Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Some Days you just step in it: Yogyakarta


Destination: Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

Number of Days there: 4
One thing unexpected: How desolate this place is in the day during Ramadan
Favorite Restaurant: Via Via - Belgian run "chain" (it's actually a group of friends from Belgium that have about 10 restaurants scattered around the world designed to promote the local culture of the city they are located in) that serves up good food and more information than the visitor's center.

Times we took the: Bus: 0 Train/Subway: 0 Taxi/Car: 0; Motorcycle: 3
Estimated KM walked: Around 15
Where we stayed: Crystalit Hotel (A/C and a pool for 135,000rp/$14 US)

What we liked: Impromptu Puppet Show at the jewelry store

What we disliked: Aggressive touts, lack of services during the day (our fault for traveling during Ramadan), crowded streets + motorbike + sun = miserable

After hopping off the first plane in and checking into our hotel early in the morning, we decided to explore the self dubbed "Cultural Capital of Java", Yogyakarta (Jogja for short). As we are prone to do, we severely underestimated the distance between our hotel and our first stop, the walled center of town known as the Kraton. Along our what ended up being 5 km's in the heat, we made some instant "friends". They all seem really nice at first, asking where are you going?, where you from?, oh America..."I love America!" Lesson number one on now to spot fake friends...they always LOVE the country you are from, especially America! After having spent the past three weeks warding off touts, we had a pretty good idea this was no different. The difference here compared to those in Bali is that they will follow you down the street telling you all along the way, they know a "short-cut" and walk with you for blocks and blocks. Ultimately they all want to take you to a Batik (hand painted, sometimes poorly, fabrics) store that has offered them commission if they bring in customers. After five in a row, it gets a little annoying, but just stay calm and friendly and always stick to your map, not any directions you get on the street. When we finally got to the Kraton, we paid our entrance fee, and walked up to the gate where we were met by another friendly "guide". We followed him around while he explained the two windows of old clothes on mannequins for about 10 minutes and afterwards, he also let us in on a great deal at a Batik store just around the corner and had transport waiting to take us there. In our opinion the Kraton was a bust and unless there is a special ceremony going on there, skip it. There was supposed to be gamelan music playing there as well, but because of Ramadan, the place was not only silent, but there were no other tourists around. After the let down that was the Kraton, we walked around to find the Water Palace. After getting lost in the maze of shops next to the water palace, breaking our own rules and following someone for about 3 minutes towards...yep you guessed it...a Batik store, we finally stumbled across the back entrance of the Palace. Naturally, the Water Palace had NO WATER! Defeated, we trudged through the sweltering heat back to the Bird Market. While it is somewhat of tourist stop, this is a real market filled with all sorts of exotic animals ranging from mice, to 100's of types of birds, to rabbits, to snakes, dogs, pretty much anything that moves they had. You could even purchase the small animal, a civet, that makes Kopi Luwak. They feed the animal coffee beans and it passes through the digestive system and out the other end to produce supposedly some of the best coffee. It was a bit depressing seeing all those animals caged in the heat like that so we passed by the maggots (bird food?) and made our way back to the northern part of town to stroll the shops. As we were walking and talking about how crappy this town is, it happened. We both stepped in a big ole pile of S**t. All we could do was bust out laughing thinking what perfect timing that misstep was! There were no real positive notes to that first day and were glad that we were going to spend the next couple of days outside the city visiting what we really came to see, Prambanan and the jewel of the crown, Borobodur.

To read about the two days visiting the temples, check out the next couple of postings.

The last day in Jogja, we made our way out to the silver shops on the southern edge of town in the village of Kota Kede. Following true to the rest of town, we underestimated how far it was to walk and ended up wandering aimlessly through the small streets looking for people making and selling silver jewelry in the village itself. After about two hours of walking around and finding nothing, we settled on sticking to the main drag of silver stores. We ended up where we started, at the large jewelry store called Tom's. They also gave free tours of them making silver pieces and it was neat to watch them. Tracy ended up purchasing her Christmas gift from Diane & Dave, a nice silver set of earrings, a necklace and bracelet to match (which she loves and is the only thing she has really purchased on the trip - impressive, I know). While Jason went on what ended up being an odyssey to find a working ATM (sometimes the 5th one is a charm!), the jewelry store staff offered to give us a free shadow puppet show upstairs. There it was, above the jewelry store, a stage with complete gamelan choir and a small room for folks to sit and watch. After the show was over, we banged on all the instruments (I have a new found respect for musicians, how do you train one hand to do something completely opposite than the other?) and there we finally found something we liked in Jogja. While it certainly was a let down in many regards, I don't want to make it sound like it was horrible. If you see past the touts, and realize that Ramadan certainly changes things, then it's not a bad town to visit. At night, the place was bustling where dozens of shops and restaurants set up along the main drag to Break the Fast.

Next stop, the sprawling capital of Indonesia, Jakarta.

To see more pictures of Yogyakarta click here!

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