Java Part 1: cities

Two weeks after the wedding, we found ourselves in an Indonesian small city called Jogja (by the locals). Our host said she would rather categorise this place a village, but I beg to differ. Jogja has an international airport nearby, some traffic jam and a decent size train station full of taxi scammers.

We arrived yesterday after seven hours and a half on the train, an early rise and a second-degree trauma – me losing a bank card. As soon as we walked out of the platform area, an apparently official taxi booth offered to get us a taxi for 80,000IRP. We could have taken it if our host hadn’t given us an estimate of around 40,000IRP. We found another taxi driver ourselves outside the station and ended up paying 24,000IRP even though the driver did take us the longer, round-the-block way at one point. We missed Uber!

Jogja is surely at least a town. Maybe my host was thinking of Jakarta and Bandung in comparison. They are indeed mega cities with traffic going on for miles. We happened to be in Bandung last weekend, among the visitors who wanted to splash out shopping at factory outlets or enjoying some dramatic views of nearby volcanoes and crater lakes. We did neither despite sitting on a taxi for 3 hours to go to the Tangkuban Perahu. That three-hour taxi journey covered about 30 km from Bandung centre to its northern mountainous area.

From Jakarta, where we landed the first night, through Bandung to Jogja, we have spent a lot of time in slow trains and slow moving cars. Before seeing Java, Hanoi and Bangkok were at the top of my list for busy roads. How little did I know!

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We’ve learned a lot about patience and anticipation in Java. Would we make it to the volcano site before it rains in this traffic and under those hanging clouds? What would we do then? Would we make our train despite setting off more than one hour in advance for a distance of 4 km? If we don’t make it to the station, how would another day in this craze city be like? Should we make a desperate attempt to walk there and there?

We did walk several times. Pavement is rare and litter is common. Javanese cities have little to none street lights, which makes an evening stroll much less pretty and reassuring. Some scenes are like a stab to the heart. In Jakarta, I’ve seen extremely dirty side streets with open holes next to food stalls. In Lembang, I’ve seen a stream running through forest land covered in used plastic bags and giving out pungent smell. I couldn’t bring myself to come near and look closely at the colour of the water.

Jogja does not have bad traffic and a serious pollution problem like Jakarta or Bandung. We managed to walk the old town without being hit by cars and motorbikes, but the constant pestering from touts is unpleasant. We tried shaking our head with a smile, many firm “no”s while gesturing with our hands, pretending not to understand English. Nothing works. Some drivers followed us a long way, shouted at us names of places, presumably we would want to go and they would take us. One even stopped his becak (Indonesian traditional cycle rickshaw) on our track, so that we could not walk anymore. We just wanted to explore his city in our own pace and in peace but it didn’t seem possible.

Though Jakarta, Bandung and Jogja definitely have their own charm and some delicious food, they are not for us. We booked more train tickets, packed our stuff and determined to leave cities behind – big and small – to (hopefully) find mountains, jungles and quiet beaches.

Jogja, Tuesday 26 April 2016

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