2008 Indonesia – Java

Once again I was on the road for a very, very special trip. This time Paul stayed home and I travelled with my father, two days after his 80th birthday, all the way to Indonesia. A fourWeek trip with the single purpose of spending some quality father and son time in a country we both love so much. Back to the roots, back to Java and Bali where it all began for me 21 years ago in 1986. Needles to say all ingredients for a fantastic trip were available, well, almost all of the ingredients since it would not be the same without Paul.

After a fantastic flight to Kuala Lumpur we encountered some ‘technical problems’ which ended up in a 5 hour delay. Oh joy… On arrival in Jakarta things however went very smooth. Our taxi was still waiting for us to bring us to GG House in Bogor, a fantastic place out of town with a view over the rice fields to die for. We were on the slopes of a beautiful valley overlooking a river and beautiful rice terraces. It was in one word amazing, a great place to start the trip and we were overly pleased to have skipped Jakarta, a multi million people city full of skyscrapers, smog and noise, all the things one can do without. No this was much better, it was quiet, had a great pool, the perfect place to relax after a long journey.

The next day, we were brought to Kebun Raya, the botanical gardens in Bogor. We had hardly walked a couple of hundred meters when it started to rain (and when I mean rain I really mean rain) so we had to look for shelter as quick as possible. After half an hour the skies cleared again and we could continue our walk through the gardens which were first established 200 year ago. We saw the Old Dutch governor’s house ‘buitenzorg’ which is now called Bogor Palace and which was surrounded by dears, a beautiful spot. The gardens themselves were fantastic place, very peaceful and from what we noticed, the perfect place for lovers (so where was Paul?). Beautiful lakes, bamboo, huge trees, really really nice and all perfectly taken care of.

The orchid house was one of the highlights not to be missed and I loved the big lotus flowers with leaves over a meter wide. We were also able to visit the ancient Dutch cemetery from 1800 onward which was totally renovated since Pa visited it last time when it was still covered by jungle. Just when we arrived back at the entrance it started raining again but the taxi was already waiting for us to bring us back to GG house where a cold beer was awaiting us. Dad was tired as we did quit some walking and climbing but he managed well during the day so the evening rest was well deserved.

The next day we travelled on by taxi over the Puncak pass where we visited Gunung Mas (golden mountain), a tea factory surrounded by sloping hills covered with tea plants. The views were terrific and we enjoyed them especially during lunch at a restaurant overlooking the slopes. What en experience! Behind the Puncak pass the area turned a bit ugly with poor, polluted and noisy towns, not a place to stay… Things became much better once in Bandung where we spent the next two nights. In the evening we ended up in an ultra modern shopping centre, we could not imagine a bigger contrast with the area we were before. We found a nice restaurant where we enjoyed true Nonya food which was very tasteful indeed. An early night was what we deserved but it was not a quiet one as the hotel room turned out to be quit noisy, oh well….

Another day, more adventures… we had arranged a taxi to a neighboring volcano, the Tangkuban Prahu, named after a turned over boat. Of course there was a long story behind this but I’ll tell about this another time. We were brought all the way to the main crater by taxi and had a superb view over it. From there however it was a long and steep way down to the still active crater on the slope of the volcano but fortunately there were plenty of locals around to assist dad. He could not have done it without them and it was a real challenge for an 80 year old man. He can be really proud of himself that he coped with this. Once in the crater itself we saw several small boiling water spots, lots of sulphur and smoke around so needless to say the smell was awful! In the crater the guys who helped dad turned out to be very skilful salesmen and we ended up with several items which were totally overpriced and we really did not want, oh well, one falls into this trap at least once during a trip like this and to be honest, as said before dad could not have done it without their caring help so I could not be bothered to much about the whole thing. Another long walk, back to the parking, more help from the guys and as I already expected it ended up with an argument with our guide about the payment. This time I was tough though as I negotiated the price and confirmed it twice before we left. As he spoke fluent Dutch I could not tell dad to move on and I regretted I could not speak dialect this once. Oh well, all the words from the guide did not help him much, in contrary as I paid exactly what was negotiated and did not leave some extra, which I normally would have done in case he would have acted normally and stuck to his word. His loss! 

When we returned in bandung we went to the anklung school of Pak Ujo where we witnessed a great performance of the local villagers, both young and old.

Back in the hotel I had a short swim and we went back to the shopping centre for a bite to eat and a very much deserved beer! Another early night as we had to wake up early to get to our next destination, my favorite city in Java!!!

