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Diving for pennies

Sept 8

9:00 pm, only 6 hours late, we arrived into Denpasar (Bali) and made the walk out the front gates to save about $20 in cab fare. We had booked a different hotel, a bit cheaper, than the last time we had to stay in Kuta but it turned out to be owned by the same people and was across the alley. The pictures weren’t as deceiving and it was exactly what we expected. Or kinda. We didn’t expect to be beside a Karaoke bar that had a group of drunk, really bad, really loud singers partying until about 3 am (when they had the conversation about whether they should stay up ALL night karaokeing that I could hear as though they were in my room) and a resident rooster below our window (again) that started screeching at about 4 am. It was a long night with very little sleep.

Sept 9

Not surprisingly, we were up early. After free breakfast, at our old hotel, we were heading out to catch a cab when I remarked that a scooter would be much cheaper. James had to go to, and from, the dentist (his tooth was feeling better and the swelling had gone down but this might be our last chance for months to be in a city big, and international enough to have a decent dentist so we wanted to get it checked out) and cabs would add up, also we’d be able to do a bit of exploring, I wanted to see the Sea Shell Museum. The last time we quickly passed through Kuta I’d told James if we ever came back to Kuta and had a few extra hours then I’d like to go, he agreed - likely thinking we’d never spend much time here. Ever. Neither of us really liked the area. HA HA jokes on him! And it was really his fault, or not his fault – but his tooth ache.

Anyways, we rented a scooter and went to book our transfer to Mount Bromo for the next day. We would prefer to do it over a couple of days and save money by taking local buses but we were losing a day at the dentist so figured a tour would be convenient and faster. It’s not that you can’t do it as fast as the tour company, but there are always things that go wrong and slow you down. So we booked an overpriced tour for the next day. Then tried to find the dentist’s office. A few wrong turns, a few interesting back alleys and a few “Big Ben, Parliaments” later we found it. Another huge Thanks to Marianne at Dive Timor Lorosae because it was great! Clean, professional and full of Australians. Unfortunately James needed a root canal; fortunately they had the Asian efficiency in health care and assured James they could do it all in one day. A root canal and a crown. There was a small misunderstanding and he’d have to get an acrylic cap instead of porcelain but it would more than do the trick until we got home. But, between the root canal and capping we had a few hours to kill….so we went to the mall – Hey! It was air conditioned and had a McDonalds! We also did a bit of walking looking for a phone shop that could unlock our new East Timor phone (with no luck) and passed a few interesting markets full of pets (food?!?), fish, gem stones and of course, Batik. We seem to forget to take pictures when we are out doing errands and have realized we have no pictures of Kuta, the beach or anything we saw, interesting or not. OOOppppsss.

After the crown was firmly in place we went in search of the Sea Shell Museum and after only a few wrong turns found it. It was a huge, huge!, sea shell gift shop filled to the brim with everything made out of shells. Fancy lamps, chandeliers, jewellery, and furniture and even butt ugly napkin holders (wonder who gets those for Christmas?) with a museum on the second floor that we never saw. They were charging $10 USD /person. Holy Crap! A three days pass at Angkor Watt was only $30, and even in Japan, where everything is expensive, the amazingly beautiful temples are usually free. We also skipped it out of principle, they has baskets full of puffed up puffer fish shellacked for sale. So sad.

James was a bit sore and tired of driving so we returned the bike and went for a walk through the crowds of Kuta; shirtless backpackers drinking beer, over friendly restaurant staff trying to entice you in and families with hyped up kids and strollers wider than the sidewalks. We treated ourselves to wings and ribs, that were so yummy my mouth waters typing this, and then headed home to try to get some sleep.

Sept 10

I’m tired just thinking about how tired I was. LOL We only managed a few hours sleep again between the Karaoke-ers and the roosters – but no worries of sleeping through our alarm. We had a sleepy breakfast and walked to the tour office to catch our mini-bus. We had a good 8 hours of travel (or so they told us) and we were excited climbing into the mini-van to find we were the only two but a bit worried when it didn’t start. No problem, about 15 minutes later we were on our way. We had to take a short ferry ride between Gilimanuk and Ketapang and switch vans and we laughed because the ferry waited longer inline to dock then it did to do the crossing. As we were docking we saw a bunch of young boys diving into the water, in front of and around the boat. Passengers were waving and yelling – and throwing coins into the water so the boys could dive for them. Weird, and sad.

