Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Java Java Java

I arrived in Jakarta on June 27 expecting to meet my friend Bevin from Philadelphia there already. Unfortunately, we’d both misread the email - both her flights added a day and we’d only accounted for the one. Nonetheless, we were able to connect on the 28th and set about an eastward adventure.

In Jakarta specifically, we mostly wandered around the national monument, including going to the top of the national library. We did have an excursion to the old city section where we were mobbed by dozens of Indonesians who wanted to take photos with us - a first in either of our travels. It wasn’t a “let’s distract them” style of photo-taking either - this was borne of a genuine desire to have a photo with a foreigner and, in some cases, practice English or have a short video-recorded conversation for a class. The whole thing was surreal. We went to the bank museum, had some street food, and tried to check off a few “must do” items before moving on. A significant portion of our time was spent struggling with planning and buying tickets.

Our first move was on a train bound to Jogjakarta (alt: Yogyakarta, “Jogja”), though we had to spend a night in Cirebon as all the direct trains were booked. As Cirebon was merely a layover, I have no exciting tales to relate - we did wander around a little bit in search of some food, but we didn’t see anything of cultural note.

We eventually arrived in Jogja (on 2 July) and walked to our hostel from the train station. The next few days were spent seeing the city and the surrounding area. We hit the big checklist areas (the Palace, the Water Temple, Borobudur, Prambanan) and took lots of pretty photos. I walked around the old city walls for a bit, had some luwak coffee, and nearly attended a wedding while letting my feet lead me where they may. After chatting with someone at the hostel, Bevin booked us a driver for a day to take us to see the sunrise at Borobudur, to some more luwak coffee, on a Jeep tour up a volcano, and to see the sunset at Prambanan, all of which was followed by a ballet. The day was a full one and Bevin nearly fell asleep at the ballet.

The most important aspect of staying in Jogja was the connections we made at the hostel - of the people we talked to, we’d end up seeing nearly all of them later. Of particular note are Steffan and Greg, though that’s not to downplay the nice time we had with everyone. We’ll touch back on them shortly - Steffan in a paragraph and Greg at the end.

After Jogja, we decided to head to Malong (on 6 July), as Bevin had heard that would be a good starting point to go hike Mt. Bromo. I’d booked the hostel for a few days and had booked a train ticket to get us to the eastern edge of Java, as we had come to learn trains were prone to selling out. We hadn’t even left the lobby before running into Steffan, who’d left Jogja a day or so before us. He was looking for a few people to join him as he’d booked a three day tour and had seats in the car open. After getting over my own mental issue of “I’ve made this plan, I must stick to it”, I agreed to join (and cancel the other nights at the hostel) - Bevin was on board the moment the idea was floated. We spent the evening getting dinner at a place that was fairly renown and making a quick loop of the town. Then it was a few hours of sleep before our driver arrived at 4am.

The next three days would be spent in close proximity with others. Bevin and I, obviously. Steffan (who had organized the trip - this is why I try to find Germans in hostels), a girl from the Netherlands, a couple from Lithuania, and whoever was our driver or guide. For Mt. Bromo specifically, we were joined by a couple from the UK.

Our first stop was a series of waterfalls which included a hike down *through* a waterfall. We were woefully underprepared for the expedition, but it made for a fun hike. While we were sweating and slipping and dripping, there were dozens of others doing the same and getting some great photos. Our guide, a pudgy gentleman a few years younger than me, was chain-smoking the whole way as our group huffed and puffed up the cliffside. By the end of it, those of us who went through the whole ordeal (the Lithuanian couple turned back early) were sweaty messes. We finished up around noon.

As we hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 3am, we were starting to get hungry (“we” being everyone except me, as I bought lunch from a cart at the waterfall). This led to a hilarious set of miscommunications with our driver as everyone was getting “hangry” - eventually we stopped in a little village and went to the only place that showed up on Google Maps. The owner was so amazed that white people were eating at his restaurant that he made a forty-five minute video via Facebook about us sitting and eating chicken.

After lunch, our driver decided that we should be moving faster, which turned the terror knob of “driving in Indonesia” from “clenched asshole” to “actively screaming” (I’m not exaggerating). Then weird shit started appearing on the road, e.g. a parade of well-dressed donkeys carrrying babies. The whole thing was surreal and we joked through gritted teeth that we were in some sort of video game (and were very afraid of what the boss at the end might be).

Eventually we arrived, alive, to our lodgings for the night. A small dinner and some sorting (including figuring out how we were going to dry our shoes out from the waterfall) and we got a whole five or so hours of sleep before our next adventure began.

This time, we were to be awake at 3am to go see the sunrise at Mt. Bromo - we were joined by the girls from the UK who had left at midnight. Seeing the sunrise involved a strange hike up an ill-marked path in the dark in order to avoid entry fees - otherwise we could have driven to the top. At the top, overlooking Mt. Bromo, we watched the sunrise and took hundreds of photos - most being by the tour operator of the girl from the Netherlands. The next destination, after a dusty Jeep ride, was a hike to the ridge of Mt. Bromo, which was actively emitting smoke. Perhaps I wasn’t quite ready for the hike. In any case, all of my stuff still has dust from this portion of the adventure.

After Bromo we had a moment to rest, eat “breakfast”, and take showers. The girls from the UK left to catch a flight to Bali and we piled in a car with, thankfully, a different driver to head to our next destination.

A full day in the car and even less sleep at a crummy hotel and we were once again headed to a hike - this time to tackle the blue sulfur of Ijen. Had I a full night’s sleep, had I not hiked for the previous two days, had I not been a fatass at a desk for much of my life, I might have been in a better mood for this particular excursion. That’s not to mention being within a few meters of other humans for several days straight without a minute to myself (especially to sit and write!). Apparently it was a kilometer up to the ridge, then a kilometer down into the crater (where one had to wear a gas mask, as inhaling burning sulfur is, apparently, not good for you), then the reverse. I got a couple cool photos. I can say that I did it. But holy hell was that an unpleasant experience - I ended objecting to a small side-trek to see a sunrise point (after we missed sunrise) so I could take a shit and have a minute to myself.

After Ijen it was a short jaunt to the ferry to Bali and a long ride to the two places where the Lithuanian couple and the Dutch girl were staying. I had specifically booked Bevin and I the same place as Steffan so we could cut down on travel time - I’m glad I did, as our driver had to cut us loose to pick up another client. The three of us took a Grab (like Uber / Lyft) to our hotel which was a further two hours on, in Ubud.

What followed was a nice, peaceful sleep - the first past 5am in three days. I even got to take a bath (which hopefully knocked some of the sulfur smell off me). The next morning (10 July) was the last Bevin and I would see of each other in Indonesia - she had been making plans to travel with Greg and I was going to meet a friend I knew from Kuala Lumpur.

After eating breakfast with two additional people from the hostel in Jogja, Steffan, Bevin, and I had a nice brunch and said our goodbyes. I got on the bus to Denpasar and began my next series of adventures.

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