Indonesia is comprised of some 18,000 islands, and until last month, I’d only visited a grand total of two. I added a third during my first week of spring break when Katelyn and I headed to Central Java for a little art and culture.
Jogjakarta is a lovely city. It has a funky vibe, with its street art and brightly colored buildings and bumping arts and music scene, mixed with some modern Islam (I gotta admit, I loved hearing the call to prayer five times a day again) and throwback traditions from the Sultan era.
We took a tour of the Kraton to learn the history of the nine sultans (quick version: lots of wives, lots of babies), took rides around the city in a becak, drank some java in Java, bought some batik, made some batik, etc etc.
Of course, we also saw the two temples that make Jogja such a famous place.
Prambanan is the oldest Hindu temple in Java. Legend has it, a beautiful princess lived in Jogja a millennia ago. A prince came to take her hand in marriage after he killed her father and took over her kingdom, and she was forced to agree. However, she provided a caveat: he needed to construct 1000 temples by morning. As he and his underground demon friends completed the 999th temple of her impossible task, she and her palace maids desperately set a temple on fire to trick him into thinking it was morning. The demons fled back underground at the first light, and the prince, furious, turned her into stone, thus completing the 1000th temple (but ruining his chances at marrying her once and for all — as if he had a chance before).
In reality, there are about 240 temples. The largest three are shrines to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.
Borobodur Temple is Jogja’s other main draw, for good reason. This 9th-century monument is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and again, after its rediscovery, an active pilgrimage site. Katelyn and I stayed at a hotel within the grounds of Borobodur, so when we left our room before 5 am, it was just a five minute walk to the temple stairs.
The sun rose slowly, revealing a foggy expanse below and stupas galore above. Seventy-two stupas ring the top levels of the temple, each housing a Buddha statue. (Which, according to the documentary we watched the night before, “will bring you a husband if you reach through the stupa and touch Buddha’s hand. Unless that’s not your problem.” This film was full of questionable advice.)
We spent hours walking around the temple, looking at the reliefs telling the story of the Buddha’s life. Even though this is the most visited attraction in all of Indonesia, we often felt like we were the only ones on the temple.
We hired a friend-of-a-friend, Bima, as our driver for two days of the trip. He took us to see Mount Merapi, which is apparently the most dangerous volcano in the Ring of Fire. We couldn’t hike it, unfortunately, as it was still too slippery at the end of the rainy season. But we were privy to a poorly translated documentary about its destruction, learning…well, that “both will coexist and harmoniously if only humans will also take care.” Right. Hmm.
After the hike, we floated through a cave and down a river on a “bun” — the term they use for an inner tube. Near the end of the river ride, we found ourselves in line to leap from 8 meters into the river. Because it was Katelyn’s birthday, and because Bima had already admiringly dubbed us “the two adventure woman,” I clearly had to live up to such a title.
Bima transformed as we got to know him. When he first introduced himself, he was very formal, with his shirt buttoned all the way up to his chin. By the end, we were jumping off cliffs together and climbing mountains and learning slang Indonesian words. Our final night, he asked if we would like to come to his home and see a traditional Javanese house.
He showed us the center of his neighborhood, with a common house and a Javanese version of a gong. Different codes send different messages; there’s a fire, there’s a burglar, there’s a pressing reason to meet. Hit the gong and all of the men coming running. (We both tried it, and no one came running. Must have been the wrong codes.)
Then he asked if we would like to visit his friend’s home. He wanted to show us how welcoming and hospitable all Javanese are. Even though we felt super awkward walking into a random stranger’s house, his excitement convinced us. Miss Tutu graciously served tea, and she and her children conversed with us in nearly 100% Bahasa Indonesia. (My vocabulary grew immensely on this trip — it was awesome.) When we left, our new stranger-friend and her family stood at the end of their driveway, waving goodbye, Javanese (and Minnesota) style.
I feel like I got a good taste of Jogjakarta in our four day visit. Katelyn and I then returned to Bali for a wedding of epic proportions, before this adventure woman headed off to India for spring break, round dua.