Indonesia Part 2: Java at all Hours

For the second leg of our vacation, Jeff, Jamie, and I checked out of our Ubud hotel at 4 AM to make it to the airport in time for our early departure. I wish I could say this would be our only early morning/late evening for the entire trip, but that would be a blatant lie. The Java portion of our journey was all about odd hours.

We landed in Yogyakarta on the morning of December 22nd and made our way to our hotel. The city was typical of most Asian metropolises I’ve experienced thus far: crowded, crazy traffic, less than clean. Fortunately, our hotel was located on a very quiet alley-like street, not even wide enough for cars. This made for a much calmer atmosphere. We had breakfast at a small restaurant across from our hotel and planned to spend the day exploring the city.

The weather in Jogja (nickname for Yogyakarta) was stifling, so our walk around the city was a sweaty one. Unfortunately, we ran into a lot of scammers who tried to convince us that the places we wanted to visit were closed and suggested we visit such-and-such batik center. The guide book warned about exactly this situation. We grew frustrated with it and went back to the hotel to cool down and make plans for dinner.

Omah Dhuwar restaurant was on the opposite side of the city, but it had rave reviews from travelers, so we hailed a cab that night and headed to Kota Gede for a slightly upscale meal. The restaurant was housed in an old mansion and had great ambience. Our table looked out over the garden, which was lit with a soft glow along all the paths. The salmon and mashed potatoes were mighty fine! After our dinner, we headed back to the hotel and were passed out by 8:30. Early mornings make for early bedtimes!

…And it was a good thing we headed to bed early, because we were up at 3:30 on the 23rd to travel out to Borobudur temple for sunrise. After our disappointing sunrise – too foggy for good pictures, we admired the massive temple.

Then our friendly driver, Golan, took us to see tofu and pottery production in the town. We stopped at two smaller temples on our way back to Jogja.


We were back to the hotel by late afternoon and took a break at the hotel before heading out for drinks at a bar that was supposed to have live music but didn’t. We learned quickly that the guide book was incorrect on several of its listings for restaurants and bars because the neighborhood we were staying in changed frequently.

On our third day in Jogja we “slept in,” getting up at 6:30 to go to Prambanan temple on the outskirts of the city. The temple was magnificent, but the biggest tourist attraction was the tourists! We found ourselves surrounded by Indonesians almost the minute we stepped foot into the area. Of the three of us, Jeff certainly embraced the attention the most. I suffered through countless pictures with a fake smile. We were also approached by ESL students who were visiting the temple on a field trip and had an assignment to speak with English-speaking tourists. This was actually pretty fun… the first time. But after the 5th or 6th group of students had approached each of us, we were burnt out and just wanted to get away.

I had read about a nearby temple, Candi Sewu, so we left the Prambanan area and walked over to the smaller temple. I was very pleasantly surprised to find this temple completely empty! We had the whole compound to ourselves for at least 30 minutes, so we got to explore and take pictures without interruption.

By this time, it was getting really hot, so we headed back to the entrance to meet our taxi driver. It was still fairly early in the day, so we stopped at the Affandi Museum. The art museum was housed in Affandi’s former residence, which was comprised of several cool and eclectic buildings. This place was pretty excellent. We spent the better part of the afternoon exploring and enjoying the atmosphere at the museum.

That night we had dinner at a very small upstairs restaurant called Atap. This was just down another alleyway in our hotel’s neighborhood. All three of us ate an appetizer, full meals, and had drinks for less than $19! The price was no indication of the food quality – it was the best food we had had yet in Jogja!

After dinner, we headed out for a little entertainment at Oxenfree and Lucifers where live music was playing. Not your typical Christmas Eve, but our most enjoyable day in the city!

Christmas was our last day in Jogja. We packed up and had a relaxing day with lunch at a great restaurant – Via Via. This turned out to be more than just a place to eat. Via Via also arranges day trips and runs a small store that sells souvenirs made by women of the nearby towns and villages. Jamie and I stocked up on small souvenirs. I just wish we had found this place sooner; we would’ve eaten lunch there every day if we had known about it!

After lunch, we boarded the train for Surabaya, our stopover on our way to Mt. Bromo. That night we had a “delicious” Christmas feast of packaged foods from the convenience store located on the ground floor of our hotel. The highlight of the night was getting to Skype with Jeff’s family. Christmas has been a hard time for us since moving overseas, and we still haven’t figured out how to make it hurt less, but having Jamie there with us made it so much better than last year when we were alone in Thailand. (Alone in Thailand… I know, I sound like a spoiled brat!)

The next morning, our driver showed up very early, so we had no time for breakfast. We hit the road to Mt. Bromo. It was a lonnnnnng drive, but we did stop at a cool waterfall where were asked to pose for more “white people” photos.

