My final days in Semarang are relatively quiet. I hang out with my family, knock over some work and take advantage of the wifi at the hotel to download some movies from iTunes for the long 24 hour journey home. On my final day we drop first my mother, then my grandmother and aunt off at the airport for their respective flights home. My mother will fly home to Australia while my aunt will accompany my grandmother to Holland. They all have relatively direct flights compared with the 24 hour epic I will endure tomorrow when I first fly north-west to Kuala Lumpur where I must wait nine hours before flying back over Semarang to get to the Gold Coast. But to me the money saved on the airline tickets is worth the long transit and I don’t mind airports and planes; they are good places to relax, work, watch movies and sleep.
For my final night I go to the cinema at Semarang’s Paragon shopping mall. My cousin has suggested it and, given that I love the movies, I definitely agree to go along. The cinema is impressive. It is new, modern, has a huge IMAX-style screen and large comfortable chairs. The sound and picture quality are far superior to anything I have seen in Brisbane so I spend almost three hours enthralled in the story of Moses and the Exodus presented in Hollywood style.
One final trip to a kaki lima in Chinatown to buy terang bulan tipis is a fitting way to round out my trip. Not only is it my favourite Indonesian food but we have bought it at my favourite style of food shop: the kaki lima. I stay up late working and researching information about TESOL and CELTA courses. Before I know it, the time has gone past 2:30am and I will only get three hours sleep. But that’s okay … I will have over 24 hours in transit to rest up before I hit Australian soil once more.
The rain and clouds have cleared this morning as I stand on the balcony taking in the views. I can see the village and farms nestled below the caldera rim. The world is waking up as locals start to go about their morning routines. The bird seller places his beautiful cages and birds on his driveway, ladies with their full bodies protected from the sun meander along chatting as they head to the fields, scooters start to zip along the street, a bus rumbles by. There is life everywhere but, compared with the cities and larger towns, this is a quiet village.
We head back to the volcanic area. Again there is no one at the ticket office because we are too early so again we just ride through. The area is even more interesting in the daylight because we can see the muddy volcanic water.
We can walk straight up to the bubbling pools of sulphurous mud. It’s a stark contrast to the ridiculous levels of health and safety that we have in my home country where this whole complex would probably be closed to the public. Here, this is just another place where people work. Some men are carting wheelbarrows of bricks, rocks and sand to create a landscape around a new pagoda. Women stand in stalls selling food and trinkets. No one hassles us to buy, they just ask politely whether we would like anything and then let us go. This is obviously a place that is off the Western-tourist route. I wonder whether my impression of Indonesia and Indonesian people would have been different if I had only gone to the touristed areas. The ticket booth is attended as we leave the volcanic complex so Gos Rider immediately pays four local priced tickets before the guard has a chance to realise we are foreigners.
We take a lap of the farmland around the village where we spent the night. It’s so pretty and peaceful up here.
And then we are off. Dropping back down off the plateau much more quickly than we were able to climb it.
In places we travel through thick dense cloud that blocks any view beyond the crash barriers on the side of the road. But when we break through the landscape is stunning. Don’t let anyone tell you that Java is all big cities, pollution and noise. There are also amazing landscapes here that will take your breath away. You just have to step off the beaten track to find them.
I am fascinated by the traffic habits here on Java. If you want to take a photo you don’t need to find a lay-away. You just stop on the road and people will automatically go around you. No one beeps or gets aggressive at us. It allows us to relax and take as many photos as we like without having to race along. Of course, if you can pull over you do. But if there’s room to stop and you can’t get off the road that is no problem.
For the rest of the day we ride quiet back roads through farmlands and jungles. As has been the case all over Java, the roads are in excellent condition and brilliant for riding.
Java is dotted with high volcanoes so spend a lot of time climbing from the low lands up to 2,000+m above sea level and then dropping back down. It means we see many terraces, which are particularly beautiful.
