Tuesday, 23 July 2013

North of Java

Kostya and I hired a bike to drive to the unreachable areas of North Java, unreachable both by transport and by tourists. On the way we stopped at the largest Buddhist building in the world, the Barabudur temple. Indonesia would've been so much beautiful if not for the rain season. There were supposed to be mountains and volcanoes all around it, but mostly we saw black clouds and faded mountains in the distance. Nevertheless it was very beautiful with hundreds of Buddhas sitting on all its levels and hiding in bell shaped shades, and the rain never touched us, even though it was raining all around us. That's the problem of the rainy season, we have to budget extra hours for the "rain hiding" time. Sometimes we can't finish everything, at other times we just get soaking wet due to no other options. It's so good that random people sell gas on every corner in here because Kostya's phrase "The more I drive, the more gas I have" gave me some doubts. Apparently some idiot designed a gas meter with full tank sign on the bottom and empty tank sign on the top and it's exactly the kind of scooter Kostya rode before.
We entered the destination on google maps to find a route, and it gave us a straight route. Well that's a lot of zig zags I thought to myself. We ended up hell knows where, bad roads, no roads, people told us to go all the way around. Most of them looking at us like it's the first time they see a white person in their lives, though everyone is very friendly and respectful. A lot of the times I walked while Kostya was struggling on these vertical, rocky roads. Breaks barely work, sometimes it doesn't start, it makes funny noises, it started to rain, it got dark and I'm scared! I was so stressed out that I almost started crying. I told Kostya that I don't care about the route, I want to go down to some passable road. So all these hours going apparently up the volcano went in vein. Yes, now I know better to look at the map and avoid the zig zag roads, and absorbed 2 new lessons in life. 1. The straightest path is not the fastest. 2. If using maps, when a road goes near the volcano, go in the opposite direction!!!
When I couldn't take it anymore, when it got dark and stormy, when it was dangerous to drive and we still had no idea where we are, we decided it was a good idea to look for a hotel. We stopped near a large house that looked like a hotel. It was just a regular house :( But the owner knew perfect English, said that the hotel is 28kms away (1 hour drive), but we can stay in his house for a bit and relax. We happily took his offer, and were even happier to take most of our wet cloths off for a slight chance to dry while we sipped on sugar water with a strong coffee flavour :) The owner barely looked in my direction, but he found a lot of common language with Kostya. I was just happy to relax. Then to our surprise his wife came in and told us to go to the kitchen and have dinner which we had alone(!), and finally they offered us to stay the night, though sleep in separate bedrooms :) I slept with 2 of his girls in 1 bed. It's so strange that the house is very big, they have lots of money, but inside it's so broken down and dirty, it's unbelievable. Must be the social status thing again. It's only supposed to look good on the outside.
Apparently I overslept when Kostya came to wake me up at 6am. Everyone here is Muslim and wakes up at 4am! The girls' school is far far away, and they have to leave 2 hours before it starts anyway. We had breakfast, then couldn't thank them enough and drove on to the Diego plateau. I think the bike from yesterday is really breaking down. It barely works, especially the breaks ... not a very good thing in mountains. We fix them, but they don't take any money from us. Then our front tire got flat, again, they didn't take any money. When we reached the plateau it got flat again. At some repair shop they took the whole tire off, checked for punctures, them put some rubber on it and something hot on top to melt it. Gave us coffee, Kostya got some local weed. The whole thing took half an hour, and they only charged us 50 cents! Life in Indonesia is cheap when you're not a tourist.
Kostya became my husband #2! There is only 1 hotel in town and LP says that they might not take non married couples ... he took my last name, what a gentleman :) We went for a walk, it's so beautiful, terraced fields with vegetables and everybody works on them. It's a volcanic land and you can have 3 harvests in one year! All kids are as always yelling hello, are playing near us, where we go, they go. Boys are loud, yelling, playing, posing, screaming all the English words that they know yes/no/yes/no/cappuccino, you turn your camera on girls and they scream and run away :) Girls are so polite, will approach you with a smile, extend their hand: "It's so nice to meet you miss, where are you from?" People in Indonesia in very remote locations actually speak English, maybe not good English, but still, better than anywhere else so far. Local people are so friendly, as always, the further from city you go, the friendlier the people become. Everything is covered in clouds and it might rain any second, we run away from a place, and it stops raining half a minute later, it's so unpredictable. You can see very heavy rain right in front of you, or all around you, and somehow it will never reach you.