About 9.9 hours into the drive we pulled into a hotel/restaurant parking lot and the driver told us we had to wait for another group and he asked if we would like to wait in the restaurant for the 30 minutes. We were suspicious of the 30 minutes, weren’t hungry or thirsty and had been dozing so told them we’d wait in the van. They weren’t impressed but at this point I really didn’t care. I’m glad we were stubborn, it was two hours and 15 minutes later the guy woke us up. We were crammed into another mini-bus and made the 45 minute drive to Ngadisari. Yes, that’s right – we waited two hours and 15 minutes for a 45 minute drive. Grrrrrrrrrr.

We got checked into our economy under the main house mouldy room and fell exhausted into bed. We had signed up for a sunrise tour and were being picked up in about 4.5 hours. Five seconds after the lights went out they started. A pack, yes a pack, of dogs were chained outside our window and they growled and whined and barked all night!

View from the crowded mountain

Crowded lookout

Sept 11

When the alarm went off I somehow managed to drag my butt to the restaurant, shove my breakfast box in our backpack and climb into a jeep. Well I think I did, I must have because I soon found myself, along with 400 or so other sleepy people, shuffling up a dusty dirt path (my face mask packed neatly in a ziplock baggie in the bottom of my pack would have been so handy) up Gunung Pananjakan in the pitch dark. I think it must have been the lack of crowds in East Timor that had both of us feeling a bit claustrophobic. For most of the walk we were bumping elbows with people and horses (you could take a horse ride up) and once at the steps it was a painful two steps up and wait, 2 more steps up and wait…all the way to the top where on a tiny ledge all 400 + people jostled for the best view and picture.

Anyone remember which one was ours?

As the sun came up (not actually over Mount Bromo by the way) we were rewarded with spectacular views of the giant crater filled with lava fields and Mount Bromo itself. It looked like a giant sand dune.

We made our way back down to our jeep where James tripped over a tree stump while taking a picture and not only scraped his leg pretty good but dropped his camera in black powdered sand. Yikes! We are crossing our fingers it doesn’t hurt it. Back in the jeep we followed the other 100 + jeeps to the next sight. Mount Bromo (Gunung Bromo). We got dropped off in the black sand lava field, walked past a temple, up a soft sand hill and joined the slow procession up the steps. Again it was two steps up, stop and wait, 2 steps up, stop and wait. I was a bit over whelmed with the crowds. At the top we walked a little bit around the top, away from the tight crowd perched at the top of the stairs, and gazed down into the smoking crater of Mount Bromo. So very cool. A bit unnerving too. We were balanced on a soft sand edge that gave way a little as you walked further around. We hung out for a bit, throwing rocks into the crater before taking a short cut down through ankle deep soft sand.

The crater

We were back at our hotel by 8 am where I somehow managed to have the last hot shower, lucky for me – not so lucky for James. Our 9 am pick up finally came about 10 am and were off to our next stop, Yogya's (pronounced Jogja, short for Yogyakarta). For some reason there were more people than seats and not enough room for luggage so we shared seats and the driver literally kicked the bags in to fit – then slammed the trunk repeatedly until it closed. Glad I paid extra for this. Yogya, according to our tour company, would be about 8 hours. Bets anyone? We ended up at the stop we’d slept at the night before where we waited for our 11:30 am mini-van. Again, according to the tour company we should be in Yogya's by 5 or 6 pm….in roughly 5 hours. Hmmmmm.

Amazing sight, but way too many people, click the third picture to see all the jeeps.

Two of the too many people

We scored the front seats, I guess we had overpaid because we got the pick of seats, in our air conditioned (broken) mini-van…..sorry….I can’t believe how much I hate tour companies sometimes. This is the second and last time we will use this company and have overpaid to get less than we’d get on a local bus, where we actually would prefer to be. We did end up sitting beside a friendly girl from London who was in the last four days of her 9 month trip and we chatted about what we had seen and done. James got a great laugh when for once he wasn’t the grumpiest person – a lady behind us asked us to be quiet. Really? In a min-van, on a long distant ride in the middle of the day…no talking. Man I wish I had a screaming child.

