Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kit Kat

I'm sorta curious about what the differentiates the 'International Recipe' from my beloved American Kit Kat, but apparently it requires an air conditioner to best enjoy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back in Bali

Sat 9/25

We check out of the hotel and head back to Labuan Bajo's small airport. I purchase a sweet coffee cup w/ a Komodo dragon eating a goat pictured on it. Apparently the can stand on their hind legs if it will feed them.

We get back to Bali and head back to Kuta to try and find a hotel. This turns out to be more problematic than we'd anticipated. Finally, the 4th or so place we stop in has a room. We also ask at the desk about whitewater rafting companies on the suggestion of another diver. Shortly after dropping our stuff in the room we get a call from a rafting company and schedule a pick up for 1pm.

We kill a bit of time in the lobby waiting for the driver. He arrives and takes us about an hour away from town. Along the way, I get a much better look at Bali and must admit I was probably a bit hasty in condemning the whole island based on Kuta. Actually, even just getting away from the overdeveloped beach area of Kuta makes a big improvement. Hindu temples are scattered about, providing a nice change from the buddhist temples scattered throughout Korea.

We get dropped off at the rafting office and must hike down to the river through a jungle. There is a concrete path, but it's worn and muddy in many places. The dense jungle coverage creates a nice atmosphere for rafting. It begins to rain, which is also nice. The rafting is fun.

We head back to the hotel. Kill some time at the beach. Swim in the pool.

Sunday morning we're up and head to the airport. All our flights depart around 1pm. Unfortunately for me, this flight only takes me to Jakarta where I must wait until 10pm for my red-eye back to Seoul. The Jakarta airport is not a very fun place. Red eye flights are not very fun either.

Landing in Seoul, I have the feeling of getting back home. Which I guess I was.

So that's the Indonesia trip. and it only took me 2 months to post it. efficiency. Maybe I'll try to get some more Korea stuff going, but if not the next destination has been booked: Thailand for the New Year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Diving in Komodo

Fri 9/24

Just after midnight I wake up and rush to the bathroom to find that my ass has discovered how to piss. This neat trick combined with an odd pain in my upper abdomen keep me awake until almost 4AM. Clearly I have caught a strain of super-malaria that is overpowering my hallucinogenic anti-malaria meds. I will die soon. This angers me b/c I'd very much been looking forward to diving. I finally pass out.

Alarm goes off at 6. I feel a bit better. I hope the stomach will be appeased with an offering of scrambled eggs and coffee. It grudgingly accepts. I am non optimistic about the day.

We head to the lobby to get a ride to the dive shop and meet a Swiss family that tells us they are also on our dive trip. We all pile into a van and get dropped off at a dock. It turns out the Swiss are sabotuers. We are not diving with them and we have been led to the wrong place by their vile lies. Fortunately, we are able to find the boat we're supposed to be on and they radio to the dive shop.

We get delayed a while before leaving the dock. Apparently the harbor master has decided today would be a good day to inspect this dive boat. Apparently he also decided to do this on his own leisurely schedule. After about an hour, the dive operators are able to postpone the inspection and we're off.

I don't have pictures from the dives and I don't think I can really do them just with words, but all 3 dives were great. The first one was in a current where manta rays swim upstream to feed. As soon as we jumped off the boat we looked down to see 2 mantas hanging out. We descended and watched them and for the next hour we probably went no more than 5 minutes w/o at least 1 manta swimming within view. The divemaster said afterward that it was probably the best manta dive he'd seen.

The 2nd dive was along a rock face between two strong currents. The narrow calm patch afforded by the rock was home to coral and a ridiculous number of bright colored fish. It seemed fake. Like swimming in a screen saver. Also there were some giant sea turtles searching for food amongst the coral.

Dive 3 was in a really strong current. We used hooks to attach ourselves to the rocks on the bottom to avoid being dragged away or burning all our oxygen fighting the stream. Securely attached to the bottom, we just watched schools of larger fish swim by. The spot reminded me of a highway for fish, with tons of them just passing through. Much bigger stuff hung out here- there were at least 3 sharks visible at one time.

When we came up after the third dive, two of the divemasters immediately dove back in. While getting out of our gear we learned that the propeller had fallen off and the divemasters were hoping to find it. They did not find it. So now we were stuck a few hours from harbor without a prop on the main motor. There was a secondary motor, so we weren't quite marooned, but the 'few' hours on the main motor suddenly became more like '8' hours on the back up.