5.00 AM, wakeup call, a quick breakfast and then by taxi to the railway station. On arrival in Bandung I had already bought two train tickets for the 7 hour journey to Yogyakarta in executive class.  That was a bit of a treat but with 11 Euro per person we thought we had deserved it. Nice chairs, great leg space, breakfast and lunch included and a cracked window, what else could we wish for. The scenery perhaps? That was absolutely breathtaking. Volcanoes in the background, sawa’s (rice fields) and small, sleepy towns passed by so the 7 hour trip turned out to be a real pleasant one.

In Yogyakarta we took a taxi to the hotel which was another pleasant surprise, a beautiful room next to an even nicer garden and a refreshing swimming pool. It is situated in a quiet neighborhood just a couple of streets away from the hustle and bustle from the touristy Jalan Prawirotaman, which faded away the last couple of years after a major earthquake.

We met with Yus and his sister Sri who in the next week and a half will bring us all the way to Ubud in Bali. They have been recommended to me by Bart, my ‘little’ brother and immediately when we met we knew we had made the right decision as they turned out to be really nice and friendly people. The Duta Garden Hotel was a tip from Yus so he couldn’t go wrong to start with. In the evening we decided to go to ‘Tante Lies’ an institute in Yogyakarta and a simple and simple but nice restaurant. Unfortunately we were just too late as the restaurant was (temporary) closed as Tante Lies, who must have been in her nineties, passed away last week. What a shame! We found another nice place to stay and after a good meal and a couple of arack attack (a lethal cocktail of rice wine and orange juice) for me (Dad wisely stuck to a beer) we went back to Duta Garden hotel for what turned out to be the best night of sleep since we arrived in Indonesia.

We had planned a day off for today but Yus and Sri advised us to reschedule our plans so we would visit the Kraton (the Sultans palace) on Sunday instead so we would be able to see traditional dance and music performances which only take place on Sundays. Another great tip again! So instead we visited the Borobudur and Prambanan temples. The Borobudur is an ancient and most important Buddhist temple, just north of Yogya.  We made the wise decision to take a guide over there.

The  sun was shining, it was  more than 35 degrees and I was goose bumpy all over while watching the carvings which told about every day life (the juicy carvings are now covered by stone to act as a support for the monument, coincidence or not…) but we thoroughly enjoyed the inscriptions telling about the Buddha’s life. The three top terraces contain the famous stupa’s and both daddy and I were able to touch the ‘lucky Buddha’s hand and did our wish. No, I am not going to tell you what my wish was but Paul, I think you will have a very good idea of what it is! The top level symbolizes Nirvana and contains a big stupa with an unfinished Buddha inside as the architect did not know how life looks like in Nirvana. Once again it was a major accomplishment for my dad to climb the steep stairs up to Nirvana and I only had to help him a couple of times, something he can be proud of! We spent over 2 1/2 hours at this fantastic monument and it was sad to go but there were more things scheduled for the day.

Instead of taking the main roads Yus choose an alternative route which was so much prettier! Rice fields, small villages, and we even got a glimpse of the Merapi, which was covered in clouds. Close to the Prambanan Yus brought us to another well secluded restaurant where we had lunch. After that it was time to visit the Prambanan, the most famous Hindhu Temple in Java. In 2006, when restoration was almost done, the area was hit by a big earthquake and Prambanan was hit heavily, destroying a lot of restoration work and making the complex to unstable to visit. Therefore we could only walk around it and were not able to enter the different temples. Still it was an impressive sight.

Back in the hotel we decided to get some rest and have a quiet evening. I had a refreshing swim but the real refreshment came of course from dua bir besar dingin. (two large cold beers). Tomorrow we’re heading off to the pasar (market place), Kota Gede (a small silver production town near Jogya) and to Parangtritis, the beach south of Yogya to see the locals relaxing and enjoying themselves ater a hard working week. We are already warned not to wear anything green as that will anger the queen of the see. The last time the sultan made the queen angry resulted in an earthquake and tsunami so we better listen to the advice.

Unfortunately the day after my father was suffering from ‘Java belly’ (Diharea) so the next day he stayed in the hotel to catch up with some sleep and recover a bit. Together with Yus and Sri I went to Kota Gede, a small silver village on the outskirts of Yogyakarta. It was interesting to see how the beautiful silverwork was produced but it was not really my style so I did not end up with a bag of unwanted souvenirs. From there on we went to the pasar (local market) where I was once again in the position to take my favorite pictures, people in their every day life. Fish, vegetables, spices and all kind of other daily products were sold in numerous stalls. The sight (and sometimes smell) were overwhelming but I did enjoy every minute of it.

