There are two main tourist areas in Yogyakarta; Sosorowijayan in the north and Prawirotaman in the south, possibly because it’s amusing to watch foreigners try and pronounce unfamiliar words of more than three syllables. The latter is the kind of place you’d want to stay if you’d been on the road for a while and just wanted a nice, easy tourist ghetto to hang out in with loads of bars and restaurants selling Western food. We opted for the former which is made up of these tiny little alleyways called gangs which I could quite easily get lost in if I didn’t pay attention, or if I did pay attention, or if someone painted arrows on the floor, or if I had a map and GPS, and despite the fact it very much is a tourist area it feels less so than Prawirotaman. We preferred it.
We had the bars on Jalan Sosorowijayan should we wish to apply Bintang to our faceholes, but there are also loads of street food vendors selling cheap soups, nasi goreng or snacks. It’s also right by Jalan Malioboro which basically is Jogjia, as Yogyakarta is universally known. By day it’s a bustling main road with small food carts and market stalls down one side and at night it becomes the place to hang out. Little restaurants are set up at the top of the road where you can sit on the floor at low tables and eat proper Indonesian grub whilst grumbling about how expensive it is because you’re not used to paying more than Rp10,000 for a meal any more. As soon as it gets dark the whole pavement from top to bottom is packed full of Indonesians playing music and chilling with friends and family, which makes it difficult to navigate quickly when you both realise you’ve got the shits and have to clench your way home as quickly as possible.
Yeah so that happened. One week in and we were both projectiling liquid through our arses. At least we’d found a hotel buried in the gangs with our own western toilet so we could take turns in pebble dashing the bowl and feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. My bunion was also playing up a bit too because I’m old now and it’s compulsory to have something foot related to whinge about when you’re old. Between that and my not-quite-healed sprained ankle I basically have to work out which one hurts the most at any given time so I can decide which foot to limp on whilst muttering “wait til you get to my age” at anyone who looks vaguely in my direction. If I had a cane I’d have brandished it. We stayed four nights in Jogjia though and it wasn’t the crippling kind of shits where you sob into your Immodium and want your mum so we still got things done, albeit slowly and with lots of trips in becaks, three wheeled cycle rickshaws which you sit on the front of feeling like a right fat, white lump as a bloke tries to cycle you through traffic in blistering heat. These bad boys are everywhere, you’re near constantly being offered the services of a becak but they’re not irritatingly persistent, it always feels really good natured, and if you don’t want one you can tell them “jalan-jalan” which means you’re just walking and they leave you alone. Until you walk back the other way.
So. Stuff and things with which to fill your time in Jogjia. I’m not going to lie, the main tourist attractions leave something to be desired which is a politer way of saying they’re all a bit shit. Our first attempts to see the Sultan’s Palace were thwarted by people giving us all manner of conflicting information about the best time to visit and what time it closed so we eventually fucked it off in favour of visiting a batik art gallery because you have to do it at least once. You’ll be hounded by people to visit a thousand of them, it’s like the whole bastard city is conspiring to apply batik to your eyeholes. “Sultan’s Palace is closing soon, but if you like you can come and see this exhibition from local artists…” I don’t need much encouragement, I fucking love batik, I fully intended to buy at least one piece and take a class too but Tarrant was less into the idea so we figured a little jaunt to one of these galleries where they’ll briefly show you the process and, if you ask, will let you have a bash at it on a bit of scrap cloth before you wander around and look at the fixed price artwork.
We ended up at Original Batik on the advice of a bloke we met in the streets who apparently worked at the government tourist information office. Turns out that batik is really fucking difficult. You just kind of hold the cloth on your lap and gently use a canting, pronounced “chanting” because c is pronounced ch in Indonesian, to apply delicate lines of wax to the cotton or silk. Or massive indecipherable blobs of wax in my case. Yeah, I’m not going to be any manner of batik legend any time soon then. We bought a small piece which we fully intended to frame and hang in a window upon our return but in reality it’ll probably end up in a box somewhere gathering dust.
