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Exploring the Special Region

6 Feb

Last weekend I finally found myself in Jogja so it was a perfect opportunity to really explore Daerah Isitimewa Yogyakarta (Jogja Special Region). Coincidentally one of the girls from my tour in Cambodia and her boyfriend happened to be in town so it was a chance to see some of the tourist attractions that I haven’t been to in several years as well as a few new ones.

Friday night was fairly quiet thanks to a sudden torrential downpour where I forgot both my umbrella and raincoat and proceeded to get drenched. We retreated to the old faithful, Via Via Cafe for dinner and a bintang to make plans for the day ahead. Deciding that we would get an early start and head out to the temples at 7am we had an early night and I came home to play some cards and hang out at the house.

The next morning was an early start. After brownies for breakfast (delicious but not very nutritious) I got the car we had rented for the day and went to pick up Sarah and James. First stop was Borobudur a UNESCO world heritage site and the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The temple itself was built in the 8th century and features hundreds of stupas and Buddha statues.IMG_5859 Interestingly it disappeared for hundreds of years only to be rediscovered and restored by Stamford Raffles in the 1800s. This was my second visit to Borobudur and despite heading out there early it was still ridiculously hot as you are smack bang in the middle of a plain with the sun bearing down on you. Also you are constantly bombarded with requests for photos and people wanting to practice their English with you which is amusing to start with but eventually becomes rather annoying. Generally the conversation goes a bit like this;

Indonesian student- Where are you from?
Me- Umm Australia
Indonesian student- What do you think about this temple becoming a 7 Wonder of the World?
Me- I’m not sure about that really.. It’s alright
Indonesian student- Can I take a photo with you? IMG_5873

Don’t get me wrong, Borobudur is an incredible, spectacular temple but after visiting Angkor Wat it’s hard to compete with that. Plus I prefer Prambanan (which I’ll get to later).IMG_5878 So after hours of questions and photos (what do all these people do with the photos of us?) we explored the grounds and found potentially the strangest, most out of place museum I had ever seen. The Unique Art Museum was mostly just a collection of pictures of world record feats and a bunch of miniature versions of Indonesian culture items. Let’s just say I’m glad they let us in for free.

Afterwards we had lunch before deciding to head up to Merapi, the volcano which looms over Yogyakarta and erupted in 2010 killing over 350 people. Exhausted we all fell asleep in the car on our way up there and as we went further up the mountain the destruction became more evident. We eventually reached a village called Kinahrejo only 4km from the peak of Merapi.IMG_5881 From here we went up the hill a bit further on motorbikes to see the home of Mbah Maridjan the gatekeeper of Merapi. The Kraton (Sultan’s Palace) in Jogja traditionally appoints a gatekeeper for Merapi whose job it is to communicate with the volcano. He refused to leave during the eruption so not to abandon his post despite being seriously injured in the 2006 eruption and sadly was killed during the 2010 eruptions. This is a symbol of how important tradition is in Jogja. The whole city is built in a straight line from Merapi to the Kraton to Parangtritis Beach on the south coast. Being around Merapi however made me feel somewhat uneasy as the village we visited despite being completely destroyed and having several villagers killed has been turned into a tourist attraction. The completely inappropriate tshirt award goes to a t-shirt you could buy with Merapi Volcano Tour written on it to look like blood. Walking through the lava flows it was fascinating to see the destructive effects of the eruption with us all agreeing that it was like something out of another world and a grim reminder of the dangers people in this area face. Riding back down the mountain it started to rain resulting in a freezing cold trip which was a bit of a welcome relief after Borobudur.


Next it was off to Prambanan which is undoubtedly my favourite temple in Jogja. Once the screaming kids of a school group had left the complex was quiet which creates a really relaxing atmosphere. The Hindu complex built in the 9th century features temples to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva and is a bit similar to Angkor Wat in style. It also has heaps of big shady trees and if you explore a bit there are a bunch of other temples in the complex. IMG_5894 The other temples were a bit disappointing. Following the 2006 earthquake they suffered a lot of damage and have been rebuilt in a fairly shoddy manner with new pieces of stone being placed on them which don’t really fit in with the rest of the temple. After exploring for a bit and having a funny debate with some little kids about whether I was a londo or bule (both words for white person). We headed back to Jogja exhausted after 11 hours of exploring.

The following day I’d arranged to meet up with my friend Rayi who studied at UNY in Jogjakarta and I met in Canberra last year. The plan for the day was to go down to her house in Bantul. After getting picked up around lunchtime we headed south towards the beaches and I was rather impressed by the Gamelan (traditional Indonesian instrument) in her lounge room, more impressive was the spontaneous performance by her father which was brilliant. It was a beautiful day with the sky bright blue and no rain and the landscape down near the beach a stunning green. IMG_5942 We walked around, ate some gado gado and sat around drinking tea and chatting before deciding to go down to the beach. We drove a few km before we reached a less well known beach called Goa Cemara. When seeing the sign saying No Swimming Danger I didn’t know what to expect thinking it was just the government being overcautious (a lot of people can’t swim very well) but seeing the beach I understood straight away. Heavy shore break probably 6 foot high and a lot of very visible rips as well as waves slamming sporadically into sand bars- no place for a dip in the sea. It was a little bit sad to see how polluted the beach was with rubbish everywhere tainting the black sand shorelines but was still a fun afternoon and very interesting to see. After that we headed back into town for another game of cards at home and a bit of Top Gear. IMG_5948

So that was it for my weekend. This time in 2 weeks I will be back home in Canberra so there are still some adventures to be had I’m sure while I’m over here. My hand is still numb and on a completely unrelated to anything, note I just finished reading Life of Pi which was a fantastic book, one of the best I’ve read for a while.

