The last day (Yogyakarta, Indonesia)

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It’s our final day in Indonesia. Tomorrow morning we will leave for the long 23 hour journey to the Gold Coast via Kuala Lumpur. So we do what has become our favourite thing: walk. We’ve become accustomed to walking on roads clogged with scooters and cars. To saying “no thank you” to becak drivers who cannot believe anyone would actually want to walk here. And to playing Frogger when we want to cross the road.

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We eat lumpia (Indonesian spring rolls) and mini terang bulan (fresh cooked crumpets) on the street from kaki lima.

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We go to our fifth and final movie in Indonesia, finally succumbing to Mission Impossible, which is the only English-language movie we haven’t yet seen while here in Indonesia. Yes, we are a bit obsessed with the cinemas. I doubt many travelers have seen seven movies in a month in Thailand, five in a fortnight in Malaysia and now five in a month in Indonesia (it would have been more but there were not many English-language films showing here). It’s becoming something of a thing for us to watch movies on South-East Asia’s magical big screens with the superb picture quality, true surround sound and huge comfortable seats.

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We stop at a very strange shop that sells all sorts of random items from kitchen cooking utensils to ropes. But what is most interesting is the array of rain coats on display. The mannequins are almost scary in their number, poses and attire. It’s like rain coats are a fashion accessory. But the display works. It draws us into the shop and Paul even buys a very funny outfit that is white with rainbow stripes.

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But it is the sights and sounds of Indonesia’s busy city streets that have been the hero of this trip. Last time I saw lots of rice paddies and farming life. This time Paul and I have focused our adventures on the cities and their hectic streets. The contrast between modern and traditional, rich and poor has been stark. It’s noisy, dusty, dirty and (at times) confusing. But we both loved it so much we are planning our return.

Best of Yogya (Central Java, Indonesia)

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After starting the day with the buffet breakfast at the hotel (probably our first breakfast in a week) and a few hours work we head out on foot at midday to walk Yogya. It’s our second last day in Indonesia and we still have much we want to see. Not famous sights; just Indonesia.

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The warung are all changing now from morning to evening shift. This multiple use of the same space is so fascinating to me. In the morning someone sells breakfast. Then they pack up their gas stoves, food and plastic chairs to make way for the person who sells food in the afternoon and evening. In some places it’s just a matter of packing up a kaki lima and walking away. In others the whole warung tarp is removed and packed away in the cart. The street is swept and then the morning shift leaves on foot, with loaded scooters or in a waiting becak.

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Loaded scooters are a common sight here. They carry everything from baskets of rubbish or coconuts to gas cookers and food to little boxes in which coals are burned to cook satay. I wonder whether you’d get away with it at home. And I also wonder why motorbike panniers and boxes are so expensive at home when they seem to make quite functional ones here, which are probably a fraction of the price (I cannot see an Indonesian food vendor paying upwards of 2,000,000IDR [$AU200] for a set of pannier boxes). Not even the metal ones.

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We cross the railway line and walk under a car bridge. The street art on the pillars is fantastic. I love it.

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Buskers play music on a street corner. I observe that traditional island nations seem to have a similar sound in their traditional music. It’s something high pitched and hollow. In Caribbean music the steel drum makes the sound and here it’s the xylophone-like instrument. I can’t put my finger on it but I can hear it when I am around this music. It’s festive and catchy but kind of relaxing at the same time.

Sop daging

We stop at an outdoor shop and buy Paul a nice 40L pack with which we get a free two-man tent. I also buy a hiking hammock and a new pair of sunglasses. Then we eat our fill of sop daging (meat soup) at a small warung. It’s served differently to the soto we’ve been eating because the rice is next to the soup.

