Week 4 | Central Java
Sunday morning, 5:30 AM. Borobudur, Yogyakarta.
In the deepest silence in the middle of the indonesian suburbs, a chant wakes me up. It’s Adhan, the islamic call to the prayer. I get up and out on the courtyard. It’s dawn already, the sun goes down early here. To my left, a light mist touches the fields, covering the tall tall palm trees. To my right, I can hear the noise of the cars’ horns.
Welcome on Java island.
We said our farewell to the island of paradise two days in advance, because of the recent volcano circumstances in Bali: we didn’t want to risk to find the airport closed. The last time Mount Agung (situated in the northern side of the island) erupted, was in 1963. This time, there was no danger for the most popular areas of the island, but the towns in proximity of the volcano were evacuated. Unconscious of how it could turn out to be we decided to buy a one way ticket to the island of Java, giving up on our project to spend the last two days on the beach. No regrets, we know something great was going to wait for us, but the last day spent on Bali, that we called home for 14 days, deserved to be cherished. And we already had an idea on how to do so ;-)
September 24th, 2017. Bali.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY LIETTAAA!!!
A whole year as a strawberry pie. A year of hugs and smiles, a year of sweet sweet wittiness enclosed in the body of a 70cm blonde with a big big heart. This morning Babbo J and I were deeply moved thinking about that big moment 365 days ago, because it’s been magical, incredible, fabulous. Period. How can a year just roll so fast? Really, I don’t know. Thank you baby girl for being a constant source of contagious happiness.
We woke up all together in a giant bed (namely, two beds put together on the ground, but giant bed sounds better) and sung all in chorus a “Tanti Auguri” on our best tune - Teo is well prepared with this. And after we did nothing in particular, only a big fat hug all together. For Babbo J and I this was really intense. Dressed as elegant as we could (ironed or not, this is just a detail - carrying backpacks and kids stretches your clothes to a point where you don’t really notice it, do you?) we went discovering Kuta beach, infinite white sand and super big waves. We then looked for an Italian restaurant where we had pizza and pasta as no tomorrow (Teo finally could reunite with tuna pasta, big emotions), and we decided to spend the last hours of the day on Jimbaran beach, some km away. Well known for the many fish restaurants specialized in grilled fish, Jimbaran is an extraordinary destination to just relax on the sand and enjoy the sunset, which is exactly what we ended up doing. On Sunday it is full of locals and children gathering to play soccer on the sand. Lia, who managed to quickly pass from a “no, she cannot stand by herself yet” to a “she is running! she is running!”, distributed smiles and greetings as usual. She walks saying “ciao ciao”, but you need to know her tone of voice to appreciate it - I swear it’s worthy. We stayed on the beach until the very end, until the darkness after the sunset forced us to walk with a flashlight. We made a toast on the sand, then we went back home. Happy birthday puppy. You really are a sunflower.
It’s time to leave Bali, a place that will always be particularly meaningful for us because it’s been the first one to welcome us, to hold our hands while discovering, to inspire us about this new life. What we have in front of us now is a flight, our direction is: Yogyakarta, island of Java. We will earn one hour of jet lag: +5 hours compared to Italy and Paris. The flight is smooth. We land.
We jump on a taxi and the impact is very strong. The atmosphere here is completely different from Bali’s one. We leave the “tropical” behind to find the “street life”. On Bali the 92% of citizens is Hindu, while in Java the majority are muslims.
Women wear the hijab and the architecture is not the same anymore. We drive through the streets of Malioboro, it’s love at first sight. Since we started this journey, we feel like we are glowing in a perfect dimension.
Sometimes our experiences change our perceptions. In 2014 Babbo J and I went on a trip that deeply changed us. We still don’t know why we chose that destination, among the less popular. Some sort of sixth sense drove us, we just simply knew we had to go there. The trip was worth: we even cried when we had to go back after three weeks. Vietnam not only got under our skin, but deeper to our spine. So beautiful. We felt like home in Ho Chi Minh. I’m not talking about comfort, but of a sensation within: that feeling when you find the perfect bed, even if it’s just a mattress on the ground; the idea that you already lived there, that you always knew it, and that you belong there. Ho Chi Minh changed our life and our way of travelling. When we hear the sound of the scooter’s horns at night we find that energy again.
