to the sights and sounds of the rainforest – and hundreds of macaques frolicking and being their cheeky selves – was nothing short of spectacular. After breakfast, we walked upriver to bathe in a stunning little waterfall that has enough pressure to rip your swimming gear off.

Tired legs from the tough hike of the previous day were relieved when we were able to ‘tube’ back to the village on giant inflatable tyres, tied together to form a raft. Ipong made each one of us a leaf crown, donned tribal face paint made out of mud, and we were off downstream. Tubing gives you a completely different perspective of the forest, actually allowing you to see it rather than be right in the thick of it.

Of all the trips I’ve done in Indonesia, this one takes the cake. It was truly special and an experience I plan to repeat again, next time visiting the elephant sanctuary at Tangkahan and possibly doing a longer seven-day trek into the jungle to rediscover my inner Mowgli. I urge other outdoor lovers to visit this other-worldly place before it’s too late.

Fast facts: Gunung Leuser National Park

Getting there: Daily flights available with local airlines to Medan’s Kualanamu International airport. Flights also available from neighbouring Singapore or Malaysia. Ask your accommodation to arrange airport transfer (approximately Rp.600,000 one way) to Bukit Lawang, which takes around 3.5-4 hours.

Where to stay: Eco Travel Cottages or Riverside Guesthouse offer cheap and clean accommodation with fans. Riverside has a viewing deck with stunning views of Bukit Lawang and the forest. Eco Travel Cottages is situated right on the river.

What to bring: Sun block, mosquito repellent, headlamp, hiking shoes/trainers, long pants and long-sleeve top for the evenings, shorts and a light top for hiking, backpack, cash (the nearest ATM is half an hour away), camera.

What to do: Hiking, photography, orangutan watching, tubing, elephant excursion in Tangkahan, dancing to the live band on Saturday nights, relaxing.

Suitable for: Adventure junkies, animal enthusiasts, reggae fans.

Interview with Danone AQUA President Director, Charlie Capetti

Bottled water company AQUA was founded in 1973 by the late Tirto Utomo. When Utomo passed away unexpectedly in 1993, his family was faced with a difficult decision regarding the business. They approached the multinational company Danone, who shared the same values and principles, and the merger was born in September 1998. We meet President Director of Danone AQUA, Charlie Capetti, a Dutch national who has been with Danone for 17 years, seven of which have been in Indonesia.

You’ve been with Danone for many years, from Sales Director in the Netherlands to President Director in Indonesia. Tell us what your role at AQUA Danone entails today.

My role in AQUA is to work with my team on the long-term sustainability and short-term ambitions of the company. We set out a vision for this company and work consistently with all people here to deliver that vision. I see it as my job to create conditions for our employees to thrive in AQUA and develop themselves professionally. There is not a single day that is the same.

Has your experience as a Lieutenant in the Royal Dutch Navy in 1990 had any impact on the way that you conduct business today?

After graduating from University I was an Economics teacher at the Royal Dutch Naval College. In those days in the Netherlands it was compulsory to serve your country.  I learned values like discipline, respect and not giving up when you want to achieve something; values I consider relevant for successful leadership.

Your water comes from 13 springs and 18 factories in Indonesia. What makes your water healthy? How is it processed?

We are very picky about the selection of our springs and follow a strict criteria regarding selection. We carry out scientific research looking at mineral content and other compositions that tell us if it meets the AQUA taste profile, which is influenced by the minerals. We look at the amount of water the natural area has without upsetting the water balance. Then we drill and see if we can find the water, and we check to see how much we can take. If the composition is not good, we stop.

We make sure our water is fresh, tasting good, and meeting health standards. We filter it, of course, with a complex filter system, and then apply Ultra Violet light which kills micro bacteria. You cannot drink the water when it’s on the line, but after a few hours it’s ready. The whole process is natural.

We will be opening factory number 19 in April in South Sumatra.

Danone AQUA is a publically-listed company. What are the projections for 2016?

We are the biggest water brand in terms of volume in the world; about ten times the size of Evian.

The growth of our business comes mainly from two factors: growth of the population (1.5 percent per annum) and growth of the middle class. Households will switch from boiling water to safer, packaged water. Moreover, modern trade grew rapidly, particularly in mini-markets which have helped us grow exponentially. Consequently, projected growth in the bottled water industry in Indonesia is around 10-12 percent per annum.

You have approximately 2 million sales points across Indonesia. How is distribution managed?

I think indeed this is one of our key strengths. We use 75 family-owned distributors who have been part of the business since the beginning. We have 220 depots that distribute into wholesalers that then go to the warung and the toko. 85 percent goes through this system, and the rest goes through mini-marts and supermarkets, done through our own distribution centres, of which we have 14 all over Indonesia. How the product flows is an incredible spider web.

We also have a unique distribution method called AQUA Home Service, or ‘AQUA Ladies’, where we currently empower over 7,000 women in Indonesia to sell AQUA from their homes. We select opinion-leaders and help them build a business selling drinking water, mainly by the gallon using delivery boys on motorbikes.

We have an ambition that everywhere in Indonesia you must be able to find AQUA.

Danone AQUA has 12,500 employees in Indonesia. How does your company ensure personal and professional development?

I don’t know where to start! We have very extensive training programmes for all levels, from operators to executives, leadership trainings and very specific functional, technical programmes. We ensure development of our people via four principles: 60 percent is on-the-job training, 10 percent classroom training, 10 percent online/digital training, and 20 percent through networking. As a result, many of our people are typically long-term employees for whom working at AQUA is a career instead of a job.

