Friday, April 23, 2010

Leaving the best till last

My final destination in Java is Kawah Ijen, a colourful crater lake set amidst coffee plantations and remnant rainforest. It's quite a hassle getting there via a combination of bus, minibus and ojek, but not particularly difficult if you charter your own vehicle. I, of course, do it the hard way, but make a few more friends in the process. My trip begins with a bus from Probbolingo to Bondowoso, passing the massive coal powered power plant on the north coast before ascending through verdant green hills and down to Bondowoso. Here I must take another bus to Wonosari, where I change to a minibus for the climb up the potholed road to Sempol. There I negotiate an ojek to Pos Paltuding, where I take a room for the night.
The next morning I begin the walk up to the crater rim in the dark, occasionally passing sulphur workers carting baskets weighing up to 100kg of sulphur cut from the volcano vents. The track down from the rim to where the men are working is steep and treacherous and given my history of falling over during descents I decide to stay on the rim and just take a few telephoto shots of what looks like a hell of a job. There are 350 workers, each hauling sulphur twice a day, which they have cut from near the vents. They get 600Rp a kilo, thus making over 100,000Rp per day. This sort of money means it is a popular job, even if breathing poisonous sulphur fumes is the occupational hazard. They also try to sell sulphur souvenirs, some carved into animals, others natural crystal formations, to the hoards of tourists who arrive every morning to also view the spectacle. This really is a beautiful spot, with views right along the east Javan coast for miles in all directions.After returning to Pos Paltuding I pack my bags and begin my walk down to Banyuwangi, or at least to where I can get some public transport. The walk is brilliant, through tropical forest with tree ferns everyhere, birds singing, butterflies... I'm in heaven. From time to time I am passed by jeeps full of returning tourists, some stop and offer me a lift but I am having a far too good a time to take up their offers, this scenery is beautiful!Not long after lunch I emerge from the forest into plantations of coffee, large trees, and beehives. The road continues to descend at a much more reasonable gradient for a few more kilometres to Jambu, where I am hoping to pick up some public transport. This isn't the case so I soldier on to Licin. I have now walked 21km downhill, after my 6km round trip to the crater. I can safely say I am buggered!!
Here's all the photos.

A young boy offers to take me down to Banyuwangi for a ridiculously cheap price so we career downhill at a ridiculously fast pace. It is then that we pass all the Durian sellers. I was really looking forward to buying some Durian to finish off my stay in Java, but I stupidly didn't ask the boy to stop, so we continue wheeling on to Banyuwangi.

A word of advice to anyone turning up in Banyuwangi late afternoon. Best to stay the night there, as the buses crossing to Bali early evening are few and far between, with most of them not arriving till much later at night. Unless you are already on a through bus that is.

From Banyuwangi I took another ojek (now that's a funny story about the very friendly young man who stops to tell me in English that an ojek will charge me at least 50,000Rp to take me the less than 10km to the ferry port just after I've negotiated in Indonesian with another man to pay 15,000Rp for the trip!) to the port of Ketapang where I board the ferry for the short crossing to Java. For an incredibly narrow patch of sea it's a 2 hour crossing: one hour in real time and another as I turn my watch forward an hour as I cross the timezone. Going the other way you lose no time at all!!

I have had a glorious 3 and a half weeks in Java. Yes the place is incredibly crowded and the cities are loud, dirty and congested. But the food is varied and delicious, the people are genuinely friendly, incredibly generous and are mostly just getting along with their lives. And there are still some areas of genuine wilderness for those of us who like walking in the great outdoors. Yep, Java has been a revelation!

Before I have even left the ferry port I meet my first Balinese tout. I've been to Bali a number of times before, but after being ignored for weeks the touts in Bali really got in my face. Yep, Bali lives on its tourism, Java doesn't. So smile, ignore, and if you must, say sudah!! (means "already", as in I've already bought a sarong, had a massage, had a manicure, hired a car, seen the dolphins, etc etc ad nauseum). And enjoy that cold beer or three that wasn't so easy to find in Java.