In this town, mosques are everywhere, and every hour if not more often, prayers sound from them all over the town. Imagine you put a note on a fridge saying "be strong"/"today is a good day"/"never give up", and it enters your subconsciousness. What if you hear these prayers all day every day broadcasted around the whole town?
Woke up, had fried rice for breakfast and took the scooter for a ride around town. We missed yet another steaming sulfur crater and took a road that looked the most scenic without any maps or any directions. It rains all the time, and it alters our plans and schedules on an almost hourly basis. We stop at street food stalls, and thank god there are many of those. Who knows how many thousands we already spent on all the tea we buy to warm up and to wait for the rain to stop. We got into heavy traffic coming into town. As always 1 lane turns into 3, and it's ok when bikes/cars/tracks take over from all directions, and it's always a problem when you see a huge pothole and you can't just go around it, you always have to check both mirrors and make a quick decision, but that's ok, what's worse it's when the cars take over from the opposite direction and push you to the side, and the sides of the road are always full of potholes.
I was protecting the most valuable stuff: LP, camera and Kostya's tablet under my waterproof jacket and under a poncho. I felt that the water began to get in from the top and wanted to rearrange the stuff. Suddenly I didn't feel something. I was trying to feel for it here and there and nothing ... oh oh!!! Kostya's tablet is missing!!! :((( I don't know how, but it somehow fell. It was lying nearby right in the middle of the ankle deep flooded road, and with the traffic of course someone managed to go right on it :( No more directions, no more phone, no more videos or contacts, no more nothing :( Kostya I don't know how didn't yell at me, or raised his voice, or said nothing. Instead while I was in a shock with tears on my eyes, he gave me a hug and told me not to worry about it. Needless to say, I felt bad for days! The good thing that came out of it is that we headed on main roads following signs instead of GPS directions which lead us to volcanoes. And we talked to more locals on the way to ask for directions.
Driving the whole day again, even though it's only about 100 kms, feels like forever. Maybe the weather, maybe the roads, maybe the crazy traffic ... probably everything together. Thank god that both of us can drive in this mad house and we take turns to relax, but of course I can never relax when someone else is driving. Arrived at night to our next destination. Some locals helped us find a cheap hotel. It took us a while to ask for the price, and the mighty Lonely Planet came to the rescue again when I flipped to the dictionary and common phrases sections and tried to compose something that would make sense. It also took a while because it was so cheap we couldn't believe it so we tried to make sure that the price is per room and not per person. Everything is cheap when it's not touristic!
5:30 am the alarm clock went on. We couldn't get up no matter how hard we tried. 6:30 we somehow crawled off the bed. We open the door and everyone is already up watching TV. Oh these Muslims!!! They all wake up at 4 in the morning to pray.
Of course when we got to our next site we were an hour too late. We only got a few moderate pictures until the clouds covered all the beautiful views. When we got to the parking lot it started raining heavy. Rain, rain, rain non stop! We gave up on the idea of covering 80 kms that day and stopped midway at Borobudur again. I'm all wet, cold, rather frozen, all bag is wet, my waterproof cloths are not waterproof, but at least we went to the recommended LP guest house which Kostya saw and declared that he's not moving anywhere else. The room is beautiful and huge and it has a balcony overlooking the rice fields. It wasn't too beautiful too long, as it was all covered with our drying cloths.
The guest house was located near a mosque and after evening prayer a question came to my mind which I asked a guy who was working there: I've never heard women saying the prayers over the microphone, why is that? The answer which I got was: "Because it's written in the Koran that men are leaders. It's so funny to me to hear that some women want to be equal to men in other countries, I just don't understand it." I told him that if you were to say that to your wife in Canada it will guarantee you an instant divorce!!
