Landing in Java, the most developed island in Indonesia, the country’s political and economical powerhouse, and the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies, we will spend a couple of days in Jakarta before heading east to Mount Bromo, one of the most active of the forty smoking volcanoes found in Java. Formed mostly by a series of volcanic events, it has a population of 134 million people, compared with Sumatra’s 40million, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. While the majority of people here are Muslim, there is a diverse mix of religions and culture. It is a bustling island of cities and traffic, volcanoes and jungles, rice paddies, rivers and tightly-knit communities.
With various parts needed for the brakes, axle and steering rack we decide to head straight to Jakarta rather than heading to the coast. The roads out of the port are good, and we eventually end up on a two lane toll road. As we drive it begins to thunder, quickly followed by torrential rain. It starts to get dark, making the driving even more hazardous…. Eventually we reach central Jakarta in the late evening. We had heard driving in the capital was not for the faint-hearted, but we find that the driving and roads are nowhere near as bad as what we have previously experienced in India! In comparison, the roads here are a breeze!
Once in Jakarta, we get slightly lost looking for the hotel we had booked, numerous small side-streets branching off from the three lane highways that run through the city. We eventually find the hotel, located near Mangga Dua square, Jakarta’s most well known trade centre. There are malls, hotels, restaurants, karaoke bars and cheap electronic stores everywhere.
In the morning Martin goes to Toyota to order the parts needed; unfortunately some of the parts need to be ordered from Japan which will take forty days, so we decide to order the ones available and try to source the rest from the UK.
On the way back from Toyota, Martin is pulled over by a policeman for making a right turn where he was not supposed to. He is then taken over to the police booth where the policeman shakes his head and speaks broken English while holding his hand out… presumably wanting money, but Martin smiles, says sorry, and is let go!
In the evening we take a walk out for dinner; the streets are poorly lit, just headlights from oncoming cars and motorcycles providing us with some light. Passing lots of food vendors on the street on route, we head for a nearby shopping mall, with calls of ‘Hello Mister!’ from the small shops we wander past.
We stop for a few essentials and have a simple dinner, jumping into a taxi on the way back. Opening the door, the driver looks no more than 15 years old, we ask how old he is but he declines to answer… wonder if he can legally drive! Anyway, he gets us back safely so we are grateful for that!
After a good breakfast, we head back to Toyota to pick up the parts we had ordered but unfortunately they had ordered the wrong Master brake Cylinder, so we leave with only the axle seals.
We leave Jakarta for the 315 mile drive to Borobodur, home to Indonesia’s most popular tourist attraction, a centuries old Buddhist temple and monument. We drive on fast toll roads, the GPS telling us we should be there at 7.30pm, eight and a half hours later.
The skies suddenly darken, and the rain begins to pour. There is a huge pile up and we come to a standstill waiting 20 minutes before we check the GPS for alternatives routes. We spot a small back road which should take us 2km before rejoining the main high way. We try the short-cut through the back roads, but again we just rejoin the endless jam. In the end we double back and find the police are diverting traffic further around the mountain, which adds hours to our journey. Traffic is slow on the narrow roads winding up and down the mountains. Darkness is creeping up on us and we are still miles from our destination. Tired and hungry, we try to find a hotel for the evening but find they are over budget. We decide to push on in the darkness and rain for another 40miles to the next main town, but again we have no luck with hotels, and we continue the journey until around 11pm when we finally find a small motel along the roadside and settle in for the night.
May 20th Borobudur
We wake early and continue our drive to Borobudur, on almost race-track like roads saturated with motorbikes weaving in and out of other vehicles, overtaking on both the inside and outside, only to have the cars overtake them again once they gain speed! Wonder how we’ll cope driving on civilized roads again without beeping our horn every second! Once we arrive in town we start the search for a room for the night. In the end we decide on a nice hotel within the temple grounds and relax for the day, the cost of the room also including entrance to the temple too.
We have a luxury dinner of Pop Mies (Instant noodles), which go down quite well, our favourite being the Special Mie Goreng!
We plan to wake early to capture the temple in the morning sun…
After breakfast, we take a two minute stroll from the back of our hotel and arrive at the Borobudur temple, an amazing Buddhist monument built in the 8th century, which has survived earthquakes, tsunamis and terrorist attacks. It reminds us of Angkor Wat in its style.
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With the decline in Buddhism over the centuries, the temple lay abandoned for centuries, covered in layers of volcanic ash. Sir Thomas Raffles ruled Java in 1815, and this was when the temple was unearthed and once again revealed. A $25million restoration project was undertaken to stabilise and restore the forgotten temple.
Borobudur (Buddhist monastery on the hill) is a gigantic symmetrical stupa made from two million stone blocks with six square terraces topped by three circular ones. The design of the temple is based on the cosmos in stone, starting at the bottom in the everyday life leading up to the top, which represents nirvana, the Buddhist heaven.
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We climb to the top, 72 huge bell-shaped stupas on a top platform surround one large central one; Buddha statues which are hidden from view sit inside each one. We pass complex carvings which were meticulously created by hand as we take the pilgrims walk around the temple, past intricate narrative carved panels, from battle ships to ethereal dancing girls, and up a stairway to the top.
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We then leave for Yogyakarta, an hour’s drive away.
