Yogyakarta, Java

After a two-hour flight from Lombok, I set foot in Yogyakarta, Java. Half of Indonesia’s population lives on this island (143 million people), making it one of the most populated places in the world, and I can feel it. I begin my stay at EDU hostel, which is unlike any other hostel I’ve stayed at. My initial reaction is that it feels more like a hotel than a hostel – a huge lobby, multiple levels, elevators, new beds, free breakfast, and it was only 50,000 rupiah a night ($5 USD). edu-hostel4   Screenshot 2014-04-11 10.42.55 Screenshot 2014-04-11 10.43.41IMG_2658 IMG_2657 Aside from being big, modern, and clean, EDU hostel is different than others I’ve stayed at. One is that many local Indonesians stay at this hostel as they vacation in Yogyakarta from other parts of Indonesia. This perhaps results in the hostel having a policy of gender-segregated rooms. Lastly, the hostel has motivational posters everywhere, giving it a unique charm. IMG_2655 IMG_2659The hostel uses the opportunity to connect their English-speaking patrons with the local school children. Upon check-in, the receptionist asks me to come by around 5pm in the lobby to interact with local school children and help them practice their English. Later at 5pm I arrive to find around 30 young Indonesian children, around 7-10 years old. They ask me basic questions like “what’s your name?” and “how old are you?”  Later on they  have me speak some words in Indonesian, and giggle at my mis-pronunciation.

I reflect on how this is a unique opportunity for these children get to meet travelers from all over the world through this program; how when they would grow up, they would perhaps feel more connected to different countries when hearing about events on the news, remembering the faces of volunteers from the respective countries.IMG_2873

Borobodur

I begin an all-day tour to see the two most popular temples in Indonesia. In the SUV with me are a couple from Spain, on a one-year backpacking trip, and two local Indonesian women on vacation for a few days. Our first stop is Borobodur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. This temple has nine levels, 504 buddha statues, with 72 iconic Buddha statues on top (wait until you see it in the photos below!). Built in the 9th century, there was a period where this temple was abandoned for a few centuries, to be re-discovered by the British around the 1800s, who cleared away the jungle that shrouded such a magnificent monument. It’s odd to me how epic monuments like this end up abandoned, only to be re-discovered by Western archaeologists. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu are two other sites that also were re-discovered by Western archaeologists in this way.IMG_2677 IMG_2676IMG_2720IMG_2699The iconic Buddha statues. Each statue is seated inside a stupa; this one is uncovered for us to see.IMG_3038IMG_2696 As I wander through the temple, I’m approached by a local boy who asks if I want to talk. He explains that he is on a field trip with his classmates, and they are learning to speak English. We have a basic conversation in English, where he asks where I am from, my age, how long I am staying in Yogyakarta. One of his classmates comes along and has a similar conversation with me. And then everyone’s favorite part: photos! IMG_2708 IMG_2707 IMG_2710 After the photoshoot, I continue wandering around the large temple grounds. I wish I could sit and meditate here for an hour, but since I’m with a tour group, we only get to spend two hours at this site.

Prambanan

Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, and one of the largest in Southeast Asia. This site is dedicated to three Hindu gods: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer), and Shiva (the destroyer). As I walk around, I feel like I’m in a smaller version of Angkor Wat, the architecture and style of the buildings being very similar. While the main temples have been restored, there were many shrines around the area that are just a pile of rubble, awaiting restoration. IMG_2813 IMG_2793 IMG_2811Me rocking a shirt designed in the local Batik-style art. The sarong is not my idea of being fashionable, instead its required by the temple as a form of respect. IMG_2801 IMG_2789154-feet of epic ancient architecture towering above me.IMG_3067The temple walls are crafted in this level of detail.IMG_2777

The Ramayana Play

One evening I come to see the Ramayana play at Prambanan; a perfect spot to re-tell the Hindu epic. It’s way too long to summarize, but here are some video clips for your pleasure.

In the scene below, Sri Lanka is set on fire by Hanuman.

Yogyakarta is perhaps the most spiritual and artistic part of Java. Having one of the greatest Hindu and Buddhist temples in the world near one another makes this a place definitely worth visiting. And if you speak English, there are many people eager to practice speaking with you!