I can't wake up. We know that the weather is only nice in the mornings, but I kept on sleeping till 12 with the "Alah Acbar" howl interrupting my sleep. It's so relaxing on the balcony, we're listening to soft music, drinking tasty tea and enjoying the rice fields and a volcano view ... why go anywhere else?
Somehow checkout out at 1. Went to a pottery village and made a ceramic oil lamp, too bad it takes 2 days for it to dry. Went to the washroom while I was there. OMG! It's so sad that actually now that I've traveled quite a lot I can say that the majority of people live right on the ground with walking food right in their house with no furniture, no proper kitchen, no privacy. The washroom was outside, and the wall which separated the toilet and the outside world was barely higher than my waste with no door to close behind you. Weird ... !
Then we went to a house which produces tofu using traditional methods. We tried it straight out of the boiling oil. It was goooood :)
Again riding the scooter in the rain. But it started pouring like from a bucket right the second when Kostya pulled in for a yet another tea break.
Our guest house was full, and everyone was trying to help us find a hotel with a free room. Then we went for a dinner in a Western restaurant and I must have looked at the menu for half an hour, I want everything!! I ended up having a tomato juice and a pesto pasta. I know that I eat fried noodles everyday, but the sauce makes that much difference! We finished our evening at our favourite doughnut place, hmmmmmmm-ing with every bite :)


Saturday, 13 July 2013


The 3 of us continued on to Yogjakarta - Gogja for short. The train left at 8am, and it was my idea to just show up at the train station. No more seats for 8am ... oooops!! Oh well, but at least I had time to catch up on my sleep till the next 4pm train. Not a very good idea to spend pointless days on a 1 month visa. The ride was 9 hours long. Thank god I had an Indonesian woman sitting next to me feeding me everything even though she didn't speak a word of English and for some reason didn't accept anything I offered her. And thank god for the deck of cards that we had with us, and we played a long long game consisting of 32 separate games, where at the end I won!! :)) Well, kind of... it was my turn to deal the last game, and I dealt wrong, even though I realized it before everyone picked up their cards, and according to the rules of the game, you're punished for every little misstep, which I think is wrong! The train staff and service were amazing. They constantly went with a menu, drinks, garbage bags, cleaning halls, cleaning toilets. It would've been a beautiful scenery as well, except that it was raining like crazy.
Arrived at 1am. Went to a big hostel built like a university campus, it fits over 300 people and is fully booked every day. Next day we hired a scooter for a 2 day trip to a temple and a volcano. The agency brought one brand new scooter with 16kms on it, and the other one completely broken down with and a missing right mirror - "No problem" they tell me, "the cops won't mind"!. Maybe the cops don't mind, but I certainly do! We went hell knows where and spent hell knows how much time to find another scooter, and left only at 1pm.
The road there was beautiful, as in the rest of Indonesia. Endless green with palm trees and rice fields. Forget about the rice fields of Thailand/Laos/Cambodia/Vietnam. If you want to see them properly, come to Indonesia! The same could be said about Volcanoes/diving/scenery/culture/oceans ... Indonesia has the best of the best collection of everything!
The entrance to the temple was $4 for locals, $18 for foreigners. Kostya didn't go. Me and Julia fully dressed against the rain waited for it to stop first, tied a sarong around us, took a guide and off went to explore the temple. The temple was beautiful, Indian ... man I missed Indian temples, here India wins hands down, but hey, they have Indian temples in Indonesia as well :) The guide was fun and extravagant. Pretty much he told us about the stories which are engraved in the temple walls. There was also some sort of an elaborate ceremony within the temple grounds with added to the mystical atmosphere. Hundred people all dressed in white with a bunch of bells and whistles chanting and spraying water on themselves and the usual sacrifice of cooked chickens to the gods. I have no idea what they were doing.
On we drove to the volcano.
