Before I really get into talking about the start of my time in Indonesia I want to quickly describe my journey from Cebu in the Philippines to Jakarta in Indonesia as actually rather a lot happened. My travel route wasn’t direct, I first flew to Singapore where I had a 2-hour layover before flying onto Jakarta. Both flights were with Scoot Air, basically an Asian Ryan Air. I don’t really have any complaints about the airline they are what you would expect from a budget airline. Although to give you a sense of the airline you aren’t allowed any outside food on the aircraft. Typically, I had just brought a fat burger king to eat on the plane so as I went to tuck into this I was told I couldn’t. To be honest I ignored them and ate it anyway. It was also strange flying back into Singapore airport the same one we flew into 5 months ago, to start this amazing adventure. I can’t quite believe where that time has gone, and I was rather reflective looking back at all that had occurred in those months. However, if you would have offered the Calum flying into Singapore all those months ago the last 5 months I’ve just had, I would have bitten your hand off, it has been that good. Singapore airport is also ridiculously nice. We had heard this before we left England but as we simply left on arrival we didn’t really get a sense of it. This time on my layover I did. The size for one is massive plus there is so much fancy stuff (best way I can put it) you really don’t feel like you’re in an airport. After my 2 hours layover in the plush airport, I then had a 1.5-hour flight to Jakarta. During the flight, there was a massive lighting storm just out to the right of the plane which was stunning and kept me entertained for a while, good job I had the window seat. Once the storm was out of sight the man next to me started chatting. At first, he seemed like a lovely Indonesian man, turned out he was racist. We were chatting about different things, to be honest mainly different types of cooking oil as he has a company which sells coconut cooking oil. He then made a comment about not visiting Europe anymore due to all the Muslims. I must point out he leaned in really close and whispered the world Muslims in my ear after a quick scan of the plane. I was initially taken aback by the sudden change of pace but whole hearty disagreed with his view that they are all radicalised terrorist, stating that you get a minority of terrible people no matter what, race or religion and we shouldn’t tarnish them all with the same brush. I also found it funny how he said he wouldn’t come to Europe due to the Muslims yet lives in Indonesia, where the dominating religion is Muslim. Very odd man and I doubt I changed his world views but I’m glad I stood up for mine. Moving on, once I got off the plane in Jakarta I then had the longest walk ever to immigration and baggage reclaim. You think the walk to the far Ryanair gates at Stansted is bad think again, this one went on forever a good 2 km or more I reckon. It’s so far, they even offer a free golf cart shuttle service haha. After finally passing through into Indonesia and reclaiming my bag I jump in a taxi and head for what I thought was my hotel. I thought wrong, I arrived at the hotel named Red Doorz near Soekarno Airport, on arrival the man at reception said “full”. I stated I had a booking you’ve made a mistake, to which I eventually got the idea that I was at the wrong hotel as he didn’t speak English and I obviously don’t speak Indonesian. He was very accommodating though in helping me find my actual hotel and helping me book another taxi to get there. I was staying at Red Doorz “Plus” near Soekarno Airport. The two hotels weren’t too far apart but on the taxi ride to my actual hotel the driver missed the turn on this ring road, so we had to go all the way around again to make the correct exit. What a nightmare. I finally arrived in my own private hotel room about 9 pm after setting off from the hotel in Cebu at 10 am that morning, very grateful for having booked my own room. I elected to stay close to the airport as I was flying out of it again the following day not wanting to spend any time in Jakarta and I’m glad I didn’t, I know I barely saw even the tiniest part of it, but it did look a bit of a shit hole. Plus, the traffic was once again dreadful. It took a good 40 minutes to get from my hotel back to the airport even though on the map they were virtually next to one another.
On the 28th then I flew out of Jakarta to Yogyakarta a city in central Java. The plane was not even half full I had the whole row to myself and sat in row 6. There was not one person in front of me in the more expensive seats. We landed, and I was first off the plane. The guesthouse I was staying at in Yogyakarta was rather dead with no one else appeared to be staying here, but that didn’t matter too much as I wouldn’t be there for long. I ate some food across the street, called Ayam (chicken) Kwetiau at this little restaurant which was amazing and cost less than 50p after which I booked a tour for the following morning. By morning I mean I was up at 3.20 am so headed to bed ready for my early start.