We did end up sleeping, reading, and I managed to catch up with James on Mad Men – I got 9 episodes in (IPOD and external battery for long hauls). How? Do you ask, could I have watch 9 full Mad Men episodes (and sleep, and stop for lunch and read a bit) on a 5-6 hour bus ride? BBAAAHHAAAAAAAA We pulled into Yogya's about 10:30 pm. We were so happy we’d pre-booked. Out of 10 in the van only four of us had (2 couples) and the rest went looking….no big deal really, there are a lot, especially in our area, but we’d all been up to do the sunset tour and I was dead on my feet. I was pleasantly surprised with our place and without much thought I fell into a dead sleep once my head hit the pillow (I did managed to get into my pj’s).

Lost Again

Sept 12

I woke up smiling, almost giggling. I felt so much better. We’d upgraded to air conditioning when we checked in and the combination of white noise, cold room and quiet hotel had enabled me to sleep soundly, barely moving all night. And – YEAH! – no roosters! We were slow to start but eventually made it out of the hotel for a walk of the city.

Yogya is protective of its customs and has a nice mix of old and new. It is still headed by its sultan, whose kraton remains the hub of traditional life, but has shiny new malls, modern movie theatres and the relentless traffic of a large Java city.

Anyone for a private swim?

We did start the day off booking a tour for the next day. While I sat and lingered over coffee, and just trying to wake my over slept brain up, James had taken a quick walk out and picked up flyers so it was just a quick stop. We could do it cheaper, not by much, on a scooter, but not all in one day like the tours did and James was tired of driving. We had three things we actually wanted to see and no amount of wrangling we did seemed to matter, we could only do two tomorrow, the third would have to be done by scooter.

Then it was off to see the sights. We started at the water palace, officially called Taman Sari. A beautiful set of buildings built between 1758 and 1765 by a Portuguese architect who was allegedly later executed to keep the sultan’s hidden “pleasure rooms” secret. Over time it had been damaged by war and nature and was in complete ruins, today only the main bathing pools have been restored. According to our guide the sultan would hang out in the secret tower and when the fancy struck him he’d toss a flower into the wives pool (there was two separate pools, one for his wives and one for his children) and whoever was lucky enough to retrieve it got to go have a “private” swim with the Sultan. Interesting. Also interesting is the year 1758 – the sultan had 17 wives and 58 children….think they bent the truth a bit?

The royal oven mitts and socks...wtf?

Next we headed to the Palace. Well eventually we did, as usual we got a bit lost - and loved it. We were in small back alleys and side streets filled with tiny, neat houses full of potted plants. The palace, sorry it’s actually called a Kraton, is a perfect example of traditions holding strong in Yogya. It’s a walled royal enclave and the cultural and political heart of the city and remains the primary resident of the sultan. It was interesting, not all that touristy and very obviously a place of work, not just for tours. It had different rooms set up with different themes; art, gold, clothing….and kitchen. We had a laugh looking at the royal spatula, royal plastic soup spoon and royal oven mitts and socks.

Our next stop was the train station. We decided we’d book it ourselves, not so much to save the $1.25 service fee a travel agent charges but to see all the options, the flyers only showed afternoon trains to Bandung and we were hoping for a morning train. The train station was fun. A hot, crowded tired building that had a fancy computer number board that apparently didn’t work. So you took a paper number and waited for yours to be called. Seeing as though they were calling the numbers out in Indonesian it meant we had to stand beside the very helpful number caller until ours was called, we were about 85th in line. We treated ourselves to the Executive seats – air conditioning – for the 8 hour journey.

James has asked me to leave this next bit out….but we had lunch – at Wendy’s. It seems every 2-4 weeks we hit a city big enough to have fast food chains and we indulge. We think it’s living in South Korea for almost two years and that we like variety and junk food that we don’t feel we have to eat locally for every meal, and to be honest Asia’s local usually is a lot of variations of rice and noodles. Blah! I might as well just admit I plan to hit a Starbucks and an A&W before we leave Java….

. The walk to Wendy’s was fairly long (and hot) and past more of the interesting city. Markets, the backpackers area, the financial district and I think a bit of the suburbs. I noticed a lot of graffiti, there is a lot in Indonesia but a crazy amount here. Or maybe it was because so much of it was amazing, a lot of wasted talent.

After lunch we decided it was too hot to be outside and used it as an excuse to have a movie date. It’d been awhile and Indonesia had straightened its back taxes or whatever out and had international movies in again. We saw Captain America, he’s very hot! Then did the responsible thing and picked up some groceries and went “home” for a swim before bed. What a great day!


