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One goal accomplished and another almost within reach! After what often seemed like a lifetime but probably just represents a desire that goes back to 1983 we, and especially Jan, have seen Borobudur. And, after a much longer time, that indeed is close to a lifetime, we are about to embark for Australia.

A third goal has also been accomplished: we made it overland (or at least on the earth's surface) from Bangkok to south of the equator. This latter represents only our fourth time in the Southern hemisphere, the first being in 1983, the second two years ago in Ecuador and the third just two months ago when we were in Bukittingi, Sumatra.

We're taking "the pause that refreshes" as we end a week in Jogjakarta and two in Indonesia. When last we reported we had just bought tickets on the Pelni boat "Kelud" from Batam (off Singapore) to Jakarta. All-in-all it went very well and was certainly more comfortable and faster than first taking a shorter ferry to Sumatra and then buses for several days to get to Jakarta.

Read on for our doings on the Pelni Boat and in Jakarta, Jogjakarta, and Borobudur.

Sewu Temple, Prambana, Java, Indonesia
Sewu Temple, Perambanan, Java, Indonesia

Batam to Jakarta

The Kelud arrived three hours late in Batam and left four hours late. A good part of the reason was the carrying on and off the ship of lots of cargo, most of it by hand and on stevedore's backs . We watched from above and were fascinated by what we assume was a scene from "On The Waterfront" of fifty years ago in the USA.

The 2,000 or so passengers got on, we'd guess, in under an hour. Only one or two (of maybe 30-40) first-class cabins were occupied, including ours. Maybe half a dozen second-class ones (of maybe 30-40) were occupied. But the third class, which consisted of a set of dormitories, crowded with 40 or so beds in each room, was entirely filled. As were any flat places, such as stair landings, walkways on the outside of the ship, etc.— people "camped" all over the place. There was some kind of unspoken rule, although more probably a rule enforced by the crew that some areas were fair game (stairwells, for example) while others were not (lobby areas, for example).

Within a few hours we were essentialy out of sight of land and then there was very little to see; a few hours later night fell and there was nothing. So we mostly holed up in our very comfortable twin-bed cabin and read or worked with our laptops.

Immediately before each meal there would be a knock on the door to inform us that it was served. We'd walk down to the dining room, have our table (set for four people) pointed out to us, and eat by ourselves. Nearby there were about 10 tables set for eight; these were the second class passenger tables; they were mostly unoccupied. Perhaps because of Ramadan. After having left four hours late we arrived nearly seven hours late. But it was a good voyage and we didn't mind at all. It didn't quite rate with our trip from Bombay to Goa some 28 years ago when we had true first class comfort including afternoon tea served on a private deck by white gloved waiters!

Gerry was happy to cross the equator by boat, although he couldn't find the line marked anywhere! In fact, we probably slept through it, as the crossing must have been just after we went to bed. Fortunately, nobody roused us to "initiate" us with a bucket of water over the head, as we were to see portrayed in an old photo in the Jakarta Maritime museum. Jan was happy too, because this trip was much, much more comfortable than our last sea voyage across the Caribbean from Colon, Panama, to Cartagena, Columbia where she was seasick for four days.

Just before getting on we met a Dutch girl, about 25, who was just two days into her trip around south-east Asia. She was "brought" to us by the same taxi driver who we'd used two days earlier. We didn't know it at first but she'd just gone through a big scare: she'd left her backpack with almost everything she owned on the Singapore-Batam ferry that she'd taken that morning. She was very, very relieved to have it returned to her in a ferry that arrived just before the Kelud should have departed. We spent some interesting hours talking to her during the long wait to board and then on board. She reported to us what life was like in a 6-passenger second-class cabin; not anywhere near as comfortable as ours.

Once in Jakarta we shared a taxi with the Dutch girl and went to the Jalan Jaksa tourist district. There we took the relatively expensive Hotel Bumi Johar, selected from LP, and then made sure she safely found a place, much simpler and cheaper on a quiet street. We were quite happy with the Bumi Johar, especially when we discovered our laptops would fit in their safe deposit boxes and that we wouldn't have to carry them while touring. For that we happily did without easy internet access.


