These are the main things I knew about Indonesia before I visited.
1) It is one of the most natural disaster-prone areas in the world: earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis all occur here.
2) It is the fourth most populous country in the world with its main island, Java, having one of the highest population densities in the world.
3) It has a growing Muslim insurgency, responsible for two Bali bombings.
4) It is home to many anthropological discoveries (including “hobbit” man) and interesting rituals (like self-stabbing)
5) It is home to a jungle and crazy animals.
Most of this knowledge came from the National Geographic in which Indonesia seems to be a frequent subject, and the newspaper which often reports on the natural disasters and bombings. I had trepidation about visiting but my friend convinced me to go with her. I imagined Indonesia to be rundown and crowded, all of which proved to be true. But even I was surprised by what was waiting for us in the world’s largest archipelago. It didn’t help that we arrived at the worst time possible: the entire country was on holiday and made their presence felt along the way.
We arrived desperately in need of sleep after the exhausting journey from Thailand. We did not know that the country was on holiday but found out the hard way. We searched for 2 hours before we found accommodation and a disgusting room at that. Every other guesthouse was booked solid.
We wanted to take a night bus to Mt. Bromo but none of the tourist offices were offering one, so we went to the public bus station. It was a confusing labyrinth of public and private buses. There were no discernible signs or identifiable kiosks. None of the people were particularly helpful and tried to scam us instead. We left, defeated, and booked a package with a tourist company. We also booked the Borobodur Sunrise package which provided transportation to there and Prambanan.
The next morning we woke up at 4:30. As we waited for our transportation, the sun slowly began to rise and we realized that we weren’t catching sunrise at the monument. The man arrived at 5:30 since his car had broken down. The worst thing about arriving an hour later than anticipated was the crowds. We were battling with groups of school children, foreign tourists and vacationing Indonesians.
All this distracted from the beauty of Borobodur, which is a beautifully ornate Buddhist complex but in obvious need of protection.
We changed minivans to go to Prambanan, an old Hindu temple. It was a disgusting minivan with faded faux-suede upholstery. I refused to rest my head on the seat lest I should get lice. It was that gross. Prambanan was a huge disappointment. It was undergoing extensive restoration because it was mostly destroyed in a 2006 earthquake. Again, there were piles of garbage and crowds of school children and vacationers.
I truly hate crowds and I am constantly reminded of that in Asia where it is severely overpopulated! Prambanan was also like being at the fair. There was a train transporting people between the different complexes, picnic areas and playground.
After the monuments, we went to a few different sites around the city of Yogyakarta. We visited a Portuguese water palace, the bird market and the local market. I’m not sure why I visited the latter since I never enjoy the markets in SEA which are too crowded and chaotic. It was even worse in Indonesia since body odour is prevalent amongst men and women. The locals wear thick sweaters, jeans and leather jackets even though it’s 35 degrees outside.
Our much-needed sanctuary was the Ministry of Coffee, a beautiful café with great food and desserts. It was a nice reprieve from the leering Javanese men, the aggressive pedicab drivers and the filthiness of our room.
Journey to Mt. Bromo
The minivan was not late but early! People in SEA really need to use watches. While eating breakfast, my friend and I anticipated something going wrong again. I predicted that the air conditioning would be malfunctioning and that the minivan would break down. The former was true when we entered the van. It was hotter inside the minivan than outside: a 40 degree inferno. My friend and I were stuffed in the back where the windows do not open.
At our lunch rest stop, the minivan would not start. Checkmark for prediction #2.
We arrived at 10 pm, 6 hours later than anticipated, inhaled our dinners and prepared for the next morning. It was pretty cold since we were at a higher altitude. I couldn’t fall asleep until 1 am.
We woke up at 3 am for sunrise but again we did not see it. This time Mother Nature was the culprit. Mt. Bromo was completely hidden behind a sea of haze and fog. My friend and I were greatly disappointed, especially since we could have used the extra sleep. But the local Indonesians around us were very excited. I think they were just excited by the novelty of being in colder weather, wearing jackets, hats and mitts. Many locals did not have closed-toe shoes and wore thick socks with sandals. It was only 9° which did not seem particularly cold to me and my friend when you consider we are used to a -20° bitter cold in December.
Journey to Bali
We got to the hotel after Bromo and were told that the minivan to Probolinggo was leaving in 10 minutes. We packed our stuff in a frenzy. The minivan arrived 40 minutes later! After Probolinggo, we transferred to a coach bus. I was last to board and grabbed the only available seat. I actually had sat in someone’s seat but the guy beside me, who was the passenger’s friend, never told me. I sat there for awhile until the bus manager tried to get me to sit in the drop seat in front of the windshield with no seat belt. I refused for safety reasons. It took 10 hours to get to Denpasar. Out of the five days we spent on Java, four were spent travelling long distances. Add that to the 48 hours it took to get from Thailand to Indonesia, you get two very tired people.