I had a very strange breakfast at my terrible hostel – would you like chocolate sprinkles or strange green goo on your toast?
I delivered my bike at 7am and hoped for the best. The train journey from Surabaya to Yogyakarta cost me 205,000 IDR (~£12) and it cost the same for Priscilla. The cost on my receipt was 150,000 IDR for transport and packaging, but I got charged 200,000 IDR. Pretty sure I was ripped off but I was long past caring, I couldn’t face battling against the language barrier anymore.
This time, instead of eating nothing for 6 hours, I bought train snacks.
I got on the train fine, the station can be a bit confusing but I find looking lost and holding your ticket out means someone will come along and help you! This time I was in ‘bisnis class’, which is in-between the best (eksekutif) and the worst class (ekonomi). It was fine, actually it was a bit better that the esekutif train because the air conditioning wasn’t blowing out arctic air, so I wasn’t like a little ice cube and it wasn’t such a shock when I got off the other end. The only real difference is there is no foot rest but I just used my bag. I left most of my luggage on the bike but kept my valuables with me, obviously my electronics, and I also took my tent and sleeping bag as they are the most expensive items I own! The seats are actually quite clever as you can just slide the whole of the back across to the other side, so whatever direction the train is going you can always sit facing forwards, and if you are travelling in a group you can change the seats so you are in a little pod.
The journey was about 5 hours and pretty uneventful until I got off the train, asked for directions to the cargo bit and found it. A man told me to go with him and we got in his truck, which was branded with the cargo company so I assumed he was legit. And after checking yesterday that my bike would be delivered to the same station as me, and being reassured 3 times that it would be…it wasn’t! It was delivered to a different station. Although to be fair I think they would have transported it to the same station as me, but I would have had to wait for 2 hours. Anyway, when we pulled up, there she was waiting for me, in one piece. Packaged in cardboard, with a lot of attention paid to the saddle. Again they had great interest in me packing my stuff up and they were taking pictures of me and selfies with me.
I found my way to the hostel which was about 4km away. I had a sore throat all day and by now it was so painful. I had a sore neck, a sore throat, and it hurt to swallow and eat. I went out to get strepsils and chilled out in the hostel.
The next day I took it easy and tried to kill the throat thing before it developed into anything worse. I took the opportunity to finally do some laundry, as it had been a good month since I washed any of my clothes. Having done a week of yoga and some sweaty cycling, and just some general sweating, I was starting to feel a bit gross!
So Batik is huge here. There are lots of places selling clothes made from printed batik fabrics and there are also a lot of places selling batik ‘art’.
I was on my way to the train station to begin my third and thankfully final ticket and cargo booking process, and got stopped in the street by a man who told me started chatting to me about where I was from. He told me he was a PE teacher, and something in the back of my head questioned why he wasn’t in school teaching. He told me he didn’t want any money from me as he was a teacher and he earned a salary. He then asked me a lot of questions and told me I should go to the art school because it is only open 3 times a month where you can see the students working. He told me it would close at 11:30 and it was 11am now. He said I could take a tuk tuk for 10,000 which is about 60pence and the train station is only 300m from there. It was so hot so I decided to just take the tuk tuk. When I got there, it wasn’t an art school, it doesn’t close at 11:30, it is open all day, seven days a week, and there were no students there.
There was however a demonstration of the Batik process which was interesting, and there were a lot of nice looking artworks, as well as a lot of crappy looking ones.
I had a look around and I had no intention of buying anything, but there were some really beautiful pieces there and I ended up being drawn in by two artists. Some of them have a very clear style. I liked this abstract one and the guy showing me around said the man who painted it is a is a grand master, he showed me a leaflet about him with and I just skimmed it. I had my doubts about all of this but there was something really captivating and different about the design and I decided to buy one, regardless of whether it was really painted by a grand master of not.
I then walked down the main tourist street – Maliboro Street – which is lined with shops and stalls selling tourist tat. So much tourist tat.
