Indonesia with Friendship Force

This item appears on page 54 of the June 2012 issue.

I have traveled all over the world on various tours. My trip to Indonesia, May 3-27, 2011, introduced me to a new way of travel — as a member of Friendship Force International (Atlanta, GA; 404/522-9490).

Friendship Force’s mission is to build global goodwill through personal friendships. Their trips emphasize “faces, not places,” and traveling with them changes the way you see the world.

Kids’ pageant at a private school in Jogjakarta. Photo: Marcia Howard

There are over 363 Friendship Force clubs in 55 countries, including seven in Indonesia. Indonesian clubs arranged for us to stay in their members’ homes, where we were treated like guests.

Because we were guests, we did not have to pay for lodging, food or sightseeing. The cost for the 25-day trip was only $3,400 per person, which included round-trip airfare, New York-Hong Kong-Denpasar, on Cathay Pacific; a payment of $150 to each local club we visited, and tips. In addition, we each paid $100 to Friendship Force in Atlanta.

We had one week in Bandung, Java, one week in Yogyakarta, Java, and an optional week in Sanur and Ubud on Bali. Our hosts treated us royally. They paid for us to have group meals at restaurants and resorts and in individuals’ homes.

Our Muslim hosts would quietly slip away for their daily prayers. (One host said she didn’t need to listen to the city loudspeaker announcing prayer time, as her Blackberry was set to inform her.)

I had a concern about finding Western-style toilets, but all the homes we stayed in had them. Some public destinations had both Western and “hole in the ground” types.

Of course, we got to see the highlights of Java, such as the Borobudur and Prambanan temples. For me, the real highlight of the trip was the unexpected — visits to very small villages (where very few foreigners go) plus two weddings to which 1,250 people were invited.

We also went to a baby-naming ceremony in someone’s home, met with government officials and other influential people and were interviewed by a television station.

It’s customary to have welcome and farewell dinners in each location, where we share something related to our culture. At one of them, I taught the group to dance the Virginia reel.

We brought gifts to our hosts (as most guests do), but we were overwhelmed with the generosity of the gifts that our hosts gave us.

We each were assigned a day on which to keep a diary of our activities. Our trip director compiled it and our pictures and we each have a complete journal of our fantastic trip.

East Northport, NY