A Virtual Visit to Indonesia
By Charlie Keenan

Muslims throng to the market center in Jakarta to shop for an upcoming Islamic festival. (AP Photo)
Indonesia is a collection of 13,670 islands located off the coast of Southeast Asia. Groups of islands like Indonesia are called an "archipelago." The islands stretch along the equator in the Indian and Pacific oceans, spanning 3,200 miles east to west and 1,100 miles north to south.

More than 7,000 of Indonesia's islands are uninhabited by humans. Indonesia squeezes a population similar in number to the entire United States into an area only three times the size of Texas. Jakarta, the capital, is the largest city in the country and the 14th largest in the nation.

The Republic of Indonesia is home to more than 300 ethnic groups and 250 languages. The largest ethnic group is the Javanese. The official language is Indonesian.

A 6-year-old boy climbs a ladder to catch a glimpse of one of the world's biggest flowers in bloom. The plant is 7.5 feet tall and blooms only once in several years. It is native to Sumatra, one of the Indonesian islands. (AP Photo)
The country has dense tropical forests, swampy coastlines, and a warm climate. Jakarta receives about 70 inches of annual rainfall, about twice that of New York. Up in the mountains, weather stations have recorded as much as 28 inches of rain in a day.

It is home to more than 40,000 different flowering plants, including 5,000 kinds of orchids, and the monster flower, the world's largest blossom. Indonesia used to be called the Dutch East Indies. The name is believed to come from "Indos Nesos," meaning "Indian Islands," in the old trading language of the islands.

Indonesia has not always been a free country. For more than 200 years, the Dutch were colonists there and ruled over the Indonesians. The Dutch controlled the farmers and made money by taking the tea and spices the farmers had grown and selling them to other countries. From 1942 to 1945, during World War II, the Japanese occupied the islands. After the war, the Dutch ruled again. Indonesia finally became a free country in 1949.

Agriculture is the biggest part of Indonesia's economy. Rice is grown on coastal plains and mountain terraces. Coconuts, tea, rubber, oil, tin, and timber are also produced. The Indonesian monetary unit is called rupiah for money. About 10,850 rupiahs equal one dollar.

Huge plumes spew from the Mount Merapi volcano, as seen from Babadan, Central Java, Indonesia, in February. A maximum alert was issued and residents around the 9,794-foot Merapi were told to leave their homes and farms in case of a major eruption from Indonesia's most active volcano. (AP photo)
Indonesia's islands lie at the intersection of three large pieces of the Earth's crust. Underneath the crust is lava, and that lava bubbles up through the cracks between the plates to form volcanoes. Indonesia has 220 active volcanoes. Lava from volcanoes isn't the only danger. In eastern Java, the 5,679-foot Kelud volcano can cause massive mudflows. A mudflow, also called a "lahar," can wipe out everything in its path, including trees and entire towns.