Getting to Patagonia, South America is not an easy trip. To get there, I had to fly from Kuala Lumpur to London (13 hours) and then travel another 13 hours to Buenos Aires. After a day’s break, I then had another three-hour journey by air to El Calafate in the very south of Argentina. By the time I arrived, my bones felt like they’d been crushed into a lump of porridge; that’s how tired I was.
If Hermandari Kartowisastro felt the same, she didn’t show it. In fact, prior to meeting up with our group at El Calafate she had been on a five-day camping trip near Mount Fitzroy north of there, sleeping in small tents in the wet and rainy, not to mention cold, forest. This would be tough enough for anyone but Ibu Ndari, as we call her, took it with equanimity. How many 74-year-old grandmothers do you know who are as adventurous as this?
What can you say about anyone who has travelled to some 65 countries and can barely stay home in Jakarta longer than two weeks? And none of these travels are the easy lie-by-the-pool-with-a-cocktail type either. Earlier this year, Ibu Ndari had been to the North Pole, in August she is going to Kamchatka in the Russian Far East, and in January, she’ll be braving the cold of Antarctica!
‘Inspirational’ and ‘empowering’ are the only words that come to mind when describing Ibu Ndari. But where did this travel bug come from?
As a young girl, Ibu Ndari lived in Europe with her diplomat parents and seven siblings. “My father could not afford to take us to expensive hotels when we went on holiday. So he would take us on camping trips instead. I think that’s where I grew to love adventure holidays,” she explained.
The other love Ibu Ndari has is photography, which she only took up at 67. Indeed, these last few trips, including the one to Patagonia, were basically photography trips for her. Every day, we would wake up early to catch the sunrise (always well worth it) and in the evening, if the weather was still nice, catch the sunset too. With the exception of me with my iPhone 7 Plus and one other person, everyone else was loaded down with heavy cameras, lenses and tripods, and took their shoots very seriously.
Ibu Ndari was no exception, although she had the help of her younger friends, Marcella and Fauz, to carry her equipment. But you could tell that she was in no hurry to take photos of everything – she would rather stand and reflect on the scenery in front of her before taking the photos she wanted.
The results can be seen on her Instagram account, @hermandari_kartowisastro. She has also participated in photo exhibitions, including a solo one, and produced a book of her photographs called Mengapa Tidak? (Why Not?), in 2013.
When we were not taking photos of mountains, lakes or exotic animals – like the guanaco or the puma – we were laughing. On the bus going from one beautiful location to the next, or at one of the many barbecued meat meals we had, Ibu Ndari kept us entertained with tales of her life and travels or of her opinion of politics, which, given her wide travels, are more progressive than most of her generation.
“I like to look at things positively,” said Ibu Ndari of her motto in life. And indeed, she exemplifies that positivity. Even when she had bad news from home during our Patagonia adventure, she kept her sadness mostly private and did not let it cast a pall over the rest of the group.
At home in Jakarta, she has an interior construction business but she no longer has to show up at the office every day, leaving her free to enjoy the fruits of her labours with travel. Her two children and four grandchildren have also grown used to her being away so much. It is a dream of an unfettered life. And really, why not?