All roads led to Indonesia. A southeast Asian nation made up of thousands of volcanic islands and hundreds of ethnic groups speaking many different languages. In fact, Indonesia’s numbers astound; it has more than 17,000 islands, of which only 8,000 are inhabited, making it a real challenge to plan the perfect itinerary for our thirty day stay without getting too bogged down with information overload. Miz and I have had this country on our travel radar for a few years and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. We took an extremely cheap flight from Kuala Lumpur to a huge city named Surabaya which lies in Eastern Java. Java is the most populated island in Indonesia and is home to the capital city, Jakarta. It lies between largely undiscovered Sumatra and the island of Bali, the most well known and touristic destination in the whole of Indonesia. We flew with Lion Air which is one of the fastest growing airlines in South East Asia, and for £21 per person we had found ourselves a real bargain. For some reason, I watched air crash investigations the night before our flight…why do I do it to myself??!! We arrived safely in crowded Surabaya in one piece and took a taxi to Jala Homestay, which would be our home for the night. The owner greeted us, he was an extremely kind man, he cooked us a great Indonesian lunch, a beef broth with rice and vegetables with prawn crackers…delicious! He had some great movie channels so we took advantage and relaxed after a couple of long days. There was a knock at the door, it was 7am, we had fallen asleep and breakfast had been delivered. I have no idea why so early, but hey, a piece of toast and a cup of tea is always welcome. I accepted the tray gratefully, still in a sleepy daze and revealed curry, rice, spicy sauce and crackers. I suppose we’re used to this by now, definitely a great way to get you up and at them first thing in the morning. The owner was so kind and a couple of hours later was cooking again, this time a combination of vegetables and noodles mixed with a tempura batter. It was called ‘Ote Ote’, and was super tasty.
It was a fleeting visit here as he dropped us off at the bus station that morning for our local bus to the small town of Probolinggo, which is a good stop off to visit Mount Bromo. The bus journey was long hot, sweaty with people and animals everywhere, it felt great! Indonesia had come alive. We shared sweets with the locals, a seat with a chicken and a view of the rich, fertile landscapes all around. Arriving in Probolinggo, drivers crowded us, we jumped on the back of a couple of motorbikes and headed to Clover Homestay. This place was super; the room was big and airy, and the café reception area was comfy. There seemed to be about twenty members of staff who were all very friendly and talkative…this was becoming a theme. Meeting our hosts and getting to know them has always been a really important part of our travels. Chatting with them is so interesting and gives you a real insight into their lives. At this place we met a lovely girl who calls herself the ‘Indonesian Adele’, and gave us our very own concert! This is why, in our opinion, staying in small hostels, guesthouses, homestays or even people’s homes is perfect for making connections with local people. It enhances your trip as you receive recommendations, experience local food, get an insight into every day life and most importantly, make new friends. You don’t always get this in bigger hotels or resorts which tend to be pretty similar.
We had booked onto the sunrise trek in Mount Bromo National Park. Sunrise treks are always a bit hit and miss. Will you be rewarded for setting that dreaded alarm for 2am or will it be a complete disappointment as the clouds stand firm and the drizzle soaks all of your belongings, wishing you had stayed in a peaceful dreamland?! As we rumbled up to the start of the walking track, the night sky was full of stars; this is always a positive sign and we were rewarded with a beautiful, clear sunrise. The air was crisp and fresh as the sun filled the valley with pink, powdery light as it reflected off the low lying fluffy clouds; it was a sight to behold when the backdrop of volcanoes beamed and came into full view.
We had a good group of travellers on our trek up to the crater of Bromo. A young couple from Bordeaux, France and a couple of German students who we got along with really well. The moon-like landscape at the base of Bromo was otherworldly and the views of the crater walk stretched for miles in all directions. The volcano is pretty active and you could see a steaming river of boiling water and sulphur at its core, it was an amazing sight.
