2013 Indonesia – Java

When shorty after 9 in the morning our doorbell rang and our friend Hellen was there we knew this was the beginning of yet another adventure. Hellen brought us to the railway station in Sittard where we sad our goodbyes and took the train to Schiphol, Amsterdam international airport. Once there we met with my Brother Bart and his wife Yolanda, checked in and headed straight to the Holland bar to share a bottle of bubbles to celebrate our adventure.

Our first flight today was with an Emirates airbus 380 to Dubai and what an experience that was!!! Enough leg space, beautiful interior and splendid service. Most of all we were impressed by the lack of engine noise, it almost seemed we were flying in a hybrid. Our next flight to Jakarta compared pale to this but we managed to doze away a couple of times.

Finally we arrived in Jakarta where we were picked up by a driver from our hotel. Jakarta had changed tremendously with lots of new skyscrapers build besides the ‘jalan tol’. We did not feel sorry not to visit Jakarta this time. The traffic was horrendous.

Almost 30 hours after we left home we were welcomed by Yus and Sri in ggHouse Happy Valley, it was fantastic to see the both of them again and we had many stories to share.

A refreshing shower, our first Javanese dinner and our eyes became heavy again. It had been a tiring day but once again we made it. Selemat datang di Indonesia!! Night night…

Not surprisingly we slept well that night but still felt a bit tired that morning. It’ll take a couple of day to get over our jet-lag. After breakfast we went to Kebun Raya, the famous botanical gardens in Bogor.

Bart, Yolanda and myself had already been to this place on more than one occasion but it was nice to share this with Paul, especially with him being such a garden lover.  It was nearly the end of the school term and many schoolchildren celebrated this with a visit to the gardens. A great picture opportunity… We were enthusiastically greeted by he youngsters and this created a great atmosphere. Paul was enjoying the landscape and whilst Sri explained many of the plants and their uses we joked our way around.

We could get a glimpse of Buitenzorg, the former residency of the Dutch governor and of course we had to visit the old Dutch cemetery with graves from the 19th century. Of course we could not miss the orchid house where plenty of orchid sorts were on display. Also we visited an area planted with medicinal plants.

I’m sure if Paul would have been by himself he would have spent much longer over here but after a couple of hours we returned to ggHouse for lunch. After that we moved to the pool for a refreshing swim and a nap on the sun beds. Originally we had planned a visit to the neighboring kampung (village) and rice fields but we did not make it that far and relaxed late afternoon at our terrace enjoying the stunning view. It was a good way to start our holiday.

In the evening we enjoyed a nice dinner with Yus and Sri but did not make it late, we were not yet used to the new timezone. Time to go to sleep… And a terrible night of sleep it was, both of us woke up several times and by the time we got out of bed we felt more tired than before. Oh well, we’ll get used to Indonesian time soon I hope.

Just after 7 we headed to the restaurant for breakfast Indonesian style. Fried rice and fresh fruits. After that it was time to hit the road gain. Like us and Sri had already told us the traffic was horrendous. So it took us longer than normal but we finally made it to the viewpoint over the Puncak Pass. From here we had a good view over the tea plantations, something we were not able to on the way up as our view was obstructed by the many food and fruit stalls beside the road. We made a small walk through the tea plantations and watched the planters do their work, harvesting the fresh leaves.

Once across the pass the view became a bit depressive as the whole area was polluted by the exhaust of the local marble and cement factories. Complete parts of hills had already been excavated and the sight reminded me of some scenes in Lord Of The Rings. Even the plants were covered in a dirty layer of grey ash, not the prettiest of sights but part of reality.

Fortunately we soon passed this unattractive area and soon we were surrounded by sights of Indonesia we love so much. So much better sights !!

Yus and Sri had a surprise in mind for our lunch which we had at Pak Esap Stroberi restaurant. From the outside it did not look a lot at all but once inside things changed. On a hillside there were plenty of pagodas placed with a breathtaking view over the surrounding rice fields. It was absolutely stunning!

We were allowed to have a sneak view of the kitchen and the staff had some fun with us being so tall and having to duck through the doors.

Yus and Sri ordered Sundanese specialities for us and their choice totally overwhelmed us. Special rice, fish, vegetables and much more to note here. All Sundanese specialities, you should have heard our hmm’s ,wow’s and lekker…. Not surprisingly all plates were cleared. A lunch to remember for a long time.

