Yet another early start to catch a plane to Java, (I will get some sleep one day). Well, two planes, from Sumatra via Jakarta to Yogyakarta. I am a bit apprehensive as the Indonesian national carrier, Garuda, has been banned from Heathrow for years. However, the flights are fine. Though I was complaining about the lack of even a drink on board, until I remembered that it was Ramadan.
We have time to visit the big Hindu temple complex at Prambanan (still being reconstructed). It has a restaurant that serves food other than fried noodles. And the hotel for the next two nights is lovely. Real food and a swimming pool. We are in Java now.
Despite my lovely hotel I have had yet another dodgy attempt at sleep. This time something was banging in the bathroom all night. The relentless pace has not let up. We have been whisked off to a batik shop, another silversmith’s (ouch!). Naturally we are encouraged to go to the shops where our tour leaders get the most commission and they are always described as being ‘really, really fantastic’.
Then another sultan’s palace (though the Dutch allowed this sultan to stay around and he still lives there) and another temple complex. This time it is the famous Buddhist temple at Borodupur and definitely worth visiting. It is presided over by the most active volcano in the world (another Merapi). Today it just smokes quietly and eludes our efforts to take a decent photo by hiding in cloud most of the time. There was a big eruption in 2010 and the bulldozers are still out clearing the lava from the main street of the town and the riverbed.
A lovely meal at a great restaurant next to the hotel. Proud of myself for sticking to Indonesian and not being tempted to have steak. The cheesecake is a different story.
Absolutely not allowed to sleep. Knocking in bathroom cured, but up at six yet again for another long day on the road. The traffic is solid. I have discovered what the extra man on the bus is for. He waves his arm out of the window, palm upwards to indicate that the bus is going to overtake in a particularly dangerous spot, despite the fact that there is no room between the vehicles in front to pull in. After the driver has forced his way in the gesture turns into a thumbs up.
The bus isn’t exactly speedy. The wheels are out of alignment and every time we do get up enough speed to overtake it begins to judder alarmingly and we have to fall back again behind the endless line of trucks.
Surakarta is also known as Solo. The eighteenth-century Keraton Kasunanan here was another royal family residence and today is a museum of heirlooms, while Mangkunegaran Palace has an elaborately painted pavilion. Most of the sightseeing in these involves oohing and aahing over the assortment of gifts that the sultan has received. Quaintly, some of these are gold and silver chastity belts for both sexes. The male contraption looks especially lethal, with various spikes protruding.
We have lunch at another Padang. This is a bit like tapas - lots of small dishes but they put them all out on the table and you pay for what you eat. Not a noodle in sight.
Java has much more traffic and urbanisation. The roofs are also different again, much squatter and far less elaborate. Perhaps they are fertile enough already down here. We are stopped by the police for an imaginary traffic infringement. The guide tells us that Indonesia is not nearly as corrupt as it used to be.
Sukharno's Old Palace
We are staying in one of President Sukharno’s old residences tonight. (There were six of them). It's all Dutch colonial, carved teak and garuda birds. Nevertheless, there is a cockroach waiting to greet me in my outside bathroom with mandi. I scoop it up and flush it down the toilet. I don’t want to tread on that in the dark. They are impossible to kill by squashing. Now I’m wondering if it’s safe to sit on the loo.
Yet another early start, yet another long day in the bus. Although it is a new (well different) bus, the malingerer having been retired. It is becoming increasingly clear that the itinerary is a creative fiction. Twenty minutes at another Hindu temple complex, and an hour in Malang. The bird market contains a whole assortment of wild life, some of it definitely not of the avian variety, crammed into rows of wooden cages toppling into a narrow road. There are puppies and, more surprisingly, mongooses. ‘Visiting the Dutch colonial buildings’ turns out to be an ice cream in an old café. Otherwise we motor on relentlessly. I was going to say speed but that is definitely not the right word. Not even a lunch break is permitted and I have to beg for a toilet stop.
Endless rice terraces, with all stages of the growing cycle in evidence. Harvesting, threshing, tilling, harrowing, and ploughing (with hefty buffalo). The countryside is becoming increasingly bedecked with bunting and banners, mainly in scarlet and white. The guide explains that there are a several celebrations going on in August. It is Independence Day on August 17th and it is also Ramadan of course.
Many shops and restaurants remain closed during the day because of the latter. Although there seems to be a lot of cooking taking place, so that the people have nice things to eat when sunset comes and they break their fast. Most of the goodies seem to be very sweet, involving lashings of palm sugar and coconut. It’s a bit like celebrating the end of Lent with an Easter party every day for a month. Then there is Eidh, which is a very big party to celebrate the end of all the small parties. Some of the rules also seem to be open to various interpretation. If you travel a long way you can eat during the day, but are expected to extend your fast by another day.
A much too early start for the group to brave the volcanic slopes of Mount Ijen - superb views across a turquoise lake accompanied by steam from countless fumaroles and the stench of sulphur, which is collected and bagged up here. It's also made into numerous souvenirs.
In Kalibaru there are umpteen shops selling metal spires for mosques.
My diet today has been disgraceful. I have had coca cola, ice cream, dates, chocolate and sweets.
Now we catch the ferry to Bali.