The town that has captured my heart. A charming city\neighborhood left roughly untouched by big business and big city modernization; a welcomed change after time spent in the busy and crowded Jakarta. Most of the businesses you see are tiny, Indonesian owned hustles - from fruit, meat, electronics, motor shops, clothing shops, etc. The town preserves its traditional charm and it is a sight to see! Neighborhood schools and mosques makes it so that everything you need is nearby. Even though the neighborhood of Kotagede is small, it can be bustling with activity, locals and tourists alike moving about (though the tourist hangouts have made a name for itself amongst locals as "White People Street").
Despite the activity, the busyness fails to overshadow the quiet and natural surroundings of Kotagede. Tropical trees and little villages are still ever-present and ever-friendly! Again, an amazing and welcomed change in comparison to my experience in Jakarta, where the hustle and bustle seemed to smother smiles and friendlyness from the atmosphere.
Motor bike rental and transportation was super easy to obtain and I've quickly gained experience travelling via scooter. It kills me; I talked so much crap about scooter drivers in Indonesia and here I've come to understand them! Here I am, bobbing and weaving through traffic like them!
Anyway, I've had the pleasure of immersing myself in the nature of jogja. I visited a park, Kawasan Ekowisata Gunung Api Purba, an hour or so away from Bhumi (my hostel) and the views were amazing! As soon as you leave the edge of town the atmosphere changes. You get villages, farm animals, and rice fields galore! Beautiful tree landscapes and views of the city from the top of the mountain. I loved the openness and quietness on the journey there, as the only reminder of city life was the sound of motor scooters and the occassional car.
When I arrived, I parked my bike down the hill from/the entrance and walked up to the park. Chickens, streams, and rustling leaves of the forest was all that I heard. I was glad that, upon arrival at the park, there were only locals frequenting the park - and not too many at that! Looking out over the tree tops at the blue-ish white sky in stillness cleansed me. And at that moment, I was more than grateful to be alive. To be there. Free. WIth nature, myself, and God.
Bhumi = Earth.
I pulled into Bhumi not really knowing what to expect, but grateful for a bed - at this time I was still sick. It was my first time staying in a hostel alone and I had a hard time sleeping that night. But I soon discovered the Bhumi charm!
Bhumi has literally been a home away from home for me. Jack, Farras, Iwann, and Irfauni - and even timid little Scotty and Jaani (Bhumi family dogs that have been adopted from a shelter) - has become like a family for me. Bhumi has an atmosphere of calmness and warmth. It's open and clean. Organic garden right in the front. Located on the outskirts of the city in good old quaint and close-knit kotagede.
I didn't want to leave Bhumi the first time and I certainly do not now (I have since made a quick return to Jogja - my comfort zone). Saying goodbye is tough, especially when you become comfortable and don't know what lies ahead. But goodbyes are necessary. Over the course of this journey, there will be a series of hellos and goodbyes. And many memories made.
Climbing the Fearsome Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen
Yes, ya'll. Black girl climbing mountains out here! Those who know me well knows that I can be adventurous and my love for nature can lead me to do some "crazy" things. I feel I am willing to try most things at least once! So I booked a mountain tour to trek two of the highest mountains in Indonesia!
The path to these destinations were long and stressful. I toured Bromo first, which required an 8 hour train ride, a taxi to the tourist agency, and a bus ride up to the mountain to reach our hotel. A long way from Jogja for sure. Exiting my train ride, I expected to see my taxi driver waiting for me and waving a sign with my name on it, but that did not happen. Admittedly this is the first time I was thrown off of my square, as I waited for over an hour for my taxi driver in the night, alone in a new town, and with a horde of street taxi-men in my face. I was not having it one bit, so I waited in a well lit restaurant next door to the darkened train station I had just exited. Finally, my taxi showed up after claiming he had been there waiting for me the whole time (I sure didn't see anyone in the mostly empty parking lot). So I hop in the taxi and to my surprise, there were two guys in there, one driving and one riding in the back with me trying to make conversation. Further irritated and quite frankly distrustful of these guys, I rode with my hand on the handle of the door the whole way, dry answering their questions and giving my meanest side eye.
Turns out the drivers were legit and I safely arrived at the tourist agency, where we (thankfully, there were other female travellers there!) were to pay the rest of the fee for the tour before we headed to our hotels for the night. Thinking I would be in a bed soon, we waited 2 or 3 hours for the bus to come take us to the hotel. When we finally arrived, It was after midnight and our Bromo adventure awaited us upon 3am.
