Solo to Madiun (East Java)

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I woke early and set off into the morning sun to explore Java some more. Early in my ride I passed a whole row of fruit stalls where a wide variety of tropical fruits were on offer. While I bought a mandarin, I should have bought more fruit because I didn’t see any more fruit stalls all day and suddenly got a craving. The stalls are pretty to look at and the mandarin I bought tasted delicious.
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From Solo the road climbed steadily towards Mt Lawu. At first the climb was gentle but within no time it was so steep that I had to drop the motorbike down to second and sometimes first gear just to keep up enough momentum. I sure am glad that I wasn’t cycling here because the climb went on for a very long time and was much steeper than anything I dealt with in Korea. Villages and farms dotted the hillside along the road. Some were distinct contained villages while others had become sprawls over the years. But they all flew an Indonesian flag somewhere and had farmland reaching right up to the houses.
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My first stop for the day was Candi Sukuh. This fifteenth century Hindu temple is the first Hindu temple I have seen and it was a good place to start. The temple is known as a place where people learned about sexual matters so some of the statues are quite fun to say the least.
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You can climb to the top of the main building in the temple by following some steep steps. I decided to take advantage of this rare opportunity, given ancient ruins are usuall strictly off limits to people. I was carrying my backpack and it was definitley a good quad workout. I felt slightly naughty climbing around on a temple but the reality is that millions of people will have made this same climb before me and many more will after I have left. I should mention that I am not wearing a jacket for the cold. I am wearing it because I got sunburned the day before and had nothing else to cover my arms. Also, I don’t want to buy any more clothes to carry around so just went with my jacket.
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From the top of the temple building, the temple gardens look relatively small but beautiful. I know very little about Hinduism, despite having spent a whole semester studying it in high school for comparative religious studies. Visually, I like the way the stones and statues look against the lush green grass.
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It was a steep ride back down from Candi Sukuh. As I turned back onto Jalan Lawu lightning starting to crash all around. There was nothing I could do and no shelter to be had so I continued on. Besides, it wasn’t as if it was raining or anything. Partway along the road I saw this random statue in a field. There was no road or path leading to it; the statue sat alone watching over everything. It was rather eerie to see it at a time when lightning was crashing around.
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Jalan Lawu was made for motorcycling. It is many kilometers of perfectly cambered bends and hairpins that climbs ever upward to the pass just under the summit of Mt Lawu. The ride is amazing.
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The threat of rain has brought the clouds in and there’s no real view from the top. But I imagine that it must look amazing from here on a clear day. Even in the clouds it is amazing to see the villages here in the middle of nowhere perched along the mountainside. On the way down, the clouds fully enclose a section of road. It’s odd driving through this much cloud in warm weather. Usually cloudy fog like this means the weather will be cold. But even at over 2,000m above sea level the weather is warm.
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As I drop down from the pass leave Central Java and enter East Java. My cousins said that East Javanese people have a different culture and diet to Central Javanese people. I don’t notice a difference immediately as I cross the border. I will a few days later but I will come to that when I catch up with that section of my blog. What I do see are farms taking up every nook and cranny of the landscape. They are terraced into the mountainside and spread over the flatlands. Everywhere fruits, rice and vegetables are grown to feed the masses.
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I arrive in Madiun in the mid-afternoon but haven’t booked a hotel. I find a cheap one online but struggle to actually find it on the street so I stop at the next hotel I see. It’s not far from the main square where I have seen food carts getting ready so I decide to stay. It is an older hotel that was probably very good in its day but it seems like no one has maintained it in a while. There is no hot water, the toilet doesn’t flush, the airconditioning is fixed to freezing and I do not advise looking inside the pillow cases. But the swimming pool water is refreshing and seems clean enough to swim in. For me the dodgy sides of the hotel are mere observation not annoyances; I’ve slept in worse places … some of them youth hostels in Australia. I enjoy the swim then head over to the lobby to use the wifi for a few hours of work.
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As the heat of the day starts to wear off, the heavens open, dumping a torrent of rain on the city. It is heavy and fast. By the time I am ready to head out for a walk the rain has stopped and the air has cooled. I walk to the main square where there is a large park. Across the road is a gorgeous blue-tiled mosque. It is trully superb and I am totally taken with it. Around the corner near the river a green mosque glows in the descending darkness as the call for prayers eminates strongly from its speakers. It’s musical and captivating. As someone who comes from a country where Islam is feared and spoken of in anger, it is beautiful to hear and see this side of the religion being practiced freely. That is, the beauty of its buildings and sounds.
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The little stalls are all set up now with some rides for children, food and a few shops selling CDs and the like. There’s even a petrol stall. When I go to take a picture of the stall, a man sitting nearby jumps up and asks to be in the photo. It seems he is the petrol stall man. I love the way he is casually holding a lit cigarette while standing next to his goods.
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I have been told I must try nasi pecel while I am in Madiun. I see a warung makan that sells it so I give it a go. It tastes good but two things worry me: the sauce is cold and the chillis are setting fire to my mouth. The next morning I pay the price. Fortunately, the agony is restricted to two visits to the small room in my hotel and I am fine once I get on the bike. Mum said that everyone will get digestive problems at least once in Indonesia from the food or not being as careful as they should with water. I have been bloated for a few days but hopefully I manage to be a bit more careful with my food in future.

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