You're not in Kansas anymore. Everything is different. Roll with the punches. Dismiss the idea that things are pretty much the same the world over. At first it will be the big things.
Indonesia is a hot country. It's hot and it's humid. It's hot in the way that people will pay a small fortune to expose themselves to for two weeks. You'll notice the heat the moment you step off the plane. You will find it hard to believe, but you will get used to it and after a few weeks you'll hardly be aware of it. Checking weather forecasts will be a thing of the past. Talking about the weather simply doesn't exist as conversation filler in Indonesia, because there's nothing to say. How's the weather? Hot and sunny. Except when it's raining. Then it's hot and sunny again. So, bottom line? During the rainy season it rains every day. Hard. During the dry season, it doesn't. We're not talking about a Vancouver/Liverpool kind of bleak, dreary gloom that seems interminable and goes on for months on end. It's hot and you'll see a lot of sun. It's just that for an hour or two it buckets down; it might be overcast for part or even most of the day, but you will see the sun regularly and even in the monsoon time of the year, Indonesia will maintain its reputation as a tropical paradise.
You might find that you simply don't see another Westerner or European for weeks at a time. You might meet Indonesians who speak English, but their language skills will vary and most won't understand a word you say. Don't forget that you're the foreigner. Just out of common courtesy, try to learn some rudimentary words as soon as you can. The mere fact that you attempt to communicate in the local language will go a long way. Indonesians are the friendliest and most outgoing people you will ever meet; they are fascinated by foreigners and very hospitable to strangers.
It might take you some time to get used to perfect strangers coming up to you on the street or on public transportation and asking you what seem to be personal questions. Don't think of this behaviour as rude, but rather as open friendliness and courteous curiosity. Where are you going, where are you from, how old are you, are you married, how many children do you have, what religion are you… All are perfectly common and appropriate questions that you will be asked by people you've never met. These are conversational icebreakers and not necessarily asked for information’s sake. Go ahead and answer them. Or be evasive, if you really don’t want to answer. Don't be offended by the religious questions, but to answer that you have no religion would be a non sequitur to most Indonesians. Your religion is a fundamental thing. To say you have none would be something like answering, 'I'm not' to the question 'how tall are you?' or 'I never had parents' to 'are your parents still living?' Just remember to smile a lot and you'll be amazed at how easily accepted you are.
People will talk to you and then whisper into a friend's ear, and then they'll laugh uproariously. Don't be offended. Indonesians love to laugh and generally they laugh out of delight and not derision. They are just so tickled to be conversing with a Westerner that they revel in the moment and your strangeness. The conversation you have with them will be recounted moment for moment to their friends and family for the foreseeable future.
Soon you'll become aware that the little things have been a little bit off all along. Switches seem to be upside down, you pay extra for drinks without ice, everybody from six months old to dead has a mobile phone1, you write your order on an order sheet even in western-style restaurants.
Everybody and his dog is an entrepreneur.
There are freelance traffic directors. These guys stand around at tricky intersections and wave their arms at the vehicle traffic. They interpose their bodies between your vehicle and the oncoming traffic allowing you to turn, enter the flow or whatever. You or your driver stick your hand out and drop a coin.
At highway on-ramps you will be confronted by vendors walking between the cars selling everything from newspapers and bottled water to plastic toys. In some places, you will see transvestites in elaborate makeup and cocktail gowns soliciting among the jammed traffic. If you come out of an office building or shopping centre in the rain, there will be crowds of kids rushing to escort you with a handy umbrella in return for a tip. People double park everywhere, but they leave the car in neutral. This permits freelance parking wardens to push the cars around to let you out, all in return for a tip.
Everything you do or see will be either radically or subtly different from what you're accustomed to. That's what it's all about. Believe it or not, after a remarkably short time you won't even look twice at a family of five on a 100cc motorcycle with the mother carrying a brace of live chickens, and one of the children clutching a twenty-gallon jug of water.
In Jakarta particularly, you will be taken aback by the crowds of people and vehicles everywhere you go. People and vehicles elbow their way through mind-boggling traffic and nobody minds the congestion. Traffic has to be experienced to be believed. It can never be described or prepared for. You just have to believe that you will eventually get used to it. Walking in the city centre is not really a viable or pleasant option. Except in the actual markets and a few of the big squares, there is little comfort for the pedestrian and crossing a street can qualify as an extreme sport. Except it's scarier.
