A Travellerspoint blog


Yogyakarta - Ancient and modern

semi-overcast 32 °C

Today we take you on a photo-tour of the Sultan's Water Palace in the ancient Javanese capital of Yogyakarta, (also known as Jogjakarta).
First we have to get there from our hotel in a tricycle rickshaw called a becak.
How do these guys cope with the chaotic traffic of this congested city?
Oh-Oh! This one's given up.
We switch to a horse and buggy to give our becak driver a break. We may think that we are doing our bit for the environment by not taking a cab, but goodness knows what we are doing to the horse's lungs in all this pollution.
We have arrived at the Water Palace. It was built in the seventeenth century for a Sultan with an unpronouncable name. (Just look to the left of the satellite dish, underneath the line of washing, to see parts of this important aecheological monument).
These are the Sultan's harem pools.
Twenty-eight concubines at a time swam around these pools until the Sultan chose his 'Catch o' the day' from his bedroom window. Why twenty-eight at a time? What happened to the twenty-seven rejects? and a dozen similar questions overstretched the comprehension of our Indonesian guide.
This is the pool at our hotel. Sheila is going to swim around until Jim chooses his 'Catch o' the day.'

Posted by Hawkson 00:16 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

The Orient Express

semi-overcast 33 °C

Okay - so we didn't take the real Orient Express ... wait a minute .... actually we did take the real Orient Express. The 'so called' real Orient Express travels from London to Venice - hardly the Orient. Whereas we are in the true Orient; the land of Javanese rhinos, komodo dragons and orang-utans. Nowhere is more exotic or oriental than Indonesia. So, when we took the train from Banyuwangi high into the volcanic peaks of southern Java, we were truly on the Orient Express.
As we began our journey on the coastal plain, water buffaloes yoked in pairs ploughed the thick mud of the rice paddies and created a timeless image. Two hundred years of colonialism and modernization have failed to change the pictures; hundreds of peasants in conical straw hats work the rice fields, ploughing, sowing, reaping and threshing by hand as they have done for centuries. The only concession to modernity is the enormous amount of chemicals now used to ensure three bumper crops a year; herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers are liberally spread on the paddies, often by workers wearing little or no protective equipment. The conditions are medieval. Men and women toil together under a scorching sun until the rice ripens, then the threshing begins- enormous sheaves of dusty dry rice are hefted overhead then thrashed down onto logs. It is hot, heavy, back-breaking work for which the workers receive a pittance.
The rice paddies grew smaller and steeper as we climbed higher into the mountains and were gradually replaced with tomatoes, peppers, sugar cane, tapioca, durian and coffee. Every inch of this land is productive and cultivated. Bananas and coconuts grow everywhere, along with teak for furniture and boat-building, and kapok for mattress stuffing.

It is Chinese New Year and these are some of the decorations in one of the gigantic shopping malls in Surabaya, southern Java.
Cosmopolitan cities may be teeming with chic techno-savvy teens and rich dudes driving BMWs, but the countryside is dirt poor. Bare-breasted women wash themselves, their kids and their clothes in streams laced with chemical run-off from the rice paddies; millions of children receive little education - despite government claims to the contrary; and people who cannot afford medical treatment, simply die.
Our seven-hour journey through southern Java on the Orient Express took us through a movie that could have been filmed in the middle-ages,
This first leg took us to Surabaya - a sophisticated city of luxury hotels, highrises and office towers rising above an ocean of slums. Here we spent a few days with friends from Widya-Mandala University: Veronica, Agnes, Susanah and Elizabeth.

And then we reboarded our Orient Express to the ancient Javanese capital of Yogyakarta. The land was flat - three hundred kilometres of rice paddies as far as the eye could see. We travelled 'Executive class' (six hours for just twelve dollars - and that included a full meal). We weren't offered anything but 'Executive class' and when we saw the regular trains we knew why. For a few cents, thousands of locals cram the carriages and hang out of doors and windows of the local trains. We saw one train where even the driver's cab was completely crammed with passengers. There are so many occasions when we realize how fortunate we are and whenever we eat rice or drink coffee in the future we will be reminded of the hardworking poor people who made it possible.