Friday, April 16, 2010

How friendly can you handle?

I've just arrived in Surabaya, Java's second largest city, which has a very organised bus station, I'm impressed. After some lunch it's time to take my next bus. I enter the wall of bus touts asking me if I want to go to Probbolingo (I've just come from there), Bali, Jogja, Jakarta, Malang..... they are running out of options and starting to sound confused. I shake my head, smile and say Madura. There is shocked silence then they point me on. I am laughing as I board my bus for Sumenep.

A young man asks if I will sit with him as he wishes to practice his English. This is the first of many encounters with the locals who have got to be the most friendly people I've met anywhere. In fact they can be so in your face it can be overwhelming. Agus chats away, and even invites me to stay with his family. But he doesn't live in Sumenep, and I am keen to base myself in one place for a few days, plus I'm far too tired to be sociable. I continue on to Sumenep, check in to a hotel, and am asleep within minutes.My hotel is cheap, but super clean, and one of few hotels I've stayed in in Java that I can be absolutely sure they change the sheets between guests. Breakfast isn't included, but a cup of coffee awaits me each morning, and the staff are super friendly and helpful regarding usual prices for becak, and what's on around town. I head to the tourist office to visit the kraton, where I am given the full guided tour for the grand price of 15 cents. I also recieve a free brochure and 2 CDs, one with local Madurese music, the other with tourist information. I am also invited to accompany the tourist office boss out to Slopeng Beach to see a boat which is being built. Arrangements are made to meet at 3pm for the trip.A bunch of school kids have joined our tour, and they accompany me back towards my hotel, peeling off in ones and twos as they themselves go home for lunch. Just as I am almost home I am accosted by another man on a motorbike who wants to practice his English. I say accosted because after I had a very short conversation with him and indicated that I didn't wish to spend longer talking to him, he continued to follow me. In fact later as I headed over to the mosque he continued to stalk me, so I sought refuge in the women's section. Here I met a lovely lass Nur, who I later accompanied back to her family's small shop, still being followed by this incredibly persistent young man.At no time did I feel threatened by this man, it was simply a cultural misunderstanding. He wanted to talk to me and I didn't want to talk to him. He didn't seem to respect my right to say no, ignored my request to stop following me, and appeared bemused by my refusal to talk to his friend on his mobile phone. Even after I'd left Nur's shop he continued to shadow me, but my next destination was the tourist office for my trip to Slopeng, and after that I never saw him again.

Back at the tourist office we take a quick trip to the market to look at Batik, before heading out to Slopeng. Here they are building a traditional Maduran ship, in partnership with a Japanese organisation, which they plan to sail to Shanghai Expo 2010. They'd only been building for 20 days, and the model shows it will be one impressive ship when it's finished in 3 months time.Madura is famous for it's sate, so I find a nearby sidewalk warung to indulge in the local specialty. It is indeed delicious and the stall holder becomes yet another new friend. On my second night there, a fellow diner pays for my meal "because I don't have a husband". Poor chap feels sorry for me!!The local market is excellent, and becomes my preferred breakfast location, having found a nice place that serves Soto Madura. The nearby ladies selling roti are pleased as punch to see me returning, and the market people are keen for me to take photos of them. One lady in particular is a natural.My last morning I am picked up by the tourist office boss and taken to see Kerapan Sapi. This is the bull racing that Madura is famous for. Although the races are held during the dry season, they have practice sessions in Sumenep each Saturday morning at the local stadium. Kerapan Sapi is definitely a bloke's sport. Boys and men flock around the beasts, who are tied two abreast to a wooden "chariot" on which the driver holds on for dear life. Actually he hooks his foot around the chariot and holds onto the bulls' tails, somehow managing to whip them with a barbed stick. To make sure the bulls are even more in the mood for running fast, they tie a piece of leather to their tails that has little barbs on it to irritate the bull's anus. Not really a place for those with concerns about animal welfare... They do run mighty fast and it is quite a spectacle!I have been blown away by the friendliness of the Madurese people. Around Sumenep you'll find fine beaches, great food, pretty countryside, a huge vibrant market and the city itself is sleepy and peaceful. The guys at the tourist office seem to bend over backwards to ensure you see everything there is to see, and think nothing of giving you a lift there as well. I'm giving the place a big endorsement because it really does deserve more tourists. But just be aware, these guys are very friendly!!

