I woke up to the busy sound of Jakartan traffic, well-rested and fresh faced to start the new step of the trip. We hadn’t planned much, just that we were flying to Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta or Jogja) at 10:30, staying at the Rengganis Hotel for one night, and then moving on to Denpasar (Bali), the next day 20:50.
We packed everything so we were ready to go right after breakfast and rode the elevator down to the dining area near the reception of the Pop! Hotel. Next to a few scattered tables and a balcony, there was some mostly Indonesian breakfast food displayed, which means coffee cooked similarly to Turkish coffee (steamed water over ground coffee beans) and, if I remember correctly, some bubur ayam (a sort of rice and chicken porridge), as well as some bananas. Since I usually only have coffee for breakfast, it wasn’t much of an adjustment, but having rice and chicken for breakfast may take a little getting used to for those us used to a Portuguese breakfast. So, when we arrived at the airport and went through security, it was nice to have some extra time to hit the pleasant and bright food corner and fill up on (expensive) fruit juice, water and Beard Papa’s, i.e., Japanese cream puffs. Before we knew it, we were flying over (and next to) vulcano summits and landing in beautiful Yogya.
Flying next to volcanoes to Yogya
We landed and were immediately badgered (as happened during the whole trip) “Taxi, taxi….!” Non-stop, everywhere we looked, anyone you made eye contact with seemed to want to offer you transportation. This disoriented us more and made us take more time than we should have figuring out how to get to the hotel. That and the fact that many drivers didn’t recognize the address we had written down. But we finally got to Rengganis – and what an oasis it was! We had some fresh juice fruit, mie and nasi goreng on a sort of gazebo overlooking the pool, and checked into our colorful rooms with cozy and green tiny balconies in front of them, with wicker chairs perfect to sit and read, and, at night, to hear Nature’s silence under the starry sky. Don’t get me wrong, Yogyakarta is a quite a big city (636.660 people according to Wikipedia), and some parts of it are all but quiet, but our hotel was a bit South of the center in a tranquil area.
After lunch we decided to check with some travel agencies we had seen on the way, and ask for advice on how to visit what we had come here for: Borobudur and Prambanan. On the street of our hotel, in a dim, messy house with walls covered with books and posters of maps, we discussed our travel plans with our agent [I am very sorry that I don’t remember practically any names of the people we met during our trip, I feel really bad about it but it’s been seven months and my memory for names is usually really bad]. When I say discuss, it is an understatement. The truth is we stubbornly haggled the price, as we always did, until all sides were happy with our itinerary and schedule: we would leave the next day early in the morning to Borobudur, stop for lunch, head to Prambanan and then be dropped off at the airport, which meant we had to take our luggage with us in the van. (We didn’t bring much luggage anyway since we knew we would be moving all the time, in my case it was a 7kg bag).
We had the rest of the day free to roam around the area, ride on a becak (trishaw), take a dip in the swimming pool, and at night stroll around the shopping promenade Malioboro, where we haggled some more and bought a bunch of stuff we didn’t need, as well as some really unique souvenirs. The prices here were truly, unbeatably low. We exchanged some money in a shady looking shack on a side road, after looking around for the best deal (we are the ultimate thrifty travellers), all the time thinking about all we had read in guide books about being alert and counting the bills etc. (it can be difficult due to all the 000’s – 1 Euro was around 15000 IDR, so you end up with millions of IDR in your pocket at times). All around us were beautiful fabrics in traditional patterns, gorgeous dresses, but also cheap looking touristy T Shirts, some handcrafted pieces, some trinkets… It is easy to get lost in Malioboro. We walked it up and down many times, also trying to find a place to eat. There are a lot of fast food restaurants, especially in and around the shopping center. We looked in the side streets for a place that would not be too touristy but also not just a street car vendor, and ended up in an ok place, where we had a (very) cheap meal with some tea. (The whole experience in Yogyakarta just made us spoiled regarding Indonesian prices, we thought everything would be as cheap as here, but it was not so)
The next day we got up, had some delicious omolettes and scrambled eggs and fruit by the pool, packed our backpacks and met our very nice driver, a quiet, smiling, bony man with a mustache. It was a more or less 40km ride to Borobudur, and on the way we got to see the different parts of Yogyakarta, marvel at the anarchic traffic, motor bikes carrying a whole family of five, beautiful Javanese architecture, such as archways over the road, and, while we drove away from the city center, at the lush greenery and rice fields.
Tip: It is really worth to bring a student card with you to both Borobudur and Prambanan, if you have one, because the ticket is much cheaper with one.
Borobudur is simply stunning, not just the temple but also the vast green fields around it, landscaped gardens as well as the forest, with tall palmtrees. We walked around under the warm sun and the sound of chirping birds and, more soothing even, the Gamelan playing from the loudspeakers. The 9th Century Buddhist temple was built with a mixture of Indigenous Javanese as well as Indian influences, with stunning statues of Buddha, and beautiful relief panels and narrow stairways with spectacular views. The most amazing aspect of it, though, was the amount of times we were asked to pose for pictures with other tourists visiting the site, especially the boys who were constantly approached by groups of schoolgirls in headscarfs calling “Mister, mister – photo!”. The fact that the boys were wearing some traditional shirts they bought at Malioboro the night before was also a success. When leaving the temple, you go through a path filled with very persistent souvenir vendors, and then through a maze of stalls, like a bazar, where we stopped for some refreshing coconut water.
After a huge scare, consisting of us not finding our driver (and the van with all of our luggage) anywhere in the large parking area, ultimately having to ask the reception to call him through loudspeakers (he was just waiting for us somewhere else), we stopped at a Silver factory (a touristy place where you see some people working on jewlery), where there were some overpriced restaurants for tourists. Aside from being on a tigh budget, we really didn’t want to eat where all the tourist buses stopeed and asked our driver to take us to some place where locals go to eat. He took us to a beautiful place, on the water, where we shared dishes like caramelized fish and fish cooked in coconut milk, as well as some delicious fruit juices, and asked the driver to join us for lunch (although at one point he disappeared to the main restaurant bulding and eded up eating there).
Where we had lunch
We drove through some rural roads, where we saw groups of schoolgirls in all white uniforms walking, to Prambanan, a 9th Century Hindu temple compound which is still being reconstructed, with different small temples each onde dedicated to a different divinity (I just went up the stairs to Shiva and Brahma, they are quite steep and it was very warm). Around the complex there are also some calming lakes where we rested under the shade, again to the relaxing and magical sound of the Gamelan. After giving back our sarongs, we met our driver at the entrance to go to the airport.
I recorded this sound at Prambanan
At the small airport we had a really hard time finding a place to eat something substantial. There were some fast food places (like a KFC with a huge Cristiano Ronaldo ad – Crisitiano is, as we found out, the most recognizable Portuguese reference in Indonesia, and I guess anywhere in the world right now) and a local food restaurant where we ended up, even though they didn’t have that much food available. We had a long wait for our flight, and, while we were sitting in the back of the restaurant, we noticed a lot of commotion outside, and the waitresses shrieking excitedly and running towards it. So, of course, we did too. Just outside the restaurant was a car with the backseet window rolled down and a smiling man waving to the large photo-taking crowd. We asked “who is it?” – “The President!” the waitress giggled. It was newly elected Joko Widodo, known as Indonesia’s Obama as I had read before our trip. Inside the terminal, while we were waiting to board the plane to Bali, the agitation when he passed to board his plane was even more frantic. We were almost just as excited: it’s not every day you see the head of State of the country you’re visiting.
We boarded our Lion Air flight to Denpasar for the next part of the trip: Bali.