We reached Cemoro Lewang (Mt. Bromo area) in the afternoon and took a little walk around the quaint village. Our hotel was nothing to write home about, but accomodations are minimal in this area of Java, so we didn’t have much for options. It was significantly colder at the higher elevation, and we were thankful to have pants and long sleeves for the night.

Our heads had barely hit the pillow before the alarm was blaring at 2:30 AM, rousing us for the sunrise trip to Mt. Bromo. The hotel provided the most pathetic breakfast I’ve ever seen – basically a piece of bread and some jam – which we munched on while we waited for our jeep. We drove up into the mountains in the dark in a massive caravan. Most people headed to the highest point for the sunrise, but we found a smaller side hill right of the road that was virtually uninhabited and staked our claim on a piece of ground. And sat. And waited. This time it was worth it. Unlike the disappointing sunrise at Borobudur, the sunrise over Bromo was amazing. Smoke furled out of the volcanoes. Clouds unfurled below the peaks, and the sun crept up, changing the scene every minute. I must’ve taken a hundred pictures.

After the sunrise, Jeff and I “hiked” the massive staircase up to the top of Bromo. It was packed with people, so took a couple of photos and went back down to meet Jamie. She had hurt her leg in the dark trip up the steep hill to our viewpoint and wisely chose to sit out of the Mt. Bromo “hike.”

At this point, it was still early morning, and we headed back to the hotel to pack up and move on to our final destination on the island of Java: Ijen Crater.

This leg of the trip was nothing short of brutal. 6+ hours in the car, ROUGH roads, and a driver who spook almost no English. It poured rain for a majority of the drive, which had me very nervous about the hike that was planned for the following day. I was so happy to FINALLY arrive at the hotel in the late afternoon. Imagine my disappointment when we were shown to one of the crappiest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Ugh.

After dropping our bags, we went to the outdoor dining area where we played euchre as more and more guests showed up. There’s only one reason to stay at Catimor, and that’s the hike to Ijen, so we knew everyone there would be with us on our trek the next day. We ate a subpar dinner and headed to bed at 8 PM… so we could be up at 12:40 AM for the hike. I am pretty sure Jeff and Jamie were mentally cursing me as we packed up a mere 4 hours after going to bed and headed out for yet ANOTHER early morning trip.

The Ijen hike turned out to be a lot longer than what I had read in descriptions online. Jamie’s leg was still really bothering her, so I felt terrible about the 2-hour uphill climb. She decided to stay at the top, rather than hike down into the crater. I really wanted her to go with us, but two minutes into the descent, I was so glad she hadn’t! The “trail” into the crater was craggy, ridiculously step, and very challenging. Jeff and I were questioning whether it was even worth it. It took 45-1hr to get down, and this was in virtually pitch-black darkness. Our guide had a flash light, and there were plenty of others on the trek as well, so we could mostly see where we were going. I was shocked to see people in flip flops or flimsy shoes and “city” clothes. We were in hiking pants and tennis shoes, and it was hard enough that way.

We FINALLY made it to the bottom and took a set on the rocks. At first, we couldn’t see much, and the sulphuric clouds were overwhelming. Within a minute, we say flashes of blue across the bottom the crater, and we instantly forgot about the long hike up and down to get here. It was absolutely stunning! The blue flames are caused by the extreme temperatures in the crater. The vents shoot out the heated steam, which makes contact with the sulphuric air and causes the reaction. As the morning wore on, we could see more and more intense blue flames. The sulphur made my eyes water and my throat burn so bad there were times I didn’t think I could take it, but we stuck it out to watch the “light show.” I later read that this is the only place in the world where you can see this, though it used to be visible in other places, like Mt. Vesuvius.

Once the sun came up, we could see Kawah Ijen, the world’s largest acidic lake, at the bottom of the crater. The water was an opaque mint green, like nothing I had ever seen before.

On our way back up the crater, we encountered the sulphur miners. These men hike up, into, and back out of Ijen every day carrying 70-80 kg of sulphur in woven baskets. They make 2-3 trips each day. Naturally, they are in phenomenal shape. How they can survive that terrible smell and grueling hike is beyond me. They had my utmost respect, and Jeff and I did our best to stay out of their way as we climbed the crater.

The trip out was much faster, maybe 15 minutes, and we reunited with Jamie for the lonnnnng downhill walk. I was ridiculously happy when we spotted our young driver at the end of the trek.

Our drive from Ijen to the ferry was fairly quick. We bought our tickets, and before we knew it, we were saying sayonara to Java. I was really glad we made the efforts to see this part of Indonesia, but the Java portion of our vacation was by no means relaxing. Needless to say, we were all very excited to be heading back to Bali to end our trip.


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