|Tuesday||26th December||2006||Sydney to Melbourne (fly 1.5hr)|
|to Bali (6hrs)|
|Wednesday||27th December||2006||Kuta, Bali|
|Thursday||28th December||2006||Kuta to Lovina (van 3hrs)|
|Saturday||30th December||2006||Lovina to Gilimanuk (bus 3hrs) to|
|Java ferry(1hr) to Probolinggo (bus 3hrs)|
|to Cemoro Lawang (van 2hrs)|
|Sunday||31st December||2006||Cemoro Lawang – Mount Bromo|
|Monday||1st January||2007||Cemoro Lawang to Probolinggo (van 2hrs)|
|to Solo (van 8 hrs)|
|Thursday||4th January||2007||Solo to Yogjakarta (train 1 hr)|
|Saturday||6th January||2007||Yogjakarta to Borobodhur (van 2 hrs)|
|to Yogjakarta (van 2hrs)|
|Sunday||7th January||2007||Yogjakarta to Jakarta (fly Garuda 1.5 hrs)|
|Monday||8th January||2007||Jakarta to Sydney (fly Qantas 8 hrs)|
Tuesday 26th December, 2006 Sydney to Melbourne to Bali
Lauren drives us to Hamilton Station where we catch the 10.30am train to Central – sleep most of the way. The airport train drops us at the Domestic Terminal where we catch the Qantas flight to Melbourne. Here we have a one and a half hour wait in an almost empty airport – much rather leave from Sydney but with free Frequent Flyer tickets we can’t complain.
At 7pm we fly out on Jetstar and find that our seats are on opposite sides of the plane. A nice girl swaps with me so it all works out. After a sleeping pill, a beer and a bacardi the six hour flight passes quickly.
We land in beautiful Bali at 9.45pm their time. The lines at immigration are slow but I pass the time fagging in a tiny glass box with two other smokers – hilarious. At last we’re out in the hot night air and immerse ourselves in the wonderful smells of Bali. We catch a taxi straight to Aneka Beach Hotel where we’ve stayed so many times before. But even at this late hour they want $80AUD for the night so we decide to look somewhere else. For some reason the gate into Poppies Gang 1 has been blocked so we have to walk down to the beach then back up the laneway. The first place we come to is Kuta Puri Cottages which looks wonderful and where we can get a room for $50AUD. This is still a lot more than we expected to pay but a good sign that the tourist industry isn’t struggling too much.
Our room is wonderful – a cottage really, with an open air bathroom and all very Balinese. Chucking our gear and changing into our slob clothes, we head straight for Poppies and find one of our old favourite places for a drink – bamboo stools at the bar right on the laneway. It shuts at 12.50am so we find a newer more upmarket bar also opening onto Poppies. We have a lovely time drinking Bintangs and Margaritas and eating satay chicken skewers – heaven.
Back at the hotel we have a funny time skinny-dipping in the pool – floating on our backs looking up at the clear starry sky and feeling overwhelmed by the wonderful vibes of this magical place. After a naked streak back to the room and showers in our outdoor bathroom, we finally crash about 2am – a great time already.
Wednesday 27th December, 2006 Kuta, Bali
At 7am we’re up and in the pool which is even lovelier in the daylight. Flowering bougainvillea, coconut palms and frangipani remind us that we’re back in Bali. Breakfast is in an open sided pavilion and served by pretty young girls in traditional dress. Afterwards we walk down to the beach then back up Poppies to Sorga Gang to look for a cheaper hotel for tonight. We like the look of Sorga Bungalows but then decide to stay at Kuta Puri instead of moving.
Continuing along Sorga Gang away from the beach we finally come out onto Jalan Legian and head for the Memorial. It’s four years this year that terrorists set off the bombs at the Sari Club and Paddy’s that killed over two hundred people. Back down Poppies II we have a massage (50,000 RP for one hour) in a new air-conditioned place down a small alleyway. The two girls are so sweet and happy to have customers this early. Now from the roadside markets, we buy two sarongs (22,000 RP each), a t-shirt (30,000 RP) and a scarf (20,000 Rp) before heading back to our hotel.
Unfortunately, we can’t get a room here at Kuta Puri for tonight so we pack and walk around to Sorga Cottages. This is fine with us because we like to stay in lots of different places anyway. And besides this, Sorga is so pretty with a lovely pool and a small leafy garden thick with flowering vines, palms, cycads, clumping bamboos, coloured Balinese umbrellas, thatched wooden lanterns and a spirit house. Our room is on the bottom of three floors. Facing the garden, we have a small verandah with a table and chairs and a clothes hanger for drying our towels and swimmers.
After a welcome drink in the tiny restaurant next to the pool, we walk to the Treehouse on the corner of Sorga Gang and Poppies I for lunch. Back in our air-conditioned room for a siesta, then up again at 5pm to walk down to the beach and watch the nightly ritual when hundreds of Balinese come down to hang out till sunset.
We walk down to the southern end of Kuta which is by far the nicest with lots of shade trees right on the sand and where all the massage ladies and hawkers hang out. Some people don’t like to be hassled but we love the ladies and they’ll let you alone after a while. We sit at a basic drink stand for beers and manage to buy CD’s, a pineapple and have a manicure without moving an inch. Other ladies are selling sarongs, necklaces, foot scrapings and neck massages.
Only a few steps away is the Bali Art Market where we hope to find Ayu. Lauren met her on her last trip to Bali and we promised to look her up. She runs Stall 165 in the market and it takes a while to find it. She’s so happy to see us and we show her the photos that Lauren had taken of her and her little boy, Bagus. He’s here at the moment, playing on the floor and trying to keep cool in front of a tiny electric fan. Ayu is happy and friendly as most Balinese are and we love her smile that lights up her pretty chubby face. Lauren had told me that Ayu wanted lots of bottles of nail polish because she does manicures and pedicures for tourists to make extra money. I’ve brought a whole bagful so she’s very happy. Lauren also wanted some ‘butterfly’ style tops like the one she’d brought home with her. We order seven in all – for Lauren, Angie and Mum. We also get Ayu to arrange for a car and a driver to take us to Lovina tomorrow. Now, she’s extra happy and laughs and brags to her unlucky friends in the stalls nearby.