Fortunately, our diving was already done for the day so no one was very upset. Really, hanging out on a boat in the tropics isn't exactly the worst fate. So we puttered along toward the harbor while the captain radioed in and tried to arrange a tow or shuttle. Finally a little while after dark a speed boat arrived to take the divers in ahead of the boat and crew.

At first it was kind of amusing riding in the small speed boat like shipwreck survivors or something. But after a while, sitting in cramped quarters in the dark with cold ocean water continuously splattering your face stops being adventurous and just becomes uncomfortable. Still, it did get us back to Labuan Bajo hours ahead of dive boat.

The dive shop had ordered food for us and after the trip, drying off and getting a hot meal definitely hit the spot.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Thurs 9/23

I spent the night fitfully on a mattress on the deck of our boat. I was awakened at one point when our drifting anchor resulted in a collision with another boat moored nearby and from that point on drifted in and out of awareness of the chatter of 100's of bats returning home. By daybreak, everyone was awake and we were on our way to Komodo.

Welcome to Komodo

We got there early and waited for the rangers as more boats dropped off groups of tourists. Luckily, by opting for the longest trek, our group only picked up a lone British guy. The four of us and our ranger headed out leaving the other groups to shuffle through the park en masse.

Shortly into our trek the ranger spotted a baby komodo dragon hiding in a tree. Even with the guide pointing it out, he was hard to spot.

Baby Dragon

They live in the trees for about the first 4 years of their lives until they're big enough to not be eaten by the other dragons. Apparently the mother dragons dig decoy holes to disguise their nests and will guard the site, but have no qualms with eating their children as soon as they hatch. Sucks to be a baby dragon.

A dragon on the trail

There were only a couple of dragons out on the trail, which seemed a bit disappointing after the hoardes of them on Rinca, but the baby dragon was nice. There were also a few wild pigs and deer to be seen. And a vicious land crab.

The land crab prepares his attack

Back near the ranger's huts and souvenir shop a few more dragons were laying about. The locals clearly are not too worried about them.

Perhaps they don't see the dragon lying next to them

Lazy Dragons

As we head back to the boat a swarm of village kids descend upon us to sell crap. Actually, for crap it's pretty decent. The wooden and shell carved Komodos are pretty sweet. Except I don't really need crap. Even if it is hand made and costs only $5, a price which our guide advises we haggle down from. For whatever reason, I must look like a prime target since the kids pretty much leave the others alone to swarm me. I buy nothing. Nor do I exchange the Singapore bills that some guy offers me.

Back on the boat. We stop to snorkel. Solid coral and fish. Back on the boat for lunch. I don't think I've mentioned, but the food on the boat is ridiculously good. I don't know how the cook manages it in the tiny kitchen, but every meal is delicious and there's always more food than we can eat. In addition to this, there are awesome fresh fruit smoothies in between meals. I fall asleep in the sun after lunch and wake up to see dolphins swimming alongside the boat and tropical islands dotting the horizon. This is not a terrible way to spend an afternoon.

In Labuan Bajo we stop by the scuba shop to be sized for gear. There is some hassle since Z's Padi registration was entered incorrectly (wrong B'day) and he didn't have his card on hand. After sorting that out we head to our hotel. It's nice. Only a year old a pool and beach access. The cows and dogs freely roaming the beach are an interesting touch. The rooms in the hotel are ridiculously big and there seem to be more employees than guests at the place (only like 10 rooms total). However, nothing makes me happier than flush toilets and laundry service. Snorkelling may have washed me off, but my clothes were not so fortunate. Amenities are nice sometimes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The North Will Rise Again

So I'm a couple days late with this, but thought after talking to the family on Thanksgiving figured I'd at least mention the attack on South Korea. I was in a meeting out of the office when North Korea started firing artillery shells on Yeonpyeong-do, a small island near the boarder. Just before the end of the meeting someone mentioned that there was breaking news and told what was happening. Preliminary reports were that 4 people had died.

At this point, I had no idea where Yeonpyeong-do was, or what exactly this meant. My coworkers and the others in the meeting were somber, but didn't seem particularly perturbed. I guess you get used to this kind of threat.

In the car, we listened to the radio. I could heard either shots or explosions or something (I'm guessing now it was the South returning fire), but couldn't really follow what was happening. I was told that civilian houses were on fire and that this marked the first attacks on civilians since the armistice. My coworkers weren't saying a lot and I didn't press, but I found this situation a bit disturbing. During my time in Korea, I've not really worried much about the North. I've always had the opinion that the North knows restarting a really fight would be it's last act and the South knows restarting it would do too much damage to justify.

