Thursday, 29 October 2015

The first taste of Indonesia: Yogjakarta

We never prepared ourselves for Indonesia. We had so much trouble in Taiwan to keep us busy that it felt like we were spiralling from one whirlwind to another. Taiwan is very different from every part of Indonesia we visited with its tall skyscrapers, bright neon signs and crazy street food. Indonesia's craziness lay in its crazy drivers, overbearing touts and quietly erupting volcanoes. As soon as we arrived, we were overwhelmed and pushed around: into the airport, into the bus, onto the streets. It's almost suffocating how crowded everything was. Despite all of that, I couldn't help smiling cheek to cheek. Looking out of the bus, I felt like I was back in Dhaka and just like my first home, it was the start of bustling atmospheres, lively people and endless amount of good food.

The Local Culture of Yogyakarta 

We decided to spend the first day exploring Jogja. We started with a visit to the Sultan's Palace, Kraton, where we learnt about how much Yogyakarta loves its royal family. Next we visited the Water Palace, Taman Sari, a few blocks away from Kraton and then took a becak to Jalan Prawirotaman for lunch at Via Via. I had the Sambal Udang and Lime Juice, which I am craving to this day. Jl Prawirotaman is another tourist hotspot, after Jl. Sosrowijayan, so we spent the rest of the afternoon walking up and down the road to talk to different tour companies about a trip to Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen. We were taken by Bottle Trip tour's Maria charisma and lovely character as she spoke about all the things Java Island had to offer. We decided to stick to a cheaper, more well known company for the volcano tours but we wanted to use her service so much that we were sold when she mentioned the "Golden Sunrise" of the Dieng Plateau. Now, I hadn't heard of Dieng before coming to Yogyakarta but I saw it mentioned in all the tour companys, so I did a little research online to see previous tourists' experience. It seemed that everyone who went for the sunrise loved it, but it's not worth it for later visits. Since James and I had a day to spare, we thought... why not go for it?

First sunrise in Dieng Plateau and our unforgettable driver, Tegu

James and I waited anxiously for our driver at 11 p.m., but even after fifteen-twenty minutes we were still waiting outside our hotel and we were getting worried. I didn't doubt our tour company at all, but I suspected there might have been a misunderstanding with the dates... but we were on a tight schedule we couldn't afford pushing our dates forward. James went to wait near the road and eventually I heard a car door slam shut loudly followed by:

"Mr James, I AM SO SORRY!"

So I and the rest of our street knew that our driver had arrived. I waved our hotel staff goodbye and headed towards the car when I felt two hands grab my shoulders as a new face started begging for my forgiveness:

"MISS, I am so sorry! Please forgive me!"

I knew we were in for a bumpy ride (and not just literally).

It was a little hard to convince our driver Tegu not to speed especially when he asked for our permission so politely and still insisted because "everyone does it" anyway but it was more forgivable when we were in ignorance of the narrow, steep highway he was flying across. My long lost motion sickness began to find me and I pretended to sleep as a way to fight it off but I didn't think it was a coincidence when I discovered that James was fighting the same battle too. Soon we arrived in Dieng with plenty of time but not enough layers. We started making our way up a trail, I had no idea where I was heading but there were plenty of Indonesians to follow as a guide. Then we reached the peak and I felt like a needle in a haystack. I was lost in a sea of Indonesians who also travelled many miles to see the wonderful golden sunrise... And what a view we had from the top! Sights of one volcano after another and the clouds covering the plains below, I never grow tired of the amazing landscapes our planet has to offer. 

We were feeling euphoric after watching the sunset and Tegu knew where to channel all our energy. He was blasting "Welcome to Paradise" on the radio and claiming that Bob Marley is Indonesia's religion (a claim that many drivers confirmed), so the only right thing to do was to sing along loud and proud with our driver as he took as around the plateau. We visited the sulphur crater open among the industrial pipelines and the hindu temples from the Kalingga Kingdom. We were continuously debating with Tegu about visiting the "Rainbow Lake" because, after the sunset it seemed the only other site worth seeing in the Plateau but it did seem to be unreasonably costly for the foreign tourists. Our driver wanted to take us home and feed us but we insisted on the colourful lake. That was suppose to be the end of our stay but it seemed Tegu had other plans for us...

