It has been a long time since I posted on here, that is partly because I haven’t been doing anything particularly exciting travel-wise, but also because I have been busy settling in to life in Yogyakarta. When I last posted I was about to head to Malaysia so that I could renew my visa and return to Java, after arriving here I decided that I would stay for a while and found a job in an English Language Centre called EF. I work Monday to Friday afternoons and teach up to 6 hours a day for a wage of around $650 a month, which is pretty good for Indonesia.
I’m living with Jess in her house in the north of the city and we have got ourselves lots of pets, firstly a large tropical fish tank (110cmx40cm and 50cm deep). Then we visited Yogyakarta bird market where we saw some Slow Loris for sale, which was very tempting until I did a little research and found that it is illegal to buy, sell or own them. So we ended up with 3 Lovebirds and several Canaries. The latest addition to the house is Jack, a Yorkshire Terrier.
It has been 3 years since I left Sheffield on my motorbike, since then I have travelled around 63,000Km and visited 42 different countries to end up on the other side of the world, here in Indonesia. Yogyakarta isn’t the greatest place to live, but it isn’t bad for a city, there are lots of nice places within a few hours car journey, so I will add pictures of the beaches, mountains and temples that I see over the next few months. I won’t be blogging very regularly but I will continue to add pictures and videos, as well as improving the content of my website and working on my book.
I started the week in Yogyakarta saying goodbye to my host Jessica and her family. I only spent a week with them but they were so friendly and welcoming that it was kinda hard to say goodbye. I cycled to the train station behind Jessica’s car and took my bicycle to the cargo company for packing, they had insisted on packaging my bicycle, but when they actually saw it they weren’t so eager. I told them what needed protection and made sure it looked secure enough before I headed to the train station for what I hope is my last train journey for a long time. Travelling with the bicycle gives me the freedom to take train journeys or hitch a lift when I need to, and the fact that I couldn’t get a third month on my Indonesian visa has meant I had to take the train through Java, even though I would have preferred to cycle through slowly and see more of the sights.
After a nine hour train journey I arrived in Jakarta at around midnight and met my host at the train station. Jakarta is a busy capital city with traffic jams all day, I cycled into the city a few times and didn’t see any traces of the flooding I had seen reported on the news while I was in Yogyakarta. I don’t really enjoy cities and Jakarta doesn’t have a great deal of attractions to distract you from the traffic, there is a national monument in the city centre but the visit isn’t really an activity so much as a photo opportunity. On Friday I stayed with a different Couchsurfing host for the weekend and was talking to their friends about Orang-utans, which are my main objective for the remainder of my time in Indonesia. While we were talking I found out that the only places to see them in Sumatra are in the far north of the island, which would make it difficult to get to and then get to Singapore before the end of my visa.
The main place to see Orang-utans in the wild is Borneo, so I started to think about going there instead and then getting to Singapore afterwards. Maybe even travel to the Malaysian part of Borneo and take a boat to West Malaysia, surely there would be a boat going there, but no apparently the flights are so cheap that there is no demand for the boat service. So I am going to fly to Borneo for the last two weeks of my visa and hopefully see Orang-utans and Proboscis (Big-nosed) monkeys before I have to get to mainland Asia and get back on my bicycle for the foreseeable future. Luckily my host from Yogyakarta, Jessica, is originally from Borneo and will go to visit her family at the same time I will be there, so I will stay with her again while I am there.
After a 14 hour train journey from Banyuwangi, I arrived in Yogyakarta and managed to talk the cargo guards into letting me unload my bike straight away, instead of waiting 4 hours for them to unload it. I managed to make the train journey productive, at least in part, by making some progress writing my first travel stories book and editing my diving footage from the Gili islands, which I’ll try to upload as soon as I have a decent internet connection. I met my host Jessica at the train station and cycled to her place, following her car through the city. Yogyakarta is a university city with lots of students, which means lots of cheap places to eat. I’ve had some great local food each day I’ve been here, some nicer than others. My first day in Yogyakarta we walked through the city centre, visiting markets and some of the landmarks. While we were in one street market we saw a bowl of fried bats, apparently eating the heart of the bat help with asthma.