If you are interested in world wide train travel you might want to check www.seat61.com a great web-site

Posted by Hawkson 01:25 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

From Riches to Rags

semi-overcast 31 °C

As we sit by another hotel's swimming pool in the heart of a city teeming with people struggling to survive we are struck by the air of unreality and we realize that we are simply skating across the lives of locals before we zip on to our next adventure. Our path around South East Asia barely leaves a ripple, yet countless thousands have been effected by our presence: the crews of hundreds of planes, trains, ships and vehicles of all kind have held our lives in their hands; thousands of hotel and restaurant staff have cooked, cleaned and welcomed us; people have washed our clothes and carried our bags, (even whe we've tried to stop them); they have guided us, guarded us, and pedaled us around ancient monuments and modern cities. Yet our presence here is commemorated only by the few dollars that we have left in people's pockets and by the donations we have given on behalf of our Canadian friends.
Today, in Surabaya, southern Java, we visited a school for the poorest of the poor - a school for the children of garbage pickers. These poverty stricken people eke out an existence by scavenging through the city's garbage in search of anything that can be sold, re-used or recycled. Their environmentally conscious efforts should be applauded and rewarded in this day and age, but they are not. However, thanks to the incredible generosity of our friends and colleagues in Canada, their children now have a school with a new roof, together with newly painted ceilings and walls,
Here we are with a bunch of very happy kids who all want to say, "Thank you very much," to everyone who donated to the reconstruction of their school last year. We want to say, "Thank you," too. Here in this world of poverty and despair you are all Great Canadian Heroes.

Posted by Hawkson 23:34 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

One Country - Two Worlds

sunny 33 °C

There are thirteen thousand islands in the Indonesian archipelago, stretching from the equator to Australia. Our journey between two of these islands, Bali and Java, was just a thirty-minute ferry ride. Yet the gulf between these two is greater than the gulf between Canada and South East Asia.
Language, customs and religous dogma have doomed the Balinese and Javanese to eternal rivalry and conflict.
The Balinese are predominantly Hindus whose lives are dictated by superstition and ceremony. Almost every day is a ceremony day, or the preparation for a ceremony day, or the day of rest and rejoicing following a ceremony day. Seventy percent of a Balinese' meagre earnings are spent on ceremonies. No undertaking, however insignificant, is commenced without reference to the calender, and no price is too great to appease the Gods.
Across the Strait of Bali the Javanese are predominantly Muslim. Here the townsfolk suffer the constant deafening blare of muezzines as they compete with the noise of traffic and the bellows from neighbouring mosques. There is hardly a moment's peace from four a.m. till after nightfall - hour upon hour of religious incantations blasted through huge loudspeakers high on the minarets.
Indonesia may be tolerant of non- muslims but no one can escape the constant ear bashing of the immams.
Our journey between these two worlds began when we travelled through a tranquil national park in Bali to the ferry.
The ferry, not unlike the Gabriola ferry,was crowded with locals. Unlike the Gabriola ferry the lounge was blasted with incredibly loud karaoke music from a giant screen. As has often been the case on our travels we were the only Westerners and the stewardess must have sensed our discomfort. She quickly guided us away from the melee and took us to the captain on the bridge. We were then given the entire top deck - just for us. Preferential treatment?
And when we arrived in Java at Banyuwangi the driver of a mini-bus turfed out all of his local customers so that he could turn around and take us to our hotel - very embarassing.
But this story is about the two worlds - Bali and Java: Bali is a peaceful backwater while Jave is the most populous island in the world.
We are now in Surabaya - a city of luxury hotels and enormous shopping malls; a city of sophisticated people who would not be out of place in London or Vancouver. But, around Surabaya's corners, in dirty little back alleys, there is indescribable poverty.
During the next few days we will spend time with the people of Surabaya - some of whom we already know - and we will be visiting some of the poorest people in this world - in any world.

Posted by Hawkson 04:02 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Bali - Close to Heaven

semi-overcast 30 °C

We lounge by a pool on Tony's terrace and watch plump golden koi hide from the midday sun under giant lotus pads.
We are on the top of the world. All around us the soft curls of the hillsides are stepped into waterlogged rice paddies that take giant's strides down to the coastal plain at our feet. The young rice is impossibly green - too green to photograph or paint without cries of trickery - and the entire scene is clearly digitally enhanced. Even the silence is deceiptful. We are lulled by a soft warm breeze into a feeling of total tranquility, but it is a delusion - a chimera. The air is constantly abuzz with dragonflies and butterflies, and is frequently ripped by the shrieks of exotic birds in the branches of of the clove and rambuttan trees. A koi leaps from its watery world and splashes noisily back again. Bamboo wind chimes clunk sonorously in the breeze. Tomorrow's dinner quacks loudly as he forages for his final meal amid the clumps of rice seedlings, while the chickens trumpet the successful laying of another breakfast.
There may be no infernal combustion engines here - no chainsaws, motorbikes or leaf-blowers - but the air is alive with the constant clamour of nature. And in the evening, when we have watched the sun slip back into the Sea of Bali, the frogs and gekkos take up the chorus and the heavenly choir gets louder ... much louder ... very much louder. Heaven may not be quite what it is cracked up to be!

Posted by Hawkson 20:21 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

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