Back along the busy Jalan Legian, we head for Mades Warang on Jalan Pantaii. This is a Kuta institution and was one of the first places to sell European type food to travelers. It still has heaps of atmosphere and a great people-watching place. Mark and I find a bench seat right on the street and order nasi goring and beer. It’s very dark by now and possibly a bit cooler. Later in Poppies I we have drinks at the Secret Garden, the newish upstairs Sports Bar and then a basic old favourite. Here we meet a funny English couple who are living in Batam – great to talk to and a shame we won’t be able to see more of them.
At Sorga we swim in the pool to cool down before having a drink on our verandah. Nights are beautiful in Bali – we can hear Balinese music, soft wind chimes and, best of all, geckos and frogs.
Thursday 28th December, 2006 Kuta to Lovina
Mark has a sleep in this morning while I go off to email (not working) and buy the girls a few DVD’s. We have breakfast next to the pool then pack for our trip to Lovina this afternoon. Now we wander around the alleyways between Poppies I and Poppies II where we find a massage place that’s been around for years. It’s a basic old shack with green painted bamboo blinds at the front and tiny rooms inside. With no air-conditioning and nothing fancy about it, we love it. Mark and I are in the same little room which is even better. The girls are sweet and we love our one hour massage for only 25,000RP each (about $3.50 AUD).
The Treehouse is in a laneway nearby so we head there for more good food. Lunch is tuna salad, fish and chips and lime sodas.
At 1pm Made and his friend pick us up from Sorga. They tell us that the air-conditioning isn’t working so we have to change vans. We drive over to a part of Kuta that we’ve never seen before – over near the Night Market but towards Tuban. We wind through tiny alleyways till we come to a newish house with big gates into the driveway. We move all our gear into another van then drive the short distance to the Art Market to meet Ayu. She has the butterfly tops for the girls and Mark buys a couple of t-shirts so she’s really happy with all her sales.
Now we’re off to Lovina. We pass through the busy streets of Kuta and Legian along Jalan Legian, then onto Seminyak and Kerokoban. This is where Schappelle Corby is being held in the big prison and we see its tall walls as we pass by. From here the towns start to thin out and we’re in the beautiful green countryside that Bali is known for. We pass through Bedulu then stop at Lake Bratan to see Pura Ulun Danu which is often seen on Bali postcards. Apparently, the temple is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the Lake Goddess, who provides the irrigation water for the rice fields. There seems to be a lot of Indonesian tourists here and a definite Muslim influence in this area – it doesn’t feel like Bali at all.
From here we drive over mist covered mountains where we pass a funeral procession. The winding roads are making Mark feel car sick so we’re both glad to reach the other side to the flat area on the north coast. We turn left at the busy town of Singaraja and drive along the coastal road to Lovina. I see a horrible sight on the way – a man has hung a cat up by the neck and the poor thing is hanging dead from the roof of his verandah.
Not a good first impression of somewhere but we do like the look of Kalibukbuk which is the main village to stay and eat. With the beach on one side of the main road, mountains close by on the other and lots of swaying palm trees; this will be a different experience to the part of Bali we’ve always known. Made and Made (as his friend is also called) drive us to a place we’ve picked out of the Lonely Planet. It’s called the Ban Kitami Hotel and we love it. It consists of a string of bungalows facing the beach with a gorgeous pool, acres of gardens, a creek and an open-air restaurant. Our bungalow has a verandah and an open-to-the-sky bathroom with rockwork and even a garden – all this for only 200,000 Rp ($28 AUD). I love it here especially when I see we have a resident cat.
According to a sign near the path, a group of mini-komodos live here in the creek and in the gardens so I go off to ask a young waitress in the restaurant. She takes me down to the creek but we can’t find any at the moment. Mark, in the mean time, has spied one in the grass near our hut and I’m just in time to see it make a run for it and dive into the creek – hideous thing but thrilling to see. Also not so ‘mini’ – about three foot long!
On dusk we walk down to the beach which isn’t the beautiful white sands of Kuta but black and grainy thanks to past volcanic eruptions of Mount Agung. Still, it’s nice by the water and we meet Ketut and her husband, Nyoman, on the beach and plan for him to take us out snorkeling in the morning. At seven o’clock we find a nearby café and order shrimp salad and coconut curry. We have a table almost on the sand and watch the local kids playing volleyball on the beach. All is beautiful till we see a dark ominous storm coming towards us across the water. In seconds the wind is blowing everything all over the place and the rain is pouring in. We don’t mind at all – exciting really and it’s still hot so we just move further inside the restaurant. We notice that there seems to be a lot of older western men here with young Balinese guys – apparently Lovina is known for these old perverts who use their money to lure in poor young men. Later after the storm has gone, we find an upstairs bar overlooking the main street then walk home in the dark.
Friday 29th December, 2006 Lovina
A gorgeous day and a gorgeous view to wake up to – clear blue skies, palm trees and the calm waters of the beach right in front of us – and it’s hot already. At 7.30am we wandder over to the hotel’s open air cafe for breakfast – yes, this is what Bali is all about.
After breakfast we look around the gardens hunting out more dragons then spend a wonderful hour in the pool. We have it all to ourselves which is even better. As usual in Bali, the pool is surrounded by flowering bougainvillea and this pool even has a lovely garden in the middle.
At nine o’clock it’s time to meet Nyoman on the beach for our snorkeling trip to the reef. He’s already waiting for us and we’re soon speeding away from the shore on his outrigger with Ketut waving us off.
