Our arrival in Yogyakarta was one of relief. We had yet another harrowing journey – we set off at half 6 in the morning and after changing bikes and buses a fair few times we arrived in Yogya almost 12 hours later.
I hope it is not just us. I think it is Indonesia, well Java, at least. If you step off the ‘route of the many’ transport is a maze. Or, in the words of Kafka, ‘A trial’!
But was it worth it? Quite simply, yes. Yogya is unlike the other Javanese cities we have as yet visited. It still feels very Indonesian (… And when I’ve worked out how to describe what I mean by this you’ll be the first to know) with a rich, traditional soul the other cities have lost, or perhaps, never had.
Yogya is an epicentre of arts and culture in Java. It is famous for Batik (paintings), Ramayana ballet and much more besides. And at the centre stands the Sultan’s Palace and its surrounding walled city – The Kraton. People live and work throughout the Kraton and it is a strange mix of past and present. It is beautiful, and wandering around you find yourself drawn back in time, visualising the days of the Sultan. It is a special place.
Unfortunately, my camera didn’t seem willing to capture the soul that Joyce and I saw so no good pics I’m afraid. However, just outside the Kraton stands Taman Sari (or Water Castle). This was built long ago for the Sultan (and his concubines… Aye aye) to use for, well, pleasure! It is an exciting warren of interconnected waterways to explore, and although much graffiti now adorns the walls, it left an impression of the life of a Javanese Sultan.
But this was only day 1 and we became enraptured with Yogya for many days…
We were artistic with silver – fashioning our own rings – although this meant letting Joyce loose with a blowtorch!
We were (for once) cultural with a Prambanan Ballet… That is the Prambanan temple in the background. A 9th Century Hindu temple is not a bad backdrop!
We were spiritual with a visit to Borobodur. It is magnificent 9-tiered temple but… It is overrun. Compared to Angkor it is too small a site for too many people. You lose the temple and you lose the magic. But still a definite must see. Here is one picture without the tourists…
And then we were Volcanic with a trip to the crater lip of Merapi… And this I want to tell you a little more about. Are you sitting comfortably? Then i’ll begin…
Now, we are used to minivan pick ups. They usually happen early so you have a full day to enjoy the ‘sight’. Not this one. 10pm pick up. 12am drop off… at the base of the volcano.
Being shook awake from the car journey and ushered into a warm waiting room was a discombobulating experience. And it got stranger.
So there we were. 7 of us. All sitting, dozing in and out of consciousness. People are tired. And people don’t tak when they are tired, or think other people are tired (or trying to sleep). And so 7 people, who are about to set off for a 9 hour hike together just sitting, staring, sleeping, in a cold room, with nothing but a warm cup of tea to comfort them. Had we arrived in purgatory?
Maybe. We didn’t know it but we were about to ascend to heaven!
1am rolled around and we made our start upwards. Very upwards! Starting a walk by immediately going uphill is a shock to the system. Doing this at 1 in the morning is almost overload!
But we struggled on. Head torches on full beam to illuminate the few metres our steps had to tackle next. Not seeing the top. Not knowing how much further. How much harder. Would it be an easy traversing track. Deep volcanic sand. 70 degree scree… It was in fact all of these. But not knowing (or seeing) made it easier. Just one more step. Just one more step.
There were other walkers on the mountain that night. Perhaps 12 in total. Only 7 of us made it to the top. Apparently not many do!
And so we sat – on top of the world – the wind trying to blow us off every second, the cold trying to sap our spirit. But we stood fast and waited for sunrise. In fact, I’m going to say it… The best sunrise I have ever seen!
As the sun made its slow saunter up through the sky, the clouds and the volcanic fumes toyed with us. Opening. Closing. Rising. Falling. Each time a new vista was revealed. Our cameras clicked north, east, south and west. The thin crater lip our safe platform… A long slide in front and a 200 metre drop into the crater behind.
It was simply breathtaking.
And then, when the sun has finished its sunup-show, our heads turned downwards to see, firstly, what we did, and then what we had to do. Again. In reverse. What we missed on the ascend:
Quite simply. Unforgettable.