Disclaimer: …this will put an end to the Indonesia chapter, so it will likely be a long one, with text, images and some videos … feel free to scroll down with a fast pace… there won’t be any reading comprehension test. 🙂
The earliest memory I have of the name “Java” is of my father, when I was a kid, saying in a deep, dragonesque voice: ”Krakatoaaaa… east of Javaaa”, alluding to the 1969 movie about the devastating eruption of 1883. Well, the famous volcano is actually WEST of Java. Just saying.
Java, Java… we’ve crossed the island from East to West (skipped only the furthest eastern part) and I have to say we are a bit disappointed. We already knew that it would be different… less beachy and more urban… and that the different leading religion would give it a different personality. Still, the extent to which we had to deal with pollution, traffic and streets not suited for pedestrians was not really compensated by the relatively scarce attraction points. Main exceptions were the city of Jogjakarta and some of the nature we saw around Mount Bromo, as well as some very nice people we met in the process.
It is easy to understand why people coming to Indonesia with time limitations skip Java altogether. We found ourselves spending a fair amount of time doing “normal” things, like going to the cinema or the gym, or even to shopping malls -best way to escape from smog- .
By the way, remember I said wine was rather expensive and even hard to find in Bali? Well, I take that back. In Java, it is pretty much nonexistent and -if you manage to find it- double the Balinese price.
This first visited country -and first two months on the road- leave us with a few lessons learnt. Some will help us make our further travelling easier, other ones have most likely changed us a little bit already, for the long term.
An example of a practical one? Always check your invoice… specially if hand-written, but even the printed ones. I’ve lost count of how many times prices mysteriously didn’t add up or were different from the ones in the menu (“oh, sorry mister, menu is old”). Difference was never in my favor, though. Hmm.
An example of a “more profound” one? Do-not-judge. I came here with my Muay-Thai guard up, convinced that everyone wanted to take advantage of us, steal our hard-earned Euros only because we are tourists. Some people do, of course… and you need to be careful (see previous paragraph… and I’ve already written about hyper-inflated and “customized” prices). But not everyone, and we learnt that lesson. We were walking along the beach in Seminyak, Bali, when this woman approached us, selling sarongs. When she saw us looking at the beach lounge chairs next to a Warung (local restaurant), a bit further down, she immediately changed the speech, from “want nice sarong?” to “want sun-bed?… special price for you, but you need to pay me first”. Yah right. I basically ignored her and went straight to the sun-beds. I even warned other not-so-sharp-as-me tourists, not to give her money, as the beds belonged to the Warung and were most definitely free if you consumed their food and drinks. Well, that was my assumption… I just needed to confirm it with one of the waiters, who would then for sure send the woman away… and I would look at the scene with a triumphant half-smile. Well, that woman didn’t only own the sun-beds, she owned the entire Warung (at this point, in Spanish we would say “Plop!”). I ended up offering my most sincere apology, which she, a karma-believing Hindu, luckily accepted with no apparent resentment. We then had a succulent lunch at her Warung…and paid apart for the sun-beds. Lesson learnt.
– yup, she owned it all (and sold sarongs in her spare time, apparently) –
It took us a while to understand a bit of the idiosyncrasy of the people here. They don’t like conflict. They don’t say “no” easily. That doesn’t mean they’ll deliver, though. Even if they don’t understand what you are saying, they will usually agree. “I’d like fried eggs today, please” “ok sir! … -fast forward 3 minutes-… “here’s your omelet, sir!”…or “Do you have soy milk?”. ”Yes!”…”ok, one Latte please, but please remember, with soy milk”… “ok!”… and there she goes and opens the milk carton with a big cow on the side. And so.
With that, 57 nights after we first landed in Bali, having slept in 17 different beds, ranging from free to 37 Euro a night, and after 2500 pictures with locals -where we were merely the decorative elements-, we say farewell to this land of contrasts, of great nature, of no sidewalks, of multiple Gods, of extra sugar in everything and of nice people who do not easily say “no”.
Will we ever return?… who knows. Maybe to some of the places in Bali, Lombok or Jogjakarta -I wouldn’t bet money on us returning to the rest of Java- , or the islands we had to skip. Most likely with different standards, though. It would be interesting to experience them with a “normal” 2-week-vacationer’s budget.
Next destination is Singapore… it will be quite a difference, people say. We shall see.