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We continue our wanderings and end up at Tempo Gelato on the tourist street. It is delicious and cool on such a hot day. We’ve walked more than 5km (3 miles) to get here so are quite ready for a treat. Interestingly, almost everyone in the shop is Indonesian. This is despite some bloggers and observers saying that places like this are only for tourists. I think there is probably a growing middle class here in Indonesia. Because there are not enough tourists for places like this to survive on the tourist trade alone. But even if Indonesian people do not come here often, the population is probably large enough to sustain relatively more expensive shops like this even if one quarter of the population only comes once a year. A medium ice cream (three scoops) costs 40,000IDR ($AU4). So it’s the same price as a movie ticket or two servings of nasi ayam goreng (rice with fried chicken) at a warung.

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We watch the goings on outside the ice cream shop window. A man with a whistle is working hard to park motorbikes. The shop is busy and he has to keep moving double parked bikes around to get everyone in and out. A bus does a u-turn on the narrow street, causing traffic mayhem and the man with the whistle helps with control. He works hard and probably doesn’t even earn enough in a day to buy ice cream from this shop. It’s a stark contrast between the economic classes that exist here. He is wearing old dirty jeans and ill-fitting shirt while the locals dining here have clean pressed clothes and modern hair styles. But you can’t begrudge the haves from enjoying themselves either because our being poor will not help the impoverished any more than using a knife to cut your hand will help heal an injured person heal more quickly. So everyone tips the man with the whistle so he can make his income because if they didn’t come to this shop then he wouldn’t have bikes to park and tips to earn either.

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We stop for a foot reflexology session to take us from day to night. Then we decide to have one last sate ayam (chicken satay) for our trip. Paul came not liking satay sauce and is leaving as quite a fan. Sitting in the little warung I am struck by how normal the rhythms of travel here in Indonesia have become. It’s a country that is almost as far removed from our home as is possible but we are now moving here with ease and even using more frequent phrases of Bahasa Indonesia.

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We are now on the far southern end of Malioboro Street and our hotel is on the north so we take in the famous street again.

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I pose for photos with owls, a cartoon cat and some scary mummies. You just drop some money into their box and they will let you post in the photo. It’s an interesting way to make a bit of money and, being a fan of street performers and buskers, I don’t mind obliging. The mummies are particularly good.

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Malioboro Street is as crowded as ever. Food vendors set up stalls or push their kaki lima or push bicycles with gas stoves or cooking coals down the street banging on wooden bells. Horses and carriages line the road waiting for fares and becak drivers hassle everyone who walks past. You do reach a point where you want to scream, “If I wanted a becak I would have taken one already” but you don’t because you know they are just desperate for a fare so I hold my tongue. There’s loads of t-shirts and bags and hats and trinkets for sale here, with regular shops still open behind.

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And then our walk is done. We pass the famous monument in the middle of the road at the head of Malioboro Street, turn right and walk the final few blocks to our hotel. It’s been a fantastic 9 hours on foot covering about 16km (10 miles) of Yogya’s best sights, sounds and tastes.

Yogyakarta (Central Java, Indonesia)

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We wake to the sound of the bird singing in its cage next to our bedroom. It’s so peaceful. There are no mosques here in this area so we don’t have the 4am wake-up call that has become the norm here in Indonesia (a very unpleasant and intrusive wake-up call I must say). At first I can’t even put a finger on why I enjoy waking up here at Joglo Arun home stay. But Paul is the one who notices that it’s the birdsong waking us instead of the mosque. We enjoy our final morning here and decide to make this our go-to place to stay in Yogyakarta.

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But we are checking out to change hotels. See, we had pre-booked three nights of luxury at the Novotel Yogyakarta because we found a 50% off deal. This means we can stay in a four-star hotel for the same money we would usually spend on a powered camping site in Australia. And I don’t believe that one should only rough it when traveling to the developing world: a touch of affordable luxury is allowed. And what luxury it will be. We get a huge room on the fifth floor with a view of the city and a huge comfortable king-size bed and movie channels on the television. While I love the home stay, I certainly am not complaining about spending the final three nights of our time in Indonesia in such luxury.