After lunch Paul and I wanted to have our picture made in the middle of the rice fields but neither of us got out with clean feet as we slipped of the small dam straight into the muddy soil.

A couple of hours later driving through spectacular scenery we arrived in Garut, a spa holiday resort. All the hotels were supplied with sulphur rich water from the hot springs in the area. Our bungalows were located in front of one of the many ponds of the resort, a very romantic setting. It was pampering time and Yolanda got spoiled with a traditional massage. Bart and I opted for a hot stone massage and Paul could not be separated from his book. A wonderful and relaxing afternoon, followed by a swim in the hot pool. How good can it get….

Next morning we let for our next destination, Pangandaran. Once again we loved the scenery but Yus and Sri made sure there was a great break during our trip. Naga Village, one of Java’s few remaining villages where the people still lived in a traditional way.

The village was named after the meandering steps leading down to the valley where Naga village , also known as Dragon village, was located. We had to go down 498 steps down before we go there. At the riverside local guys were collecting stones which were used as building material, it was great to see.

A local guide guided us through the village and told us about the habits of the people, a very interesting tour. We were invited to his house where we could experience the way the lived. We were really surprised by the size of the house and the way it was decorated. It was all very basic but certainly comfortable.

Next we went to the central square where the village hall and mosque were located. People were preparing for a funeral as somebody died recently. Lots of food was being prepared for the ceremony and for us it was great opportunity to witness that.

We returned to the river where the guys were still working on the stones and a group of girls were having a washing session, after that there were still the 498 steps to conquer, this time on the way up…

There was a lot to be seen whilst on our way to our next destination as Yus and Sri made sure they took the most interesting route, even for those who have visited Java there was plenty of new sights to be explored. One of those when we crossed the Cirahong bridge on foot, a spectacular experience.

After that we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the bridge. Lunch was terrific and timed perfectly as the heavens opened whilst we were eating. As unexpected as it started it stopped, just in time for us to hit the road again.

Three hours later we arrived in Pangandaran and it was nothing like the hippyesque place it used to be when I visited it in 1987, now 26 years ago. Of course Panagandaran had suffered greatly from the Tsunami in 2006 when more than 600 people were killed in a devastating wall of water that flattened everything in it’s way.

Pangandaran has recovered well from that disaster but a lot had changed. Yes the small losmens were still there but it was a lot busier and a lot of new big hotels had been built or rebuilt. We stayed in the Nyiur Resort Hotel, one of the newer places in Pangadaran which offered all the amenities one could wish for (inclusive a hot shower which did not work).

We were introduced to the mother from Yus and Sri, a very energetic and friendly woman. She would join us the next day on our tour in the area. As it was raining again we opted out for the easy way and had dinner across the road. After that it as time to go to sleep after, once again an exiting day.

Next morning the sun was shining again and after a full Indonesian style breakfast we headed to our first destination, a small village where Gula Jawa, Java palm sugar, and Wayang Golek puppets were produced. First we were shown the way the sugar was produced, a long process.

After that we took a short stroll through the village heading towards the place where the wayang golek puppets were created. We were lucky as the guy who hand makes those puppets was around to explain us the process. He hand cuts the face, body and arms after which they are painted. His wife sews the dress and decorations. Not only did our guy make the puppets, he was also an enthusiastic dalang, puppet player, and was more than happy to show his skills and explain something of the characters. It was a wonderful demonstration. Bart and Yolanda ended up buying to puppets but as we already owned to antique ones we left empty handed.

Next stop was the green canyon, yet another place that was new for me. The road over there was in a terrible state, potholes everywhere, and therefore the 20 kilometres took us over an hour and a half.

Once arrived at the jetty we boarded a narrow boat and headed upstream. Once again the scenery was breathtaking, very lush and green. When we approached the canyon the sides closed in on us with waterfalls all around A sight that totally stunned us. We went as far to a rapid where we could not go any further. Of course we could not resist climbing on some rocks and Bart and I decided to swim back partly. As a safety measure we had to wear life vests but that did not spoil the fun at all.

After boarding our boat again we headed back to the jetty and than it was time again to face that terrible road again…

Fortunately not to long as our next stop was …. beach. We went directly to the warung of Yus’s aunt where we enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch. After that the other three went off to swim and work on their tans while I went for a walk to make some pictures. There was a surf competition going on and it was great to see the youngsters demonstrate their surfing skills. We ended of with a drink at the warung after which we rerurned to Pangandaran.

