Days 163-170 Brutal Karas

S: We talked about it allot before we came out on this trip and we haven’t managed to do it at all, until now that is. What are we talking about? Windsurfing of course! Well, we didn’t quite manage to get the “wind” element involved but we sure got stuck into some surfing…

Batu Karas – A small town on the south coast of Java, and a burgeoning surfing hot spot, became our training ground for six days. Our Lonely Planet guide and a fellow traveller’s blog told us this was one of the best places in Java for beginners. It was an opportunity we simply couldn’t miss.

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We took a eight hour minibus from our hostel in Yogyakarta to Java Cove, our surfers pad accommodation for the next six nights.

On day one we were introduced to our surfing instructor, Tupi, and our new best mate for the next few days. Tupi guaranteed that by the end of our first one hour lesson we would be able to stand on our boards. Expectations were raised and the pressure was on. Tupi demonstrated and talked us through the basics on dry land: how to get from a lying down position on the board to upright and surfing in the correct cool manner. We soon put our new found knowledge into play in the sea; and what were the results, I hear you ask? Tupi was right, after an hour of consuming sea water, feeling like a beached whale on a surf board and being heckled by the locals we were surfing. It’s a difficult skill to master and we are not calling ourselves professionals by any means, but you know what – I think we have the hang of it.

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Defiant, day two we dared to do it all again. With grazed elbows and knees, bruised rib cages and aching arms we took to the sea with our surf boards. This time however we were largely on our own. On day one Tupi had been out in the sea pushing us out when the correct wave came along. With great words of advice and encouragement Tupi watched us from the beach side. Progress was made, slowly.

On Day three I decided my muscles couldn’t take any more battering and opted for a massage and day of rest. Richard however was in the sea when the waves were out, although not allot of waves were to be had as conditions were rather calm.

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Day four is when disaster struck. After having gone out for a meal at one of the local Indonesian restaurants the night before, our stomachs did not react well to the traditional dishes we had consumed. Richard in particular suffered severe sickness throughout the night and was wiped out (pardon the surf pun) by the morning. The remainder of our stay was spent in recovery mode in our hotel room. It was a disappointing end to what had been an exciting start. Batu Karas is a somewhat unfortunate example of the highs and lows of our travels so far. The high of learning a new skill which you never thought you could come close to attempting. And the next minute it all judders to a halt due to the dubious delights of a local dish. Still, our mission was accomplished: next time we are on a beach, the conditions are suitable, and boards are available for hire, we will feel confident enough to get out there and try and catch some waves.

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Apologies for the lack of photos. We were going to buy some photos from one of the local photographers who got some shots of us up on our boards. But on the last day when we tried to look for him he was no where to be found. We think he maybe sold the photos to Billabong, as we looked so amazing, made his millions from them, and has gone off to some paradise island in the Maldives. Look out for us in Billabongs next advertising campaign.

Day 169 we took a 10-hour minibus from Java Cove to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. We were welcomed to the capital with a thick grey sky followed by a thunderstorm. As Richard was still not back to his usual self, he spent a listless day in and around the hotel while I braved a much needed trip to the hairdressers. Thankfully I came out with still some hair on my head and the same colour as I went in, which isn’t bad considering the hairdresser didn’t speak a word of English.

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Where is our next stop? Singapore…

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Days 159 – 162: Yogyakartaaaaaa

S: Our first South East Asian overnight bus journey unfortunately receives a big thumbs down. We boarded the bus from Denpasar in Bali for Yogyakarta (Yogya), Java’s premier tourist city.

Picture the scene: A lady a few rows behind you throws up after less than 30 minutes into the bus journey and you have 18-and-a-half hours still to go. A few hours later the toilet on the bus begins to produce an unpleasant odour which you realise is not going to get any better. Another lady, directly behind you, begins to throw up and at one point both ladies are throwing up in a strange synchronised system. Five hours into the journey comes the ferry crossing into Java. On the ferry independent vendors flash prickly exotic fruits and greasy brown paper bags of fried foods in your face, insistent that you make a purchase. If you have been lucky on your trip you will not have come across the squat toilets.

On the ferry we did unfortunately make ourselves familiar with the squat toilets. Afterwards we decided to lay off unnecessary liquids for a while, not fancying too many trips to the loo.

Back on the bus in Java we got out our eye masks and popped in our ear plugs, wishing also that we had a bottle of air freshener. We made it through the night and after 19 hours arrived in Yogya. Scrubbing the odours and germs from our bodies we made full use of our antibacterial toiletries when we checked in to our hostel.

