Our flight from Bali to Yogyakarta was with a different airline - Mandala Air. We arrived at the airport in good time to check in and confirm it was on schedule: we settled in to await departure.However, strangely our flight was the only one that didn't have a check in gate number and one by one other flights leap-frogged ours and left for new horizons and still no sign of our plane! This looked ominous, but just as we were beginning to think there might be a real problem the incoming flight arrived and soon we were winging our way to Yogyakarta.Not long after take-off as we were flying over the western end of Java, we had the most incredible aerial view of the currently active volcano Gunung Bromo looking right down into its steaming crater.
Unusually, we hadn't booked any accommodation on this occasion thinking, as the travel books had indicated, that as it was low (ie wet) season we'd be able to pick up a good deal at one of the better hotels. Well the long and the short of it is that that no longer seems to be the case - much better deals are to be had by booking in advance through the internet - and as it was late in the day we ended up having no option but to take an expensive room (the only one available) at the Grande Mercure for one night.We were a bit cheesed off with it really, especially as the bathroom lights were a bit temperamental and one of the bedside lamps shorted and blew all the lights! Also, we were really thirsty when we arrived and ordered two jugs of local beer - when they arrived they were definitely off and had to be replaced. But what was even worse was that we'd wanted a place with a pool (essential to cool off in hot and steamy Yogya!) and we couldn't use it because it was the setting for some business functions. Our effort to get some recompense fell on deaf ears. Next day we moved to the Ministry of Coffee, a much more modest establishment in Jalan Prawirotaman, and we're so glad we did. It didn't have a pool but we did have air con in our very clean room, the staff were great and it was fronted by a cafe serving excellent coffee and cakes.The big bonus was that it was right in the sort of area we really like - very near the centre and all the sights, and heaving with lots of other small hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants (all serving good food and enlivened in the evenings by - mostly very talented - buskers plying their trade for a few Rupiah). There was also a travel agent nearby where it was handy to book our trips to a couple of the major attractions outside the city. That evening we explored some of the narrow streets of the old white-walled city close to our hotel , which is called the Kraton. Just inside at the southern end is a large square green (the Alun Alun) and there was a bit of a fair on with food stalls, pony rides, pony and traps and even elephant rides. We found a suitable cafe/bar close to the hotel just before the heavens opened so we stayed for some beers and a bite to eat.
It was a very early start the next morning (5am pick up!) for our day out to Borobudur, a massive Buddhist temple about 42 km outside Yogya. We were supposed to arrive for the sunrise but by the time we got there when the temple opened at 6am the sun was already up and peaking through the clouds.In the near distance through the clouds we got our first glimpse of Gunung Merapi smoking away.It was good to get there early while it was still quiet and before the masses arrived - which they did about an hour later. Borobudur temple at 1,200 years old is built around a hill and set among rice fields and palm trees with steep heavily forested hills in the background.It is highly impressive and amazingly peaceful.We were glad we'd hired a guide (for really next to nothing at 50,000 Rp between us) as this gave us much more insight into the history of the temple and the meaning of the carvings and tiered layout. It really is a remarkable site because for an ancient building it is in such good condition - it has survived the volcanic eruptions of Merapi, earthquakes and, apparently, terrorist bombs, not to mention millions of tramping feet and centuries of Indonesian weather. It clearly is one of Asia's most important and impressive historical sites.
As we neared the end of our guided tour, as expected, the peace was shattered as hoards and hoards of schoolkids arrived and swarmed over us wanting to take photos, and talk to practise their English.We'd been warned that this would happen because local Javanese see very few Westerners and we'd already experienced a bit of this in Sumatra.The kids are all really friendly and interested and some seem to be quite overawed at the sight of us - they just gawp open mouthed.It is really good to talk to them because they give us an insight into their country and culture.But over time it can become quite awkward because it can hinder your own enjoyment of a particular sight and sometimes we just gently have to say no.It gave us a bit of a hint of how celebrities might feel when they're constantly pursued by fans.Of course when you're with other Westerners they help to take the strain! And we're glad we had Bede from North Shore, Sydney (studying Indonesian history in Holland), Mike from Paisley and a girl from North Wales all of whom were also centres of attraction.
On our way to the next major site at Prambanan, we stopped off at two small temples - CandiPawon and Candi Mendut - which were much quieter. Also in our group were Tisa, Putri, Natasya, Natali, students from Jakarta who were having a short break in Yogyakarta and it's been really nice to have since received a message from Tisa. Prambanan is very impressive being the largest Hindu temple complex in Java and is around1,200 years old.It consists of a number of temples dedicated to different Hindu gods. It was however badly affected by serious earthquakes in the 16th century that toppled many of the temples and more recently on 27 May 2006 that caused further damage that has made the temples unsafe. A guided walk around the perimeter of the site gave us good views of the temples but also the damage. As with Borobudur, UNESCO is working hard at restoration of Prambanan but it will take considerable efforts and time to safeguard these for the future.The fragility of this part of the world with it's volcanic activity and earthquakes makes many things uncertain.
