It’s been longer than normal since my last post and I would love to give you a great excuse but honestly I think I have hit that point of being a bit travel-weary. The good news is that I am currently relaxing and just watching the world go by for a few days before I start the next leg of my trip. So I find myself in a much better place to give you the blow by blow of my trip! It’s been a very active trip with lots of long travel days, so I have a lot to share.
Indonesia is a large country in pure distance so to get from city to city within the island of Java we spent a good portion of our time in minivans and various other forms of transportation. Once we have arrived in a new town though, wonderful things have awaited and you quickly forgive the long road there.
When I finished my blog last time we had just arrived in Pangandaran. The next morning we started our city tour with a trip to the locals market. It was rows and rows of open air “shops” selling local produce, meats, and dried fish.
The smell was a bit overwhelming and we were a novelty in this area as we were being stared at everywhere we walked. Most of the people we had encountered thus far spoke a little bit of english, but not here! They just stared at us blankly when we tried to ask questions about their products.
After a few of us managed to buy some things like nuts and fruits to snack on that day we hopped back on the bus for a trip to a local wooden puppet maker.
Puppetry is a traditional art form throughout Indonesia. In this part of Java the puppets were made of wood, but in central Java they made them out of dried leather. It was impressive to see the incredible amount of detail that go into the puppets. There was also a color coding system to help people distinguish the puppets characters in plays. Blue faces were for heros, white for honesty, and red for aggression. The faces were very expressive and the costumes were intricate. The puppeteer gave us a brief demonstration of the puppet shows and then we hopped back aboard the bus to head to our next stop.
Our next stop was something that I wasn’t expecting! Rather than showing us more of the typical tourist stuff they took us to an area where coconuts are sorted, shucked, and processed for coconut oil. It was huge lot with piles of new coconuts surrounding men who were energetically removing the fibrous outer layer of the coconuts using only a nail on the end of a long board between their legs. They were amazingly fast and we were told that they maintain that pace for 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, for about $200 a month. There were both men and women working hard side by side and several children were running around and staring at the strange westerners.
After a tour of the process we took a short trip to take a boat ride down the Green Canyon.
I think you will probably agree that it is not hard to see why they call it the green river. The high level of limestone in the area results in beautiful emerald green water. As we floated past waterfalls and lush jungle on our little boats you had to appreciate the beauty of this area. We stopped briefly at the end for a few people to jump in for a swim before heading back towards the ocean. Our tour leader arranged for us to spend a few hours at the beach watching surfers and swimming in the crystal blue waters. We had lunch right there on the beach of fresh fish and chicken while listening the sounds of the waves breaking a few feet away.
We started to make our way back to the city taking a small detour to take a short walk through the jungle and back across the Green River. When we made the crossing it was on a bamboo suspension bridge. We all started down it apprehensively while locals came roaring across it on motorcycles as it bounced and swayed. I took the leap and started the walk across and while I was a little unsteady, I enjoyed the view!
It was a busy and long day so we were all happy to return home for a nice mellow evening. We had a long travel day the next day to get to our next stop in the journey – Yogyacarta or “Yogya” (pronounced Jog-Jah) as the locals call it. We only had time to grab dinner at a nearby restaurant before going to bed since we had a very early morning the next day.
We left early to go to Borobudur Temple which is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. It is a multilevel stupa carved with intricate carvings of Buddhist stories. It is a little out of place in predominantly Muslim Java, but remains a popular tourist destination. A few years ago one of the many nearby volcanos erupted and blanketed Borobudur in a thick layer of ashes. The locals all banded together to uncover the temple and used very challenging techniques to ensure the reservation of the carvings. Yogya is in a very hot part of Java and after spending a few hours walking the grounds we were all happy to go back to the hotel for a relaxing swim and shopping.
We were given a choice of several optional activities for the next day and Linda, a new friend from Australia, and I decided to learn one of the many art forms that Indonesia is famous for – Batik! We took a short ride over to local art studio where we met Susie. Susie has been a Batik artist and teacher for 30 years in Yogya and sponsors students from all over the world. We were handed a 50 cm square piece of cotton fabric and a pile of designs to choose from. I am not very artistically talented, so most of them looked way out of my league, but Susie kept reassuring me that I could do it! I chose an abstract design with two fish because I thought that an abstract design would prove to be more forgiving, and I was right. After a long process of painting dyes and coating parts of the design with wax, I ended up having a great new piece of art to put on my wall when I get home!
That night we went to go see the Indonesian Ballet and their performance of Ramayana. It’s a Hindu story of a the god Rama and the woman of his desires. It was a bit hard to follow, but we had a written synopsis so that helped. At one point they actually set the whole back of the stage on fire. Fire is always cool. Beavis taught me that.
The next day we had a long travel day to get to a Natural Reserve area in Soleiliman. We got up and started our walk where they showed us their natural farming techniques and extensive gardens filled with herbal remedies and flowers. We spent some time just enjoying the natural flora and fauna and then walked over to the adjacent village to find some of the most friendly people I have encountered on my travels. It reminded me a bit of my time in Chanderi where the children were friendly and the adults happy to see us.
Our destination within the village was at the small house of Mbona, the oldest woman in the village at the ripe age of 93 years young. You wouldn’t know she was that old by watching her move around preparing coffee for us. She roasts and grinds locally grown coffee beans by hand and then sells the coffee from her small house to support herself.
The coffee was strong and delicious, but watching her grind the coffee in a stone mortar and pestle was the most entertaining part of our visit. She was very friendly and nearly all of us purchased coffee from her for the low price of 3000 rupiah for 5 spoonfuls (about 35 cents) to take with us. When we have Indonesian Night at my house, we will have some coffee direct from a 93 year old Javanese woman to you in my living room in Utah!