Back at the hotel we refreshed and then we were ready for the evening. I did not feel hungry so stayed behind to work on the travel blog and from the food review when Paul, Bart an Yolanda returned I had not missed much.

Apparently there had been a 1 minute long 6.7 magnitude earthquake just before midnight but being vast asleep I had not noticed it. The locals however went out on the street, not strange after the devastating tsunami a couple of years ago. Fortunately no damage was done and no one got hurt.

Next morning Yolanda did not feel well so we postponed our departure with an hour so she could recover a bit. Next destination was Wonosobo and in order to get there we used two types of transport. Yus brought us to Kalipacung where he had chartered a boat for us that brought us over the scenic backwaters to Cilicap. Sri joined us on the trip, as well as a local old man who was waiting for the opportunity to get a lift to his village somewhere halfway the three hour trip. The scenery was breathtaking. We passed small village and everywhere the locals friendly waved us when we sailed by. Three hours might seem long in a car on a crooked road but from the boat it was a gentle and comfortable ride.

By the time we arrived in Cilacap Yus was already waiting for us and we could continue the road towards Wonosobo. After a while we started to go uphill and a fantastic hilly landscape presented itself to our eyes. Rice fields and small villages surrounded us and in spite of the bumpy road we were really enjoying ourselves.

Late afternoon we arrived in Wonosobo and all four of us could not believe our eyes when we arrived at hoel Kresna, a large beautiful hotel in colonial style. The reception area and bar were full off antique decorations and in the corner there was a set of gamelan instruments where an orchestra played later that evening. A truly majestic atmosphere.

We had dinner at a local restaurant and spent the rest of the evening at the bar of the hotel. It had been along day of traveling but an interesting one.

Next morning we headed towards the Dieng Plateau. The trip was truly breathtaking and soon we started to ascend towards the plateau. We stopped at a viewpoint from where we had an excellent view of two volcanos, Sindoro & Merbabu,  which dominated the skyline and we loved their typical cone shapes. What can I say, Java keeps amazing us.

Not much later we arrived at our first destination of the day, a multi colored lake, but before we got there we had to do a small hike through some villages and rice fields. Narrow slippery paths meandered uphill and only Paul managed to keep himself clean. Sri, Yolanda, Bart and myself slipped but that did not tamper the fun. The lake, almost unnaturally colored by sulphur,  looked amazing with the Sindoro vulcano in the background, the scenery was of an unearthly beauty. In one word, breathtaking.

Our next stop was the Sikadang crater. Boiling ponds and large steam clouds saturated the air with a penetrating odor of sulphur. Imagine rotten eggs and you know what I am talking about…

Last place for us to visit was the temple complex at the Dieng plateau. These are the oldest temples to be found in Java and are built in the 7th century. In spite of being a relatively small complex it was definitely interesting. We were the only foreigners around but quite some local tourists who were entertained by Ramayana dancers and Teletubbies. Welcome to Indonesia where old meets new…    

After lunch it was time to head on for a three and a half hour trip to Yogyakarta. We passed the Borobodur by just a kilometer but because lack of time we postponed our visit till the next day. Very impressive was the moment where we passed an area where we could still see the impact of the outburst of Gunung Merapi in 2010.

Once in Yogya we checked in at Duta Garden hotel, the same place I stayed 5 years ago with my father. Things change and sometimes definitely for the better… Opposite the road a new, luxury annex, had been build since my last visit and Yus and Sri had arranged a free upgrade to there. The style was similar but all was more spacious and the beautiful bungalows ad been decorated in colonial style. We loved it!

There was still time for a refreshing jump in the pool and then we changed for what turned out to be an amazing event! Yus and Sri had booked 1st row VIP seats to the Ramayana ballet with the Prambanan temple in the background. The venue was stunning and so was the performance. Although I have witnessed the Ramayana ballet on several occasions I never had seen a big production with special effects like this in a location that truly gave me goosebumps. Over 250 people worked on a performance never to forget!

Back at the hotel we directly went to bed as an early rise was waiting for us…

Next morning 5:00 Yus picked us up and brought us to the Borobodur. It was a magical moment as the surroundings were still covered in layers of mist. Beautiful and a totally different experience than I had enjoyed before. In spite of the early time of day there were already plenty of locals around. Still I managed to make my pictures without any of them on. That changed around 9:00 when a tsunami of schoolchildren flooded the compounds, the magic was gone and I could not believe how the atmosphere changed.