Courts xx


How to survive Jakarta

30 Jan

Oh Jakarta. Hours spent stuck in traffic, extreme wealth juxtaposed against extreme poverty. The Big Durian. Some people love it, some people hate it- I think I’m between the two.  Flying out of Jakarta at night makes you realise how big the city actually is, well more like cities as they have all blended into one big mess of officially 9 million people (but realistically there are millions more- 28 million people live in Greater Jakarta) and millions of cars and motorbikes.

I had to go to Jakarta for a meeting but was lucky that my friend Kelly whose lovely parents live in Jakarta was going to be in town so a quick trip for a meeting turned into a long weekend of adventures. Flying out of Jogja I was excited to see a brand new plane waiting on the tarmac for me. Until I went inside and saw the classic tired, let’s fit as many seats in as possible interior. To make matters worse and to shatter my confidence in Indonesian airlines further, along with the emergency instructions card in the seat pocket was a card with how to pray for our safety in each of the 6 official religions of Indonesia. The fun really started when I got to Jakarta and had to find a taxi. There is only one real taxi company that is considered safe so after waving away many touts and finding a taxi I faced a two and a half hour drive to Kelly’s house in South Jakarta. The distance is probably about 40 kilometres and the constant honking of cars and barely moving gets somewhat frustrating after the first hour. The traffic is considered the worst in Asia and without great public transportation (like the MRT in Singapore or Skytrain in Bangkok) the only way to get around is to brave the roads.

You definitely notice the extreme difference between rich and poor driving from the airport to South Jakarta. From the slums on the outskirt of town and the over polluted canals to the modern sky scrapers which jut out from different parts of the skyline and the huge mansions. Beggars approach the highly polished private SUVs (pretty much a necessity in Jakarta) and run down buses and angkots clog the roads. It’s really interesting to sit back in the taxi (with air conditioning thank god) and watch it all.

As it was Australia Day we had a barbeque for dinner before heading out for a few quiet drinks at a few of the pubs. We were introduced to two stereotypes of South Jakarta- the sleazy old white man and the young rich Indonesian. While highly entertaining for us to talk to these people we definitely made use of the we have to meet a friend/our driver is outside bail out excuses. The night ended just shy of 3am at Kemang maccas (almost a tradition for us) and a sleep in the next day was quite nice.

While there are touristy sites to see in Jakarta we had very little desire to see any of them. I did get to drive past Monas (Monumen Nasional) as monument built by Sukarno and basically a flame on a giant concrete pillar, on my way to my meeting which as Kelly described, it was the most boring tourist attraction ever. The 10 minutes in front of it stuck in traffic was more than enough. It was really interesting to head into the CBD and see the expensive hotels, wide roads and huge office complexes. Friday we spent most of the day with me “preparing for my meeting” aka we ordered pizza and sat around in pyjamas watching the Chaser.

Friday night we faced the complicated decision of where to eat eventually settling on Hacienda, a reasonably famous Mexican restaurant. We ate far too much delicious Mexican food and had some fantastic frozen margaritas before heading home in a food coma. Perhaps the funniest thing to happen that night was just after we sat down someone we studied with in Salatiga two years ago sat at the table next to ours. While we knew she was working as a journalist in Jakarta the fact she came to the same restaurant on the same night was crazy so it was good to catch up!

Originally we had planned to hit a few of the clubs around town on the weekend however the previous weekend a drug related car crash linked to one of the notoriously dodgy clubs in Jakarta had killed 9 people so word was there were going to be drug raids. These raids can turn violent and realistically just ruin a night out so no clubbing (which wasn’t that disappointing in the end). On Saturday we decided that we would go have a massage then headed to two different malls. The first to buy dvds to watch that night rather than going out and then to PIM which is massive (although not the biggest) to have lunch and do some shopping. They had an ice skating rink set up and segway rides but we just ate some delicious Japanese for lunch before shopping for winter clothing in Zara which had a sale on. It does seem strange to shop for winter clothes on a 30 degree day in the tropics.

That night we had another delicious barbeque of pork ribs and prawns and watched the new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Inbetweeners movie (very lol) and War Horse (not that great- the horse was good).

The next morning we went to brunch. This is something that everyone should experience in Jakarta. We went to the Ritz-Carlton where there is a massive room with every type of food you could dream of and free flow champagne. We ate steadily for over 3 hours with quite the mix from roast duck, design your own noodle dish, sushi, giant pretzels, an assortment of cheeses, chocolate fountain, ice cream and cakes. All while waiters buzzed around making sure your drinks were always full. Not a bad way to spend a day and we all had a lot of laughs. One thing that you really noticed here was the heavy security. Less than 3 years ago the Ritz was target of a terrorist attack which killed a number of westerners so getting in meant the car getting searched, explosive sniffer dogs and metal detectors. We weren’t even able to take a photo in front of the lobby because of the security measures which are entirely understandable but make you realise that security is taken very seriously in this town.

After brunch it was time to say goodbye to Kelly and the family and Jakarta and head back to the airport. The airport was quite frankly awful with it impossible to get food (or water!) after security and my flight delayed for over an hour with no explanation. I think in the future I’ll shell out the extra money for a better airline.

So that was my epic Jakarta weekend! While it did involve a lot of time stuck in traffic the fun we had definitely made up for it (and being stuck in traffic isn’t that bad). 3 days of chilling out, eating western food and doing next to nothing is definitely what we needed before heading back to work and uni. While a lot of people  hate Jakarta I’ve never failed to have a good time so big thanks to Kelly and her family for an awesome weekend.

Courts xx

I forgot to take photos again (camera was too big to lug around, didn’t feel like taking photos of malls etc)

Jakarta from above! A bit of urban sprawl!
Jakarta from above! A bit of urban sprawl!