At one point we stop for a rest and two school children crest the hill behind us. They stop a good distance away from us, looking scared and nervous. They do not dare to pass. Then a larger group of children join them. The older children organise the troops and soon they are running down the hill as fast as their little legs can carry them. They don’t stop until they are well past us. And then they are full of bravado, standing watching us again from a distance. As someone who comes from a multicultural country, it is so difficult to imagine being afraid of foreigners. I have experienced it a lot because of my blue eyes – children are afraid of me here. Mum says I should imagine what a child at home might think of someone with yellow eyes.
I have enjoyed these few days motorcycle touring with my mum, aunt and Gos Rider. I am particularly looking forward to doing another motorbike tour with my mum somewhere in the world.
Today the road will take me from the hustle and bustle of Yogyakarta to the quiet mountains of the Dieng. The start and end of my day will be a stark contrast. Yogyakarta is big, busy and hot while the Dieng only has small quiet villages and cool temperatures.
The four of us (Mum, my aunt, Gos Rider and I) follow quiet country roads past the Borobudur and through the mountains to the Dieng Plateau. Gos Rider doubles my Mum on a scooter while I double my aunt on the motorbike. Later in the day we will swap so Mum and I can catch up.
The scenery is magnificent. We travel past small riverside farms cut from the jungle.
And through water filled rice paddies cut into mountains.
We stop to take some pictures just as a swarm of school children ride past on scooters and motorbikes. This is a regular sight here on Java around 11am and again at 2:15pm. Young children walk, cycle or catch the bus. From about 12 or 13 years old, the children start to double each other on scooters and motorbikes. The more rural the area, the younger the children riding motorbikes and scooters are.
After we pass Wonosobo the road climbs steeply up to the Dieng Plateau. The area is famous for fruits and vegetables due to the temperate climate.
Clouds roll in and start to fill the gaps between the mountain spurs. It’s absolutely beautiful up here and I am glad we were able to organise the motorbikes instead of relying on public transport. This way we can stop whenever we want to take photos and we can feel the cold moist air against our skins instead of being separated by a bus window.
We reach the Dieng Plateau township where visibility is limited due to the clouds. I feel like I have entered a new world. Am I really still in tropical Indonesia? We check into a homestay with a lovely balcony overlooking the street and surrounding volcanic cliffs.
We head down to the nearby Candi Arjuna and the fog starts to lift. Gos Rider talks with the parking guy and gets us into the Candi for free by dropping someone’s name. There are some temples here in the same style as those at Candi Gedong Songong because the two temple complexes are contemporaneous.
We cross to the other side of the temple complex and stop to drink tea at a warung. As we sit there the heavens open so we decide to also eat some food. It’s cosy and dry under the warungs’ tarps. I eat mie ongklok (noodles with a satay-style sauce). It’s a local specialty and tastes delicious. Sitting here on the wooden benches as the rain buckets down outside I feel relaxed and content. I like sitting at Warungs watching the world go by, whether it’s people and traffic or just the pouring rain.
The rain stops so we walk back through the temple complex to the motorbikes and ride down to Kawah Sikidang, which is a volcanic solfatara field. It’s almost 5.30pm when we arrive and the ticket booth is closed. There is no gate so we just ride in and park near the solfatic field. There is a sign warning of the dangers of the volcanic area but we follow the path past it towards a fenced area.
The smell is disgusting. But it is worth it to see this volcanic place at night. We can hear mud bubbling in a crater but cannot see it clearly. Thunder is starting to rumble across the mountains, adding to the eerie atmosphere. I must admit to feeling a little scared being here. Scared in an exhilerating ghost story while sitting around the campfire sort of way. We’ve had a brilliant day.
