Notes, Thoughts and Observations After 10 Days in Java

Mt. Bromo Sunrise

Sunrise at Mt. Bromo.

We spent 10 busy, awesome, sweltering, hectic days on the bustling island of Java. We summited two active volcanoes, saw two spectacular millennium old temples, spent 20 hours on trains and I managed to squeeze in a bout of food posioning. We are now on the tranquil island of Bali, so now is a good time to look back at the week and a half that was.

I have arranged these tidbits in little bullet points for the busy reader. Afterwards, you can get back to work.

1. Evidently, I am a jaded traveler. On our first minibus trip, I had the seat of honor next to the driver where I got to see/had to witness all the terrifying driving.

The driver weaved in and out of traffic, over-taking on blind curves and passing into the teeth of oncoming traffic in a high stakes game of chicken. Barefoot, pot-bellied, and just barely tall enough to see over the dash, which had my wife’s backpack stacked in his view, he chain smoked cigarettes down to the filter the entire journey, all the while shifting gears and honking to either alert someone not to move into his space or alerting others that he would be moving into their space. He even managed to send a few text messages while careening down the road. I was not totally mortified; indeed, I was impressed with his ability to multi-task.

Yep, I am a jaded traveler.

2. Indonesian people are extremely nice, kind and helpful. The smiling and friendly locals have been a highlight of the journey. There are a few scams and touts here, but they are not too pushy and the scams are avoidable using some common sense although we sort of fell for one once.

3. Fried rice, stir fried veggies, omelettes, fish and assorted juices for breakfast. This is my kind of country.

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Indonesia Breakfast.

4. Although it is the largest Muslim country in the world, I’d estimate that half the girls have on head scarves. Although they all dress rather conservatively, it is not the same as the Middle East in the degree of covering the women wear.

5. Speaking of clothes, it is hot here, I mean really flippin hot. Think 93 degrees with smothering humidity. Also keep in mind that I spent the last eight months in Alaska and wore a coat all summer. Yet, we see locals wearing hoodies, jackets and bundling their babies up in stocking caps like we are in a sub-arctic climate.

6. We are learning some Indonesian (Kristi is really good at it).. It is a simple and interesting language. No one really speaks it as a first language – it is a lingua franca that binds the islands. Kids use it at school and businessmen use it at work, but when they go home they use their native language. This is a land of 13,000 islands and 400+ languages and Bahasa Indonesia developed to allow traders a way to communicate. As a result, it is a basic language and everything is said the way it is written, with no plurals and no tenses.

7. The people are very friendly here. Did I say that already?

8. It only took about one hour into our first real day of sightseeing to attract a group of kids wanting to practice their English. Kristi is a magnet for school girls.

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9. One great thing about this county is that many local men wear shorts, which is something I have rarely seen outside the USA. As a result, I have been wearing my shorts and it feels great.

However, my legs are gleaming white. I could blind a person with these stems that haven’t seen the sun since Greece last year. Worse, the reflection could start a small fire if the sun rays were directed to some kindling. I best be careful.

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10. Did I mention that is F$#%^& HOT HERE!

11. They guy in the below photos is probably the most ubiquitous man in Indonesia.

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His image graces almost every cigarette package and smoking advert (And there are trillions). I guess they are warning that if you smoke you will grow a gawd-awful porn-stache like this guy did.

12. Visiting uber-chaotic cities like Delhi, Hanoi and Cairo has prepared us as travelers. We think nothing of wading out into a river of motorbikes, buses and cars to cross the road. The traffic here is borderline anarchic but we’ve dealt with worse.

13. Java is a massive island at 50,000 square miles. It is roughly the same size as Greece or New York State. Good thing it is a large island, because it is home to 141 million people. That is not a typo, this is one crowded island.

Russia by comparison, has 142 million people. New York State: 18 million. Greece: 11 million.

And you can feel the crowds here. Try to go anywhere on the highways and it is packed with traffic jams. My advice: take the trains, which are excellent. Just hope you don’t sit across from a guy with long legs and tiny cut off jean shorts that can barely contain his “boys” and you have to ride nine awkward hours hoping they don’t escape. (Yes, this will be the subject of a future post.)

14. Borobudur is billed as one of the great ancient temples of the world and it lives up to the hype. We even saw Mark Zuckerberg there. We know it was him for the following reasons:
1. He had a body gaurd
2. The guy in question looked an awful lot like Jesse Eisenberg
3. We saw ole Zucks in the newspaper the next day after he met with the President

15. Sometimes in life, it is worth waking up at 1am, hiking three hours in the dark to see a sunrise atop an active volcano.

Surreal Ijen Sunrise

The Ijen volcano with a crater lake and burning sulfur. Note: you DON’T want to get trapped in a cloud of caustic sulfur gas like I did.

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Have you been to Java or Indonesia? What was your impression of it?

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24 Comments on “Notes, Thoughts and Observations After 10 Days in Java

  1. Jeff I am loving the fact that you are sharing the journey as you go. Your description of sitting next to the driver definitely demonstrates your seasoned traveler status. i was howling with laughter at your white legs starting a fire. Yes do be careful for that and spontaneous combustion. Wishing you and Kristi many happy adventures and no further food poisoning.

    • That photo is pretty great, right? Many years ago I would have been mortified by the drivers antics, but I’ve seen it all before. They drive on the wrong side of the road, er Brittish or left side of the road, so that made it all the more freaky at times.