Pedestrian traffic is as extreme as the vehicular variety. People jostle and shove their way through unbelievable congestion and, in malls as well as markets, people saunter along three or four abreast at a snail's pace, driving the hurrying Westerner berserk with impatience. Get used to it. It's all done with a great deal of smiling and good humour and people consider it a great opportunity to rub shoulders with their neighbours.
Transportation by vehicle is varied and occasionally reasonably safe. 'Ojeks' are motorcycle taxis and make up the bulk of urban traffic. These are guys who whip around and through the traffic with you perched on the back of one of their bikes, eyes clamped shut and reciting your prayers. 'Microlets' or 'angkots' are minibuses that are cheap, reliable and uncomfortable. You squeeze in, somebody sits on your lap, or you do on theirs and you bounce your way along. Knock on the ceiling when you want to get off. Try to get out2, then go to the driver and pay your fare. It's cheap.
Taxis are more comfortable, but make sure you get a metered one or be prepared to negotiate price before you leave. If you don't, you're pretty much compelled to pay what the driver asks upon arrival, and that could be unreasonable. You don't negotiate after the service has been provided.
In Indonesia there are almost as many modes of transportation as there are people. The above brief list has left out the enclosed three-wheel motorcycle taxis (bajaj), the bicycle rickshaws (becak), the donkey carts (dokar). All are available and all have their charms and drawbacks.
Between cities there are trains and executive class buses as well as planes for any real distance. Your best bet is to ask old hands or your Indonesian friends (you'll have many very quickly).
The Scent of the Tropics
It might take you some time to get used to the alien smell and the accumulation of trash in the tropical Far East. Your first reaction could be pretty negative. People throw garbage wherever they are and it piles up. Food used to be sold wrapped in banana leaves and the garbage just recycled itself but now everything comes in plastic and people are still in the habit of disposing of packaging and remnants with utter disregard for the environment or aesthetics. Combine that with the smell of un-refrigerated meat and fish in the markets, the same sizzling away in cooking oil at innumerable food stands and kiosks, entrails and butchers' off-cuts just chucked in the streets, chickens, goats and other livestock wandering around freely, the occasional open sewer and the pervasive durian3 aroma and you have a pretty pungent mixture. While at moments the smell is one that would cause Zeus to shake his head in disbelief, you will get used to it. It is exotic and, believe it or not, if you don’t actually miss it when you go away, you will wax nostalgic the next time you encounter it.
People shout, horns beep and ojeks rev their engines. The funny thing is this kind of bustle lacks the aggressive, almost hostile quality present in large western urban noise pollution. Horns are used constantly, but in a toot-toot 'Hello, I'm here' sort of way. Any shouting you hear will likely be either people announcing their products for sale or someone hailing you with an excited 'Hello, Mister!', whether you're male or female.
Before dawn you'll hear the first of the five daily calls to prayer. The mosques broadcast these chants by loudspeaker and every one of the faithful (therefore everyone in Indonesia outside of a very few areas like some parts of Bali and Sulawesi) must be within earshot of the chanting. At first it is alien and even disconcerting, but very soon it becomes rather calming in its predictability and familiarity. Just as the call to morning prayer ends, the roosters will start. Even in urban environments, many households keep chickens and the big guy starts the day by letting his ladies know it's time to start laying eggs.
At around the same time you'll hear a lorry driving slowly through the neighbourhood with loudspeakers announcing 'Roti, Roti!'. That's the bread4 truck (or bicycle or motorcycle). By now the sun is up and you'll be hearing ice cream vendors, the bubur (rice porridge) man, the bakso (meatballs) guy, the vegetable seller, laughter, maids chattering, radios playing either traditional Muslim music or modern covers of pop and rock classics sung by Asian singers. At first it is strange to hear something like 'Stairway to Heaven' done by a group that sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks. But you know you're in a different world when you ask someone to identify a familiar tune played on temple gongs, flutes and bamboo chimes and you suddenly recognise that even though they tell you it is a traditional Javanese folk song, you know it as 'A Hard Day’s Night'.
Bathrooms. Ah yes, bathrooms. Unlike our western concept of all-in-one bath, toilet and sink combos, things are different here. Each one of those devices serves a different function and is therefore not necessarily directly connected to or even located near the other.
