Travel Day/Night One:
Today we woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel before heading to the train station. We had an 8:45am train to Yogyakarta that would take about 8 hours. We are flying in between all our other cities so Dan wanted to make sure we had a chance to see the countryside and rice paddies. We got to the train about an hour before our departure so we got to see the difference in trains coming through. Dan explained that there were three different classes of trains: economy with no reserved seating (or seat at all), economy with reserved seating and then executive. The economy trains had people hanging out of the doors and holding on because they were so crowded and Dan said there would most likely be chickens walking about in the cars. We opted for the executive train which was quite nice with air conditioning but not quite Amtrak. We occupied our time with reading, games and movies on the iPad. The in-train tv played a random assortment of music videos and then Air Bud without any sound.
As you stop in each station men come on the train yelling "porter, porter" wanting to carry your bags for you. When we got to Yogyakarta we let them get our bags and instead of rolling the suitcases, they threw them up on their shoulders. Interesting choice but Dan said they were probably doing it to show off.
The hotel shuttle picked us up at the station and after a quick stop at the minimart for some tonic and orange juice we headed to the hotel. When we arrived the property was immediately a drastic change from the surrounding neighborhood. It had lush trees and grounds and a grand entrance. When we got out of the car, three women greeted us with lei's of fresh flowers. They led us to the check in under the covered archways on a path surrounded by ponds filled with koi fish. We quickly changed and went back downstairs for happy hour (it was already 6 and it began at 5 so you can imagine the urgency). After many wines, G &Ts and vodka tonics later we all passed out early.
We woke up this morning and got the first true views of the resort since it was dark when we arrived last night. Designed after the temples of Borobudur, the hotel feels like you are in the Legends of A Hidden Temple show, statues everywhere and even a temple structure over a waterside at the pool. The hotel is also set on a nine hole golf course, which is very rare for Indonesia.
The main attractions around Yogyakarta are the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. The history is incredible and I encourage you to read more. We had a driver for the day to take us to both locations. Borobudur is about an hour outside the city and was our first stop of the day. When we first arrived, people were hounding us before we got out of the car until we entered the park, selling souvenirs, hats, umbrellas and food. Our driver had a friend who ran one of the stands who got us a discount on the tickets. He walked us to the entrance and they made us put on sarongs to cover our lower halves. Dan told them that they didn't make him do this last year and they said it's a new rule "to show respect to the Buddhist temple". Dan's remark back was, "did you not want to show respect last year?" after some hesitation he put it on and we headed for the temple. It was HOT!! 104 degree heat index and no shade around the temple. We didn't get a guide here so Dan and his trusty iphone read about it. We walked around and took pictures at different levels and marveled at this gigantic site in the middle of nowhere. Then headed back to the car, a task easier said than done.
You are hounded and heckled by people wanting you to buy their souvenirs. Dan Finally gave into ine guy who kept lowering the price. On the way in as Dan was being bugged by him, he said he might buy something on the way out. The guy said, "remember Eddie, remember Eddie" and sure enough as soon as we walked out there was Eddie saying the same thing. We finally got back to the car after being forced to walk through endless stalls of people selling the same stuff to get to the exit. It's unfortunate that the experience of visiting Borobudur has to begin and end this way.
The rain started while we were in the car and when it rains here it literally pours. Luckily, by the time we got to the other temple, it had mostly stopped. We rented umbrellas anyways and at Prambanan decided to get a guide so we'd know what we were looking at. Slamen walked us through and told us the stories about the history and rebuilding of these temples. It is incredible to see pictures of when it was discovered as just a pile of rocks, to piecing it back together like a puzzle. Their construction and planning from the 9th century is astounding. I can't imagine spending my entire life dedicated to building the same temple day in and day out.
Thank goodness Dan speaks Indonesian because our driver did not speak any English. It's remarkable to sit in the back of the car and hear Dan have conversations in his foreign tongue. He rarely hesitates and it appears to come very naturally. Once we returned to the hotel we filled up on drinks and food at the happy hour.
Also, people love taking pictures with us. Everywhere we've gone they ask and groups of kids get really excited. Today people were even having us hold their kids to take pictures with them.
Lesson reminder of the day, always get the guide, you won't ever regret it.
We landed in Singapore almost a week ago and haven't slowed down since. Today we decided to hang out at the hotel, get massages, and just relax. The massages were great and in the Javanese style they really go to town and get up and straddle you on the table while you're laying on your stomach haha. Everything was great except there was a clock in my room that you could hear ticking the entire time. Some of you may know that I cant stand that sound more than anything. I once had a watch that I refused go wear bc I could hear it ticking from my wrist. We got some good sun in the morning and then it was a bit overcast in the afternoon.
Today they were celebrating Earth Hour and the hotel made a big deal about it. Was it recognized at home? Every Saturday night, they have a traditional Javanese (Java is the island of Indonesia we are on) buffet and a ballet. Their ballet and our ballets could not be more different but it was interesting to see their costumes and the flame tricks and hear the music. we had fried rice and noodles made to order in gigantic woks. We also had chicken, lamb, and prawn satay (I didn't go for the prawns). They turned off all the lights from 8:30-9:30 for Earth Hour and we watched the ballet by candlelight and torches.