But let’s go back to Yogyakarta: a real city with scooters, noise, people. Lots of people. Malioboro is exceptional, its colours are food for the eyes. A chain of shops of any kind (clothing, fabrics, shoes, accessories) reflects on our taxi’s windows while we’re heading to the hotel. Once we drop the luggages we decide to go back there to find a place where to eat something
Approaching Java can be disorienting. Yogyakarta is a touristic city, but we early find out we are the only Westerners in kilometers. We are walking with a stroller - which is so rare to find here - with a baby on our shoulders. Our kids’ blonde hair draws attention, because as “weird” as eating a Nasi Goreng in Duomo Square in Milan can be for us. People pretend they’re not looking at us, but we know their eyes are watching. When we make eye contact, their faces spread in a sweet smile. Everyone says hi, and we say hi back. We just left a super touristic island (where we found as many western restaurant as nasi goreng and campur restaurants) and landing here now makes us feel that captivating and disorienting sensation that we like to call the real cornerstone of travelling. To recover from this feeling, we look out for home. McDonald’s is always a good idea, even if it’s not the healthiest choice. We find out we are the only one ordering a Big Mac; sitting next to us there are only girls drinking a milkshake or families ordering rice, chicken and tea based menus, that we don’t have in Europe. While we share this meal, we feel caught from a very strong curiosity: we can’t wait to visit this city.
And so the morning after, with our backpack on the shoulders (or with Lietta as usual for me) we go out for our discovery. Malioboro is like a painting of the most various colors, where the real main characters are the becal, 3 wheeled taxi rickshaws parked at every corner that embellish the streets full of shops and local trucks. Malioboro is about super colorful walls decorated with street art. Malioboro is about its people, always smiling no matter what. Indonesians are a real unexpected discovery that links you to humanity and peace. The first day in Yogyakarta is full of meet ups of which we conserve the memories on pixels, waiting to be transferred to paper. Photography is our best friend in this path. The young men that just left the school, laughing embarrassed in front of the lens and then running away shouting “Thank you, sir” to the photographer. Le bouquinistes, namely the newspaper sellers that sold to Teo a “Donald Duck” in indonesian. The young ladies standing right outside the school, showing both their hands when we ask how old they are. Ten. All three of them. They stand by us, they won’t leave us a moment. Their curiosity towards the Westerns is so strong. Just like the entire class running towards us asking to take a picture all together. I’m filming, I say loud “HI!” they reply “Hiiii” back, in a chorus. Shivers, goosebumps, what a great moment. And then that old woman, carrying almost 100 years on her shoulders, sitting on the sofa of her nephew’s restaurant, fully covered in paintings and photos taken from him. There’s a huge family portrait in the room and she shows to us the youngest member of the family on the right, a woman is holding her tight. She shines of emotions and she tells us that she is that little girl. Teo is sitting next to her, on a little red chair. She tells us the story of the dragon. They don’t understand each other, but they listen. I take a picture that reawakens something in me: when I was back home daydreaming on this trip, this is exactly what I was imagining. We have to go, he says goodbye giving her a kiss. “Bye grannie”. She smiles at him. A brief meeting, an image that lasts forever.
We lived a dream in Yogyakarta. Our frame is the Phoenix Hotel, that offers a 360 degrees experience more than just good hospitality. This hotel is placed in an old building of the 20s and its story runs through its corridors. We go back to our room, we throw ourselves on the bed. Aaaah (sigh of relief). This is the moment when you know you are about to spend your time exactly as you need. We also have a little terrace on the pool. It starts raining, we realize it’s the first time we see the rain since we left and we’re experiencing a bit of that autumn we’re going to skip this year. It’s wonderful. We enjoy the pool at the Phoenix, and we rest too. The moment when you gather all your energies. Great service, personnel even more, unforgettable.
When we leave the Phoenix we’re heading to Borobudur, which is well known because it hosts a buddhist temple recognized as world heritage by Unesco. We find a little place where to spend a bunch of nights, far from the city’s noise. This is what travelling is about: disorientation, adaptation. We find ourselves being the only Westerners here, really the only ones. We walk along the street and people look at us. I wish I took a picture of any corner of that little town. Tourists are assaulting the area only within the walls of the temple. Outside the temple it’s just a typical indonesian suburb town. The chickens walk in the streets, the colorful one-storey houses separate the streets from the fields. The little carts sell the local fast food to eat with sticks on small chairs. The markets, oh yes, the markets where you meet the most beautiful people. No word can describe what’s behind a local market, you need to be there in order to grasp the magic, you have to get lost in it. In the clothing shops you can buy all sorts of veils for women and for children (you can also find Frozen veil). And finally that temple that we visit while the sun goes down, imagining how it would be seeing it while the sun goes up, early in the morning, when there are no people around, in the moment that gives it most glory.
We have to leave Borobudur and jump on our train, direction Bandung. Seven hours on the binaries among the rice fields to cherish our last indonesian days before reaching Singapore.
I will finish this article with an anecdote. The first day in Bali we were heading to our B&B’s garden to have breakfast, rigorously without shoes, since it’s pretty common here. Leaving his room with bare feet Teo tells me “Mama, ah! Feet cold, I shoes”. I start laughing. He’s the typical western on a holiday.
We have to leave our room in Borobudur, we are preparing for our trip on a train. I put on shoes on Teo’s feet, he tells me “No, mama. No shoes. Don’t like it anymore”. Okay, we are definitely adapting here.
With a Lot of Love