You will find sinks, for instance, wherever somebody thought you might want to wash your hands. You might find them in the dining room of a restaurant, the living room of a house or the hallway of a business office. There won't necessarily be any way to dry your hands either, so check first.
Toilets? Follow the signs. Don't be afraid to come right out and ask for the toilet. Indonesians are bemused by our apparent need to use euphemisms for simple functions and the devices to accommodate them. If you ask for a bathroom, you might be told that they don't have one (most public places don't provide baths), if you ask for a washroom, you will likely be directed to a basin to wash. Ask for the toilet. The toilets themselves are quite likely to be of the squat variety. Look for the footrests and the rest is self-evident, if a little awkward at first. It is normal to remove your trousers and hang them on a hook. It makes things more comfortable. It probably won't have a flush mechanism but don't panic. There will be a dipper and a tap or a large pail of water beside the squatter; just keep ladling in the water until all evidence of your visit has left the premises.
There won't be any toilet paper. Bring your own or learn to get used to the way that the Koran dictates: water from the tap or bucket provided, using your left hand. The Islamic dictate for the aforementioned use of the left hand goes, incidentally, a long way to explaining why it is considered extremely rude to hand food to someone using your left hand. In fact, if you touch anybody casually, you should make an effort to use your right hand for that same reason.
The bath is likely to be pure Indonesian. In most cases you will be confronted with a rectangular, waist high cistern with a plastic dipper on the side of it. Go for it. The water will be room temperature and that's usually pretty comfortable. In fact, if the cistern has been recently filled, the water can be nearly hot, as it was probably poured in from another, larger cistern located on the roof, quite probably baking in the sun. A mandi involves lots of splashing and is considered to be so much fun that it's done several times a day. This several-times-a-day bathing habit is one that you'll be glad of rather quickly; hot, humid climates make them a welcome break. Just don’t climb into the cistern. Use the ladle to douse yourself. When you're done, it's a good idea to run the tap and fill the cistern for the next person.
Regular, frequent bathing is so much a part of Indonesian life that it's not uncommon to have an unexpected visitor drop by in the afternoon and ask out of politeness whether you've had your bath yet. If you haven't, it’s perfectly reasonable to go for a splash while your guest waits.
Housing varies in Indonesia from incredibly squalid, semi-permanent dirt-floored shanties to palaces of a splendour and opulence that would cause Suleiman the Magnificent to grind his teeth with envy. We will work from the assumption that yours lies somewhere in between.
In Indonesia when you rent a house, you rent a house. That means that the tenant provides absolutely everything – light bulbs, fridge, stove and everything. Many middle-class families don't have refrigerators although most have stoves. These are usually one-burner propane stoves on which the entire family's food is cooked every day.
Don't count on utilities to be as dependable as natural resources. There will be occasional and unpredictable power outages and interruptions to the water supply. It's a good idea to lay in a supply of candles when you move in. It's also a good idea to locate the breaker panel and main breaker (they're not always even near each other) some time before your first blackout. You could feel like an idiot having sat around for eight or 12 hours waiting by candlelight for the power to be restored, only to discover that you could have thrown the breaker.
There is a good possibility that your first close encounter with indigenous Indonesian wildlife will be right there in your house. Don't worry about the little gecko-like critters that decorate your walls. They're called cicaks and they're completely harmless5. They're cute little guys and they're actually kind of fun to have around.
You'll probably have somewhat less affection for the cockroaches (kecua) you might encounter. You'll only see them occasionally (if at all) and they don't travel in packs. On the other hand, they're big. Really big. Bigger than most cicaks. The size of your thumb. Give them a shot of bug spray and they'll soon be break dancing on the tiles. If you're environmentally concerned or you just don't like bug spray (or you can't find it in the heat of combat), just whack the thing with a shoe, or even a hammer. If you're fastidious, leave the result for the maid to shovel out. Or you could just ignore them when they scuttle by; most people do, since they're essentially benign.
You might see a rat from time to time. With the garbage everywhere, that shouldn't come as a surprise, but once again, they're less than aesthetically delightful. They'll run like hell and disappear if they see you, so they'll make you jump, but they'll be more scared than you are. One thing, though. Unless you're up for the fight, don't corner one. Just give him room and he'll vanish like smoke. Don’t leave food out overnight, it'll just encourage return visits with friends. If you see one in your house, have your maid lay a trap.