After taking the bemo down to Kalianget I discover there is no afternoon ferry afterall, so I return back to Java by road. We take the ferry back to Surabaya, just in time for a spectacular sunset.I brave the bus touts a second time and continue on my journey to the eastern tip of Java.
Here's all the pictures.

Bromo, I will return!

It's really a piece of cake to get to Ranu Pani from Malang, though it does require a little patience and the ability to be squashed into a microlet with 20 other people and their possessions for a hot sweaty ride uphill. Not to mention the poor lady chucking her guts up...There's a bit of a transport mafia at Tumpang, I suspect led by the dwarf (should have asked him if he had any sisters looking for jobs as I know a midget bar in Bangkok looking for dancers!!) who try to convince me to hire an entire microlet for 200,000Rp as the others are full. I tell him I'll simply wait for the next one to be ready and go and have some lunch at a nearby warung. It is afterall the middle of the day and there is a lively market going on, so it is almost no time before I am being called over to be packed in like sardines with the locals for the drive up to Gubug Klakah. From here my options are limited to walking, hitching, or taking an ojek. I opt for the latter, after a little negotiation over price, and away we go. The road is sealed all the way to the crater rim, travelling through beautiful pine forests until we near the village of Ngadas. Here the hills are completely clad in a patchwork quilt of vegetable plots, and the locals are busily weighing and loading cabbages (thanks Neen!!) onto trucks. At the crater rim the road deteriorates a little as it winds around the top, with views down the caldera to Bromo ruined by low cloud, then descends on a good asphalt road to Ranu Pani. I left my hotel in Malang at 10 am, I am at Ranu Pani by 1pm.Ranu Pani is gorgeous, a quiet town beside a tranquil lake, with vege plots as far as the eye can see. The people are incredibly friendly, all very eager to greet me and some to stop and chat. The climb up Mt Semeru is unfortunately closed due to the bad weather, and even the walk to Ranu Kumbolo is closed. I have no choice but to continue my travels across to Bromo, but I'll chill out in Ranu Pani for an evening and tackle that tomorrow on foot.Up early to clear skies and a view of the mighty Semeru before I breakfast, pack my bag and head uphill. It takes me a good one and a half hours to reach the crater rim again, to find the view even worse than yesterday. The clouds engulf the entire caldera, I am not in luck. But the upside is overcast conditions definitely make walking alot more pleasant.The descent into the caldera feels like I am Dorothy following the yellow brick road, as the caldera is covered with heather and an assortment of purple, yellow and white flowers. I meet a sole horseman who offers me a lift, as well as a small but steady stream of motorcyclists, and the occasional truck or jeep. I am the only walker! Soon my yellow brick road disappears and the track continues as a black dirt track interspersed with large puddles. I'm really enjoying myself pottering along but am noticing that those clouds are getting lower and it looks like rain. No sooner do I hit the sand sea than the rain descends. I must really look a sight with my white poncho trudging across a black lunarscape!It's time for lunch, but there's nowhere dry to eat before I begin the ascent to Cemoro Lawang. I have to admit to being a little tired so decide not to climb up to Bromo but leave that for tomorrow. I find a tree to give me some shelter and devour my rice and tempeh before finishing the climb. It's actually not much of a hill, but I definitely needed that carb injection to get up it. I find a damp but cheap room with some pretty dire toilets and have a rest before checking out one of the more salubrious establishments in town for a beer. I also opt out of serious physical activity tomorrow and book a jeep seat for the Bromo sunrise spectacular!

