Yogyakarta

15 Jan

We got to the airport in Singapore flawlessly with a single subway transfer and a sky train to the correct terminal. When checking in we were informed we would have to pay a baggage check fee that was half the price of our plane ticket. Gotta love airlines. The flight was a simple hour and fifteen minute flight into Yogyakarta, a city about halfway through the island of Java. We decided to skip Jakarta, the capital city on the west of the island based on the negative things others had told us about it. Instead, we headed straight to Jogja (as the locals call it) with the intention of spending a few days there and making our way to the east of the island before heading to Bali. Our hostel had given us directions to get to it from the airport, for both a taxi and the local Trans Jogja bus system. A taxi would cost about five USD while the local bus would be about 30 cents. Always looking to save a buck, especially as the travel budget dwindles, we of course opted for the local bus. We walked out of the airport like food being dropped into the pool of taxi driver sharks. We looked for an information desk to ask about getting to the bus while a man would not stop harassing us about taking a taxi no matter what we said, trying to tell us that it was impossible to take the bus and it was too far away, which we knew very well was not the case. We were told we would have to get to terminal A and attempted to follow the woman’s directions there. We were clearly confused, especially because it seemed more like a strip mall than airport terminals, so another taxi driver said he would walk us there. We were of course wary and once we figured out the general direction to go in we hopped into a convenient store to get water and told him he could go ahead. He once again explained where to go and said goodbye. Turns out he was just being nice after all but it’s always difficult to tell when you get to a new country. After having to ask two more people where to go we found the small little bus stop. The woman told us the bus would take nearly an hour to get there and a taxi guy stood behind her nearly licking his lips for our business but we smiled and said we would happily wait. Of course the bus showed up five minutes later and we were happy we weren’t conned. Bus stops in Yogyakarta are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They are small little shacks where you pay the attendant for your ticket and walk through a turnstile to the small waiting spot. With the exception of the attendant at the airport being swayed by the taxi man behind her, the people working at the stops are very friendly and patient with you and tell the attendant working on the bus where you need to go. The bus stops are elevated at the level of the door, so that the bus simply pulls over and you jump right in. The process is also rapid fire and they cut off people from getting in whenever they feel like it. At the airport Angela had gotten in before me and they were trying to pull away while I had one leg in the bus and one on the platform still. The bus door attendant wasn’t very happy but I managed to pull myself into the bus. When we go to our stop the driver let us know and we hopped off and walked down the road to Bhumi Hostel.

The hostel itself was amazing. A relaxing atmosphere with outdoor tables, a garden, beautiful lantern lights at night, clean rooms and a fully functioning kitchen with free coffee, tea, water and a free home-cooked, delicious vegetarian breakfast in the morning. We were instantly happy there. Since it was about 3 pm when we arrived we decided to stay put for the evening and look into what there is to do in the area for the following day. While there were plenty of suggestions in travel articles and such, they were all about an hour scooter drive outside of the city. And the city, at least in my opinion, was a rough one to drive in. I formed this opinion after seeing how close the buses drive to people on scooters, basically clipping them when bypassing and touching the back of the bike when stopping behind them. Additionally, one of the big things to do is go see the sunrise at Borobudur temple, but I know I cannot ride a scooter at 3:00 AM to an unknown place given my terrible night vision. So, over a beer and a dinner of fried chicken, rice, herbs and spicy sauce from one of the many food stands on the street of the hostel, we decided to go into the city of Yogyakarta the following day and then perhaps tackle the bikes the following day.

We woke up early to eat our free hostel breakfast and headed out to the bus stop to get into the city. We were told to take a bus to the hospital and then transfer to bus 1A, which would bring us to Malioboro street, the most touristy street in Yogyakarta. We figured we could walk down the street towards some of the other sights we were trying to see. While walking down Malioboro everyone stares at you and waves and few ask for pictures. Out of all the countries we’ve been to, it’s definitely the one most starstruck by white people. We were even advised not to take pictures with people because once you say yes to one, everyone will ask. This happened to me at the Supertree Grove in Singapore, where I agreed to a picture with one young woman and then had to take about 7 more pictures with each of the others.

While walking down Malioboro we were stopped by a man asking where we were from and if we wanted to eat breakfast at his shop. We politely declined while he continued to engage in conversation. He mentioned all the touristy things that we were going to do and then said that before we go all the way down there we should check out an art expo where his wife’s art was being displayed. While I genuinely thought he was being nice, Angela said someone had walked by and said something along the lines of “he’s bull shit” which I completely missed. Anyway, he led us to an “art expo” where we were greeted by a seemingly friendly man who showed us a quick demo on how to do batik art, an art form native to the Indonesian people. After our little introduction we wandered around looking at the paintings. He asked us if we wanted to buy one and we said probably not, especially when he told us the prices were around 115 USD. His wife brought out tea for us and that’s when I started to truly get bad feels about the place. The last time someone gave us free tea over conversation was in Vietnam, just before she asked us for money and we had to escape. We told him it was too expensive for us, and that we wouldn’t be buying. We quickly finished or tea and skedaddled. We couldn’t fully decide if it was a scam or not yet. However, a few feet down the street an elderly man stopped me and asked where I was from. Once I answered he tried to tell me about a different “batik art exhibit”. Scam basically confirmed. Feeling a bit on edge, we were then stopped by students asking if they could interview us for class. I obliged but warily, and when they asked for a picture after I said no. I grabbed Angela and we continued down the street talking to no one, all the while being harassed for rides in rickshaws.