Always keep your house keys handy. Doors here lock from both sides and it's easy to get locked in. Your maid will lock the door to the house when she leaves, or goes to take a nap, so you'll need to unlock it to get out.
Food, Glorious Food
If you eat in Indonesia, you eat rice. Rice is the central part of any meal. You can eat noodles or a variety of other starches like cassava or even potatoes, but it's not a real meal without rice. In fact, the phrase makan nasi, meaning to have a meal, translates literally to 'eat rice'. A meal can be just about anything with rice. You'll see a lot of fried chicken and a lot of fish, as these make up the bulk of the animal protein that's commonly eaten on a day-to-day basis, at least on Java. A lot of vegetables are eaten, either fried or boiled and served in their broth; these can always be poured over the rice and eaten with a spoon.
Seafood in Indonesia is wonderful. Fish, both freshwater and ocean-going are plentiful and widely available, as are crab, shrimp, mussels, prawns, squid (cuttlefish), octopus and eel. These are cooked in a variety of ways and all are usually served with rice. Note that almost everything will have some bite to it, as chillies are used in almost all cooking. As well as chilli paste, chilli sauce or just raw chillies will be served along with the meal; you can either just eat your food hot or you can raise blisters on your tongue. Some food will be glowing and emitting gamma rays; it can be so hot that if you inadvertently take a mouthful, you'll find yourself looking wildly about to see if you are the victim of some sadistic practical joke. You're not. Look carefully; seven-year-old kids are shovelling the same stuff into their mouths and then adding more sambal (literally 'sauce', but really meaning a blistering chilli paste).
Beef is widely available but pretty expensive. In grocery stores, don't look for any fancy cuts like you get in Britain, Canada or Australia; steak here is usually either tenderloin, very good, medium tender and you tell them how to cut it, or sirloin - kind of tough and not as thick as Westerners are used to. Otherwise you'll find a lot of organ meat. Beef heart is popular.
Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, so you won't find any pork in most stores (although bacon can sometimes be found, for some reason) but you will find a lot of goat and occasionally lamb. Chicken is everywhere. Whole, parts, organs, you name it, they've got it. In most big stores and the markets you'll find things you're not used to: live frogs, chicken heads and feet and turtles to name a few.
In Indonesia some foods you might never have considered trying are available. Organ meat is not common in Western countries but is consumed on a routine basis in Indonesia: lung, brain or intestine. As well, animals you might not have thought of as protein sources are considered good eatin'. In Manado, a common menu item is bat (the wings are particularly tasty). Dog is eaten by non-Muslims and mouse is considered quite a treat. You'll find barbecued whole rats on a skewer being offered in some markets. You can also find snake. Cobra blood and gall is considered to be a wonderful tonic.
One thing you won't be able to miss is the astonishing variety of fruit that Indonesia has to offer. Besides the usual fruit like apples, watermelon and the tropical fruits like mango, banana, pineapple, guava and papaya, you'll be confronted by rambutan, duku, manggis, salak, the famous durian and all kinds of things you've never heard of. Experiment. Some are always in season (papaya, coconut, banana), others have particular times of the year (rambutan, mango, duku). Peaches, pears and plums, on the other hand, are considered wildly exotic and few people have tried them.
Since alcohol consumption is forbidden by the Koran, drinking plays a very small part in Indonesian life. This is not to say that liquor is illegal or that no Indonesian imbibes. Just as it safe to assume that not every Catholic adheres strictly to the pontifical prohibition against birth control, every Muslim cannot be said to be a teetotaller. Alcohol simply doesn't make up a big part of the cultural interaction in the country. You will find beer and in some cases hard liquor in the grocery stores sold along side the pop and chips. In fact, at the snack counter at movie theatres you can order bir dingin (cold beer) to go along with your A169463popcorn. It's just that Indonesians seem to take the view that it is a Western idiosyncracy to pay such exorbitant amounts for a drink that isn't as tasty as a good fruit juice.
There are a few local potent potables, including Arak and several really sweet grape concoctions as well as some kinds of cordials. Let's just say that they're an acquired taste. Foreign wine can also be found for the person who really searches it out, but the choice is highly limited and it is insanely expensive. Major hotels and nightclubs and bars all serve alcohol; it's generally relatively expensive, and many outlets will be closed during the month of Ramadan.