May 22nd Yogyakarta
Indonesia’s cultural capital is a compact city filled with numerous hotels and cafes. We decide to visit one of the highlights, the bird market, but when we get there are told it’s been moved, but have no idea as to where to. So we carry on to Prambanan temple, a 17km drive out of town. Built in 856 AD, it is the largest Hindu temple in the world, and an impressive one at that, with a style similar to the temples we had seen in Hampi, India and with Unesco world heritage status. The pointed and jagged architecture of the temples is unusual and they are set around a picturesque garden landscape.
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The Shiva temple is the largest of the 11 main temples within the central square, the spire towering at 50m from the central base and surrounded by two other temples honouring the gods Vishnu and Brahma, three smaller temples opposite each of the main ones. An outer wall was also built, the area used for ceremonies and to house priests and pilgrims.
Intricate carvings cover each temple, the Shiva temple particularly famous for the Ramayana ballet which depicts the story of King Rama and wife Sita, one of the two main epics which make up the Hindu religion.
23rd – 24th May Mount Bromo
We leave early for the 250 mile journey to Mount Bromo, arriving in Probollingo at 6pm, 38 km’s away from the main tourist base for Bromo. The roads are traffic congested and slow-going. Bikes seem to be a particular hazard, pulling out without looking and generally just being an unwanted hazard. We get to a long main road, with traffic moving extremely slowly; looking down the road, it is an almost stationary truck causing the jam.
On overtaking, although the dividing line is a mixture of solid and broken lines, we are pulled over by a policeman neither of us had spotted earlier, the car in front of us taking off! The policeman tries to get Martin to come with him to his office, but luckily he doesn’t speak good English and after Martin telling him he doesn’t understand, he lets us go! Otherwise we would have been parting with some cash!
After dark, we reach the bottom of the misty mountain, winding up through a couple of desolate villages. The few people we do see all seem to be wearing thick, brightly coloured poncho type jackets. Once we get to the main town of Cemoro Lawang we stop in a quiet restaurant for a break before heading up to the viewpoint for sunrise. As we enter, a group of European tourists, unshaven and looking rough and ready, turn around and stare at us briefly before returning to their card game. We sit at our table, the room is in complete silence, so much so that even the sound of a pin dropping would disturb the peace!
We buy park entrance tickets for 25000Rp each at the park office; the locals are all eager to know where we will be spending the night! We consider taking a hotel room, but the room is freezing with no heaters in sight (not to mention over priced), and at least we have heating and sleeping bags in the car, although at this point we are not sure if we are allowed to camp or not.
We had been informed that to reach the main view point we need to back track to the T-junction and take a left. Since we would be waking up at 4am anyway we decide to try and make it up to the view point that evening and sleep in the car. We drive up a dirt track for a few km’s, passing lonely unlit houses on the way, not too sure if we are on the right road. Spotting the end of a cigarette glowing in the darkness, we pull over unknowing that a cloud of dust and sand has been blown up by the car, covering the poor guy. He smiles and does not seem to be too bothered and points us in the way of the view point. Continuing in the pitch black the track becomes steeper and steeper until we reach the end of the track, and assume this must be it.
We position our car over-looking the crater, and settle in for the night. It is so peaceful, we can even hear the bubbling noises of lava from the volcano below us and see flashes of burning ash dropping. The sky is a blanket of stars with the moon really bright, shining on the car like a spotlight.
We wonder if we will be told to move on, wary of flashlights in the distance, but we can’t quite make out how close they are. Our alarm is set for 4am. Falling asleep halfway through a film, we are awoken before the alarm has a chance to wake us, by a knock on the window and a ‘Hello mister, you want a horse to the view point?’
A group of jeeps have pulled up behind us, carrying tour groups of people from the local hotels. We put on extra sweaters, our walking boots and start to climb Mount Penanjarang in the dark up some steep winding steps to the view point, meeting locals with horses coming down the hill, all asking if we wanted a ride to the top. ‘It’s a long way!’ Lots of tourists are walking up with no lights at all and follow us up the track. Twenty minutes later, we get to the viewpoint. With the moon and stars slowly disappearing, in their place beautiful gold and fiery red colours appear over the horizon. As the clouds creep over Mount Bromo and her surrounding volcanoes, rising up from the immense crater with the huge Mount Semeru on the horizon (the highest and one of Java’s most active volcanoes) the sun starts to rise slowly over the whole scene.
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On the way back down, we have views of a steaming Mount Bromo sitting on a lunar-like landscape with a Hindu temple at the foot of the volcano. A large puff of ash, steam and smoke comes out from the volcano with a loud roar, we feel the ground shake…..
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Once back at the car we try following the jeeps down across to the Laotian Pasir (Sand Sea), but are directed onto another road. ‘Sorry mister, only jeeps allowed down.’ ‘But ours is better than a jeep!’ ‘Government rules…You can always take a horse down!’
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We try and persuade the chief to let us drive our own car down but to no avail, so we decide to move on rather than fork out to hire a jeep to take us down.
We make the 120 mile journey to Bali on good, smooth and fast roads, along the coast.
On route, we cut a convoy of government vehicles in half, three identical shiny black cars in front and three to the back of us. It is a couple of hours to the port where we board the ferry. We are charged 114000Rp, crossing from Sumatra to Bali in just over half an hour.
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Martin & Nicole