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We’ve not explored this northern side of Yogyakarta yet. So we drop our gear and set off on foot to see what we find. Our first top is lunch on the street. We pass a few soto (soup) sellers but none of their pots are bubbling away so I err on the side of caution (I learned a big lesson in Semarang). But this seller has a crowd, a row of tables on the footpath Bangkok-style and the pot is bubbling away with steam rising from it. For 22,000IDR ($AU2.20) we each get a big bowl of delicious soto and Paul gets a hot sweet Indonesian-style beer glass of tea served with a straw.

The roads here are far busier than in the city’s south and scooters are neatly lined all over the footpath. We check out some outdoor shops to see whether we can find Paul a backpack (he has been using my hiking pack and wants his own). There are some nice ones in the Eiger shop but they don’t have zips in the lid so we pass on them. There are a few other outdoor shops selling packs but not all look legitimate (Deuter would never allow a pack out of their factory with dodgy stitching and I take a photo of another pack to check it online and find that this model down not exist on any company website). If the price for the knock offs was cheap as chips it would be okay but the prices are over $AU100 so we skip for now. There is another outdoor shop we can try. And otherwise we’ll buy one of the cheap local brands because we do need a bag to get our excess luggage home.

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We see a busy shop where it’s almost impossible to get inside due to the parked scooters. Naturally we have to check it out. Downstairs is a grocery shop with all the usual products and also lots of over-ripe fruit and vegetables (a problem of being in the tropics is that everything ripens quickly). Upstairs we find heaps and heaps of clothes on racks. I love how many shops here in Indonesia are like indoor markets … obviously this is the layout that shoppers are most comfortable with. There are loads and loads of children’s clothes at very cheap prices and we have lots of children in our lives so they are getting clothes as gifts this trip. Actually, there are also lots of cheap adult clothes that I like as well. T-shirts here are particularly funky and the quality is better than at home for the same price. I resist the urge to buy but only because there is a Matahari right next door to our hotel and I know they have awesome t-shirts there.

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We drop our shopping at the hotel and head back out in the opposite direction for a walk and to find some dinner. I love walking at night looking at the lights and action. Tonight I threaten Paul that I might leave him for this hot hard hunk with the big belly. Haha. Paul doesn’t seem too concerned about his status as my partner though.

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On the way home we pass a reflexology place. We are encouraged by the “no sex” signs because that means we are unlikely to have any embarrassing advances. We ask for 45 minutes reflexology. Paul’s is okay but my guy is hopeless. He has no idea what he is doing and just spends almost the entire 45 minutes digging his fingers into my calf muscles and shins as he does effleurage up and down my leg. I endure the horrible massage hoping it will end soon. I ask him a few times to be less strong but he will then ease off for a stroke then punish me by going harder. If he knew what he was doing like my physio does it would be okay. But he’s just an amateur who tells me to relax when he’s causing me so much pain I am jumping from my seat and about to punch him. The only reason I don’t get up is because I don’t want to disturb Paul who is snoring next to me. At least it only cost 45,000IDR ($AU4.50). And I’ve had more good reflexology treatments here in Indonesia than bad.

We retire to our very nice hotel room after our 6km (4 mile) night walk. I crash out pretty quickly in comfort.

Beaches of Yogyakarta (Central Java, Indonesia)

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I decide that we need to rent a scooter for a day and see some of the beaches near Yogyakarta. After-all, you can’t come to an island and not see a beach or two. I’ve been hesitant about renting a scooter so far on this trip because Paul is not a motorcyclist and has never shown any real interest in jumping on the back of my motorbike at home. But I think I would be disappointed if we didn’t spend a day scooting around. And the guesthouse we are staying at organises scooter hire for 50,000IDR ($AU5) a day. So why not.

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We are only about 5km into our adventure when trouble strikes. I hit an uneven patch of road and hear the unmistakable sound of a flat rear tyre. It’s not a good start to the day but, fortunately, there is always someone around who has a little tyre repair shop. All you need to do is look for a sign that says tambal ban. So Paul jumps off to walk as I ride back through the village (fortunately we are in a village) to find such a sign.