As I did not see the others anymore I returned to the car, only to find out they were not there. Paul, Bart and Yolanda were having their own magic moment. They found a quiet place at the foot of the Borobodur where they waited for me. Not much later they were interviewed by some schoolchildren and pretty soon things got out of hand when they were surrounded by hundreds of them, all eager to be on a photo with them, like real celebrities. That was when they gave up and returned to the car as well.

Back at the hotel we had some time to swim and relax after which Yus picked us up. First stop was a short visit at the Kraton, the Sultan’s Palace. Our guide who was assigned to us spoke a very hard to understand Dutch and repeated herself numerous tiems. This was enough for us to bring us in a state of mind that we wanted to laugh all the time. “Mijne dame en heren, mag ik uw aandacht…..”.

After our hilarious visit to the Kraton we met Yus again, still laughing in the car we went to Sri’s parental home for a very special celebration. There was a newborn girl in the family which was celebrated with a welcoming ceremony called Aqiqah. As by the time of Sri’s birth it was not possible for her parents to do this it was a double ceremony for both Sri and the newborn girl. Two goats were offered for the occasion but this was done the day before when all friends and local villagers were invited. A big group of women had been cooking for several days to prepare for this big event. We were invited on the family day which made us feel very special. Men and women gathered together and someone gave a speech with lectures of everyday life.

We were invited into the kitchen where we were treated an a truly festive meal. Neither of us can remember to have enjoyed such a tasteful and magical Indonesian meal, It was fantastic so all of us have eaten more than we really wanted to but how could we resist… Thanks a lot Sri and your family for such a wonderful experience!

Shortly after our meal we left to give the family time by themselves, it does not happen often that the whole family is together and we did not want to intrude in that.

A lazy afternoon, swimming, relaxing and reviving memories from the lat couple of days. This trip really is like a fairytale and it is great to share the passion. In the evening we went to a local restaurant and al four of us felt the same, after his afternoon all Indonesian food would be a disappointment so we opted for a western dish, the very first time during this holiday.

Next morning we had  bit of a sleep in as Yus and Sri did not pick us up until 8:00. Our first visit for today was the Prambanan Java’s biggest Hindhu temple complex. With renovation a lost finished in 2006 disaster struck. A large earthquake hit Yogyakarta, destroying a couple of years work on the Prambanan. When I visited it in 2008 with my father we were only allowed to walk around it but this time renovation, although not finished yet, had progressed enough so we could enter the temples.

The last time I had this opportunity was during my maiden voyage to Indonesia in 1987 and I was happy to enjoy the splendid architecture and carving once more. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and we were even able to enter the main temple, however we were obliged to wear safety helmets for that visit.

Outside the main temple complex renovation was still going on, an ongoing project one can only hope won’t be disturbed again once more by another disaster.

After a cultural start it was time for some fun so we headed towards Wonosari for some tubing on a river. After we changed into swimming gear we were loaded in a truck to bring us to the launch spot upstream. A short walk later we got onto our tubes and the fun started. There were a few rapids but nothing to rough. It was a lot of fun an somewhere halfway we had the opportunity to jump of a waterfall. Bart and I even went a second time for a duo jump.

After our lunch break I wanted to make some pictures  locals working in the rice fields who invited me for a second lunch but I had had more than enough.

Our second tubing adventure lead us to a cave full off stalactites, stalagmites and… bats. The middle part was totally dark but as we were told to hold on each others tubes no-one got lost. The fun was over sooner than we wanted but it was a great afternoon!

When Yus and Sri dropped us at Duta Garden Hotel another surprise awaited us. Yus invited us for an evening out with his family, we are really getting spoiled.

We still had some time to swim and get smart after which we were picked up by a driver who brought us to Parsleys, one of Yus’s children favorite restaurants. We met his wonderful wife and three lovely children and enjoyed a truly nice evening. It seems this trip is just a collection of memorable events. Thanks Yus for the invite and a lovely evening!

Back in the hotel we shared another drink after which it was bedtime again. After a good night sleep it was time to head on once more.

This day we did not have to go far as our next destination, Solo, was only 60 kilometers further east. It still took us 2 hours as the road from Yogya to Solo is notoriously busy.