Where You Eat
Everywhere. There are restaurants, food stalls, food carts, food stands, food kiosks and wandering food vendors. Many people, including many long-stay foreigners, simply never eat at home. Most warung makan (open restaurants, primarily, but not exclusively for take-out) sell a fairly limited fare. There will be eggs (chicken and duck), vegetables, soups, fish, chicken, possibly some sate (skewered, barbequed meat morsels which could be beef, chicken, goat or in some places something more exotic) and of course, rice. Point to what you want and take it home or eat at one of the stools at the counter.
In the mornings temporary bubur shops can be found. Bubur is a delicious kind of rice porridge served with shredded chicken, chili sauce, shrimp crackers, fried soybeans and a variety of other condiments, depending on the chef. In some places the bubur man will come around announcing his presence by tapping on a dish as he rides his restaurant-on-a-bicycle through the neighbourhood.
Other specialist entrepreneurial chefs will ride through the neighbourhood on a routine schedule selling everything from bakso (meat or fish balls) to mie goreng (fried noodles). From time to time you'll see the fruit guy. From his cart he'll sell you a mix of local seasonal fruit cut, peeled and served on a plate with a spicy peanut sauce. Just order from these guys and if you use their dishes, go ahead. Eat, return the dishes and pay. The price will be no more than a couple of thousand Rupiah.
It might be a good idea to provide your own plate and utensils, though. Usually their concept of washing the tableware between uses involves little more than a perfunctory dip in some rather suspect water that they've been toting around all day in a bucket they have with them.
Of course, in Jakarta and other big cities, you can find the usual fast-food franchises: McDonalds, KFC and Dunkin' Donuts as well as some Japanese and Indonesian franchise operations. Be forewarned, however. If you go to McDonalds for a taste of home, you'll find that it's not quite the same. It's hard to pin down what's different, but the beef is local, so the different breeds of cattle might be the explanation. Don't forget, at KFC, you'll get rice with everything. There are also some menu items at all of these outlets that are geared to local tastes.
Some Stuff You Ought to Know
Indonesia is about 90% Muslim. The majority of the rest of the population is made up of members of the other officially recognised religions: Christians, Catholics (their own distinction), Hindus and Buddhists. Manado in North Sulawesi is predominantly Christian while Bali is predominantly Hindu. The rest of Indonesia is almost entirely Muslim. It is therefore a good idea to have some basic idea of Islamic culture and mores.
Indonesia's is a secular government. That is to say that the country, although populated nearly exclusively by people of the Muslim faith, is not governed by religious law. Besides Islam, the Indonesian constitution recognises the four religions mentioned above. Outside of Aceh, the province in North Sumatra where religious conflict has been a way of life for decades, most Muslims are devout, but moderate in their religio-political views and tolerant in their social interactions. Nonetheless, simple courtesy suggests that one behaves in a manner that demonstrates respect for the traditions, culture, and religion of the vast majority of the people of the host country. Learn about the five prayers every day, the fasting month of Ramadan, the five pillars of Islam and the major holidays. Learn to respond to 'Salam aleikhum' (peace be with you) with 'aleikhum salam' (right back at ya).
Indonesia is a very hierarchical society. Great respect is shown for age and position. You will be treated with respect and courtesy by your household staff and store clerks, and virtually everyone except government officials; you should, as quickly as possible, identify the neighbourhood chiefs, clerics and others entitled to deference from you. If in doubt about the proper way to mete out or to accept the deference that goes along with age and position, just remember to smile a lot and be genuine and courteous.
People shake hands all the time. When coming into a room, you should shake hands with the oldest or most senior person first and then with everyone else in the room. Same process on the way out; shake hands with everyone. Young, old, male, female. The Eastern handshake is likely to be interpreted at first as limp or wimpy. That's a mistake. It is true in most cases that a handshake is not the firm clasp that is expected in the west, but that is because a hard grip is considered to be aggressive, even hostile. Bear in mind that even if you are shaking the hand of a martial arts instructor, there might be only a slight touch with very gentle pressure. Mistake that for wimpiness at your peril.
