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!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sleepy in Solo

For a non-business traveler Solo is a two-day max stop. We end up staying four. We have the choice of going to Jakarta earlier to spend a day in the massive capitol city of 16.7 million people, but nobody seems to like Jakarta. Foreign residents in Bali hate it. If you ask Indonesians the first thing they will mention is traffic. The workers in the airline office suggest we just stay at the airport. A young woman from Jakarta could not recommend anything good about her city. So we decide to just stay in Solo longer than most.

An old Sultan had 40 statues brought from Europe, one for each wife.
Today's Sultan has a gift shop.
There is really not that much to see or do in Solo as far as guidebook related activities. All of Solo’s touristy stuff is a bit sad. The backpacker street (tourist ghetto, if you will) was terrible. Luckily we found a decent, cheap place way on the other side of town before coming here, which is probably because our guidebook is still in Bali. The sultan’s palace - older brother of Yogyakarta’s sultan - really needs a fresh coat of paint. Mika does not even believe he still lives there. The traditional Javanese show -- I think dance, Mika thinks comedy -- is fine for an amazingly low Rp 3000 (US $0.33), but there is absolutely no info in English and some painfully long monologues. Indonesians seem to enjoy it though. The most tourists, 10, are at a depressing antique market where a seller tells me those nick knacks are “new antiques” just made to look old. I cannot even find a postcard in this town.

part of Act 1: They stood like that for 15 minutes just talking

Yet not much to see is also part of the fun. Just to be somewhere a bit off of the well-worn tourist trail. Solo is not huge by any means, but it is Indonesia’s 10th largest city. Life not revolving around tourist dollars or euros is happening.

I find some delicious fish satay in a little neighborhood restaurant. Indonesia has a plethora of chicken and goat satay. Fish satay has been actually quite rare to see. We drink java from Java. We become the first foreign guests at a brand new coffee shop opened by young entrepreneurs - so new they do not have menus or a sign yet.

We get caught up on our Indonesian soap operas. See part of some big Mr. & Mrs. Pageant and an amateur modeling competition. Get schooled by fruit sellers on the outskirts of a busy market and browse the latest in Muslim ladies' fashion. We are woken up around 5 every morning by the call to prayer from an imam who I swear must be in our room. We also visit the Solo Mall.
In the US, I grew up on mall culture. It was unavoidable. Despite some fond childhood memories of malldom I cannot stand going to them now. But in developing countries malls are somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Whether it is Guatemala City, Managua, Manila or Solo, a shopping mall is a welcoming, sterile, fixed price, air-conditioned, indoor oasis away from the humidity, commotion, litter and pollution happening on the streets outside. The following is a list of our visits to the Solo Mall:

Day 1: For a general perusal of what is on offer at an Indonesian mall and an impromptu Rp 22,500 (US $2.50) ear candle treatment at a massage shop having a 50% off promotion.

Day 2: For free wi-fi with the purchase of a small drink; to buy pastries for next morning’s breakfast at an attractive bakery.

Day 3: For ice cream and a matinee Hollywood flick Rp 15,000 (US $1.55) played at extremely loud decibels.

Day 4: For an air-conditioned shortcut to the hotel after a long walk outside; to buy water and snacks for the train; at night Mika wants to eat at a clean place with a needed break from the variable pricing of street vendors. Her food court dinner is not good. She decides to return to the street vendors. After Day 4 I hate malls again.

The next morning we leave early to catch our 8 hr. train to Jakarta. There is nothing like preparing yourself for a really long train ride by waiting an extra hour and a half on the platform for a delayed train. In the same time span we were just sitting there we could have traveled most of the 270 Km from Tokyo to Kyoto in the oh-my-god-it-is-a-national-crisis-if-the-train-is-more-than-five-minutes-late bullet train in Japan. Finally we board. The ride is uneventful. The seats are comfortable while the food is bland and overpriced. “Hard Cash” with Christian Slater and Val Kilmer is played twice. Many views of rice fields and coconut trees. Both Mika’s book and my Ipod battery end way too early.

I do not want to say due to miscommunication, rather due to "bad communication" we wait over an hour at the airport for the shuttle to pick us up. After calling three times and waiting for a mystery man in a yellow uniform to never meet us, we are finally saved by an Indonesian woman who calls the hotel for us from her cell phone and then runs into the road and waves down our bus while we follow behind.

The comment card in the hotel room

The hotel is new and shiny. We check-in with only 40 min. left to use the pool. The pool area is really nice. There is a hot tub and cold tub for a post sauna blood rush. There are lots of up to date mosaic tile. We get towels, pool shoes and men get a loaner bathing suit. Our room shower has hot water, there are English channels on the TV and no geckos in sight. This is all so unlike our month in Indonesia.

It is hard to believe we are leaving already. It feels like we have hardly seen anything of the archipelago. I am excited for our planned return in September when the tourist summer tsunami will have ebbed. We will be armed with a two-month visa and a decent understanding already of how things work here.

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