|Thursday 7th December to Thursday 14th December
When we arrived in Jakarta we took a taxi straight to Ibis budget hotel where we stayed the night before catching the early morning train to Yogijakarta. We shared a tiny hotel room with a good shower and woke to an early breakfast shared with many Indonesians. It was good value, if basic and if we were stuck with the chocolate breakfast cereal it was because we couldn’t face the spicy Indonesian fare so early in the morning.
Our hotel was near the main railway station, convenient for the next day’s trip which was a seven hour train ride across Java to Yogyakarta. We were a little anxious about this as we had sourced the tickets on line from Tiket. Com and had vouchers to redeem for the actual train tickets. We allowed ourselves an hour and a half before the train left at 8 am as we expected ticket queues and complications such as not really being sure we were at the right railway station. It was so easy and we were in the right place.No queue, handed over the vouchers given the tickets and told where to catch the train. All worked well, good luck or meticulous planning?
The train arrived about 15 minutes before it was due to leave and left on time. It was impressive, we had reserved seats in a very effective air conditioned carriage. The railway staff were kitted out like airline crew with very smart uniforms. The train was not especially speedy but it was a wonderful journey with mile upon mile of paddy fields in various stages. Some fields being rotivated, some being planted out, others having walls and small dams built to control the flow of water. We were fascinated by it all.
We were collected by a driver from our Homestay, Yabbiekayu about 8kms from Yogajakarta. First impressions were unsettling to say the least. The reception and communal food area was an open building In a rather wet compound. We were shown to our bungalow, which was a fine example of reconstructed Indonesian architecture, two bedrooms separated by a courtyard area with a verandah in front, all carved, dark hardwood. It had its own enclosed garden, with a ‘ dipping pool’ which was much too dirty to consider dipping oneself into. The bathrooms were outdoor rooms attached to the bedrooms: imagine opening a door, stepping over a water channel,home to goldfish and the occasional crab and into bathroom only half covered with a ceiling. When it rained, you got wet in the shower area, but not on the toilet. It looked quite rustically luxurious, but in the dusk and dark, the looming shapes of the large goldfish ( and occasional crab!) just a foot or so away from the toilet and washbasin was a bit spooky.
Spooky is the word for the whole place to those of us with a wimpy Western view of things that go bump in the night. It was as if the place had been reclaimed from jungle and the jungle was working hard to claim it back. The previous week there had been a typhoon there and the whole place had been under water. It remained wet and dank. Throughout our stay there were torrential rains. The louder the rain the greater the competition from the frogs. I have never heard nature so persistently loud throughout the night. Added into the mix were the three competing amplified calls to prayer from the nearby village mosques and the prayers that filled night and day alike. The combined impact of the rain, the frogs, the mosques and, towards dawn, the sounds of the villagers starting their day, made any communications between the two bedroom, separated as they were by the courtyard, completely impossible. We each had resident gekkos and both found a cockroach in each room. One memorable night I had two visiting ants and a spider further disturb my refuge in bed. Sleep did not come easily and the nightly cacophony led to a state of near panic in my relative solitude that I had to just keep a lid on.
During daylight hours there were many lovely aspects to Yabbiekayu. The staff were lovely and the food was excellent. The showers were hot. It was run ecologically, with solar power to the bungalows. The Homestay was situated in a village where the people were friendly and welcoming to visitors. The owner was a consultant for the government on disaster management. From him, we learn d that Indonesian is a ‘disaster supermarket’ suffering from earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, and land slips. Whilst we were staying at Yabbiekayu, there was a workshop for government and NGO activists working together on a national disaster relief strategy. It was a bit sobering that the evening we left Yabbiekayu there was an earthquake not far away, with a fatality. And, of course, the reason we had diverted from Bali was because of volcanic activity. A disaster supermarket indeed.
Yogajakarta is the Batiq centre of Indonesia and we were fortunate that there was a remarkable Batiq artist living in the village. He is also an environmental activist and many of his pictures represent stories of the little man versus the unregulated developers who threaten the farmers and fishermen of the country. We recognised a real artist in him and later returned to buy some of his work.
We went into the city twice. The first time we did the tourist thing and went round the Sultan’s Palace, where the current sultan still lives. Yogajakarta’s sultan did a deal with the incoming government at the time of independence in which he supported the government and provided educated officials from the city’s university in return for being allowed to have his continuing autonomy in the district. He and his descendants remains revered but a crisis is looming as there are no male heirs.
There was a display of dancing at the palace, together with music provided by a gamelan, a percussion based orchestra, which was very lovely, beyond my powers of description.
The second day in Yoga was spent in the silver working area of town. Lots of craftsmen making silver items much of which is sent down to Bali for the tourist trade. We visited several workshops and bought a couple of items after some hard bargaining. We then went off to look for some batik cloth and clothing. There are so many different qualities made of silk or cotton. Numerous places undertaking the very painstaking process of applying the wax onto the cloth.
We were not very successful so decided to take another trip out to a village in the middle of some very well ordered paddy fields, recommended for high quality batik cloth and some items of clothing. This was much more successful and we bought a few items, including a length of fabric I will have made into a jacket in Vietnam.
Our favourite batik place remained the village place where the batik art was produced, so we went for a second visit to chose the art we would buy and bring home.
A highlight of our stay on Java was our visit to Borobudur. We hired a car and driver to go to this most magnificent temple, about 50kms away. It is the second largest Buddist temple in the world after Angkor Wat. It was a perfect day for viewing it, it was cool but the rain held off. As everywhere else we have been in Indonesia, we experienced the rather strange phenomenon of being treated as celebrities as Indonesians clamoured to have their photos taken with us. Very strange, difficult to refuse, but embarrassing in the extreme!
We had, by now decided that our final Indonesian destination, the Gilli Islands, off Bali, was too risky. With the volcano still spewing out smoke and ash, all blowing east in the direction of the Gillis, we risked both getting marooned, should the airport close again or living in an ash cloud. The latter was even more worrying after hearing of deaths from the ash cloud in Berestagi. Our search for an alternative destination proved quite difficult. All internal flights to Perth are routed through Bali, so we had a choice between rerouting through Malaysia or Singapore. We did not want to add to our travel time or flight costs more than we had to. Eventually, Dave, our host at Yabbiekayu proved to be a useful source of information and suggested that we go to another Indonesian Island off Singapore called Batam before returning to Perth for Christmas.
On our final day in the village I was walking ahead of Jane when she quietly said ‘stop’ in a calm manner that did not grab my attention. Before I knew she had grabbed my arm and yanked me backwards. Right in front of me, slithering in wide, quick S shaped movements was an emerald green snake,approximately 8 feet long. Almost as soon as I registered it it moved into the undergrowth beside the track. Looking on Google, we decided it had been a venomous pit viper, but Dave suggested it was ‘probably a tree snake which had fallen from a tree’. Who knows? Do snakes really fall out of trees?
We only had one night left in our Javan house but it did focus the mind and we went carefully and very alertly as we walked along the side of the paddy field to get to and from the restaurant. We had seen lizards on every trip between the bungalow and the restaurant. In fact, all the time we have been in Indonesia we have had to be careful about creatures, mosquitos,other insects, large ants, cockroaches etc etc, so I was ready to move on to Batam and to a Radisson hotel. I wanted to be able to lower our state of alertness and not have to cover ourselves in insect repellent every night and shake out our shoes every morning. Java has been beautiful and so interesting, but bring on some five star hotel luxury.