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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Streets of Yogyakarta

On the streets of Yogjakarta

On the streets of Yogjakarta

My health restored to full strength today after my stomach virus, I felt like a phoenix. Reborn anew, I was once again keen to engage in the role of foodie discoverer. Having befriended an intrepid Canadian explorer yesterday on the tour bus (she once travelled continuously for two and a half years), we decided to set off together in search of our dinner. With me at the helm, and my newly found friend in tow, we headed off to navigate the minefield of shops, curio stalls, warungs (food vendors on mobile carts), pedestrians and traffic that was law of the land on Yogyakarta’s high street, Marlioboro.

Lumpia ayam (chicken spring rolls)

Lumpia ayam (chicken spring rolls)

The warungs on Marlioboro offer up all sorts of Indonesian food including the standard Indonesian fare; curries, sates, noodle and rice dishes. Some vendors cooked to order, but as was quite typical in Indonesia, there were also a number of warungs that served pre-cooked dishes. Chillies act as a preserving agent, thereby allowing Indonesian dishes to be pre-cooked and served throughout the day.

With so much choice, we finally settled on lumpia ayam (chicken spring rolls) (about 10p each). Plump full with an abundance of finely shredded chicken, it was served piping hot from the deep fryer and drizzled with a sweet chilli garlic sauce. The sauce was delicately sweet and the garlic added great zing to the spring roll which was so delicious I couldn’t stop at just one.

(Continue reading her story…)


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Temple visits: not full

I’m of the belief that the only way to kill a stomach bug is to starve it as much as possible. This seemed to have held me in reasonably good stead when I backpacked South America for five months. However, starving the bug means starving me, and I couldn’t decide which was worse – enduring the discomfort that comes from bathroom woes, especially with third world toilet facilities, or enduring the pain that comes from not eating, for I truly love to eat. However I tried to commiserate myself, searching high and low for that silver lining. “You’ll lose weight”, I told myself. “You’ll look better trying to squeeze into that bikini on Kuta Beach.”

True to my word, in the last 24 hours or so, I had subsisted on only one chocolate cookie, one packet of crisps, two coffees and two deep fried banana cakes topped with shredded processed cheese which I devoured this morning at the Buddhist temple, Borobudur. Having had a 3:30am start this morning to catch the sunrise at one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Indonesia, I was absolutely famished. I thought the cakes rather tasty, even if the cheese was a little rubbery. One of my Swiss travelling companions wasn’t too impressed however, so perhaps my taste buds had been tarnished due to my recent food deprivation.

After Borobudur, we visited another famous Yogyakartan temple, Prambanan. On the way back from our tour, I asked my tour guide about a matter which had been perplexing me over the last week. Why was it that every time I tried to book accommodation, the standard response had always been “sorry missus, we’re full”, even if the hotel wasn’t in fact full. As an example, I told him about how when I checked into my hotel in Jakarta, I tried to extend my stay beyond the one night that I had booked, to only be told, “Sorry missus, we’re full”. Thinking this implausible in a hotel with several hundred rooms, I made my way to the internet cafe, whereupon I was able to make the reservation online instead. My guide had no explanation. “See Mister, like me, not full”.


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Indonesian lunch: Lake Ciburial

The tea plantation was a delightful retreat from the congested city of Bandung, with acres and acres of land lush with the green of tea leaves. Hiking through the plantation, we made headway towards this miniature waterfall. It was not particularly spectacular, but the slight splash of the water against my face on such a hot day was particularly refreshing. There were also some locals, clearly a close group of young friends, whiling away their day with laughter around the falls and it was with a little envy that I watched them. What a carefree way to spend a day!

We broke for an Indonesian lunch at a little eating spot on Situ Ciburial (Lake Ciburial) run by a mother and daughter team, and ate on the balcony which looked out onto a lake that rippled beautifully from the reflection of the sunshine. It was a buffet style meal with about 14 different choices on offer. I tried a little of each, and all the food was delicious and fresh. There were a number of deep fried dishes, which on my travels so far had appeared to be quite commonplace; two different types of fish, one chicken, battered mash potato, and one of shredded pork. There was also a beef curry and a variety of stir-fried vegetables mixed with tofu, pork or mushrooms. My favourite though was the chicken steamed in banana leaf with lemongrass and spring onions, for in the cooking process the banana leaf had ensured that the fragrance of the lemongrass was deeply infused in the chicken.

A traditional Indonesian lunch

A traditional Indonesian lunch

Next we headed to Gunung Papandayan (Volcano Papandayan). I had seen other volcanoes before – Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Arenal in Costa Rica – but nothing prepared me for the spectacle that was Papandayan. We spent some three hours exploring its crevices, and at every turn there was a new wonderment to gaze upon. For all its destructive force (it last erupted in 2002), it had also left a legacy of extreme barren beauty; mud pools bubbling away, rocks swollen yellow with sulphur deposits, cracks in the earth steaming with gas, a crater filled with cobalt blue water. It was truly a spectacle to behold.


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Business breakfast: Indonesian congee

If you’ve ever backpacked, you’ve probably had occasion to turn up at some far flung destination with no accommodation booked, to then have to search for a bed in earnest.  Such was the situation that had befallen a Swiss couple that I’d met today.

Like me they had arrived in Bandung, some three hours east of Jakarta, the night before, but unlike me they had no accommodation booked.  They searched for some two hours, and on their twelfth attempt, finally settled on their first available option.  However all was not as it seemed.  For having been allocated a room on the karaoke floor, it became apparent that whilst I was staying at a business hotel for business travellers, they were also staying at a ‘business’ hotel of sorts. Throughout the night, they were kept up by the raucous singing of the drunken men and working girls.  To add insult to injury, the room was only barely clean; the shower water was a little bit brown and only lukewarm; and the spaghetti bolognaise churned out by the hotel restaurant consisted of noodles with sliced vegetables and sweet and sour sauce.
 
