Another flight, another city, another day. And you may wonder, does it all blend together at one point? It doesn’t. Java is a world of new things to get used to. The sidewalks are a hundred times better (when there are any). The expensive boutiques in Seminyak are replaced with little restaurants and stores that are cheap. It’s a larger city with crazy streets, quiet local areas, street food vendors, markets, and that fast-but-slow atmosphere Bangkok had as well.
Being in a predominantly muslim country for the first time is also very interesting. One of the first things we noticed is that many women wear headscarves. Our hotel rooms also have green arrows on the ceiling or in the drawers pointing to Mecca for prayers. And of course, the mosques and their chants at 4 am, 7 am, 12 noon, 4 pm, and 7 pm. Our first hotel, booked in a hurry, happened to be right next door to one so between our jam-packed schedules, sleeping like sardines, karoake at night, and 4 am prayers, we didn’t get too much sleep. The calls to prayer are something really different we would never experience at home – like churchbells only chanted and loudly broadcasted across the entire neighborhood. I feel Indonesia is also a very tolerant country. Where religions are concerned, wearing a headscarf is completely up to you and I feel it’s diverse as well; we pass many churches. And as for tourists, you’ll always get a smile. I feel you’re never looked at with a shaking head and ill feelings, even if you do offend the culture, which has some rules that we forget from time to time, like not standing with your hands on your hips or bickering in public. The tolerance makes the world seem friendly.
Touring like a tourist – After being lost in Bali we decided to give ourselves a break and get a tour. We’ve discovered it’s wonderful! Through family contacts we’ve met with the woman who started Pamitran Tours and built an itinerary according to our interests and non-existent schedule. With our own personal guide and private tour we could build a relationship and by now it’s like having a friend show us around her city. We’ve gone to great places to eat (ones we would have been to scared to go to otherwise), learned a lot about Islam and other topics we have always wondered about, and listened to her stories and experiences living here. We get a really special view of the city with her. Again, it’s exactly like having a friend show you her city; the same flexibility, discussions, opinions and ideas. And trip to her favorite spa (not on the tour schedule).
Scheduled into the previous tour days were the Sultan’s Palace, the Tamansari, or his water palace (both of which were underwhelming), and some neighborhoods. For some reason everyone of the same trade gather together in the same neighborhood. There is a neighborhood for silver, for textiles, for mobile phones, and for keys. We visited a place where they make batik, a process in which people draw patterns on cloth with wax, then dyeing it and boiling off the wax. This happens numerous times with different layers and in the end make beautiful prints. In the silver neighborhood we also watched tiny little silver wires get bent to fit into one elaborate brooch. When you see things being made in front of your eyes you can start to appreciate the hours and skill it takes to make the things in the stores.
The local market was amazing! All sorts of exotic fruits were sold, coconuts were shredded and the powder (the only type of snow in South-East Asia) was dumped into plastic bags. It was tightly cramped, every corner occupied by people, makeshift stools and low tables, and things to sell. Meat was being chopped up and just laid out in heaps in front of you. It was a maze of local craziness and it was real! Not for tourists, really for locals and a great insight on daily life.
Mount Merapi – We drove partially up this volcano and saw its destruction caused from a huge eruption in November 2010. Still one of the most active volcanoes, it emits smokes a minimum of 300 days out of the year! Where we were (which was not at the top) people were still working on fixing the river, whose flow has been disrupted by the amount of rock and lava that flowed the same way. Since volcanic ash is very fertile it has quickly turned green but we can easily imagine what it looked like, with the help of stories and pictures. In pictures we saw that back in Yogyakarta (pretty far away) everything was coated in ash and it rained rocks. And even now the tops of the trees are still all burned off because of the hot air clouds, making things look eerily dead but alive. Although it wiped out many villages and lives, people continue their lives, rebuilding and restarting. There’s a lot of acceptance and respect for the volcano, which is a large part of daily life. There are many legends about it as well. There is one that says Merapi used to be on the edge of the island and the gods wanted it in the middle for balance. The 2 brothers living in the middle didn’t agree and to punish them the gods stuck the volcano on top of them and to this day they struggle, making the volcano very active. Some people believe that it has to do with the Sultan. In November 2010 the Sultan made an unpopular decision that angered the people and the volcano exploded. He took back the decision and it stopped! Whatever the reason, the volcano was an impressive sight, humbling and reminding of the power of nature.
The Prambanan temple complex, a Hindu temple, was also beautiful. Due to earthquakes, volcano eruptions, etc. some temples are only a pile of rocks that once fit together, but the main parts have been fixed up and are an amazing sight! Actually it used to be a hill, covered by a volcanic eruption until someone found it and dug it up. They are still finding covered temples everywhere! The huge spirals ascending to the heavens all worship different gods and animals. Stone reliefs along the walls tell detailed stories of the good and bad, of princes and queens, or morals and life lessons. We had a great guide that explained to us the history of the temple and told the stories. You get a better experience and understanding when you know what everything actually means!
Java is far from over and we are looking forward to the next experiences, adventures, and new great places we find by poking around.