How do you help those who do not have access or means of accessing clean drinking water?

AQUA is committed to proactively contribute in this field through an ambitious WASH (Water Access Sanitation and Hygiene) programme aiming to improve the health of thousands of families around Indonesia. Water committees are formed and trained to design the facilities, monitor the works, and ensure proper management long-term. Three types of community groups are targeted: villages surrounding AQUA factories, and remote villages in NTT and NTB through our ‘1L for 10L’ initiative. Currently, the WASH programme has provided benefits to more than 130,000 people in 18 districts, and will continue to grow.

What is Danone AQUA doing to reduce its impact on the environment, namely plastic waste, through your CSR project AQUA Lestari? Are there plans to go large-scale in these endeavours?

AQUA-HKVimageOur business model involves plastic, whether we like it or not. There are a lot of things we can do and have been doing. I made sure we stopped the plastic wrapper on the lid and now our bottles are 100 percent recyclable. I see huge opportunities for us to go further. The technology is there.

AQUA developed AQUA PEDULI (Plastics Waste Recycling Programme) in 1993 as a form of social responsibility to manage plastic waste. Since 2010, 600 scavengers from three cities – South Tangerang, Bandung, Denpasar – involved in our Scavengers Empowerment Programme (PEP) have been empowered to improve their quality of life through access to healthcare and increased recycling expertise.

In Tangerang, we collect 80-90 tonnes of plastic per month, which is crushed in machines and mainly exported to China for recycling. Every month this unit makes enough profit to pay the pemulung, cover costs, and make profits. This project is scalable and I’d like to see this replicated in other cities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not consider bottled water an improved or sustainable solution to water access in Indonesia, and other similar countries. What would you say to this?

As the pioneer of Indonesia’s bottled drinking water industry, AQUA continually sets the benchmark for the application of innovative technologies geared towards improving the production process and products. Packaging remains a challenge for the bottled water business, but somehow the impact on the environment is limited by high recycling rates.

We have four pillars in the AQUA Lestari programme: Environment and Water Protection, Green Company, Product Distribution and Community Involvement and Development. These pillars are realized by implementing various social and environmental programmes ranging from upstream (catchment area), middle (AQUA water source area) to downstream.

Do you think there will be a day when Indonesians will have access to clean and free drinking water? And if so, what will this mean for your industry?

Yes, of course. I come from a country where I can drink water from the tap; it’s a human right. We hope that Indonesians one day will also have that choice. Until then, we consider it our duty to make AQUA available as much as possible to provide as many Indonesians with a healthy hydration option.

What are the principles that Danone AQUA holds dearest to its heart?

At the heart of AQUA’s reason for being is a very simple goal: to make available – to as many people as possible – healthy, clean, and pure drinking water that is full of the natural goodness essential to long-term health. We want to do it in the most sustainable way; making sure that everybody in our ecosystem can benefit from AQUA. We make sure whatever we do, we make others part of our story.

 

Canggu: Surfer-Cum-Yogi Haven

Discovering the still-quiet area of Canggu to reboot and revitalize body and soul through yoga, healthy eating and total relaxation.

“There used to be beautiful rice paddies just down this road,” said an Australian tourist to her friend as they strolled past me.

I was walking down Jl. Padang Linjong in Canggu and she wasn’t kidding.

This area just north of Seminyak on the west coast of Bali has turned from mere paddy fields just a few years ago into a bustling beachside ‘village’ where the hip tourist escapes from the Bintang-singlet-donning holiday-makers who have started to spread their wings from the overcrowded Kuta to Seminyak, just 10 kilometres south of Canggu.

Visit this area soon before all the beautiful rice paddies disappear and it becomes another Seminyak.

Padi fields in CangguIt took me some time to put my finger on Canggu, but after a bout of 10 nights in the area, I can best describe it as surfer-meets-yogi territory – thus a mix of Seminyak and Ubud – with the laidback feeling that Sanur offers. Big swells mean these waters are for experienced surfers, although many learn-to-surf schools exist. There are yoga studios and retreats a-plenty, plus vegetarian, vegan and organic eateries, making this the perfect health retreat in Bali.

To navigate the area, rent yourself a motorbike or bicycle and think of Canggu as several small roads off of Jl. Bypass Tanah Lot and Jl. Raya Canggu, which each find their way to the sea. The main little roads are Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong (which ends at Batu Bolong beach), Jl. Raya Semat, Jl. Raya Pantai Berawa and Jl. Pantai Berawa, and Jl. Padang Linjong (which ends at Echo Beach).

The most happening of all the beaches that Canggu has to offer are Batu Bolong and Echo Beach, which sit less than a kilometre away from each other. The rocky ridges and dark volcanic sand of this area may not be as enticing as pristine-white sandy beaches, but don’t let the black stop you from coming back; the vibe here is chilled out and the swells pull in surfers from all over the world.

On Pantai Echo, beachside restaurants barbeque up fresh seafood while tourists and locals alike sip on Bintangs, sitting on colourful bean bags as they watch the even more colourful sunsets. The problem, is not only bean bags are scattered on the beach, as litter can also be found. This should be addressed before it stops tourists from returning.

Further north, away from the bass lines of Echo Beach and Batu Bolong’s bars sits Seseh Beach, the right choice for those wishing to escape the crowds. There are some stunning villas here – Sejuk Villas being right on the beach – but these are quite pricey, so for those on a budget, grab a motorbike and head here for the day – just remember to bring food and drink as not one store exists…yet.

