I spent the whole first day in Yogya acquainting myself with the city. I walked the entire day from one end to the other and back again! It was fun wandering the back streets. I realized that if man’s best friend is a dog, then no one informed the Javans! An Indonesian I met on the train told me that the Moslems don’t like the furry animals. I am now nearly 9 days in the trip and I have seen exactly 5 dogs the whole time. It is a very strange thing. There is a movie playing here called “Cats and Dogs,” a cute animated flick. But the people in the theatre were not reacting to the humor in the trailer probably because they have no experience on the dog/ cat dynamic in their culture to begin with! Very interesting!
The first person I encounter on the street of Yogya is a pedicab driver. He snuck up on me from behind, and before I could cringe from the squeaking of his long-overdue-for-a-check-up breaks he was on me about needing a ride. This poor weather-beaten man, thin as a rail and not three teeth visible gives me my first real laugh of the day. His English is very limited, so he inserts “I love you” whenever he does not know how to say something in English. I told him I did not need a ride as I was walking. I extend my index and middle finger downwards and demonstrate the word walking. So “You really do not want to walk because it is so hot” becomes, “You no walking I love you it hot.” Then he added, “You go I give ride I love you cheap.” I nearly lost it there in the middle of the street laughing and he laughs too. I get in and let him give me a ride about a kilometer down the street. I couldn’t resist! Got out and continued on my way.
After about three hours of walking, I decided to stop for lunch in this restaurant just north of the train station. It is quite an experience. As much as I love the Javans, their food is way overfried. They cook it in a bottle of oil and singe whatever was there to begin with. The fried noodles or rice has too much oil in it when served. I decide early on to avoid any foods with the word “goreng” (fried) attached to it. I love a lot of their food, it’s just the frying thing that gets to me. Many foods are also served with a helping of hot tomato sauce and mayonnaise! Hold the mayo, please!
As the Indonesians use the Roman alphabet in their written language and it is not tonal, it is easy to pick up on a lot of language environmentally. I quickly learn the words for “in” (masuk) “out” (keluar),” hati hati” (watch out), “push” (dorong), and “pull” (tarik) “open” (buka) and “closed” (tutup). The months of the year are almost the same as in English. Some words are near the English equivalent and with a little thought you can figure out that “apotek” means a pharmacy. You don’t pick this stuff up driving in a cab, so I walk!
It was while walking down Maliboro Street, a street well-known for a million hawkers and shops selling cheap goods, that I had my epiphany. The batik, for which Yogya is famous, is of a very poor quality here. The rest of the stuff is just plain junk. There are all kinds of people in your face the moment you give even the slightest glance at something on their selling table. The shops don’t offer much either. Same old stuff you’ve seen out in the stalls, just in a store at an even higher price. People come up to you asking where you come from or say that they met you yesterday, so that they can engage you and try to hook you into a phony shop or government-sponsored batik factory (there are none). It is here in the hot early afternoon sun that I declared that I hate shopping and want no more of it! The next day, I did end up at an off-the-beaten-track batik shop that was only a little more expensive, but the quality was quite good. I had to buy something to give as gifts in Thailand for the people I visit.
Ended up back at the hotel about 5pm totally exhausted. I arranged for a driver and car for the next day. I’d rather have taken the bus, but I wouldn’t have been able to do both Bourbadur and the Hindu ruins at Prambanan in the one day I had left. It ends up costing me about $52 for a 12-hour rental with the driver to go wherever I want. Not the way I wanted to get to Burabadur, however. Like Ankor Wat, you think of it as almost a “pilgrimage”—- it should take 13 hours over dusty, rutty roads in a contraption aspiring to be a real bus so that you will be “pure and humbled” enough for the honor of getting there! You don’t get there in one hour by plane after a snack and glass of wine! Oh, no!!! It just wouldn’t be right! That said, it is that best option, and frankly well-worth the price when you only have limited time and a lot of ground to cover. And you want to avoid wasting time at the tourist traps that the tour agencies take you to!
