‘’So, should we go to Indonesia?’’ We asked each other when we saw in the map how close it was from Singapore. And that’s how we ended up adding one more country to our AsiaQuest itinerary!
Thousands of islands, big and small, scattered across 5200km in the Indonesian Archipelago. Big variety of culture and civilization too! The little explored Sumatra, the jungles of Borneo, surfing the beaches of Bali Sea, Volcanoes in Java, the tribes in Papua! WOW! So much to see , so little time!
For this time, we agreed it would have to be Java, and Bali !
“Selamat Datang di Indonesia, from the pilot and the crew, we wish you a happy stay in Jakarta!”
The flight from Singapore to Jakarta was quite short, no more than 2 hours. When we got out of the small airport , everything seemed fresh from the rain .
However, nothing would prepare us for the sheer size of never ending traffic inside this mega-city! Jakarta is the capital of the island of Java, the size of which I cannot even explain to you. Imagine 30 million people trying to move around with all sorts of vehicles through the smallest streets. In places the traffic was so bad, that self-proclaimed traffic policemen (who were in fact passers-by) were dealing with the mess in exchange for money from the exasperated drivers! So in spite of our initial excitement we just enjoyed some quiet days at home with the family of Nontia, a Greek friend of ours who hosted us, and then we decided to take a bus to the next destination on the island, the Special Region of Yogyakarta or Jogja as the locals call this city.
Jogjakarta stretches from the slopes of mighty Mount Merapi (who is an active volcano that last errupted in MArch 2014 !) in the north to the wave-swept beaches of the powerful Indian Ocean to the south. It was the mighty Javanese Empire of Mataram, Ngayogyakarto Hadiningrat. Jogjakarta (Jogja) came into being in 1755, when a land dispute split the power of Mataram into the Sultanates of Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo). Prince Mangkubumi built Kraton of Yogyakarta and created one of the most powerful Javanese states ever.
The Special Region of Yogyakarta is the only region in Indonesia that is still governed by a pre-colonial monarchy, the Sultan of Yogyakarta, who serves as the hereditary governor of the region. The recent Sultan is Sultan Hamengkubuwono X.
All this had us very excited about visiting this area, however there was a flaw in the plan. All the trains that would conveniently take us to Jogja were fully booked due to the weekend! Ok, I will correct myself here. All the CHEAP trains were booked. So we had to find a budget-suitable alternative, hence the bus. Even though we tried to get information like “from where do buses to Jogja depart?” , “What time?” or “How long will it take?”, it was completely pointless to get answers because … well just because ! The morning of our departure tha taxi driver took us to the bus station which wasn’t a real bus station but just a bus parking. Unable to speak Indonesian, it was impossible to find the deparure times. After half an hour a group of people had gathered around us to try and help. A woman in very bad English told us something that we understood to be ” Take the bus to Semarang it is only 2 hours from Jogja” .Having no alternative we were on it. Soon we knew what meant to be in a bus in Indonesia. Scared! yes, because it seemed that bus drivers either thought they are driving a very small vehicle from the way they were cutting through traffic, or that the traffic laws here didn’t exist! Crashing seemed very possible everytime we overpassed a car, and we were at the edge of our seats for the next 8 hours!
Exhausted and by the time we reached Semarang all buses had stopped so we had to stay the night. The bus dropped us in a corner of a big street. We didn’t know where to go. Asking someone would also be of no use. We typed “Guesthouses” in google maps , thanking aloud PlanetSim Card for sponsoring us with Data for this trip! We saw that the nearest one was 2 km away so we started walking. It was dark. 40 minutes later we find the guesthouse but we cannot stay in same room without a wedding proof! Add angry to exhausted and you have the mood of the moment. A family sees our state as we are arguing about what to do in the street and says we can sleep in their house. However even they had a problem to let us sleep together, the community rules were very strict, so instead the dropped us to a hotel were we could stay! The next day finally we arrived in Jogja!
Thankfully Jogja was much easier to walk around and explore. The convenient bus network of TransJogja allowed us to move in and out of the suburbs. In the centre lays Kraton, and the most busy street that leads there is Malioboro street, full with shops of all kinds. Batik here is very famous for its quality and designs.
Kraton is the palace of the sultan. This beautiful javanese heritage is in its most part the place where the Sultan still lives and holds many interesting areas and museums. Gamelan is the music created by integrating voices of gong, kenong and other Javanese music instruments. Soft music that reflects the life harmony of Javanese people will soon greet and calm the soul down once someone is listening to it!
Jogja is the second most visited destination in Indonesia after Bali. this is mainly due to the fact that it is the base for exploring the famous temples of Borobodur and Prambanan.
The massive Buddhist temple of Borobudur, is set in the heart of the verdant Kedu Plain and the backdrop of mighty active volcanoes only enhances the sense of awe. The main temple is a stupa built in three tiers around a hill accords with the conception of the Universe in Buddhist cosmology. The whole structure shows a unique blending of the very central ideas of ancestor worship, related to the idea of a terraced mountain, combined with the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana as you move to the top stupa.
Walking around this area was very peaceful although touristic. We got up a near hill and saw from high up the huge temple lost in the jungle!
Next destination the wild and exotic island of Bali!