Out at the reef Nyoman gives us bags of a cakey type of bread to feed the fish. We both love snorkeling so we have a lovely time swimming over the reef and getting the fish to eat straight from our fingers. Mark has taught me to dive with my snor kel so we spend ages taking pictures of each other under water. When it’s my turn to get back in the boat I just can’t do it and poor Mark and Nyoman have to drag me up over the side like a sack of potatoes.
Back on the beach Ketut is waiting to give us a massage. Mark wants to go back to the bungalow for a shower so I go first. I follow Ketut to their little hut built on the sand only metres from the water. In one room there is a concrete floor that she tells me was paid for by a tourist. A mattress is on the floor and clothes are hanging from hooks on the wall – no furniture at all – this is the family bedroom. During the massage she tells me that she will have to pull her son out of school because they can’t afford the fees now that the tourists have stopped coming to Bali since the bombings in 2002 and 2005. I buy a bottle of foul smelling oil that she has made herself – so with the snorkelling, the oil and the two massages, I hope that Mark and I have helped Nyoman and Ketut at least a little bit.
Mark has his massage next then, while I shower in the outdoor bathroom, he organizes a motor bike so we can change hotels. It’s lovely here but we always like to move around for different experiences. He picks me up and we set off to find a new place to stay. We like the look of Pulwesi not far away in the centre of Kalibukbuk and amongst the cafes and shops near the beach. The friendly young guy running the place is Ecko whose family lives in nearby Singaraja. We ask him about getting a bus to Java tomorrow but he tells us that we can only buy the tickets at the bus station in Singaraja. He says he’ll go there himself to get the tickets for us. The other good news is that the bus doesn’t leave till 7.30pm so we’ll have another full day here tomorrow. Now we book into our room which is a brightly coloured bungalow with a Chinese style roof, a tiny verandah and another open air bathroom. After lunch in a nice café nearby, we crash out for an afternoon nap before heading out on the bike.
With me on the back, Mark drives east along the main road then turns off along a track that heads towards the beach. The clouds have moved in by now as they do every afternoon here in the wet season. The heavy black clouds actually look quite beautiful rolling over the green hills behind us. Suddenly the skies open up and we’re flying back along the main road to Kalibukbuk getting absolutely drenched. It’s a wonderfully free and happy feeling made all the better because the air is still calm and warm despite the rain.
On dark we ride down to a bar on the main road. It’s a little thatched place run by Batu and his beloved cat, Moo Chang. We’re the only customers so we sit at the bar talking to Batu while he serves us margaritas. He tells us about a tourist who he’d made friends with who was heading for Kuta the next day. A couple of days later he read his name in the list of people killed in the Sari Club bomb.
For dinner we ride to the Semina Café which is supposed to have Balinese dancing but because of the lack of tourists there isn’t any tonight. We order drinks in fresh pineapples which look amazing but taste like shit. The food is horrible as well then a sleazy looking guy (one of the perverts) chats me for feeding my dinner to a starving cat – fuck off, pedophile!
Anyway the night quickly improves when we find a busy bar near the Pulwesi. We sit on stools right on the footpath and buy drinks for Ecko who’s come down to listen to the music. The band unfortunately takes requests and because I’ve had too many bacardis by this time I ask for Country Roads and sing it very badly at the top of my lungs – poor Mark.
Saturday 30th December, 2006 Lovina to Gilimanuk to Java to Probolinggo
This morning we wake to rain on the roof. Because we haven’t got big plans for today and because we have a long trip ahead of us tonight, we decide to have a sleep-in. Mark also has the runs and doesn’t want breakfast so later I walk down to a café on the beach to get something to eat. It’s all lovely until I see a puppy hit by a car and I feel so sad because no-one really cares – I guess puppies aren’t high up on the care-factor list when everyone here is struggling for survival themselves.
Later the weather has cleared so we hop on the bike to head inland instead of along the coast. We find lovely tracks through villages and stop at a roadside shop in the middle of nowhere. A poor woman sells us water while her three children stare at us. The shop is a broken down shack that looks ready to fall over in the next breeze and there’s only a few things for sale. Back on the bike we stop at a farm house to look at cows, sway back pigs and goats. The family comes out to say hello and the kids give me a baby goat to hold.
Lunch is back at another café in our hotel street. We have pizza and shrimp cocktail with fresh juice but Mark starts to feel sick again. He makes a dash back to the room while I buy shell necklaces from a hawker walking past.
We spend the rest of the afternoon sleeping then at 6pm we pack, check out and eat in a pretty café with a bamboo bridge over an inside pond. At a quarter to seven, we walk up to the main road with Ecko who wants to wave us off on the bus. Yesterday he gave me lessons in Indonesian and now he hands me a handwritten page full of Balinese words with English translations. I feel so touched because I can see how much effort he’s put into it. I’m so grateful to have met such a sweet person as Ecko and just another example of the loveliness of the Balinese people.
It’s dark by now and we sit on our packs on the roadside while we wait for the bus. It arrives on time and we say a big thank you to Ecko. The bus has come from Singaraja and is almost full. The seats lie back and we soon settle in for the two and a half hour drive to Gilimanuk on the west coast. Because it’s dark we can’t see much except for passing through a few small towns and when we slow down for two ceremonies along the road. Both times people are carrying fire torches and wearing ceremonial dress on their way to the village temple.
We arrive in Gilimanuk about 10pm where the bus drives straight onto the big car ferry that will take us to Java. We can actually see the lights of Java across the three kilometre Bali Strait that separates the two islands. Instead of staying on the bus for the crossing like the rest of the passengers, we climb up to the top deck where we can sit in the fresh air with the locals. A television is playing loud music videos which is so typical of the Asian culture these days. The crossing itself is a short thirty minutes and a nice experience on this calm starry night.