That morning, I hopped in my tour jeep and was greeted by a Dutch couple in the back (Shout out to Wilco and Annike! - Sadly I wasn't too friendly at 3am). Soon our driver made rounds to pick up the rest of our group and off we went. It was dark and hilly up the mountain, but incredibly populated as many tour groups and men selling horse rides were all heading up the path. The sky that night looked as if every star was watching over us and our altitude allowed for a beautiful view of the town below. It wasn't long before I got tired (ya'll know I'm out of shape), so I was not ashamed of passing the other groups atop a horse, feeling like royalty under the moon! I paid for it in allergies though - the horses nearly killed me! Then it was time to climb the series of steps to the viewpoint. The view improved the higher up we went and we were able to see the Blue Crater 3 flights of stairs below the viewpoint. At the top, Bromo was gorgeous! With added effect of the sun rising, Bromo and it's surroundings were slowly illuminated as you could then see a little white poof of cloud at the mouth of it, as if it blew a tiny kiss at us. While the view was gorgeous, I soon became bored of the crowds and picture taking/selfie marathon that was going on. For me, the perfect way to take in the view would have been to sit and take in the moment, listening to the natural sounds of my surroundings. The perfect morning meditation. But that is tourism for you!
Now Mount Ijen was a different kind of beast. The taller and more strenous trek of the two, I got a real taste of what it is like to climb a mountain. In order to see the infamous Blue Flames of Ijen (Blue Flames = A blue fire on the side of the mountain as a result of the chemical reaction with the sulfur in the mines - the spectacle can only be seen at night and it only exists on this mountain), we headed out at 1am and it was exactly the adventure I was looking for during my journey! Ijen had 3 different levels that started with slightly steep for about 1 kilometer or so (which was enough for me), then morphed into a 45 degree angle for some 2 or 3 kilometers (death), and then finally the "flat" portion of the trek that indicated that we were near the summit. Good Lord I tell you all, I have never in my life been so physically challenged!!!! It was my first time of course, but everyone else in my group had experience. Although I was the slowest and needed frequent breaks, my group was incredibly supportive and funny and our guide was just the sweetest! He held my hand and offered to carry me up, but that is where I drew the line because I ain't no punk hahaha! I never gave up although my back, booty, legs, and lungs screamed for mercy! The view up was amazing even in the dark! At a certain point our eyes were able to pick up the faintest of light from the town down below.
We get to the top and we are given our gas masks (you could smell the sulfur from here). We were told that this mountain is home of sulfur mines and that miners climb this mountain TWICE before sunrise to gather sulfur for who knows what. I was instantly impressed because that is no easy feat at all. I did notice that the miners didn't have gas masks but rather wore the little mouth and nose masks reminiscent of a doctor's or dentist's. I made a mental note and concluded that this could not be the healthiest of occupations especially with no gas mask and no protective gear. Anyway, we proceed a little ways at the top just to come to a narrow stairway that soon turned into a jagged rock "path" down the side of the mountain. Let me tell you, aside from the smoke of the Blue Flames and the light from tourist headlamps and camera flashes, ALL YOU SEE IS A MASSIVE, PITCH BLACK HOLE that spelled an imminent, jagged-rock death should you loose your footing and fall. And the rocks were not stable or grippy at the bottom of your shoe/boot, some part because of the jaggedness and part because of the spilled sulfur powder that may have come from the miners frequent trips. It looked like something straight out of National Geographic! I looked down from the top and nearly said screw these Blue Flames! The path went down so far and not only was I destroyed from the climb up, but I was genuinely concerned for my safety because my legs were already done for! Any jelly-legged weakness on my part could have resulted in a fall that I wouldn't have been able to stop! But I went on, clinging to my guide for dear life and direction as we hopped from rock to rock, trying not to slip and fall down the steepness into the Black. I thought that maybe there would be a proper path back up on the other side of the flames but to my horror, we had to climb back up the jagged rocks the way we came down. I nearly fainted.
FInally descended, I sat down a little ways away from the flame, feeling that if I descended any further I wouldn't be coming back up. I didn't get many pictures at all. All I had was my phone (invest in a good camera ya'll!) and my phone did not do it justice in the dark and smoky atmosphere. So there I set chilling, watching the mountain mice and other tourists scurry about, when all of a sudden there was a huge poof of smoke coming from the flames and then panic took hold of everyone. All I heard were screams and the tour guides shouting for everyone not to panic. I didn't know what had happened but shortly after I didn't need to investigate! There was a sulfur explosion and the oxygen down below began to quickly disappear and I found myself hyperventilating for air as my eyes began to sting and water! I wanted to wait for my guide and my group as I feared falling the most, but I told myself I wasn't going to die down here like this and ran my butt back up to the rocks to climb! Thankfully, the climb up wasn't as scary as the slippery trek down, but boy I was running on a strength that had to have come from God. A reserve of energy from somewhere because I had no more left in me. Annike and Wilco caught up to me and I was so happy to see familiar faces! They too were affected by the smoke and so we climbed together. Turns out the gas masks weren't even working and assisted in my panicked breathing, so at Annike`s suggestion, I took it off. At this point the sun had already started to come up, turning the sky a dim blue. So we wanted to hurry to catch the sunrise. Finally at the top, we made it to see the other Blue Crater - sweaty, exhausted, hungry, sulfer-y, and spooked about what just happened. There was still pain in my chest from the sulfur intake. I barely had my eyes open for pictures. But we all made it and the climb down revealed the beauty that I knew lied beneath the dark of the night.