With only a few hours of sleep the night before, James and I were on the edge of exhaustion, but it didn't seem like Tegu was sympathetic to our situation. I couldn't stand to listen to, let alone sing, "Welcome to Paradise" anymore despite Tegu enthusiastically yelling "One more time!" and the sun was getting to me more than it should. I went back to sleep, hoping that I could fast forward to arriving at our beloved hotel. However, I was woken up too soon and I was looking out the window to a unfamiliar green scenery. Tegu had taken us to a rice plantation. Tiptoeing between the rice terraces, we followed Tegu as two confused, lost souls to the rice plantation workers that showed us to how to harvest rice. As peaceful as the scenery looked and as sweet as the rice workers were, we were too tired to take in what was happening. We didn't stay longer than we were shown around and trusted Tegu to finally take us home... but he was clearly not done with us as he took us to his home instead. Unsure of what to do, we felt like hostages in his house as his sister cooked us Nasi Goreng while Tegu's manager interrogated him about us over the phone. Sure, we finally tried Snake Fruit and we were fed very well by Tegu and his family... but we just wanted some sleep. Finally, it looked like Tegu wanted to give in to sleep too... after he dropped us home!

The Two Giants of Yogyakarta

James and I were debating whether we should pay extra to see the sunrise from Setembu Hill or Borobudur itself, or if we should just skip seeing the sunrise and go to the Buddhist temple at a normal time. I'm a sucker for sunrise related events as you can see, so the last one wasn't a real option. In the end, we decided to enter Borobudur through the Manohara hotel and watch the sunrise from the top of the temple. Watching how bizarrely misty the temple is at early hours and exploring Borobudur before it gets crowded was worth the experience for me. It's easy for the temple to get crowded, each passage is quite narrow and there are only two staircases to move across each level. I loved the atmosphere of walking around Borobudur when it was still dark, it felt eery. We needed the whole time from sunrise to our pick-up time at nine to wander around until we were satisfied. 

It only seemed logical to end our day by watching the sunset from the Hindu Temples of Prambanan. While Borobudur seemed to withstand destruction, it seems like Prambanan wasn't as fortunate. As we made our way towards the temple, you're first struck by how intimidating the main temples are with their tall, dark, jagged appearance. As you walk closer, you're struck again in awe by the remains of the devastation caused by the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake. The main temples are surrounded by rubble and you can't help but feel a little bit of sadness at what it once was.

We arrived around 4pm and spent most of the evening around the main Prambanan complex. Our main mistake was underestimating the time we needed to roam the whole park. We did climb all the main temples that were restored and walked around the complex but there were also Buddhist temples further north that we didn't have time for. We also saved sunset for Prambanan due to numerous travel blogs claiming how beautifully it is lit by the setting sun... I don't think I saw what they were seeing and if I did, it's not that spectacular. Nevertheless, I would have allocated at least half the day to explore the whole site.    

Our Wonderful Host, Faisal

One of that best parts of travelling, the aspect that romanticises it, is the other souls that you meet on the way. I've made friends with people I worked with abroad, cherished conversations I had with strangers in accommodations I stayed in and learnt a lot from fellow travellers I shared a hostel with. I have friends who want to travel solely so they could have that experience with other travellers. However, people seem to overlook the connections they could have with the locals. I always enjoyed meeting locals because they give different perspectives of the country you're visiting and provide a more authentic experience. I've always made it a goal to meet residents of the country I am visiting because they can show you what's best (or most extraordinary). I've been taken to the best restaurants, ordered the strangest food and received an insight to the local politics. Taking the time to meet the locals should never be under-appreciated!

I want to take the time to thank our wonderful host, Faisal during our stay at the Griya Wijilan hotel. While the rest of the staff were great, Faisal stood out in terms of friendliness and care. He had so much to tell us about about Indonesia in terms of what he has seen (he showed us photos of the places he visited) and about the culture. We spoke about migration within Indonesia and he taught us a few Indonesian phrases we could use. When we were worried about Tegu being late, he stayed up with us and talked about the history and religion of Indonesia and when Tegu was distressed about arriving late, Faisal calmed him down. I've never met someone who is integrated with their guests and I always looked forward to coming back to the hotel and talking to Faisal. If I go back to Yogyakarta, I would definitely stay at Griya Wijilan just for Faisal (though the hotel itself is fantastic too!). 

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