We leave Yogyakarta early because it is Sunday and we don’t want to be stuck in crowds at the Borobudur. Mum has read that it opens at 7am so we jump on the motorbikes early and beat the rush. As always there are two entry fees: 30,000rp for locals and 240,000rp for foreigners (but if you are a student bring your ID for a 120,000rp entry fee). The entry gate is so colonial: locals can just purchase entry from a ticket window while foreigners must go into an airconditioned office that has a desk like a hotel reception. Foreigners receive a small complimentary bottle of cold water or a cup of tea/coffee and have access to clean hotel-style bathrooms in the foreigner’s entry area. I, personally, will never understand this colonialist approach to giving foreigners preferential (if more expensive) treatment to locals. But I guess many tourists probably like it, particularly those who come on bus tours who then have a chance to sit down and enjoy a coffee on the small terrace as a social interlude between being driven around in the bus all day. It’s not the price difference I find odd but the difference in the way entry is purchased.
We are given sarongs to wear but no one tells us that they are compulsory or why we must wear them. We don’t see any locals wearing them so we remove them only to be told in a firm but friendly voice over a loudspeaker that we must wear them. Then we see that the locals are given their sarongs further up the entry path. I have read online that the wearing of sarongs is supposed to increase appreciation for the cultural heritage of the temple and that tourists like to wear sarongs. At least it does prevent tourists from walking around wearing inappropriately short shorts.
The temple is amazing in the morning quiet. The renovation work and cleanup after the 2010 Merapi eruption is a fantastic. I came here in 1997 and thought little of the temple because so much was under restoration but this time I found it a wonderful place. One of the little cones has been left open so visitors can see what is inside. If it hadn’t been, I probably wouldn’t have realised that each of the cones has a small statue inside.
The amazing thing is that we are able to find areas where there are few, if any people. I an hour or two when the buses arrive the temple will be swarming with people. But it’s still before 8am and it feels like a temple.
The detail in the stone work is stunning.
The temple itself is nestled in a lush tropical landscape with mountains rising on one side and vast open plains on the other. The landscaping of the actual complex is stunning. The entrance is manicured while behind the complex vegetation grows more wildly. At various places around the complex these statues stand guard and it’s easy to see that they were needed in the days before modern overcrowding when the temple would have stood in dense forest on the side of the mountain.
We head back into Yogyakarta on the motorbikes. This really is the only way to travel here in Indonesia where the traffic is dense and the best things to see occur away from the main tourist attractions and cities. You can stop whenever you want to take photos or you can squeeze past the trucks and cars to make good progress. The 40km to and from the Borobudur pass quickly as we take in all there is to see.
Our next stop is the Kraton where the sultan of Yogyakarta lived. This dilapidated old tourist site has little to recommend it anymore. It is incredibly run down and there is no information available to tell you what the site is about, though I am sure you could pay someone to give you a guided tour if you were so inclined.
We let ourselves get taken to a nearby batic gallery where we were given a brief demonstration of how batic is made and then allowed to look through the gallery. The vendor was clever and had two price lists: one in US dollars with very high prices and one in Indonesian rupiah with high prices. He showed us the Indonesian price list and made a big point of saying it was discounted just for us. There were some lovely pieces but I certainly don’t want to pay what he was asking and am not much into negotiating because I have better things to do with my time. So I looked but didn’t buy.
We spent the rest of our afternoon enjoying the interesting sights at the bird and pet market. I warn you – if animals in cages offend you then please do not read on. While I do not condone the capture and caging of wild animals, I also recognise that certain ways of thinking are a luxury of the West where we live in relative ease and luxury.
The marketeers were friendly people, many of whom were incredibly proud of the animals they sold. This lady sold beautiful roosters. She and the man she worked with (her husband maybe) wanted us to pose with them and the roosters for the camera. My mother speaks a little bahasa and Gos Rider is a local so we could have conversations with them about where we are from and where we are going.