In the centre of Solo we were introduced to our local guide, 4 bicycles and Caping’s, the typical Indonesian bamboo heads used whilst working in the rice fields. We headed of under great interest of the local people. Big smiles and hello’s followed us wherever we went. We left the centre of Solo and crossed the river on a small bamboo boat.

At the other side of the river we entered a new district, a congregation of villages, each with their own homemade products.

First we stopped at a place where rice-crackers were made in the traditional labour intensive way. Women were cutting the pre pressed rice crackers and men ordered them on a wooden structure to dry two days in the sun. Finally they were fried before they were ready for consumption.

It was extremely warm that day and cycling late morning didn’t help either. Soon all four of us were bathing in our own sweat and dripping wet we arrived at the next home industry where Tempe was made. Like everywhere a warm welcome awaited us. An old lady was carefully wrapping parcels in banana leaves whilst the rest of the family was watching what we were doing.

Our arrival arrival at the next home industry where they made the gamelan gongs coincided with their lunch break so we cycled on to a location where pharmaceutical alcohol was made from sugarcane. All strictly of course for pharmaceutical purposes only, the good news however was that in order to reach the required percentage of 80% a sequence of distillations had to be done, after the first distillation only 30% of alcohol was achieved. This brew, after filtering however was usable for human consumption and it does not come as a surprise not all of the product made it to the next step…

A short bike ride later we were back at the gamalan factory and it was extremely interesting how the big gongs were being hand made by a group of 7 or 8 man. Time after time it was thrown in the fire, hammered and heated up again. A very time consuming process and once this pat was completed the gong had to be hand tuned by a skillful master. He listened to each vibration and marked those spots which still required his attention.

The gamalan factory was the last visit of our trip but still one surprise was awaiting us as Ajip, our guide told us that lunch would be served at his home in a small dessa (village), Sri and Ajip’s wife had been cooking for us and the result was something to be proud of, a truly tasteful Indonesian home-cooked meal. As usual there was to much food and we felt ashamed to leave so much behind as it tasted absolutely fantastic!

After lunch we said goodbye to Ajip and his wife and headed on to Rumah Batu, our hotel for the night. It was a place Yus and Sri tarted to use recently and it was decorated in a very tasteful way. First al 4 of us had a dip in the pool after which Bart and myself went to the Spa for a relaxing massage. This time we opted for a herbal massage where besides a  traditional massage a pomander filled with herbs and heated in a steamer was used for the massage. They were quite hot but it felt very good.

Totally relaxed we returned to our rooms where Paul and Yolanda were happily chatting away. I went to the front lobby of the hotel to work on my diary for an hour or so after which we all rejoined for dinner.

After dinner there was still some more work to be done as I was not completely up to date. Yet another day gone, time certainly flies when you are enjoying yourself.

Next day we had a real slow start as breakfast service was rather slow. We left he hotel at 9:00 and not much later we left the congested roads of Solo, going uphill towards the Sukuh temple. The views were absolutely breathtaking. As we were already told the day before Ajip was already waiting for us at the Sukuh temple and he had loads of interesting stories to tell about this unique ‘erotic’ temple in West Java. Of course some of the carvings caught some giggles although I must admit they were rather tame compared to what we have seen in Kajuraho, India.

The next attraction on our fully loaded itinerary was a soft trek through the hilly countryside. Spectacular views, beautiful flowers and a big variety of crops pleased our eyes. As we were rather late most of the workers already were enjoying their late morning break but I was still lucky enough to catch some people with my camera. As promised it was a soft trek and in spite of the heat no one of us had problems completing it.

Our trek ended nearby a waterfall where we had some tea and said goodbye to Ajip. We still had a 5 to 6 hour trip to Malang ahead of us so we had to leave. About an hour later we lunched at a warung aside the road and after that all of us settled comfortably in our minibus whilst Yus drove us to Malang.

Around 8:00 we stopped for dinner when Yus told us there were issues with the brakes and he had decided to leave the car behind for repair. A solution had already been arranged as some friends were on there way with a new car. They arrived within the hour so we transferred the luggage and we were on our way again. It was midnight when we arrived at our hotel in Malang where Paul and I were lucky enough to get assigned to a suite. Shame we could not enjoy it that long as we would only stay for one night.