And that’s the thing with Canggu; it’s developing at the speed of light, and the incessant sound of the power saw can be heard nearly everywhere you go. So, if you’re looking for some quiet time, make sure you check with the hotel before you book to see if there are any renovation works in the area, as this could quite easily steal your chill.

Yoga for yogis

Most places you stay in Canggu will put you within 10 minutes of the beach, which sets it apart from Ubud. Canggu is home to a number of excellent yoga studios, the most notable in the area being Samadi Bali on Jl. Padang Linjong, Desa Seni Yoga on Jl. Pantai Berawa, and Serenity Yoga on Jl. Nelayan.

Samadi is set amongst greenery with a delicious vegetarian cafe serving a mix of western and Indian delights, and yoga is done over a pond, so the sound of trickling water can further centre you. Classes cost Rp.120,000 and in the mornings you have the chance to experience Mysore style, a class where students practice the self study of Ashtanga under the watchful eye and aid of the instructors. Samadi also offers yoga for surfers.

Desa Seni Eco Resort provides yoga and meditation classes set in peaceful, lush green and immaculately landscaped gardens with happy-chic-meets-traditional decor to further inspire you and make you feel good about the world. Classes cost Rp.120,000 and include complimentary tea. Organic food can be found in the restaurant, so you’ll be sure to eat well after you work out.

Serenity Yoga is located behind Alkaline restaurant, and although the yoga studio may not be as naturally inspiring as Samadi or Desa Seni, classes here are very popular at Rp.100,000. Mysore, YinYasa and Ashtanga for surfers are also available. Try the vegan cheesecake with a chai tea at Alkaline afterwards.

Spa it up

After a morning of intense surfing or yoga, what better to do than visit the spa for some much-needed R and R? There are plenty of options available in the area, with most hotels offering in-room services, but do make the effort to visit Therapy Spa at the end of Jl. Padang Linjong, just before you hit Echo Beach.

Behind this non-assuming white-walled facade is a world of extremely well-trained therapists ready to bring you into deep relaxation with “the best massage in Bali”, as voted on Tripadvisor.com. Try the cream bath (head, shoulders and arm massage), the one-hour reflexology, and the Balinese massage, but make sure to book, as it understandably gets very busy here during high season.

Continue reading Canggu: Surfer-Cum-Yogi Haven

The Gibbon Whisperer: Meet Chanee Kalaweit

Chanee Kalaweit is a former French national, who in 2012 gained his Indonesian citizenship. Since the tender age of 12, Chanee has dedicated his life to the gibbon, apes living in Asia’s tropical and subtropical rainforests, including in Sumatra, Borneo and Java. Chanee rose to fame when he created a video that went viral, addressing the president of the haze crisis of Sumatra and Kalimantan. We caught up with him in Palangkaraya to find out the full story of his NGO Kalaweit; the biggest gibbon protection programme in the world.

When did you first come to Indonesia?

I left for Indonesia at the age of 18 in May 1998. The first thing I did was go to Borneo for three months to survey and see how bad the deforestation situation was. After three months I realized that a project like mine was needed and the first gibbon programme was born in September 1999.

Why gibbons?

As a kid in France I always loved primates, and the first time I met a gibbon in a zoo, it looked into my eyes so sadly. It was alone and I wanted to help and understand what was wrong. I learned that gibbons are monogamists, which makes it difficult for zoos to carry out successful mating programmes.

I asked the director of the zoo if I could come for free every Wednesday when I wasn’t at school. I did this for five years, from the age of 12. Eventually I started helping other zoos in France with their gibbon programmes.

How did you raise funds to come and set up your charity Kalaweit in Indonesia?

When I was 16 I published a book on gibbon behaviours. Journalists were interested because I was a 16-year-old who wasn’t outside playing soccer with friends. Actress Muriel Robin called me and said, “You want to go to Asia to help gibbons, I want to help you.” She funded me, and to this day she still watches the development of the organization and we are good friends.

Channee with a rescued slow lorisTell us about the work your charity does in protecting the gibbon and other animals in threat.

Kalaweit covers all of Sumatra, Borneo and Mentawai. We have two sanctuaries and a reserve.

We help by:

1) Giving a second chance to animals detained as pets or who are victims of deforestation by rehabilitating and returning them to the wild. 285 gibbons are under our care right now. 2) Securing forestland for conservation – I buy land where biodiversity is very high to make micro-reserves. In Sumatra we have 281 hectares, and in Borneo we have 20 hectares, which we hope will reach 100 hectares by the end of the year. 3) Involving locals in our fight through our radio station and TV programmes.

We also aid the government in protecting reserves. I am a paramotor pilot and I fly over every location once a month – I also do this to illustrate deforestation.

How much does the forestland you buy for conservation purposes cost?

In Sumatra it costs around Rp.15 million per hectare and in Borneo around Rp.25 million per hectare.

Do any palm oil concession owners get involved with conservation?

You see big companies who own thousands of hectares of forestland trying to do good to protect their image. Some companies will actually keep 10 percent of their concession as a sanctuary for animals.

In Sumatra I released siamang gibbons into a 2,000-hectare reserve owned by a private guy in a palm oil concession. It will be very difficult for him to change his mind now, as I’ve released animals into his forest which we accompanied with a big publicity campaign.

