Unlike Bali, Java’s economy doesn’t thrive or depend on tourism. It was harder to get around, but more of the kind of travel we like. Thus far, our trip was too easy and we were yearning for more adventure. We got that in Java. We arrived in Java by ferry from Bali. It was only 1pm and we didn’t really know where we wanted to go. We went to the train station but all the trains had departed for the day. A man on a bicycle-powered rickshaw told us the bus station was still bustling, so he cycled us over there for $2. We were mislead to believe that a bus was going to a beach town, but it happened to be a local circuit bus that took 4 hours to get not very far at all. We were hungry and tired so we decided to make our way to a town on the railway system. It took another 4 hours but we finally made it to Jember. By this time it was dark, and we didn’t see any hotels around. We got off the bus what seemed to be right on time as only weird men were still on the bus, starting to sit closer and clearly talking about us while laughing with each other. When we got off, there were only motorbike taxis. They asked us to get on separate bikes to take us to a hotel. We were very scared of being separated so it was a scary 5 minute ride. We finally made it to the hotel, checked in for the night, took a cold shower, had some terrible food, and went to bed. The next morning we headed to the train station and bought tickets to Probolinggo. We sat reading and talking to locals. Before long a hoard of children wearing bright pink pants flooded out of a bus to take a tour of the train station. They greeted all of the workers and of course were curious about us. Their teachers lined them up to shake our hands. This made them nervous but some were still brave enough to do as they were told.Like we experience in China, people wanted photos with us to show their friends and family of the foreigners who stumbled into their town. At first we thought they might be waiting for a train, but after 30 minutes of playing on the baggage carts and running around, they piled back into their buses. We assume they were on a field trip of some sort. Before we got on the train we met a Canadian who was surprised to see us in Jember. He informed us that there was a lot of religious extremism and anti-American sentiment. It turns out our fears from the night before had been justified before we even knew why. Things have been better since Obama was elected because he spent some time on Java during college. That seemed to be a source of pride that was almost always mentioned when we said we were American.After the train ride to Probolingo we met up with two Dutch travelers who were making their way up to Bromo, a mountain town with beautiful mountains, valleys, and volcanoes. After the excitement of the day before, we tagged along with them. The van that should have seated 9 sat 20. It took us from a sweltering hot city to a tiny, chilly mountain town.There were some home stays but we forgot to take cash out in Probolinggo and there were no ATMs on the mountain. We stayed at the Cafe Lava Hostel because they accepted our credit card. At $37 a night it was more money than we had anticipated to spend. It was cleaner and warmer than the home stays so it was worth it. We went to bed early so we could wake up early and begin our hike at 3 up to a viewpoint for sunrise.
We hiked up Mount Pananjakan for a couple hours with our new Dutch friends Frederik and Floor and our new Chinese friend, Song, who also forgot to visit an ATM and ended up at the same hostel. We arrived at the perfect time, took a seat and watched the sky fade from black to blue.
There are three volcanoes you can see from this viewpoint. The crater to the left is Mount Bromo. It is the shortest due to its frequent activity blowing off the top. The farthest is Mt Semeru, and the closest is Mount Batok. They are all active volcanoes, and can see the evidence of their recent lava flows on the valley floor.
Frederik and Floor are a sweet couple who we really enjoyed talking with. They’re active hikers and cyclists so we were able to share stories and had a lot in common. After this trip to Java, Floor began a bicycle tour that started in China, and took her through Laos and Vietnam. You can read her blog here . It’s in Dutch but if you use Google Chrome, it will translate to English automatically.
We hiked down, and waited for the free breakfast buffet to begin at our hostel. The food was incredible and the company was even better. Our table was lined by people from China, South Africa, Holland, and the US, which made for some especially colorful worldly conversations. We ate multiple plates, then went to our room to rest before hiking up to the brim of Mount Bromo to look inside the crater. Mi slept, but Kelly was so enthralled by the end of the second Game of Thrones book that she kept on reading. Once Mi woke up, we started walking to Mount Bromo.The hike was more like a relaxing stroll through the sandy plain until we reached the bottom of the volcano. It was like walking on another planet. The thick mist kept us cool and shrouded the horizon, giving it a distinct other-worldly atmosphere.
The closer we got to the volcano, the darker the pewter-colored sand became. The frequent eruptions carved out this lava river and left behind a layer cake of history. For something with such destructive power, the volcanos’ incredible beauty draws people from all over. The nearby village, which is situated on the other side of a protective rise, is often threatened by eruptions but the increasing tourist revenue makes living there even sweeter.