The next day, Mur, my driver, arrives early to pick me up. We head northeast of the city to the ruins at Prambanan. This set of temples, built to honor Hindu gods, is amazing. We arrived at about 7:30, so there are few people present. By the time I left at about 11:30 the place was crawling with tourists! It was so refreshing to walk the byways of the complex with that wonderful backdrop of Mount Murapi and listening to that otherworldly Javan gamelan music playing over the loud speakers in the complex. The main ruins are covered with Hindu dancers and goddesses. The intricate stone carvings around the temples recount the Ramayana stories. You can wander through the extensive area to visit other, though less grand temples, of which Sewu is probably the best with it’s imposing giant guards of stone.
After a quick lunch, it was off to my initial reason for coming to Indonesia— Bourbadur— long on my “bucket list!” Years ago I had found an old National Geographics in my local library with Bourbadur on the cover. It was just the place I knew I had to get to someday. As you enter the complex you don’t see it at first. And then suddenly, there it is. Talk about intimidating! At first look, you think you are looking at a fortress high on a hill. As you climb to the base you realize, to the contrary, it is a very inviting environment. The initial levels of the structure are like the lower half of a pyramid, while the upper levels are round. On each side are steep stairs that take you right to the top. They are not as difficult to climb as at Ankor, thankfully! Most people head right for the top. I’m in no rush. This has been one of my dream locations, so I savor the slow journey to the top. It is after all, like I said, a pilgrimage. The structure was conceived, it is believed, as a representation of life. From the base with all its worldly needs and wants with finely carved scenes. I take each level at a time. walking clockwise— thankful that the pyramid shape of the lower levels means this takes less time with each progressive level!
Finally, I reach the top with the rounded construction that means never ending nirvana. There are no carvings here—- you are free from all worldly wants. Buddhas in latticed stupas dominate this section. I take all that in and with the view of the surrounding mountains I have one of those moments. As the saying goes, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” This is one of those times. You can’t help but look out and say to yourself that you are so lucky to have the advantages to bring you here to this spot. My reverie is short-lived, however, as a group of students from another part of Indonesia want me in their group photo! As with most Western tourists,this goes on and on wherever we go! I do find a small space looking west to sit for all of 15 minutes and meditate over the mountains in the distance. It is awesome! As the sun begins to set, more and more people climb to the top. It is now quite crowded, so I decide to descend. As a final act, I walk the perimeter of the base one more time. At each of the compass points I leave a stone I brought from Long Island to connect the two places. Likewise, I take a stone from each location to bring back with me. Climbing down the hill, I glance back one last time to see the sun’s glow framing the silhouette of Bourbadur.
The next day, I am off on the Argo Wilis train bound for Bandung and eventually back to Jakarta. This train takes a slightly different route than getting here. There are still the farms rung with the backdrop of ever-distant mountains. Finally, we start climbing into the mountains at the time when the world begins to lose its color. At one point, I can just make out vague, shadowy shapes as day gives way to a blackening sky. I feel resentful that the night is cheating me. I want one more moment so that I can catch a glimpse of another mountain village or terraced farm. As we ascend higher into the mountains, I wish I could see what is hidden by the night that falls so quickly here. The train rumbles on and I manage to drift off for about an hour before the train comes to a halt with a sigh of steam at Bandung Station.
I try to exit the train, but I am nearly knocked over by a tsunami of yellow-shirted porters who run down the aisles grabbing people’s luggage. I decline the help. I fought my way to the platform and exit the station.
I finally settle on a pedicab. As we are leaving the station, a van backs up and taps us. Though I must say, one person’s tap is another’s jolt when you are in one of those things! The old man surveys the cab from all angles for a sign of damage. For the life of me, I think it is in such a poor state that you’d be hard pressed to find any current wear. There is much discussion on whether or not the wheel is bent, which of course it is not. All is amicably settled and we careen into the traffic heading south. I realize that this is night; we are on a main street with a lot of traffic flow; and the pedicab has not one reflector or light on it! Several times we come perilously close to getting hit. The old driver shrugs it all off with a very experienced, “Ah yahhh!”