As I read the worrying news about the earthquake on Java, I remembered the first time we set foot on this magical island. It was our second visit to Indonesia. We were eager to discover a second island after Sumatra and so we spent around two weeks on volcanoes, beaches and in cities before we took the ferry to Bali. This is a just a small selection of photos and the most memorable memories.
Monkey terror in Pangandaran
Pangandaran is a small town on the south coast of Java. It is famous for two things: its superb surf and the nearby Green Canyon. I can imagine it is much busier these days but when we visited there were only a handful westerners on the beach. We loved the sunsets.
There is a less-known sight near the town, a small nature reserve with rich wildlife. One morning we decided to have a little excursion. The tropical forest captivated us and we wanted to see more and more. There was a rickety bridge and the rest of the area was fenced off for some reason. Of course, we entered.
Soon we came across a whole family of macaques. I put down my backpack and started to take photos while Anita was capturing them on video. The next moment the bag was in the strongest male’s hands. He ran to a bush a few metres away and tried to open it, hoping to find food, I guess. There was no food in it but all our money, our passports and all the film for the whole trip. I grabbed a stick to scare him but he was not afraid of me. Instead, he flashed his huge canine teeth and stepped towards me. We stood there for maybe ten seconds but it felt like an hour. Finally, he decided the bag was worthless and they all left. I grabbed the bag and we hurried back to the permitted zone without a word.
Bodobudur and Yogya
The journey to Borobudur was anything but comfortable. The bus was only half full when we left Wonosobo so we went slower than a tractor as the driver saw potential passengers in every bush. The town itself is forgettable but who cares when you have one of the world’s largest Buddhist monuments next door.
We were lucky with our hotel. The laughable price included free tea and breakfast and the owner arranged a special sunrise tour for his guests. We were woken at 3.30 and then led to the fence of the temple complex. A bamboo ladder was prepared for us and a guard took a bunch of banknotes from our guide before we climbed in.
The next two hours were worth the discomfort and all the money. It was pure magic how the sun slowly illuminated the stupas around us.
The bus ride to Yogyakarta wasn’t problem free. We had to get off bus some 15 km before the city I felt so sick. We exchanged a few words with a sympathetic passerby and took a smaller bus into town.
But we loved Yogya. It was cooler (in both ways) than Jakarta, youthful and much less dirty. We enjoyed gamelan music and a wayang golek performance in the Kraton (the Sultan’s palace). Then a friendly man showed us the Taman Sari, the Water Palace. Sure, he then took us to a batik store but shared a lot of interesting information with us about the Sultan and the old days. Did you know that the Sultanate of Yogyakarta still exists in the middle of Java? The present monarch is Hamengkubunowo X.
Generally we try to avoid well-known tourist traps and prefer less crowded places. For example, I resisted Bali’s Tanah Lot or the Vatikan’s Sixtine Chapel for years. But the postcards with Mount Bromo convinced us we had to take this opportunity.
We bought tickets for a big bus and they promised to take us to Ceromo Lawang (near the crater rim) in 9 hours. The bus left 90 minutes late but this was the least annoying problem. It was a small bus with hardly any legspace, the trip took 12 hours and they dropped us at their own hotel near Nyadisari (6 km from the crater).
The least we could do was that we stayed in another hotel. But it now seemed impossible to reach the crater rim by sunrise we were so far from the trail head. Because we wanted to reach the top the old way, on our feet.
No trail, no water
The day started at 2.20 and we had no idea when it would end… We were told the night before that Ceromo Lawang was just 4 km but it was around twice that far. Luckily, a minibus stopped and they gave us a lift. It was carrying local guides so we saved the price of the entrance tickets and got back the hope to see the sunrise from the rim.
The first part of the trek was easy, if only we had slept more and drunk something since midnight. But then the stairway suddenly disappeared. There must have been a landslide and it was still completely dark so we almost gave up when I noticed little holes on the hillside. We climbed up and soon found the trail.
The sun was just coming up as we reached the first viewpoint (Penanjakan 2). The sight was unbelievably beautiful and we stayed until the sun rose completely. And it was a good decision because Penanjakan 1, the top of the crater rim, was so full of tourists, jeeps and souvenir shops that we could only stand it for a few minutes.
We walked down to the Sandsea (the caldera floor) and although we still had nothing to drink we climbed young Mount Bromo before we returned to our hotel.
Hardly alive in Jakarta
From Java we went to Bali and Lombok. Then we flew to South Sulawesi and when we heard that the central part of the island was a no-go zone we spent almost three days on board a ship to Manado in the north. We returned to Jakarta from there at the end of our holiday and had three days for the capital.
It must have been the nasi goreng we had in Manado that caused a serious case of food poisoning to us. We spent two days in our hotel room (and the toilet). The third day we felt a little better so we looked around the old port and bought some more souvenirs.
Since then we have returned to Indonesia twice but never to Java. Maybe next time.