27.10.2014 - 03.11.2014
Our first point of business when we arrived in Java was to get to Mount Bromo in order to do the sunrise hike the next morning. We flew from Lombok into Surabaya, Java, where we had to take a shuttle bus to the main bus terminal in the city center. From there, we took a regional bus to Probolinggo... and then from there, we took a local mini-bus up to the base town of Mount Bromo. It literally took us the whole day to get there, and since we were waking up at 3am the next morning, we went to bed by 7pm.
Mount Bromo was such an awesome experience!!! A jeep picked us up at 3:30am, then drove us up through volcanic ash fields in the pitch black to watch the sunrise behind Mt. Bromo at 5am...truly one of the most breathtaking views we have ever seen! After watching the sunrise and admiring the vast field of volcanic mountains, we were then able to walk up Mount Bromo to gaze into its wide crater. We had to wear doctors masks throughout the walk because it was hard to breathe with the ash/sand dust getting kicked up by all the people and horses mixed with the sulfur smoke erupting from the volcano. We could also feel that the air was thinner at that elevation as well, so it was a bit of a struggle walking up the steep mountain side. But as we stood at the crater's edge looking into the mouth of the volcano, you can hear the roaring boil of its inner core and see its sulfur smoke endlessly rising into the clouds above us.... it is humbling when you realize how very powerless we are against such a force. Despite the herds of tourists, how overpriced this attraction is, and the hassle of getting up there, we would do it all over again in a heartbeat!!!
We used many busses and trains to get ourselves all around East and Central Java versus the rental cars we had in both Bali and Lombok. This was both exciting and intense, as it more resembles a backpacking adventure. We had to steel ourselves when braving the local bus terminals because as soon as we got anywhere near, we had to deal with money-hungry locals who, in the second they saw us, were on us like flies on a fresh, open picnic. Thankfully, we were pretty prepared for this, so we ignored them all and swatted them away. Being the only tourists on local buses was an interesting experience, to say the least... suffice it to say, we stuck out like sore thumbs and people don't even attempt to hide their staring. We are convinced, though, there is some sort of mafia where they are all in it together when it comes to the transportation for tourists... you either have to pay a price that is so ridiculously overpriced for a private car (it's almost laughable), or take the local mini-buses, which are super cheap, but will only run when they have a certain number of people in it. We sat there waiting for the one to take us up to Bromo for a good 3 hours, if you can believe it! The silver lining was that we waited with this really cool couple, with whom we chatted the whole time, so the hours flew by quickly!
By 10am that morning, we were in another mini-bus taking us back to Probolinggo where we caught another regional bus to Malang. We only stayed a night, as a quick stop over, before we took the train to Solo the next morning, but we noticed that it was a very clean and orderly city with charming old buildings from Dutch-colonial times. We had our first moment of weakness in Malang... we were so hungry and, after eating only Indonesian food for the past 2+ weeks, we were really craving a burger. So, we broke down and went to McDonald's... it was the only burger we could find! Despite how tasty it was in the moment, we immediately missed our fried rice and noodles!
After a six-hour long train ride, we arrived in Solo where we stayed a couple days to rest after all the constant travel. Solo is the cultural capital of Java, so we were expecting to see more tourists there, but we were literally the only ones! It felt a bit strange to be the only non-Asian people walking around, but you kind of get used to the staring after a while. ;-) We strolled through their main market bazaar where they sell the traditional Javanese Batik-style clothing, and then treated ourselves to some fresh mangoes. We were super drained after having walked almost 2km in the super humid heat, so we bargained with one of the rickshaw guys to take us back to our hotel. I was worried this skinny little guy couldn't push our combined weight, but he surprisingly made it quite quickly.
Yogyakarta, only an hour train ride away from Solo, was our final destination in Java. We walked down the main street called Malioboro, which consisted of vendor after vendor selling the exact same things... mainly t-shirts and Batik-style clothing. Jens was determined to find a cool t-shirt, and we literally had to stop at every single stall, which paid off cause he scored in finding two! Our main purpose in going to Yogyakarta was to see Borobudur and Prambanan., so we hired a driver for the day to drive us all around. Borobudur is an 9th century Buddhist temple and the largest in the world. It is the single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia, and it really was spectacular! The temple itself has many bells and Buddha statues encircling it, and then the whole structure is surrounding by a trees and mountains, so you get this incredible 360 view! Our experience there is slightly clouded by the hundreds of school children constantly coming up to us wanting to practice their English and take pictures of us. It was taking up so much of our time, so we were forced to repeat “No English!” to each on-coming group. We visited Prambanan next, a 9th century Hindu temple and the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia... not quite as spectacular as Borobudur, but still pretty cool. Again, though, with the locals... this time it was older women and teenage boys... they kept asking to pose with us in pictures. It was the strangest thing, as if we were some sort of celebrity. There was a couple of blond tourists there too, and they actually got it even worse. Thankfully, we have darker hair, but it's our height that makes us stand out!
This marks the end our 3-week Indonesian adventure. We have had some really great experiences here with some not so ideal moments mixed in... but you always need a little bad to counter the good because while the good leaves you all happy and giddy about travel, the bad makes you wiser and more knowledgeable. From the three islands we explored, we have come to know Indonesia as a country that is rich in tradition and culture, but also pretty resistant to modern change and growth in tourism. If and when you do decide to visit this county, just keep in mind that the majority of the locals are inexperienced with tourists and are not as open-minded, since tourism is still not well developed. Indonesia may not be our favorite country, but we are still glad we gained our impressions and experiences with this part of the world.