When we arrived at what seemed to be the border of the Sultan’s Palace, a young man helped us to cross the street and asked us how long we had been there. Again we felt a scam coming on, but he readily told us he worked for the museum on the corner, which we had heard about and he warned us about the “batik mafia” that lines Malioboro and the palace. He told us most of the time the paintings aren’t even real and that a real batik piece should go for about 3-5 USD. Gasp. Scam fully confirmed. He also informed us that the palace wasn’t worth going to at the time we were approaching, around noon, because it closes at one and there are no dances or shows going on at that time. We decided to skip the palace and head to the Water Palace instead, the palace the Sultan used to go for bathing, swimming, and “intimate time” with his wife. The palace itself was pretty much a let down, with two pools at the center and a few other areas, such as a prayer area and the bedroom, located in obscure locations that did not have any signs leading to them. We were so frustrated with navigating the place, especially since people’s homes were now scattered throughout it. Still anxious we decided to walk to the bird market which a few people had mentioned to us. We arrived to find a fairly disturbing place with people selling birds of all kinds, including parakeets and others that came from God knows where. The birds were stuffed into cages together in addition to rabbits, mice and even massive snakes and turtles in a central cage. We were really not feeling it and decided to head back for the evening. We tried to get on the local bus, but with my directions and the bus attendants’ bad understanding, we had to transfer between three different buses and a journey that should have been about 30 minutes took an hour and a half.

We got back to the hostel feeling fairly depressed, unsocial and overwhelmed. We hadn’t had to deal with scams and people harassing us in quite sometime. Vietnam and Cambodia were the main countries for it but while in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore it wasn’t really a problem we personally encountered. We realized we were going through culture shock all over again yet, this time it wasn’t exciting like it had been in Vietnam. Four months later we are exhausted by the prospect of having to fight people off rather than full of energy. It was one of those travel days where you completely question if you should still go on or if it’s time to go home. After some downtime, Jack, the hostel manager asked if I wanted to go grab dinner with him at his favorite cheap Sumatran place. Looking for a distraction I happily agreed and another guy and myself joined him and another hostel worker in the car for the drive, where I mentioned the exhausted feeling, how it was so tough to say goodbye to Josh and how starting a new country always feels overwhelming. I was met with total understanding and instantly felt better. It can sometimes be easy to forget that these feels are so normal for people traveling for so long and that it doesn’t make you weak or unhappy or done with traveling. It’s just a natural occurrence that you have to welcome and let run its course. That evening Angela and I both talked about how shitty we felt that day and laughed about some of the things that happened before feeling much more calm. We also decided that next we would take a three day/two night tour to do Mount Bromo and Ijen, two volcanos on East Java that are seemingly very difficult to access yourself. With that decision we relieved a lot of planning stress.

The next morning we were going to attempt to go on motorbikes to the Mangunan garden, a massive fruit plantation, since it was nearby and maybe try to catch the sunset at Prambaban Temple. However, the hostel worker had given the motorbikes promised to us to someone else by accident, leaving us with taking a cab to a bike shop to rent as our only option. At that point we were simply over the idea of trying to rent bikes and instead lazied around the hostel, secured our trip for the next day and started to plan out Bali. In the early afternoon we set out for a walk around Kotagede, the area that the hostel is in, which is older than central Yogyakarta. The hostel had a booklet of places to go in the area along with a map to walk. We walked down numerous maze-like, thin roads that form the neighborhoods, finding little shops, street art, and the friendliest people surprised to find us in their little nook. Everyone waved hello excitedly, children smiled and shied away to their parents, and people asked us where we needed to go. We visited a famous Indonesian chocolate shop, picking up a few bars, and basked in the glory that was this beautiful, simple and much smaller village. It was just the scene we needed after the stress of the previous day. When we got back to the hostel, we looked up the entrance fees into the temples which were about 20 dollars each. We couldn’t warrant spending that much money on one temple for sunset after four months of many temples including the Angkor Wat complex. With that decision made, we had a few beers, spent some more time looking into Bali plans and booking a hostel for once we arrived there. For dinner, we ate an exceptional fried noodle/rice mix that Jack had recommended from the hawker across the street. It was such a relaxing day and evening.

While we didn’t do much in Yogyakarta I think it was for the best. We needed downtime and a few deep breaths. And with a wake up call of 7:00 AM the following morning to embark on our hectic cross-Java volcano trip, we could certainly use the sleep.

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