This morning we had arrived to go out with our same driver from Friday. We weren't sure what we wanted to do because the weather was overcast but we figured we ask his opinion. We had read that you could hike a volcano and have incredible views of the surrounding villages and that there was also a great museum near the top. There was also a beach nearby that was supposed to be popular with locals on the weekend. The rain started once we got in the car so decided to go to the museum first in hopes that it would clear up and we could hike afterwards. When driving here, not only are there thousands of motorcycles, but entire families on them as well. So much for safety standards, I've seen two adult and up to three children (without helmets) riding one motorcycle. I tried to get a few pics but might have to resort to google to show you what we really see.
The museum was opened by one family in the early 80s. However, the building look like they had been there since 1900. The museum layout was very different in that you walked a narrow path in the forest and came to the first "room" which was underground. Our tour guide must've going for the world record of fastest tours because every time after she done explaining something she would not even give us time to soak it in, but say "okay, continue?" and walk to the next thing. Each room or building in the museum had a different theme dedicated to different royalty and their family members. As you left one room, you'd follow her (at olympic speed) to the next building. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the museum as the 'no picture' signs everywhere reminded us so it's hard to describe what it looked like. One of the interesting things that stuck out in the tour was a room dedicated to one of the princesses of Java. Men had loved her from a young age because of her beauty and she had several marriage proposals. In the Muslim religion polygamy is allowed and common practice here, but men in the army are only allowed to have one wife. The guide said, "she made god choice in army husband because she wanted to be the only wife". Luckily for women here, polygamy is still practiced but not as common as it was in the past.
We had a special tea at the end of the tour with six secret ingredients. Mom and I guessed two correctly, Dan guessed four. She wouldn't tell us the other two.
After the worst bathroom experience here yet...have I explained how they work here yet? The traditional bathrooms are basically a toilet seat in the ground that you squat over. There is a hose or bucket of water and when you're done, you either hose yourself off or use the cup from the bucket to splash yourself. No toilet paper. You can imagine if people are hosing themselves down, the floor is like a huge puddle. Dan explained that typically you take your pants off and hang them in a hook so they don't get wet. For the most part we have been lucky and places have at least one toilet stall, and we always make sure to bring our own toilet paper with us. The museum had no toilet, no hook, and was a dark little flooded room. Oh yeah, you're also supposed to wash your hands by using the cup from the bucket. I would much rather have gone in the surrounding woods than in that bathroom. Adventures for me and mom. Dan's comment afterwards was "I forgot you guys can't just stand to pee". Nice. We visited the museum gift shop and as we were walking up you could hear Justin Bieber blasting throughout the store. Shortly after we walked in it was changed to this calm yoga type music. I guess even the girls in this remote village in Indonesia have Bieber fever.
It was too cloudy after we left the museum to see any views from the volcano so headed back into the city for lunch. We were going to try their traditional food of Jogja. They use a lot of brown sugar and it's all pretty sweet. The plate had chicken, egg, tofu, beef skin and a pile of rice (which comes with everything). The brown sugar sauce(?) looked like well...I'm sure you can guess what chunks brown sugar would look like over food. I tried a bit of everything but stuck to my pile of white rice. Sweet chicken doesn't appeal to me I guess. After lunch, they invited us for a tour of the kitchen and explained the process of how make the food. Some of the things take up to two days to cook before they are served. Let's just say this kitchen would not receive an A rating from the department of health in New York. I'm glad we took the tour after we ate, or I'm not sure how much I would've tried. It was really cool to see though.
After lunch, our driver said he could take us to the beach where the locals go. He warned us that it was not a white sand beach and that it would be very crowded. We chose to check it out anyways. When we arrived at the beach, there were horse drawn carriage rides, ATV rentals, and people riding dirt bikes everywhere. There were a lot of people swimming, or I guess I should say lying in the water by surf. No one had swim suits on and they were all covered in the dark sand, but they seemed to be having fun so that's all that matters.
We headed back to the car and onto our next adventure. Our driver told us that there were caves nearby you could walk through for 2pm and come out on the other side. During the drive, we drove through hundreds of rice paddies. Our driver's father was a rice farmer so he explained to us the process from seed all the way to harvest. We even pulled over at a field that was ready to harvest and he picked some and showed us the rice inside the plant. It's a lot of work for a small amount of rice and they only make 70 cents a kilo!! I can't imagine. After driving up the most remote roads we had been on yet and through tiny villages, we arrived at the top of a mountain to the caves. The views were incredible and our driver even pointed out his house in the distance. He really went above and beyond as a driver and since Dan spoke the language we were able to learn so much more. However, at the same time he would leave things out when explaining things. Such as how the caves had waist deep water you had to walk through in pitch black with a guide. It was almost getting dark and mom didn't want to be on the backroads at night so we opted out of the caves.
It was about an hour a half drive back to the hotel and it was crazy to think the driver had to turn in the car and then drive his motorcycle right back here. For ten hours, the driver cost about $35. Considering how much ground we covered and how much he taught us, he was probably the best money we had spent.
We went to the last hour of happy hour and then packed. We had an early flight to Bali and were leaving the hotel at 6:30 am.