Scotsabroad's Weblog

August 12, 2013

Back in Jakarta

Filed under: Holidays,Indonesia — scotsabroad @ 12:23 pm


While Shona was away in Scotland the boys did a wee bit of travelling around Java – in just over a week. We’ve returned home having clocked up about 1675 Km exploring some obscure towns and finding some memorable places – despite some very inaccurate information in the guides.

Our biggest and longest journey was Surakarta (Solo) to Cipanas when we managed 326 Km in roughly 12 hours. I can’t praise the car enough as it handled some extremely bad roads, dodgy petrol and some unbelievable gradients like a real 4WD. She has a few battle scars after a horse and trap came out of nowhere in the town of Wonosobo. The boys were also extremely resilient and accepted the hours on the road and the road conditions without complaint. They also put up with very bad food, cold temperatures, lots of insects, including ants in our supplies and in our bed on the last night, a massive spider, a rat that joined us for dinner one night and a snake. The Sat Nav proved less of a team member, shutting down on several occasions, often in the dark, making us turn to small maps in the Lonely Planet (not recommended) and a complimentary Pringsewu Map of Java (think the equivalent of Indonesia’s own Little Chef). We often stopped to ask some wonderfully helpful people.


We set off from Jakarta a day late – having moved house. We headed for the city of Cirebon on the sunburnt North Coast and arrived late afternoon. Next morning we tried to find the town’s main Kraton (walled city palace) but the town’s crazy one way system kept us going round in circles. We decided to stop at Kecirebonan and explore this smaller palace. It turned out that this is the current royal family’s residence and we were helped to park our car by Princess Yani. We were then given a guided tour by Yani of the areas open to the public for a small donation. The Sultan drives a Jaguar. Cairo was the first to sign the pink visitor’s book in the museum. We made a big donation. Not much to look at but after this experience we thought the other Kratons could not be so special.

Yanivisitors book

So, we drove around Cirebon looking for Gua Sunyaragi, described in Lonely Planet as a cave with secret chambers, tiny doors and staircases that lead nowhere. Originally it was a play-park for a sultan of Cirebon in the 18th century. We had somehow imagined a sea-cave but this grotto was right in the city itself. A popular hang-out with students, the boys explored the site with their torches, resisting, as much as they could, invitations to get their photograph taken.


We then drove away from the North coast heading all the way down South. Our destination was the port of Cilacap. We lost about an hour on the way in the town of Ciledung, getting trapped in market traffic and another crazy one-way system. Distance wise, this journey was not far but we had no idea the road conditions would be so bad. Indeed, it might have been my imagination, but as dusk fell there seemed to be a tyre repair shop beside the worst potholed parts of the road – proprietors sitting waiting patiently for unsuspecting motorists to take their stretch of the road too quickly. However, endless cornfields bathed in sunshine and open stretches of beautiful countryside with the mountains beyond, made this an enjoyable journey – before it got dark. We eventually arrived at the best hotel in town. We got chatting to another guest (the only other guest) who told us he worked for an Indonesian Oil Company. He was in town to discuss with one of his company’s tanker captains, why 30 odd Iranian refugees had been found onboard his ship when it arrived at Cilacap. He also asked us what we were doing in Cilacap.


Next day we headed for a Dutch fort not knowing what to expect. We drove to the beach of Pantai Teluk Penyu, a filthy, popular stretch of brown sand, hosting an incredible number of stalls (all stocking the same stuff but nobody going all out to sell) cheap batik clothing, seaside memorabilia – and especially nasty shell art. The place was dead. We walked the beach and climbed all over an old beached fishing boat for something to do.


The Dutch fort was also not what we had imagined. Benteng Pendem is like an overgrown, miniature Fort George. Built in the 1870s, recent modifications include a few concrete dinosaurs, crumbling concrete picnic tables on the ramparts and (my favourite) three tied up swan-shaped pedalos in the moat. Not a cannon in sight. However, we did manage to explore the remaining buildings and tunnels that weren’t flooded – until Lucas screamed SNAKE. You could just imagine being a soldier posted to this place.


Then it was on to Wonosobo. The town is the main gateway to the Dieng Plateau. At 900m above sea level in the central mountain range it claims to be at the very centre of Java. We eventually found our homestay called the Pondok Bamboo Sendangsari in a village out of town. We loved this place. Theresia and Sinyo made us feel so welcome and were so generous and helpful. The best homestay in Indonesia we would say.


We took a walk and came across a group of young men gathered around a site marked out with colourful poles. This turned out to be a landing area for pigeons. Owners got mobile messages to say their birds had been sighted and enticed them home by holding a couple of flapping females and with shouts. We sat transfixed as pigeons plummeted from the sky and swaggered across to their baskets. Some pigeons had a whistle attached to their wings, the feathers of others had been dyed. Early training seemed to be short flights, birds taken away in cages by a young boy on foot or further afield by scooter. The pigeons seemed to be having the most fun out of it all. We are also easily amused.