I was up so early due to undertaking the sunrise tour of Borobudur temple followed by a tour of Prambanan temple. The first temple was an hour’s drive away, but the early start was well worth it. Borobudur temple is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple and is, in fact, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The temple was stunning and probably my favourite one to date. From the temple, you could also see the following 3 mountains/volcanoes Mt. Merapi, Mt. Merbabu and Mt. Sumbing. Watching the sunrise above Mt. Merapi in amongst this wonderful temple was stunning and the photos hopefully capture some of the beauty. There was also a lot of mist around and at one point this obscured all views of the mountains and the rising sun, but luckily it cleared enough enabling the stunning views. It really was worth the early wakeup call and I would suggest if anyone has to opportunity to visit do the sunrise tour.
After Borobudur temple, we made our way to another temple site Prambanan this temple wasn’t quite as impressive and the backdrop not as stunning, but it was still a nice place to visit. Away from the crowds at the main temple, there are also a few other temples to explore. The very last one no one seemed to visit other than me as I was the only one exploring here. It was nice to be away from the crowds as it seemed I was just as much of an attraction as the temple itself being asked to take numerous photographs with various groups of people. Very odd, but certainly not the first time this has happened during the trip.
After the temple tour, I was back at the hostel just after mid-day and had some time to kill before catching my overnight train to Malang which was 400 km away. I, therefore, decided to go shopping mainly to search for a sim card for my phone. I ended up stumbling across the holy grail of streets for shit shirts. Literally my dream shopping street haha. Every shop was full of brightly coloured and patterned shirts, I couldn’t resist and brought myself two coming in at a grand total of (£5). I must point out not to offend anyone, but I think the design of these colourful garments is for traditional or religious wear, therefore they clearly aren’t “shit shirts”. I only use this term due to how an array of such brightly coloured/patterned shirts in England would be addressed. After buying some shirts I also managed to source a sim card too. In the evening then I headed to the train station to catch my 00:04 train from Yogyakarta to Malang. Typically, it was a little delayed and we finally boarded about 00:30. After being awake for 21 hours at this point I still found it a little difficult to fall asleep as I wasn’t in a bed, just some shitty seat that didn’t even recline. I did though manage to sleep much of the journey and arrived in Malang at 8 am on the 30th. I checked into my hostel and napped for a few more hours.
At around mid-day, I headed out for some lunch and to explore a little more of Malang on foot. The most interesting place was this multi-coloured district of the city. I’m sure it has a proper name but basically, all the houses in the area had been painted bright colours and had wonderful street art on the walls. It was a really cool initiative by the locals who were all so friendly too. As I entered the village I was also stopped by a local lady, asking if I could help with her English assignment for university, as she had to interview a tourist. I happily obliged and we had a great chat about Indonesia and the Muslim traditions of the country particularly the outfits that the wear. After the few hours exploring Malang on foot I was back in bed in my hostel hoping to get some sleep before yet and even earlier wake-up time to explore Mt. Bromo at sunrise (which is a volcano).
At 00:30 on the 31st of March awake again for another sunrise tour. It took about 3 and a half hours to reach the viewpoint looking over Bromo and the nearby mountains. The journey was also horrible. Initially, we started in a car before transferring to t 4×4 jeep to take us most of the journey. Which was up and down mountainsides and then also across the very bumpy plain in front of the mountain. Obviously, I only discovered this on the return journey as on the way it was pitch black and misty in parts. Eventually, we got to the viewpoint at around 4 am which was surprisingly busy, there were so many jeeps doing the tour. Although I had worn my trousers jumper and rain jacket I was still a bit cold so rented a nice thick jacket for 20,000 IDR (£1.20) to keep me warm while we waited for sunrise which took just under an hour to start developing, so I sat looking at the stars listening to a podcast. Once the sun did start to appear the views were spectacular. The sunrise itself would have been stunning but combined with the various mountains and Mt. Bromo which was also currently erupting it made for an epic view.
