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Equator: Asia

This week Into the Wild has been on a round the world trip to the lands touched by the equatorial line. So far we’ve been through the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Colombia, Sao and Tome Principe, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, the DRC, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia. Today the line of zero degrees latitude is leading us into Asia where it passes over just a small selection of Indonesian Islands – despite their small size, these lands are still jam packed with equatorial wonders.

Photo courtesy of M Reza Faisal


The Indonesian islands are home to some of the most species rich rainforests in the world with over 5000 tree species alone. Unfortunately, over three quarters of the native forest on these islands has already been lost to deforestation. One of the major threats now posed is the clearing of rainforest for oil palm plantations.

First stop is Borneo, home to one of the largest orangutan populations in the world. Previously orangutans lived in many regions throughout South East Asia, however due to habitat loss and deforestation the species is now confined to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Several National Parks have been set up in Borneo in an attempt to conserve and protect the orangutan populations. Various large and iconic animals can also be found on the Indonesian islands including tigers, rhinos, elephants, leopards, sun bears and the proboscis monkey.


Indonesia has a plethora of sites on offer, so here are just a few that might take your fancy. In Eastern Sumatra you’ll find the island’s largest archaeological site, Muaro Jambi, which was the seat of the Melayu Kingdom in the 4th - 13th centuries. The Pura Saraswati in Jalan Raya, Ubud, was built by the royal family in the 19th century and is a temple dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge and Learning. The temple’s exquisite design, structure and stone carvings make it a must see.

If you fancy a bit of a hike why not head over to Mount Kerinci. The mountain can be climbed from the village of Kersik Tuo near Padang, with the climb to the summit and descent taking on average 3 days and 2 nights. If you’re a keen surfer then Sumatra has some great surf spots, most notably the Mentawai Islands and Nias.

A key stop-off on any journey over the equator must be Tugu Khatulistiwa, the equator monument. Twice a year a unique natural phenomenon a unique phenomenon is said to occur here: at noon in mid-March and mid-September everything around the monument apparently completely loses its shadow. Amazing stuff.


There is a strong fishing culture throughout Indonesia. On the equatorial islands of Batu, an isolated community, untouched by tourists, live a subsistence lifestyle. The village survives mainly on fish which the men of the village catch by entering lagoons and herding fish towards the shore using sticks. Elsewhere, the Bajau Laut (covered in our look at the most extreme community locations on Earth) actually live on the water, free diving for extraordinary lengths of time in order to harvest sea cucumbers and other marine life from the sea bed.

Coconut plays a significant role in the cuisine of Indonesia, with coconut milk featuring in everything from drinks, sauces, soups, and rice. Traditional spices on the islands use a base of coriander, pepper, and garlic. Surprisingly, cloves and nutmeg play only a marginal role in Indonesian cooking and instead are more commonly used in local medicine. Other ingredients playing a key and frequent role in recipes from the region are turmeric, cassia, bay leaf, star anise, ginger, tamarind, galangal, cardamom, lemon grass, scallion, shallots, peanuts, dried anchovies, prawns and ghee.

On the Island of Sumatra – intestine is considered a local delicacy however if you’re not quite ready for that why not try out this delicious recipe for Spicy Indonesian beef:

Photo courtesy of Jeda Villa Bali


500g rump steak
2 onions
4 garlic cloves
3 fresh red chillies
21/2cm ginger root
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon paprika
1 stalk lemon grass
3 Kaffir Lime leaves
600ml coconut milk
75ml water


Put the Onions, Garlic, Chillies, Ginger, Paprika, Turmeric and Water in a food processor and make into a smooth paste. Dice the meat and mix with half the paste. Set aside. Put the other half of the paste into a heavy sauce pan and add the coconut milk, chopped lemon grass and lime leaves. Boil without the lid for about 30 mins. until mixture is reduced to half. Add the meat mixture and return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered; stirring regularly, for a further hour till the steak is tender. Serve with boiled rice.

That wraps up our whistle-stop tour of the Equator, an imaginary line which links a fascinating mix of very different countries, cultures and habitats. We hope you've enjoyed travelling with us. For a more in depth look at some of these places, check out the amazing 3-part BBC Equator series presented by Simon Reeve.

By Hannah Jones

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Reader Comments (1)

Yeah, the Mentawai Islands has some of the best surf in the world!

April 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMentawai Surf Resorts

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