At Ketapang port on the Java side we jump back on the bus and pop sleeping pills for the long (or so we thought) trip to Probollingo – big mistake. Luckily the bus driver knows when we should get off because he has to shake us awake from dead sleeps when we arrive about 3am. We grab our gear and find ourselves standing zombie-like in a tiny travel agent’s place which is the only thing open along this stretch of road and at this time of night. Still dazed from our sleeping pills, we sign up for a van to take us to the town of Cemoro Lawang on the edge of Mount Bromo, two nights in a hotel, a dawn trip to Mt Bromo, a van back to Probollingo in two days time and bus tickets to Solo. I think he could have offered us tickets to the moon and we would have signed up.
In no time we have a driver, and his friend, and we’re speeding towards Cemoro Lawang. Mark immediately curls up on the back seat while I try to sit up but soon pass out as well. Neither of us remember the two hour trip at all.
About 5am we’re dropped at the Cemara Indah Hotel in Cemoro Lawang. This is like a dream sequence with a light rain falling, fog swirling around us and people setting off in jeeps to watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo. Because we’re also freezing the hotel owner hires us thick jackets before showing us to our room. Collapse into bed.
Sunday 31st December, 2006 Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang to Mt Bromo
We sleep soundly until 9am when we wake to a cold foggy day. This isn’t surprising considering the weather last night. If Cemoro Lawang looked bleak last night it doesn’t look any better by daylight. After dragging on our warmest clothes and our new jackets, we head out for breakfast.
We find that our guesthouse is just across the road from the rim of the crater of an extinct volcano. The fog lifts just in time for us to look down into the crater then comes rolling back in again. We can keep a watch out for it to clear from the Cemoro Indah Café built right on the crater rim. If the café has million dollar views the décor definitely doesn’t match. It’s a bare, cold place of cracked lino and cheap metal chairs – very uninviting but we somehow like it for being so unpretentious. Breakfast is simple but welcome – nasi goreng and hot sweet tea.
Outside the local people are rugged up in thick scarves and woolen hats. Men crouch close to the ground with their hands tucked under their armpits to keep warm. Other men knock two short sticks together making a clunking sound to send off signals through the fog. The noise means that he has hot soup to sell from his food cart.
After breakfast we buy local hand knitted hats from a woman on the road. With our new hats and our hired jackets at least now we won’t freeze to death. Still hungry after our small breakfast, we set off in search of Café Lava. Because this whole area is a maze of extinct volcanos, Cemoro Lawang is built on the side of a steep slope so exploring the town means lots of up and down walking. The weather is still miserable but ironically creates a strangely exciting atmosphere. The houses are all very similar with thick brick rendered walls to keep out the cold. We walk though vegetable gardens and dodge the noisy motor bikes that roar up the hill.
At the top of the ridge we still haven’t found Café Lava but meet some men who offer to take us to Mount Bromo on horseback for only 50,000 Rp (AUD $7 each). The trip there and back will take about three hours and the weather looks dreadful but what the hell! There is a problem with the horses though. They’re very short and the first one Mark sits on just about disappears under him. The men find him a sturdier one which at least we can see.
Soon we set off with the guides on foot leading the horses down the steep dirt track to the base of the crater. This flat circular plain is called the Sea of Sand and is a painstaking three kilometers across to the base of Mount Bromo.
Out in the open the weather is much worse – cold, raining and windy. The fog swirls around us and becomes much thicker as we start the climb to Mount Bromo. The landscape is surreal – almost like the surface of the moon – barren, empty and devoid of any sort of vegetation. Climbing towards the base of the crater we’re engulfed with thick white sulfurous fumes that have us all, even the horses, coughing and wheezing.
Leaving the horses and the guides behind, we climb the two hundred and fifty steps to the top of the crater. Of course, safety isn’t an issue and with a broken hand rail and slippery pebbles on the stairs, it’s not a simple climb. At the top the fumes are so thick we can barely breathe let alone see. Briefly the fumes shift so we finally get a glimpse down into the belly of the volcano and the source of the stinking smoke and fumes. The wind is so strong we have to push against it to stay upright so we don’t hang around too long.
The ride back is long and very wet but I feel almost cozy wrapped up in my hooded rain jacket and thick clothes. I think it must be the adrenaline rush as well. We’ve loved every minute of the whole experience.
Off the poor horses at last, we luckily find Cafe Lava which is a Swiss chalet-style place made of rich dark timber inside and out. Because we’re both totally drenched it’s a warm haven from the miserable weather outside. We order hot tea and lunch while we chat with Linda the jolly local owner.
By now we both need to sleep so we find a shortcut back to the guesthouse, dump our wet clothes and jump into bed. The room is like a fridge and has no heating at all so the only way to get warm is good old body heat – it works.
We sleep till seven then walk uphill to Hotel Bromo Pental for New Years Eve drinks and dinner. The hotel is an upmarket place (for Cemoro Lawang anyway) with a big room set out with tables around three sides of a dance floor and a raised stage at one end. While we order satay chicken and some noodle and rice dishes, we’re entertained by a local band with a female singer playing old ballads – all sung in Indonesian but we recognise most of the tunes. Besides Mark and I there is a group of Dutch travellers and two big groups of Indonesians – and everyone is wearing a beanie – a fabulous atmosphere and so weird to be in this cold misty place so soon after being in tropical Bali.
We don’t stay too late because Mark is feeling sad, this being the first New Years Eve since his Mum died. We walk home about 11 o’clock to our cold little room but are soon snuggled up in bed. We wake to hear a few people braving the cold and letting off a couple of fire crackers at midnight. Happy New Year, my darling.