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Watching the man repair our tyre is an interesting experience of itself. There are no glue patches here. Just good old fashioned Indonesian ingenuity. The guy takes the tyre out and uses a bucket to find the hole. Then he sticks a match stick through the hole to mark it while he checks the tyre for the cause of the puncture. To patch the hole the guy selects a small piece of rubber from a pile on a table and then uses this contraption to weld the new rubber to the old. It’s fascinating and takes all of a quarter hour for him to complete the repair. Cost: 7,000IDR ($AU0.70).

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Disaster averted we set off south again looking for some beaches. Our first stop is Pantai Samas. It’s a long black sand beach with huge waves crashing in rows to the beach. There’s a high drop at the edge of the beach just before the water and we can see from the way the fishing boats are anchored that the water must come up over this edge when the tide is high.

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The colourful fishing boats look small compared with the epic waves in the ocean and I can only imagine how brave the men who work them must be.

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After a short walk along the gusty beach we ride a few kilometers west to Pantai Goa Cemara. This popular-looking beach is guarded by shady trees that protect visitors from the searing sun. It’s a black sand beach too, being on the same stretch of coast as Pantai Samas. Fishing boats line the waterfront and fishermen mend nets in the little village area about 50m from the sea shore. There are lots of local tourists here taking selfies and relaxing in the shade. You cannot swim at the beach because the rips are too strong and the waves dump heavily into the sand. But it is lovely and cool away from the city with a strong wind blowing.

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We decide to head East towards Pantai Parangtritis, which is the famous tourist beach of Yogyakarta. While we have been told by people that it is not worth visiting due to the black sand, we have plenty of white sand beaches at home so black sand is something different. And, besides, Paul’s backside is numb and his thigh muscles sore from gripping the bike (a reflection on my riding perhaps?) so I don’t want to go too far further east in search of white sand.

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Pantai Parangtritis is actually quite a cool place to visit. It has a huge sign announcing our arrival.

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You can rent a quad bike for 5,000IDR ($AU5) for a small or 10,000IDR ($AU10) for a large bike for 25 minutes. We don’t play on the quad bikes but they do make an interesting addition to the beachscape.

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You can also take a pony cart ride along the beach if you are so inclined.

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Or simply rent an umbrella and carpet to relax on. These beach umbrellas won’t blow away either because they flimsy plastic pole has been replaced with a thick heavy log that the lady renting the umbrella has to work hard to dig deep into the sand.

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Instead of renting a quad bike, horse or umbrella we take a walk down the beach towards the cliffs at it’s eastern boundary. It’s a lovely place to take a stroll and I could definitely see myself doing some running here if time allowed.

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As we walk, we take in the small details of this beach. Like the patterns the water leaves on the sand.

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The way the crabs leave tracks in the sand.

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And I use my new macro phone camera lens to capture the coloured granules that make up the apparently black sand on the beach.

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We stay at the beach for an hour or two before getting back on the scooter to ride home. I take a scenic route through the mountains, much to the disappointment of Paul’s backside and thigh muscles. This is what I love doing here in Indonesia the most: riding on the quiet mountain and country roads.
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It’s peaceful compared with the noisy cities and there’s a different pace of life. Men use small old petrol powered saws to mill timber by the roadside. They carry firewood on their backs to fuel the kitchen stove. Women work in the rice fields, their backs bent as they plant the seedlings that will become food. It’s hard physical labour and I can see why the average life expectancy here in Indonesia is only 70 years; not the 82 years that we expect to live in Australia.

Then the traffic increases and we are back in Yogyakarta again. It’s amazing how one minute you can be cruising along and then next it’s all action stations and concentration. We find our guesthouse easily and without incident, drop off the scooter and head out for our nightly walk to the (legitimate) massage place and Nanamia where we ate last night. I can report that the spaghetti bolognaise is as delicious as the sandwich was.