I got stopped by another man, a stall owner, or was he!? He started chatting to me about batik and the students and the fact that you can only see them today and I thought, ok here we go again. I got lead in to another batik place, this one was significantly smaller, but I got the same schpeel and the same demonstration of how batik is made, and of course there were no students there.
I don’t really know why I stayed and kept up the pretence that I was at all interested, I had already bought one and I definitely wasn’t going to buy another. I was looking at one piece and he said it was by a student, then I noticed one in the same style as the one I had just bought. I told him I liked this artist and he was so happy, he said he was the artist. I wish I had paid more attention to that leaflet, he did look a bit like the guy on the front from what I can remember.
I showed him the piece I had just bought and he told me it was called ‘the beautiful sound of water crashing on the rocks’. He also told me about his life and how he used to be a teacher, but he got addicted to heroin and he spent 9 years in prison. Now he isn’t allowed to teach, but he still makes his art. He is happy and has a wife and 3 children, 2 of which are adopted. He told me he was 99% good and that is all he would ever be. He seemed like a nice man to me.
Now this could have all been bullshit, all of it, and I later read on tripadvisor that several people have been spoken to by ‘teachers’ who got them a cheap tuktuk. It’s seems it’s a very elaborate interwoven scheme. And I will call it a scheme rather than a scam because I don’t really understand what the scam would be. There are a lot of mixed feelings about it online. I do believe someone created this artwork, to me it doesn’t look like a print, apparently a genuine batik will look exactly the same on both sides and a print will look a bit faded on one side. It is almost impossible to know who to believe and who to trust over here. At the end of the day I have a piece of art that I think is beautiful, and I guess that’s all that really matters.
People can have different experiences and while mine was generally positive, a couple of girls I met had a different experience. After being stopped by a ‘maths teacher’ and taken to the same place as I was, they felt uncomfortable about the behaviour of the men when they tried to leave without buying anything. Everyone will have a different story to tell.
I walked along the rest of Maliboro street and I ignored anyone who tried to talk to me about batik. I noticed a load of food stalls, but absolutely nothing that I wanted to eat. Deep fried bats anyone?…
I settled for some fried bananas instead, there is very little food you can get here that hasn’t been fried.
Yogyakarta is where I really started to notice a difference in culture compared to Bali and Lombok. The sarongs and baggy elephant trousers are gone and they are replaced by Batik print shirts and keyrings. I have never seen so many keyrings.
It is quite a melting pot when it comes to religion although there is a Muslim dominance. It is quite a young vibrant city, they have a university and a large arts scene. I got a good vibe about this place, completely different to how I felt in Surabaya!
They have distinctive transport options which I’ve not yet seen anywhere else. They are called a becak and they are either human powered (bicycle) or engine powered (motorcycle). There are everywhere. A lot of the time you find the owners asleep in their cab, and that is how they live. They take a nap in the shade and then work, that’s it.
Instead of big signs for Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng, there are signs everywhere for Gudeg. After a quick Google I found out it was a traditional Javanese meal consisting of young unripened jackfruit, and I decided it was something I didn’t need to try!
One of the main reasons people go to Yogyakarta is to see the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur, which are UNESCO world heritage sites dating from the 9th century. I spent a couple of days visiting the temples, I got back on the bike and made the 40km and 80km round trips, in the rain, which was fun!
I have so many photos and a few stories to tell so I will write about my experiences in a separate post which you can see here: Prambanan & Borobudur (part 1)
The best night
I really enjoyed staying at Sae Sae hostel, I met so many nice people and I ended up going out every evening for dinner, and sometimes breakfast and lunch, with various groups as they came and went. The staff are also really cool and when they go out and buy food and snack they always offer it around so you get to try stuff you maybe wouldn’t normally try. It is a great place to chill out and relax, far enough away from the main hustle and bustle of the centre, but close enough to get there easily.
About 200m away from the hostel was a great little noodle stall, which I went to about 5 times. I can still stomach rice noodles, but not the yellow noodles, so when I found this stall I was happy.