  2. Jeff, I found you through Sue Slaght & have a feeling I am going to enjoy reading about your adventures! Zucks was indeed there – it was on facebook after all! Make sure you lather up those legs with some SP30, at the very least! Safe travels:)

    • Thanks Lynn. I didn’t get my legs lathered up enough before a snorkeling trip and I now have the most ridiculous sunburn of any “bule” in Indonesia. Thanks for following along!

  3. Yes, been there, done that. Only, we did it in the reverse; Bali then Java. Your notes on the country are much like mine in my (hard copy/ pre-internet) journal. It’s a hard call, but Indonesia is right up there in the TOP countries to go traveling. When people ask me which country I liked best, I ponder why Indonesia gets left behind the other S/E Asia countries. Friendly people, great food, culture and inexpensive travel costs all point to Indonesia. If you’re into third world traveling, it doesn’t get any better.

    • I agree with all that Steve. Java and north Bali were far less touristed and more authentic than Thailand. We loved it. We are in Ubud in south Bali now and the foriegners outnumber the locals! But I have some really great wifi to blog on now! Thanks for commenting.

      • Ah, Ubud, one of my most favorite towns. I was first there in 1987 and then again in 2009. There was quite a change, but the atmosphere was the same. You just can’t let all the “tourists” ruin your trip. I’ll be looking forward to your take on the Island. If really pressed to take a stand and pick my “Most Favoritest Place” in the world, it’s Bali. I hope your stay was as enjoyable as was ours.

      • We definately have enjoyed Bali, but we enjoyed the northern parts better than the south. We went to a quiet beach area with terrific snorkelling called Pemuteran and to a place in the mountains called Munduk. Both great places. Bali is such a different place with the culture, green, beaches, volcanoes – I can see why you love it.

  4. I’ll just sit here and live vicariously through you as I struggle with the fact that I am not on some big fall trip for the first time in 3 years. Damn you, Jeff Bell. Damn you!

    And yes, the sunrise over the volcano looks like it was very much worth getting up early (late?) for. Sigh.

    • You can live vicarouusly through us, but we will be super jealous of you all winter when we are freezing in ANC and you are enjoying life in Washington! We have seen some pretty amazing sunrises so far. Our body clocks are all messed up – we’ve been waking up really early and going to be between 7pm and 9pm. Good for seeing sunrise, but bad for our social life.

    • I think it was good. On another minibus ride my wife and I were up by the driver and as we searched for seatbelts he said, “No problem. No poice.” The police were not our concern; his driving down the side of the volcano would be our concern.

  5. Hi there Jeff – I’d heard of your blog some time ago but it wasn’t until now that I took a proper look around. I am super jealous that you get to spend 2 full months in my favourite country on the planet!

    I completely agree that Indonesians are some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. There is just so much to see in Java… you could spend a few weeks travelling around and still miss a number of sights. My boss at work is an avid volcano-climber and he’s gone back every year to scale its summits, one or two at a time. Next month he’ll be bagging his last 3,000-metre peak on the island.

    It’s a shame to hear you were struck by food poisoning – I hope you’re all good now so you can enjoy Balinese suckling pig (babi guling) and smoked duck or chicken (bebek/ayam betutu). I’m a sucker for cold drinks and had no problems drinking iced tea (es teh manis) or “es cendol” in restaurants there. The only time I really had an upset stomach was after eating some Italian gelato from a store in Ubud – go figure!

    • Hi James, thanks for commenting. I can see why this would be your favorite country. There is so much to see and do here. Two months will be enough to barely scratch the surface! I got better after a couple of days and I’m back to eating at the warungs. I will avoid that gelato though!

  6. What a pleasure to read your post. It’s funny and you have positive view over your travel in Indonesia. What a timing of visit that you managed to met Mark Zuckerberg in Borobudur!!
    I am an Indonesian living in Europe so, yup, been to Indonesia many times to visit my family in Jakarta. Java is not really my favorite island though but yep, the traditions, nature (outside of Jakarta and other big cities in Java) and its livings are quite special.

    • Hi Indah, We did enjoy Java but we are excited to see the other islands too. Borobudur, Bromo and Ijen were pretty awesome – it will be hard to beat those. What is the one thing you miss most about Indonesia when you are away?

      • Hi Jeff, what I miss most about in Indonesia is diving/snorkeling in its beautiful ocean 🙂 I don’t care much about food – which sometimes I miss it too but the underwater world in Indonesia is simply stunning.
        If you have time please read one of diving places review in Indonesia that I wrote in my blog (underwater photos are included). I have been diving in Komodo and Raja Ampat (West Papua) as well. But since you are heading to Sulawesi, maybe you can also visit this place – although I have to be honest that the area is suffering with garbage issue 😦 – http://indahs.com/2014/05/07/bunaken-the-heart-of-coral-triangle/

      • I will check it out when I get a chance. We did some snorkeling at the National Park near Permuteran in northern Bali and it was spectacular. Saw turtles, a giant barracuda and thousands of fish and bright corals.

  7. Just found this post, and loved it. I was on Java in 1987, I believe. I’m wondering what Jakarta is like now because then, it was an armpit. But I loved Borobudur, which is why I read this article. I took pretty much the same shot as your shot. Good stuff, good writing. Where are you these days?

    • Jakarta is still terrible. It is a safe and the people friendly, but sprawling and nothing to see. Borobudur, Bromo and Ijen were spectacular places. I’m in Oklahoma visiting family. I’ll be posting about Indonesia, Bangkok and Hong Kong over the next two months to get caught up from that trip. Stay tuned if you are interested!

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