Solo to Yogyakarta (Central Java, Indonesia)

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We were going to pre-book our train tickets from Solo to Yogyakarta yesterday afternoon but the man at the ticket counter tells us not to. It will be much cheaper for us to buy the tickets on the day. It turns out that he is correct. Pre-booked economy class tickets are 120,000IDR ($AU12) but on-the-day local train tickets are just 8,000IDR ($AU0.80). And the only differences between the two are that (1) seats are not allocated on the local train, (2) there are no charging points on the local train and (3) the local train takes 65 minutes instead of 55 to make the journey. In all other respects, the local train is just as comfortable and efficient as the other trains.
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Solo is the starting point for this particular train. Everyone who was on board the train alights as we board. There’s nothing particularly significant about this process except that it is efficient and fast.
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One really cool thing they do have here in Indonesia at the railway stations that we don’t have at home are porters. They wear numbered uniform t-shirts and will carry your heavy luggage onto the train and place it in the overhead rack for you. I haven’t used the service because we don’t have much luggage but it is definitely popular with little old ladies who always seem to have large cardboard boxes with them.
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We arrive in Yogyakarta around lunch time and take a taxi to our guest house. It’s tucked away in the far south-western corner of the city and is too far to walk. We have learned that taxis use meters here while becaks require time haggling and even then we rarely get the becak cheaper than a taxi so we might as well enjoy the comfort of air conditioning. We’re too early for our room so we leave our gear and go out for a delicious lunch of soto daging (meat soup) at a local warung (food stall). It’s absolutely delicious and next time I come I will eat much more soto because it is always boiled for a long time, making it far safer than some stuff.

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Paul really wants a massage but we don’t want to walk all the way to the tourist area where we know there are two places. There’s a sign saying that 400m past our hostel there is a massage place for men. We decide to give it a go. At first the place seems legitimate. There’s some clean looking men in a nice looking office. We are taken into some clean rooms for our massage and body scrub. And that’s pretty much where legitimacy ends. The massage is good but the wandering hands are a disturbing. We both decline the extra services on offer, pay and leave. It’s always a risk when getting a massage … and all you can do is say “no thank you” and move on.

We return to our very lovely guesthouse and I spend a few hours sitting in the courtyard working while Paul catches up on Facebook. Then we head out for a long walk into the city, which is about 2.5km (1.5 miles) away. I enjoy these night time walks. The air is cooler, there’s always something to see and it gets us out and about.

We find a legitimate massage place on the tourist street and settle in for 90 minutes of pure blissful reflexology. I sleep almost the whole way through the foot, hand and shoulder massage. It’s a relaxed and restful sleep … the kind that is almost a trance as you feel everything that is happening to you but can’t open your eyes.

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Our next stop is Nanamia. This is an Italian restaurant on the tourist street that came highly recommended by our host at our previous guesthouse here in Yogyakarta. It was amazing. All I’ve been craving the past week is fresh clean food with fresh clean flavours. Indonesian food is delicious but the flavours are a complex mix of sweet, salty and sour, and everything is served with rice, which I actually quite dislike. The food I am used to at home is flavoured by vegetables, meat, garden herbs, salt and pepper. While I use a lot of fresh herbs in my cooking, I don’t use many spices. And I eat a lot of salads at home topped with a drizzle of balsamic or yoghurt. While food is an important part of travel, I have reached a point where I could almost kill someone for something fresh. And here, at Nanamia I find exactly what I am looking for. We risk the Insalata Mediterannea because I have read that this restaurant uses bottled water to wash their salads. We also eat home baked paninis with onion, tomato, beef mince and mozzarella cheese. It is amazing! Never has a sandwich tasted this good. It’s exactly what I have been craving. And the price is not outrageous either. The sandwich costs 31,000IRD ($AU3) while a portion of ayam goreng at the Alun Alun Kidul costs between 20,000-25,000IDR ($AU2-2.50). Yes, it’s about 150% the cost of the other meal but in real terms it’s great value. I am happy for the whole walk home.