Chanee made a video addressed to the president of Indonesia about the haze crisis of 2015
Chanee made a video addressed to the president of Indonesia about the haze crisis of 2015

The video you shot during the haze crisis went viral and really helped to raise awareness about this serious issue. Can you tell us what inspired you to make this video?

When you fight this industry you have to protect yourself by making yourself well-known. I was very upset as a father to see my kids very sick and people dying because of smoke and palm oil.

I never imagined the video would go viral. When I uploaded it, the next morning there were 35,000 views. The Minister of Forestry asked me to come to Jakarta, but it just felt like they didn’t want me to cause any more ‘problems’. I really feel like nothing will change. This year, if we have a dry season, the same thing will happen.

What is the biggest challenge you face?

The lack of law enforcement in Indonesia. There are also still many high profile people in Indonesia who work for the government yet still keep protected animals in their homes – because they can and they don’t care. When law enforcement doesn’t work, you can’t expect much.

You state that the forests of Indonesia will disappear by 2030. Do you see any progression from the government towards stopping this?

It’s the biggest frustration because you feel just like a witness. After logging takes place, forests still remain, although in bad shape. My goal was to secure forestland after logging to protect the animals left behind, but since 2000 every single piece of land is being converted to palm oil plantations.

The government thinks that companies who own concessions for palm oil don’t operate outside of their boundaries, but in fact there is a lot of land being used for palm oil plantations outside of these concessions, which are under private ownership, and are destroying forest, even on peat land. There is a moratorium, but this only applies to companies and not individuals.

Chanee with a proboscis monkeyWith all the frustrations and difficulties you face, are you still optimistic that you can make a difference?

Every hectare of land and every animal saved is a victory.

I learned that the goal is less important than the process. If I know that the end of the world will be next week, I will still save gibbons because it’s what I do. I don’t want to be pessimistic because I will lose the energy to keep fighting. We just have to act.

Are you seeing a positive response from the listeners of your radio station Kalaweit Radio in Palangkaraya?

Our station started in 2003 and targets young people by airing good music and funny shows. Every hour we air messages about gibbons and the forest. 70 percent of the rescued animals we see are actually from our listeners. At schools, kids will tell their friends off for owning pet gibbons and in the end they hand them over to us for rehabilitation.

Tell us about your TV show Kalaweit Wildlife Rescue.

The second season on Metro TV starts in March. The cameras follow my team saving animals all over Sumatra, Borneo and Mentawai. It’s the first TV show on conservation shot in Indonesia. Having millions of people watching is the best way to help. On primetime French television I’m also in the middle of shooting a documentary series where we travel the world trying to save different endangered animals.

How can readers help?

The first thing is to say no to palm oil.

We have a lot of forest to save, but we need the money to buy the land. We require €550,000 a year to survive, which does not include money to buy forestland. We are 100 percent funded by donations.

Thank you, Chanee. Visit www.kalaweit.org for more information on how you can help this noble cause.

Photos courtesy of Kalaweit Foundation.

Take the Road Less Travelled: Cubadak Paradiso Village

Discovering the overland and underwater treats on a little island resort off the coast of West Sumatra.

Why do we travel? Is it in pursuit of ticking off as many places on your world map as possible? Or maybe the journey of self-discovery is what keeps you hopping on and off of planes, trains and automobiles, traversing the unknown. Living in Indonesia comes with its pros and cons (as with any country), but one of its many plus points is that there are so many exotic places to explore, and although the journey may not always be easy, the end result is worth it. I discovered this lately with a trip to Cubadak Island located just off the coast of West Sumatra.

The history of Sumatra is rich and complex. Archaeological evidence suggests that Sumatra was the gateway for migrating tribes from mainland Southeast Asia, with hunter-gatherers living along the Strait of Melaka some 13,000 years ago. This popular trading route on the east coast opened the archipelago up to China, India, and the world, thus exposing it to the popular ideas of the time, such as Islam.

Throughout the colonial era, Sumatra saw almost every foreign power stake a claim in its abundant resources: the Dutch set up camp in the west Sumatran port of Padang; the British ruled in Bengkulu; American traders monopolized pepper exports from Aceh; and the Chinese exploited tin reserves on the islands of Bangka and Belitung.

Rich in cultural heritage, this region is home to around 4 million Minangkabau people, one of the last populations to have a matrilineal culture, which directly contrasts the island’s dominant religion of Islam. This region’s natural beauty is also a marvel, with rolling green countryside, endless winding rivers, and mini waterfalls dotting the roadsides.

Cubadak Island

Getting there

Getting to Cubadak Island involves flying firstly to Padang Minangkabau International airport, a 1-hour and 20-minute flight from Jakarta. The flight is the easiest part of this journey, however, as we discovered on the 3.5-hour car ride that proceeded, passing over windy hillside roads through forests to reach the island, located only about 20km south of the city of Padang. Usually this drive would only take 3 hours, or even 2.5 if you’re lucky, which we weren’t – as we experienced several delays on two bridge constructions, and a mammoth traffic jam in Padang town. Once reaching the harbour of Corocok Tarusan, we were whisked onto a speedboat for a 10-minute ride, finally arriving at this little resort where time seems to have stood still.

Cubadak Island is unique because it boasts both clear blue waters on one side, and a lush green forest perfect for hikers and bird-spotters on the other.

The beach here is also very beautiful, with white sand stretching for around 1km – perfect for lounging around and reading a good book. But don’t expect beachside butlers or five-star luxury, as this island has its own, more relaxed way of doing things.