Sept 13

Two full nights of sleep and some exercise yesterday (it’s amazing how a few days on busses can hurt so much) and I woke up feeling normal again. I was also excited – we were doing a tour of temples, and we all know how much I love temples. It’s been a while since we saw any. Our group was small and for the first time all short time vacationers, as opposed to people traveling for an extended length, except us. In Asia you meet so many people traveling for 3-6 months or 6-9 months and then quite a few traveling a year or more. We had a couple from Holland and an Indonesian couple (she was a beautiful news announcer on Trans 7) in the group.

We started the day at Borobudur, an 8th century Mahayana Buddhist monument and temple. The temple has six square platforms and almost 600 Buddha statues. It was impressive, very big. It reminded me a bit of Angkor Watt, but not nearly as amazing. Angkor Watt has ruined me, but I still love and appreciate the time, effort and skill involved in building this, especially without modern tools and materials. It was abandoned in the 14th century with the conversion to Islam, until Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles “discovered it”, although my bet is a local said “Hey, wanna see something cool”, and he claimed it. Either way it was a good thing, Sir Thomas’ discovery sparked interest and it is being restored. At the temple people, and groups of people, kept approaching James and asking for a picture with him. We were not the only foreigners but I think it is his red hair. He needs a shave, and thick red beards are not something Asians see every day. He thinks it’s because he looks like a rockstar. (James’ Note: I said I think it is because I look like a pornstar)

Some of James' fans

It looks like I'm being smart and reading up on the temple, but I'm really hiding from the hot sun, the sign didn't even have english.

On the way to the next big sight, Prambanan, we stopped at two smaller temples and a monastery. Mendut, Pawon and Borobudur are all Buddhist temples, are located in one straight line and have a mutual religious relationship but the exact ritual process is unknown.

Pawon Temple is a beautiful but small Buddhist Temple slightly older then Borobudur. Most probably, this temple served to purify the mind prior to ascending Borobudur.

Mendut Temple is the oldest of the three and built during the reign of King Indra of Sailendra dynasty. The three large statues of Dhyani Buddha Vairocana, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani inside the Mendut temple were amazing. Vairocana was meant to liberate the devotees from the bodily karma, at the left is statue of Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara to liberate from the karma of speech, at the right is Boddhisatva Vajrapani to liberate from karma of thought.


I think we had saved the best for last. We got dropped off at Prambanan and walked south past two temples in ruins to Sewu. We were surprised that other than us and the Holland couple in our van we were the only ones that did the walk from Prambanan, the main sight. Everyone took a look and got back on their bus and left, missing what I think is just as important and impressive. Just as we were leaving Prambanan a couple of cute students asked if they could walk with us, they were studying to be guides and wanted to practice on us. We agreed and they didn’t actually tell us anything the guide book didn’t but they were fun and had questions about us and where we were from. They left us at the last temple, I think a bit surprised at how we lingered over them all.

First we came across the ruins of Candi Lumbung, a Buddhist-style temple, consisting of one main temple surrounded by 16 smaller ones.

Then Candi Bubrah is a Buddhist temple still in ruins and nothing but piles of stones.

Finally we came to Sewu, a Buddhist temple complex, which has a main sanctuary surrounded by many smaller temples. It has beautiful well preserved guardian statues, replicas of which stand in the central courtyard at the Jogja Kraton. Most of the smaller temples we also just piles of rocks but interesting to wander through.



We were supposed to stop at a silver “village” but the driver opted for a silver store. I was a bit gutted but the rest of the van didn’t seem to mind so I kept quiet. We did end up getting home early, in time for a refreshing swim and some time on the internet. We had to plan the rest of our time in Java still.

Just a small peak at the devestation

Sept 14

We had an early start today (and James laughed at me – 8:30 am he says is not an early start, my lack of job for over two years is having a bad influence on me) because we were renting a bike we thought we could use some extra time to navigate. I consider us volcano junkies but today we were doing something different; visiting an area of recent destruction caused by an eruption of a volcano rather than seeing the volcano itself. We got out of the city fairly easy, surprisingly we didn’t get lost once and, even more surprising, James only threatened to beat me to death with the map once. (James’ Note: When your navigator exclaims “I know exactly where we are”, and then explains that she doesn’t have a clue where we should go because knowing exactly where you are doesn’t mean you know where you are on a map, or relative to your start point, or relative to your destination. Apparently knowing exactly where you are just means you recognize a building you passed a couple of days ago.) A good start I’d say.

