Lava in Java

After declaring that I would never catch another Indonesian long distance mini-bus following my hair raising experience from Bandung to Yogyakarta, I found myself on another 11 hour journey yesterday, once again manned by a kamikaze driver in a vehicle with poorly-working air conditioning in the searing Indonesian heat. Regaled by stories about the beauty of Gunung Bromo (Bromo Volcano) and hungry for more adventure, I had decided to detour from my original plan of flying straight to Bali and made a pit stop to Bromo instead.

Mount Bromo and Semeru

Mount Bromo and Semeru

Starting with a 3.30am wake up call to watch the sunrise, it was a truly spectacular view. Java is dotted with volcanos and Gunung Bromo is one of its most famous. The object of many postcards, it is flanked by volcanoes on either side, with Java’s most active volcano and highest point at 3,676m, Gunung Semeru, also towering in the distance. Occasionally tempestuous, Gunung Semeru is known to occasionally billow puffs of smoke to complete the postcard setting.

Gunung Bromo (Bromo Volcano)

Gunung Bromo (Bromo Volcano)

We trekked afterwards to the crater’s rim and arrived back at the hotel at 8.30am for breakfast. I had nasi goreng (fried rice) and fried egg, which had been a pretty standard breakfast choice in the hotels I’d stayed at to date. Typically, other options have also included eggs and toast. It was a simple breakfast, but there was something about waking up at the crack of dawn, braving the freezing cold that is common in places of altitude, to take in amazing views of the sun rising over the volcanoes that made a simple breakfast that much more enjoyable.

This was my last breakfast in Java. Next stop, Bali.

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A few days ago when I was reading Lonely Planet to plan my onward itinerary, a feature appeared on BBC World about how Craig ”Hot Lixx Hulahan” Billmeier, an American, had won the 2008 Air Guitar Championships. Apparently air guitar was not without its risks. The feature reported that during the course of the competition, Craig had sustained a thumb fracture. Huh? Playing air? Surely not? I was no expert, but I would have hazarded a guess that the fracture had been caused by him strumming some instrument other than his guitar.

I’ve digressed. My reading brought me to Yogyakarta, the reputed cultural heartland of Java, Indonesia. I arrived this morning, after surviving a harrowing ten-hour overnight trip from Bandung on an extremely uncomfortable mini-bus – what could only have been described as a feat of death defiance. For the dozen or so times I’d stirred from my state of half-sleep during the night to peer through the windscreen, I would find another vehicle coming head on, straight towards us, only to narrowly swerve away at the last minute. Everyone in Java appears to be a wanton racing car driver, with a pounding sense of urgency to overtake. Depending on your point of view, you might consider such motoring exploits on barely lit night roads, with only one lane in each direction, to be either adrenalin inducing or just plain terrifying.

I’ve digressed again. For although I wanted to talk about what a girl’s got to eat, there was sadly not much to talk about. Unfortunately I’m not in possession of a stomach with a steely disposition, just one with a spirit of adventure when it comes to trying foreign foods. This had finally caught up with me. The spirit hadn’t been able to keep up with the mechanics of my body, and so alas, I’m laying low on the Indonesian food front for a little while…

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Keyaki Japanese Restaurant at the Sari Pan Pacific Hotel

The first thing that struck me as I tried to exit Jakarta’s International Airport late yesterday afternoon after clearing immigration was that there were no taxis. Not a single one. Perplexed I searched high and low with my very unyielding luggage trolley, attempting to gracefully dodge this scary looking man yelling at me in a language I could not understand. With no taxis in sight, was I meant to catch one of those packed buses with all the locals hanging out of the bus door? Surely Jakarta couldn’t be umm… this backwards? The yelling did not cease despite what I thought was my well judged inclination to ignore him, but eventually with his persistently wild gesticulating arms, I was made to realise that I had used the wrong exit, the workers exit, and I was to retrace my steps back through to the other end of the airport, to a more civilised arrival hall with ATM machines, foreigners, and taxis waiting.

Common form of Jakartan transportation, the Bajai (auto rickshaw)

One type of Jakartan transportation, the Bajai (auto rickshaw)

The first crisis over, I was swiftly faced with crisis number two. On attempting to withdraw cash, using both cash cards and in all five ATM machines three times over, I realised neither of my cards worked. With only the sum total of £5 in my pocket it was not enough for cab. So it was to be the bus after all. My thumbs were a blur as I sent frantic messages to my bank manager during the long bus ride into town, but it would be some four agonising hours before my account was “unlocked”.

Which was why that night, after all was resolved, in a ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Moment’, I did not eat dinner, feeling all too exhausted and all too jetlagged. I woke up absolutely ravenous, but as I didn’t want to leave the air-conditioned comfort of my hotel room to brave the 35 degree heat, I only finally emerged at about lunchtime. By my count, this meant I had not eaten for some 26 hours since the noodles at the airport. Surely this justified some comfort eating once more.

I headed for the buffet at the Japanese restaurant, Keyaki, at the 5 star Sari Pan Pacific Hotel. Jakarta’s searing heat was like a surge of electricity to my system so the restaurant being air-conditioned was one irresistible draw card, that and the fact that it is rated by Indonesia Tatler as one of the best restaurants in Indonesia in both 2007 and 2008. It is styled in the usual Japanese fashion; glossy dark wood tables, lantern light fittings. Also, the presence of the atypical sushi bar is perhaps also a giveaway.

Sashimi and sushi selection

Sashimi and sushi selection

(Continue reading her story…)

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