Mentawai: Surfers' paradise

West of Sumatra are the Mentawai Islands, an archipelago with waves so spectacular, Tim Elliott would brave just about anything to get there.

In the Mentawais, perfection is on tap. This extends to the quality of the food. Being stuck on a boat thousands of kilometres from the nearest food hall might lead you to expect a somewhat lower-than-usual quality of grub, but Robbie, the boat's Australian chef, is a culinary Dr Who, capable of conjuring miracle meals from a Tardis-like kitchen: tandooris, pasta, poisson cru. The only thing that excites Robbie more than the prospect of fantastic surf is when we catch a tuna or Spanish mackerel on one of the trawl lines. "Waa-haa!" he yells, filleting the fish on the back of the boat. "Fresh sashimi tonight!"

It's difficult to explain the exquisite privilege of surfing such a world-class wave by yourself. It's a little like turning up in the French Alps resort of Chamonix under three metres of fresh powder with no one around, or you and a mate playing the Old Course at St Andrews all day, completely alone.

I surf for eight hours - a personal record. I could have surfed for more but it was getting dark and the moon was rising, huge and pearly blue.

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Krakatoa welcomes the Clipper fleet to Indonesia

New York and Liverpool 08 have edged ahead of Nova Scotia as they go on different gybes with a light breeze coming from behind them. Watching the leading four boats is proving to be very exciting. With a new leader almost every schedule as they each try different tactics and are affected by the numerous rain clouds typical of the Monsoon trough.

'How close can it get!' asks Rob McInally, skipper of Nova Scotia. 'We’re under pressure from New York and Liverpool 08 as they came bounding over the horizon late yesterday morning. We spent all night inching our way in front of them through a gate into the Sunda Straight. Around a mark and hundreds of strangely-lit fishing boats in the dark dodged the many ferries and junks. Another gate and then, in daylight, another. The wind on and off giving the advantage to one yacht then the other but at least always a breath to fight for. We managed to stay in front a make the gate first. The tussle for second through continued as the wind died. We are now traveling at one knot sideways, conveniently on a course that will allow us through the numerous oil fields.'

The area the fleet is racing through at the moment has many natural and man-made hazards. These range from shallow areas, reefs and volcanoes to a multitude of oil and gas drilling platforms. Hull & Humber skipper Danny Watson reported earlier today, 'Amazing day sailing thru the Sunda Straits under kite with the Son of Krakatoa sending up plumes of volcanic ash every 15 minutes… spectacular!' Glasgow: Scotland with style Clipper and have both had a ringside seat for this explosive demonstration of nature in the raw.

More information: Clipperroundtheworld

Simple but smart slogan for Indonesian tourism year 2008

When a grammatical mistake was spotted in Indonesia's tourism slogan, I felt a little forgiving towards the person responsible, given the task of thinking it up. I am not trying to make excuses; I think we must admit English is one of the most complicated languages in the world.

In fact it is not only the grammar, but pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary that are also hurdles to mastering English. These hurdles are not just challenging for us who were not born as native English speakers, but also for those who were "lucky enough" to be born and educated in an English-speaking environment. Believe me, they frequently make mistakes too.

Hopefully the lesson from the grammatical mistake in our slogan will be that in the future our tourism slogans will only contain words which are warm, not gimmicky, and most importantly, eye-catching. A slogan such as "Explore the chain of islands, explore Indonesia" could be considered a more powerful and captivating slogan.

by Iyan Nurmansyah

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Related: Indonesia scurries to fix blunder in new campaign

Ex-tourism head takes a swipe at uneven promotion of Indonesia

Putting Our Tourism House in Order
Leading Expert Examines Why Indonesia Continues to Get Less than its Share of the Tourism Pie.

Bali News: Putting Our Tourism House in Order (1/6/2008) The former Executive Director of the Indonesian Promotion Board and a frequent contributor to, Wuryastuti Sunario, wrote the following article that appeared in the December 17, 2006 edition of Media Indonesia..