I don't buy that Kim Jong Il is crazy. You don't last that long running a country if you're crazy. Your father who ran the place for almost 50 years doesn't select you as a successor if your crazy. But instability due to another succession? I can see crazy things coming from that.

I got dropped of and went home to read up on what was going on. I looked into the US embassy evacuation plans and all that jazz. Then....well then I stopped thinking about it. Went to the rock gym, had dinner, met a friend for drinks.

Seoul was as bustling as ever. On the streets you couldn't tell anything had happened. And that's pretty much how it's been since. I went to work the next day asked if anything had happened and checked to see CNN's take. And that's pretty much it. Life goes on here.

For a good take on the situation I recommended checking out Ask a Korean!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rinca Island

First stop: Rinca Island

The Lonely Planet warns that dragon sightings are not guaranteed, so I was trying to temper my expectations. However, as we pulled up to the dock on Rinca, monkeys running around on the dock, trying to swipe bits of the lunch from the other boat crews reminded me why traveling places is cool.

Dragon and Monkey Greeters

As luck would have it, there was little suspense before our first dragon sighting, as a small female dragon was hanging out not 10m from the dock. A welcoming party apparently drawn to the smell of fish and food that comes with the boats.

We headed to the park hut to pay the park camera fee and get a ranger to lead our trek. Our guide told us there is some dispute between the locals and the government and some private conservation company on the island. I didn't quite follow it all, but apparently the conservation group is just keeping all the money it receives. Not really knowing the difference, we just took his word for it and paid the camera fee but not the conservation fee (or something) and headed out with our guide and a park ranger each carrying long Y-shaped dragon fighting sticks.

Buildings on the island are all on stilts to prevent dragon invasions

In the camp near the ranger hut we were greeted by a much larger committee of dragons. Nine of them just hanging out by the kitchen. The just laze about and certainly don't seem very threatening, but it's easy to imagine how this can lull someone into a false sense of security that quickly ends when you carelessly leave the kitchen and find that a dragon has attached itself to your calf. Which apparently happened just a few weeks ago.

I find it completely fascinating that there isn't consensus about the danger of dragon bites. It's been long assumed that the primary risk is infection that comes from the hordes of bacteria that live in the dragon's mouth. Recently, though, some scientists claimed to discover a venom gland in the dragon. The guide said there were scientists investigated not so long ago and they hope to have the results before too much longer. It just blows my mind that this is still in dispute. I would think you could just cut a dragon open and figure it out pretty easily. I mean, what do biologists even do?

Outside of camp we saw another dragon lumbering about. Not moving too quick, but at least proving they can walk.

I might be poisonous, but science is dumb

We left the camp and headed towards a watering hole where an injured Water Buffalo had been hanging out. The ranger told us a dragon had bitten it a couple of days ago and now it was just a matter of time before the infection weakened it enough for the dragons to feast. He also told us the dragons cam smell prey like 2-5km away or something similarly ridiculous. Whatever it was, the buffalo apparently smelled enough to draw about 10 dragons to hang out around it.

A bored dragon stares at a buffalo

They are incredibly patient animals. If they see opportunity, they'll bite, then retreat while the venom/infection does its thing. Whenever the buffalo finally gets too weak to really pose a threat to them, presumably the dragons will descend and turn the watering hole into a bloodbath. A meal like that will then tide them over for a month or so while they slowly digest the bones to crap out in white, chalky piles.

The dragons get a little frisky, but don't attack

We hung out at the water hole for a long while and were briefly excited when the two dragons closest to the buffalo got up and started hissing a bit. Unfortunately, they decided not to kill for our entertainment. the guide said sadly, "maybe tomorrow they will have their dinner party". So close, but no blood. Still, ~20 dragons on our first stop is a win.

Yes, they can move
The photogenic one

Back on the boat we set sail to anchor near Komodo for the night. While this was ostensibly to get to Komodo early for a morning trek (best time to spot dragons), we moored next to a mangrove grove that houses hundreds of 'flying fox' fruit bats.

Shortly after we arrived, the bats began to wake up and started chattering in the trees. The racket of their squawking picked up intensity until just around dusk the 1st bast emerged from the trees. In short order, hundreds of these giant bats were streaming out over our heads to raid fruit trees on Komodo Island. While they lack the insane number of the bats in Austin, TX, they make up for it with a 3 foot wingspan (wikipedia says they can get up to 6 foot, not sure where I got 3). Flying overhead they look just like Batman logos cruising above you. As the stream of bats died down, we stayed on the roof of the boat watching the stars peak out from the sporadic clouds. Rinca did not disappoint.

