Is Indonesia ‘Just Like the Philippines’?

“Hati hati,” is a phrase we often hear from the Indonesian locals.

The word ‘hati’ means ‘heart’ in Bahasa, and repeating the word ‘hati hati’ means ‘guard your heart’, essentially a phrase which means ‘caution’ or ‘be careful’.

I smirk every time I hear that phrase. I thought it was a very cute phrase the locals use, like a greeting, just like how we use ‘Kaon ta‘ (‘Let’s eat’) in the Philippines as a greeting.

“I am serious! Hati hati, okay!” swears Ketut as we sped down in his motorbike to the port that would take us to Nusa Penida. “The roads in Nusa Penida are very, very dangerous, please drive slowly.”

Both the staff in the villa we befriended were named Ketut, so I referred to them as shorter Ketut and taller Ketut. Later on I learned that traditional Balinese names only had four names for girls and boys alike: Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut, and the names signified birth order. If the family has more than four children, they just start over with ‘Wayan Balik’ which literally means ‘Wayan Again’.

As you noticed, the Bahasa Indonesian word ‘balik’ meant the same thing as in our Philippine dialect. And it is interesting to how the Bahasa language resembled ours, e.g., parts of the body such as mata, tainga, mukha, and kuko; familial persons such as anak, bunso, lalaki; colors such as puti, pula and itim, and counting numbers isa/usa, dalawa/duha, tatlo/tulo, apat/upat, lima, e.g. are related.

Indonesia has been both strange and familiar to me: the moment I arrived in Indonesia via Cebu Pacific from Manila, I’ve been welcomed with a series of surprises.

“Meet me in Bali,” he said.

Sounds like a plan, I thought. I was expecting to be whisked away to touristy Bali and familiar landscapes of Seminyak, Ubud and Canggu that I’ve seen on my friends’ social media news feeds. I was expecting to have a photo with the Bali swing, or take a selfie with the monkeys in Ubud temples, or to lounge lazily in a villa in Seminyak with long island iced tea on hand.

Immediately upon my arrival in Denpasar, we went to the tourist desk for transportation, and were directed towards two Indonesian men in matching black shirts. The two men led the odd group of foreigners, including us, from the arrival terminal to a narrow alley leading to a hidden parking lot.

No words were exchanged. No one spoke English, getting by with the use of hand signals and facial expressions to communicate. The group followed obediently with no questions asked.

“It feels nice to be like sheep and just follow,” I said in my most casual tone, but in the back of my head I was wondering if the men are really our tour guides or maybe they are really traffickers straight from a scene of a Liam Neeson movie.

“The sheep are warned to watch out for the wolf all their lives, but in the end it is the shepherd who eats them,” my companion mused. His statement that did not help the paranoia and triggered more Neeson-induced thoughts in my head.

Thankfully, it was only my hyperactive imagination and nothing of that sort in reality happened. We got into a van that brought us safely to and around Bali. One by one, the foreigners were dropped off to their accommodations.

“What’s your hotel?” the driver asked in his best English, referring the question towards the English couple in the van sitting in front of us.

“…It’s not a hotel. It’s a villa.” the English woman retorted.

The driver stared back like he DGAF at all, all he really cared was to know the directions to their stay. I tried to stifle my laughter the best I could.

After the English couple were dropped off, I turned to my companion and asked where our villa was.

He responded we’re not actually staying in Bali.

“Oh?” “Oh?” and just like that my drinking-cocktails-in-a-Balinese-villa dreams were crushed to a pulp, as he told me that we were actually heading to Nusa Lembongan, a more remote island off of Bali. We still had to be dropped off a port, take another 30-minute ride via boat, and another 20-minute drive to get to our destination.

They say the journey is part of the fun, but frankly it felt like oasis when we finally got to our villa. (There is actually feeling of fulfillment when you say ‘villa’ compared to ‘hotel’… Admittedly, I have less judgement for the English woman now.)

“Just like the Philippines!”

“Just like the Philippines!” I found myself saying a lot of times during our trip. The faces and the smiles seem the same back home. The peoples’ cool and peaceful demeanor, culturally familiar. I wondered if Filipinos knew how similar we are to our neighboring Indonesia in terms of culture and language?

In the islands off Bali in Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, we have not met a single Filipino and conversely encountered more German, French and English travelers on the Southeast Asian roads.

We wondered why not many Filipinos come here as compared to Westerner travelers. Methinks it is because to a Filipino, Indonesia may be just too familiar, too similar as back home. Oftentimes, a Filipino’s first trip is to developed, clean, smart cities, often Hong Kong or Singapore. We’re not so keen on seeing another developing country just like the one we’ve lived in all our lives.

But oh, these westerners–so easily amazed by the exotic sights, smells and sounds of our developing countries! Never mind having no access to running water for days or grinding through the unpaved dangerous roads–it’s so cute how everything is like a new and delightful sensory experience to them!

I remember my first trip to Disneyland when I was 12: it was like a magical paradise of happily-ever-after’s. However, the more Disneyland trips we did over the years, the less magical it had become and there came a point when I really don’t care about Disneyland anymore.

Disneyland had only become magical again for me when I visited the theme park again, this time with my five-year-old son, and I started seeing it through his eyes again. I immersed in all of my little man’s ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.

It felt the same way now with my French companion. His eyes danced with everything he sees: from observing the badjao at sea to trying the durian for the first time; the childish excitement was very contagious. I find myself feeling oddly excited over the too-familiar Cebu mangoes, as well.

So here I am now, in the back of a motorbike, traversing through one of the ugliest dirt roads in the sweltering heat to Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida. When the locals said ‘hati-hati‘, it wasn’t meant as a cute phrase or greeting AT ALL–they really meant it. The roads were dangerously steep with sharp curves. In many instances we chose to go down the scooter and walk instead. The roads were rough and ugly on a fine day; dangerous and deadly on most.

I’ve never been so happy in my life to hear the words “we’re here,” but I was beyond excited when I heard that we have finally reached Kelingking Beach.

Kelingking Beach is consistently in the lists of the Best Beaches in the World and Best Beaches in Asia by several websites and media channels. But I having been to many amazing beaches ‘back home’– Bantayan, Siargao, El Nido, Camiguin. Everyone says their island has the best beaches. Thus with Kelingking, I kept my expectations low.

My butt was joyous to have finally got off the 45-minute bike ride, at the same time squirming at the thought of the impending return trip. We made the walk towards the deep blue sight, already feeling the ocean breeze and the sound of the waves angrily smashing the rocks.

And oh, what a view it was: The cliffs were aptly nicknamed ‘T-Rex’, because the shape resembles the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

It is funny to see how feeble the makeshift fences built on the edges of the cliffs looked—the fences absolutely served no purpose as a safety barrier to onlookers. How easy it would be for someone to miss a step and fall 500 meters to your death!

There were many travelers take beautiful shots for the gram, of course: sitting on the cliff or doing yoga poses for their online followers. We took a mental note to Google later how many tourists fell over a cliff in Nusa Penida.

I can’t blame my fellow travelers, though. Kelingking was one of the best thing I’ve seen in my life, something your mind cannot forget. Like your First Kiss. Or Napoli Pizza.

And nope–It looked nothing ‘like home’ at all.

Cebu Pacific flies to Bali (Denpasar) via Manila and back daily. To book a flight, you can go to the link:
Have fun and Hati Hati!

Island Life


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