Java

Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Sunday, May 29, 2005

Java

The first thing you notice about Java is the noise. People talk loudly, play music loudly, sing loudly and this is normal. Lonely Planet quotes "A great place if you are deaf but don't worry if you're not because you soon will be". If you do not like noise, buy a set of earplugs as you are going to need them!

The second thing are the hawkers - literally thousands of them ready to sell you beads, batiks, "becak" rides, bus tickets, tours - you name it they will try to get it for you. However... You also have to quickly get with the currency. Everything must be bartered for and the equation in Bandung, certainly, seems to be their price, divide by 5, add 10-20% & you will maybe have a fair price.

We learnt the hard way after being fleeced at a volcano outside Bandung by a necklace seller. Still lucky hawker, with so few tourists in Java at the moment. A few days later the Ying-yang balance was redressed when we bartered successfully for 4 beautiful batiks at a brilliant price!

The third thing we noticed was the lack of tourists. Fear of terrorism, exaggerated by western governments, means that we barely saw any other travellers. This is a shame!

Java, had seemed to be a difficult country to travel through but as we were going straight south via Bandung to Yogyakarta we took the "Parahangayan" train south just 1 hour after landing in Jakarta.

We took a local bus to Jakarta train station & quickly learnt that Indonesians bus loading is a scrum, everyone fighting for a space and no space means waiting another 30 mins in the heat. Phil held both our North Face bags like over-sized boxing gloves & virtually kick-boxed his way on board. No-one seemed to mind 98 kgs of western man & 36 Kgs of baggage being shoved in their rib cages, kidneys & faces as they were all at it ! (NB: Don't try this in London!)

The train journey whizzed by in the air-conditioned luxury of "Executif" class. Trains here in Java have huge leg room in line with airlines Business class & recline almost flat - a fantastic bonus for us, as we were pretty tired.

Java is a stunning country - lush, fertile, mountainous & unbelievably beautiful particularly in the interior. The best way to see it is by train, as it cuts through the countryside and you can open the door and watch it rush by. The train wound its way ever uphill across vertiginous 220 degree wooden bridges spanning steep mountain gorges. Valleys & hillsides sparkled in emerald green with picture perfect rice terraces dotted with cone hatted workers bent-over in knee-deep water as they tended their crops. Java like many of the islands across Indonesia is strung with volcanoes which accounts for the fertile soil which makes everything grow so well.

Arriving in Bandung we were struck by the cooler air. We went into a cafe to decide our plan for Java and hide from the 100's of hawkers, it was a typical Indonesian café: TV turned up so loud you had to shout at each other, but great coffee. We decided to stay 2 nights in Bandung before making the long train journey to Yogyakarta so we could see this "art deco" city & its surrounds.

Certainly the city still has art-deco buildings, pavements & signs but all are a little faded. This is possibly due to the massive and inexplicable volume of traffic that thunders around the complicated one-way system 24 hours a day.

The hotel we stayed in - the Savoy Homann - is an art- deco icon & actually is still pretty spectacular- particularly when you see it at night in the internal courtyard & from outside.

Java brought us some real cultural discrepancies. In Bandung, we went to our favourite bar & restaurant - ''Roempot" & saw a fantastic student band (Bandung is a major student city). The band had 11 (!) members weaving very bright clothes & full of energy as they ran through a 2- hour set of Beyonce, Blue, Guns & Roses versions etc.

They were really good actually but Phil claims it had nothing to do with the extremely short skirts & shorts that the (very pretty) girls were wearing. Dee was asked to dance & did so sat down again quite fast. She felt far too frumpy in her clothes designed not to offend the predominantly Muslim population, ("should I have worried?" She asks).

In Yogyakarta on a moonlit night we watched the famous Ramayana Ballet at the famous Hindu temple, Prambanan near Yogyakarta. It is a beautiful traditional dance set to Gamelan music with dancers telling the story of Rama & Sita and the adversities they go through to finally be together. The setting, with a full moon behind the 3 main towers of Prambanan, was truly a spectacular & memorable sight.

The original version was 4 days long, ours was only 2 hours. The 30 second version is: prince wins beautiful princess in competition. on the way home princess gets kidnapped by evil prince. While searching for her good prince meets a monkey, whose uncle has a problem. Prince does a favour for monkeys uncle (I think there is a proverb here), so the monkey returns the favour by finding evil prince's city. The prince and a whole monkey army then burn down the city, kill the bad guys and get the girl. In a strange twist the prince then decides that he doesn't want her because she may no longer be 'pure'. She throws herself on a fire, but being pure she survives, so they live happily ever after. We think there is a style Hollywood sequel - "But as everyone knows a woman who can survive being burnt alive is a witch ....." but if the original was 4 days long nobody ever got round to making it.

Our next night was less cultural, it was spent drinking gallons of Bintang beer with a Dutch couple called Ilsa & Floris at a local Aids concert in the street. We also introduced the electrocution game to fellow bar- goers. This was probably not the smartest plan as 4 hours later & nursing monster hangovers - we boarded our decrepit minibus for an all day temple tour to Borobodur & Prambanan.

Borobodur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, certainly is spectacular. It is constructed in tiers, each with carvings instructing followers on how to reach Nirvana, the top tier. We missed the promised sunrise but instead ascended the tiers of desire, mastering desire, & Nirvana. Its setting, surrounded by lush jungles shrouded in mist was stunning. We walked around Nirvana for a while but felt more comfortable on the sin & struggle levels where we could also find shade from the scorching sun whilst trying to understand the carvings and nurse hangovers. Clearly we aren't ready for Nirvana yet.

Sadly, Borobodur although impressive, has not been helped by poor Dutch attempts to make it look pretty. After finding this temple, buried for 900 years under a mound of volcanic ash they painted the carvings on the 1st 4 levels a yellow so that it looked good in photos. Unfortunately, the paint is slowly eating away the stone & no one knows how to repair the damage.

Leaving both temples proved tricky as the locals have constructed batik & souvenir labyrinths to catch gullible tourists. One set even constructed a false exit, after 10 minutes of sales pitches, hawkers and following the exit signs we were released back inside the compound and found the true exit another 10 minutes further on. It could have been a religious warning, a brief glimpse of hell for those who don't follow the true path. Phil got very scared at the idea of hell being full of retailers!

Java is definitely a place we will come back to. The food, people and atmosphere is great. But we are short of time as we have people to meet in Bali.
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