Rinca, with a Dr. Seuss tree

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Labuan Bajo

Wed 9/22 (We're only 2 months behind schedule here)

There'd been a note slipped under my door telling me that Benny from Flores Exotic Tours, the company arranging the Komodo trip, would pick us up at the hotel at 6.30am. We wondered to the lobby around then and a man waiting by a van waved to us. I asked if he was Benny, he nodded, smiled and motioned us around to load our bags in the van. I told him we were hoping to grab some breakfast and asked if we'd have enough time before our flights (all arranged through the company). He seemed confused. At this point we realized he was not, in fact, Benny, but just another asshole wanting to drive us somewhere. No doubt, he could also hook us up w/ a massage.

We left checked out and went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Before long a man who knew our names found us and said he would be taking us to the airport where Benny was waiting with tickets for our 8am flight. Fortunately, since airports here aren't concerned with harassing you to keep up the appearance of safety (that's only at the hotels) loading up at 7am wasn't a problem.

We met Benny and handed over a wad of cash in exchange for our tickets and an envelope w/ his signature as proof of purchase. Benny assured us there would be a driver waiting upon arrival and we headed into the airport.

Unlike in Yogyakarta where there was no gate info, here it was contradictory. Our boarding passes said gate 17, the monitor said 15. We went to 15 first and asked an employee who was nearby eating breakfast. She asked to see my boarding pass and told me to go to gate 17, making it quite apparent that I seemed mentally deficient. There were no people or signs at 17, so we sat nearby keeping an eye on the family that received boarding passes ahead of us and appeared to be heading to Labuan Bajo with enough supplies to last the winter. About 8.15 an announcement was made that our flight was boarding at gate 16. Tricksy.

The Labuan Bajo Airport

Upon landing in Labuan Bajo, we entered the 'arrivals' door (as opposed to the 'departure' door next to it) and found ourselves literally locked in the 2-room airport. Apparently in order to keep people from wandering into the waiting area, they just lock the exit until everyone and all the luggage is unloaded. Behind the gate was a crowd of people offering transport (but no mention of massages here). It was a lot like being in a zoo with a crowd staring and hollering at you from the fence.

View of the port from above Labuan Bajo

When released from the airport we found a man with our names on a sign and followed him to a van. He told us we were heading to the harbor where we'd meet our boat and head to Rinca island for a trek this afternoon then head closer to Komodo island to stay for the night. The next day we'd trek at Komodo, have some time to snorkel and head back to Labuan Bajo. The next day we'd meet our dive crew and head out with them. Food and water were covered on the boat, but we needed to stop to stock up on beer and snacks. We met our 4 member boat crew and set off for Rinca (pronounced Rincha, in case you cared).

Some Islands seen from the Boat
First view of Rinca

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Day in Bali

Tuesday is a lazy day. Sleep the morning away. Get lunch. Go to the beach. Get thrown around by waves. Watch lady balancing a giant bowl of fruit on her head sell fruit on the beach. Return to hotel. Shower. Nap. Read by pool. Lazy and relaxing like a vacation should be.

People leave you alone in the hotel complex. Guards w/ metal detector wands (presumably just to put on an appearance of security since the bombings- they didn't detect my camera or other people's laptops or anything) keep taxi drivers and assorted rif-raf away. Key-holding rif-raf like myself excluded. The beach is pretty nice too. The surfing is obviously quite good.

Z, the first of my friends, is set to arrive in Bali at 6.30. Around that time I tell the receptionist that a friend will be looking for me before long and ask that they direct him to the pool area. They promptly ignore this message and it's not until I return an hour later to check that I see he's been waiting in the front lobby. Fresh off multiple nearly missed flights and something like 20+ hours of travel time, he's grateful to have a place to leave his bags and shower.

Friend #2, K, is not due to arrive for some time, so Z and I head out for food. We wander past the closed tourist shops and find an open faced building on the corner with a sate trolley out front. In addition to the chicken and beef skewers, we get some rice, a soup of some mysterious meat and 2 large bintangs. We watch a guy enthusiastically pulverize a tomato into a fine pulp and Z asks what he's making. "Chicken" is the reply. I am skeptical.