In the morning we shorlt visited the townhall after which we went to Pasar Burling, a local market where besides plants a lot of bird and fish were sold. It was a very colorful place although one could question the animals were kept in.

Of course we could not leave Malang without visiting Toko Oen. I just had to show this place where pa spent so much of his leisure time whilst being stationed in Malang to the others. It’s most certainly a place where time stood still.

After we left Malang we drove about an hour or so before we arrived at a small village where change of transport was due. The traditional way to Bromo was over Probolingo, an easy accessible route which could be achieved by our minibus. Yus and Sri however had arranged something more adventures and spectacular for our journey to the Bromo.

An open jeep was waiting for us and after we said goodbye to Yus, who had our luggage, was taking the traditional route, the fun started. Standing in the back of the jeep we were the centre of attention everywhere where we passed. So many smiles, so many waves, in one word fantastic. And then we left the villages and started our climb onto the slopes leading to the Bromo. The landscape was in one word amazing, even the steepest slopes were utilized for agriculture and we wondered how on earth the people were able to to their job. They certainly had created a spectacular landscape but we doubted whether they were enjoying the sheer beauty of it.

And suddenly the landscape changed again, we had reached the rim of the caldera and we started our descend into the sand sea. It looked like a big savanna with only dry grass and some plants. It was clearly still recovering from the last eruption of the Bromo in 2010. When we came closer we found ourselves in a desert of gray and black ash, we could have been on the moon, all felt so desolate.

By now I had no clue where we were until I spotted the hotels on top of the rim at the other side. Thanks to this unusual drive we approached the Bromo from the back side whilst normally the first view was a majestic panorama from the front. This trip definitely was worth visiting Bromo again!

We had already prepared Paul for the lousy conditions of the hotels at the Bromo (You will know when you’ve been there: small dirty rooms with dirty bedding, terrible food. lousy service and bitter cold). So the surprise could not have been bigger when we checked in at Lava View hotel where Yus and Sri had booked recently finished rooms for us. Clean fresh bedding, a spacious room with a view over the crater so I could not be bothered that the warm water did not work. This was our best stay on Bromo ever!

We relaxed at the restaurant and not much later Yus arrived with our luggage. In the evening there was even live music during dinner. Things certainly have progressed!

As we had a very early rise bedtime was around 9:30… Less than 5 1/2  hours later the alarm went off and not much later we were on our way to the viewpoint. We were not alone however as hundreds of people had the same idea as us. I have never seen it so busy over here with mainly local tourists. 125 jeeps went to the viewpoint, an outrageous amount which took a bit of the magic away for me. Fortunately we still managed to get a front row position for enjoying the sunrise which was amazing. The light was not as nice as last time and the san sea was not filled up by mist but still we have been very lucky to witness a clear sunrise. The Semeru on the horizon also demanded some attention when it spit out a large cloud of ash.

Once the sun had set properly we went on to the foot of mount Bromo itself. It still was a good walk before we reached the bottom of the stairs leading us to the rim of the crater. Once up there we saw that the mouth of the crater had become much bigger compared to last time. Traces of the eruption in 2010 were clearly visible. We enjoyed the spectacular view for a while after we descended again and returned to our hotel.

Breakfast, packing, and off we went again. Our next destination was Kalibaru, a 5 hour drive. I must admit I have missed most of the scenery while I dozed most of the time, only being woken up several times by the car shaking on the bumpy roads. We enjoyed lunch at a Padang food restaurant somewhere halfway and late afternoon we arrived at Rumah Senang, our home for the next 2 days.

The heavens had opened at this time so we spent the afternoon with the friendly Dutch owners of Rumah Senang, Cor and Will. It was the first time the weather had interfered with our plans of a lazy afternoon at the pool but we could not be bothered.

In the evening we enjoyed a wonderful, family style, dinner but once more it was an early call for bed. We were still tired from the early rise and tomorrow would not be different…

04:30, the alarm went off, time to get up…  We could not be accused of a lazy holiday… After having seen some pictures on Sri’s facebook page I could not resist climbing the Ijen crater to see the crater lake with my own eyes. Paul had decided to have a bit of a sleep in and relax at the pool and Yolanda joined us too have a relaxing walk with Sri through small villages and rice-fields whilst Bart and myself conquered the summit.