Borobudur (Central Java, Indonesia)

It’s 3am and we are questioning our sanity as we get out of bed before the call for prayer has even started. But it’s our only real option. We don’t have transport so have booked a sunrise Borobudur tour instead of the 1:30pm. It gets hot at Borobudur and I know from last year that the temple is much nicer in the relative cool and calm of the morning.

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We board a tourist bus and settle in for the 1.5 hour drive to the mountain from which we are supposed to watch the sunrise over the Borobudur. There’s a steep sharp road and forest walk to the lookout. It’s still dark but electric lights mark our way. And besides, half the world seems to be here so there’s not chance of getting lost. The sunrise itself isn’t visible today due to heavy cloud hanging all around. But it’s still am interesting hour watching people from all over the world here for the same reason. No one is pushing or shoving. Most people are in good spirits (of course a few heavily camera’d people have sour faces at missing their photo opportunity). I ponder world peace and how tourism plays such an important role. It brings people together for happy reasons.

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And as we walk down the path in daylight the improved housing in the village shows that it also can bring economic improvement to locals.

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Obligatory sunrise over we get driven to the main event: the Borobudur. It’s changes since I was here just 10 months ago. There are sellers inside the gates and no one tells us to wear sarongs. Some ladies even still have short shorts owns singlets on. Last year this would not have been possible.

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We take our time exploring the temple, walking around one level at a time. The detail in the reliefs on the walls is amazing. We make up some stories for them as we go. The lower levels are not as detailed as the upper so maybe the craftsmen improved their skill as they went. Or maybe better craftsmen could be afforded later in the project. Whatever the reason, I enjoy the experience of being here with Paul and our mutual appreciation for art.

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The beauty and calm of the temple is a stark contrast to the hawker stalls that await us as we exit. We are not even out of the gate and already they are pestering us. We are offered 10 postcards for 70,000IDR ($AU7) and I decline. Immediately the price comes down to 60,000IDR ($AU6) but still we keep walking. I want some post cards but only 5 and certainly not for that price. So we discuss and decide to try to get them as cheap as possible. He asks for 35,000IDR ($AU3.50) for 5 postcards but I’m sorry family and friends, I don’t love you that much. Besides, it’s really just passing time before the bus. I try to get 5 cards for 10,000IDR ($AU1) but he wants 20,000IDR. That was what I was willing to pay but I try again for 10,000IDR. He makes a sad face but I keep walking towards the other postcard sellers. I usually hate bargaining but I do want postcards and I know that here they will not sell for less than a fair price. As I near the other sellers he comes down to 15,000IDR ($AU1.50) for 5 postcards. I push my luck and keep walking to see what happens. He gives in and walks away. Obviously he’s not willing to go below 15,000IDR (which he says “is good for me and good for you”). So we walk back to buy the cards at that price. It’s all part of the game. 

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The bus ride home is long and uncomfortable. Both our heads bob onto our chests as we snooze awkwardly perched on seats designed for small skinny people, not fully grown Aussies.

It’s lunch time and we’re both hungry after giving our hagelslag (chocolate sprinkle) sandwiches to a Dutch family traveling with four kids who were not too keen on the breakfast their hotel had packed for them. So we’ve been up now for 9 hours without food. We return to the same touristy restaurants near our hotel because we know it is relaxing there.

Then it’s time for a foot and hand massage. At just 100,000IDR ($AU10) an hour it’s a treat worth having. We both snore away somewhere in that place between wake and sleep for most of the hour. It’s that place where you are fully aware of the massage but of nothing else. It’s bliss.

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A chocolate shop across the street calls to us on our way back to the hostel. Of course we heed it’s call. Let me tell you that this place is good! Haha.

It’s about 3pm when we return to our hostel and we are both knackered. Paul shower, sleeps and surfs Facebok. I shower and settle in for 3-4 hours of work. It’s actually quite nice to be mentally away from the hustle and bustle of Java for a little while.