You can pretty much buy any animal here from birds, cats, dogs and rabbits through to bats, lizards, snakes …
… weasels …
… and monkeys. I did feel rather sad for the monkeys in particular because they looked so sad in their cages. But I guess this is life here. We keep birds, fish, cats, dogs, rabbits, snakes, ferrets, horses, calfs and lambs as pets in the West because we have domesticated them for our purposes. Here, on these tropical islands, the locally known animals are bats, lizards and monkeys so maybe this is why they have become the local style of pets.
And after all that controversy, I will leave you with this cute little rabbit that was clearly familiar with it’s captivity because it just took its food or water straight from this feeder as if it was a normal thing to do.
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.
During the dinner with the snake and lizard, my uncle mentions that I should go to Telemoyo because the final 7km (4 miles) is devoid of houses or farms: it is just wild bush. There is an unmaintained single lane road to the top so I can take the motorbike instead of walking. “You want to go to Telemoyo?” asks my cousin’s husband, Gos Rider followed quickly by “When?” and “Maybe I can come with you.” And so it is that I am riding like a madman through the streets of Semarang chasing the Gos Rider as he zips easily between the traffic.
After Salitiga, the landscape opens out and the heavy traffic eases. We are now surrounded by green jungle and banana plantations. I rode here on the first day of my East Java trip and it took me much longer to get here than it did today. Copying Gos Rider as he rides his scooter like it’s a high powered race machine an exhilerating experience.
We turn off the main road pass through Kopeng where cabbage and lettuce seedlings grow in greenhouses along the road. The climate is cool here by Javanese standards so these temperate weather crops grow in abundance.
After passing through Kopeng we turn up the Gunung Telemoyo road. Now the real adventure begins.
Farmers carry grass along the road.
And load cabbage into trucks. I love the fact that photobombing has made it here to the small rural villages. I saw the guy making dancing movements out of the corner of my eye but he would stop whenever I turned. What a laugh.
The narrow road wound it’s way up Gunung Telemoyo, deteriorating with each bend.
Of course I had to get my first obligatory jumping photo in Indonesia. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long.
Perhaps the jumping angered the weather clouds because no sooner were we back on our bikes than the heavens opened. Cold rain pelted down on us as we rode ever higher.
And then the clouds rolled in thickly, blocking any chance of a view and reducing visibility greatly.
But still upwards we rode until the road deteriorated so much that I could go up no more on the slippery rocks.
And so we turned back about 2km from the top of the mountain. Now some people would say it is a disappointment not to make it to the top but I think it was a fantastic adventure to still head up the mountain despite the rain (and after having left my wet weather gear at the hotel). Being on the mountain in the clouds was a beautiful experience; the white shroud creating mystique around the landscape.
We returned to Kopeng for lunch at a restaurant with a view of the mountain. The ayam goreng with rice was delicous and just what I needed to warm my body after being soaked to the bone. I am just glad my clothes are quick dry.
After lunch we take a short tour through Kopeng. The town is lovely with narrow roads and many seedling nurseries.
We hear some traditional music being played and stop to look. It’s a group of children playing in a hall. They are unsupervised and play with joy.
After listening to the music we head back down the mountain to ride to “Swimming in the Sky” at Mt Ungaran. Along the way we stop to take in the views over the rice paddies to the mountains.
The rain starts to fall heavily again as soon as we start to ride up Gunung Ungaran. I guess this is why they call this the rainy season. At least the scenery is beautiful and the riding fun.
“Swimming in the Sky” is a large rock-lined swimming pool that has been built into Gunung Ungaran’s slopes. It is popular in summer but today the water and rain are too cold for swimming.
From the pool you can look out over a terraced ridge. It’s exactly the sort of scenery that makes Asia seem so beautiful and exotic.
We press on to the top of the road. From here hikers can “bag the gunung” with a three hour trek to the summit and back. But we are not hiking. Rather, we drink coffee at the new cafe with a view out over Telemoyo, which seems so small set against Gunung Merbubu behind it.
It was a brilliant day. And I am so glad Gos Rider came along to show me the way and share many laughs. Actually, I think it was his company that made the day so much better than it would have been.