3:30am wake up for the hike. It's raining outside, and everyone took it as an excuse to continue sleeping. That's until half an hour later when Kostya got up and went to check things out. We ended up jumping from the bed and running to the breakfast room to eat and have our briefing. This rain goes on every morning and usually stops when it's time to go for a hike. Mirapi volcano is 12 years in a row the world's most dangerous volcano. And since our guide is the expert and a member of some volcano society, we'll get to go to a restricted red zone which requires a special permit! We have to climb up rocks holding the tree roots and our grins are up to our ears :)
We watched a sun rise and saw the volcano towering nearby with the smoke circulating around it. The volcano erupted 5 times in the last 13 years causing massive destruction. There are 7 stations monitoring it and 4 levels of signals and evacuation procedures. The last time, the army came in to evacuate people who didn't want to leave their houses. People didn't listen, and army was rough and aggressive, people hid in their houses, the army destroyed the houses and shoved the people in the trucks. Simply said, it wasn't a peaceful procedure. The problem was that beforehand, the lava went only 6 kms from the volcano, but this time the lava went 20 kms from the volcano. Around 300 people died. Our guide was in the town, but far away from the volcano. His wife was in the other city watching the news. With broken communication lines she was worried so much that she ended up in the hospital for 5 days in the intensive care unit. Here you go, what can happen due to stress alone.
By 8am the clouds rolled in ... no more volcano. All the people who came for a day trip from Gogja missed it all.
Throughout all the trip Kostya is being pretty rude to Julia. He doesn't like that she's in some sort of a life changing cult. He lost a friend in it who pretended to be some sort of a Reed product to kill ants and doing an ant eliminating dance .... it didn't work too well ... and now he can't tolerate anyone who went through it. As far as I've heard from Julia, the classes seem like fun, informative that make you learn, understand things, understand yourself better. But Kostya thinks it's more of a brainwashing alteration. I don't know ... seems like all religions are brainwashing, and everybody should do what suits them best. Julia told me about one exercise: after you spend a few days with your group, you have to go through each person and say their name without prior warning to remember their names. If you don't remember their names, you look them in the eyes and say "I don't care enough about you to remember your name"! Kind of tough, many tears, a lot of guilt, but she said that after that she didn't forget not one name after any introduction. The classes teach you to better work in a group, to think of others as well as yourself, open up, become stronger and make some tough life altering decisions. As a side effect, it seems that everyone who goes through the course ends up breaking up with their partners. Google says that over 400,000 people attended that training, there were 30 lawsuits, including death. The participants' memories are changed, they say one thing, but in subconscious mind another thing remains. It's bad for people who are weak are broken down since their mental stability is usually damaged. The point is ... there are many angles to the truth.


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Jakarta & Bandung

Arrived at 2 am at the hostel. The taxi to the center from the airport took me half an hour at night, the next day people told me that it takes hours due to traffic. In the 3 days in Jakarta I was lucky enough to experience the famous Jakarta traffic where the taxi didn't move an inch in 10 minutes.
The room is cool, the beds are like in cells, I think I've seen a similar sleeping accomodations in China or Japan. I don't have lonely planet, and without it I'm deeply lost. I went to a backpacker area, if you can call it that, Jakarta is not touristic, and for a few tourists who are here, one has to wonder what are they doing here. The city is ugly, and there is absolutely nothing to see. The staff arranged a trip to a pool, but I'm too sleepy and I need to get the lonely planet. On the way there I got a bit lost cause I didn't have a proper map, I asked some security guard how to get to that street, he pointed me, asked me as always where I'm from, and then when I couldn't cross the street because no cars would stop for you, he got out with his whistle and stopped all the cars for me to cross. So sweet :) I wasn't feeling quite comfortable to walk around the streets, in SE Asia I felt very safe, actually, I didn't feel anything, but in here I do ... something reminds me of India, mostly men are outside and everyone's looking at you ... though not staring, which is calming.