After a 2 hour drive Bart and myself said goodbye to the others and got on a jeep for another 45 minute drive to the point where we started our climb. The way was only 3km long but especially the middle part was extremely steep and heavy and I had to stop numerous times to get a rest. The path itself was well maintained as it was frequently used by locals harvesting sulphur from the mouth of the monster.

The views paid for the effort though as they were in one word breathtaking. I don’t think I have enjoyed it as much as I should have done as the ascend was extremely tiring. Fortunately the last part of the path was relatively flat and when I passed the last corner a scenery of almost unearthly beauty unfolded itself in front of my eyes. Deep down in the crater, surrounded by majestic walls I saw a turquoise lake, and at one point, where the sulphur was collected, big yellow rocks and an even bigger smelly cloud that took your breath when the wind turned. My first words were, Yes, wow! My effort had paid off!

Bart was waiting for me as I had told him to do the ascend in his own pace and together we enjoyed the scenery. He decided to get a bit closer and descend into the crater but I took enough pleasure from my view from the top of the rim.

In spite of us enjoying the scenery that much there was a lot more going on. Locals made this gruesome trip once or twice a day to collect the lava and hand cary it out of the crater towards the foot of the Ijen. An almost inhuman effort as these tiny, but well muscled, men carried up to 80 kilo’s of lava per trip. In spite of that they were still in a good mood end said hello every time we passed by. Both Bart and myself got big respect for the heavy work these people do. For us it was difficult enough but doing this trip op to 2 times a day whilst carrying up to eight kilo’s was almost insane. The salary, depending on the weight, was up to 5 Euro’s per trip and with 2 trips a day this was considered a good income. At a price though as most of the men could not work much longer than the age of 45, at their time their bodies had totally given up.

Descent was much easier than going up and this time I could focus more on the wonderful environment. At one point Bart tried to lift the baskets with lava that the men carry, without success however… Even more respect !!!!

Once back at the jeep we were brought to a picturesque place in the rice fields where we met Yolanda, Yus, Sri and Hari again. Yolanda and Sri had made a wonderful walk through the ricefields and of course had time enough to share the latest gossip. We were treated with tea and fried bananas after we shared our experience and recovered from the strenuous trip. Then it was time to return to Rumah Senang, this time the trip took almost 3 hours due to the heavy traffic.

At Rumah Senang we were welcomed by Cor and Will, our wonderful hosts. Paul had enjoyed a peaceful morning at the pool and looked well tanned. It was really nice that all 4 of us gave each other the opportunity to do their own thing and now it was great to spend the afternoon with the four of us again.

The pool is always a good place for some fun and this time was no different. I still had to work together with Yus and Sri in order to prepare some updates for their website as this was our last day together. At the end of the afternoon Bart and myself had booked a massage by an older lady at the village, an extremely pleasant experience after our exercise in the morning.

Our last dinner on Java was a real surprise as Yus and Sri had asked the staff of Rumah Senang to prepare a special farewell dinner. When is was served all four of us could not believe what we saw, A ‘rijsttafel’  presented as a piece of art, it was almost a shame to start these wonderful dishes, they looked stunning. As could be predicted from the looks the food tasted perfect! A real treat to celebrate our last day on Java.

I did a small speech to thank Yus and Sri for their extraordinary trip arrangements and friendship. Even though this was not a new trip for three of us the way it was arranged can only be described as pure magic! We had seen many old things, but even more new things and the experience itself can be described as once in a lifetime… We have had so much fun, so much laughter and shared so many special moments it almost was to good to be true. We had known this from the start as this was not a trip of the four of us, a guide and a driver, this was a trip with 6 friends!

Next morning, after breakfast it was time to say goodbye to Yus and Sri, an emotional goodbye as we had shared 2 wonderful weeks. It was a weird feeling when Yus, Sri, Cor and Will waved us goodbye when we passed the gate of Rumah Senang. Our Java trip had come to an end and it was time to move on.  A driver had already been arranged to bring us all the way to Padang bay, on the east coast of Bali. At Banyuwangi we boarded a ferry and had a last glimpse of Java, a Java that we had never experienced the way we did this time, a Java where we left two very precious friends behind…

It turned out to be a long traveling day. 11 hours after we left Kalibaru we checked in at our hotel at Padang Bay, East Bali. We were now ready to start the last part of our holiday and will be heading towards Lombok.

Continue the journey to Lombok, Gili Trawangan & Bali