22nd May 2012
Yogyakarta welcomes Chuck Norris
In between visiting volcanoes and traipsing around temples, we spent a lot of time enjoying the sights, sounds and smells (good smells!) of Yogyakarta itself – a quaint and very friendly town which has a lot more going for it than a 24hr McDonalds.
We stayed in a gorgeous hostel, set down a very pretty and narrow old gangway lined with traditional houses, chic restaurants, art galleries with fantastic paintings and hole-in-the-wall shops selling allsorts. It was beautiful and very colourful, filled with flowers and authentic carvings. Plus it was so friendly and safe – you would be greeted by lots of ‘hello misters’ as you walked through the streets each day, and the kids were lovely too, most of them just staring at you and shouting ‘hello!’. But our favourite character was a very old lady whom we called Great Grandma Peanut. She must have been in her late 80’s with a very crooked back and weathered skin, but each morning she would squat on the pavement outside her shack and roast peanuts on an open fire to sell at the market – I hope I can squat like that when I’m 80!
So having explored the gorgeous old gangways that lead through the centre of town, we ventured into the more Western area and the main road of Julan Marlboro. It bustles with activity, and here you can see every mode of transport possible – mopeds (millions of them), cars, minivans, bicycles, rickshaws and horse-and-carts! And they all share the same road so you can imagine the chaos and the constant beeping or ringing of bells! It was quite an amazing site just to watch the traffic but we continued on down the street, dodging the market stalls which lined one side.
It wasn’t long before we were approached by a very friendly man who commented on Chris’ t-shirt – a Quicksilver one with a surfer on the front. He explained that he used to live in Australia and was a local artist in the traditional Batik style. We were quite interested and he seemed so nice, so we followed him to his gallery and it was stunning. His paintings were so colourful, and mainly of big waves and surfers inspired by his time in Oz. His friend there explained how Batik art is produced using wax and paraffin applied in layers on cloth, with colours being added each time to build up the painting. It is an incredible process and takes soooo long - one of the large paintings there which Chris took a liking to took 3 months to create. It was great to be shown some of the local traditions and we even got a free herbal tea! And we liked the paintings so much that we bought a small one of a Buddha – a memento of our trip and something to hang in the house one day! Plus you can fold up the painting so it doesn’t take much room in the rucksack and when you do come to hang it up, you can give it a wash and an iron and it’s as good as new! Perfect for us travellers!
On our final day in the town, we decided to grab a rickshaw and head down to the very old part of town. The lovely and surprising thing about Yogya is the mix of old and new – it is in fact one of the only towns in Java to still be headed by its own Sultan whose Kratan, or walled royal enclave, sits at the heart of the cities culture, traditions and way of life. We were cycled down to the city-within-a-city and arrived at the Royal Palace which the Sultan still calls home. As it is still in use, the palace itself isn’t really set up for tourists and information about it was limited but it was interesting to walk round the very simple grounds and pagodas, admiring the rich and colourful decorations. We were also lucky to watch an orchestra play some traditional music which was a mixture of loud drums, symbols, the odd gong and some whaling from a few ladies. Needless to say, we didn’t hang around to hear the whole performance but we felt a little more cultured afterwards!
From the main palace, we were cycled to the now-in-ruins Water Palace where previous sultans would bathe. Apparently, the palace also doubled as a brothel – the sultan would watch roughly 40 women bathe in a larger pool and pick one who would be taken to his bed chamber there for some ‘jiggy-jig’ as our guide called it. Despite being in ruins, mainly caused by an earthquake back in 2006, the palace and the pools were beautiful. We were also able to check out a local man making traditional puppets out of buffalo hide and bone – an interesting and painstaking process, but the end result was fantastic!
So having finished the main sites of the Kraton, we asked our rickshaw driver to take us to the local market. There was some confusion as to where we meant at first meaning our poor driver, who was about 80 and as thin as a rake, had to cycle twice the distance in the scorching heat plus a near-miss when Chris lost his flip-flop because his leg went dead (these things are not big enough for Western bums!) we finally made it to the market and it was not as traditional as we thought. We looked around for a while and grabbed a drink, but it was filled mainly with knock-off electronics and very old clothes so we walked back to the main town for some dinner. We had found a VERY nice restaurant in the lanes which served delicious local dishes and the lovely curries which Chris had been craving!
Yogya is definitely a favourite city of ours, and it was so lovely to feel reassured that the people of Indonesia are not a horrible bunch like the ones we had met in Jakarta! Here, they were friendly, funny and so helpful plus quite a few of the guys seemed to like Chris’ beard with one of them calling him Chuck Norris! Brilliant!
So with our time here at an end, we said goodbye to our friends at the hostel and Great Grandma Peanut and we headed to our next adventure in Java – Mt. Bromo!