Bali: The (Un)welcoming Beauty
The Welcome to Bali sign passed by my window seat as the bus rolled along to Denpasar - the last stop before my final destination in Ubud. As we passed, the greenery amazed me. I finally felt that I would find the kind of natural setting I was looking for; the setting that Jakarta lacked; the one that Jogja gave me my first taste of. Rice fields and palm tree forests were abundant, and this was just the outskirts. A welcoming sign after climbing 2 mountains, a strenuous experience that I had yet to rest from and mentally digest. All went well until we pulled into a bus terminal in which a guy walked on and informed us that it was the last stop for the bus. Well, I was about ready to get my bag and get on about many business until an enraged Spanish traveller confronted the guy, saying (rightfully) that this stop was not Denpasar and that we paid our money to go to Denpasar. This turned into an argument in which the driver would not budge. Soon bus security entered the bus to get everyone off, but by this point other travellers had joined in expressing their outrage.
Meanwhile, a couple I trekked the mountains with suggested that we take a taxi to Ubud together to lower the price. With our hostels around the corner from one another, I readily agreed. However, the only taxis in this area were from the bus station and they kept trying to overcharge us. The price went from 50k per person to 150k per person and 200k for a car for 8 people. On top of that, they weren't even willing to take us to our destinations! They wanted to drop us in the center of town, which would mean we would STILL have to find a cab to our respective hostels! When we finally negotiated a lower price, they led us to a van that clearly couldn't fit all of us. There were 3 of us squished in the back, 2 people in the middle with one space left, and 2 in the front. But there were 2 more people that still needed to get in and the driver tried to squeeze a fourth person in the back! He then had the audacity to try and throw the baggage that couldn't fit in the back on top of us! That was the end of the fake niceties. We all exited the van to find the taxi drivers beating up an Uber driver as he was trying to pick up other travellers! I couldn't believe how violent and unprofessional they were being, espeically when it's our money they wanted! Then when the Spanish traveller expressed further that this was not right, the bus/taxi guy yelled at him saying "F*ck you! F*ck you! You come to Bali broke and want to cause trouble!" In the midst of this, another taxi guy tried to punch the Spanish traveller in the face! At this point we leave the premises with our bags and began hiking it up the street until we could find a way to Denpasar. And yes, this was after a 7 hour mountain trek and a 5 hour bus + ferry ride over to Bali. I was so over it.
We finally find a minibus to take us the rest of the way to Denpasar. The couple and I split from the rest of the group and got our own taxi for cheaper to Ubud. I finally arrive at my hostel to find that I booked a mixed bed dorm, so I was greeted with hairy dudes in their underwear. After all of this, I just needed my own space to finally unwind and comfortably sleep. I was mad at myself, frustrated with my day post mountain trek, and I wasn't feeling being the only chick in an all male room. When I tried to fix my mistake and switch into a female room, I was told it was booked and then, without my say so, they cancelled my booking there altogether. So I only had that night to make other sleeping accommodations elsewhere. I had no more tolerance for anything else, so I let it all out over the phone with my Mommy.
The next day, I paid the big money for a hotel and I was glad for it! It was beautiful and more than enough for my need for rest and comfort! I was even welcomed by Monkeys running through the garden outside of my hotel patio! Staying down the street from the Monkey Sanctuary had it's unexpected perks! I also saw my first giant fruit bat just chilling outside, hanging upside down on a tree branch! Looking like a big fox in a sheet!!! I visited the Monkey Sanctuary, the Rice Terrace, and took a long, spontaneous scooter trip out to Caangu Beach! I walked along the shore line at sundown; just me, myself, and I, splashing along as the tide brought in HUGE surfer waves that rushed passed the shore up to my knees! It was a true gift to myself after an unfriendly welcome to Bali. But even the freedom of riding through scenic villages, forests, and rice fields coudn't keep me from my home away from home at Bhumi. So after 3 days of rest, Indonesian cable dramas, and solo adventures from God, I booked my flight back to Jogja - where new lifelong friends awaited me with smiles and open arms.