We're back at the hotel pool when K arrives & manages to find us. While we're exchanging pleasantries about airports and inflight movies and assorted things travelers enjoy discussing, there is a splash behind me in the pool. I turn and see something frantically swimming across the pool. About the time it reaches the other side and impressively scrambles out despite the lip of the pool, I realize it's a big rat chased into the pool by a cat that's watching it from the edge of the pool. Clever rat for swimming, dumb cat for not going to the other side of the pool.

Day 1 of our Indonesian wildlife tour is a success.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bali is a Hell Hole

I get to Bali and have little trouble finding the taxi stand and getting to my hotel. It's about 11pm and I figure I'll grab some food and wander around a bit. I don't bother with the Lonely Planet since my hotel is on the edge of the main touristy beach region. I figure it will be easy to find a laid back beach bar and grab some food. I quickly find out otherwise.

Instead of a lively night scene, the area I'm in is just a mix of hotels, resorts, closed-for-the-night tourist shops, and over-priced chain restaurants (sorry Hard Rock, Bali). To make exploring even worse, you can't go 10 feet without being harassed. Every taxi driving past honks. People on mopeds pull over to see if you want a ride. Everyone you pass on the streets cycles through the same set of questions. "Transport?" "Massage?" "Young girl?". In that order b/c obviously the only reason someone would not want to be driven somewhere is b/c they're too busy trying to secure a prostitute and the only reason you'd refuse one is b/c they're too old. I quickly come to hate everyone in Bali and decide I will ask the next taxi driver I manage to approach w/o begin harassed to take me to someplace to find food and people.

I quickly find one (transport is readily available in Bali) and explain that while, of course I would love a massage, and, that, yes, young masseuses truly are the best kind, I really would like some food first. He seems to understand and I ask how far it is and how much it will cost. He asks for 50,000. Seeing as this is what I paid to come from the airport (w/ an exit fee) and that I know I'm not asking to go far, I refuse. Yes, in reality $5 isn't much for a cab, but when it's such an obvious buyers market and the guy was just sitting on the sidewalk begging to drive people around, I don't feel like overpaying some asshole.

I turn and walk away and he chases me down to haggle. I offer 20,000 to take me where there will be food and people. We agree on 30,000. In the cab he starts driving and asks for 50,000 again. I hate him. I tell him we agreed on 30,000. He shows me a video clip of a stripper on his cell phone and says he can take me there. I hate Bali a lot.

After what seems like far too long, we reach an area with people milling about in the streets and loud music blaring. I tell the cabby to stop. Having no smaller bills, I give the cabby 50,000. It angers me that this will likely only further encourage him to be an asshole, but I try about his situation and how he probably doesn't have many opportunities. I feel better imagining that his life sucks and go get a burger from a street vendor.

I stop in a couple of bars and find some drunk Australians. I pass the memorial for the 2002 bombing that killed hundreds of people at a night club and stop in a couple bars with more drunk Australians. After being in Korea and throughout Indonesia, the herds of drunk Australians seem really big. I notice upon standing up, though, that I'm actually taller than most of them. I am reminded of the weird way you start to project what you see around you onto yourself and how it slowly shifts your sense of normalcy. Slowly and subtly, I'm sure my time out of the US is warping my mind. Hopefully not in a terribly bad way.

There is a multileveled bar/dance club that I wander through. The fat old men buying drinks for young looking Indonesian girls saddens me a bit and lessens my anger at the people who harass me on the streets. Other, lone girls ring the outside of the dance areas and are scattered throughout the bar. Stop for a drink or make eye contact and they will come flirt with you. While ordering a beer, I ask one such girl what she does for a job. She smiles and says she's working now. I wish her luck and head out.

The roads are narrow and crammed with cabs. So many people trying to leave and no one getting anywhere. Moped taxis descend like vultures the second you step outside, eager to rush you into the traffic jam. I ponder whether to risk walking when I have only a vague sense of where I am or to fight for to sit in traffic. As I'm debating it starts to rain and I opt for choice C, more beer.

I watch a guy passed out on a bar stool for a while. He begins to tilt, then his body convulses in an effort to regain balance. Each time he comes a little closer to crashing to the floor. It's engrossing. One bartender seems mildly concerned and fetches an older Australian woman to ask about the guy. She doesn't seem to know the drunk, but inform's the bartender that the guy is "fucking wasted" and wanders off.