We returned to our homestay to meet Daisy. She was to be our local guide the next morning. We got up at 3am after a freezing night in our bamboo hut. Daisy met us at the homestay and we drove up to the village of Sembungan. At 2300m above sea-level Sembungan claims to be the highest village in Java. It must be one of the coldest. We parked the car and set off in the dark up Sikunir Hill. The boys had great fun using their torches but found the climb tough. Perhaps it was the altitude, lack of calories or the cold. We waited for the sunrise over Mount Sindoro and Merapi beyond. The wait was worth it. Stunning. Despite the cold, a beautiful golden sunrise.


Then it was time to explore the Dieng Plateau. Home to some of the oldest Hindu temples in Java – the name means Abode of the Gods. We visited the impressive Arjuna complex, flower scented in the early morning sunshine and later the museum.


But this isolated region’s natural wonders were the most amazing. We did another small climb, this time in the warmth, to view Telaga Warna, a beautiful lake with turquoise hues caused by the bubbling sulphur deposits. Agriculture clung to every conceivable space. Daisy said potatoes are not a traditional crop. Cabbages are. Potatoes are more profitable but cause major soil damage and now there is widespread use of fertilizers.




We carefully climbed through these (unorganic) carrot and potato patches and rows of cabbages to view the lake. We then headed down to the shores of the lake and walked among the caves – important holy sites for meditation. We then drove to Kawah Sikidang, a stinking volcanic crater with bubbling mud ponds. Wonosobo is the best place in Java.


Our next destination was Solo (Surakarta), one of the least westernised cities on the island. Solo would be our base for visiting the temples of Candi Sukuh and Cetho. We found our hotel called the Roemahkoe. Looking unremarkable from the street and hidden behind an ugly concrete wall this is a real heritage hotel. The place was once the house of a wealthy batik merchant. Built in 1938 it had real charm. Our room’s door and shutters opened onto the central courtyard. Dark wood and stained glass windows, old photographs, antique furniture and the staff made it a special place. The restaurant and stinking drains did not.

A couple of hours out of Surakarta, on the slopes of Gunung Lawu, 900m above Solo plain, sits Candi Sukuh. Built around the 15th century it is not a large site but its pyramid shaped temple and beautiful (if explicit) carvings, along with its isolated location make the journey worthwhile. We also had the temple to ourselves. A 2m lingam once topped the pyramid until Raffles removed it to the National Museum in Jakarta.

SukuhSukuh statCetho


However, the highlight was Candi Cetho. Higher up the slopes at about 1400m the drive was unbelievable through tea plantations and forests. The last section up through the village of Cetho felt almost vertical. Some cars parking had the lingering smell of burning clutch. No buses come here. Thought to date from 1350 this large temple has several terraces climbing up the hillside into the mist. A group of Hindus (perhaps from Bali?) were visiting the sight when we arrived, making offerings and adding to the atmosphere. A fantastic place.


We then spent a while asking for directions to Grojogan Sewu, a 100m-high waterfall. A small sign post in a hillside town is all that directs you. When we got there it was very busy with Indonesian visitors scrambling over the rocks and feeding the bad-tempered monkeys. The dirty, muddy pool at the bottom of the fall was not inviting.


We decided to cut our roadtrip short and head back to Jakarta. Eid was coming and we were constantly being told about how bad the roads would get over the holiday period. Next day we aimed for Garut. We decided to head for Yogya and then towards Bandung – roads we had travelled before on our last roadtrip. Not attractive but heading home. We stopped at a Pringsewu and passed the strawberry farm restaurant just outside Garut. We eventually reached Cipanas. A village fed with constant hot water from hot springs. We arrived in the dark and found the place gearing up for Eid. That also included a remarkable mark-up in the cost of a room. We checked into the Danau Dariza, a huge complex with a hot-spring boating pond. A bit tacky and run-down, smelly, expensive and with very nasty food. We had a boat but no paddles. The end of Ramadan that night was celebrated with maximum volume from the mosques and fireworks all night.


Next day we walked the town. Beautiful location, warm sunshine and warm water flowing down the streets, also feeding the local public baths. We used our spring-fed hotel swimming pool and the travelling tensions of the day and night before were soothed. We headed for Bandung and then Jakarta. Traffic going out of Jakarta was horrendous. All these vehicles will be trying to get back to Jakarta in a few days time. You can almost believe the stories of motorists being trapped in their cars (not going anywhere) for up to 30 hours. However, we had a fantastic time driving around this enormous, magnificent island.


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