Once we had returned from Mount Bromo, the owner from the homestay told us it was possible to see whale sharks off the coast of Probolinggo. A fisherman would take us out by boat an hour from the pier and for £10, we could swim with these amazing creatures…it sounded too good to be true. The owner of the homestay bundled us and a few others in a car, and we were dropped off at an old, deserted theme park. It was like something out of a horror film, already we were not off to a good start! We set off in a rickety, old fishing boat with a couple of Indonesian fishermen who could not speak a word of English. Three hours later, we had realised there were no whale sharks in these murky waters, just a handful of jellyfish and a huge storm that was moving in quickly.Oh well, as I said, I thought it was a bit fishy!
The next day, it was back to our beloved train travel as we boarded the 9am train from Probolinggo to Yogyakarta. A nine hour rail journey through the beautifully, fertile interior of Java. For 80 Rupiah (£4), we had a couple of seats in economy class which was an absolute bargain. The coach was extremely comfortable and the train staff would pop along every hour with a selection of hot meals and drinks. Miz and I tucked into a chicken fried rice and spicy sauce as the train flew past the vast expanses of rice paddies and farmland. We arrived in Yogyakarta at 5pm and took a taxi to Arjuna Homestay. Yogyakarta is a large city in Southern Java, famed for its culture, arts and quirky cafes and bars. The cities main tourist attractions here are its temple complexes; Borobodur and Prambanan which are a huge draw for Buddhist pilgrims from around the world. We rented a scooter for a couple of days and zipped around visiting a number of local attractions including Borobodur Temple. The temple itself is stunning but it was absolutely crowded with locals so it was difficult to enjoy the surroundings. The local Indonesians, especially the teenagers love to take selfies with you and we were bombarded with requests for selfie, selfie, selfie. We wouldn’t dream of ever saying no, so after a while it got pretty tiring, especially in the heat! I think we were unfortunate as the day we had to go was a Saturday and also coincided with a school holiday, maybe other times it is not so busy. After a couple of hours and a rainstorm later, we jumped on the scooter and headed home.
On the drive back from Borobodur, our driver told us that in 2010, the city was devastated by a huge eruption from Merapi volcano. 350,000 people were evacuated and 350 people were killed. A local guide showed us the remains of whole villages that had been destroyed and huge lava rocks are now scattered along the roadside. It was a heart breaking story which made us realise that this part of the world is always on the edge of a natural disaster.
We had ice cream cravings and found an amazing place called Tempo Gelato. The gelato here was out of this world and we returned all four nights we stayed there! I think I worked through nine different flavours as I simply couldn’t stop myself. We also found a great sate bar and local Warung (small restaurant), which served great local dishes. We spent a great day on the scooter riding around the local area with no real plan which is one of our favourite things to do and stumbled across some rice paddies, watched the local farmers working in the fields alongside wildlife and birds.
The beaches along Java’s coastline are almost exclusively volcanic and have extremely strong currents and rip tides which make the majority unsafe for swimming. They do however offer huge waves and tasty, fresh seafood. We stopped for lunch at a dusty car park and were met by a guy who told us to follow him on his motorbike to a small beachside shack a five minute drive away. The place wouldn’t have passed any hygiene checks but the simple seafood plate we received was out of this world. Huge grilled prawns and a whole halwa fish combined with a plate of sticky rice and some spicy salsa was to die for. On the way back, we headed off the main road onto a winding dirt track through a local village to a remote waterfall, locals splashed in the pools and practiced their English with us.
Yogyakarta is a good place to visit for a few days. The old quarter is a brilliant place to wander about for a few hours. The old, narrow streets here are filled with art gallery’s, shops, cafés and The Taman Sari Water Palace which was completed in 1769 as a royal garden for The Sultanate of Yogyakarta, definitely worth a visit. We would highly recommend The Water Castle Cafe which served a great dish called Gado-Gado. A mixture of steamed vegetables with a delicious satay dip. Our days in Yogya had come to an end as we headed to the airport for our early morning flight to Bali.
Thank you for reading our blog on Java, we hope you enjoyed it! Coming soon…The Nusa Islands!
Love Mizark! X