So much for spectacular! Cemoro Lawang reminds me very much of Sapa in Vietnam, with cold misty weather but without a bunch of decent pubs, no market and no colourful ladies trying to sell me handicrafts. Come to think of it it's nothing like Sapa actually, except for the crap weather! And my sunrise spectacular? Well it wasn't that far removed from the view from the top of Fansipan, but minus the rain! Yep, total whiteout, nary a thing to be seen.The jeep tour continues with a convoy down the mountain to the Bromo carpark where a couple of hundred horsemen try to cajole you into purchasing a ride up the mountain. The price drops from 150,000Rp to 100,000Rp within 5 steps of my jeep, drops a further 50,000Rp within a further two steps, and if I walk a hundred metres to the Hindu temple the price is now 20,000Rp. These boys really are desperate for business, as they only get one chance a day as all the jeeps pretty well arrive at once. By 8:30am almost everyone has returned to their hotels and the place is deserted. Certainly was the case when I passed through at lunchtime yesterday.

The climb up Bromo is easy, as the final part is a flight of steps (the horses leave you at the bottom of them so you still need to climb yourself), and the view down into the steamy crater is pretty impressive. But the clouds keep obscuring the view, and entrepreneurial chaps circulate attempting to sell pictures of Bromo when it's sunny!I see no reason to dally in Bromo with it's misty weather and no fun pubs or colourful characters (I don't think the occasional man selling scarves and hats really compares with my adorable Sapa ladies) so I jump on the overpriced Colt to Probolingo. I am definitely going to return to Bromo, not just to see the sunrise for real, but because the sunrise is the main attraction, the park is very poorly utilised the rest of the day. There's some great landscape and trekking opportunities here and I do want to visit Semeru afterall. Yep, Bromo, I will return.

Here's the rest of the pictures.

I'm way ahead of my original schedule, and I'm not ready yet to hit Bali, so from Probolingo I'm off to explore a little bit off the beaten track. You could have heard a pin drop when I told the bus touts at the bus station my intended destination....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hanging out with a famous rock star

My arrival in Malang was not pretty. This was my first crowded bus and I wanted to get out. But the bus driver won't just stop along the road to let you off so I have to wait till we reach some preappointed spot before I can alight. Next I must jump on a microlet to make the journey back down the same road I have just travelled. Perhaps I have not had enough sugar today because I am fuming!! We sit in the microlet whilst the driver packs it to the rafters, plus a couple more, before we head off. I am travelling blind with little idea where we are going and at some point decide it's time for some fresh air and escape!

Now I am beside the road in a busy city, no idea exactly where I am as my map is woefully small, and I have no idea where the accommodation is. I am not ready to engage the services of a becak as I don't even know where I am going. I cross the road and head up a side street, get to a T-junction and am stumped, do I go left or right? I pull out my map again and contemplate which of those less than desirable characters sitting over there shall I ask? Then along comes my knight in shining armour. I look up to find a friendly man on a motorbike asking me if I am OK as I am looking very confused. I explain my dilemma - I ask him where I am and even he can't find it on the map - and he offers to take me to a hotel. I pluck a name out of the guidebook, Hotel Helios, and we go there, only to find it is full. I also discover that they only take foreign guests, so I am glad I'm not staying there anyway. We go to another homestay, which is also full, and at last find a third hotel which has rooms. The staff rarely, if ever, have foreign guests so I am a bit of a celebrity.

Nonot turns out to be a local celebrity himself. He plays in a popular heavy metal band (four albums out), has a music studio nearby, lectures in music at the local university, is a published songwriter and is the leader of the Malang Indie Community, a collection of a few hundred independent bands and musicians in Malang. Everywhere we go there are smiles and waves from the adoring populace....

Later I visit the studio, and then we head off to the government radio station where Nonot is helping a young band who are performing live on radio. I then become a minor celebrity myself as the sight of a lone foreigner in the studio audience means the girls announcing notice me and ask me my name and where I am from. Apparently it makes Facebook later that evening!!

