Jakarta. A massive, grey, overcrowded, bustling tropical metropolis. I always knew that our first site of Indonesia wasn’t going to be the best first impression. Over 10 million people fit into the urban sprawl that has become Jakarta. The mix between elite rich and appalling poverty can be seen living side by side. Well made roads with designer shops and buildings are seen descending into muddy alleys which flow off the side of them. The city is situated on the north western tip of the island of Java, Indonesia’s fifth largest island and the most populated island in the world. It’s also home to 121 active volcano’s.
We arrived in the city via a huge flight from Cape Town with stops at Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi. At one point I wasn’t even sure if I was going to even get on the plane as my itinerary seemed to be incorrect. I found myself eventually running for my flight bare foot through Johannesburg airport after eventually being allowed on the flight and paying a fine which I’m still trying to get back! Despite that set back I arrived in Jakarta and was immediately hit by the morning heat and humidity. Eventually finding a cab we left towards the centre for a bed for the night. During that trip I had my first sights of the city. A journey which shouldn’t have taken more than 30 minutes probably lasted over an hour and a half. The immense number of people and traffic that I had read about was all becoming a reality. I have never been anywhere with so much traffic and so few road rules!
I wasn’t planning on spending too much time in the city so was pleased to finally reach the hostel which was surprisingly pleasant. I eventually spent two nights in Jakarta which was perhaps two too many, luckily the majority of it was to sleep off jet lag. I did wander up and down the streets we were located on and was only met by yet more insane traffic, horrid polluted air and the occasional strong wiff of open sewage water. Despite all this, I was still in high sports and happy to have arrived in Indonesia, somewhere I have wanted to come for years and I was excited at what lay ahead.
After spending to nights in the countries capital we headed south on a local train to small town called Bogor. The guidebooks tell you it’s a lovely little market town with a great sense of culture. It did however seem as if Jakarta’s massive urban sprawl had actually made it all the way down to Bogor and as the name of the place suggests it wasn’t a beautiful little market town! We left Jakarta in the pouring tropical rain, walking across the railway lines to get to the station. It was only a 45 minute trip south on train and once we arrived at the other end, let’s just say disembarking the train wasn’t the manner in which it’s done back in London. Standing at the closed doors a massive crowd of people appeared eager to on the train for the return leg. Standing with my massive bags I thought surely they must back some for people getting off. Famous last thoughts. The doors opened a huge current of people rushed on to the carriage before anyone could get off. Being pushed right back I realized that with my bag I was twice the size of anyone getting on so decided to fight back and literally ran through everyone, leaving a trail of destruction and bodies behind me! Welcome to Bogor.
Only spending a few days in the town we did some walks around the streets and the markets which were at times rather nice. We also visited the famous Bogor Botanic Gardens which were beautiful, containing some of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. Bogor had some great views looking over the countryside, I even spotted my first couple of Indonesian volcano’s in the distance.
Following Bogor i decided to make way way further down through Java to the city of Jogjakarta, the cultural capital on Java as its known. It was a big distance to travel and after looking around found the best way to get there was an overnight mini bus which took about 12 hours. Twelve of the most terrifying hours of my short 25 years on earth. Turns out everyone in Indonesia is an ex racing driver, who knew? For friends and family back home who ever thought I was a bad driver, I’m a god send compared to the mentalists out here! Street lights, signs, speed limits, rules and general road etiquette seem to have yet reached Java. We flew through small towns and villages, over taking cars and driving on the other side of the road to get the fastest line in the pitch black around blind corners, there was nothing our driver wouldn’t do. I occasionally caught him looking in his rear view mirror no doubt to catch a glimpse of me quietly reliving myself in my sleep deprived state. None the less our night of terror was finally over and we arrived in Joga early the next morning in one piece and checked into a place to stay.
Joga as its known it’s the arts centre of Java and such makes it the most popular destination on the island. It’s is also the most seismically active parts of Java. An earthquake as recently as 2006 happened 25km north of the city killing 6,000. The volcano Mt Merapi erupted just two years ago in 2010, spilling lava right into the city. The volcano is actually due another small eruption within the next year and a large eruption within the next 10 years, with fears that it could destroy the whole island.
We spent a number of days walking around the city, visiting various parts to get a glimpse of life in Joga. We saw a number of small museums and amazing temples, none more so than the temple of Borobudur. The Buddhist temple dates back to the 8th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is the largest Buddhist structure anywhere on earth. It sits in the surroundings of rain forests mountains and volcano’s giving the site a hugely dramatic and Indiana Jones type feel.
While there is no actual date for the temple it’s estimated it took 75 years to complete, finishing possibly around 825 A.D. The temple actually lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and rain forest after it was abandoned until 1885 when it was re discovered and cleared by a British explorer. It has now resumed as a place of worship for Hindus and Buddhists.
We spend a number of hours circling the massive temple. The sheer size and immense detail of it is outstanding. Without a doubt one of the most impressive and stunning religious structures I’ve even seen. Once again the site was littered with hundreds of tour companies ferrying in hundreds of tourists. During the day we seemed to become a more popular attraction that the temple its self! Throughout the day I was asked countless times, “can I have a photo with you please mister?” What started off being quite trivial turned into what felt like a celebrity mobbing with so many tourists asking for out photos. Without exaggerating I imagine I was in no less than 40-50 photographs!
Following our visit to the temple we headed back to Joga and planned the next part of our trip which was to take us to Mt Bromo in eastern Java to see the famous volcano. It did however involve another 10 hour road trip to get there which was just as exhilarating as the last! Standing at 2.329m Bromo isn’t the biggest of the Tengger massif, but it is the most famous in the area. The massive volcano erupted as recently as last January so it seemed somewhat of a dubious idea to walk up to the crater rim.
The trip had all the makings of an epic journey. A hike to the crater rim, a stunning desolate drive to watch the sunrise over the volcano’s. However it turned out to be one of the more disappointing aspects of the trip so far. We awoke early around 3am from our mountain retreat and were piled into a small jeep which would take us to Mt Penanjakan to watch the sunrise over the volcano range. It sounded beautiful. However it was let down by the sheer amount of tourists all doing the same thing. In typical Asian tourism fashion, as many people as possible were crammed in to loads of jeeps going up the mountain. When we reached the top and walked to the summit there were literally hundreds of tourists packed into a small area to watch the sunrise. To make things worse the weather was shocking as I couldn’t see anything at all! Just a mass white mist covering the mountain, very different from the stunning pictures I had seen in books and postcards. Feeling a little disappointed we headed back to the jeep and drive down towards Mt Bromo.
The Bromo part of the day was only made better by the fact that we could actually see the volcano. Still here Asian tourism at its best drove in thousands of tourists to see the volcano. To make things worse local tribesmen had hundreds of mules and horses to take the lazier tourists up the 500m incline slope. Stepping out of the jeep we were immediately surrounded by what looked like close to death donkeys ready to take us up he mountain for the little money. Polity declining I made my way up the mountain and despite the hundreds of people it was stunning. The views around of the mountain range were breathtaking and the volcano it’s self was incredible. Standing on the rim of the volcano which was only 2 metres and it’s widest and staring down into the steaming bubbling crater was awe inspiring. It was amazing to think that little over a year ago Bromo had erupted with an almighty force. All around the volcano was still the black ash covering everything. It was a stunning site and despite the tourists well worth the trip to the summit.
Our time in Java was almost over and we were on our way to the next island. A place I have dreamed of going for years and it was only another crazy drive away.
“The trick of it is, don’t be afraid anymore”
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