The ninth-century ruin site of Borobudur.
Before leaving Yogyakarta we did a day trip to the stunning ninth-century Buddhist Temple site of Borobudur. No one seems to know much about it. As usual a white guy from Europe claims to have discovered it in the 1800s. We hit the site at 6am along with hundreds of our closest friends. The school groups enjoyed shaking our hands and taking our photograph. I feel very tall here.
It was 13 hours of near misses on a hellish highway run into the interior of Java. Our mini van driver passed everything in his path wherever possible, occasionally taking the sidewalk. He must have known that the sidewalk pass is my favourite third-world manoeuvre. On divided highways he aimed that thing down the centre line, daring cars to pass him, as if the road were an airport runway.
We stopped overnight in the city of Malang for a stay at the very unglamourous Splendid Inn. This place would be a great film site for a horror movie. The hallways had all the panache of a Minneapolis YMCA. The main building was of the Dutch Colonial variety with an array of sitting rooms, one room held a stuffed deer carcass. I think I saw the ghost of Somerset Maugham in the lobby sipping a mint julep.
Everyone is trying to push the bird market as a tourist attraction. There's the usual assortment of sadly caged tropical birds and the occasional bat, the bat is used for some form of medicine. You will also find the civet cat constantly pacing in his cage. If you were eating coffee beans non stop you would also be a little hyped up. For those of you don't know, the civet cat is fed coffee beans which are digested whole. The beans are then collected from the stools and ground into coffee... it's a delicacy, honest. Not sure why they use the civet cat instead of say, a donkey.
The local buses are somewhat of a smoking Mecca. When the buses aren't belching out clouds of black smoke the passengers are puffing out clouds of blue tobacco smoke. It's like being in a Legion pub on wheels circa 1977.
We've been hunkered down in the old Dutch Colonial hill station town of Kalibaru in East Java. Our small cottage overlooks a lush jungle valley. It's been great getting away from the gas fumes and noise of the city. The town is full of relics from the Dutch occupation, quaint broken down houses and dirt lined streets. They don't see a lot of tourists so we've become a bit of a novelty.
The other morning we came across a flying fox hanging in a tree. This thing is the largest of the bat family and is roughly the size of a small cat. The wing span is about half a metre and in the evening sky you can see them scouring the landscape looking for a crime scene. When a local guy grabbed it to hold it out for us the bat let flow a steady stream of urine. Note to self: when being held upside down by ones feet, don't go to the bathroom.
Along with the locals we enjoy playing a game called "no, we don't have any change." It's all about hanging onto the small bills, which seem to vanish faster than clean underwear in a knap-sack. The Indonesian currency consists mostly of paper money, the smallest denomination being a one thousand Rupiah note. The average meal costs 25,000 Rupiah or $2.50 Canadian. The lack of small bills cuts down on panhandlers, there is no change to spare.
We're staying on the train line so we've been doing day trips with the locals. The train is a great way to meet people, see the countryside and to avoid the death grip of the highways. In a few days we're off to hike an active volcano for sunrise... "pass me my brown shorts".
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 2, 2013