The bartender then tries to rouse the guy by hitting him in the face. Not slapping him on the cheek, like you'd expect, but more of an open palm to the center of the face. It works to an extent, but instead of leaving, the guy comes close to my spot at the bar. I decide I don't want to be puked on and head out. The rain has stopped, the line for cabs is less crazy. I hop in one and head back to the hotel to sleep.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Temple Part 2

I got back to the hotel around 2. My flight is not until 8.30. I ask the travel agency if it's possible to check out Prambanan and still make the flight. Turns out that Prambanan is located near the airport and for $25 I can check out temple #2 and get dropped off at the airport.

Unlike Borobudur, Prambanan is a Hindu temple. It's set in a sprawling, peaceful park. I decline the guide who pushes to show me around b/c I really don't care and would rather just wander by myself and look at some pretty piles of stones without feigning interest in the Hindus and Buddhists who built the place.

The Biggest Temple in the Prambanan Complex

There are actual a number of temples spread throughout the Prambanan complex. The most impressive group of temples is located close to the ticket gate. Given how dismissive the travel agents had been about Prambanan compared to Borobudur, I wasn't expecting much, but it was definitely worth the trip.

Just inside the complex, I notice a Muslim girl eyeing me. Since she's wearing a terrorist outfit, I naturally assume she wants to kill me to destroy my freedom. However, what I had thought must be a bomb turned out to be a camera. Fearless ambassador that I am, I nod, willing to take a picture of her and her family at the temple. Except it turns out she actually wants to take a picture of me w/ her family at the temple. I can only hope that the 3 yr-old with them is shown that photo when she's older and told the story of the time the family encountered an actual foreigner.

Further into the park were several other, smaller temples in various states of repair. There are also a couple of guys who want to sell me a collapsible blow dart gun. As useful as this would be for battle dragons, I can't imagine any airline being a big fan of blow darts.

A statue of something

Having seen all I care to, I make my way through the maze of crap peddlers that surround the exit and find my driver. 5 minutes later I'm at the airport.

The airport is incredibly relaxed. I've got plenty of time so I get dinner and read at a small coffee shop for a while. Around 7 I walk through a metal detector, get a boarding pass at the check in counter and head to the single waiting room.

As 8 approaches, I notice that my flight is set for gate 0. In the room are doors marked gate 1-4. I ask and am told they'll announce the gate when it's time. Indonesia is not a great place if you need to have detailed plans in advance. Around 8:15, gate 4 is opened and boarding is called for my 8PM flight. Since you just walk out onto the tarmac and climb into the plane, I understand why the particular door you exit isn't so important.

The plane is full-sized (6 seats per row) and close to capacity. It's also apparently designed for midgets as even sitting straight up as far back as possible my knees are wedged into the seat in front of me. 1 hour to Bali.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Temple Time


8AM comes early. This was the first night I slept soundly and am groggy and disoriented thanks to it. I pack, grab breakfast and stop by the travel agent to double check my arrangements for Borobudur. I check out of the hotel, leave my bag at the desk and head out with the driver.

Yogyakarta is big and I have pretty much only set foot in the tourist friendly central parts stretching from the train station to the Sultan's palace. Driving into the greater Yogyakarta metropolitan area is an endless repetition of moped shops, small sidewalk restaurants, and (for a strangely long stretch of the road) statuaries. Just in case you need a giant stone Buddha to set apart your petty cab service from the competition.

More than anything though, I'm struck by the sheer number of people. Milling about, sitting around, doing whatever- there are just a crap ton of people everywhere. I ride in silence and stare at people I know nothing about going about their days. Maybe they glance up and see me passing by, maybe they don't. I will most likely never see any of them ever again and they will never know or care about anything I ever do.

I'm happy when the city begins to fall off and we turn on a road lined with rice paddies. The green is a nice antidote to the depressing thoughts of my own insignificance.

The driver pulls into the Borobudur parking lot, points me in the direction of the ticket gate and tells me he'll wait in the car. I am greeted by throngs of vendors peddling assorted crap and pine for the blissful anonymity of passing the car window had provided. I grab a ticket and head into the fenced off temple grounds where vendors are thankfully forbidden to tread.

The temple grounds are nice and green and open with mountains ringing them in the distance. I wander up the main path and catch my first glimpse of Borobudur:
First View of Borobudur

My pictures don't really do the temple justice. It's massive and contrasts wonderfully with the tropical green of the park around it. Built in the 9th century when the Buddhists were apparently doing alright for themselves, it was abandoned around 1400. Then it just sat for 400 years until some locals happened to mention the giant awesome temple to the British ruler of Java in 1814. While I'm sure it's more impressive in it's current restored state, there's something pretty sweet about finding an ancient overgrown temple. In an Indiana Jones sorta way.