The next visit was a small Chinese temple close to the pasar after which we went to Depok, a beach 20 kilometers south of Yogya. The surf was too big to swim but that was also not our intention. The main attraction was the fact that this was a popular place for the people from Yogya to relax in the weekend. Local fishermen brought their freshly caught fish to the beach where it was immediately sold to the locals, how fresh can you get….  We bought a kilo of king prawns and some fish after which we went to a restaurant on the beachside who prepared it for us. The taste was fantastic and the atmosphere to die for.

After this fantastic lunch we went back to the hotel to see how my father was doing, fortunately he was recovering quickly and we decided to go and see the Ramayana ballet in the evening. This spectacular dance performance tells about a love story between a prince and a princess, an evil king tries to drift them apart from each other but I guess you will have a very good idea about the outcome of this epic. Normally the performance lasts about 7-8 hours but for impatient tourists it has been brought back to 2 hours, long enough to enjoy and not be bored.

The next day we had a free day so after breakfast both my father and I took a becak (bicycle taxi) to the sultan palace (kraton) where a former sultans guard showed us around. He still spoke fluent Dutch and was full of jokes. He was just a couple of months younger as my father and still a very fit man. As it was Sunday we were lucky enough to see the weekly dance performance and gamalan (gong) playing. It was really nice indeed.

The next logical step was a visit to the water palace where in previous times the sultan’s harem was bathing and from a small tower overlooking the pool the sultan selected his ‘pick for the night’. Now there’s not a lot going on any more and it is like a museum of times passed by but I’m sure the currant sultan wouldn’t mind reviving old times. Close by was the bird market where thousands of birds were kept and tested by potential buyers on their colors and singing skills. It was a noisy and cramped little market but both of us were pleased we had made the effort to visit this special place. Our last stop before heading back was Jalan Malioboro, THE shopping street of Yogyakarta. It was crowded with mopeds and numerous people were strolling past even more numerous stalls. We ended up at Legian garden restaurant, overlooking Jalan Malioboro. The first time I visited Yogya we also ended up at this place but now, 21 years later it was all faded grandeur and so was the food… Back in the hotel the pool was waiting for us and together with a (ok, it were a couple) beers we enjoyed the rest of an interesting day in Jogya.

The day later it was time to leave again and Yus and Sri picked us up to start our journey towards east Java and Bali. Our first stop was Solo, also known as Surakarta, where we visited the Kraton and the antik market. Unlike the kraton in Jogya the kraton in Solo is no longer actively in use (besides a small part not accessible for the public) and now houses an interesting museum with all kind of artifacts, knifes, presents for VIP’s , dance costumes, and of course most interestingly purity trousers for both men and women. The male one seemed a bit small to me and a painful experience indeed. Good there is trust nowadays and I do not need to wear one while travelling and keep the key with Paul. After Solo we crossed the border with Jawah Timor and passed trough mainly agricultural landscape with impressive volcanoes, padded rice fields and small villages.

We visited Candi Sukuh, an erotic temple, high in the mountains but the carvings were relatively tame and taught us nothing we did not already know…

The last part of the trip was particularly impressive as we now passed small steep roads while surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. It was pure magic. We spent the night in Sarrangan in a hotel overlooking a small lake. Clouds already climbed up the mountains so we could not see a lot but that was taken care off the next morning where we first got a glimpse of the spectacular surroundings.

There was a long trip ahead of us but slowly and surely we came close to Malang, the destination for the day. There were some spectacular sights of the Arjuna a volcano close to Malang before we started our descend into the Valley. Malang has changed a lot and grew 10 times it size the last time we were there about 20 years ago. For memory purposes we checked in at Pelangi, an old colonial hotel, which in spite of recent changes, is still a bit faded. The good news is that it is in the heart of town next to Alun Alun, a famous square. An aunt of mine had given us some parcels and letters for friends of her who live in Malang so our first task was to visit an 80 and 87 year old woman two deliver the letters. Although we did not know them (my father had visited one of them 20 years ago but she had forgotten) personally we received a heart warming welcome and were told off by one staying in a hotel and not with her. In the evening we visited another colonial place, toko oen, most likely the most famous restaurant in Malang. Here we could finely have a beer as it was not being served in the hotel. Apparently this was not allowed with the biggest mosque in Malang in the neighborhood. (I feared this a bit but surprisingly I was not woken up by the morning prayers and thoroughly enjoyed my deserved sleep).

On our last day in Malang we visited 2 ancient temples in the neighborhood of Malang. Once again we drove past beautiful agricultural areas and witnessed people working in the rice and sugarcane fields. After this visit my father went for a rest and I went on with Yus and Sri to an old colonial part of town. After that we returned to toko oen for lunch and… a nice cold beer.