Next stop: Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta

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Deserted on Gili Air

After spending a week in Ubud, I feel inclined to stay on an island, which I haven’t done yet during my trip. There are three islands to choose from: Gili Taranwagan (the party island), Gili Air (the relaxed island), and Gili Meno (the deserted island). I take a speedboat to a small island northeast of Bali called Gili Air, looking for some quiet time. IMG_2610As I get off the boat, there are a group of chilled-out locals who ask me if I have a place to stay.  I don’t, so I follow them. The first local takes me to a site where there all tents, for 60,000 rupiah a night ($6 USD). I press on, looking around. I ask for the 7Seas hostel, but the local doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Odd he wouldn’t know the only hostel on such a small island (sarcasm). I walk down the road for a few minutes, and I find the 7Seas hostel. It’s nice, but it seems like it’s too close to a loud bar, and I like quiet when I want to sleep. I walk around a bit more in the heat, with my big backpack on my back, my small backpack on front. I guess I can be grateful that my small backpack is now lighter since I no longer have my five-pound Macbook…

Eventually I find a simple bungalow, no A\C, for 100,000 rupiah a night ($10). IMG_2641 IMG_2611 Yes, that a hammock in the front. I lay in the hammock, taking a nap in the tropical heat. The area is quiet, and I’m alone here for the remainder of my stay here, except for the local woman who owns these bungalows.

I wake up, feeling too lazy to get up due to the heat. I struggle, not finding the energy to hop out of the hammock. I’m motivated by the idea of cooling off in the beach, so I slowly battle my way out…slowly. I’m rewarded with this view after a two-minute walk, rewarded with the refreshingly cool tropical water .IMG_2612 I learn that there are yoga classes on the island. In the evening I go try a class. The space is beautiful. It’s the perfect temperature for yoga in the evenings, warm enough so that your muscles can relax and stretch out.IMG_2613I begin my 2nd day on the island by waking up early to meditate, and then go watch the sunrise.

As I walk to the beach, I’m reminded to be grateful that there are no motorbikes on the island; freedom from noise pollution. Aside from walking and bicycling, the only other way of getting around the island is horse-drawn carriage.

Sunrise.

I then decide to walk around the entire island, having been told it only takes an 1 1/2 hours to complete the loop. During some parts I feel alone, like a castaway on a deserted island. At other times I pass small resorts, empty and quiet.P1030151 P1030152 Later in the day I enjoy sunset. To enjoy sunrise and sunset in a single day!

On my third day, I decide to give snorkeling a try. I’m apprehensive, since I’m not a great swimmer, and I can’t really tread water. I decide to suck it up by renting a life jacket along with my snorkel and fins, hoping I don’t look too dorky. Of my fellow snorkelers, no one else is wearing a life jacket, not even the kids. I’m glad I let go of my ego, it was worth it! Apparently the best snorkeling to be had in the region is right by the beach.P1030196 P1030213 P1030214 P1030224

The Not So Relaxing Part

While there is a lot of relaxation to be had on the island during my three-day stay, a lot of the time I also was…stressed. This “stress” is what makes backpacking different than vacationing – unless you take it real slow, there’s always the process of planning where to go, how much time to spend there, finding the best deals, finding a decent place to stay, etc.

Having less than two weeks left in Indonesia, I feel overwhelmed by the number of places I want to see. Could I squeeze it all in? I wanted to climb Mt. Rinjani, go to Komodo Island to see the komodo dragons, go to Sumatra and see the orangutans. And so I researched my options over the slow WiFi on the island, trying to pack my itinerary. There just wasn’t enough time to do more. I finally decided to relax and take it easy. There would always be more to see, and I reflected that I should be feeling gratitude for all the sights I had seen over the past three months. And so I made peace with missing an extra sight or two. My next move would be to fly to Yogyakarta, where I would see two of the most magnificent ancient temples in Indonesia.

Being with Myself

Socially, Gili Air ended up being a period of solitude for me, a contrast from Ubud. During my three days there, I was entirely by myself, not having spontaneous conversations with other travelers, not feeling compelled to. I liked the fact that I could be comfortable alone, have meals alone, adventure alone. I recall the time I was planning this backpacking trip, apprehensive about going solo, finding comfort in coordinating with my friend Dev to be my travel buddy. And here I am now, traveling solo, enjoying moments alone, deserted on Gili Air.