The Heartland of Javanese Culture
Trip Start Dec 23, 2010
4Trip End Jan 09, 2011
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Where I stayed
ViaVia Guesthouse; D'Omah Hotel
Bilal got his first real taste of SE Asia the next morning, when I forced him into a becak, a sort of rickshaw. As the driver struggled to push our rather heavy combined weight through heavy traffic, and Bilal tried not to watch the cars careening around us too closely, I laboured to find the local bird market on our makeshift map. Eventually, after asking directions from numerous friendly locals, we arrived at the market. Pet birds are quite popular in Indonesia and the Jogja market is a primary source
In the afternoon we joined a walking tour along the river that bisects the city. Our guide, a charming uni student who politely apologized when she had to take a quick break for evening prayers, led us through Jogja's poorer district. The houses here are badly damaged, quite regularly, by flooding from the river. In November the region had suffered an additional catastrophe when Merapi, the nearby volcano, erupted causing ash to rain for hundreds of kilometers around. Indonesians are never allowed to forget nature's capacity for destruction: tsunamis, flooding, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are the trade offs for the balmy weather and incredible fecundity of their beautiful islands.
The locals used the catastrophe to their best advantage by harvesting the black volcanic sand that now filled the river and selling it to contractors for use elsewhere in Java. Each fifteen kilo bag fetches a price of 2500 rupiah, about 30 cents
We decided to splash out for two nights at a beautiful local hotel. Normally I skimp on accomodation expense - I'm only using the room to sleep, after all, and basic guesthouses are quite adequate. Most starred hotels are mind numbingly generic and I've never understood people who travel long distances to purposely stay in a Marriott identical to the one a few kilometres from their homes.
But this place was well worth the $75/night
I could have spent the rest of the trip curled up in the hotel's exquisite library, working my way through the owner's eccentric book collection and sipping gin & tonics whilst fantasizing that I was in a Raffles-era colonial hotel. But I was lured away from my armchair by an extraordinary woman. Blue eyed, pale skinned Aziza introduced herself as Turkish in a perfect Queen's English accent. She clearly relished our looks of surprise and told her fascinating story to us.
She had been born in Turkey to English parents, but raised in England. She later returned to the East as a single young woman and procured a job in Saudi Arabia. One evening as she stood on her balcony in her abaya ("It was just easier and more comfortable to go native", she explained) three young men on horseback stopped below and called up to her in English
Aziza and Bilal spent an evening reminiscing about Lebanon and swapping tales of personally experienced civil war atrocities. Her husband had been born in Tripoli and they spent quite a bit of time in there even during the worst of the fighting. She struck me as the last of the tradition of intrepid British women, like my personal heroine Lesley Blanch, who were lured to the East by a desire to escape stifling conventions and to embrace oriental romanticism.
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