Chapter Forty: Indonesia pt. 1 (Java)

Jakarta: hot, hectic and overwhelming. We spent 4 days in this city and it felt like three too many. There are some redeeming points: a small but pleasant old square with a Dutch colonial feel, a nice museum, and dirt-cheap Nasi Goreng (fried rice) on every street corner. But Jakarta is not a city built for tourists, which is likely why we didn’t see any there. In our four days, we saw 4 other visible foreigners, 2 of whom we saw twice. Which made us quite a focal point. Everywhere we went, people would take our photos. Some would ask, others not. People, mostly men, would yell things at us on the streets. Some things pleasant, others not. We often felt lucky that we didn’t understand what was being said as the sheer volume of noise as chaos was a massive sensory overload. Many of the streets had no sidewalks, which meant we had to walk along the side of the road, breathing in the heavy exhaust fumes and dodging traffic. By our last afternoon, I needed to recharge. I had spotted a Pizza Hut and we ordered take out and stayed in our room all night. The infrastructure in Jakarta is decent and you could no doubt make a life for yourself there. But it was not very tourist-friendly. Even the one backpacker street seemed bleak and empty.

From Jakarta, we took a (surprisingly nice) train to the hippy town of Yogyakarta (Yogya for short), approx. 7 hours away. Here, we decided to give Indonesia a second chance. Far less overwhelming, we could walk the streets at ease, chat to the friendly locals and enjoy the culture. We spent an afternoon at the Kraton palace grounds and water castle and an evening in the central square, where food vendors hawk cheap plates of everything imaginable (we had chocolate parmesan toast and fried noodles), and pedicab-style suped-up Volkswagen beetles, adorned in flashy neon lights and blasting top 40 tunes, circle the square non-stop. You can rent these out for a drive but we preferred to sit in the field in the middle of the action and take it all in.

We took a day trip from Yogya to the beautiful and massive Buddhist Borobudur temple and the equally impressive Hindu temple complex, Prambanan. Both built in the 9th century, these two sites are among the architectural highlights of the year for me. Taking them both in within a matter of hours likely ruined me for all future temple experiences. I can’t describe them in due justice, so I will just let the photos do the talking. (Note the massive volcano in the background of Borobudur.) We shared this trip with a lovely German/Spanish couple who we also met up with later on for dinner.

From Yogya, we booked a two-night overland trip to the east coast of Java, before boating over to the island of Bali. The trip included two amazing stops, that, although being long stretches on the road and incredibly early wake up times (or should I say no-sleep-at-all-times… 1:00 a.m.?!), were highly rewarding. We first took in the massive Mt. Bromo volcano, watching the sun rise over it from the distance while fog settled around the base. We then took jeeps into that fog, where we began our hike up to the crater. The hike itself was other-worldly in atmosphere and could have been the movie set for either a western or moon-landing, depending which way you looked. At the crater, you could see way down into the base of the volcano, which you could feel as much as you could hear, with the massive amount of steam bursting and bubbling out. 

The next day we had a call time of 12:30 a.m. to begin our drive and then two-hour hike to the base of the Ijen Crater, a sulphuric volcano with a blue flame and yellow smoke erupting constantly. The flame can only be seen in the darkest hours, so we arrived at the top between 3:30 – 4:00 a.m. Jasper and I then spent three of the coldest hours of our lives shivering and huddling together, hiding behind a rock shelf to block ourselves from the wind, while we awaited sunrise, which was, due to the heavy fog, anticlimactic. But when the sun was overhead, the azure crater lake sparkled below and all was worthwhile. We made our way slowly down the mountain (which was exponentially more beautiful in the morning sun) and slowly thawed out, before heading on to Bali. ❤

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