The whole thing is carved like this

The other reasons the pictures don't do the temple justice is that you can't really see all the layers that make up the temple from ground level. As you walk up the steps of the temple there are a total of nine levels, each of which has an open walkway lined with relief carvings. So not only did they haul a crap ton of stone from somewhere to build a giant temple out of, they also carved almost every stone to tell various Buddhist stories.

There are also a bunch of Buddha's scattered throughout (apparently statuaries have a long tradition in this area). A lot of them are headless and most of the ones on the top levels have been imprisoned in stupas.

Buddha checks out the view

This Buddha broke free of his Stupa

Borobudur is Big

After wandering all the levels, I stopped by an art gallery located in the park area. There's not too much to it, but it's free. A few paintings and large word carvings are pretty much all there is on the first floor. I head upstairs and am greeted by a midget. On the 2nd floor is an exhibit that's kind of like Ripley's Believe it or Not. Except worse. It's just pictures of people with physical deformities and stuff. The world's tallest and fattest men, a guy who looks like a cat (with whiskers and sharpened teeth).

The exhibit appears to have just been made by printing crap off the internet. And the midget apparently just hangs out as part of the exhibit. B/c when you have a chance to put a poorly made freakshow exhibit that close to an amazing and beautiful landmark, you don't really have a choice, you know?

Heading back to town, the driver stops at Mendut, a smaller temple we'd passed on the way to Borobudur. It looked much cooler when I glimpsed it unexpectedly on the way there, but it pretty much pales in comparison to Borobudur.


Truth be told, Mendut also pales in comparison to the awesome, gigantic tree next to it.

I suspect this tree is like the internet, or whatever Avatar's nonsense was about

I went over to the tree to investigate it's alien tentacles and am startled by two loud thumps maybe 5 feet behind me. I turn and see two good sized (~1 foot) lizards lying dazed on the ground. After a little bit they come to and start to fight (?) with one attempting to eat the other's face. Unfortunately some old European people got to close and the lizards fled back into the tree.

Falling out of the tree did not diminish the bloodlust

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Random Yogy

It's afternoon and I'm wandering aimlessly. Sorta lost, sorta don't care. I stop for coffee. The lady in the coffee place- well place, it doesn't seem to really specialize in coffee, or anything for that matter, mostly it's just an open faced building with tables- anyway, the lady says she has coffee when I ask. It's hard to tell what anything is here. I don't know any Indonesian so I can't read signs, but more than that, places don't seem to be dedicated to any singular purpose. Houses and shops blur together with motorcycles parked inside doorways and anywhere else they can fit. Sidewalks are restaurants and places to hang out. People seem to be everywhere, with or without purpose.

The coffee lady is curious about my shoes. Specifically how much they cost. Apparently her husband is unemployed and living in Germany. For 2 years now. Her accent is difficult to understand. Also, the things she's saying don't make a lot of sense. Her jobless husband sends her money with which she has purchased multiple houses. Or something. She asks about people in the US not having any jobs now. The fact that I work in Korea seems to confirm to her that the US economy has collapsed completely.

I head back towards the hotel through a random swath of Yogyakarta. At one point, a small group of children playing with paper airplanes spot me and are thrilled. They stop running about and wave hello. I high five the closest, boldest child. Upon realizing that high fives were an option, the other children rush over for high fives all around. You're welcome, small children.

I time my return to the hotel well and wait out the rain before heading back out in the evening. While the general area I'm wandering in has an abundance of shops, restaurants, hotels and such, there's not much going on once it gets dark. Aside from a few Batik scammers who are desperate to lure you into their indistinguishable galleries, there's not a lot happening around here.

Well, when the Lonely Planet mapped portion of town is boring, what better to do than wander off into the unknown areas off the map? Not far into uncharted Yogyakarta I hear music and follow it to a strange open-fronted Karaoke place with people dancing about and a couple tables set on the sidewalk. Indonesian Ray Liotta is sitting at one of the tables and is glad that I've come by. "Have some of this," Ray offers, pouring me a shot from a plastic pitcher.

"Random booze from a total stranger? Just what I've looking for! Thanks, Ray!" Ray tells me it's whiskey, but the shot tastes like candy. If there's any whiskey in the pitcher, it has evaded my shot. Regardless, I join Ray at the outdoor table and meet Slinky Bill and Rat Face (names have been changed to protect the innocent). Everyone is happy to meet me and mildly terrifying to meet. That said, I'm sitting outside and can see a police station just up the street, so I'm not too worried.

