On Java, we were met by our guide Dwi and our driver Kus, who drove us from the airport on the north shore to our hotel near the south shore. We spent the night in the Manohara hotel at the base of the Borobudur Buddhist temple, and went up to visit it before sunset. At the temple, there is no inside, but you can climb up the outside. The bottom levels are ringed with reliefs etched into the wall that depict the life and teachings of the Buddha; the top 2 levels are ringed with giant stupas, bell-shaped mounds of stone with Buddha statues sitting inside of them and little diamond- or square-shaped windows through which you could peer at the Buddhas. From the top, you have a view of the whole surrounding valley. We played around at the temple until we got kicked out at closing, and then went back to our hotel for (bad) dinner (though it had dance and music performances!) and early sleeping.
We awoke the next day at 4am and ascended Borobudur a second time with Dwi, this time in the dark. We awaited the sunrise at the top of the temple, getting constantly blinded by hordes of people who do not know what flashlights are for. Eventually the sky became lighter and fewer people tried to find us with their flashlight, but the sky was quite cloudy and we never actually saw the sun appear, just saw some clouds turn pink. We explored the rest of the temple that we hadn’t gotten to see the previous night; while doing so, a group of middle school girls ran up, greeted me, and told me how pretty I was, then couldn’t stop giggling when I told them they were pretty as well and posed for me to take their picture, haha. I don’t think kids here see many foreigners. 😛
We returned to the hotel for a (bad) breakfast, and at 9am, Dwi and Kus took us to the nearby town of Jogjakarta/Yogyakarta, the old capital of the island which can’t decide how to spell its name. In Jogja, we got a tour of the Sultan’s palace, in which the 10th Sultan currently resides while acting as Minister of Finance in the democratically-elected Parliament; the compounds we saw are basically a museum of pictures and artifacts from the previous 9 sultans. We also saw the Sultan’s Water Palace, which was only used by the first 2 sultans before being struck by an earthquake but is for some reason still safe for tourists to wander… It had gardens and swimming pools that served as a secondary retreat for the sultan, and a defensive wall to protect him from attacks from the Dutch.
After visiting the palaces, we got to tour a batik factory and a silver factory. In the batik factory, we watched the process by which the Javanese handmake their fabric: first stenciling on a pattern, then waxing the design, then dying it such that everything not waxed gets colored, then boiling it to remove the wax, leaving behind white areas with the design. In the silver factory, we saw artisans at work spinning silver threads and making jewelry out of them, and learned the process by which silver is mixed and shined. We then left Jogja and went to the nearby Hindu temple at Prambanan, which is the largest Hindu temple in southeast Asia. This complex has 3 main temple pyramids, one each for Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the protector), with statues of each god inside of them after you climb a tower of steps. In front of these main temples are 3 smaller pyramids for the gods’ vehicles: a swan, a cow, and an eagle, respectively. Around the complex are mini-pyramid temples at each of the 4 gates, and two “twin temples” mirroring each other across the complex for no apparent reason. We stayed there until sunset, and then went to a hotel in Jogja, ate (yum), and crashed.
The next morning, we slept in until–wait for it–5am!, got an early breakfast (the restaurant literally opened early for us), and were taken to the train station for a 4.5-hour train ride down Java to the town of Surabaya, where we were met by our guide Anwar and driver Imam for another 3-hour drive south to the Bromo Cottages, a hotel near Mt. Bromo, which is an active volcano. This hotel is very high up; we drove through a lot of mountain farming villages on the way and ended up on top of a mountain with a very nice view. Unfortunately, the room itself smelled like mildew, but we didn’t stay there long. We took pictures around the premises and then went to bed around 8:30pm.
We woke up again at 3am because we’re crazy, and got in a 4-wheel drive jeep with Anwar. In case you ever wondered, it is not at all comfortable to ride in the back of a jeep. The seats are sideways, so you slide back and forth; your head is too high to see out of the window; and it is very bumpy. The jeep took us to approximately 8,800 feet up, and we walked a short distance to watch the sun rise over the valley below. Then we walked a short distance further to see a spectacular view of Mt. Bromo’s crater inside the caldera, with another volcano, Semeru, in the distance. The jeep then took us down, down, down to the bottom of the crater, and we walked up, up, up to its rim and looked down and saw the steam billowing out from within. By the time we returned to the hotel, 5 hours after we’d left, it was time for… breakfast!! And they had eggs, instead of just noodles!!! After breakfast, Anwar and Imam, picked us up again to drive us 3 hours north back to Surabaya. On the way, Anwar stopped a few times and had us get out to point out eucalyptus and clove trees, leaves that close when you touch them, a waterfall, giant spiders (!!), and other things of interest. A few local kids came running up once and introduced themselves, and most of the village people who saw me smile at them as we drove by smiled back. When we reached Surabaya, we took a very short flight to Denpasar (on the island of Bali) and waited until the next morning for the flight that would take us east for the next section of our adventure! While waiting overnight in Bali, we gave in and ate pizza for dinner…