Bungalows at Cubadak are rustic-chic
Bungalows at Cubadak are rustic-chic

Opened 23 years ago by Nanni Casalegno, an Italian man who sadly passed away in 2014, the ‘village’ has been operated by the very friendly Dominique and her husband, Marco (both French) for the last 10 years. The island still has that ‘90s vibe, with its wooden-panelled accommodation reminiscent of the ones you may find along the west or south coasts of Java. I doubt much has changed since it first opened all those years ago. In my humble opinion, the resort could do with a lick of paint and a bit more TLC.

With a total of 12 bungalows on the island, including a family unit that can be rented as one, or split into two, guests can choose to stay on-land or indulge in an over-water bungalow, suited for honeymooners. The wooden bungalows are what I would call rustic-chic, situated right on the beach, and come complete with en-suite bathroom, downstairs living area and a double bed on the mezzanine. Other amenities include a mini-bar, stocked with large Bintangs and soft drinks, hot water and the added bonus of drinkable tap water, which comes straight from a natural spring on the island. There are no air conditioners here, so if you are prone to feeling the heat, be sure to set the ceiling fan to high at night. The rooms are perfectly situated to soak up the sound of cicadas and bird song from the forest behind – or, if it rains, your pillow might soak up rainwater!

The dive shop at Cubadak Paradiso Village
The dive shop at Cubadak Paradiso Village

Taking the plunge

The island is very well suited for divers looking to explore a lesser-known region, and the local government are actually planning on marketing this area as the next Raja Ampat. Although I don’t think it is quite on par with what Raja Ampat, the world’s diving Mecca, has to offer, it certainly is not want of trying. With several dive sites at hand, including a house reef, several pinnacles and even a wreck, there are plenty of things to see underwater – although visibility was only around 5-7 metres during our visit.

When not diving, we spent daylight hours frolicking in the clear water, lounging around on sun beds whilst enjoying the sounds of rolling thunder coming from the distant, ominous clouds. Although Cubadak is not exactly isolated – there is a village visible over the water in the distance – you still feel like you’re 100 miles from anywhere.

In the evenings, guests converged and sought shelter from monsoon rains at the bar, located over the water. Here you can enjoy a tea or alcoholic beverage (wines are even stocked at fair prices), whilst enjoying a jam on one of Marco’s several guitars. Wi-Fi is available, too. The boom box selection is questionable though, ranging from glam rock to, well, more rock. I would have liked to have heard more relaxing tunes being played here to fit in with the ambience of the place.

All meals on the island are taken together, so if you don’t like socializing, this may not be your scene. Breakfast is served from 7.30-11am, lunch at 1.30pm, and dinner not until 8pm. The food is quite delicious, and the busy bees in the kitchen can whip up gluten-free and vegetarian meals as well. Fresh fish is caught and shared every day, as we witnessed when the island’s fisherman brought in a freshly caught red snapper to feed hungry guests – and the local dog.

If you enjoy hiking, behind the resort is a large hill, enveloped in forest. There is a path that takes you to the top in about 45 minutes – a spectacular place for taking photos. This path is perfect for spotting birds, including the colourful kingfisher.

If you’re a nature lover and enjoy the thrill of the chase, you should put Cubadak Paradiso Village on your travel list. It took us a whopping eight hours to return to Jakarta, due to road disturbances and flight delays, so I would suggest staying a minimum of three nights to truly unwind and take in what this island has to offer.

Fast Facts: Cubadak Paradiso Village, West Sumatra

Getting there: A 1.20-minute flight on local carriers Garuda Indonesia, Citilink or Lion Air followed by a 3-hour drive (organized by Cubadak Paradiso Village), and a short, 10-minute speedboat ride.

Things to do: Diving, snorkelling, going for forest walks, or just plain relaxing.

What to bring: Sunblock, a good book, dive and snorkelling gear, travel sickness pills if you’re prone to feeling nauseous driving on windy roads.

Website: www.cubadak-paradisovillage.com

Then Trash Became Ffrash: Meet Karin van Horssen and Renate Suurd-Joossink

Ffrash produces high-quality, sustainable design furniture and home interior products from trash, giving former street children a chance at a better life. Their values? 100 percent trash, 100 percent sustainable, 100 percent design and 100 percent not-for-profit. We meet the two ladies in charge to find out more.

Karin_8080
Karin
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Renate

What are your professional backgrounds and what brought you to designing interior products out of trash in Bekasi?

 

 

 

 

 

Renate: I came to Jakarta in 2013, having worked for more than 15 years for Wegter Consumenten BV in the Netherlands, where I developed concepts for kitchen and tableware in many different styles.

Accompanying my husband to Indonesia, Ffrash was the logical step to share my professional experience and contribute to this great opportunity. Jakarta, with its more than sufficient amount of trash and high number of street youths, needs awareness and support. Giving former street youth a second chance by providing them shelter, training, work experience in combination with sustainable design products from trash, is the perfect way for me to support the Indonesian society.

Karin: After having different marketing jobs in the Netherlands, I decided to start my own business in 2008. By creating clothes for women and girls, I combined creativity and entrepreneurship. My husband’s work brought me and my family to Indonesia in 2013. When I first saw the design products of Ffrash and heard the story behind the project, I was really impressed. So, when I had the opportunity to join this beautiful project, I didn’t hesitate. With Ffrash, again, I can combine creativity and entrepreneurship, but more important: give the former street children of Jakarta a second chance.