Amongst the revelery there is a lone female who is the only one singing and seems to be in charge of the place. Also, Fat Joe is here. He welcomes me and asks if I like to sing. I'm ok with sitting at the sidewalk table, but there's no way I'm setting foot inside the place. Ray asks if I want a drink and I offer to buy a round for the table. They are pleased. It will be ~$12. They do not bring me change and I do not ask for it.

Rat face, a handsome man with facial tattoos, no front teeth, and bleached yellow hair, teaches me an Indonesian dance. First you raise one hand, then alternate the other slowly with the beat. I imitate his dance and he is pleased. High 5's all around!

Slinky Bill has a brother in England. Due to this we are all brothers (meaning me, him,his brother, I guess,...maybe Rat Face too). I was unaware of this Indonesian marriage by-law, but am pleased that Slinky Bill seems less likely to stab me now. Ray asks if I want a girl. I decline and he apologizes. I say it's fine. Slinky Bill tells me he's not gay. I say Ok. Rat Face raises his hand with the beat.

They help themselves to the beer I ordered, but are diligent in keeping my glass full. I set a timer in my head and plan to head on after this round is done. Having basically exhausted our conversational abilities, the group goes back to chatting amongst themselves. After a bit, Ray announces he's leaving and heads off on a moped. Slinky Bill reiterates that we are all brothers (Ray was included as well). Rat Face continues his dance undisturbed. I swig the last of my warm beer, thank everyone and depart as well.

I head back to the quiet, restaurant lined streets of the Lonely Planet map and wave down a bike taxi to take me to the hotel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Sultan's Palace

I slept poorly again and am groggy at 10AM as I head to breakfast. The omelette is good. The potatoes less so. 'Bacon' is not really bacon and is terrible. Mostly Muslim country, so pork isn't so readily available. It's like the anti-Korea.

The Kraton Courtyard

After breakfast I head to the Kraton. It's a massive complex, but I really have no appreciation for Indonesian Sultans. The whole of my knowledge being what I read yesterday on the train. As sweet as a giant palace complex would be, I'm pretty sure I'd take air conditioning and indoor plumbing any day.

Performers at the Kraton

Apparently the Sultan still lives in the Kraton, though most of it is open to tours. I really have nothing to say about the pictures. People dress up and dance and play music and sit around and smoke. I wander out the back exit where there are fewer people trying to heard me into art shops and find myself in a quiet little neighborhood. I guess people just live right alongside the Sultan's complex. People smile, but don't want money from me here. This area is nice.

A Chicken

After a little bit of wandering I get a bike taxi and have him take me to the nearby Water Palace. Previously adjoined to the Kraton, the Water Palace was the Sultan's pool until an earthquake took it out of commission. It was restored in 2004, but apparently being the Sultan isn't what it used to be and the pools are mostly used as a backdrop for high school kids to take pictures of their girlfriends.

I'm guessing the ticket I bought is solely for the tourists since the place seems to have no guards or actual curators. Want to swim in the Sultan's private pool? Go for it. Even weirder, there doesn't seem to have been any zoning restrictions and now the Water Palace is just a part of a neighborhood that has sprouted up with houses sitting next to remnants of sleeping chambers and tunnels.
The Water Palace

Since I did buy a ticket though, I am led around buy a 'guide'. I suspect he doesn't actually work for the place and just acts official (tearing my ticket and such) so he can later try to push me into some art crap. I'm ok w/ this. He's not annoying and while his explanations aren't particularly enlightening

For example: Apparently the place was built by a Portuguese architect in the 1700's. So the Portuguese (I guess there are a singular entity) were brought in to restore it in 2004. Originally the pools were spring fed but in 2004 the Portuguese pumped in water from a well. Also, before 2004 the pools were brown. We don't know why the Portuguese painted them blue in 2004. All the explanations come across as oddly accusatory towards the Portuguese as if they just came in in 2004 and did what ever they wanted and the reasons have been lost to history. Which, other nonsense aside, I have to agree with them on the 'blue pools are better than brown pools' theory.

A pool and the neighborhood that has grown up around it

After wandering around the Water Palace the 'guide' does in fact take me into a Batik art shop (Surprise! 90% of Yogyakarta's appears to be based around selling Batik). At least the owner isn't particularly pushy and is not making up some BS story about it being the last day the stuff is available. I tip the guide and stop for some fried noodles and head off to wander some more.