Monday 1st January, 2007 Cemoro Lawang to Probilinggo to Solo
Guess what, it’s still raining and windy. This must be a miserable place to live – but maybe it’s just the time of year. Before breakfast we arrange for a van to take us back to Probilinggo at midday. At Cemara Indah Café we have another horrible breakfast then pack ready to be picked up down the hill. The driver naturally has brought a friend with him – company for the long drive there and back. We leave on time at noon but stop twice to pick up more friends on the way out of town.
The scenery is spectacular. We’d slept through it all on the way in and it was dark anyway. We can’t believe that we managed to sleep on this incredibly steep and winding road. The mountains climb almost perpendicular on either side of the road and amazingly they’re all terraced with vegetable gardens. With the fog still wafting around us this really is one of the most unusual landscapes we’ve ever seen
The weather suddenly improves as we reach the plains and the temperature and humidity skyrocket. We peel off layers of clothes and feel like we’re back in the tropics once again. Our driver is typical of most Asians and we’re flying through the countryside at breakneck speed.
Around 3pm we’re happy to pull into Probilinggo and get dropped of at the same little travel agent that we’d left from two nights ago. Here we book a bus to take us to Solo in Central Java but it doesn’t leave until nine o’clock tonight. We decide to book into a cheap room so we can have a rest this afternoon. Mark finds a becak (Indonesian rickshaw) driver to take us into town which is a lot further than we expected. The poor little man gets so tired that we hitch a ride with a motor bike driver who pulls us along with him. The rain has started to fall as well so our driver kindly encases us in a plastic cover that we can’t see through and feels like a sauna.
He drops us in town at the Hotel Bromo Pentai II which is a nice hotel with a pretty central courtyard garden. Now we realise that we’ve left the charger for our video camera back in the hotel in Cemoro Lawang. We walk for ages trying to find a telephone to ring the guesthouse and finally find a wartel where we arrange for it to be brought back to Probilinggo this afternoon. We don’t hold any real hope of this happening but we’ve given it a go anyway. At a small supermarket we buy water and ice creams then wander around a friendly local market.
We sleep most of the afternoon in our air conditioned room then Mark goes off to a nearby café for dinner. I can’t be bothered eating and prefer to sleep but it’s a waste of time because kids are running around outside our room in their pyjamas. The mothers of the kids are also dressed in the pyjamas even though it’s not even dark yet.
A mini van picks us up at 8.40pm. Apparently there is no bus to Solo tonight (or never was) so we have to do the seven hour drive in this decrepit old van – and ‘sorry but air-con broken’. The traffic is hectic and the pollution from the trucks and buses is suffocating. Somehow I manage to sleep but Mark has a horrible trip. We finally arrive in Solo about 4am and book into the Istana Griya – a cute guesthouse in a quiet street off the main drag. Our room is big and airy with air-con and our own bathroom. Collapse into bed for a long sleep.
Tuesday 2nd January, 2007 Solo
Since we had an on-and-off sleep in the van last night, we both sleep soundly till 9am. We decide to hang around today and do some serious sightseeing tomorrow. The weather is a bit cloudy but very hot and humid.
We have breakfast brought to us while we sit on cane lounges on the verandah of the guesthouse. It’s so pretty here – coloured glass around the roof, colonial hanging lamps, a red tiled floor, statues carved out of volcanic rock and a few blackboards and notice boards with information about local tours. Because we’re down an alleyway off another alleyway, it’s also very peaceful. A couple of cane cages with singing birds are hanging above us with lots of potted plants to keep us cool. A couple of young German travellers are also sitting around in the sun reading and writing journals. We love it here and the only downside is that the loo doesn’t flush. Mark reports it to the girl on the desk and she replies with a big happy ‘yes, you pour water down’. Simple.
After sending off some emails in a nearby internet café, we buy a watch each from a cheap shop on the corner. Lunch is at Warung Baru across from our alleyway – it’s an old very Balinese-style place with thick vines and bamboo furniture. A couple of lounge chairs covered in cushions are set up here facing the street so we spend a nice hour or so having a beer and reading. Later we walk to a bar in the main street but it doesn’t open till 5pm so we catch a becak to the Kasuma Hotel. This is Solo’s oldest colonial hotels behind a tall fence and with a wide sweeping driveway to the front entrance. Inside we find the posh bar and have a bintang each enjoying the lovely surroundings. No-one else is here at this time of day and I doubt it ever gets full.
We pick up another becak outside in the street to take us back to the guesthouse for an afternoon nap. Riding through the streets we can see how lovely this town really is. Even though it’s called Yogjakarta’s ‘twin’ sister, Solo has apparently retained more of its Javanese character and is described as the least westernized city in Central Java.
At 7pm we wander around to the shops a few streets away to look for an electricity adaptor to replace the one we left behind. Unbelievably we find one in no time and head off for the bar where a different person tells us that it doesn’t open till 11pm – forget it, we’ll be asleep by then. From here we find the Gamelan Bar – a dark, grubby place playing Cat Stevens music. At first we’re the only ones here. They mustn’t have much stock because when I order a coke someone has to race off on a motor bike to bring back a warm one. Later a few expats drink at the table next to us and we try to eavesdrop. Our table is right on the street which is good for people watching but the hundreds of motor bikes roaring past are sending us deaf. Besides that the noodles are cold and we see a rat – ‘would you like a rat with that?’
This soon sends us high tailing it back to Warung Baru where they have cold cokes, hot noodles and no rodents. Bed at 9.30pm.
Wednesday 3rd January, 2007 Solo
Yesterday we’d arrange for some moto drivers to take us around Solo and the surrounding villages. This means an early start, so we’re up at 7am, shower and order a breakfast of nasi goring and tea to have on the cute verandah. Mark is feeling well today and the weather is hot and sunny – a great start. At 8 o’clock our moto drivers arrive in the laneway. They are Patrick and Ruti and have brought motorcycle helmets for Mark and I to wear – Mark’s is a tiny jockey’s hat – hilarious!