Friday morning, the day after our arrival, we got down to business right away. Before leaving Batam we'd gotten confirmation that we'd have an apartment in Sydney. So we went to Quantas and booked one-way tickets from Denpasar, Bali to Sydney for November 4, flying overnight, and arriving November 5. This was the cheapest passage we could find; to get cheaper we would have left from Jakarta or even Singapore or Bangkok, but they were more expensive. On Monday we came back and paid for the tickets. Because of unfavorable exchange rates ordered by the Indonesian government if paying in rupiah we first withdrew Indonesian rupiahs from an ATM and then ran over to the money changer and bought dollars and then walked over to Qantas and paid in dollar-cash for our tickets.

After that we went and bought train tickets to Jogjakarta. We couldn't get them for the day we preferred because in Indonesia the last week of Ramadan is "go home and see the folks left-behind when you went off to the big city" week. So we bought them for one day earlier, Tuesday, October 17.

We had our choice of several classes and took "Executive" which gives air con and more leg room than Business class, which cost 2/3 as much. The prices were 60% higher because of the holiday season, but still cheap at about $20 (190,000 Rp) for a nine hour, 500 km trip.

In between Qantas and the Gambir train station where we bought our tickets we did a bit of touring, including eating lunch at a nice Hot Pot restaurant, ascending the National Monument (sort of a cross between the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty; it is a column 132 m high with a big torch on top.) and seeing the giant Istiqlal Mosque (accommodates head-down about 200,000, inside and in the courtyards) and the 1901 Roman Catholic Cathedral, built when Christians still dominated Muslims.

We overdosed on museums on Saturday and Sunday, visiting the Jakarta History Museum, the Maritime Museum, and the National Museum, as well as walking around the site of the original Old Batavia and old port. The collections are excellent; they are housed in old Dutch buildings which are also very interesting. Much of the old Kota section is a giant slum and Jan didn't enjoy walking around in it at all. It reminded her too much of Colon, Panama, start of that nauseating trans-Carribean trip. Gerry, as usual, liked the local color, and joshing with the workers as he took their pictures in their small factories that are open to the street.


Early Tuesday a week ago we easily got on the train and had a nice ride to Jogjakarta. We arrived late in the day and didn't do much except find a hotel and go out to dinner. Then we embarked on what for us was a very busy tourist program, so busy that we mostly didn't have time to enjoy the pool at our hotel, the Asia-Africa. And in spite of a sore throat that Jan is sure she contracted on the train from a little girl across the aisle from her. Oh, the vagaries of travel.

Our primary goal was to see Borobudur, about 42 km north east, but we spent much of our first day holed up in the hotel room. Late in the day, after a swim, we finally started our program with a walk about Jogjakarta ending with a Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) show. It was actually pretty boring, especially the repetitious music. But the audience was so small it seemed discourteous to walk out and so we held out to the end. This was one of many examples of how Jogjakarta and Indonesia are really suffering from the tourist drop-off after the Bali bombing, the tsunami, and most recently the Jogjakarta earthquake.

The next day we went to Perambanan to see the 9th century Hindu temples there. Two weeks ago we'd never even heard of them and were delighted with how impressive they were. It reminded us lots of seeing the Hindu-style Khmer temples in eastern Thailand and at Angkor Wat, even though the Perambanan temples are smaller and less-well preserved.

That night we completed our induction into Ramayana-ese, getting to see the "full story" of the epic in ballet form, with Shiva Mahadevi as backdrop. (It and Candi Sewu are two great temples.) Even though we didn't get the magical experience of a moonlit performance, it was still great. The dancing was beautiful, the setting quite haunting, and the costumes were extraordinary. If they ever bring it to Europe/US it will be a smash hit. They cleverly use projection screens on either side of the stage to display a brief explanation in both English and Indonesian of each scene so the story was much easier to follow than that of the shadow puppets. We came home tired but happy.

The next day was again in Jogjakarta, where we visited the Kraton (the Sultan's old palace) and the Bird Market. It was a really hot day, which didn't help Jan who was suffering from her sore throat.

The next day, Saturday, we shared the cost of a car and driver with a friendly German couple and went to the Dieng Plateau to see some more remains of Hindu temples. We only got to go because we bumped into them by accident; we'd met them at the Ramayana ballet so they knew who we were. Lonely Planet had said that in archeological terms Dieng was very important but up close wasn't too impressive. We agree. LP also said, however, that the scenery and nearby boiling mudpots and volcanic hot lakes were worth the trip. Here we have to disagree. The weather was hazy, the villages were not at all picturesque, and the geothermal features ho-hum. The conversation with our German friends, on the other hand, was delightful.