Every dozen puffs of smoke we could see further into the crater. It was like watching a smoker exhale smoke and then pause to take a drag, revealing a sulphuric yellow/green liquid beneath the smoke.Every time we meet a huge staircase, we always count the number of steps. Our climb to the crater’s edge took us up 253 sandy stairs. Although it was not easy, we have climbed higher up to temples in China, which on several occasions were more than one thousand stairs. We were a little out of breath, which was made harder by the sulfuric smoke billowing from Bromo. We were a bit nervous to stand close to the edge because the guardrail was in a state of disrepair and the slope down to Bromo’s gullet did not look to have any handholds to prevent a slide which culminated in bubbling greenish liquid.
The next morning, we ate a leisurely breakfast and waited for the bus to take us back down the mountain. Song, Fredrik, and Floor accompanied us in the cramped bus, which was more akin to a sardine can, to the train station in Probolinggo. Frederik and Floor were heading in the same direction as us but Song went the way we all came from. It was strange to lose a part of the of the group that randomly formed off the bus in Bromo just a few days before. We had dinner with Frederik and Floor a couple nights later and had such great conversations. We are kicking ourselves in the head for not getting more photos of them.In Yogyakarta (pronounced Jokjiakarta) we set out to explore the city center. Our hostel was located just off of the Main drag, Jalan Malioboro; we were in the heart of the city. We went to a travel agency and booked a tour to Borobudur and Prambanan for the following day. At that travel agency we met an Isreali American who spent 20 years in NYC and recently moved back to Isreal before traveling. We met him in his sixth month of exploration. We all headed down to the 246-year-old Sultan’s Palace, called Kraton. The colors on the pillars represent 3 religions. The green represents Islam, the pink lotus flower Buddhism, and the turquoise represents Hinduism.
From the palace we took a horse and buggy to a workshop to learn how Batik textiles are made. Using wax-resisting dyeing methods, people create artistic tapestries with a series of bees wax patterns, and dyeing the cloth multiple times. The base color is always yellow, and they go darker from there. The more colors in a tapestry, the more times they have had to dye it. Later we went to the bird market. The original bird market was next to the Kraton but after the bird flu they moved it a couple kilometers from the city center. This was the low point of our vacation. We’re not sure why we didn’t expect to see stall after stall of too many birds in small cages, sickly puppies, kittens, and exotic animals ranging from large lizards to hedgehogs to giant fruit bats as big as cats. We wrote to Lonely Planet to ask them to put a disclaimer about it in their tour books.After the bird market, the torrential afternoon downpour began. We of course forgot our umbrella and only overpriced bicycle-powered rickshaws were available this far outside of the center. We decided to venture on public transportation instead. The two buses we took were jittery and punctured with rust holes. The seats below these holes were soaking wet.
The next morning we woke up before the sun to catch a tour that started at 4:30am to two famous temples in this region: Borobudur and Prambanan. Some say these temples rival those of Ankor Wat, but on a significantly smaller scale. Both of these temples are afflicted by occasional earthquakes. Our first stop was Borobudur, a Buddhist temple. Built in the 9th century, the temple is made from a series of platforms, each lined by carved reliefs and topped with Buddha statues (there are 504 in all). The monument is topped by a series of stupas. Interestingly, the temple was built around year 800 and was abandoned at some point. It was rediscovered in the 1800s and was soon cleared of all the volcanic ash and jungle growth that had covered it.
All of the temple walls are covered with intricately carved reliefs and the structures at both places were pieced together from blocks like puzzle pieces. Each block had a numerical symbol on the top to indicate where the builders had to put it.
We were stopped by students who wanted to practice their English with foreigners. They were excited to learn that we teach English in China. We spoke with 4-5 groups of students for about an hour before pulling away to look at the temple.
We got to the second temple at around noon and by then the sun was already blazing. We walked up and down through a series of Brahma and Vishnu temples with sweat streaming down our faces. Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia and it was built in the 9th century. Since then, earthquakes and erosion have knocked down the majority of the site’s original 224 temples and only 8 have been reconstructed.
Spelled differently than the affliction that up to 80% of travelers get. We are still kids so we laugh at all poop and fart jokes. After a long morning and afternoon of sight seeing, we enjoyed a late lunch with local brew. On the tour we met a couple of British people who lived in Germany. They were also vegan and told us there was a vegan restaurant right around the corner from our hostel. We ate there about 4 times before leaving Java.
We spent a total of 10 days in Java but spent most of our time reading and recovering from the bug Mi picked up on Bali. After a month of traveling, it felt nice to stay still for a few days to rest and devour more of the books we picked up on the trip. We started reading the Game of Thrones the night we left Kuala Lumpur and by the time we got to Java, Kelly was on the third book. We were lucky to find the next 2 books in book exchanges. On our last day, we caught a flight back to Kuala Lumpur and stayed the night at the airport. We couldn’t get into the terminal until morning so we slept at a vegetarian Indian restaurant. Mi couldn’t get to sleep but Kelly slept like a baby in a tiny little cradle with a side missing.
Next and final stop of the May Holiday: Siem Reap, Cambodia!