The next day Nonot takes me out to see some nearby temples - I have to admit to beginning to get temple fatigue - and on the way home we have Durian. At last I am enjoying this great fruit again, I even take a quick sniff to try and work out why people don't like it. I still don't get it, smells like Durian to me! The following morning I negotiate the bizarrely lettered microlets into the centre of town to watch the locals feeding the pidgeons and old men playing badminton in the alun-alun, before wandering through to the bird market, not quite as colourful as Jogja's, and flower market. Then I find a small market to take more photos in before jumping on the wrong microlet back to my hotel. Luckily I now know where I am so I simply walk the rest of the way. A quick shower then it's time to make my way to Bromo via the back door.

Here's all the photos of Malang (forgot to take a piccie of my rock star friend but!).

More temples and how to ruin a pretty piece of scenery

My extensive research had told me about Mt Kelud, a tranquil crater lake easily reached by vehicle, which had erupted in 2007 leaving a steaming lump of ash where the nice pretty lake used to be. Since it was so easy to get to - admittedly on the back of a motorbike meaning one sore bum for me - I included it in my tour of the area around Blitar.

The approach from Blitar is through rice fields, green as green can be, and as we ascend we get sugar plantations interspersed with fields of pineapples. And the occasional bullock dray as well. This is rural Java at it's best, but I'm on a tight schedule to get back to the hotel before 1pm so I don't dally. The climb up to the crater is steep, but my bike today has more grunt than Dicky's scooter, so we make it up without stalling. Then it's an easy walk along a path and through a long unlit tunnel into the crater. And there is this big lump of steaming ash!! Seriously, it looks like someone dumped it there, more like a piece of environmental vandalism than the result of a natural phenomenon. A nearby stall has pictures and even a VCD of the three day eruption, but I've already seen it on the internet, so sorry guys... I have to remind myself that I am currently standing in the crater of an active volcano, and less than 50 metres from me is the evidence. No, they wouldn't let you do this in Australia!!Down the mountain we return the same way and detour to visit Penataran, the largest of the Majahapit kingdom temples, and quite unique as it is East Javan in its architecture and carvings. This place doesn't get the visitors it deserves, as it is no less impressive, although smaller, than Prambanam. Then again, it's not quite as easy to get to as Yogyakarta either. I really like Penataran, something about the place really appeals to me.I return back to my hotel in time for a quick shower before heading off by bus to Malang.

For Kelud and Penataran, click here.

Hill temples, rain, and altered plans

Candi Sukuh and Candi Ceto are two Hindu temples on the slopes of Mt Lawu near Solo. They are the product of the last remaining group of Hindu worshippers who were being driven out of Java by the encroaching Islamic kingdoms. And they are completely different to anything that preceded them.Candi Sukuh in particular is built more in the style of an Egyptian pyramid, with terraced sloping stone walls rather than the usual block stone walls. There also seems to be a return to more animistic motifs, and both temples play considerable homage to fertility rites. The stone lingga at Ceto leaves nothing to the imagination!!Dicky has taken me to these temples on the motorbike, which stalled a number of times trying to get heavy old me and my backpack up steep inclines, meaning a few small walks. But the downhill run is a breeze, and then it's off to the hill resort town of Tawangmangu where I will stay the night. But first we have Sate Kelinci, a particular specialty in the mountain areas. Yep, Kelinci means Bunny Rabbit, I can hear the gentle refrain of "Bright Eyes" as I tuck into what is quite succulent meat. "Eh, what's up doc?"Here's the temple photos.