In the backpacker area I met some guy in a restaurant, I thought we would just talk during the lunch, but he got attached to me like a leech, and although he was entertaining, he was a huge weirdo of whom I tried to get rid of very hard. I already said that I have to go, and he told me more and more stories, at the end I just waited till the story was finished said goodbye turned around and walked very fast. The guy was white, married to a local young girl. He said her family is living in the village. I started asking him a bunch of questions. Pretty much he didn't learn any Indonesian, & he's not working in the fields. He's fat, wears dirty cloths, and kinda stupid ... I'm feeling bad for the people in here, and generally in Asia they will marry anyone who's white. I found lonely planet(!!!), but it's an older edition, a few pages missing, and it cost $15, not like $4 in Cambodia :( It's all cool though, cause now I have it :) It started to rain, apparently it's the rainy season in Indonesia, I got a tuk-tuk back to the hostel and watched some documentary about whales, and Tomb Raider to see the footage about Angkor Wat! It's actually not too too bad. I sat near some guy to watch a movie. Sensing that he's Russian I kept talking to him in English, but still after a while, he asked me where I'm from. I said I was born in Ukraine. He asked me in Russian "then why are we suffering , I told him that he's the one who's suffering, I'm not! Pretty rude, I know ... I just really dislike Russians. Who knew at the time that we'll travel around Indonesia for 2 months together? :)
In the evening 20 or so of us went out to a bar. It's the best bar in Jakarta according to all the awards they won. It's a nice sports bar, very clean, modern, playing American music, with efficient service, but with skyrocket prices, about $10/drink, which is not very strong. People got so drunk, those types of people who prefer to spend their backpacking budget on drinks rather than on sights. If you ask them what they did in a city, they could mention a few names of bars, and that's about it. Next day Kostya (the Russian guy), a random girl and me went out to town. The owner of the hostel warned us not go get our expectations high. We went to the city's most famous landmark, an obelisk, a national museum, pretty much the only place recommended in LP to do in Jakarta, and both of them did not impress me much. I was bored and wanted to get out of there quickly. The only attraction in the museum were a bunch of school kids all taking pictures of us with their cellphones. Here we go, India #2!!! The girl stayed behind in the museum ... didn't she see other museums in her life? Or maybe it was just an excuse to get rid of us :) It took us an hour to catch a bus, cause we decided to experience the local transport. It's not very intuitive, the name on the front says that it's the bus that we need to take, but everyone stops us and tells us it's not the correct bus, but as always, everyone was helping us out, so it took a while, but at least we got there :) We walked in the old town but didn't find anything interesting, the main square, but I didn't even take a picture. We had some good local food, I'm so happy that it doesn't remind anything of Thai food, finally something different! :) The menus are all in Indonesian, and unlike other countries, there is no English translation near it, or pictures. So it was blind guesses. We got 2 soups and veggies mixed with peanut sauce, all very good :) We then went to the best recreational park, but that sucked too! Very dirty, not a lot of greenery, some bland attractions which all cost extra, a bunch of people though. We left disappointed and we couldn't find a taxi which would turn the meter on, and instead of 60 cents, wanted to charge us $5. Finally we found one that would turn the meter on. We stopped at a mall, I couldn't find any shoes, and I can't leave Jakarta without buying shoes because I need to walk a lot now, flip flops are not very comfy and sneakers are too hot. No shoes, but we found very very tasty doughnuts. Kostya bought 6 of them! I don't eat donuts, and I remember the last time I bought one in Bangkok, I felt almost sick after finishing it, but these 6, I couldn't get enough. I swear those were the best doughnuts I've ever tried in my life. I hope it's a chain, and I hope I'll see it all over Indonesia, and then I'll get all nice and heat insulated for the mountains of Nepal :)