That afternoon we headed over to Probolinggo, East Java for one night. We arrived in the dark after climbing up through jungle filled hillsides and were told that we would need to get out of the hotel by about 4:30 AM the next morning to hike up a mountain near Mount Bromo to watch the sunrise over the volcano. Mt Bromo became suddenly active and erupted as recently as 2010 which changed the face of the region by becoming more of a crater than a mountain.
We sleepily poured ourselves into a couple of late 70s Toyota Land cruisers and started up through the rough mountain terrain to the trailhead. I started the pitch black hike by strapping on my headlamp and making my way past the hoards of locals trying to talk me into taking a horse up the mountain.
I was enjoying the cool mountain air after having been in remarkably warm climates for months. The crisp, mountain air reminded me of home! We hiked for about 45 minutes up steep switchbacks to get high enough to see the sun starting to rise behind the mountains. As the sky lit up I got my first glimpse of the Mt Bromo crater. The views were enough to make my heart skip a beat. We made our way back down and then went over to hike up the volcanic cone to see into the crater. It was a vast sandy field at the base of the mountain and the locals were there with horses which made for some great photos in the early morning light.
We all piled back into the Cruisers and went back to the hotel to clean up and head out for the next leg of our trip. After a long drive we arrived at our stopping point for the night. It was a beautiful bungalow hotel with amazing gardens. We spent a relaxing day hanging around the pool.
The next morning we got up and went to visit a coffee plantation and rubber factory. I had seen the rubber harvesting when I was in Malaysia, but they showed us how the rubber was processed, packaged, and shipped around the world. It was fascinating, but a bit stinky due to the fact that they use Ammonia in the rubber processing.
The next morning we headed to the port to take a ferry from Java over to Bali. We arrived in Bali towards the end of the day and our long day on the road was rewarded by a breathtaking sunset over the ocean.
We drove to Tanah Lot, a small beach and tourist community famous for the beautiful sunsets behind their coastal Hindu temple. Unlike Muslim Java, Bali is primarily Hindu and the temple at Tanah Lot is particularly sacred and the site of many pilgrimages.
We enjoyed a couple days of laying by the pool and relaxing after a long 10 days of busy travel. I wandered over to a seaside restaurant to watch the sunset and ran into a group of women from Utah of all places. We had a lively discussion about their tours in Bali and I quickly came to the conclusion that Bali does live up to the hype! I will be back here someday to explore more of this beautiful island.
Our two days there were too short but we were heading just about 2 hours inland to Ubud. Ubud has gained notoriety recently because of the book & movie “Eat. Pray. Love.” The “Love” portion of the movie takes place in Ubud. It is a haven for ex-pats from around the world and while it is very westernized and growing a bit too fast for it’s own good, you could still see a lot of the surrounding natural areas filled with rice paddies.
I spent my last night with my tour group friends and we all exchanged information. The next morning Katherine and I decided to go whitewater rafting. I was planning on staying in Ubud for five extra days and she had one more day to play before going back to San Francisco. We took a short drive out of town and got geared up for the rapids. I have done a decent amount of whitewater running at home, so I was excited about seeing what Indonesia had to offer. We hiked down around 400 feet in elevation on steep stairs to the shore and hopped aboard small boats with four people in each one.
As we started down the river we were a bit disappointed by the small rapids. They claimed to be Cat II and III, but I am skeptical that there were any Cat IIIs. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective) our guide was either messing with us or he is quite possibly the worst guide I’ve ever seen. We spent half of our time going down rapids sideways, backwards, and wonky. The rest of the time we bounced off rocks, ran into other rafts, or got lodged on rocks where the raft threatened to overturn. I was missing my favorite guides Ray & Ho from home, but we still had a good time!
We got back to town and I moved over to my new accommodations for the remainder of my stay in Bali. After spending time moving from place to place and having stayed at over 74 different lodges, homes, hotels, and bungalows in the last 120 days, I was ready for a little bit of luxury. Bali is reasonably inexpensive, so I treated myself to a bungalow overlooking rice paddies outside of town. It was gorgeous and complete with a tub on the patio. Not a bad way to spend a few days! I met up with Katherine and Lawrence for a farewell dinner since both of them were leaving the next day. After dinner I went over to the only bar that stays open past 10 and was lucky enough to make some new friends there that I could spend time with for the rest of my stay. The following day was my birthday so we made plans to meet for dinner and drinks the next night.
I woke up on my birthday morning and stayed in bed reading until breakfast was served at 9:30 on my patio, I then took a bike ride into town for some shopping and then met up with Norma Jean, one of my new friends, for dinner. We ate at a great Cuban restaurant and went over to the club for drinks. Norma Jean is quite a talented singer and was asked to sing a few songs with the live band there.
I took a few minutes at the end of my birthday to be thankful for all the wonderful things in my life. I am so thankful that in my 35 years on this earth I have been blessed with having so many wonderful people and opportunities. I can only hope that they next 35 are anywhere close to as amazing as the last 35 have been! I am truly blessed and can’t wait to find out what the future holds!
For now, I only know that today I will be leaving Southeast Asia and flying to Perth, Australia to start the next leg of my trip. I have many cool things in store for you and I in Australia and I appreciate you joining me on the journey!
A very special thank you to all of you that emailed/face-booked/texted/and called me to wish me a happy birthday! It meant a lot to know you all thought of me on my birthday!
‘Til next time! Cheers!