I arrived in Jakarta to start my journey east across Java and was met instantly by the mix of concrete and skyscrapers that make up this vast megalopolis. There are no green areas to the city, no parks, and the city’s attempt at a central square is a square kilometre of concrete, with a concrete tower rising out of its centre. This being said, I wasn’t in Jakarta long enough to pass a proper judgement, and was largely based in the central area. I managed to spend an hour or so in the national museum before closing time and the huge amount of displays about the different islands and cultures of this huge country certainly got me excited about the possibilities of what I could see and do during the rest of my trip east across Indonesia.
My first stop after Jakarta was at the small beach town of Pangandaran located in the south of West Java. It took nearly a full day of train and bus journeys to get me there so on my first full day I chilled on the beach, watched the surfers and found a local guy to give me a surf lesson a few days later. He also happened to be selling the winner of best chocolate and banana pancakes 2015 (according to me) so all in all a good find!
On the tip of the bay of Pangandaran is a national park which is home to a number of wild animals. When I arrived I found the price of entry had increased from 7000 Rupiah to 320000 Rupiah since my lonely planet book had last been updated, so I decided to give it a miss. I’ve already seen loads of monkeys on my trip and come sunset, six wild deer ran down the beach in front of me, miraculously not running into anyone as the beach had become packed in the evening as the locals rolled down avoiding the intense heat of the sun during the day. As the locals did start to come out, this meant that it was time for our celebrity status to start up as everyone wanted a photo with the few white people who were on the beach.
On day 2 I took a trip to the nearby green valley and green canyon. The green valley was a lush river flowing through a dense forest area, littered with waterfalls and small cliffs to jump from. The largest of these was apparently 7m high (said the locals) but definitely felt higher on the way down! We took a boat ride along the river winding through the green canyon, spotting river dragons crawling along at the foot of the cliffs rising from either side of the river. On the way home we had just enough time to stop off at the turtle sanctuary – a temporary home for sick and injured turtles, where they are brought to recover before being released back into the ocean. Some of the turtles were huge, I picked a medium sized one up and could barely hold it. Hopefully I’ll get to see some turtles in their natural habitat before my trip is over. The day was rounded off with a few Bintangs (the main beer of Indonesia) around a fire on the beach. A good day all round.
So the next day was my much anticipated surf lesson, and it started well as I got standing up on the board pretty quick. Unfortunately I started getting way too gnarly, way too soon, and split the nose of the board which ended my day early. It was probably for the best as I was already exhausted after a couple of hours fighting against the waves, which left me drinking coconuts in the sun for the rest of the afternoon. Not a bad alternative but I think I have some way to go before I can call myself a surfer.
From Pangandaran was an 8 hour bus ride across to the city of Yogyakarta in Central Java. After a quiet first night I set my alarm for 3:30am as I hoped to get to the temple of Borobudur in time for sunrise. As it happens we were just too late in arriving, but saw the sunrise over the mountains in a quiet area way outside of the city. The temple was much quieter than I had imagined, especially if I draw comparison to Angkor Wat, as Borobudur is revered in the same way and is possibly the most revered Buddhist temple in the world. It’s too hard to try to describe how I felt with the early morning sun shining over the temple and the surrounding area, so I’ll the photos below do the talking.
Prambanan temple is closer to the city and is aligned in such a way that the sun sets directly over the temple, seen from an impressive, long entrance path. So after escaping the mid afternoon heat in the pool I headed on to my second temple of the day. Prambanan was flattened by an earthquake in the 16th century and has been under a rebuilding process for years which is still incomplete. It was weird seeing the old designs of the temple being rebuilt and restored and looking much newer. I guess we’re used to seeing ruined remains or structures that have been warn away over time, but I guess this gives an insight into what the temples would have looked like when they were originally built all those years ago.
I didn’t have any more time to spend in Yogyakarta, even though I more or less had the whole city to explore. The next morning saw another early start before we commenced a 12 hour bus ride to Mount Bromo in the east of Java. Another 3:30am alarm call later, I was stood at the highest point of the mountain waiting for the sun to rise, unfortunely I was joined by about 500 other tourists who were all squeezed like sardines into a tiny viewing platform. Luckily I’m tall. And even more luckily it was a perfectly clear night. When I arrived at the peak, the magnificent display of the stars were on show in an area well away from any unnatural light. I hadn’t seen the stars like this in such a long time, if ever. And then came the sunrise. After so many failed sunrise viewings in other areas of Asia, I was wondering if the early morning would be worth it, but in truth, it was completely mind blowing.
I decided 3:30am wasn’t early enough for me, so the next night after I’d arrived at Mount Ijen, I set my alarm for 1am. There was good reason for this though, not just madness through lack of sleep over the last few days. Mount Ijen is one of only two volcanos in the world (the other being in Costa Rica) where a burning blue flame can be seen in the crater due to the chemical content of the volcano. As it is not very intense, you need to be there in the middle of the night.
After all of the recent early starts, when I arrived I wasn’t entirely sure if I was dreaming or if this was reality. First of all, we had a 3km trek up the volcano. As I looked round, the clouds were below me, illuminated only by the light of a perfect full moon in a clear sky. If anything, the blue flame of the volcano was quite disappointing, a small flame largely obscured by the sulphuric smoke pouring out of the mountain. But still this was nature at its most weird and wonderful and was an incredible experience.
We stayed in the crater as the sun rose, and saw the sky slowly fill with orange above the warm lake at the centre of the crater. Throughout this visit, we made way for the workers, mining sulphur from the volcano. They take loads of up to 130kg on their backs to the top of the mountain, to be wheeled back down to where there is road access. Probably one of the hardest jobs in the world, especially given the harmful gases and dust they have to breathe in constantly. I tried lifting a 90kg weight and it was almost too much to lift, let alone carry to the top of the mountain.
As I left for Bali, I reflected on the amazing things I’d seen in Java, and wished I could have spent longer here, but visa deadlines are visa deadlines and Indonesia is a big country! If the memories don’t last me a lifetime then the stench of sulphur and dust from the volcano that are now embedded in my rucksack and clothes certainly will.