We visited three main areas and they were all shocking, startling and surreal. You could see the paths lava had taken, leaving huge rocks and piles of black sand, wiping out houses and whole villages. The area around Gendol River was the most shocking. You could stand and turn 360 degrees and see nothing but flat, rock covered sand …. roofs of houses sticking up, entire palm trees lying flat and burnt. It was a sight impossible to describe in words or to even show the scale in pictures. I made James take a video (both my batteries were dead) and it’s a bit boring, but it gives you an idea. We didn’t know what to expect and thought it would be a quick half day trip but we ended up spending almost all day riding around (and walking when the road was too bad) talking it all in. It was a reminder of how fierce and dangerous nature can be. We joke about how eerie it feels when we hike volcanos but this was no joke, I would never want to be anywhere near an erupting volcano, no matter how in awe of them I am.

360 degree video of what used to be a village (Click on picture for link to video - 6MB)

On October 25 2010, after a number of Volcano organizations with big names reported volcanic activity, the Indonesian government raised the alert for Mount Merapi to its highest level (4) and warned villagers in threatened areas to move to safer ground. People living within a 10 kilometre area were told to evacuate. Officials said about 500 volcanic earthquakes had been recorded on the mountain. Dangerous volcanic activity continued; eruptions, ash falls, heat clouds, spewing and flowing lava, avalanches, until late November. The death toll kept raising and by December 3 it was at a startling 353 with another 320,000 plus people reported to have been evacuated to emergency shelters. Most of the people were reported as being killed by searing gas clouds and from respiratory complications, burns and other illnesses related to the eruptions. Some victims died in road and other accidents during the panicked exodus from the mountain. By mid November the eruptions had damaged 867 hectares of forest land on the volcano's slopes in Sleman District, Yogyakarta, with material losses estimated at Rp33 billion.

Back at the hotel we had a swim and shower to get all the gritty black sand off us we had a great dinner while surfing the net. We still didn’t have anything booked for our last few days in Java. We had an idea what we wanted to do but the hotel prices were really expensive and the cities we’d be based in big, dirty and, according to what we’d been reading, unsafe. Not really our thing, so we were thinking of changing our itinerary. Two and a half hours later, still nothing booked, we gave up and went home….deciding to sleep on it. We had a train ticket to Bandung but who knew where we’d actually end up tomorrow.

Sept 15

Last night I had one of those freaky dreams I often get when I travel. I half woke up in the middle of the night and had no idea where I was. To make things even more complicated I am reading a crappy book where the heroin gets kidnapped, it’s based in colonial times so she was taken away on horseback. I woke up, thought I had been kidnapped, taken away on horseback and couldn’t figure out where they had me. Then I saw that James wasn’t in his bed (we had twin beds, a very common thing in Indonesia) so thought maybe it was him that was kidnapped. I started yelling his name….he was peeing. Sleeping in a different place every 2.5 nights can really mess you up.

Typical view out the train window

We had another early start, 8 am today!, and after breakfast and a short cab ride we were at the train station getting ready to say goodbye to Yogya . We both agreed we could happily have used one more day, I would have like to do some shopping and James would have like to work on his web site beside the pool. We also still have nothing booked, but think we might at least spend one night in Bandung. We have a list of a few hotels but the warning to “not use this route after 6 pm” has us a bit worried.

As our train pulled in I was so happy we’d spent the extra $4 and got executive seats. As I found our executive seats I wondered why we did. No, it was much better than economy but one of the smelliest, dirtiest trains I been on. A few minutes into our journey both James and I remarked how it reminded us of Korea. For me it was the comfort of train travel as the green rice paddies flew passed. The 8 hours flew by. We had our pb sandwiches, read, watched tv on the ipod and arrived in Bandung relatively rested. I’ll take a train, even a dirty train, over a bus any day.

We didn’t have a hotel booked but we booked into our second choice so only 15 or 20 minutes after getting off the train we were checking in. As usual, we dropped our bags and went in search of dinner. We were also in a bit of a rush, the guide doesn’t recommend being out late at night in our area and we wanted to be back early. First impressions of Bandung were not great. It was a dirtier than most Java city of 3+ million and packed with people, traffic and pollution. We found a place to eat, didn’t linger, and took a cab back to the hotel. It was only a 20 minute walk but even with a taller than any guy in the city, muscular hottie at my side – we weren’t taking any chances.

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