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Refreshed we head out for our nightly walk to find dinner. Paul discovers he likes pisang goreng (fried bananas) and pisang caramel (caramelised bananas). After contemplating lots of options we sit at a table in the Alun Alun Kidul and eat rice with chicken watching the funny lit up cars and families enjoying themselves.

Water Castle, bird market and surrounds (Yogyakarta, Indonesia)

I wake early on my first morning in Indonesia. The grey light of dawn has not yet broken through the darkness but a nearby mosque is already making the day’s first call for prayers. I get up to experience the morning.

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It’s strangely quiet outside. When I went to sleep last night the streets were alive with the vrooming of scooters and the hum of voices talking. But this morning the only sound are birds twittering, an occasional scooter and kaki limas (food stands) being wheeled along the road. I haven’t experienced this quiet side of Indonesia before. In the quiet my eyes can take in more without the sensory overload that otherwise takes over my brain.

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I take a jog along the quietened roads, making my way to the nearby Alun Alun Kidul (Kidul Park). The dawn breaks while I am out. It’s even faster than the dawn at home and, before long, daylight surrounds me. The Alun Alun seems to be the place for people to take their morning exercise. A few locals are shuffling along in old shoes or bare feet jogging laps of the park. Others are walking in small groups, rather like mall walkers in movies, chattering away as they go. Basic calisthenics seem to be popular among the older Chinese-Indonesian set. At the same time there are some people sleeping on the ground as though they just closed their eyes where they were sitting at the end of the night.

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I return to the hostel, shower, take breakfast, work until mid-morning and then set off again with Paul to explore the city some more. The noise and traffic have built up again so there’s plenty for us to see and experience.

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Even just walking around the city’s streets there is so much that catches my eyes. From petrol sellers with their golden liquid of questionable quality to dusty old tea pots sitting on the ground, it’s never boring being in a new place. And all the while people say “hello” as they go about their daily grind of guiding cars into parking places, sweeping their footpaths, selling food and all the other tasks that make this city run.

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We head towards the Keraton (Sultan’s Palace). I know from my last visit that this place is run down and pretty much not worth the entrance fee. But I figure that Paul’s never been here and might enjoy the experience of how a “museum” or “heritage site” can look in this country that couldn’t be further removed from home if it tried. We never do make it to the Keraton but we do pass lots of ladies making batic fabrics. There’s no need to take a costly tour to see this process taking place; you can just watch from the entrance to their shops as you walk past.

We never quite make it to the Keraton. Somehow we miss the entry, which I remember was quite obvious. I think it’s because we are being tailed by a guy who is pretending to be friendly who is really just trying to be our tour guide. He’s not pushy but I know this game and it’s our first morning in the city so we just want to stop and take lots of photos of seemingly insignificant things. In the process of boring him with our photo taking (he starts talking with a friend as we take photos and then we just walk on by) I think we had our backs turned to the entrance of the Keraton. Mind you, like I said, it’s not worth the effort anyway. Why did we not just tell him we didn’t want his services? Because he was smart – he never offered any so the only way we could ask him to leave us alone would be to risk offending him (according to our Australian cultural norms). So instead we partook quietly in the dance that occurs here every day.

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What we do find though is the Taman Sari (Water Castle). I had read about this place online but my parents told me that it wasn’t worth going to. What they probably didn’t know is that the Taman Sari has undergone a massive restoration over the past decade, thanks to some UNESCO funding.

An older man (a guide) starts talking to us outside the Taman Sari. At this stage we don’t even know what the attraction holds. I had read some blog posts online while planning this trip where the posters mentioned being taken into tunnels and back alleys by this type of guide and that the local knowledge was worth the relatively small cost. Besides, unlike the other guy on the street, this guy is calmer and less pushy. He has the old school softly spoken Javanese way about his weathered and wrinkled face. I can tell we’re not being taken advantage of and that he will give us his best effort in the hope of a tip at the end of our “tour”.