But it was time to leave Malang and the next morning after breakfast we were on the road to Mount Bromo. En Route we visited some more temples in Singosari which were quite nice (by now we have been really spoilt with temple architecture) and passed Lawang, where my father was located from 48-51. We saw some old colonial houses over there which surprisingly were still intact.

From there we continued the way to Gunung Bromo and I can only say the last part of the trip was absolutely spectacular. Steep hills covered with agriculture, amazing how even these parts can be built on for agricultural purposes. The one and only road leading to Mt. Bromo was blocked by a trailer which was used to recover a truck which fell of the side of the narrow road. This caused an hour delay but it was not boring at all. The whole village had gathered to assist or look what was going on.

After a two our delay we could continue our trip to the Bromo and the view was absolutely worth it. It was 21 years ago since I visited the place and it was as spectacular as ever. The sand sea, both volcano’s in it’s centre, one still intact and one collapsed, constantly spitting white clouds of smelly sulphur. Wow. The Semaru volcano was further away and with the precision of a Swiss watch spitting its poisonous clouds. What a place to be… After dinner I went to bed, it was only 8.00 but I had to rise again at 3.15 in order to witness sunrise over Bromo. My father had decided to have a little sleep in as the nightly adventure would be to exhausting for him.

3.15 next morning, I woke up before the wakeup call and descended by jeep into the sand see. As mist was covering the whole sea I could not see where we were going but after a while I felt we were going up again and slowly making our way to viewpoint. It was cold as on a good European winter night (is there anything as that?) but fortunately I was warmly dressed and bought a new woolly hat the night before. At viewpoint the overview of the sand sea, Gunung Bromo and it’s still intact twin mountain were breathtaking. Still an hour to go for sunrise and slowly my fingers became so cold I could hardly operate the camera. But it was worth any minute of suffering and sunrise was spectacular! What a sight! |Once the sun was warming me up again I took the jeep again into the sand sea which was at that moment still covered in fog. 6.00 in the morning, time to do some serious horse riding towards the foot of the Bromo from where a 299 step staircase led to the edge of the crater. By the time I reached the top I had wished several times I had given up smoking kretek 😉 But, fortunately I recovered quickly and walked all over the top of the crater to a point from where I could see mt. Semaru again. Slowly the sea of fog under me was dissolving in the warmth of the morning sunrays, a fabulous experience to witness.

Once back at the ‘hotel’ (oh my god was this basic, so basic my father and I did not take the effort to take a shower while we were afraid to become more dirty) I met my father again who was enjoying the morning warmth and the fabulous view. We packed, had a simple but nice breakfast (fried rice with egg) and once again were on the road to our final destination in Java. I must admit I have not seen a lot from this trip as most of the time I was happily snoring away while the kilometers passed away under my feet. Fortunately I was awake when we were descending from the mountains into the plain where Kalibaru is located. Kalibaru is a small village, surrounded by plantations, and that was also the location of the beautiful resort where we would spend the last two nights. A fantastic place, an even more beautiful garden and little cottages in colonial style to spent the night. The best thing however was a gigantic swimming pool to relax at and cool down from the heat which was really noticeable today. Dinner was superb and as the bed was so inviting we went to sleep at 8.00, still not totally recovered from the Bromo experience…

Having had a good night of sleep we woke up at 6.45 this morning and 15 minutes later I was in the pool for a pre breakfast swim. How relaxing. We had decided for a lazy day and after a short excursion to the neighboring farm we moved to the pool for some more sun. A perfect lazy afternoon in idyllic surroundings, as said we could not have wished for a better place to end our Java adventure. As there’s plenty of noise coming from the neighboring mosques (yes, even a small town like Kalibaru has plenty of them) we used that as an excuse to order a nice cold beer..

Two weeks into our holiday, time to leave Java and go to Bali. The ride to the harbor, which took us 1 1/2 hour, was trough a spectacular landscape. Fabulous rice fields and in the backdrop steep volcanoes which seemed to over watch the lower lying areas. Superb! Once in the harbor we were allowed to drive straight on to the ferry which brought us in 35 minutes to Bali, the island of the Gods. Seeing the silhouette becoming clearer and clearer made me feel week once again, in spite of the fact that this would be the 10th visit to Bali (or maybe that was the reason) I felt very emotional and happy once again, it was like coming home.

Continue the journey in Bali

Note: the pictures on this page are unedited RAW material, Due to a system crash I lost all edited work for this trip. Time permitting I will rework those pictures and present them in the brilliance they deserve, due to emotional value of this journey I decided to temporary publish the unedited material.