They say that you only get to make one first impression. If that’s the case then I don’t think that there will be any second date for me and Yogyakarta, Indonesia. After four months of Thailand and friends, I was quite looking forward to some fresh surroundings. It is our first new country since we hit Malaysia back in January (Vietnam doesn’t count as I was there 12 years ago). I didn’t quite know what to expect from Indonesia but we dove in. Head first.
Imagine going on a blind date and discovering that your date is just another huge, crazy, sprawling. exhaust-spewing, dirty mess that’s covered in garbage and smells like an open sewer. You would probably be a tad disappointed, no? I had heard very good things about Jogja (as the hip folks call it), a nice town with lots to do, so maybe my expectations were somewhat high but from what I’ve seen in the past few days is just another crazy, busy, dirty, stinky, noisy, traffic-nuts, some-what depressing, mostly ugly town. I was hoping for at least a nice room which to hang my hat. Upon entering our place, the first word that popped into my head was grim. Grim was the word. But it wasn’t a big deal as we’re only here to sleep. Just sleep…
We spent the first few days walking around (as we like to do) but it was tedious, fucking hot and relatively unpleasant. Terrible sidewalks (no surprise there) and row after row of motorcycle repair shops, abandoned buildings, dodgy restaurants (which are OK with me) and garbage strewn about. We’ve visited quite a few cites with this general description but most of those had a nice old part of town or square or area thats cool to hang out in. Not so much that we could find here. Swanson complained incessantly which drove me bonkers. This wasn’t going very well. How long are we here for?
On the upside, the people are incredibly nice. Maybe the nicest folks we’ve run into on this trip. Walking around on our first day a very affable chap approached us and started a chat. He told us a little about the city and suggested that we visit the fine art batik school/shop/museum. He gave us explicit directions, even offering to procure a ride for us. Nice guy I thought. We moved on. A few minutes later another fellow approached us. He said he was tired, on his way home from work but suggested that we visit the fine art batik school/shop/museum. He even drew us directions on his hand. We met four other guys – a teacher, a student, a couple blokes on the road and, after a little idle chit-chat, all suggested that we visit the fine art batik school/shop/museum. This was getting really weird. We thought that either this was either a spectacular place to visit, some ruse that everyone in town is on to get us there to sell us some crappy wares or was some leftover Indonesian Death Squad compound where we would be tortured and killed. Turns out that, after a little internet research, that it was door number two. We couldn’t figure out what was in it for the random assortment of folks who tried to persuade us to visit this place. Did they all have relatives who were hocking their goods there? Did they somehow get a royalty for getting some tourists to visit? Who knows. I took it all in stride and enjoyed the conversations we had anyways. And we never did visit the damn place (it was only open on Monday and Tuesday – or so they said).
A couple days later we were out and about and only one guy told us to visit the fine art batik school/shop/museum. We said we were on our way to the royal palace, but he said it was closed to due to some sort of royal circumcision. He asked me if I knew what that was. I did.
After a while we did manage to find some lovely quiet streets and interesting things to see including bunch of strange cars all done up with fine detailing – I expect they look pretty cool at night – that had the engines removed and were pedal powered, Fred Flintstone style.
On Wednesday we hit the local Science World. We thought it would be good for Swanson and get us out of the blistering heat for a few hours. It was a fairly depressing Science World as far as Science Worlds go (I never understood why tourists go to Science World in Vancouver. I guess it’s to help fill up the day? Get out of the blistering Vancouver heat?). Only about half of the exhibits worked and they one’s that did were pretty low-rent – think dioramas of oil refineries, milk production plants, curved mirrors, fit the thing in the thing, and shitty not-to-scale dinosaurs. The best part was playing bowling and baseball on a Wii system from around 2009. The controllers were grimy and gross. I’m pretty sure that they were white a one time.
The best part was all of the teenage school kids asking us to pose for photos with them. It was pretty odd but cool and they seemed genuinely enthusiastic and fun to talk with. At least they weren’t trying to get us to visit their uncle’s shop.
On Friday we hired a car and driver (no fucking way am I driving anything on the roads in this country!) to take us out to Borobudur (yes it’s as much fun to say as it sounds and it sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings). It’s an ancient temple “discovered” by some Brit named Sir Raffles back in the late 1870s. It’s also the number one tourist attraction in Indonesia. It was pretty cool, but quite busy and after seeing Angkor Wat and Petra, a tad underwhelming. For me, the best part was the drive there and back through the beautiful countryside complete with intense-green rice fields, thick jungle and even an active volcano off in the background. It actually erupted here only 5 years ago.
Again we – I should say Tami and Swanson – were the most popular attraction of the day, being asked by about 7 or 8 different sets of folks to have their photo taken. None for me today. Old cheese.
We have a few more days left here in Jogja. The place is starting to grow on me a bit – we’ve found a great little restaurant and the beer is cheap and not too bad – so we’ll make the best of the time we have left and then it’s on to Bali and the Gili Islands for maybe a month or more. I hear that it’s nice there.