We had met as all three of us were headed on a day tour of one of the tea plantations in the Bandung vicinity, to be followed by a visit to Volcano Papandayan.  On the advice of the tour operator through whom I’d booked this tour, I indulged in a hearty breakfast to prepare for the day’s adventures.  As a hotel catering predominantly to Indonesian business travellers, the breakfast was Indonesian as expected.  On the serving table were mie goreng (fried noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice) and Indonesian congee.  Like Chinese congee, the Indonesian version was made from rice, but unlike Chinese congee, this was much thicker and laden with stock.  The stock tasted as if from packet mix, but with a good quality broth, no doubt would have been delicious.  You could also garnish it as you liked, with peanuts, fried spring onions, etc.  Perhaps the idea of noodles, rice and congee for breakfast doesn’t cater to every Western palate, but I guess it certainly caters to that of Indonesian business people.

Indonesian congee

Indonesian congee


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Grand Cafe at the Hyatt Hotel

Today, I found my way to the Jakarta zoo (Ragunan), or rather the kindly taxi driver drove me there. He was pleasantly friendly, but despite all his efforts on the 45-minute journey, conversation proved futile on account of my inability to speak Indonesian. He was also a little lacking in stature, probably a head shorter than me, so it amazed me that he actually had a line of vision above the dashboard.

Ragunan boasts the largest collection of Indonesian animals in any zoo in Indonesia. I found it to be a pleasant surprise, in particularly the primate collection which included many endangered species. The quiet of Ragunan zoo almost provided a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of central Jakarta and the ever-so-slightly cooler clime was also a welcome relief from the sweltering heat that I had been enduring over the previous two days.

I had to confess however that the attractions of (Ragunan zoo) were not my only motivation for staying another night in Jakarta. For having frequented the Grand Café at the Grand Hyatt Hotel two nights earlier and perused their buffet selection, I had been salivating at the thought of their lobster ever since. Unable to resist the temptation, I finally succumbed, which was where I found myself this evening.

My lobster (and prawn and oyster) plate

My lobster (and prawn and oyster) plate

I started with what I had come to the Grand Café for, the lobster, and along with that the prawns and oysters too. The lobster was fresh but cold, obviously having been cooked and then refrigerated prior to serving. I prefer lobster freshly cooked and there had been many an occasion when I had gone to the Fish Markets in Sydney and bought live lobsters which I cooked fresh (steamed, not boiled, to maintain all the flavour). This wasn’t quite as good but it didn’t stop me going back for seconds, for lobster is lobster.

(Continue reading her story…)


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Nasi goreng and Indonesian pancakes in Jakarta

Colonial Jakarta

Colonial Jakarta

On account of the heat and jetlag yesterday, I had done little else but wander around the air-conditioned shopping malls.  So today was my first real sightseeing expedition of Jakarta. On the whole, it was a little lacklustre – a maze of traffic and chaos, a concrete jungle interspersed with shanty buildings. However, my visit to the Indonesian National Museum proved to be reasonably interesting.  There were cultural artefacts from around Indonesia on display and a collection of Chinese ceramics including some from the Han Dynasty.

Night traffic in Jakarta

Night traffic in Central Jakarta

This evening I decided to eat Indonesian street food, having started the day in such a fashion.  On all my travels throughout South East Asia, I generally haven’t been able to fault these vendors, in terms of flavour at least, although some were obviously better than others.  They were authentic, cheap and filling, and catered to local taste buds as well as wallets.  On occasions I found the food at these little one man mobile operations better than at some restaurants where you paid more, although you obviously compromised on service and ambience.  No doubt the key was to head for the busiest stall, the one with the most locals.

On a street around the corner from my hotel, there was an abundance of warungs (food vendors on mobile carts) dishing up an abundance of Indonesian specialties.  They offered a variety of local dishes including nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (fried noodles), sates, curries and fried meats such as fish and chicken.  I headed for one of the busiest warungs I could find and ordered nasi goreng (about 60p).  It was mildly spicy and mixed with shredded chicken, finely diced beef, liver and spring onions and was suitably tasty, although it was missing a pan fried egg on top.  It also came with prawn crackers, which the Indonesians seemed to love as an accompaniment to their food, and of course the mandatory chillies. Also available on the table was sambal (a spicy Indonesian condiment) for those wanting that extra bit of kick.

(Continue reading her story…)


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Indonesian breakfast

Realising I had missed breakfast this morning at the hotel, I suddenly developed a craving for pancakes. In a city such as Jakarta where pancakes are probably not the normal breakfast choice, I realised this was probably futile, and instead headed out to wander; ‘hunt and gather’ if you will. Stumbling upon a bakery, I proceeded to investigate. Not being sure whether the lady behind the counter could speak English or not, I tentatively made some inquiries about the items on display, whereupon her responses led me to make the following purchases:

My Indonesian breakfast

My Indonesian breakfast

“Its egg, beef and mayonnaise” she said, referring to the item on the left. It turned out to be egg and ham. “Its chicken and potato” she said, referring to the item on the top right, but was actually beef and potato. “Its shrimp and chicken” she said in reference to the bottom right. No second guesses, but it turned out to be tofu with some indiscernible matter pasted on top. But they were all tasty and filling enough, and interestingly boxed with chillies, a mandatory Indonesian accompaniment. All this cost only about 60p.


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