Seminyak Bali to Yogyakarta Java – 1,200km – 8 days. I’m going on a motorbike tour through the mountains, rural villages and the back roads of Java to Yogyakarta (Jogja) where I’ll meet Cathy for some sightseeing before flying back to Bali.
DAY 1 – Seminyak to Bedugul
Logistical issues means it’s late evening and dark as we weave our way through Denpasar and up the hills to Bedugul an agricultural centre and lake resort in Bali’s cool central mountains. Who are we? Holger – devoted traveller and long time Indo resident is the guide, Aunt BB – a Sydney postie and me, we’re riding 250cc motorbikes the back way to Jogja.
Day 2 – Bedugul to Banyuwangi
It’s a cool and misty morning as we ride through the mountain villages and spice plantations, dodging the dogs and chickens on our way to Brahmavihara-Arama Buddhist Temple and Monastery in the mountains near Lovina. Here we are delighted to discover how Buddha statues are made and why they always look identical! Then along the coast to Gilimanuk and the usual ferry shenanigans on our trip across the strait to the Island of Java.
Arriving safely, it’s coffee time and then onto Baluran NP on the north-eastern tip of Java. The road is busy and the rough tracks in the park are challenging. The park is mainly savannah with Mt Baluran (1,247m) its centrepiece. We spot monkeys everywhere and in the late afternoon wild buffalo meander down for a drink. It’s making us thirsty so we head back south to Curas Jalak on the coast for the evening.
Day 3 – Banyuwangi to Mt Ijen
We head up Mt. Ijen (2,799m) on a small country road, past farmers tending their crops and Ibu’s hanging out washing, while the kids fly kites and yell ‘hello mister’. We pass polling booths – it’s local Election Day across Indonesia and a public holiday to boot! We find a local to fix our flat tyre and the village comes out to watch. We hike into some waterfalls and enjoy a local coffee in a small warung as the threat of rain turns to mist. We reach the plateau and the sun comes out. We pass up the option for a 3km mountain climb and head along a broken road to Blawan, a small village in a small valley just in time for afternoon prayer. We stay in a beautiful old Dutch Villa (c.1894) converted into a home-stay and surrounded by coffee plantations. We head to the local hot springs for a soaking, all thirsty work. Mt Ijen sits in a large caldera and has an active crater, a turquoise lake and the escaping sulphur gases emit blue flames – you can Google the pics.
Day 4 – Mt Ijen to Mt Bromo
An early start as we head out of the valley up over the caldera and down the western side of Mt Ijen through coffee plantations and forest in dappled light. We take the small back roads through paddies and vegetable gardens, past villages and chaotic morning markets with motor bikes, bemos and becaks all loaded with passengers and produce. We weave our way through Jember traffic and head the back way to Lumajang stopping for coffee at a small warung. Then it’s on to Mt Bromo (2,329m), first the foothills then it’s up, up and up climbing through the verdant green forest. We pop out on the caldera, follow the ridge and bask in the sun. Then it’s down into the crater and across the sea of volcanic sand. On the other side we ride up a small ridge to the Lava View Lodge and as the sun sets and the temperature drops we quench our thirst overlooking the sea of sand.
Mt. Bromo (2,329m) is a Hindu Holy area that sits inside the massive Tengger caldera which is a sea of volcanic sand. To the south Mt. Semeru (3,676m) is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes constantly belching out smoke and steam. The local Tengger people live here and are one of the few Hindu communities left in Java, primarily agriculturist, they now supplement their income from tourism.
Day 5 – Part 1 – Mt Bromo Sunrise
It’s dark, cold and 3.00 am as we cautiously wind our way down the escarpment and follow the dotted headlights across the sea of sand to a small narrow road that winds its way up the northern edge of the caldera to the communications towers and the sunrise viewing point. A string of Toyota 4×4’s inch their way forward. Near the top at 4.00 am we huddle in a small warung and sip coffee watching the chaos as pedestrians, stripped-down scooters, 4x4s and local vendors jostle for road space. We walk the final kilometre up to the viewing platform. A good sized, mostly silent crowd huddle wrapped in blankets and coats. At 5.00 am the pre-dawn starts to illuminate the caldera, 20 minutes later the sun breaks over the horizon and the lightshow begins. The crowd is silent as the cameras click. An hour later the show is over and it’s selfie time. More coffee and then it’s slowly back down the caldera across the sea of sand past the Hindu temple to the smallish active crater where throngs of school holiday tourists kick up dust as they walk or ride ponies to the top. Perched inside the rim ‘nuggety’ locals holding butterfly nets risk their lives on tiny footholds, to catch the offerings and money tourists throw into the volcanic wishing well. We head back to scrub up, pack up and head out. I was hesitant about the Mt Bromo sunrise, it all seemed a bit touristy but it was beautiful and I would put it up there with sunrise at Australia’s Uluru and the Bolivian salt plains.
