Java - Coffee, snakes and canyon shakes
15.03.2013 - 28.03.2013
Strangely I didn't feel too scared when the hissing, pissed off cobra swayed in my direction. That was of course until the handler turned his back....................
Reluctantly we left Sumatra, equal parts welcoming, exhilarating and stunning. The Air Mecarno Engine flight took us to Jakarta, capital of Indonesia and principal city of Java Island, the most densely populated island in one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Despite arriving late in the evening I had read in the "Billy No Mates Planet" the first line on the Jakarta section. "Jakarta is a difficult city to like". This was reason enough to bypass it as soon as we arrived, hence a 90 minute mini bus to Bogor. We arrived after midnight but managed to get a pension that had the battered and bruised appearance of a once prized fighter. Emerging from our 'cauliflower ear' of a room in the morning I was immediately drawn to the awesome sight that befell before me. Dominating the sky line was the 3000 m peak of the volcano Gunung Pangrango. The sheer scale was hypnotising but eventually we drew ourselves away and headed for the most tropical botanic gardens I had ever seen. That evening the night sky was a 3D theatre. The volcano was the leading star although fine support was provided by the cloud formations, the sound of singing, the mosque, children playing and generally people going about their business.
The next day our plans were thwarted when we discovered that the intended 2 1/2 hour bus journey over a scenic pass to the lush paddy field region would have been diverted to gridlock hell and a potential 6 hour plus journey. Quick change of plans then when we took cheap 20 quid flight on "Air Make a Quick Prayer" to Solo town. This is a compact traditional Javanese town with a nice palace and Warungs (cheap food shacks) galore. Our unofficial guide from the guest house name was pronounced Why You? (cant remember correct spelling). His autobiography however should have been called Why Me?. Despite his childlike humour,it masks a sad history. He was abandoned as a baby then brought up buy his grandparents. His mother didn't want to know and his father was too busy with his four other wives and no doubt chronic exhaustion. Anyway he organised a trip for us and some Dutch people to visit some Hindu tables in amidst the atmospheric backdrop of the tea plantations.
A supposed 1 hour train journey took 2 hours to get to the instantly likable Jogjakarta. As you can imagine trains are not too reliable. The hundreds of efficiency obsessed Germans and Swiss backpackers probably inflated the situation by jumping on the tracks in frustration. Anyway Jogya is a place with a lively vibe so worth the hassle. Quirky art, meets history, food, drink, music and the odd "Hello Meester". Its the cultural muscle of the island and you could easily spend days just soaking up the atmosphere.
Jogja is a place of eclectic attractions. There's the impressive Hindu and Buddhist temples of Prambanan and Borobuda and also another palace with life music and dancing displays. Another attraction is a huge Menagerie come morally dubious exotic pet shop. Sod the hamster and go for a 3 metre python (which I held) or perhaps its 6 meter friend. The latter had not eaten so I was not able to hold it.
We had often been told that snake is a delicacy in Indonesia, and Cobra in particular. We got pally with the python owner, come property developer, come businessman. "Want to eat cobra?" "You buy and I will cook Cobra curry". What follows was not your usual trip Tescos to buy a frozen chicken or indeed an M&S meal for a fiver. We jumped on the back of 2 motor bikes to secure our purchase.
A minor detour was to our friends coffee producing friend. He had seen an American movie Bucket List. In that movie the character possibly played by Morgan Freeman or Jack Nicholson (though certainly not Steven "Dutch Elm Disease" Segal) decided to eat Civet (small cat like creature)shit coffee before he died. This creature is fed coffee fruit (note it is a fruit and not a bean) and this natural percolator literally processes the beverage through its back side. After much hesitation we sampled this most expensive type of coffee in the world. Mellow Turds it wasn't and was actually very good. You are better having good shit coffee than merely shit coffee!
Next a trip to the cobra butcher. The catch was that the cobra was not dead when we picked it up from a guy who was essentially a snake handler/catcher who had never heard of Tescos or even M&S for that matter. This guy was apparently a local celebrity who had once met the late Steve Irwin. By all accounts Steve was almost on time. This guy released the angry serpent in front of us as part of the ceremony . The poor teased creature stood tall and edged ever so close for comfort (possibly a metre away from me). Unfortunately for him his demise was met with the swipe of a knife. Traditionally snake blood and red bull (without a twist of lemon or ice shockingly) is presented as a health drink. Some of the innards are usually scraped into this cobra pop. When this aperitif was presented to us, for Joe and I it was a case of when in Rome.............. I must say that the curry which eventually followed was first class although could have done with a 75' Riesling. I must try the rattlesnake aux Vin sometime.
After all this excitement the beach beckoned. Pandangaran is Java's premier beach resort. Its a big sweep of sand with some prime surfing. Its a shame that the main beach is full of litter. It is a bit quiet as resort other than the strange 4 seater bike contraptions that play Indonesian pop as they plod past.
Away from the main beach is national park. This is a mere 5 minute boat ride. You can see all variety of giant lizards, birdlife, even porcupines. The place is dominated by monkeys though. These are pretty hardened, back streets of Moss Side primates though. They will literally mug you for food. They wait at the end of a bridge, poised to ambush passers by. One particularly unsavoury character whom we christened the Colonel, was actually able to unscrew Joe's bottle of water and down it in one. He then proceeded to route through my bag. He even had the audacity to challenge me with barred teeth. Fortunately the giant monitor lizards proved to be more timid. The wild cave dwelling porcupines were shyer still.
As if there was not enough adrenalin inside us we both visited the famed Green Canyon. Joe traveled by motorbike whilst I opted for a bus. Joe somehow managed to get in with a load of Tombstoning Bible Bashers from the US, minus the tambourines of course. Anyway they saved him from Satan's rocks. To get to the caves we both encountered roads that were possibly less potholed than the bombed side streets in Baghdad. The bus was tilting 45 degrees in places. The canyon trip was partially by boat and partially entailed jumping off the boat and swimming against the current. Exhilarating but great fun. Batu Karus, an idyllic fishing visit finished the day off.
After the beach we bayed farewell to our new Dutch friend JP. Aged 66, he married a death and dumb local girl of about 30. A wit and raconteur of the David Niven variety. Her has many tales of knee capping, escaping from the law, divorce, hotels, death threats from Jehovah's etc. After excusing ourselves from the umpteenth (very enjoyable ) anecdote we bid him farewell as we scribbled down the plot synopsis for a dozen Hollywood epics. Maybe Rutger Hauer would play him.
An overnight bus to Jakarta (8 hours) was followed by 2 hours of crawling on local buses through one of the most Gridlocked cities in the world probably. We managed however to seek refuge from the traffic in a quirky (but seedy) little backpacker enclave. Jakarta ain't that bad. The main event in town was a walk up the Monas tower. 130 metres high it was built for the dictator Sukarno who managed to steal power for 31 years. It was dubbed Sukarno's final erection. An air filled version has been partially deflated and dubbed "Sukarno's flaccid fall from grace'. Only joking.
So goodbye to Indonesia. No more repetitive, greasy food, bumpy roads. No more "Hello Meester". I am going to miss the place and the people something rotten.
For now we are Borneo bound.