And so, finally, we came to Borobudur. Every day in Jogja, we had found a good reason to put off the trip: the ballet was shown only twice a week, the opportunity to share a car to Dieng Plateau was now or never, and even though Jan craved a day off like never before, she was afraid that to put it off again might mean missing it forever. And so we were on a bus to the bus station by seven a.m.

We no longer remember exactly when we first heard of Borobudur. It might have been during our travels through India some 28 years ago when we got our first aquaintance with Buddhism. It might also have been through our friend Sue Marens who visited Indonesia some time in the seventies or eighties, but Jan remembers that she first really became determined to visit when she saw a model of the temple in a park of miniatures in southern China in 2000. It is one of the world's biggest Buddhist temples and according to Encarta, influenced the builders of the Angkor Wat temples.

Built on top of and around a small hill, the Borobudur temple structure consists of ten levels, the bottom five of which are square and the top three round. Each of the square terraces is constructed with a passageway allowing the pilgrim to circumambulate the level and as he walks to read and admire bas-relief panels that tell the story of the Buddha's life, and relate other parts of Buddhist teaching. We spent two hours or more walking the entire passageway of each level in spite of the heat of the day and Jan's state of health. True pilgrims would effectively walk it four times as each that many passes are needed to "read" in order the stories told by the bas-reliefs.

Gerry calcualates that there must be approximately 5,000 carved panels along the series of walkways. Some of them are quite eroded and difficult to interpret but others are in spectacular condition. Perhaps it is this feature in particular that influenced the builders of Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple, because they too (built five centuries later) have their own relief carvings that decorate outer temple walls.

The top three levels are circular and instead of bas-relief panels the top two are lined with ten-foot high stupas (bell-shaped objects) with openwork sides that each contain a seated figure of Buddha. The very top consists of one giant stupa that we are told is empty. When we arrived at the top we were rewarded with a pretty good view of the nearby countryside. Sadly distant hlls were covered with the usual haze, but at least on top there was a breeze and a place to sit down. We were well satisfied with our efforts.

In the Borobudur museum, we learned that we had visited three of the four Buddhist sites that the museum considered somehow world class: they were Borobudur, in Indonesia, Shwe Dagon in Rangoon, Burma, visited in 1978 and Wat Pra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand that we visited earlier this year. The one site we've missed is that of Sanchi, near Bhopal in India.

After visiting the Borobudur temple itself we had a great buffet lunch where we were among three bus loads of tourists. We're hardly ever near such tour groups, except in museums, when they crowd or drown us out. Then we went a bit west, by horse-drawn cart, to visit Candi Pawon and Mendut Temple, two jewels that, if they weren't overshdowed by the great Borobudur, would have a lot more visitors.


Our life has changed a bit here. Indonesian food is okay, but not as pleasing to us as the Singapore food courts. We've often wimped out with KFC, McDonalds, even Pizza Hut once, and eating a few times simple stuff in our room. The mangoes, which are in season, are great however, even though it takes a lot of bargaining to get a fair price. We've lost the BBC on FM and only occassionaly get good short-wave reception. There's little news on TV in English so our only TV watching now is for a rare movie; the most recent was the first half of "Lawrence of Arabia."

Gerry is really enjoying his new camera, having already taken about 2000 pictures. The visits to Perambanan and Borobudur are the main reason, but there is also plenty that is photogenic in Jogjakarta. The camera has a video mode and because the storage is digital it is easy to download it and see it the same day. That leads to taking a fair amount of video. There is a suprising relation: he takes about as many megabytes of video as of stills. The stills themselves are of super quality; much higher than the now discarded Sony PC-303. When enlarged single hairs on a person's face are in clear focus, even for hand-held shots.

Now after a day of rest we'll be off for 10 days in eastern Java and Bali before we go off to Sydney. There we'll occupy an apartment just 2 km from the center of downtown. After that things are not fixed but it's likely we'll go to New Zealand (because our Australian 90-day visas will be up) for several months and then return to Australia for another 90 days to tour it. While in Sydney we'll try to get a car, insurance, and — surprise — driver's licenses. Jan's expired 6 months ago and Gerry's goes October 31.

October 23, 2006