Now, if you are interested in the highlights of our pass through Java -or just want to check some of the pictures- keep reading. 🙂
East-Java: Malang and Surakarta
We knew we had about 20 hours of train rides ahead of us, to cross Java, so decided to save some time in the beginning and took a flight from Bali. Malang was our base to go up Mount Bromo. We had impressive views of the volcanoes and the “sea of sand”, however I’m not sure the sunrise tour was worth it. We started before 1 am, joining the largest caravan of Toyota Land Cruiser “jeeps” I believe has ever come together. It has to be some sort of a world record. The wait for the sunrise, however, took place in the middle of a crowd that made you feel more like in a concert -yelling at people in front of you to sit down- than at the top of a mountain. Check the pics or the video here below.
– smoky crater –
The other interesting sites in Malang where the “colorful villages” of Kampung Warna Warni and Kampung 3D -very clever initiative by the government to revamp very poor favelas and make a tourist attraction in the process- and the Angkut Museum in Batu (about 20km from Malang). Totally unexpected, to see this wonderful collection of classic cars, in a setting so well executed that it could easily belong in Orlando-Florida and not in Batu-Malang. See the pictures and multiply the number of cars you see times 50, to get an idea of the scale of the collection. Quite impressive.
Then came Surakarta, aka Solo, one of the batik centers of Java. It was interesting to learn about the batik technique and tradition. Other than that, we visited two not-too-impressive royal palaces or Kratons -there’s two Kings, although their only Kingdoms are their palaces themselves- and a Wayang-Orang (human-puppets) theater play with a live gamelan-orchestra and never-ending dialogues in Indonesian. A woman behind me started snoring after the 6th act (or was it the 7th?).
– human puppets and live gamelan orchestra… I’ll spare you the dialogues-
To me, the ultimate highlight in Solo was that hotel doorman -we were searching for wine, that’s why we entered a hotel with doormen- who, in his best attempt to show off his English skills, greeted us -at 2 pm- with a wide smile and a “hello, goor evering, congraturations”. I felt like hugging him.
Now some pictures (I know there’s too many… sorry, too hard to filter down).
Central Java: Yogyakarta
Everyone calls it Jogja which, by the way, was the name of the business school project -and subsequent short-lived company- with which me and 4 fierce colleagues won the third price in the Venture Lab competition at the Instituto de Empresa, back in 2010 in Madrid. Good memories. We could be billionaires by know, I’m sure, hadn’t we all decided to go back to our “normal” lives shortly thereafter (read: we didn’t dare taking the risk).
Jogja was by far the best city we visited in Java. We stayed for 9 nights at a Portuguese-Czech couple’s place we found through Airbnb. Good people. We had great conversations, good food and even some black-market wine -delivered at the door in a black plastic bag- together. Also met some local Couchsurfing people. One of them is now officially the nicest, smartest Muslim woman I know. Hope she didn’t get offended by some of the questions I asked her about praying habits and such. Also hope life has it in its plans for us to meet again.
In Jogja we were quite active… went to a silverware workshop and cooking classes, saw yet another sunrise from the mountains -boy, do Indonesians love that- , saw traditional ballet and visited some pretty amazing ancient temples and even a church with the shape of a giant chicken (thanks our host Zuzana’s great tips!). I also tried cobra (at least that’s what the menu said).
West-Java: Bandung and Jakarta
By now we should have learnt the lesson: even if the map says it’s only 10 blocks from the train station to the hotel, grab a Taxi. It is very warm out there and streets do not always have sidewalks nor crossing lines. We walked anyway, sweating and cursing.
We chose Bandung only to have a stopover before Jakarta. Other than looking for healthy food in one of the many huge malls, the main highlight was the visit to Saung Angklung Udjo. Angklung is an old musical instrument made of bamboo and at Udjo you get to see traditional, classic and modern music played with them, but also get to play it yourself together with the entire audience. The guy directing us all was impressively skillful. Was fun.
– here a small sample… this was only the warmup –
… and then our final stop, mighty Jakarta. Every single tourist we met before that day had told us that they hadn’t liked it. We took a bit of a precautionary measure and booked our most expensive hotel so far, for those 3 nights. With gym and swimming pool, just in case. It was a good decision. Jakarta belongs to a different category of city than every other place in Indonesia. It’s huge, has extremely modern areas and a skyline you could see in any mayor western metropolis. But come down from the skyscraper and get out of the super-fancy mall and you are, once again, surrounded by traffic, pollution and a few attractions which, in our view, don’t really justify a visit unless you live 30 minutes away (or closer).
We went to the Zoo, learnt even more about everything the Dutch have done in -and with- these lands and raised our average daily spent with healthy food and wine, before closing off the Indonesia chapter of this journey.
Thank you if you reached this far! (doesn’t count if you skipped most of it and are reading this line by pure coincidence 🙂 ).. now stay put for the Singapore story, coming soon.
Finished writing this in Langwaki-Malaysia, on August 13th, 2017 (still catching up!)