27 December 2011

Cyclo-Mania [Yogyakarta, Indonesia]

Yogyakarta is a city full of squawking birds, intense heat and lazy cyclo drivers. An interesting mix; well worth a couple of days to check out.

Red eyed and sleep deprived, we departed our uncomfortable (to put it nicely) overnight train journey from Jakarta. The first thing we did in Yogyakarta was to find somewhere to stay. Everything was really expensive, but we did manage to find a very basic place for about $6. By basic I mean that the bed did not even have a blanket, and I was sure we were going to catch something after entering the bathroom. It was rank!

We spent the first half of the day catching up on sleep (we didn't get much on the train), and the second half exploring Malioboro street; the most lively area of town. The street is crammed with street stalls on both sides selling all kinds of things, from traditional batak clothing to rip-off sunglasses to cheap street food.

Yogyakarta is a very popular tourist stop, mainly because of its proximity to two major ancient religious sites. Borobudur; a massive Buddhist monument, and Prambanan; a huge Hindu complex. Both have hefty entrance fees, so we decided to only visit one. We settled on Prambanan mainly because it is much easier to get to. But also because within the Prambanan complex there is a huge Buddhist monument also.

While Prambanan is impressive, my standards are set a little high after seeing Angkor in Cambodia. And the fact that it was so expensive to get in meant I kept waiting to be blown away. But I did manage to push the 'this better be worth it' thought out of my brain for a while and appreciate the monuments. The main complex is surrounded by huge stone blocks laying in ruins, littering the area. Over the years parts of the walls and smaller temples have been shaken loose by earthquakes. Inside the perimeter of rocky debris stands five temples, the main one being the Shiva Temple. It is seriously tall, reaching close to 50m. Jagged spires point skyward, and all of the walls are decorated with intricate carvings. The fact that this complex was built over 1,100 years ago makes it all the more impressive.

The Sewu Temple is the second larges Buddhist Temple complex in all of Java. While the perimeter is also littered with huge stone blocks, the temples themselves are quite different to Prambanan. Surrounded by large, round stupas, the temples are topped by domes. The area is also full of statues and carvings of (unsurprisingly) Buddha.

While at the temple we were approached by two very friendly Indonesian girls, Mycelia and Lintang. They wandered around the temples with us and even invited us back to Mycelias house for tea. It was really cool to chat with them and find out a bit about the life of a young Indonesian. They walked us back to the bus stop, along the way showing us to a field full of surprisingly tame deer.

I think that the further south we have traveled; the friendlier the people have got. People are always going out of their way to say hello on the street. I was actually messaged by three Indonesian people on CouchSurfing, just randomly as they saw I was in the country. Julia and I met up with one guy; Steve, who hung out with us one day and showed us around a bit. He was a really nice guy, helping us buy our onward train tickets and driving us around on the back of his scooter. We spent an hour playing tennis (which was awesome, even though I was a little rusty), then went out for some traditional Indonesian food.

We also spent some time in Yogyakarta itself; discovering the old royal palace (Kraton), water castle and Dutch fortress (Benteng Vendenburg) The palace was a little disappointing, and is mainly now just a museum with old royal artifacts. But it did have an awesome light-puppet show complete with a large musical backing. Although some of the musicians were more interested in smoking cigarettes and having a yarn...

The water castle was quite cool and we managed to pick up an unofficial guide along the way (meaning he would not leave us alone even though I told him we weren't going to pay him. In the end he badgered us to go into a souvenir shop, but we refused to buy anything). It is where the sultan used to hang out and have a bath, and the local people could come to wash.

And finally; the Dutch fortress. It was being refurbished when we were there, so a lot of it was off limits. But there was one cool area that had small model recreations of important events in the Dutch colonization  and then the Indonesian independence. The models were very detailed and extremely well done... but other than that, the fort did not have a lot going for it.

That wraps up our time in Yogya. From here we have another loooong economy class journey to Probolingo, the main jump-off point for Mount Bromo. Bromo and the surrounding volcano's are said to be the most spectacular in all of Indonesia, so we could not pass right by and not check it out. From there we head to Bali, where in exactly nine days time we catch our flight to New Zealand. This will be the first time I have set foot in my home country for over three years, and the first time I have spent more than 10 days in it for over four. As you might expect, I'm kinda looking forward to being home.

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