Our free translation of that article follows:

Professional Management is Needed to Improve the Competitiveness of Indonesian Tourism

Wuryastuti Sunario

It must be admitted that despite Indonesia's rich variety of cultural and natural assets, the country is is increasingly the loser in the competition for tourism arrivals among other ASEAN countries when compared to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

In 1999, Indonesia attracted around 5 million foreign tourists or 14% of all tourism arrivals to ASEAN. Meanwhile Singapore garnered 21%, Malaysia 24% and Thailand 26%. Seven years later in 2006, Indonesia's share of all ASEAN arrivals has dropped to 8.6% while Singapore earned a 17.1% share and Thailand 24.4%. Meanwhile, Malaysian arrivals had leapt to a 31% market-share, making it the biggest tourism contributor in ASEAN. Total foreign tourists to Indonesia in 2006 totaled 4.8 million compared to 9.7 million arrivals to Singapore, 13.8 to Thailand and 17.5 million to Malaysia.

To remedy this, Indonesia hopes to bring 7 million foreign visitors to Indonesia in "Visit Indonesia Year 2008" and 6 million visitors in 2007.

In Presidential Instruction No. 16 of 2005, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono instructed his Ministers, all Government agencies, Governors, Regents and Mayors to support and coordinate closely in order to support development of Indonesian tourism. However, when success is measured by the number of tourist arrivals, the success of that policy is yet to be realized.

Why is it that Indonesia has been left behind – as though the country has been abandoned by tourists over the past decade?

Indonesia's tourism has faced many challenges requiring those working in the tourism industry to work very hard to overcome the multi-dimensional challenges of terrorism, earthquakes, tsunamis, bird flu and, most recently, the extension of the European Union's ban on Indonesian aviation. That ban has particularly crippled remote areas of Indonesia dependent on tourism such as Nias, Toraja, Maluku and Papua.

In late October of 2007 the World Economic Forum (WEF) published a competitive index for tourism. That index placed Indonesia at the 60th ranking, behind Singapore at No. 8, Malaysia No. 31 and Thailand No. 43.

This is the reality that Indonesia must confront. WEF's competitive index looked beyond the mere natural beauty, cultural attractions, prices competitiveness and competitive business practice of a destination.

The WEF's measure of competitiveness was based on 13 separate criteria including rules and regulations; policies for the control and development of tour and travel activities; environmental policies; safety; cleanliness; health; the prioritization of travel and tourism in national development; aviation infrastructure; tourism infrastructure; information and technology infrastructure; price competitiveness; quality and dynamism of human resources; national perceptions regarding tourism; and finally natural and cultural resources. Clearly, many of these areas are outside the immediate responsibility and control of the tourism sector.

Indonesia's ranking as 60th world-wide in terms of tourism competitiveness was statistically based and also contemplated TV media perceptions, both abroad and within Indonesia, that the Country is less than safe, dirty, unhealthy, etc. – all negative factors acting as disincentives for tourists considering a visit to Indonesia.

But, to be frank, in addition to external factors, there are also internal problems plaguing Indonesian tourism's ability to be globally competitive.

A closer look at the criteria which form the basis of the WEF assessment reveals that Indonesian tourism's lethargy is grounded in the weakness of overall Destination Management and Leadership, with the Country lacking professional manpower skills at every level.

The is also an lack of clarity regarding Political Will as provided by Indonesia's Executive as well as Legislative branches who constantly espouse the prioritization of tourism development but provide only minimum funding support. As a result, Indonesia is unable to compete with neighboring countries possessing larger budgets for the development and promotion of tourism.

Of no less importance, is Indonesia's demonstrated poor communication skills with the rest of the world, both on a Government level and via its national media. Indonesia seldom counters accusations and negative news presented by the international media. As a result, negative and inaccurate news reports on terrorism, disease, natural disasters and aviation accidents in Indonesia are allowed to stand fostering international perceptions that Indonesia is not an attractive tourism destination to visit.