After the sunrise, we then headed down to the black ashy plains below the volcano to take some photos here which was also cool. We then made to trip round to Mt. Bromo itself. Normally you can ascend and look directly into the crater of the volcano. But as I mentioned it was currently erupting so a 1 km safety zone had been put in place to stop people from doing so. A little disappointing not being able to look inside but on the flip side, the photos look great with all the ash billowing out from the volcano creator. After the stop at Bromo itself, we then stopped a further few times around the valley, which had lush natural meadows. These were nice to look at, but I have no idea why we stopped in these places for so long and due to being so tired at this point it started to frustrate me waiting for everyone to get back into the jeep after doing what seemed like nothing. We started the journey back to Malang around 10.30 am and was back about 12.30. Although the ride was bumpy and long and the wake-up call at a stupid time it was certainly worth it.
Now it would have been great to simply crash out after the Bromo tour but ow no I had other plans. At 16:00 I had a train to catch from Malang to Banyuwangi right at the very east of Java. My last stop before heading over to Bali to meet up with Connor and Fred. The train journey lasted 7 hours and was once again pretty rubbish. This time I was in even worse seats with two people next to me and 3 opposite me, however for some reason I still felt relatively with it. Plus, there was no way I would be able to sleep in my sitting position. So, I simply read my kindle. With about 2 hours to go most people got off the train so I was able to fully lie down and sleep for the remaining two hours of the journey. I got off the train at 23:30 where I simply walked over the road to my guesthouse and crashed.
I awoke on the 1st of April feeling a bit more refreshed and grateful for my first good night’s sleep in a few days. I spent the day in my room on my laptop sorting out various things and taking it easy as once again I had a midnight alarm for a sunrise tour of Ijen. I tried to get to sleep around 7 pm but tossed and turned until around 10.30 pm when I finally nodded off but was up in an hour and a half for the tour. We drove about an hour or so until reaching the bottom of the mountain around 2 am before we had an hour or so hike up to the top of the crater. Which I think in total was around 3 km. It was hard going and very step in places but thankfully the path was well worn. Once at the top of the crater around 3-3.30 am we then made our way down into the crater itself where there is a sulphur mine also famous for the “Blue Fire” which occurs at night when the sulphur gas escaping the ground ignites and burns in the air giving off a blue flame. The scramble down into the crater was tough as it wasn’t so smooth underfoot plus the further you ventured into the crater the more you became engulfed in the thick sulphur smoke which was horrible. It smelt really bad and isn’t very good for your health either. We were provided with gas masks, but I imagine they were terrible. The filters likely fake or very rarely changed so offered very little protection to the toxic gas. Hence why I didn’t stay down in the gas for long. I really felt sorry for the miners here though who are extracting the sulphur for a living. They work crazy hours of the night before the sun rises and it gets to warm. They work in this toxic gas which must be horrible for their health. They then must carry 70-80 kg of sulphur up and out of the crater and then down the mountain. To earn any kind of money they must mine about 200 kg a day as they get paid 1000 IDR per kilo so after 200 kg they earn about £20 for this backbreaking and horrible work. Safe to say I won’t ever be complaining about my job or life ever again after witnessing these incredible humans do this for a living. I was able to pick up one of the baskets containing the sulphur and it was really really heavy. I have no idea how these little men, smaller than me can carry it out of the mine day after day in such poor conditions but still remain so happy and friendly.
As the sun started to rise I made my way out of the crater and around the rim to view this amazing volcano for a different perspective. The views from the rim were spectacular. You were able to see the sulphur gas billowing out from the ground and the blue lake in the crater itself which is very toxic itself, consisting mainly of sulphuric acid, which I wouldn’t recommend swimming in. Once we had enjoyed the views we made the journey back down which was easier than coming up thankfully and were back in the car park around 7 am. The hiking and early start were certainly worth it though as the views from the top were outstanding!
On the way back to the hostel we stopped off at a waterfall, but I think we were all so tired we didn’t really care and quickly moved on. After having some breakfast, I then started my journey to Bali to met up with Fred and Connor again for our final 3 weeks before heading over to Aus. Overall my time on Java was amazing although very tiring with lots of early starts in the small time period. I would recommend to everyone not to miss out on this part of Indonesia and just head for the main attraction of Bali. It really offers something unique and I’d say a more genuine experience of Indonesian culture and life compared to the tourist spot of Bali.