I do hope Dicky got back to Solo before the heavens opened, because that evening it poured. Although the wet season is officially over, there is still alot of rain around, and anyway, I expect a bit up here in the mountains. But the consistent evening rain is making me rethink my plans to climb Gunung Lawu the following day, as I don't have either a sleeping bag or a tent and it doesn't look pretty. My mind is made up next morning when by 8 am the clouds are already gathering: I'll skip the climb and head further afield. I take a Colt up to the start of the mountain climb at Cemoro Sewu, and begin walking down the road to Sarangan, the hill resort for the residents of Madiun. I'm also now in East Java. The walk is lovely, there's very little traffic through this mountain pass, and the surrounding trees are covered in epiphytes and the birds are singing and all is right with the world...Coming in to Sarangan the forest clears to vegetable plots, and at Sarangan itself there is a tiny lake with more speedboats for hire than looks practical. Who said anyone cares about safety here?The next part of my trip includes a number of bus trips. First I take a colt to Magetan, then jump on the waiting bus to Madiun, but a conversation with some men at the station (this is where I'm glad of some local language skills) sees me jumping on a Surabaya bound bus instead to Nganjuk, where I hop on a Blitar bound bus. Although I have to jump buses in Kediri, I at last arrive in Blitar at 5pm. I get a room in a hotel and arrange a tour for the morning. That's next.

Here's the rest of the photos.

Gourmet food, Solo style

The train between Yogyakarta and Solo is a simple commuter train taking about an hour. There I am met by Dicky, the brother of my couch surfing hostess Popy, and taken home to meet the family. Ibu (mother) is one cool chick, who spends her days sitting in a cool spot in the breezeway watching the daytime soaps in between doing the household chores. Aside from attending gym three times a week that is! She doesn't speak a word of English so I am getting to practice my Indonesian instead. Dicky is studying law, and is in the middle of midterm exams, but he still has time to show me around during the day whilst Popy is at work.Popy works in a bank full time, then is a radio announcer on the weekends, so she's pretty busy. But that doesn't stop her being a fantastic host, taking me to all the best local restaurants to try the Solo specialties. Over the following two days I try many different dishes, from fried duck to a dish similar to gado gado, Nasi Liwet - rice cooked in coconut milk and served with side dishes, Nasi Gudeg which is another jackfruit dish, and a rice pudding with a salty sauce whose name escapes me. There's a great night food market at Galabo which has all sorts of offerings. I have Thengkleng Kambing, which is ex President Soeharto's favourite dish, an assortment of fried goat's bones with a small amount of meat and fat on them. The sauce, however is superb. Before that we'd eaten Pisang Owol, which is baked banana topped with chocolate sauce and grated cheese. Yes cheese! I'm yet to grasp this particular combination which is very common in many Indonesian sweets. It's actually very tasty, also very filling!!

Dicky's tour guiding duties commence after he has sat his morning exam. He seems completely unconcerned and Popy tells me he'd probably spend the time playing Playstation anyway! We go to the Kraton Mangkenegaran, a smaller but better maintained sultan's palace compared with the larger more dilapidated Kraton Surakarta. I particularly like the lovely tropical garden surrounding it, and spend a few minutes trying to teach the pet cocky a little aussie slang!We also visit a batik museum and factory, where I begin to get an understanding of the meanings around the designs, but the hellish workshop in the back of the plush air-conditioned museum premises shows that this is big business, where people slave away in appalling conditions and only get paid by the piece. Yes they are skilled artisans, but that doesn't equate with decent wages. Not that I can do much about it...In the evening Popy takes me to see Wayang Orang, which is the acting out of old Javanese tales, Hindu and Buddhist tales, a few songs and lots of ad lib and audience interaction. This acting troupe performs every day of the year, whether there is an audience or not, and are really very amusing. Unfortunately I fall asleep midway through so we leave early - and I paid all of 40 cents to see them too!!

The following day Dicky takes me up into the hills to see some temples and I get to try sate bunny rabbit. On our way we stop to take a quick picture of an Islamic school which has produced more than its fair share of terrorists....Here's all the Solo pictures.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pleasantly surprised

Funny place Indonesia. Unlike anywhere I've been so far, this country continues to defy my expectations. Yogyakarta is well and truly on the tourist map, so I expected it to be trashy and full of insistent batik salesmen etc and basically a real pain in the arse. Admittedly I'd been advised to stay in the Prawirotawan area rather than in the main backpacker area near the train station, and I didn't venture north of the Kraton to where the bulk of the hard sell occurs, but aside from the usual becak drivers wanting fares I found Yogya hassle free.

