It was nearly 10pm when the train pulled into Yogya. Even at this hour the city was still pumping, lights glowing, people crowding the streets, café’s filled with people drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. We joined the all-night café culture at Legend Coffee where we met Irma and Otong, our couch-surfing hosts, now friends and two of the most inspiring people I have met. After much needed refreshment we cycled south through the city streets, taking in the old building facades, the street art and political graffiti that is this city. More tea and conversation were shared before much needed sleep enveloped us.
The creative and cultural are integral parts of this city and its people. We spent the morning wandering through the ruins of the sultan’s ancient water palace – the Taman Sari. We hid from the day’s heat in its hidden hallways, pools and mosque, and sweated in the narrow alleys filled with batik schools and independent art galleries. In the afternoon we cycled through the city taking in the sights and ended up at the famous Malioboro strip where people come to shop and be seen. We bought a piece of batik art that we liked, which incorporated a bike motif, and were happy that the money would go to helping the student who created the work. Malioboro was packed with people selling all kinds of touristy paraphernalia, a sticker seller quoted us a price 100 times its value and after a short time we reached saturation point. Dinner with Irma and Otong at a sambal restaurant followed by beers is exactly what we needed.
The following day our good fortune started to slowly wane. Jude was struck down with a tummy bug and we spent the day relaxing in close proximity to a bathroom. I did an ice-cream run when she was feeling a little better and that evening a group of us hit the town on scooters, to sample the local speciality of Gudeg, followed by pool and chess at Legend coffee. It’s really nice to be in a culture where people gather for hours over coffee rather than beer and alcohol. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how much people smoke over here and I fear for the future of Indonesia when the health problems of commercially produced cigarettes kicks in.
The next morning, in true Jude fashion she put her sickness to the back of her mind and we joined the Sunday masses at the sultan’s palace – the Kraton. We viewed Yogyakarta sultanate memorabilia from the last few centuries and besides the traditional dance show, I was a little uninspired by what I saw. I admire their commitment to their culture and tradition, but I guess crockery and clothing have never been my style. Fortunately there was a good collection of Indonesian artifacts in the museum across the road and we spent some hours wandering the galleries and gardens.
By dinnertime Jude was famished and able to stomach some food, so we went for dinner at an organic restaurant in the middle of a tropical garden. Over traditional Indonesian food, Irma and Otong shared more stories of their lives as artists and political activists and we developed a more in depth understanding of life in Yogya and Java. If Melbourne was in Asia, I’m sure it would be Yogya. It would be great to return and study here one day, and explore all the creative potential this city draws from ones soul.
The next day was spent relaxing again, this time in café’s drinking coffee and eating great food. To travel around town, I dinked Irma on the back of the Dirty Salmon and I felt like a teenager again. There’s something truly fun about having a friend on the back of your bike. Unfortunately, while exploring the stores, I discovered the batik painting we had bought on the first day. A little research showed that our trusting and giving natures had been exploited by creative criminals, and that the painting we had bought was a fake replica of a famous artist’s work. We still like the piece, but we now have an agreement that more expensive purchases will have a 24 hour waiting and research period.
That evening we were transported into the shadow world of the wayang. Despite not understanding a word, I was fascinated by the puppets and the music, and I sat captivated for the two hours of the show. Up close the puppets are so incredibly intricate, carved out of leather and painted in bright colours. That night as Jude lay awake with a fever and virus, I dreamed of different worlds and times from ours.
Our small amount of sleep was interrupted by the alarm going off before dawn. As the sun rose, we scootered our way out to the Borobudur temple. It was a spectacular sight to see it rising out of the morning mist, surrounded by the jungle and mountains. The story of the Buddha and how to gain enlightenment, was intricately carved in the stone on all the levels rising to the stupas at the top. It was peaceful there for a couple of hours, but as the heat of the day grew, so did the amount of school students. They were tasked with interviewing and photographing as many tourists as possible, to practice their English. We made a hasty escape and went to another spectacular temple that is still used for worship.
After an om morning, things continued to fall apart. Jude’s virus became a chest infection, our ferry out of Indonesia became elusive as we were told three different things by three different travel agents (and we remained none the wiser), and we said goodbye to our freedom as we sent the ladies to Jakarta hoping that our ferry was still going. As it was Islamic New Year, a group of friends gathered for dinner and beer at Irma and Otongs. It was a really nice farewell and it was sad to be saying goodbye to all the lovely people we had met. Thank you Irma and Otong for your friendship and hospitality, we can’t wait to meet you again somewhere in the world, hopefully Iceland!
You get what you pay for, so it was no wonder when the economy class train’s electrics failed half way into the nine hour journey to Jakarta. We sweated, napped, read and watched the green of Java pass us by. When the slums appeared along the train tracks we knew we were close to town. We had met another Astrid travelling in Java and the three of us jumped into a motorized tuk tuk and booked ourselves into what has to be the worst hotel we have stayed in thus far. Jude used ¾ of a can of insect spray to keep the bugs at bay for the night. We celebrated 7 months on the road with overpriced beers and chocolate and kept hoping that the following day we would get good news about our ferry to Singapore.
This was not to be the case, and our fortune was now threadbare. The elusive weekly ferry from Jakarta to Singapore was not running. Jude had reached her tolerance threshold with Indonesia and wanted to celebrate her birthday, in two days time, in Singapore. Our bikes were at the port waiting for us to board a ship that wouldn’t be going. We conceded that we would have to catch another aeroplane. A cheap flight was leaving that night so the plan was: a cuppa, breakfast, free tour of the National Museum, bus to the port to pick up the ladies, face the insane Jakarta traffic and ride to the airport, and try to board the flight to Singapore.
A funky little coffee shop provided the morning’s sustenance. The tour of the National Museum was wonderful and we could have lost ourselves in Indonesian culture and artifacts for days. The diversity of Indonesia still astounds me and I know I will return again to explore other areas. On the way back to the hotel we glimpsed the golden tipped phallic monument erected by Bung Karno to himself, a reminder of the problems that still face Indonesia today. Being crammed sardine style into the dilapidated public bus to the port reinforced how inadequate and underfunded infrastructure here remains.
Being reunited with our ladies felt like running free in the mountains. Lady luck smiled on our excitement and we were able to avoid cycling the Jakarta freeways by getting a bus to the airport. Then the real fun began. We booked our flights online and despite being told the contrary, there were no bike boxes at the airport. We were told that we could wrap them in plastic, but none of the men working on the machines would do it for us. Too far outside the square to even comprehend. I finally convinced one of them to give me the dregs of a roll and we started to do it ourselves. Once they saw that it could be done, we had three helpers, and photos/videos were taken on smart phones by everyone.
Check in opened late and we had underestimated how much our bikes and gear weighed. With very little time left we realised Jude had checked in the wrong pannier (the one with the money), we had to exit the secure area to take out more money to pay the small fortune of excess luggage costs and Jude temporarily lost our passports and wallet. With minutes to spare we cleared customs, made it to the gate (with Jude getting lost on the way), and just before midnight we fare welled the country that had been our home for the last 10 weeks. If the last few hour had not been so stressful I think I would have felt sad about leaving, but all we felt was relief.
Singapore was a new start. The southern most tip of the great landmass that will lead us to our destination. Once through customs we found a quiet corner, pulled out our sleeping mats and spent a couple of hours dreaming of new adventures and new horizons.
All my love,