Meanwhile, the management clout of Indonesian tourism by the Department of Culture and Tourism has lost much of its strength through the transfer of tourism development powers to Indonesia's many autonomous regions and districts, which now number around 450. These regions have been unprepared to accept this responsibility. For example, the destination of Lake Toba (North Sumatra) is under the supervision of no less than 8 regencies. Prambanan temple is in one section part of Central Java while, on another, is part of the Special District of Yogyakarta. Similarly, Mount Bromo, the Dieng Plateau and a number of other destinations are being held "hostage" among a number of competing autonomous regions. Meanwhile, the regions in Indonesia are currently more interested in tourism as a source of local tax revenues and payments rather than in how to professionally manage their destination to meet tourists' expectations and maintain global competitiveness.

From the aspect of national management of its tourism assets, the Country is currently fragmented into hundreds of autonomous units providing uneven levels of service, declining product quality standards, and substandard security and safety guarantees to both domestic and international visitors.

It is therefore the duty of the Government together with the House of Representatives (DPR) to reconfigure the hundreds of tourism management units into a single and very solid national tourism destination called "Indonesia" that will be able to compete internationally.

Another area prompting complaints from the Private Sector who must "sell" and "service" Indonesian tourism is the growing gulf that exists between the Government and the Private Sectors. In principle, cooperation between Business and Government in tourism matters should be a partnership based on a synergetic Reciprocal Interdependence; a system of mutual dependence where the function of Government is to "promote" and the role of Business sector is to "sell." "Promotion" without "selling" will be ineffective and even wasteful. On the other hand, "selling" is rendered problematic without "promotion."

In countries with advanced tourism industries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and Korea Reciprocal Interdependence is manifested in a single national organization set up under the laws of the respective legislature. These bodies are semi-governmental, operating as statutory bodies managed jointly by the Government and Private Sector. These toursim bodies bring together expertise, functionality and, most importantly, combined public and private funding administered under a single, clean and professional management structure.

But in Indonesia the formulation of a semi-private or semi-government organization has been deemed illegal under the finance laws of the Country. Like it or not, the tourism budget in Indonesia is based on the limited financial ability of the Country to set aside funds for the costly promotion of tourism abroad.

Finally, and no less important, is the role of the people in developing tourism. As demonstrated in the recent Sadar Wisata campaign that emphasize safety, public order and cleanliness - these responsibilities are not the sole job of the Central Government and the Provinces. The people must also take an important role in maintaining health and environmental cleanliness, not only for the sake of tourist but for the sake of their local community as a whole. The people must always be able to derive a positive benefit from tourism development through the creation of job opportunities and improved standards of living.

If Indonesia seriously wishes to attract a significant number of international and domestic tourists this must be done through the creation of Indonesian holidays that are both safe, interesting and memorable. In addition there is a great deal of home work, public relations and socialization which must be done by leaders on the national and local level involving both the Private and Public sectors. Only in this way, Indonesian tourism can become more competitive in keeping with the general improvement of both the Nation's and the People's reputation and image.

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Siwaratri (Purgatory a la Balinese)

Tomorrow, on the dark moon of the seventh month based on the Balinese lunar calendar system, Balinese will celebrate the Siwaratri or the Night of Siwa.

This holy day is devoted to God Siwa, the destroyer. Balinese believes that on this day, God Siwa, the destroyer meditate for the welfare of the world, and the God Siwa will bestow a pardon for all sin to someone if he accompany the God Siwa in his meditation by observing some self restriction and meditate on the night of Siwaratri.

The Brata (self-restriction) of Siwaratri includes Jagra (staying awake all night long), Upawasa (fasting), and Monabrata (silence). There are three major level of self- restriction, Balinese can choose a level of self-restriction according to his capability.

Details: Baliwww