Day 5 – Part 2 – Mt Bromo to Batu
After breakfast we ride over the caldera and head down the western slopes of Mt Bromo, down, down, down the steep windy road past the pretty Tengger villages clinging to the hillsides. The road is chaotic with pickup trucks full of workers and produce, cut-down scooters racing up and down the hills ferrying passengers and a splattering of overloaded trucks. On the plain we take the back way through more villages. We head to a waterfall where Holger and I set off on the 2km walk, and BB decides to stay at the warung and take Indonesian lessons from the locals. Of course, to get to waterfall no.2 you must first walk under waterfall no.1. We head off with raincoats, it is spectacular, but we return drenched so have lunch as we dry out in the sun. More back roads but eventually we must join the highway, the Friday afternoon traffic is hectic, we bypass Malang and head to Batu an old Dutch hill town surrounded by mountains.
Day 6 – Batu to Mt Lawu
We leave Batu early, it’s clear and crisp, there is little traffic and we ride up the mountains through the apple orchards and into the forest, a beautiful day for riding. We cross the saddle at 1,700m and whiz down the other side for morning coffee. We pick up the highway, have lunch at a roadside warung sitting under a tree enjoying Soto Ayam (chicken soup). Then we head up Mt Lawu a popular mountain getaway for locals. The ridge at 1,800m is lined with warungs, strawberry & souvenir vendors and home stays, we stop for bakso and take in the view. Out of town we stay in a beautiful Joglo-style guest house owned by Carl, a French Canadian and Andan his charming Javanese wife. We spend a delightful evening chatting about photography, motorbikes, travel and life.
Day 7 – Mt Lawu to Borobudur District
Ibu Andan cooks us a great breakfast and then leads us on an early morning shortcut through the village, we climb up steep narrow gangs with houses clinging to the hillside. The village is still asleep except for a couple of dogs who offer up a lazy bark. At the ridge we say goodbye and follow a small farmer’s lane through vegetable gardens, it’s only wide enough for farmers to carry their crops on their small overloaded motorbikes. It’s still cool and crisp but the sun comes out as we pick up a small road and drive through the forest to Sukuh, a timeworn Hindu Temple, it’s still early and there are few visitors. Then around some more mountain roads to Cetho another old Hindu Temple where we surprise a few school holiday visitors. We head west, bypass Solo and then pick up the road that heads over the forested Ketep Pass (1,200m) between Mt Merbabu (3,145m) and Mt Merapi (2,930m). Then on past fields of rice and corn with crops drying on the verge. A little more highway and then more back roads to our destination in the rice fields just north of Jogja and only a few kilometres from Borobudur Temple.
Day 8 – Borobudur, Prambanan Temples and the Chicken Church
On our last day we head out early for the sunrise view of Borobudur Temple. We clamber up the last few hundred metres in the dark and wait with others for the ‘Kodak moment’. As dawn breaks it’s a lovely view but the sun is shy and hides behind a veil of clouds. A few ridges over, I spot some people on an unusual lookout. Holger explains it is the Chicken Church, so now I am getting very excited. We ride down a couple of dirt roads and then scramble up a steep track. And behold the Chicken Church, it’s my hallelujah moment.
We celebrate with breakfast and head to Borobudur the world’s largest Buddhist temple. It’s impressive and sprinkled with young Indonesian teenagers on school holidays, the girls are dressed in brightly coloured skirts and scarves and it’s ‘selfie heaven’. We head next to Prambanan Temple, Indonesia’s largest Hindu temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s smaller and older but still very impressive. The colourful local teenagers continue to perfect their selfie skills and we are continually invited to join in their happy snaps. Our journey ends as we head to downtown Jogja, a centre for arts and education and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Java.
Farewell Java: Thank you Holger for an amazing trip and thank you Java for your magnificent scenery, wonderful back roads, spectacular mountains, great roadside warungs and especially for your friendly and helpful people.
Concrete Sculptures: I love these quirky Concrete Sculptures scattered around Indonesia, I photographed several on this tour and have included a couple in this post. However I was most excited about visiting the Chicken Church near Borobudur, it is my very, very favourite. Here is the link to my full collection. https://johnandcathy.com.au/2018/01/01/concrete-sculptures/
The Selfie: Indonesians and especially the teenagers have selfies built into their DNA. While easily derided I find them colourful, joyful and animated and a pleasure to watch and photograph. I have included a few photos from this trip and here is the link to my full collection. https://johnandcathy.com.au/2018/07/01/the-selfie-collection/