A pretty full day. And it started earlier than the 6:30 tour pickup time.
They like to wake their dead (I mean their followers) earlier here than in Batam. In Jogja, the Muslim call for prayers comes at 4 am instead of 5 am in Batam, and the mosque is close to the hotel, and it has big outdoor speakers. OK, though, it wasn’t so bad because the wailing lasted only a couple of minutes.
This came after having to bang on the walls to shut up our neighbor late. And after a 4 o’clock in the morning wakeup call? And kids playing in the small courtyard right in front of our door at 10 to 6 was not such a big deal. Trust me, being ready for a 6:30 pickup was a breeze.
Irksan, our tour guide picked us up on schedule. He works for Javaindo Tours, which booked and coordinated all three of our tours. They were very helpful via e-mail in making any changes and they were constantly in touch with us, right up to a late re-confirmation and a last-minute reminder, We changed our schedule for the second day, and they did it quickly, without question.
We had a box lunch waiting on us from the hotel, but it was only a cup of coffee/tea, 4 pieces of white bread, jam and butter, a slice of fake cheese and a bottle of water. Basically, bread and water. Oh well, better bread and jam than nothing at all.
First, we stopped at a temple sitting out in the middle of nowhere. I even had to ask our driver to stop because this was not in the routine. Then it was on to Borobudur, the famed Buddhist temple (in a Muslim country).
The scene as we entered the Borobudur park was almost chaotic. It was about 7 in the morning but there was a crowd milling about to go in. There was almost a theme park feel to it. Hawkers before the gates. Ticket counters. Crowd control railings leading to the gates. Hundreds of people trying to get in.
Irksan did a good job of facilitating our every move. We paid the indonesian fare to get in, about US$4. If I didn’t have a work permit (aka was a tourist), my fee to enter would have been about $20.
Of course, Via had to have a hat for the occasion, so we found a wide-rimmed affair with a pink and white ribbon from an old woman selling nothing but hats on the hard stone walkway. Something to keep the sun off, and it was a warm and sunny morning.
Somewhere around this time, we met our Borobudur guide ($4), Ong. His English was not that good but I tried to pick up a little knowledge.
Once in, you walk for about 500 meters, maybe more, to the foot of the temple – after traversing a number of steps covering about 20 meters vertical, the first of many.
The temple was built about 880 A.D. and consists of five rings or levels. Each level represents a level of human learning and understanding. Once in the temple, which actually is solid so there is no “in” to get into, you are supposed to walk clockwise, from the east entrance and on. To walk to the left, or counter-clockwise, would mean bad luck. We saw a number of people who are headed for bad luck.
I knew this place would test us physically, especially because of my knee, but it turned out to be just fine – although our legs hurt that night and the next day. You have to climb maybe 15 steps to get to each level, steps made of stone and higher than tradional steps. And the morning sun was coming in hot.
I can understand how someone might think of this temple in poetic terms. But the experience we had was of a stone mountain with hundreds of people climbing all over it. Not very poetic. More commercial. But still stunning.
The temple offers some pretty cool vistas of the surrounding countryside, including a nice view of Mt. Merapi, an active and powerful volcano.
Maybe the coolest part of the temple was being singled out to have a picture taken with. I might have been the only bule in the place, and for some unknown reason having their picture taken with me became a priority. First, a woman of about 40-45, with blue hiljab, asked in halting English if I would let my picture be taken with her daughter. At least i think it was her daughter. I agreed for a nice photo. I dasked them to take a shot with my camera.
Not five minutes later, a group of pre-teens asked to take a photo with me. That sparked some teens to ask the same. When I finally made it to the bottom of the temple, two more groups asked to photo with me. I don’t get it! But it was nice.
I’m going to let the pictures of Borobudur talk for themselves. And, just so you know, these are undoctored, unlike those of a certain traveling companion of mine who likes to doctor to her photos.
Our next stop was the dieng Palteau, about a 3-hour drive along mostly mountainous roads. Actually, it was a narrow 2-lane road, with numerous potholes and lots of traffic, where your vehicle hugged the edge when vehicles came the other way, and only a foot or two was between your vehicle and the abyss below. But the potholes were the worst part. It was a very long drive – both ways, especially coming back.
We stopped in Wobosono, a rather large town at more than a mile high. At the Dieng
Restaurant, we had a buffet lunch of a variety of Indonesian food. My first try of gudeg, a noted Jogja dish made from jack fruit. Until now, I didn’t even know what a jack fruit looked like, but after a search I have learned that these monsters grow in the trees next to my apartment at Smiling Hill. They grow to maybe 18×12 inches. The pods inside are apparently the food source. By the time it becomes gudeg, it has turned from yellow/orange to brown and has the consistency of very tender beef. As in most Javanese dishes, it has a sweet soy seasoning.
From the buffet, I tried a little of as much as possible. Everything was good. The tab for the
four of us (Via, Irksan, the driver and me) was less than $20, with soft drinks or tea. Now it was on to the plateau, another hour over pothole-filled roads, steep dropoffs waiting for mistakes, motorbikes darting in whenever the mood suited them. The end of the road was something of a disappointment.
The temples at Dieng are a disappointment after such a drive. There are three of them sitting on a flat plain that used to be a lake bed. At the center temple, guys dressed in costume, posed for photos. We did the expected.
Then it was on to the sulphur pits and lake. Here they sell you masks to protect you from the fumes coming out of the ground. They also have a Donald Duck and a horse to sit on for pictures. Very commercial. Oh yeah, there were also plenty of hawker stands selling food and souvenirs. I opted to go without a mask and we ventured all the way to the edge of the main pit, a boiling cauldron of gray water with sulphur bubbling.
Then we walked to the sulphur lake, which they call Mirror Lake for when the lighting is just right and the light blue water makes the lake look like a miror. You could see the sulphur bubbling up on the surface. Yawn!
We then headed back down the mountain and would not get back to the hotel until about 7:30. We still decided to venture out for dinner at Takigawa, just around the corner from our hotel – and in my next report. Both Via and I agree that a journey to dieng is not worth the time and effort.