Where do you source your recyclable items from?

The wine bottles are generally given to us by friends and we work with some restaurants to acquire their used wine bottles, too. We are always in need of wine and glass water bottles. The table vases are made from fishing boat bulbs, which were once thrown overboard when broken. We buy the majority of our other materials directly from the trash pickers.

Photo Bulb VaseI actually own one of your vases made out of a fishing boat’s light bulb. Where did you get your inspiration for this unique design?

The vase was designed by the Dutch designers Guido Ooms and Karin van Lieshout. They travelled to Indonesia several times to visit trash dumps in search of the right materials. After having designed the Ffrah collection, they trained the team on how to handle the tools and machines and the various aspects of product design.

What creative designs are you working on now?

At the moment we are working with Indonesian designers, Karsa, and we are looking for new designers who can develop and add a new Ffrash collection.

Tell us about the children that you work with and train as artisans. These children used to live on the streets before becoming a part of Yayasan Kampus Diakonia Modern (KDM) and entering into your programme. What positive developments have you noticed in their characters from being a part of Ffrash?

Ffrash works closely with KDM, a local foundation that offers shelter to former street children. Ffrash believes that every child deserves the right to a sustainable future in a clean environment. With this vision, we created an opportunity for the street children to become skilled workers who can turn trash in beautiful design products. Ffrash provides the former street children aged 16 to 19 years, 18 months’ training, but also endows these youth with knowledge and skills to start their own companies.

At Ffrash, they learn how to use and develop their skills in different ways. They work in the Ffrash workshop from Monday till Friday. Further, we offer them schooling – English courses and safety training. We notice that some children are becoming more responsible and more self-confident.

Do your artisans get paid for their work? How do you ensure your work with the children is sustainable?

The artisans receive pocket money for their work. There are three key factors – economic growth, environmental issues, and poverty – that must be addressed in order for sustainable development to take place. Poverty in particular often prevents sustainable use of natural resources, and so it must be handled intelligently to reverse the trend. By integrating environmental conservation on one hand, and economic development on the other, sustainable development can be achieved. In other words, sustainability requires a balance between ecological, economic, and social considerations.

CS_FfrashWorkshop-003Ffrash went in search of new applications for reusing trash to provide more benefits to the less fortunate youths around Jakarta, while also reducing the energy required for recycling. In this way, Ffrash contributes to sustainable development by creating a better balance between consumption and conservation. It is a fact that the processing of wood, whether for the purpose of furniture-making or wood crafting, is part of the Indonesian culture and tradition. Ffrash does not chop down more trees to make its furniture and interior design products. Instead, Ffrash makes furniture and other products by re-using trash, thus showing people that you can create new products without using wood as a raw material.

Additionally, ‘upcycling’ offers a solution to the problems around waste processing in Indonesia. And lastly, by training youths in furniture-making, Ffrash empowers them to succeed in society. Vocational training and professional coaching support the street children to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty. The children learn to create a better future for themselves in an environmentally sustainable manner, while learning a trade and entrepreneurial skills.

What is the most moving experience you’ve had while working at Ffrash?

The whole experience has been moving. There are success stories, but sometimes also some sad stories. It has its ups and downs. That’s how it goes in real life…

Are there any challenges that you face working with ex-street children?

It’s obvious that their background is totally different from ours. Sometimes it is difficult to empathise. For us it’s important to keep in mind that their backgrounds are different and to react the right way.

From your work in this industry, how have you found the Indonesian mentality towards rubbish?

There is a still a lot of work to do in Indonesia. It’s going slowly, step by step. This will take years after years to change. We have just started to notice the presence of more public rubbish bins around Jakarta, encouraging people to separate and dispose of their rubbish more thoughtfully.

What can we expect to see from Ffrash in the near future?

We want to make a beautiful high design interior collection which is much more expanded. We also want to generate more selling points. On the other hand, we will try to help the former street youth as much as we can, giving them a second chance and a better future. All profits are divided between the children and the running of the workshop. We invest in their further development and training to give them a second chance.

Thank you! To get in touch, please email: renate.joossink@gmail.com 

Producing Durable Pallets from Recycled Plastic Waste

Bali (and Indonesia) has received a lot of negative press in recent years with regards to plastic litter. This issue, we meet with PT Enviro Pallets, a manufacturer of nestled pallets made entirely from recycled plastic waste which would otherwise have ended up in landfills. We meet General Manager, Lars Armstrup, to find out more about where the innovative company sources their plastic waste, the manufacturing process, and the their environmentally-conscious values. 

Enviro Pallets was founded by Matthew Darby in New Zealand – when and for what reason was the plastic recycling plant opened in Bali?

We started in 2012, moving the equipment across from the previous factory in Christchurch, New Zealand.  In visits to Indonesia, Matthew saw a very significant plastic waste issue across the nation, and discussions with the National Investment Agency highlighted the added issues surrounding this in Bali. A strong local desire for solutions to help tackle the plastic waste problem, and to keep Bali Clean, ultimately led to the decision to set up our first Asian factory here.

What excited you about coming onboard?

Having worked for 30 years in logistics and industrial manufacturing in six different Asian countries, I am intimately aware of the challenges around raw-material requirements to keep supply chains moving, specifically the high demand for timber to produce pallets for the movement of finished products.