The old man doesn’t let us down. He takes us up into the old castle and starts to quietly tell us stories about the castle. We traipse through the area where restoration works and archaeological work is being conducted. He tells us about the Javanese legends of the sea coming all the way to this place before Yogyakarta became a land-based city and of the Sultan being rowed in a boat to arrive at the castle.

He leads us into the underground mosque where it is said the Sultan prayed. It’s a pretty cool space with special double-walled caverns where the Imam could stand and speak, the cavern structure projecting his voice. You can visit these caves for free if you want to … but it would take quite a dance to avoid a tour guide latching onto you. Besides, there’s no interpretive signs down here so the stories of the guide are what brings this place to life.

After the caves we head back around the castle until we reach the official entrance to Taman Sari. We buy our tickets then the guide takes us into what was the Sultan’s bathing complex. The old man is incredibly patient as we take photos of the things he has seen a thousand times in his lifetime. Things that he watches strange tourists take photos of a thousand times every year. We learn the stories of the Sultan’s bathing rituals, including the way he chose which of his many wives to take to his private swimming pool behind closed doors. The funniest moment, though is when he tells us about the “Romantic Room”. He giggles shyly like a school girl and says cheekily, “I don’t know what happen in here”.

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It’s about 4km from Taman Sari to the Pasty (bird market). I came here last year too so know what to expect. Paul and I walk around looking at the animals and birds. I wrote last year about my views on travelers not judging other cultures’ practices and will reiterate them again. In the West we keep many animals as pets, including birds and reptiles and monkeys. We just sell them in indoor pet stores or internet sites, not open air markets.

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After a hectic morning of walking many kilometers we are both exhausted and in need of some time out from the chaos that is Java. We find a restaurant near our hostel that has a cool breeze, comfortable chairs, English language menu and wifi.

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Batteries recharged we wander a few hundred meters down the road to a massage shop that Paul noticed yesterday. We settle in for a foot and hand reflexology massage. It’s absolutely wonderful and we both find ourselves falling asleep to the rhythm of the music and the masseurs’ hand kneading sore muscles.

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One our way back to the hotel (the long and circuitous route that we follows) we pass the Grand Palace Hotel. It is seriously impressive and like a palace in its own right with huge colonnades, statue soldiers and cavernous foyer. We pretend for a moment that we are rich enough to stay in a place like this. Then we ask the reception for a price list and realise that this is Indonesia – we can afford to stay in a place like this because the peak season rate for a Deluxe room is just 75,000 rupiah ($AU75). You can’t even get a cabin at a caravan park or private room with shared bathroom in a hostel for that price in Australia. So a plan is hatched … when we return to Yogyakarta before flying home (on my birthday mind you), we are going to stay in a swanky hotel for a couple of nights just because we might as well.

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After a few hours rest at our hotel we wander out under a darkened night sky to find dinner. My cousins have recommended nasi gudeg (rice with jackfruit) at one of the restaurants on Jl. Wijilan (Wijilan Street). It’s about 2km away so we walk there to taste this dish. I like the pickled egg and fried chicken but the jackfruit is a little bit too sweet for me. It is good mixed in with everything and I am glad we found it. But again I discover that the Asian and my taste buds prefer slightly different flavour profiles (I think I am more used to sweetness coming from cane sugar than from tropical fruits). But I would eat this dish again if offered because I could probably become used to the taste.

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On our walk back to the hostel we stop at Alun Alun Kidul to take in the festive atmosphere. There are pedal cars with bright lights competing for space on the road with normal cars, scooters, becaks and pedestrians. It’s bedlam with disco music. See, every pedal car has a portable DVD player on the dashboard with disco music blaring from the speakers. Every car has a different song and it’s totally nuts. But so festive. Whereas this morning people were exercising around the alun alun, tonight they are eating at small tables, playing with small lit up toys that they bought from vendors and watching the pedal cars go round. It’s a fun way to end what has been a fantastic day.