If people come to your house it is certainly polite to offer them something to drink or eat. The first offer will probably be refused, but go ahead and ask several times, even apply slight pressure; the first refusal is courtesy. Even if you don't have a full bar or larder, go ahead. A glass of water is considered a reasonable refreshment to be offered6 If you provide a drink of any sort, just serve it at room temperature unless you ascertain that your guest genuinely wants it cold or with ice. If you have passed around food or drinks, your guests probably won't eat or drink until they are invited to do so. The normal drill is serve everyone and then say 'silakan minum' (please drink), or 'silakan makan' (please eat).
As a general rule, Indonesians, out of politeness, will not presume to do anything without being invited to do so. If someone drops by to visit, they might well stand outside talking to you over the gate until you actually ask them in. They might then even refuse out of courtesy the first time they are asked, so ask more than once. To ask someone in, say 'silakan masuk'.
Indonesians are comfortable having no scheduled or even contemplated plan of activities for a social call. Just sitting around enjoying one another's company, even in the absence of food or drinks and despite conversational lags, is often sufficiently engaging for them later to report that they had a wonderful time. Most people's experience is that Indonesian people seem to have a marvellous inherent sense of timing on social visits. They rarely stay a moment longer than you want them to and will generally stand up as a group and simply announce, 'We will go home now'. It is polite to ask them to stay. If they are just testing the waters of your patience and hospitality or gauging your fatigue level, they'll accept. Otherwise they'll tell you that they wish to sleep or take a bath. If you genuinely would like them to stay and you feel that they are merely offering a courtesy, ask more than once.
It is fair to say that in general, Indonesians are modest in their dress and proper in their sense of social demeanour. Their social and sexual morality is more restrictive than that of Westerners. For example, it's extremely rare for people of opposite sexes to live together without benefit of marriage and those who do so are iconoclasts. Indonesian culture, perhaps because of the density of the population, at least on Java, is very prone to what we might consider unseemly interest in the personal comings and goings of their neighbours and gossip is a national pastime.
As a foreigner, expect to have your every mood, word and nuance discussed among your neighbours and their families. Indonesians will unashamedly transmit any personal information you have shared with them to anyone they speak with. And they will unabashedly ask you for some pretty personal information to transmit. If you have a little introductory chat with someone in your new neighbourhood, fully expect every detail to be etched in all local residents' memories and expect the conversation to be referred to at later dates.
To engage in any level of romantic relationship with an Indonesian of the opposite sex is to start on the road to marriage. Either asking someone out a number of times or accepting such an invitation is considered to be making some level of commitment. Many foreigners have been dismayed to find themselves being described as a 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' of someone with whom they have only spent a few hours on two occasions.
Indonesian women are heartbreakingly beautiful and fond of wearing very tight clothes; jeans and tee shirts are worn everywhere outside of work, but an Indonesian woman wouldn't think of going without a bra, no matter what kind of shape she's in. Despite tight clothes, it's considered slightly risqué to reveal bare shoulders or allow glimpses of armpit except at the beach or in very casual circumstances. Men generally wear slacks and shirts with collars at work, ties if it is relatively formal. Batik shirts for men are always an acceptable substitute for business attire.
Indonesians worship children. They virtually never raise their voices and don't even give them dirty looks. They admire one another's kids and 'ooh' and 'ah' over babies. Tell a mother how beautiful her child is and you'll be rewarded with that earth-moving smile that has caused Indonesia to be known throughout Asia as 'the land of the smiling people'. Never ruffle a child's hair. It's okay, perhaps even called for, to stroke a child's head gently, but remember that hair is a source of pride and considered just this side of sacred.
The basic thing to remember is that Indonesian people genuinely like foreigners and are remarkably tolerant of their differences. If you don't forget that you are the stranger and they are the people with the inside track on proper behaviour, lapses will be treated with humour and gentle amusement. As long as your behaviour isn't due to arrogance or contempt, the Indonesians will, by and large, put up with more from us than we would from foreigners.
One other thing. Right now everything seems alien and odd. In two months it will seem natural. In fact, just as the Indonesian language makes much more sense than English (it is almost purely phonetic, there aren’t dozens of synonyms for every word, most tenses are understood from the context), after a very short time, you will come to appreciate the logic of the way things are done in Indonesia. In the meantime, you will have a glorious time finding your way around in what is probably the most exotic country on the planet.