Global estimates state that more than 40 percent of the world’s sawn timber is used to produce wood pallets. Our unique Thermo Fusion™ technology allows us to use the recycled plastics others do not want, thus benefitting from a low raw-material cost, making our plastic pallets directly competitive with wood pallets, at the same price.

We truly believe we will introduce a real alternative to the use of wood, and the infinite re-use of plastics over and over again. Not only do we use 100 percent recycled plastic, but our products are also themselves 100 percent recyclable, enabling us to use the same plastic raw material multiple times.

Can you give us a brief explanation of the Thermo Fusion™ production process?

We take mixed plastics, shred it and subsequently subject it to heat and pressure, mechanically binding the polymers of the different types of plastics. This results in a malleable plastic substance that under very high pressure is formed into the finished product of a pallet.

The uniqueness of our equipment is that we are able to use mixed plastics of all types in one combined process. This is different to what normally happens in the recycling of plastics. Normally, polymers must be segregated, to for example only contain PET or only HDPE, which is then converted to granules and mixed with virgin plastics for injection moulding processes.

 Plastic at PT Enviro PalletsHow many tonnes of plastic do you process a day?

We just started our second production line, and with that we can now process more than 600 MTS of plastic per month – most of which would have gone to landfills.

How do you collect the plastic waste used to make your pallets?

We work with recyclers in Bali, who supply steady volumes of plastic to us. We have recently established programmes with the Bali Government’s departments of Sanitation, Gardening and the Environment, allowing us to work directly with the island’s nine regencies and their sub-districts. Two of these are now our active suppliers of recycled plastics, and we continue to engage with the remaining, expecting to have covered all during 2016. Supplies also come from schools and brand retail shops, where we engage with them on campus and in-store to facilitate their efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle.

How much do you pay per kilogram of plastic waste that people bring to you?

First of all, we want clean and dry plastic. Clean means free from non-plastic material such as cardboard, paper, glass, aluminium foil, etc. We can deal with varying degrees of these in the process, but we run the most efficient when these are not present. But for the plastic types themselves we do not distinguish between the different kinds of polymers, as we readily mix them all together in our process.

Our pricing starts at Rp.1,200 per kg of plastic and increases with the cleanliness and dryness of plastic that we receive. Being willing to pay for something that people normally throw away is having a positive impact in the communities that we work with.

 Besides the fact that they’re created from plastic waste, what else makes your pallets special?

There are literally hundreds of different pallet sizes and functionalities in use around the world – our process allows us to produce all of them. Plastic is stronger than wood, and therefore gives a better performance over time compared to wood. Even though our pallets will eventually break, the difference with wood is that a damaged wooden pallet has very limited use at the end of its short life. Wood pallets are either burnt (for energy), grinded up (for mulching purposes), or in the vast majority of cases disposed of to rot. Because our process uses 100 percent recycled plastic, we simply take back the damaged pallets, grind them up and run them through our production process again, to be reborn as new pallets.

Please tell us about your expansion plans, especially to Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

We have significant ambitions both on a national and global basis. We do expect to expand into Java and beyond in the very near future.

Bye Bye Plastic Bags have been given a MoU by the provincial government in Bali to stop giving away free plastic bags in 2016 and ban plastic bags altogether by 2018. How will this affect production at your plant?

Melati and Isabel, who founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags, are such an inspiration – amazing girls. I met with them recently and banning plastic bags is definitely the way to go. I believe other cities around Indonesia are working on similar schemes. Unfortunately, the global production of plastic continues to rise at about four percent annually, and the sad fact is that even if all plastic bags were banned, it would still only make a small reduction in the total plastic output. There is so much new plastic being made every day.

We cannot function as a world without plastic, but through what we do, we believe we help to move us to a point of ‘no new plastic being put into the world’, as we can infinitely recycle the same plastics again and again, even though they are all mixed.

Lars Armstrup, General Manager of PT Enviro Pallets, Bali
Lars Armstrup, General Manager of PT Enviro Pallets, Bali

As the General Manager of a business that actively contributes towards a cleaner world, you must be extremely passionate about what you do. What work ethics that you hold dear to your heart would you like to see other business owners embody?

I love what we do. Few people are given the opportunity to head up an enterprise that truly holds the potential to change a segment of the world, and in this respect our team and I are very fortunate. I am not sure that I am necessarily any different from other business leaders, however I am fuelled by passion – because I believe that is the only way to achieve excellence.

My work ethics are a real sense of purpose, strong determination and focus, which allow you to work through the unavoidable challenges and road blocks that are always present in business. Ultimately though, ‘Deliver The Promise’. What we promise to our customers, all my colleagues, our suppliers and communities is vital, as that is the only way in which we can achieve long-term sustainability both on the environmental front and for ourselves as a business.

Thank you, Lars. To get in touch, email:  marketing@enviropallets.com

McKinsey & Company in Indonesia: Unleashing the Potential of the Archipelago’s Economy

Paris-born Guillaume de Gantes started his journey with McKinsey & Company 15 years ago in Paris. He mainly worked in New York, where he was elected as a partner of the firm. This Harvard Business School alumnus moved to McKinsey’s office in Indonesia two years ago and he talks to us about the opportunities and challenges in ASEAN’s largest economy.

Guillaume, tell us how you’ve found working in this region so far.

I love Southeast Asia as a region because there’s so much happening here. For me, the professional aspect of coming to Indonesia was really about being in the heart of what is going on in ASEAN. I was very keen to be in such an exciting country.

Can you give us some background information on McKinsey’s growth in Indonesia and Southeast Asia?

