Yogyakarta, Central Java,
The original idea was that Zippy and I would go with JJ and Yolanda on a quick overnight train trip, visit the ancient capital of Indonesia, Jogyakarta, and then Zippy and I would perhaps move on for a few days in Bali, from where she would fly on to Singapore to visit family in Szechuan and Shanghai, while I went back to Jakarta: JJ is still too much of a handful for full-tilt-boogie 2-3 day Bali coverage.
Still, the expedition turned into a typically well-organised Indonesian project. The rather pejorative expression “Chinese fire drill” while bigoted, gives a sense of the chaos and lack of direction of a mob of people each with their own agenda and lack of interest or attention to any centralised direction. A “Chinese fire drill” would make the Indonesian planning and execution of anything more complicated than picking a Rupiah up off a table look like a performance by the Lipizzaner Stallions on a particularly disciplined day. Herding cats has nothing on organising Indonesians.
By the time we were actually leaving the apartment in north Jakarta, my father-in-law, Mother-in-law, and 9-year-old niece had joined the party. Just trying to get all of us on the same train made Noah’s job of rounding up pairs of every living creature appear to be a simple administrative task suitable to be delegated to his newest intern. The bedlam involved in organising that many people with that much luggage had to be seen to be believed; and just to prove that old sayings often lack merit, the only person prepared, with minimal luggage and able to follow simple requests, and capable of staying in one place for 30 seconds without wandering off was Zippy, the only ethnically Chinese person in our group. That said, we somehow managed to find our seats and depart with all our stuff and prepare for a trip through the central Javanese highlands.
I can’t tell you much about the trip, as due to the lateness, there was little to see, JJ had burned himself out, Zippy was still jet-lagged from her flight earlier from China, and I apparently snored a cacophony that was enjoyed by the entire car of out train. I can tell you this though: the track runs through small villages, coconut palm stands, raw jungle, papaya and mango orchards, padi field after padi field, and skirts mountainsides and idyllic valleys giving one a sense of the sheer size of Java, a sense that is belied by the crush of population one assumes of the entire island if Jakarta is the only stopping-off point. We arrived at Yogya’s train station where we took a taxi to the hotel we had booked online.
We spent a whirlwind couple of days in the ancient capital, visiting Borobudur Temple, the largest and oldest standing Buddhist temple in the world, a half dozen Hindu temples of varying decrepitude and venerability, and then wheeled down Marlioboro Street, the shopping and eating Mecca of the city; very interesting in Ramadan….no discernible difference. My becak (Bicycle rickshaw) driver was happy to chug a cold beer in the middle of the day, when I offered him one; Islamic totems dangling from his handlebars notwithstanding.
The next day was a beach day, devoted to letting the kids have all the time they wanted on the south Javanese coast. They had a great time. I, on the other hand, was doing just under lightspeed on a rented four wheel all-terrain vehicle when a tie rod snapped and I cartwheeled across the sand a good hundred metres and totalled the vehicle. In my youth, I would have charged a fortune for a spectacular stunt like that. Apart from that the beach was great, the water was warm and no sharks were spotted. JJ made his first sandcastle under the careful tutelage of his cousin Gaby.
In the late afternoon, we put my father and mother-in-law and niece on the train back to Jakarta and Yolanda, Zippy and I packed for the last stop on Zippy’s Indonesian Odyssey. On to Bali. We took the last flight of the day and arrived at about midnight; after a short hunt for a driver who knew where to find the hotel we had booked online,. The hotel was called the Santosa City Hotel and was quite simply the worst hotel in the known universe. At least for the money they charged. And that they charged any money at all is a sin against nature.
First of all, despite its self-description on Agoda it was miles from anything of interest, industrial buildings surrounded it and the chief local industry seemed to be motorcycle and automobile repair and streetwalking. The staff was surly, not happy to see anyone nqwho didn’t book by thye hour and was unlikely to o0rder condoms from room service, and although we had booked early, were forced to trudge up several flights of stairs carrying our own luggage. We lugged our bags up the narrow staircases of a concrete bunker with all the charm of a condemned tampon factory to our rooms, one “special” for Zippy and a “deluxe extra” for me and Yolanda and JJ.
Sprung mattresses, filthy tile floors, the only light in the room, a bare overhead bulb with a switch ten feet from the bed. Dismayed, exhausted, and realising that it was far too late to start looking for better (any other) accommodations, Zippy knocked on our door to ask if we had any hot water. Together we all checked and found out that there was nothing available in our room but a trickle of tepid, yellowish, foul smelling liquid available.
We decided bathe in Zippy’s icy shower, to hunker down for the night, and forego the three nights we had booked. My reasoning was that although I had possibly (although it’s a close call) spent worse nights in a Mexican prison cell, at least I hadn’t had to put it on a Visa card. The staff seemed to be relieved when we checked out two days early.
The next day a typically friendly Balinese taxi driver took us to an hotel that cost less than half what Santosa City charges and was lovely. The hotel is called the Kendi Mas (means something like “golden water jug”) It was charming; oozing with Balinese character, had a delightful guest services staff, large airy rooms, hot and cold water on demand, a five minutes walk from Kuta, (fun central on Bali) and more than anything, felt like the people there were delighted to have us. Now this is the Bali I know. We checked in fairly early and were in the pool within ten minutes; me with a beer in one hand and the other occupied with keeping JJ from trying his burgeoning swimming skills in deep water. Plans made, we had one of the staff call a car and driver/guide to take us to the must-sees on Zippy’s list.
First was a zoo, because she was determined not to leave without having experienced an elephant ride. The best elephant excursion is connected to a zoo about an hour’s drive from the Kendi Mas. On the way, we ticked off another of the items on her list; we realised we had yet to eat and we were in Babi Guling country. (See my articles on that special food). So we killed an hour or so at a charming roadside open-air restaurant that sold nothing but Balinese-style roast suckling pig and rice. Absolute heaven; the meat tender, succulent, delicious, the fat crackling and artery exploding. With an ice-cold Bintang, you couldn’t ask for anything more and you wonder why you ever eat anything else.
On to the zoo. The elephant excursion was a little over an hour through a jungle, including a swamp for the vehicles to cool down and have a drink and hose down the riders (we experienced elephant mahouts bring a bag of peanuts or some produce with which to bribe our mounts to avoid soaking us when showering. The elephants are Indonesian, so this actually works). Since JJ had opted to go on his ride with ZiZi, they didn’t have the benefit of my experience and came back, JJ laughing his ass off as he and Zizi were covered with warm swamp-water, or pachyderm snot, as ZIZI put it. Yolanda and I were dry as a bone, thanks to the carrots with which I had paid off Amelia, my 12 foot plodding steed.
More on Bali as soon as I get some good WIFI …enditem…