I have decided to make one post for the three weeks we spent in Java. I had my reservations about this island, given that most travellers we had met along the way had told us we had to be really careful, due to crime and cons. However, apart from the pollution problems, we enjoyed our time in the most populated island in Indonesia very much, met some awesome people and visited wonderful sites.
Our first destination was Surubaya. It’s a big bustling city, marked by old Dutch architecture, giving it quite a unique colonial atmosphere. A wide river runs along it, with multiple bridges crossing it. After two and a half days at sea, we took it quite easy here; one night we went to the movies to watch Jurasic World (familiar forumulae, instant success). One afternoon we made our way to the House of Semporna, a museum dedicated to tobacco. It is a most interesting place, though dangerous for an addict in recovery like myself (Yeah right, who am I trying to kid :P). We walked for a long time to get there, passing nice street art, gratifies and cool little neighborhoods. We also enjoyed the cheapest street meal ever: 6.000 IDR for Rice, tempe and Iced tea, and it was delicious! We tried to catch a becak (bike/cart transport), but we had some communication misunderstanding and he ended up only taking us for about 300 mts before demanding an exorbitant amount of money (more than a taxi would cost) so we left each other and walked back by the river.
We visited the local market, and tried our best to not be killed by the insane traffic. We mastered the Indonesia trick for crossing streets: When there is even the smallest gap, start walking confidently with your arm stretched towards the incoming traffic and your palm open, at a constant and predictable speed, and cars/bikes will go around you.
From there, we caught a train to Jogjakarta. To our amazement, the train left exactly on time and arrived at our destination at the time the ticket said it would, was comfortable, clean and affordable. To our dismay, we got off one stop too early, and had to catch an additional taxi to get to the tourist district to find accommodation.
I left Tim and our packs on a bench, and started roaming the streets to find a place to sleep. I felt in love with this city almost immediately. Away from the main streets, Jogya consists of a maze of intertwined alleyways of different sizes, with colourful and sometime intricate art work on them. It might also be the most touristic place we have visited so far, which means you can find hotels like you can find rats in Jakarta. (Nice analogy, I know!) I went into many, and came to an arrangement with a local man at a nice homestay, called Sari. I fetched Tim, who had of course made some friends in my absence, and we settled into our new temporary home.
We spent the next two days exploring the city. We visited the Sultan Palace and the Water Palace.
Finding them was not that easy, as a bunch of locals misguided us and took us to certain familiar businesses instead of the places we actually wanted to go to. By the time we were returning, we were growing tired of people trying to “help” us. I know it sounds wrong and even rude, but imagine trying to get from A to B and being stopped 100 times and asked the same questions, while people are actually trying to lure you to a batik gallery or some other local enterprise… Instead we took our time and a million silly pictures, while trying to avoid the busy streets and exploring more little passage ways.
We did go with the flow a few times, and one of those was a very interesting gallery, where they taught us the process of batik art and showed us some wonderful paintings. Too bad they were insistent we purchased something, ignoring the fact we tried to explain we were travelers and had no use for those goods at this particular point in time. On one of the small alleys we also found a street cart that had over 8 different varieties of vegetarian curries. We were overfilled with joy, and returned there at any opportunity we got.
As expected, we visited the famous temples during the next few days. First was Borobodour, biggest Buddhist temple in South East Asia. We joined a tour to get there, as there is unfortunately no public transport available to do it on your own. We opted for the sunrise option, that gets you to a nearby hill at around 5am, where you sit with another 100 white people and wait for the sun to make an appearance. The view was quite stunning, though the truth is, you can barely distinguish the temple among the morning fog.
We descended the hill to head towards Borobodour, but had to wait until all the passengers returned, which sadly meant we only had enough time to quickly explore the temple, and none for the grounds and museums around it. The temple itself was awe inspiring and magnificent. Following tradition, we went around it three times, admiring the intricate stone work that tells the story of the place, before heading to the top towards the tupas.
There is also an elephant enclosure near the exit, so we went to say Hi to these wonderful animals.