We are present in most countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and most recently, Vietnam. We work with government institutions and enterprises in all major sectors, to translate the region’s rich opportunities into transformative economic and social impact. We also help leading multinationals build and grow successful businesses in Southeast Asia.

We have been present in Indonesia since 1988, and the office was McKinsey’s first in Southeast Asia. We help many of Indonesia’s leading enterprises drive growth, transform operational and organisational performance, shape new business models, build leadership capabilities, and accelerate economic development.

McKinsey is known as the world’s leading global management consulting firm. In which industries do you consult and in what capacity?

Our mission has always been to help clients make distinctive, lasting, and substantial improvements in their performance. Globally, we serve clients across all industries and sectors with capabilities to support execution and make change happen.

In Southeast Asia in particular, we serve clients in all major sectors including oil and gas, mining, financial services, telecom and media, consumer industries, travel and logistics, and the public sector. I personally serve our clients in the financial services, telecommunications and healthcare sectors.

Your recent work in Indonesia has included building one of the major banks here. How were you involved in redesigning the distribution process of this bank?

Given my background, I am personally passionate about working with banks and the financial services industry, which is hugely impacted by digitization. We have done a great deal of work in digital – building digital banks and digitizing current processes. There is a growing recognition that banks will have to change the way they work dramatically or entire businesses will be taken over by ‘Fintech’, nimble financial technology firms. You see this in the US; you have small firms that have already taken over parts of the banking value chain. Every single part of a bank in the US is ‘under attack’ by small firms. So, there is a scenario where banks could disappear. As Bill Gates said, banking is necessary, but banks are not. Banks will have to evolve or lose a lot of what they do today.

There are 118 commercial banks in Indonesia and the interesting question is: out of those banks, how many are ready for competition in the digital age?

Your latest report, Winning in Indonesia’s Consumer Good’s Market, discovered that 7 of the 16 companies you surveyed were winners in at least one of the performance areas. Only one company won in all of them – what traits must a consumer goods company possess in order to succeed in Indonesia?

We did extensive customer research in a number of categories and one of the things we looked at is how consumers make decisions. Indonesian consumers tend to be very family and group-oriented when it comes to making decisions, as opposed to Chinese consumers, who are fairly individual. Indonesians like to ask family and friends if they have tried the product, putting a lot of value in their opinion. They also like products that can be shared.

People here rely on their social network quite a bit, especially through social media, much more than other countries we’ve looked at. There is also a very brand-loyal culture here and shoppers take fewer risks – people typically know what they are going to buy ahead of time. Based on our study, these two things do not change with level of affluence.

Indonesians also really value local brands. In our survey, we noticed a lot of Indonesian people think KitKat is a local brand, when it isn’t. Brands that can understand all of the above and market themselves well locally, as well as integrate into social media will be able to do well here.

Can you please debunk some of the common recent myths of Indonesia’s economy?

The first myth is that Indonesia’s growth is Jakarta-led. If we look back a few years, the economy was already driven outside of Jakarta, and even outside of Java, in Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan. In fact, 90 percent of the fastest growing cities are outside of Java.

Another myth is that Indonesia is an export or raw material-driven growth, when increasingly, it is a consumption driven growth. The population of Indonesia’s urban consuming class is growing by the equivalent of one Singapore every year and will grow to 86 million by 2020.

The most interesting myth, however, is that Indonesia is an unstable economy. We have found that among OECD and BRIC countries, the standard deviation of growth in Indonesia in the first 10 years of the century actually makes Indonesia the most stable economy.

Let’s discuss growth. You believe by 2030, Indonesia could be a global top 10 economy, surpassing the UK, France and possibly Germany. How could this be achieved and what hurdles do we face?

Yes, it could be. Indonesia has strong intrinsics – the growing consumer market, becoming an international food hub, and being a lean resource provider and user.

However, there are also relevant challenges. Our research shows that Indonesia needs to increase productivity by 25 percent to maintain historic growth rates. One major sector that will benefit from this is farming, agriculture and fisheries. A simple example – in Japan, people freeze fish so if the price of fish depreciates, they don’t have to sell their fish right away. Here, the infrastructure to freeze fish is not in place.

There is a big need to improve infrastructure. To grow, the country will need to spend about US$2.7 trillion in infrastructure in the next 15 or so years.

Indonesia also needs to have greater financial inclusion – getting people to be able to save. We have 250 million people in the country but only 70 million bank accounts. Getting more people to save, access credit and use banking systems will be important towards achieving this growth and unlocking its potential.

Do you think the world’s eyes are on this region at the moment?

Yes, very much so. Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. If it were a single country, it would be the seventh largest in the world, with a combined GDP of US$2.4 trillion. It is projected to rank as the fourth-largest by 2050. I am reminded of the opportunities in these economies by the sheer number of companies that have reached out to us to help unlock the potential – it’s amazing. For many companies, they see Indonesia as the next big frontier.

When these companies reach out to you for investment opportunities, which sectors do you suggest they invest in?

It’s very hard to name a sector in Indonesia which does not offer investing opportunities. We have found that there is US$1.8 trillion in opportunities for businesses who invest in Indonesia’s four priority sectors: consumers, agriculture, resources and talent. We believe this potential is going to be further unleashed and accelerated by the power of digital, whether through mobile and internet banking, e-commerce, education, manufacturing, government service delivery and more.

Thank you, Guillaume.

Southeast Asia-based journalist | producer | environmental activist