Gos Rider and I leave Semarang on the motorbikes at around 10am. We are headed for Yogyakarta where we will meet up with my mother and aunt for a weekend of sightseeing before we head to the Dieng Plateau with my mum.
The fun begins even before we leave town. Honda are launching a new CBR150cc here in Indonesia so some guys are riding it hard in a roped off area next to the main road. There are no formalities here – when you want to see something that’s going on you just walk up and watch. So I follow Gos Rider across six lanes of traffic to watch the stunts. It was pretty spectacular to watch the rider do piroettes on the bike.
No sooner have we left Semarang’s city limits than the skies open. And what do the 143 million people on Java do when the rains come while they are on their motorbikes? Why they just stop, put on the wet weather gear they have stored under their scooter and motorbike seats, and then set off again. It’s not a big deal; just all part of being tropical island dwellers. I must say: check out the rider on the far right in the brown raincoat with the child in pink on the back. Notice that there is another child on the bike who obviously doesn’t have his or her own raincoat so he or she is covered under the brown one. This is normal here. When the rains stop you see all these little faces popping out from under parents’ raincoats. They always seem happy to have fresh air again.
We zip along in the rain. The traffic has slowed markedly now that the road is wet. Visibility is lower and brown water washes heavily across the road in many places. Trucks stall or zig zag up hills and Gos Rider warns me never to get too close because there is a good chance the trucks will roll backwards when their brakes fail. It’s all part of the experience of motorbike touring here on Java in the rainy season.
We stop for lunch at the top of the main pass between Semarang and Yogya. From here the ride will be largely downhill. Fortunately, I am here by motorbike not bicycle so the uphills didn’t bother me too much.
One of the many things I like about Indonesia is the krupuk (crackers) that you eat with just about every meal. In the restaurants and warungs you just take them from these big containers and then tell the person working there how many you ate. It’s simple, effective and relaxed. There’s no fussing about using tongues or plastic gloves here.
The road to Yogyakarta alternates between busy towns and beautiful scenery. The towns are hectic and, at times, we jump up onto the footpath to get past thick traffic. But the countryside is as beautiful as always, ranging from dense jungle and banana plantation to open rice paddies and corn fields. I’ve never seen so many shades of deep green in one place, let alone all these shades of that colour existed.
In Mageland there is a Buddhist temple standing proudly on the bend in the main road. It dominates my view as I ride. We stop and I notice the intricately decorated pilars that are wrapped in blue snakes. Gos Rider tells me that the temple burned down recently and is only just in the process of being restored. I think it will look beautiful once it is done.
Just before Yogya we stop to look at the damage caused by Mt Merapi’s 2010 eruption when lava flowed down the Gendol River. The bridge we crossed on the main road was a replacement for one that was destroyed and some large volcanic rocks dotted the side of the road. The river no longer flows and has been replaced by a creek that runs through the volcanic debris, the worst of which was removed after the eruption. You can see Mt Merapi in the background of this photo. The clouds make it impossible to tell whether this is one of the 300 days a year the mountain smokes.
Merapi soon disappears from view as we enter the city proper and find our hotel. For once I’m not staying in a $10 a night dive. Instead, we have a luxurious modern hotel in a good location near the Tugu. I booked it because it si close to the hotel Mum is staying at because that is far more sociable than staying at the cheap end of town. Besides, a little luxury is nice sometimes.
Mum messages me and asks whether I want to go to a traditional ballet. Of course I will. I’ve never seen traditional Javanese ballet before so it would be silly to stay home.
I enjoy the experience. It’s touristy and kitsch but sometimes you have to do touristy and kitsch in order to see something that’s different from what you see at home. The story we see is Ramayana. I receive an English print out containing the story but get side tracked taking photos of the orchstra and stage so forget to read it. The general gist is that there are some start crossed lovers and a battle between good and evil. In true Asian style, animals feature prominently as characters, particularly monkeys.
By the time I’ve taken a becak (Indonesian version of a rickshaw) home I am ready to sleep. It’s been another fantastic day.