Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Just got back from a trip to Java, Indonesia. Here's what I remember:

On Saturday I flew out from Singapore with my friend, arriving mid-afternoon at our Merbabu Hotel in Jogjakarta. The hotel was pretty busted - no hot water (or sink) no sheets, a slightly impossible door. Two people, four nights, $60. We got linner at a joint nearby called Bedhot Resto (short for restaurant - used everywhere), began planning our itinerary and settled in. Indonesian is not too different from Malaysian, not surprisingly, and likewise very tasty. Wandered around a little.

Sunday we got up around 4 am to get on a 5 am bus to Borobudur. Borobudur was built as a Buddhist monument around 850. It's a World Heritage site, and deservedly so. We climbed the temple circling up it's layers and trying to read to the stories of its mosaics. Upon reaching the top - as the sun begins to climb and shine on Mt. Merapi in the distance - you see the stone stupas, each with an individual Buddha inside. It's rather impressive.

After this we headed over to Prambanan - another UNESCO treasure - a Hindu temple complex built shortly after Borobudur. The architectural style is very different, but the craftsmanship is very similar. Both structures had gaggles of students, but the latter had them asking us questions with their teacher to practice their English. We got back to Jog in the early afternoon.

Walking down to the far side of town we bought tickets to a live-action performance of the Ramayana for the evening. Like Bali, Java still maintains some Hindu heritage. While we waited for that we got dinner at Via Via, a really fab little joint that had come highly recommended. We played chess, which lead to one of the first chess wins I've had in a long time. Heading back, we arrived at the Ramayana show, which was pretty well done. We both agreed the females weren't as good as the males, but the story was well-told. After such a long day we hopped in a becak (rickshaw) and quickly passed out at the hotel.

Monday was a day to relax after a jam-packed Sunday. After sleeping in we hung out at Bedhot, had lunch, and played modified scattergories for a long while (as in three hours), before moseying to the far side of town, with a little street shopping on the way, for dinner again at Via Via (after checking out a few other places. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.) That evening, in keeping with my companion's tradition of seeing movies in foreign countries, we caught a movie. This unfortunate feature, The Mechanic, remained a point of amusement throughout the remains of the trip. If a writer decided to throw every cliche of an assassin movie into one big pot, and boil it until all flavor was lost, The Mechanic would result.

Tuesday we split up in the morning. My friend wanted to take a course on batik - a type of painting/dying technique that uses wax and is pretty unique to Indonesia. I went to the Jogjakarta Sultanate. Within Jogjakarta is a small sultanate, about 14 hectares I was told, walled-off and preserved as a sort of museum. Again, students swarmed to practice English. The palace complex, though, was nice - a lot is off-limits since the sultan still lives there with his daughters. Technically it is semi-autonomous, although the sultan must defer to the President. There was a nice swimming area and a funky underground mosque, along with a few special tunnels.

In the afternoon we got lunch near the hotel (at a new place this time) and then headed back across town for a cooking class at Via Via. We learned how to prepare Indonesian cuisine, taking copious notes, and pledging to buy the cookbook they are hoping to make. Afterwards we got to eat our handiwork. From a cook's perspective the class was fantastic - I learned quite a bit, and am now equipped with the basics I'd need to pull of Indonesian meals. It was also quite tasty, from an eater's perspective. From there we took in a classic shadow puppet show, of the Ramayana, but although the gamelan orchestra was pretty good, and the handiwork of the puppets was notable, the puppeteer stunk. So we ducked out pretty early went back to the hotel.

Wednesday morning we woke up, and headed to the airport.

Drawbacks: Our disreputable UNESCO tour companions, Merbabu Hotel, and The Mechanic.

Highlights: Banana pancakes, courses, Via Via, and two UNESCO sites.

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