Prawirotawan is quiet, and has a great local market at the corner of Jl Parangritis. There's a high speed internet cafe nearby, and a surplus of good local food outlets, as well as some higher class western restaurants for those so inclined. It's within walking distance of the Kraton, and best of all my homestay has a pool! I'm in heaven!! There's some quite interesting street art/ graffiti in Yogya, which I can enjoy whilst walking the streets. As usual I am looked at with incredulity for not only walking everywhere, but also for being female and alone. Somewhere along the way I am picked up by a guide, who explains things in a mix of mostly Indonesian with a smattering of English. To my great surprise I am understanding him quite well and he is a pleasant enough chap so I decide to let him show me around for the day as it certainly makes negotiating the labyrinth of the Kraton area a lot easier.We go to visit a puppet maker, where the young man making the puppet explains in incredible detail about the meanings behind the shapes and designs incorporated into the carvings. As if that isn't enough, there is further meaning attached to the colours it is painted, with different colours indicating different emotions. There are over 350 different puppets within a wayang kulit collection, which means lots to choose from if buying one. I buy two and am given a very flattering commentary on the good quality of my character for choosing those particular puppets. I struggle not to be cynical as to whether this is just sales pitch hyperbole, as the young man really is quite earnest! An explanation of the meanings of the puppets I have purchased will be sent to me by email.Next it's off to the Sultan's palace, where there is a display of dancing and gamelan to watch, before touring the museum full of artifacts and photos of the beloved 9th sultan, the current sultan's dad. The current sultan only has daughters, so I'm unsure who takes over next. There are some lovely large ceramic platters from China that I wouldn't mind absconding with, and the batik collection opens my eyes to the fact that some Batik is actually quite nice. I've unfortunately seen only crap stuff before, typical me, I only like the good (read expensive!!) stuff.... It's now noon, and rather than have something to eat I am taken to the bird market where there are not only birds for sale - I even saw an eagle - but lizards, snakes, dogs, cats, bats, mice, fruit bats, rabbits, guinea pigs and monkeys. Then there's ant eggs, crickets, caterpillars and worms to feed your new pet, though the mammals and reptiles are usually eaten for medicinal purposes. I am no longer hungry... After the bird market we visit Taman Sari, which is a vast water park designed by a Portugese architect for the Sultan's folly. It includes an airy spot on top of a hill, an ingeniously designed underground mosque, secret tunnels and underground canals that allow the sultan and family to travel in and out of the city by boat or foot undetected, and a very flash set of bathing pools. One of the pools is for the use of the Sultan's wives (the current one only has one) and the Sultan has a tower that he can sit in and look down on his ladies cavorting. Strange weird fact: in the corners of this pool enclosure there are two graves for the Sultan's horses!! Hmmm... It is now time to bid my guide fare thee well, and although he has offered to take me to see a wayang kulit show tonight I decline as I am planning to see the Ramayana Ballet instead. He decides to accompany me a little way in order to steer me into a picture gallery, where I am given a cup of tea and regaled with the story that this is a school of art etc etc. I have a look but am not interested so we leave and soon my guide is also finished with me. I give him a generous tip - I have afterall enjoyed his company - and bid him adieu and return to my homestay to enjoy a welcome dip in that lovely pool. But first I have the best Bakso evah from a little "kaki lima" - the name given to the portable street food sellers, meaning five legs - just next to the market. Yep, I'm enjoying Yogya. Here's more pics.

