The Javanese way...

Yogyakarta Travel Blog

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Ricksaw driver having a rest.

I didn't really know much about Java before going: I knew that its crowded; 140 million people on an area about the size of the UK. And i knew that it has lots of active vulcanos and that it should be incredibly beautifull. Nevertheless lately there have been frequent news about earthquakes. The latest one only about a week ago, 138 km below sealevel in the Banda sea. Before that Jakarta had tremors and, as we learnt when riding through an area full of houses with huge cracks and trembeling buildings, there had also been a 7.5 quake on the southcoast in september . On top of that  there was the political situation which was more pleasant not to know about.

Looking into the smoking crater of the Bromo vulkano.
...

 Just like the vulcanoes are smouldering along beneath their fertile slopes the political climate in Indonesia is difficult. Their democracy is young, as it was only reintroduced in 2004 after the current president took over from 33 years of army led rule. During his 33 years general Soeharto first of all crushed the popular communist party and then continued to thightly control all opposing parties. Inspite of this and heavy corruption he apparently maintained a relatively stable economy and he left religion to be, as Indonesias old constitution states it should be: up to the individual.

Whilst being though on corruption (Which is a major pain for us as no amount of 'is there any other service we can pay for?' could extend our 30-day visa) the new president is criticised for having been weak towards demands from extreme islamic parties.

The crater of Bromo in the background.
 Strict bylaws  have kreept in here and there and a very controversial 'anti-pornography' law, criminalising 'any sexually inciting behaviour' and 'display of nudity' has found foothold in 2008. The law caused uproar and is rejected by Bali, papua and yogya  as they fear the vague formulations could be used to criminalise hindu and animist traditions, that it would ruin the tourist industry and most of all that it would ruin Indonesias tradition of tolerance.

So as we sat  on the beach in Bali, looking over at Javas temperamental giants we couldn't help but feeling slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead: 3 weeks of riding along the slopes of these mountains, through Javas crowds, along a tiny white road on the south coast, and then finally crossing over the mountain range to Jakarta.

True Indonesian style we drove up into the crater in wich bromo is in a minivan. We got stuck and then the jeep helping us broke down...

However Java has, not surpirisingly, turned out to be amazing; The people, the nature, everything! It's drawbacks, the crowded conditions, temperamental mountains and a potentially dangerous political direction are always present but the javanese manage to deal with everything with a layed back happy attitude: 

Because they have to, they create jobs anywhere. Everywhere everyone is buisy; The villages on the plains between the vulcanoes are surrounded by small plots of land full of maize, rice, beans, mangoes and melons. Although these villages seem the whealthiest most of the backbrakeing work in the fields in done by hand without any modern machinery. Like these villages the towns are incredibly lively places; There are small kiosks and eateries everywhere, some occupying a veranda, others portable on bikes and charts. There are the melon men and the mango men competing with the bigger fruit and veg stores, there are endless mechanics, the big silver pot makers, the inflatale pink penguin sellers and, most popular with the under fives, the pedal powered bike/minicarousel with light green and pink animals. Then on the step slopes along the vulcanoes things change. The children and the old sit in hairpin bends waving traffic through, in the hope of some money. Further along the slopes of mount Lawu the villages become dirtier and more ramshakle with most buisness seeming to center around the bus stations. But always, if things flatten out a little, or the earth becomes a bit less rocky the ramshakleness is exchanged with fields full of farmers under strawhats doing the rice.

All this buisness and the financial inequalities are well documented on the roads. In the richer places there will be smooth pavement making for lush riding through the landscapes, stopping for bakso soups here and there. In the mountains though, we bump through large potholes and in the towns everything and everybody happens at once, making the riding really hazardous:

Trucks plough along on the outer lane, if there is one, whilst millions of motorbikes with up to 4 helmetless people on each dominate the inner lanes. The unofficial third lane is full of rickshaws, moveable shops on the move, a carouselman riding his spacey animals home and possibly some duckherders with a flock of waddeling brown ducks. Busses, though, are the only real evils of the roads on Java because they feel the need to be in all three lanes at once, picking up, dropping off and overtaking anything in sight. We have since learned the guy at the back functions like another pair of eyes indicating when its ok to push into the chaos on the third lane. We at times have wondered how it is that people don't loose their temper more. Where's the roadrage?? There's always people, you're almost never alone and it's really really loud here, but people just don't.

This relaxed attitude seems to go through into their religion as well. Unfortunately the extrimists are loud and get a lot coverage on the international news but actually the average indonesian is as far away from a terrorist as you can probably get.  Islam only gained foothold very slowly in the 13th century and in the slow process, it took up touches of the old religions (hindu, animist and buddhist) and left behind some of the 'heavier' arab traditions. For examle although it appears to be a requirement for most girls to wear a headscarf as soon as they start school at the age of 5 or so, they are in no way timid or in the background. They cover up dutifully but giggely teenage girls want to be in photos with us, throwing peace signs next to daren and women are seen working as much in the public areas as men and will always  talk and joke with both of us. And then theres the mosques: Every tiny village appears to have a very large one towering over everything else (Appart from in Malang where right next to the very large mosque there's a equally large christian church towering alongside it) Often prayers are sung out over the speakersystem. Sometimes it will sound even and beautifull and sometimes like a tortured cat. Somewhere in the mountains it sounded like a sportscomentary being read out. (Who knows?)  And then after 84 km of treacherous mountainroads the prayers were interrupted: "Hello mr! Hello hello!" the Imam called out. And the next mosque along said "Thank you, thank you" as we passed.

Like in Afrika, our apprehension towards the unknown and towards the countries that get so much bad press, proved to be unneccesary. The Indonesians are , like most people living in places with their share of instability very chilled out, very easy going and very accomodating. So our month here became, in every way, a good one. 

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Ricksaw driver having a rest.
Ricksaw driver having a rest.
Looking into the smoking crater of…
Looking into the smoking crater o…
The crater of Bromo in the backgro…
The crater of Bromo in the backgr…
True Indonesian style we drove up …
True Indonesian style we drove up…
Yogyakarta
photo by: siscalustiawati