The following day was dedicated to Prambanan. We woke up to meet a lovely French couple, that were embarked in a similar adventure to ours. They started from France about 8 months ago, and you can read about their exploits here. It was rather refreshing to gain a sense of fellowship, and we exchanged on-the-road experiences. Their blog also opened my eyes to aspects that I had not considered (specially their prep), so it was most certainly awesome to meet them.
We then headed off to take the public bus that would deliver us to the biggest temple complex in Java. We made our way out of our street and hit Malioboro, the main street of Jogya. As we did so, we saw the bus pass in front of us. Knowing it only goes every hour or so, I looked at Tim and yelled “Run!”, and we sprinted with all our might, pushing people, bikes and horses aside until I got next to the bus, signaled him, and made it to the next stop in time to hop on. The locals on our way seemed rather amused at our sprint, and we were quite proud of having managed to catch the bus…
After an hour on it, we made it to our destination. We headed towards the 9 Hindu temples, climbing the steps, paying our respects to the stone gods inside. This particular spot is extremely well conserved, despite the earthquakes and other natural disasters that have left visible marks on most other Buddhist temples we have seen (Including Borobodour), reducing most of the rest on premise to sad rubble. We spent a long time here, as the buildings are magnificent, with endless details on their beautiful carvings.
With all the time in the world at our disposal, we visited the other temples that share this huge area, showing that, at some point, community, acceptance and understanding between these two religions existed. To our dismay, the other three temples were in poor condition, showing the marks of time and pillage. The last one still stands proud, and was well worth the visit.
We left Jogya by train the next morning, and headed towards Bandung. I had found a great CS there, who had given us instructions to take public transport to his home. We asked around the station and a young gentleman offered to help. We only walked less than 100mts when I saw a yellow Angkot with Chibaduyut written on the side and, as this was our destination, I flagged him down and we hopped on. He only took us about 1/3 of the way, and asked us to jump into another modified van (same colours and legend) that took us the rest of the way. Traffic was appalling but we got a glance of the local market, the fish aquarium market and many shoe stores (manufactured locally) that we would later on walk to and visit on the next few days.
Our stay in Bandung was relaxing and informative. Chayos, his wife, and his beautiful little daughter Chambee showed us love and kindness. We had constructive and intelligent conversation with them, discovering things about their country, culture, the Muslim religion and of course, themselves. We were given delicious tasting pasta and we repaid by making a coconut ginger curry the following night. Our stay there was refreshing to our minds and bodies, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
Next and last destination in Java was the capital, Jakarta. We took a long distance bus, as the terminal was the easiest to reach, and train tickets were getting increasingly harder to get as Lebaran approached (the end of Ramadan and the start of the holiday season) Dropped on the outskirts of town, we had to go through the adventure of figuring out the local public bus system, but after some communication struggle with a friendly clerk, we hopped onto two buses, and realized you can make as many combinations as needed and not pay one extra cent… Which puts Jakarta way up my list in terms of organized public transport (much cheaper and better organized than NZ, for sure!) We found a cheap nasty hotel just off Jl Jaksa, were many of these type sprawl, luring many tourists to the area.
Jakarta is a huge city, and you need a mask to walk around without killing your throat and lungs. To our advantage, the holiday season was starting, so it was not too convoluted, and fireworks reigned the night sky, proving an amazing (and free) spectacle for us. We walked through its streets and explored quite a bit, taking our time at the central park and national monuments. The fences around it make access stupidly difficult, forcing you to go a long way to get in and out, and removing its potential to attract more people, which makes it rather empty and lifeless, when it could be a social and booming place… It was still a nice escape from the busy streets, and we enjoyed our walk. Bored of Indonesian food, we got a healthy lunch as per the below picture.
Finding our way out of the city was difficult. We wanted a way to cross to Sumatra, but we visited three different train stations and got contradictory information. Therefore we opted for a similar route, but chose a bus that would take us all the way across the water and into Badar Lampung in South Sumatra.