Then there’s wayang kulit, a shadow puppet performance, or Ramayana ballet, the latter of which is pretty fucking expensive so we opted to head to Sonobudoyo Museum to check out the former. It’s 8pm til 10pm, we showed up at around 8.30pm which is fine and Rp20,000 later we were sat watching a chapter called the Death of Prahasta. It’s… I mean… guys I really wanted to enjoy it. There’s a load of musicians and then there’s a dude at the front who’s the puppeteer, and obviously it’s all in a language we didn’t understand but if I’m honest I’m not sure it’d have been any better in English. The death of this guy, he stole a sword or some shit, I don’t even know, but it’s like they needed to stretch the performance out with some manner of ultra long fight scene so after about 40 minutes of watching a bloke hit puppets against a paper screen whilst shouting a lot as a team of percussionists made a shit tonne of noise we decided to bail in favour of a nice early night.
I get it. I’m a heathen. A Philistine with no concept of culture. Some of these performances last all night. All. Fucking. Night. People legit sit through it? It’d be like having to sit through the Eastenders omnibus because you don’t know where the remote control is and you’re too hungover to try and find it. Right. The Sultan’s Palace. We got there eventually and actually kind of wished we hadn’t. It’s one of the worst museums I’ve ever seen. Maybe our failure to visit it on our second day was our guardian angels telling us, “Nah bruv, don’t waste your money, spend it on a nice cold (read: tepid) Bintang instead.” I don’t even know what to tell you. Yes, by all means visit it. But you’ll not have a bastard clue what you’re looking at.
If you’ve got a bit of time to kill you might as well take a bus up to Kaliurang to have a butchers at Gunung Merapi from a distance. Heads up though, it’s a fucking dear do if you’re foreign. Getting there is easy enough, it’s just the Transjogia 3B to Halte Ringroad Utara, then flag a tiny decrepit minivan the rest of the way to Kaliurang. Our bus was an antique. I’m not even shitting you. There’d be collectors back home that’d probably pay money for this bugger. It had a push button ignition, one of those stick shifts by the wheel that Americans are so fond of, guys it even had a fucking choke. There was a radio but the speaker was literally a stereo speaker lashed underneath the dashboard with rope. I scrambled futilely for a seat belt. But to be fair he rolled up that road so slowly that a crash wouldn’t have been too devastating. No idea why, possibly to find passengers, possibly because if he went any faster the bus would fall apart.
Once you’re there it’s Rp151,000 for foreigners to get into the national park. It’s only Rp6000 for Indonesians. I gagged a little bit. Here’s the thing; I don’t mind paying a bit more as a tourist because we can afford it. As soon as you can leave your own country and travel the world you’re basically wealthy in a country where so many people can’t even afford to leave your home town. But 25 times as much? It’s kind of like they’re saying, “Oh, you’re foreign are you? Come over here and bend over, we’d like to give you a good shafting with something unpleasant.” I’d even have been less upset if the entrance fee was worth what it was too. Rp151,000 is just under £10 and that’s UK prices for what you get, and what you get is hot and sweaty as you slog up a hill for half an hour to look at Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, from a very long way away.
One of the fun things about walking up a hill here though are the domestic tourists and school groups coming down the other way as your conspicuous white face becomes an even more conspicuous shade of red and they’re telling you to “stay strong” and “keep spirit.” Cheers guys, but the only fucking spirit I want right now is vodka. By the time we got to the top my face was probably a beacon visible from space. Once you’re done there and you’ve shuffled your way back down there’s an unimpressive waterfall and some monkeys, then it suddenly dawns on you that buses don’t come up here as a matter of routine. There needs to be more tourists without cars and right now we were the only ones. Ah bugger. We ended up getting a taxi to Terminal Pakem where we picked up a bus back to Jogjia where we assessed what just happened and decided that we probably didn’t need to see Merapi that badly as stunning as the view was and next time we’d read the Tripadvisor reviews first before throwing all our beer tokens at something.
And in other news, we branched out in the world of fruit and tried a buah naga, a dragon fruit, which is a badass name for a badass looking fruit. I’m not going to lie though, when I first saw it with its pink skin and soft spikes I didn’t know whether to try and eat it or summon a priest to send it back to the Hell from whence it came. So apparently they’re either white or purple on the inside, and ours was purple, and I don’t know if we got a substandard one or what but it was a little bit disappointing. Really quite bland. I’m not sure what I expected, unicorn heart I think, but you don’t get to swan about looking awesome like that and not at least have a flavour to blow your box apart. This must be how people feel when they see my piercings and tattoos then find out that my favourite music group ever is Steps.
Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia
Stayed at: Lotus Losmen