This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Left My Heart in Yogyakarta

Three hours in a bus and an hour on a westbound ferry, we get to Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. Just eleven more hours on the bus, and we are in Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta is the launching pad for visiting Borobudur, the largest Buddhist structure in the world. It is also famous for batiks, traditional Javanese textiles.

Landing in a strange town in a relatively strange country after traveling for fifteen hours can be disorientating. Without a hotel we ask the shuttle driver to drop us off in the tourist ghetto. It is 6 AM so we should have plenty of time to find something. Though so many places are full - bloody high season. We find out that it is also holiday for Indonesians, so there are also many local tourists as well. We are now worried that like Bali, Yogyakarta, will be another place for price gouging foreigners.

After a quick stroll around town we see this is not the case at all. People are very kind without the feeling they want something from us. No one gives us inflated prices (or if they do it is a negligible tourist tax). Malioboro Road, the main shopping drag, is lined block after block with shops and sidewalk stands selling tourist items. However, they almost all seem to be geared for the Indonesian customer. Many shops have fixed prices or just start at a decent price and may bargain down a little.

We spend the day just walking around. We pop into the large central market. Three floors of fruits, vegetables, spices and house wares. One huge area is dedicated just to onions. There are no nick knacks here. At first we are a little apprehensive to speak with people because we really are not buying anything right now (no extra weight). But after a few minutes we see that they are very genuine. No one expects us to purchase anything. One man, who used to work for an American, explains his assortment of goods from his spice shop. We have a coffee at a little booth while behind us men unload a truck carrying ridiculously heavy baskets on their back.

The most interesting thing at the museum is these Indonesian students dressed in "Cos Play" as characters from a Korean video game.

Next we go to a terribly boring independence museum (see above photo)at an old Dutch army base. There are lots of dioramas of historical figures having meetings and zero information in English, which is probably why he let us in 2-for-1 when we were waffling at the ticket counter. We then go see some batik shops - a famous craft of Yogyakarta. In the back of some stores you can see the batik making process.

Tired and far from the hotel we decide to hire our first becak. A becak is public transportation in the form of a three-wheeled bicycle with a two person seat in the front pushed by the becak driver behind. They are still used somewhat by locals, but I think that personal scooters are so prevalent now in Indonesian society that it must really hurt this more traditional form of transportation. The becak drivers are all over Yogyakarta. Usually just sitting or sleeping in their becak. You cannot go anywhere on foot without a becak driver bothering you. They really want foreign tourists because A: We usually pay more not knowing real fare rates or location distances, and B: If they take you to a batik shop or gallery or silver shop or t-shirt shop and you purchase something they will get a commission. We let our driver take us to some shops, but still nothing catches our eye. After the fourth store we insist on getting back to the hotel. The next day, Monday July 26th, we go to the biggest site in Yogyakarta. The Kraton, Sultan’s palace. itself is fine for a quick walk through. There old portraits of sultans, photographs from the sultan’s life today and, of course, many batiks on display. The highlight though is the live rehearsal concert of Gamelan music. This is a traditional form of music with about twenty musicians all playing some type of percussion instrument with six singers.. All of the musicians sit on the floor playing gongs, bowls with lids or mini xylophones. If you concentrate and follow just one musician it sounds just like, “dong“…”bong“…. However, when you add up all of the individual bings and bongs together it creates a complete melody and very suitable background music for checking out a Javanese Sultan’s crib.

This guy is easily distracted

However, this guy is unflappable

We then head to the bird market. From what we have seen thus far, many homes in Indonesia have songbirds in cages. My fanciful vision is that this market will be something like Baghdad of 150 years ago, a colorful market teeming with people buying all sorts of feathered creatures. In reality, there are several rows of vendors selling various songbirds and parakeets, large, well-groomed roosters and many pigeons. The soft drink Sprite had a booth giving out free samples. The few serious buyers I do notice are in the market for pigeons. They inspect every inch of the bird checking the feathers, wing strength, beak and other things that maybe only pigeon aficionados can understand. A pigeon sells for around Rp 70,000 (US $7.77).

In the back of the market is a single row of sellers with more exotic creatures: Long-haired cats and rabbits that look terribly hot and hopeful a nice Northern European tourist will take them home, an owl, an enormous snake in a cabinet, squirrels, bats*, two North American turkeys, a pair of monkeys, and a small otter who is absolutely miserable with life in captivity. Many of these exotic animals are plucked from the jungles of Sumatra. And I guess, like everywhere, only when people stop buying these animals will people stop selling them.

Me giving our becak driver a ride down the block.

*According to the Javanese bat seller, eating bats will help cure asthma. And they thought it strange when I explained that yes, people in other countries actually do eat rabbit. They are not just pets.

This can be yours for a mere US $28. Cage not included.

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