One night I went out with some of my new friends, 2 guys from Canada, a Swedish girl, A German girl, and a guy and girl from the Netherlands. I would never have gone out and done this on my own as I wasn’t that comfortable wondering about by myself after dark. There are a lot of dark alleyways that you don’t have a choice to walk down.
We first went to a restaurant popular with the locals called SS (Special Sambal). Now sambal is the most Indonesian thing you can get and it’s a chilli sauce, because they like there food another level spicy!
It’s a bit like an Indonesian version of tapas as you order lots of little plates, varying from meats, fish, vegetables and they have about 20 different varieties of sambal to choose from, all served on a banana leaf. So my plan was to choose some food but not have any sambal because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it, but my plan didn’t work because everything was spicy already! We all struggled, apart from my Canadian friend who ‘likes it spicy’ and being the only foreigners in there we were most probably being laughed at, but it was a great experience. My stomach had a slight burning sensation in it when we left.
Then we walked to the main square for an evening of street food and pimped up pedal cars! Apparently a very popular evening activity is to hire a pedal car and do a lap of the square. But first we attempted another very popular activity in Yogyakarta – The Twin Banyan Tree Challenge.
In the middle of the square are two massive Banyan trees, with a gap of maybe around 10 metres between them. You stand back at the edge of the square, facing two trees about 30 metres away, you get blindfolded, you make a wish, and then you start walking with the hope you will stay on course, make it through the middle of the trees and all your wishes will come true. Easier said than done!
You need to attempt this with at least one friend, but having a whole bunch was better. There are quite a few people all stumbling around blindfolded so your friends need to be sweepers and make sure there is no one in your way. We only had one incident when Merel took out a child before we could prevent it!
My attempt was quite frustrating because I was going dead straight until they had to stop me from walking into someone and after that I went off course to the left and started walking towards the tree, so my wishes won’t be coming true. I did a better job than Malin though, who scatted most of the seated crowd and ended up walking in a full circle back to where she started! I haven’t laughed that much in ages. It was so much fun and a lot harder than it sounds, only Merel was successful on her second attempt.
Then it was time for the pedal cars, we all got in the same one, with two people sat on the roof. Flashing lights, terrible Asian music and a whole heap of fun!
After that it was time to get some street food. The others seemed to to be a lot braver than I was and were happy to order anything without knowing what it was!
I ended up having these…
They are called Cilok. “An Indonesian snack made with a blend of all purpose flour and tapioca flour, ground toasted dried shrimp, thinly sliced scallions, grated garlic, and seasoned with salt, sugar, and ground white pepper. Water is then added to the mixture and kneaded until the point where it can be gathered into a ball.” Of course it is then deep fried! Put into a little bag (you get about 20 of them for about 25 pence) and seasoned with some flavouring – spicy, bbq, cheese and couple of others I can’t remember – I chose cheese, and they were actually really nice. I had no idea they contained shrimp until we googled what they were, and by this time my vegetarian german friend had eaten quite a few!
While I was at the hostel I also met a great Indonesian guy called Kevin. He was about 21 I think and he was studying graphic design at university. His English was great and I loved his enthusiasm, Despite having never been further than a 40km radius of his home city, not even visiting the capital, he has ambitions to visit Europe and especially the Netherlands (as there is a large Dutch influence in Indonesia, especially Java).
The word Bule is used throughout Indonesia to describe a foreigner, and you hear it shouted at you a lot, pretty much everywhere you go. It is one of those words that can be used in a variety of ways, sometimes it’s used in an offensive way, and sometimes it is used in a polite way. Kevin used it in a polite way when he was talking to me about all his bule friends. He really enjoys showing people around and he is proud of where he comes from, but he also told me that he gets upset when he hears what people shout at the tourists, and he confirmed my suspicions that I wasn’t always friendly.
All in all I really enjoyed my time in Yogyakarta. It was still incredibly hot and humid, but it was a good ten degrees cooler than it was in Surabaya. The people were generally nice and friendly and helpful and it is somewhere I would consider going back to.
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