The Ramayana Ballet is alot of fun. I opt for seeing it at the local theatre rather that going out to Prambanam. I have seen the story performed in Bali, but this one is of course done differently and is quite funny at times. In particular, the band of monkeys are played mostly by kids of all different ages, including one who couldn't be more than 3 or 4 who completely steals the show. A great night out I can highly recommend. The pictures are here.The following day I hire a bicycle and take to the crowded streets of Yogya before finding the quiet canal path that takes me almost the whole way to Prambanam. The main temple complex of Pawon is Hindu, with individual temples devoted to various deities, but there is also a Buddhist temple, Candi Sewu, which is currently undergoing major structural repairs, complete with workers in no safety gear climbing the temples without ropes or harnesses and smiling happily for my camera.The Prambanam plain has scores of temples, both Buddhist and Hindu, with some only recently discovered. Candi Sambosari is one such temple only discovered in the 1980s when a farmer uncovered a carved stone and subsequent excavations revealed a temple which had been covered in a huge layer of ash from one of the many eruptions of the nearby volcano Merapi. I cycle back to Yogya, arriving just on dusk and enjoy a lovely cooling dip in the pool before joining a Dutch lass for dinner.

The Prambanam pictures are here.

Tomorrow I head to Solo.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why I came to Java

My fifth time in Indonesia and at last I make it to Borobodur. It's a quiet little village which just so happens to have one of the largest Buddhist monuments in South East Asia. As a result it attracts it's fair share of tacky souvenir sellers who have a steady stream of tourists to pester with their wares. Welcome back to the main tourist trail.Most visitors to Borobodur come on a day trip from Yogyakarta, so staying a night not only affords you an early entry at 6 am, but for $40 (a small fortune in Indonesia) you can be one of those to gain an entry before dawn to watch the sun rise from the top of the temple. It's a wonderful experience, and visiting the temple before the heat of the day really sets in is a must.I can't really describe Borobodur, it's like a massive mandala with numerous terraces carved with bas reliefs of the stories of Buddha and Buddha's teachings. In alcoves everywhere are statues of Buddha looking out over the landscape and the upper terraces have stupas with buddha statues inside. I dutifully reach in and touch Buddha's feet, which honours me with good luck.Let's hope so, as next stop is the tourist jungle of Yogyakarta, but first I visit two more smaller temples, one with 3 Buddhas inside and the site of a meditation centre. I am now suitably chilled and it is time to hit town... I make no apologies, there are lots of pictures of Borobodur here, and for pictures of the smaller temples of Pawon and Mendut, here.

Dieng rocks!!

Dieng Plateau is smack in the middle of Java, a boggy volcanic caldera where almost every patch of dirt is cultivated for the growing of vegetables. It's also quite cool and rains alot, so mornings are the best time to appreciate the beautiful scenery before the clouds close in.This is volcano territory, with a number of lakes coloured green and blue by sulphuric hot springs, and a few bubbling craters of hot mud. I was particularly taken with Kawah Sikidang, with its waves of boiling mud and sulphurous steam emanating from a hole in the middle of a lunarscape. Nearby is a geothermal power station giving off an even larger amount of steam. But still we have blackouts...Dieng is also home to the oldest Hindu temples in Java. I have a little go at some long exposure night shots but am interrupted by a loud crowd of local tourists so return to my homestay to slaughter the boys at Scrabble. The boys running the homestay are Scrabble addicts and insist on numerous games so they can learn English. Having become quite addicted to Facebook Scrabble myself, I introduce them to all the two letter words that none of us know what they mean. Later they play with some Dutch tourists, who don't believe the words they come up with. And with neither being native English speakers, it's an impasse!! Next morning I am up very early to take a motorbike ride to Sembungan to climb Mount Sikinur to watch the sunrise. My god this place rocks! I take a massive amount of shots that should create a fantastic panorama after some photostitching in photoshop. Later I head up to the summit proper for some more views of nearby volcanoes and the view over the small lake to the village of Sembungan, supposedly the highest altitude village in Java.Then I walk all the way back, via one more hill to get some stunning shots of the coloured lakes. There are many more craters and lakes to see in the area but I am on a fairly tight schedule so after a hot shower I am packed and on the first of a series of three buses that will take me to one of the great monuments of the world: Borobodur.

Here's all the rest of the photos of Dieng.