“He is either telling us to get off his land or he is inviting us to his house,” I said to Kristi as we stood on the edge of a rice paddy watching an elderly man frantically wave at us. “Let’s go towards him and see what happens.”
We started walking towards the ancient man who quickly disappeared into his home and returned with two tiny stools. He placed them next to his wrinkly, bone-thin wife who was diligently weaving together banana leaves to make something. His actions seemed friendly, not murderous. We sat down to chat.
He offered us coffee or tea, which we declined on account that it was about 95 degrees with 95 percent humidity on that Balinese afternoon, but we did accept their offer of bananas. After a few minutes we had exhausted our Bahasa Indonesia and they had exhausted their English. We got up to leave, thanked them profusely and walked away happy for the small encounter.
Then there was the one time while waiting at the baggage claim at the Makassar airport. Kristi started talking to a nice local lady as I retrieved our bags from the carousel. The lady asked where we were headed and offered to give us a ride to the bus station. Her nephew picked us up and we showed the address we had written on a piece of paper. Although they didn’t know where it was, they made a handful of phone calls, got directions and dropped us off. She did it totally out of kindness and expected nothing in return.
Then there was the time while walking through the town of Ruteng in central Flores. It was difficult to walk anywhere because at every block we encountered uber-friendly locals who wanted to stop and talk. Most of them were teenagers who had just gotten out of school for the day, but others were friendly adults. Once a man pulled up to an intersection on his motorbike as we were crossing in front of him. He shut off the engine to his bike and started chatting with us. The people were almost too friendly.
These are three of the countless examples of the overwhelming generosity, kindness and friendliness we experienced in our two months in Indonesia. We have been lucky to travel far and wide, and to us, the Indonesians are the nicest people on Earth. I realize this is a bold and subjective statement, but I stand behind it. If there is a county with nicer people, I want to go there now.
People in Southeast Asia are very friendly, shy and non-confrontational in general, but Indonesians are on a whole new level. Maybe Indonesians are so friendly because on their 13,000 islands there are about 700 languages and a riot of different cultures and religions. These people are by and large very tolerant of differences. Maybe they have to be to survive.
But these islands are exceedingly safe also. For whatever reason, street crime, muggings or violent attacks aren’t part of the culture. I appreciated being able to walk around with my DSLR camera on my shoulder. In many places I have traveled, this would be an invitation for a mugging and would draw the attention of many thieves and bag snatchers. In Indonesia, it does indeed draw a great deal of attention, but in the form of kids asking me to take their photos.
I just hope that as tourism grows in Indonesia, the locals retain their quick smiles, wonderful treatment of the tourists and crime and scams don’t increase. These are the nicest people I have ever met, and I want others to experience the same.
Where are the friendliest people you’ve encountered in your travels?
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