Our main reason for visiting Yogya was to explore both Borobudur and Prambanan temples. But before we embarked on our temple tour we took in a traditional Ramayana dance drama performance, or as the locals like to call it – ‘The Ballet’. The dance was accompanied by traditional Indonesian music, known as gamelan. An orchestra of percussion instrument including drums, gongs and angklumg (shake-drums), along with flutes and xylophones. This provided a wonderfully mesmerising evening of entertainment.

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And to the main event: Borobudur and Prambanan temples tour. Borobudur is a stunning and poignant epitaph to Java’s Buddhist heyday. The temple, 42km northwest of Yogya, consists of six square bases topped by three circular ones. It was constructed during the early part of the 9th century AD. With the decline of Buddhism, Borobudur was abandoned, covered in volcanic ash by an eruption in 1006 and only rediscovered in 1814.

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Nearly 150 narrative relief panels on the terraces illustrate Buddhist teachings and tales.

Being our first temple visit, Borobudur whet our appetite to compare and contrast.

Prambanan is the grandest and most evocative Hindu temple complex in Java. Where Borobudur is one main temple, Prambanan features some 50 temple sites. Many suffered extensive damage in the 2006 earthquake.

The Shiva temple is the largest and most lavish, towering 47 dizzy meters above the valley and decorated with an entire pantheon of carved deities. Built at roughly the same time as Borobudur the complex at Prambanan was mysteriously abandoned soon after its completion. Many of the temples had collapsed by the 19th century and only in 1937 was any form of reconstruction attempted.

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Temple fix filled tomorrow we head to Batu Karas in central Java, an emerging surfing hot spot where we hope to ride some waves…

Days 150 – 158: Bali Beautiful

S: After our two short flights from Australia- via Darwin – we landed in Denpasar, Bali. The sights, sounds, smells and guidebook told us we were in for a special treat. Once we checked into our accommodation and checked out the pool, we knew this was somewhere special.

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After our challenging time in the camper van in Australia we decided we were due a splurge. We decided to stay in the area of Ubud, a small town perched on gentle slopes leading up towards the central mountains. We chose Ubud over Kuta – Bali’s largest tourist beach resort. We were not disappointed with our decision. We spent the first few days lounging by the pool and eating out at some fabulous local restaurants, sampling some of Indonesia’s very best cuisine. At a very modest 200,000 rupees (just under £14) we found we could bag ourselves a slap up authentic meal for two, including beers.

Slowly we ventured outside the comforts of our hotel and took a visit to The Sacred Monkey Forest. Here, we came (almost quite literally) face to face with some punk monkeys. The ‘punk’ refers to their hair style the monkeys sport, so the locals tell us. A notice at the entrance advises entrants not to take any water bottles into the forest. One fellow tourist did not follow this advice and we witnessed what could only be described as a ‘water bottle robbery’. The monkey jumped up on to the lady’s neck whilst hissing and showing her his very sharp teeth and grabbed the bottle straight from her hands. He then sat drinking the cool fresh water while the lady looked on with shock and dis belief displayed on her face. Warning: They are not as innocent as they look.

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After speaking to a friendly couple at our hotel, who told us about a fantastic cycling tour they took around Ubud, we decided to take the tour ourselves. The tour involved an early start (7.30am) from our hotel and took us to an area to the north of Bali, Penelokan, where we consumed fresh fruits and pancakes whilst overlooking the smoking Mt Batur volcano. After breakfast we stopped off at a Balinese plantation and sampled some ‘poo coffee’. Let us explain, a luwak (a small animal, a cross between a foxes face and a cats body) is fed coffee beans. When he has digested the coffee beans and they have left his body they are collected by staff members, cleaned (very thoroughly we hope) and then follow the traditional coffee production process. It is then served to pompous tourists who feel they are privileged enough to spend 60,000 rupees on a cup of this coffee which is described by the locals as a delicacy.

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The luwak

Once our caffeine levels were sky high we pulled on our cycling helmets and got familiar with how to ride a bike again. The cycling tour took in a visit to a Balinese home where we were able to take a look around and given an insight into the culture and way of Balinese life.

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Over the length of 25k we cycled through lush paddies and through the back streets of Ubud, high-fiving young kids as they shouted their hellos to us and showed us their big smiles. The tour was topped off by a delicious Balinese-stye lunch. Needless to say the cycling tour was a fantastic way to experience Bali.

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Rice fields

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Our guide Punk

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To get into the Balinese spirit even more, we treated ourselves to a traditional Balinese massage and I took part in a yoga class one morning.

Bali has been a wonderful introduction to South East Asia and we hope a flavour of more to come. Tomorrow we leave Bali and travel by overnight bus west to Yogyakarta on the island of Java…