Saturday, 1 November 2008

Asia Update #4 - Java

Sorry, this is going to be a long one, I really should update more often. For those who just want the précis: we finally left Bali, got through Java, and are now in Sumatra. We've passed the 50 day mark, and only have one week left in Indonesia. It's gone really fast, yet somehow it feels like years ago since we were in Bali. Probably quicker to just look at the photos and map.

So just after the last update (from Ubud), we went for another all-day scooter ride around central Bali and all the way up to the north coast. We saw a famous lakeside temple which appears on the 50,000 rupiah note, and monkeys right on the road. About halfway to the coast we had to cross a ridge with crater lakes on it (around Danau Bratan) when it suddenly started to rain. As in, we literally saw the wall of rain hit the road 20 feet in front of us, and a second later we were soaked. Riding along in a wet t-shirt - I never knew it got so cold in Bali! All up we did about 450km in two days, and with averaging about 30km/h, that's a lot of time on a scooter and it sure felt it.

From Ubud we headed back down to Kuta where we stayed for a few nights - figured we had to at least check it out. It was good doing the tourist spot last instead of first though; we didn't look quite so fresh off the plane, and already had an idea what things were worth, could speak some bahasa, etc. Turns out it's actually pretty good, who knew. Bizarrely, the prices for some things (eg food and beer) are the cheapest we'd seen anywhere!

I also decided I'd check out the Bali health care system by coming down with a fever, which they had to test wasn't malaria. Three days of tests and $900 later, turns out I didn't have malaria, dengue or appendicitis, but I did discover that the tourist hospital is actually quite good. Anyway they weren't sure what it was, but I felt better by then, so we hopped on an overnight coach to Java.

We crossed on the ferry at about midnight, and after a surreal 2am meal stop, we were dumped in Probolinggo at 3am to head up to Mount Bromo. It's a smallish volcano which is constantly venting sulphuric gas which as it turns out, is not the best smell ever. From there we took a mini bus halfway across Java to Yogyakarta (aka Jogja). After 20 hours on buses with no sleep, even washing with a bucket looked appealing.

In Jogja we stayed with a couchsurfer girl called Ciluk, saw a huge Hindu temple at Prabanan, met a bunch of funny uni students who took us to the beach, and we ended up hanging out with them for the next few days. It's easier to just look at the photos :)

On the way out of Jogja we visited Borobodur, one of the biggest Buddhist temples around, that was pretty impressive too, but hot. Also we had at least a dozen groups of people come up wanting photos with us, I guess foreigners are still a novelty.

From there we went to Semarang for one night, to stay with our mate Habibi (who we'd met in Bali and again in Lombok), in his university dorms. The next day it was another overnight coach trip to Jakarta where we stayed a few days with one of the girls we'd met in Jogja, at her family's house about an hour from the centre. Jakarta is basically a huge stinky city with open sewers and terrible traffic, and I don't think you could pay me enough to live there.

From JK we flew to Padang, which is halfway up Sumatra - saving ourselves a 30 hour coach ride. The Air Asia flight was surprisingly painless, dare I say pleasant. The check-in and security was faster than home, and the plane was a clean new A320. It was just like flying Jetstar - basic, but nice enough.

On the bus from the airport we met a girl who was an English teacher (and oil baroness in the making), who was really helpful, getting us a hotel and showing us around Padang. She left for her village the next morning and we spent the day exploring the city. They have these amazing public buses and vans driving around that are really done up with artwork, stickers, body work, lighting and sound systems. Most of them are basically crazy mobile discos.

So this morning we took a car to Bukittinggi, 100km north of Padang. There were 9 of us crammed in there and the stupid guy insisted on having his huge subwoofer (which took up most of the boot) cranked to ear-bleeding volume the whole time.

Anyway, there's a huge volcano lake about an hour from here (yes another one), so we'll get some scooters and ride out around it tomorrow. After that we're heading to Lake Toba, which is a crater lake so big, it has an island the size of Singapore inside it! Then to Medan, hang out with orang-utans for a while, until we have to fly to KL on the 8th.

That's all for now folks.

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