It’s very exciting driving through town then within minutes we’re in true countryside. At a small thatched village we stop on the banks of the Solo River where a bamboo raft is waiting to take passengers to the other side. While the men are loading the bikes onto the raft, Mark and I have a look at the village.
It’s so basic and lovely. The people are tiny and two extra tiny women stop to have their photos taken. They both have massive cane baskets strapped to their backs and I hope whatever they‘re carrying isn’t too heavy. Other tiny old women have their photos taken and strangely they all look the same – maybe they’re all sisters – and they look so sweet in their sarongs and pretty floral tops. We see chooks scratching around and a rooster crowing – we love these little villages.
Finally it’s time to catch the ‘ferry’ after the bamboo walkway had to be fixed when it sunk into the mud on the bank. We have another lady wearing a conical hat coming with us and she too has a huge basket strapped to her back. To get to the other side, about twenty metres away, a young man steers us across by pushing a long pole into the bottom of the river. On the other side we get back on the bikes and head off for the next village. On the way we pass lots of rice paddies most of which are being planted by women working in rows. They’re all knee deep in water and mud and wearing the cane conical hats like they do in Vietnam – at least the weather is hot here today but it must be hard work.
Our first stop is at the tofu making village. All the villages on the outskirts of Solo are experts in one particular cottage industry so everyone in this village makes tofu. Patrick and Ruti take us to the back of a hut where a man shows us the whole process while a young lady cooks a few pieces of chopped tofu in a pan of oil. We have a taste and really like it. The making of the tofu is very involved and primitive but lovely to see it being made in these homey surroundings. Fires are wood only so there’s a lovely smoky smell in the air.
Along little tracks overhung with trees and vines we head off to the next village. Here we pass duck farmers herding hundreds of tall brown ducks and see a white mother duck swimming around with her seven little yellow ducklings. This next village is the gong making village. Gamelan bands are an integral part of Indonesian culture and the large metal gongs are one of the essential instruments. We’re taken into a big dark room that seriously looks like the chambers of hell.
Sparks are flying everywhere as teams of men bash away at lumps of metal after it’s been heated up in fires set in pits on the earthen floor. There aren’t any safety precautions at all – the men are even barefoot. Apparently there are eight of them in a team and they work six days a week for 20,000 Rp a day (about $3 AUD).
We’re not sorry to leave and don’t know how these poor men can do this horrible job. The next village has much more appealing cottage industry – arak making. A very home-made looking still does a lot of the work but I don’t take too much notice as I’ve found a cute puppy to play with. Nearby is the roof tile making village and we spend ages watching a very old man making the tiles mainly with his feet. Inside the family hut his wife is chopping up vegetables for lunch while their two sons seem to be just hanging around – couldn’t they help Dad?
From here we head back into Solo passing through some lovely countryside. In town we stop at the leather puppet making place. This is fascinating and so intricate – no wonder they’re expensive. Not far from here we stop to see batik being made – we’ve seen it before but we see all different sorts of processes done here. Mark buys 3 shirts – really good quality and he’ll have them for years.
Patrick and Ruti now drop us off back at the guesthouse and we make plans with Patrick to go to the Sriwedari Theatre tonight. But now we head straight for Warung Baru for a pizza and a tomato salad with fresh orange juice. We make a few phone calls but not feeling easy about Angie so we spend an hour emailing home. We hang around Warung Baru for the rest of the afternoon reading and drinking Bintang.
On dusk we catch a becak to a ‘steakhouse’ for dinner then meet Patrick back at Warung Baru for our visit to the theatre.
Yet another becak ride takes the three of us to the lively Sriwedari Amusement Park where we find the theatre amongst rides and candy stalls. It’s a big building with high ceilings, lots of seating and the band set up in a pit in front of the stage.
Before the show starts, Patrick takes us backstage to see the sets and the actors putting on their costumes and makeup. We meet the clowns and love the whole experience. The actual performance, on the other hand, is very weird.
It’s described as a ‘vaudeville-style of telling the classics with singing, comedy and action drama’. Okay, this could be good, but then no-one can dance and we can’t hear the actors (strangely, most of them are fat) because the audience and the band talk all the way through it. You can come and go as you please but we stay longer than we would otherwise so we don’t hurt Patrick’s feelings.
After telling Patrick that we’re going home to bed, we sneak off to the Lumba Lumba Bar to get drunk and sing more bad karaoke – this is more like it. I think the Bee Gees will always remind us of this place.
Becak home in the warm night air – a good day.
Thursday 4th January, 2007 Solo to Yogjakarta
We’re almost reluctant to leave Solo but need to keep moving on. Today we wake at 8 o’clock and plan to visit the Kraton (palace) then catch a train to Yogjakarta.
We hire a becak outside in the street from one of the guys lying around. He pedals us to the other side of town then along one of the outside walls of the Kraton. Through one of the wide entrances we eventually pull up outside the palace itself. It looks like we’re the only ones here so it will be a relaxing visit. We hire a young man to be our guide and he patiently explains palace life while showing us around the grounds and the Sultan’s Carriage Museum.
Later we head back to the market in our becak. We wander around inside but it’s so huge that we lose our bearings. And there’s so much batik for sale – so much that we lose interest and catch another becak to the hotel.
After a quick pack we catch a taxi to the station and pay 20,000Rp ($3AUD) each for tickets to Yogjakarta. The wait in the sunshine is nice as we buy ice creams and look at the other people on the platform. The train is on time and we find a spot on one of the long bench seats that run vertically down the train.
