Friday 26 August
Flew from northern Sumatra to Jakarta, on the island of Java. The plane never quite cleared the high, hazy cloud, and while there wasn’t any real turbulence to speak of, we did wobble a bit and the captain kept the seatbelt sign on. I hate turbulence. I hate the idea of turbulence. I hate the implied threat of turbulence that the seatbelt sign gives; radiates. I hate being in turbulence. I hate looking out the aeroplane windows and seeing clouds level, or level-ish, with the craft. When you’re stuck in a metal and composite material tube 11km in the air, being shaken around with no firm ground under your feet and no opportunity to say, “I say, excuse me old chap,” - this would be to the pilot - “could you just sort of, pull over for a few minutes and either let me out - I’ll hitch - or pause while it passes?”, it’s just not fun. It’s so not fun that it passes out of the fun spectrum and into the Terror Spectrum. So emotion-spikingly awful that it deserves capital letters.
Landed in Jakarta without dying, got to the backpacker area of Jalan Jaksa, and read and ate fried noodles into the night.
Saturday 27 August
Walked to the main train station to buy a ticket for Yogyakarta. A kind man pointed me to a long, long queue, which I joined and waited in for exactly one hour and nine minutes. In the queue I drank a can of Indonesian soda pop. “Water Chestnut” flavour it gently announced, with a picture of a panda on the front, chewing bamboo. And it was alright, a bit sweet, with a very delicate flavour. Oh, and a surprise near the bottom! I tipped the can back to finish the bottom layer of drink and a load of chopped up water chestnuts fell into my mouth. Well, I (very politely, in a Typical English Manner) quietly freaked out and spat it back in the can, taking the one remaining bit from my mouth to inspect. Why would you do that? Why would you put bits of water chestnut in the can and not warn people? Seriously.
After one hour and nine minutes of waiting, I arrived near the front of the queue; 3 from the front in fact. Only to watch the ticket booths close. With what could only have been an “Er?” on my face I looked around. The same kind man (remember him? From earlier, before the water chestnuts?) asked me again where I was going. “Oh! You want Customer Services! Window office just there!”. Got a ticket in 5 minutes.
After the train station I walked to the National Museum. This contains an excellent collection of artefacts from around the Indonesian archipelago. Highlights included: statues, busts (fnarr) and carvings from Hindu and Buddhist temples; Chinese and Japanese ceramics from the 17th century; textiles, masks, instruments and weapons from the thousands of different tribes and customs; and - perhaps best of all for me - bones from our ancesters, Java Man (homo erectus) and the recently discovered Flores hominid (homo floresiensis), the so-called “Hobbit” of Java.
That night I spent eating more noodles and attempting to read, but was constantly interrupted by the tricksy and subtle chat-up attempts of Indonesian rent boys (see previous post).
Sunday 28 August
Intended to go to Batavia on the Sunday, but by lunchtime I was feeling really grumpy. That night I vomited copiously, and later understood my grumpiness was a prelude to disgorgement. Fever and having moved to a filthy, mosquito ridden hostel, to escape the street sewer smell of my previous hostel, did not help matters.
Monday 29 August
Felt weak and delicate. Hung around restaurants readings and staring into space.
Tuesday 30 August
Escape from Jakarta! The 08:45 train whisked me from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. For hours the central plains of Java rolled by, covered in the burned brown of dried rice paddies, while far in the milky distance white clouds fomented around the hazily seen deep blue of volcano slopes.
Eventually we came to more green and fertile lands, where the rice paddies were wet and separated with earthen banks. White herons stood as sentinels, stalking their idiot prey in the waters, as if the clouds had descended in miniature form to land and in their intense white aspect were looking for errant rain drops recently escaped their nebulous clutches.
After eight hours of fairly high standard train conditions (comparable with 1960s Britain, or perhaps one of those 1- or 2-carriage regional trains which ply the lines of farming country, taking ruddy cheeked offspring of indeterminate sex but identical body shape from Spitsville farmsteads to the bright lights and consumer electronic stuffed shop fronts of dense urban conurbations like Grantham) we arrived in Yogyakarta.
Walked from the station to the shady, quiet lanes of the main backpacker area. The first few hostels were full, due to the Muslim new year celebrations, though I eventually found a small hostel with a private balcony over the alleyway, quiet and serving free breakfast, water and all the tea and coffee your heart can cope with. Lovely.
Wednesday 31 August
Wandered around Yogyakarta, enjoying the frenetic market feel of Jalan Malioboro, with its copious batik stores and knick knack stalls.
At the end of the street you arrive at the main kraton, the Sultan’s temple. There were new year celebrations in train - some of the honorary guard who live in the kraton were parading in their ceremonial dress, carrying huge pikes and spears.
After that I walked around some nearby kampung, the self contained neighbourhoods with their rabbit warren alley ways, and said hello to kids and adults alike (“Hello Mister! Hello Mister!” goes the constant cry.)
In the hostel were a couple from Belgium and a French couple. We all went out to dinner and discussed high minded issues like the state of contemporary art in Nigeria (you can’t do nob or fart gags with the Belgians or French).
Thursday 01 September
Feeling happy about being in Yogyakarta, having absorbed some culture and spoken to some nice people for the first time in a week, I arose early, I fairly sprang from my bed, and took an early bus 17km out of town to the Largest Hindu Temple Complex In South East Asia [TM] at Prambanan.
This site covers several square kilometres, but I only visited the main UNESCO-protected site. On arrival (after a rickshaw driver convinced me it was too far to walk from the bus stop, and charged me a quid to go all of 500m) I followed the crowds to queue up for a ticket. “Rp27000” the ticket sign said: about two of your British pounds. Good deal. I queued and got to the front, and a man rushed over, in official white uniform, and said “Mister! Tourist line there!”
OK, so I moved over 2 lines to where he appeared to be pointing.
And queued up again and go to the front only for the teller to say, “Sorry, tourist tickets around there,” to which she pointed round the back of the ticket booths. Curious, I followed her hand signals, found a sign (“TOURIST TICKETS”) and followed it into a swanky glass-sided building. And looked at the ticket sign: “Rp 110,500 / US$13.”
Right, so that’ll be the Fleecing The Tourists Two-Tier Economy again, will it? But, you did get a free coffee (some Nescafe shit) and free internet access…
Once in the site, you can see the main Pervara temples rising in faded, but still impressive glory, 1100 years old and still guaranteed to inspire awe. Have a look yourself:
Much of the site had fallen into ruin over the 1100-or-so years since it was built, and the main temples are surrounded by stone work crumbled by earthquakes and looting. There is a huge amount of restoration going on to re-construct the temples. It’s likely that the temples in their heyday were painted, so that they would have been psychedelic concentrators of ancient Vedic power. They are most impressive, and - despite my petty grumblings of having to pay US$10 more than the locals - well worth the entrance fee.
That night I visited a travellers’ restaurant called Superman’s and had a vegetable curry. And that night I puked my guts up and had a high fever again.
Friday 02 September
A little bit delicate. Hung around. Went to the train station to book a ticket onward to see the Bromo volcano site, then thought better of it and went back to the backpacker area to check the Tourist Trip deals - which have turned out to be cheaper than doing it all independently.
A British couple (Evan and Kathy) turned up at the hostel. Kathy had tummy trouble, so I felt better in ill company.
That’s all for now folks. More soon! Astro, x