I decided to stay an extra day to go to the world class botanical gardens. In the morning I went to buy sports sandals, but Indonesia didn't hear of that invention yet. I looked everywhere to no avail. Finally I found some Reebok which looked crocks like and a bit weird, I'm not used at all to that kind of design, but I needed something like that asap, and with no other choice I bought them. I can never find cloths that I like in the markets, it looks like they're all made for barbies, too much stuff drawn on them, which usually doesn't make any sense, and with a bunch of bling. When I got into the malls, I loved everything, but then it had Canadian prices. But luckily sale was everywhere, and I bought the Reebok's for $20 and Converse t-shirt for $5. I then took a train to the botanical gardens which were an hour away. Midway the electricity went out, all trains stopped, and 2 hours later when they started again it was already too late to go. I took the train back, asking 2 people if it goes where I need to go. I ended up far far away from the hostel, but right near the mall with the doughnuts! :) I saw it from the train station, but when I started walking, it got lost behind the buildings ... I'll be freezing in Nepal! :) When I walked out the train station, I walked into the slum. People point finger, "go there", I look into a dark, dirty, full of naked kids, chickens, ducks, all in ruins alley, "there????", "yes, yes, there!". Ok, here I go! Jakarta is a very strange capital. The minute it rains, everything gets flooded, traffic is crazy, there is no center, tall buildings seem to be built anywhere. On our street which is just a very regular street there is pizza hut, KFC and Mac Donald's, which are usually built only in the center of cities, or with high tourist traffic. I took a taxi back to the hostel, but it was a rush hour and at times the taxi stood for 10 minutes without moving an inch. 1.5 hours later I finally reached the hostel, which took 10 minutes the day before. Luckily the taxis are cheap, and it only cost $7. What a crazy day. I was going nowhere for 6 hours! I could've been a third through the island in that time.
In the morning, I thought to give botanical gardens one more chance. Wake up early, go there, and catch an evening train to next city. I woke up and it's raining ... GRRRRR !!! When it stopped, again, it was too late to go.
The slogan of Jakarta should be: Get in and get the hell out ... too bad it took me whole 3 days to figure it out!
Arrived at 2:30 at Bondung. Asked the reception what's there to do, and off I went to some cave. The guy marked on the map where to take the first minibus, and were to switch, I thought it would be at some terminal, but of course I had no idea where I was, nobody speaks English, and off I went in circles, until someone boarded who speaks English, and told the driver where to stop. Then I took a motorcycle to the top, I don't know how I would've walked that. The cave turned out to be not a cave, but a huge 10 kms long park with waterfalls, hot springs and 2 caves. It was already getting late, so I took a guide with me who also had a motorcycle, so I'd finish seeing everything before the park closes. It's actually not caves but 2 big buildings build underground and used as a defense system of Dutch. They stored their weapons in there and later it was used as a prison. But overall nothing too interesting, I wished I had the whole day to explore that park.
Later in the evening, Kostya met me with a huge smile. I was taken by surprise, we only knew each other 1.5 days. He met another Russian girl Julia, and the 3 of us went to a volcano together. Man I love volcanoes! It might have been the reason why I loved Indonesia so much. We went in a shared taxi to the sound of jumping in and out guys playing and singing the guitar. When we arrived at the volcano it was rainy, windy, cold, shoes are wet in a second, very cloudy, but at least we took a few good pictures. It felt like a scene from lord of the rings, dark, gloomy, twirling trees and a mystical atmosphere. The view was beautiful though. We wore our ponchos, tied plastic bags around our shoes and went off for a short hike around the crater. The smell of sulfur was very strong, and some of the paths were closed because of too much poisonous gases. When we came back, the clouds took over the scene and a bunch of tourists replaced it. There you go, in the morning, there were no tourists with a view, a bit later a bunch of tourists with no view. We couldn't go to another place where the mud is bubbling due to too much rain and too much mud on the path. Damn rain season! You have to learn in Indonesia to do things very early in the morning before the clouds roll in. It's the lesson that we'll learn time and time again.
Then went to hot springs, we thought they would be natural, but it was a huge amusement park with many swimming pools a natural river and a bunch of Muslims... meaning no walking around in a bikini. The only tourist girl who was there came out in a bikini and it was quite a show. I didn't want to put such a show on, and we found a pool just for ourselves.
On the news there is nothing but flooded Jakarta, people and cars are getting cozy swimming together on the streets, not in Bandung, it's rainy but steamy :)