The sixty kilometer trip is only an hour so by midday we pull into hot, sunny Yogjakarta – also called Jogja for short. This is the cultural capital of Java so we hope to see some interesting stuff here. From the station we pile our backpacks onto a becak and head off for Blodok Losmen recommended by Lonely Planet. It’s in an interesting narrow street just off Malioboro Street, Jogja’s main shopping area. For 250,000 Rp (less than $30 AUD) a night, our room is fantastic – air-con, a bathroom, hot water, a flushing toilet, a fridge and a television. And there’s a lovely pool just outside our door so Mark has a swim before we do anything else. Also as part of the losmen is a sun filled café right on the street. By now we’re ready for lunch so we relax over pizza and chicken cordon bleu.
After our usual afternoon siesta we wander down to Malioboro Street about seven o’clock. This place is really exciting at night – people, markets, motor bikes, horse drawn carts, art galleries. We meet a friendly man in a supermarket who offers to take us to a batik exhibition. He speaks English really well and knows a lot about Australia because he has a cousin who lives in Mosman in Sydney. At the art gallery he introduces us to Jaka who’s obviously the best salesman around. We end up buying two batik hangings for $120 US – very beautiful but probably paid too much because Jaka is really happy. As we don’t have that much on us, he walks to the ATM with us and then wants to have dinner with us, show us his house and keep in touch – goodbye!
Now we want to escape the noise of the main street so we head off into the little laneways around our losmen. In Gang II we find a few laid back cafes playing groovy music so we do a bit of a café crawl, drink too much and have a great night.
Home to bed but Mark sick.
Friday 5th January, 2007 Yogjakarta
This morning feeling a bit over it all for some reason then after a phone call to Angie I just want to go home. She isn’t good and is worried about Mum and Dad. Mark is happy to go home earlier than we planned because he thinks he should be back at work.
It takes some time to find an airline office where we book flights from Yogjakarta to Jakarta on Sunday with Garuda ($69AUD each) then Jakarta to Sydney on Monday with Qantas ($690 AUD). It’s expensive but we don’t care. We feel that we’ll have seen what we want to by then.
Now we walk along past the market stalls and buy sandals for Angie and Lauren and then ice creams at a modern shopping centre. Back near our guesthouse we’re twice approached by young men who want to show us a batik exhibition (a batik overload here) and predictably when we tell them we come from Sydney, they both have a cousin who lives in Mosman. Totally over this bullshit.
Back at Bladock, Mark has a sleep while I find a little beauty parlour close by. At first I have a manicure which is pretty tragic but cheap then agree to have a facial to fill in time till Mark wakes up. Big mistake – the young girl has no idea what she’s doing. While I lie on a raised bed behind a curtain, she plasters my skin with a scrub and spends the next hour scouring away my poor face. I don’t have the heart to complain.
Meanwhile the lady who owns the place comes in with bags of groceries. Next her husband turns up and introduces himself as John. We get talking and decide that he’ll borrow a van and drive us to Borobodur in the morning.
At six o’clock we get a young man called Jo to ride us in his becak to the other side of the city to the Jogja Village Inn in Prawirotaman, the main backpacker area of Yogjakarta. It has a Balinese style garden courtyard, swimming pool and a lovely outdoor restaurant. Sitting by the pool in the warm night air and listening to the sound of frogs, we have dinner by candlelight – prawn cocktail and fish – and feel like we’re actually in Bali – “remind me again why we left Bali”.
After dinner Jo takes us to a couple of fabulous bars in the next street. It’s so dark around here in these back little laneways – very atmospheric and we like it a lot. Back at Bladok we head back to the cafe for drinks, singing and dancin
Saturday 6th January, 2007 Yogjakarta to Borobodhur
This morning we wake early so we can have breakfast before leaving for our trip to the eighth century Buddhist temple of Borobodur – one of the main reasons we’ve come to Java. Mark has an American breakfast and I order a fruit platter in the café at Bladok. At 8.15am we meet John outside in the street. He’s borrowed a new air-conditioned van and brought along his young teenage sister and her girlfriend. They sit politely in the back and giggle the whole way.
On the one hour trip to Borobodhur, we stop a couple of times – first at a stone carvers’ workshop on the side of the road and again at a silver shop. I want to buy something but in the end I’m not sure if it’s all too expensive.
We pass the very impressive Mount Merapi in the distance on our right. Apparently it’s the most active volcano in Indonesia hence its nickname ‘Mountain of Fire’. In 1006 it really blew its stack and covered most of Java in ash. The last of its sixty eight eruptions was in 1994 so I think we’re safe today. And as a result of all these eruptions, the countryside all around is very green and pretty with lots of rice paddies and fields of chillis and intermittent small towns.
Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are really common in Indonesia and it was only in 2006 that an earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale hit Yogjakarta at 6:30AM on Saturday, May 27th – almost six thousand people were killed and lots, lots more injured and made homeless.
Now as we approach Borobodur village, we can see the massive temple in the distance. Hawkers swamp us as we get out of the van but the souvenirs are horrible and we just want them to go away. Mark and I leave John and the girls and wander off to find the foreigners entrance – we have to pay $AUD 11 but the Indonesians get in for free.
The approach to the main temple is along tree-lined walkways through a lovely park area. The temple sits huge and amazing at the end of the main path and merits its UNESCO World Heritage Listing. It was built entirely by hand and made from over 1,600,000 blocks of volcanic stone. Hundreds of locals are here crawling all over it and most carrying umbrellas to keep off the sun which is scorching by now. We decide to hire a guide for 40,00RP. He’s a sweet, polite young man who is passionate about the history of Borobodur. He explains the meaning of the carvings and tells us that the nine-terraces that make up the temple represent the path to nirvana.
One of the things you must do here is to reach inside one of the stupas and touch the small stone Buddha – Mark to touch the Buddha’s head and Virginia to touch the Buddha’s foot. We take turns with the locals who are having a wonderful time. They’re so friendly and lots of them want their photos taken with us.