Next day we again set to wander through the narrow streets of the Kraton to the Taman Sari, or Water Castle, which was once a pleasure park of pools for the Sultan, and through the bird market.We spent a few hours walking round and eventually made our way out of the north gate of the Kraton and on to the main thoroughfare and shopping street, Jalan Malioboro (for some reason named after the Duke of Marlborough - no idea why).By this time we were sorely wilted from the heat and humidity and even after a stop for a cool drink we'd had enough for one day.So we did the sensible thing and took a becak (pedal trishaw) back to the MoC. We decided to eat further afield that evening so headed off to Omar Duwur, a restaurant in the Kota Gede area of the city (recommended by Lonely Planet).Well, it was interesting and a modern and stylish restaurant.It was strange to be the only customers and we were among staff where English was hardly spoken. But we did have a really nice meal with some more Bali wine.
The Dieng Plateau lies towards the north of Central Java and is 6,500 feet above sea level. This was once the site of a flourishing temple-city of priests although it is now primarily an agricultural area.This was an opportunity to see a bit more of Java so we set off on a tour. We had splendid and unexpected views of Merapi (smoking away) and Gunung Sumbing (another higher volcano) and as we climbed we experienced a changing and lovely landscape. We had an unscheduled stop because of a puncture - Ahmed our driver changed the wheel very efficiently - but soon were off again and shortly climbing amongst terraces and terraces of small fields lining every patch of available ground. At Dieng we stopped at the Arjuna complex of 8 remaining Hindu temples.They are basically ruins but are worth a visit. Our next stop was Kawah Sikidang, a ".. crater with steaming vents and frantically bubbling mud ponds .." (to quote Lonely Planet). It was certainly sulphurous and impressive (see Java photo album and video) but it is certainly not for swimming. Our final stop was at the coloured lake (Telaga Warna) which has strange turquoise hues from the bubbling sulphur deposits around its shores. Then it was back into the car for the long drive back to Yogya.By this time the usually ever present clouds had thrown their cloaks around Merapi and Sumbing so we felt very lucky to have had such good views of them on the way up that morning.
On our last day we needed to catch up with Yogya's sights.We took a becak to Benteng Vredeburg (the old Dutch fort) which had a series of dioramas depicting Indonesia's route to independence (despite what Lonely Planet says about the dioramas we found them very interesting and well presented).We then walked the short distance via the post office (where we were intrigued to see a poster advertising a Harry Potter series of Indonesian stamps - amazing how he seems to be everywhere now!) to the Sono-Budoyo Museum. Then it was off to visit the Sultan's Palace in the centre of the Kraton.This seems to be in two parts - the first isn't that interesting as it only seems to be the place from where the Sultan/officials address the public, although the main part where the Sultan still lives, is much more extensive and impressive.We had a good guide whose sense of humour, comments and insights into the current Sultan's life and family were revealing and entertaining. As it was getting hotter and we were getting 'moister' our final visit was to the Museum Kareta Kraton which houses the Sultan's collection of horsedrawn carriages. Lonely Planet advises to look out for statues of bug-eyed horses - see the Java photo album.On the subject of horses and carriages, one of the main forms of transport around the city is the pony and trap which, like the becaks, are for general use by the locals and not simply for tourists (in any case there aren't that many tourists!).We enjoyed Yogya and Indonesia very much and once again found ourselves sad to leave.On our way to the airport we realised we'd left the camera bag in the hotel and shouted to the taxi driver to turn around and go back.He shouted back 'No, hotel come here!'.We shouted back again 'No, go back to hotel'.And so it went on a few times until we realised that the driver was being serious - he'd a call from the hotel and they were in hot pursuit by motorbike.E & M and cameras were happily reunited.
So far we've had a relatively trouble-free journey and made all our connections.So you know what's coming next.Two days before, Air Asia had their inaugural flight between Yogya and Kuala Lumpur (where we had to change for our flight to Sarawak on Borneo). It was strange experience sitting in a small departure lounge with absolutely no facilities (you had to go back through immigration, leaving your passport at the desk, if you wanted something to eat or drink) and sitting amongst officials and VIPs who were a bit puffed up with the new international status of their airport. Other officials were walking around with cameras and videos to record the occasion.Suddenly the hills in the distance vanished, the sky darkened and down came torrential tropical rain accompanied by thunder and lightning overhead. We knew this looked ominous because the incoming flight hadn't touched down but, we were told, was circling above us in holding pattern.Eventually the announcement came that the plane had diverted to the nearby city of Solo.By this stage the airport was closed and nothing was taking off or landing.Earlier, as we were waiting to pay our departure tax, we'd got talking to Christa from Holland who was teaching English in Indonesia.She too had a connecting flight at KL so we exchanged anxieties and kept each other company as we waited, and waited, and waited.
Eventually the weather cleared a little bit and the flight came in.By this time it was more than two hours late and despite speaking with ground staff and cabin crew who probably couldn't do that much in any case (Air Asia being equivalent to Ryanair) we missed our flights.We both managed to convince Air Asia to book us on to early morning flights the next day at no extra cost to us.By this time it was after midnight so we checked into a nearby budget transit hotel where we managed to get four hours sleep.
E M xxxx