I think I was lucky that Jessica’s mother was staying with her, because she has been cooking me lots of really nice food and trying to fatten me up. Her mother came to stay with her and help her clean her house after the Kalud volcano erupted last month, most of the ash has gone from the city, but in some places you can still find ash at the sides of the roads. One of the main attractions around Yogyakarta is Borobudur temple. A 9th century Buddhist temple which is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, covered with carvings on each level and decorated with hundreds of buddha statues. It took us an hour or so to walk around each level, slowly circling towards the top of the temple. We arrived just before sunset, but had to leave before sunset as there is a special, more expensive, ticket price to see the sunset at the temple. The ticket was already really expensive ($20), but I think it was worth it as I’ll only visit it once, the views out over the forest to the mountains were really awesome.
Each day we have driven into the city to eat some local food, we went back to one particular place a few times to have durian ice cream. It’s kinda expensive, but that is because durian is kinda expensive compared to other fruit. But one large durian ice cream costs about $2. One of the best experiences was tubing in Goa Pindul, an area of river which flows through a cave system, for $10 you can take a three part package deal which includes a tour of a cave, which involves crawling through some tight passages, tubing through a cave to see the rock formations inside, and my favourite part was tubing down a river through some really beautiful scenery and stopping at a waterfall for some swimming and jumping off of rocks into the plunge pool. Another interesting experience was the cabaret show on Friday night, which featured a group of ladyboys lip-syncing to some pop songs and dancing around on stage. I was really surprised to see that in a country which has such a large amount of muslims, especially when you take into account the fact that I saw a large group of muslim women protesting in the city, asking for an end to democracy in Indonesia and calling for the formation of an Islamic republic. I’ve already arranged my train journey to the capital city, Jakarta, I’m not sure how long I’ll stay there as I still need to cycle to Sumatra and make it to Singapore before my visa ends.
This week has been much better than I had thought it would be. I had to wait around in Singaraja while the incredibly slow Indonesian immigration service took 4 days to do what most African immigration services can do in an hour. I dropped off my passport and filled in the application form on Monday, they then said I had to come back on Wednesday to pay them my $25, then back again on Friday to collect my passport with the extension. Luckily I was staying only a couple of Km down the road from the office, the staff were really friendly, the office supplied free water and sweets and I was staying with a really awesome CouchSurfing host. My host and his family were really friendly and welcoming, I spent the daytimes trying to stay cool in the house with his two young kids, then we went out in the evenings to visit his friends, cycle through the city and go to swim in Gitgit waterfall. Then on Friday morning I went to pick up my passport which had an underwhelming (considering the amount of time it took) stamp in it granting my visa, then I cycled almost 100Km. First 85Km to the ferry to Java, then about 15Km to my new CouchSurfing hosts place.
I arrived very tired, washed and ate with my new hosts then had a long nights sleep. My new hosts are also really great, I had originally planned to stay one night, but decided to stay for two. We spent my first full day visiting their fruit garden where they grow dragon fruit. We harvested a bucket full, then sat eating them with a coconut to wash it all down. In the evening we went to the train station to get some information about my journey to Yogyakarta. Unfortunately the company was on holiday on Sunday, the day I wanted to travel, which meant that I would need to stay a third night here in Banyuwangi, but I didn’t mind because it meant I would spend more time with my hosts and would have a chance to visit Ijen Sulphur Volcano. So today I took a scooter and rode up the mountain and hiked the last few Km to the crater. On the way up I passed by many of the miners who carry the sulphur down the mountain and sell it, each miner carries 100Kg of sulphur 800 meters up out of the crater itself, then about 3Km down the steep track on the side of the mountain. Each man will do this twice each day and will earn around $20 for doing so.
At the top of the crater there are clouds of smoky gas which escape from the volcano and swirl up to surround you as the wind turns. The smoke smells really bad, like eggs, but it also burns your eyes, nose and throat. Visitors are only supposed to visit the edge of the crater, but it is possible to walk past the no entry sign and down the 800 meters to the edge of the lake where the mine is located. The further down you go, the worse the smoke gets, but the more beautiful the views are. The lake is a light blue colour, surrounded by these strange pale grey cliffs, then at the edge of the lake is the bright yellow sulphur rock. I hiked down to the edge of the lake and got some pictures and videos, the pictures are already available on my Facebook Page and Google+ Page, the video will become available at some stage.
Hiking back out of the crater was terrible, the wind had changed direction and I was in the smoke most of the time. But once I was out I headed back down the mountain to my hosts place to shower off the smell. My plan is to get the train to Yogyakarta early tomorrow morning, it’s supposed to be a great city to visit. I guess I’ll see for myself soon enough.