Back down in the park we see elephants grazing and an old man climbing coconut trees collecting sap in bamboo tubes. To leave the park and get back to our van, we need to follow the zigzag path through the market. The hawkers drive us mad again until I finally buy a handful of wooden shadow puppets (50,000Rp for 2), 4 salad spoons (10,00Rp each) and 10 batik cards. There isn’t a chance of just wandering around to look at the rest of the stalls – we just want to make our escape. This is by far the worst experience we’ve had with hawkers anywhere and we gladly jump into the ‘safety’ of John’s van.
He pulls off the road again after a couple of minutes to look at another ancient shrine in the village of Borobodur. The area is lovely – shaded by tall spreading trees and a small market next to the temple. But, oh God – here they come! Once again the hawkers here are like vultures swooping down on us as we get out of the van. To try to get rid of them I buy two puppets but they still keep hassling me till I escape back inside the car.
From Borobodur we head back towards Yogjakarta but John wants to take us for a close up look of Mount Merapi – you know that very active volcano?! We say why not. It’s a half hour detour upwards along winding roads with thick vegetation on both sides. We pass lots of people carrying bundles of long grass to use as feed for their cows. Finally we reach our destination which is the mountain next to Merapi. It has a tacky lookout, café and stalls and the Javanese tourists are out in force. We check out the restaurant at the lookout but prefer to eat hot corn on the cob that’s being cooked over hot coals on the street.
Back at Bladok Guesthouse we have a late lunch of chicken and avocado salad, a potato and spinach dish and cold lime sodas. Mark then goes off to the ATM and afterwards a swim in the pool while I go off for a massage at Gary II. I don’t really enjoy it because it’s a man and in a little room at the back of the restaurant. I take my top off but then have to roll over and he keeps staring at my boobs – Mark where are you? Can’t wait to get the hell out of there and do the bolt back to the guesthouse.
Later we walk down to Malioboro Street to find the posh Inna Garuda Hotel for a drink. Inside we find a gamelan band playing in traditional costumes so we have a drink close by to watch and listen. A wedding reception is being held in one of the big rooms near us and we’re lucky to see the bridal party walk in. All very over the top but cute.
Back in our street we watch the locals eating from street carts then a few drinks before bed.
Sunday 7th January, 2007 Yojakarta to Jakarta
This morning we pack then have an early breakfast before catching a taxi to the Adisucipto International Airport eight kilometres east of town. The Garuda flight to Jakarta, the capital, is only fifty minutes and for the most part all we see are volcanic peaks.
At Jakarta’s airport we catch a tuktuk into town to the backpacker area in Jalan Jaksa. Like all backpacker districts this has the usual cheap guesthouses, cafes and bars. We wander around the back alleyways for ages looking at different places to stay but then decide on a bigger place on Jalan Jaksa itself. We’re only here for one night and we want air-con and hot showers so we can get cleaned up before we fly home.
After booking in we go in search of food at one of the cafes then decide to head into the main part of the city. Just as we leave Jalan Jaksa we run into a guy called Jacka who offers to take us on a bit of a city tour. Considering it’s the largest city in South East Asia I don’t think we’re going to see much of it though. Out on a really busy main road the three of us catch a bus into the CBD where Jacka is taking us to a place where they sell cheap pirated DVDs. When we get there though the police have closed it down for the day. So now we transfer to a tiny open air local bus that the poorer people use instead of taxis. Then we transfer to a tuktuk and end up at the old port of Sunda Kelapa at the mouth of the Ciliwung river.
This was where Jakarta began as a trading harbour. Later it was named Batavia as the capital of the colonial Dutch East Indies then renamed Jakarta in 1942 during Japan’s occupation of Java. When Indonesia became independent after World War II it was made its capital.
Nowadays the port is still used for sailing cargo vessels (magnificent Makassar schooners) that transport freight to the other islands. We spend an hour looking at the boats (ships?) and Mark is brave enough to walk a really steep, narrow gangplank up to the deck of one of them.
I get half way up and chicken out although I’d love to get up there. Next we hire a wrinkled old man to row us around in his old boat while we watch a group of little naked boys jumping from one of the boats to the water way down below. They show off for us as we video them.
From here we tuktuk our way to the nearby fish market. We choose fish and prawns from one of the hundreds of stalls then have it cooked in an open-sided ‘café’ – sounds great but the flies almost carry us away.
But the best part is when a Dutch guy called Roi and his Indonesian wife, Wiwi, invite us to have lunch with them. Roi has been living in Jakarta for ten years and says he doesn’t love it but here he can live like a king so why would he go back to Holland. After lunch they offer to drive us back to our guesthouse but then we decide to all have dinner together. First we go to a big department store where we find heaps of DVDs for Angie and Lauren – buy a couple of hundred! Then we pay Jacka and drive off with Roi and Wiwi in their luxury car. We stop at their house for a few minutes before having dinner in an Egyptian place in another big department store. It all looks quite grand but then you realise you’ve got vertigo because the floor isn’t level – crappy Indo construction. The whole bloody great thing will probably collapse in the next inevitable earthquake.
Anyway dinner is good with an amazing atmosphere – Wiwi and Roi have dinner here every second night. Roi tells us a little about his business and it sounds as dodgy as the floor – don’t think he’s a crook, just knows the system and works it. After dinner they take for a drive through the transexual prostitute area and there they are lurking around in the dark looking very weird.
We’re sorry to say goodbye to Roi and Wiwi and wish we’d been staying longer. Anyway, we’re eager to get home to family stuff.
Monday 8th January, 2007 Jakarta to Sydney
Today we catch a taxi to the airport then line up for immigration. When it comes my turn to show my passport, the guy looks at me weird – keeps inspecting my passport and making phone calls. Then I’m told to follow him to a small room – oh shit! – Mark and I are both shitting ourselves – haven’t done anything wrong but that could be totally besides the point here. In the end we don’t know what the problem was but we were told to go
So happy to get on the plane.