I took a taxi from Jakarta airport to the back-packing area, and got myself a last-minute room. It was getting late, and my first thought of Java was 'edgy'. My taxi drove down Jakarta's litter strewn streets, the poverty immediately apparent; it's not Africa but it felt distinctly different to my recent destinations.
The next morning I took a walk around the Capital's sites. It didn't take long to see the town square, a couple of museums and one famous restaurant (closed due to Ramadan). After my brief excursion, I thought I'd go to the train station to book an early morning ticket. I hailed a tuk-tuk and after agreeing a price set about weaving a rapid route through the city's congested streets. Coming to an abrupt stop outside the station, I handed the driver the money, at which point he flipped. To cut a long storey short, I thought I was going to be mugged there and then, he had me cornered in the back of the tuk-tuk, and was aggressively shouting in my face and trying to open up my bag. It was only when a group of guys hanging out on their mopeds by the station entrance noticed what was happening that they came over and calmed the situation. I ended up trying to explain that I was giving him all the money I had, and made a sharp exit into the station. I'm thankful to those guys for helping me out, but unfortuantley they'd gone when I went to thank them later after I'd calmed down.
The train to Bandung was surprisingly comfortable. I arrived in another squalid city and realised quickly this was another place I didn't really want to spend a lot of time. Dumping my bags, I boarded a bus to what I'd come to see, Volcanoes. After changing buses a number of times, I eventually boarded my final bus to the destination. I was the only westerner on many of these buses, and the driver of the last one decided it was an opportune moment to make a bit of extra cash. After everyone else had disembarked, I started to sense that maybe things weren't as they seemed. He indicated that the only way I'd make it to the Volcano was if I stayed on his bus and he took me directly there. Along the way, he stopped alongside buses going in the opposite direction, the two drivers exchanged a quick conversation, then the driver of the other bus shot me a glance and they both laughed to themselves. To another potentially long story short, I yet again found myself in an uncomfortable situation, and ended up being rinsed for cash, probably paying 10-15 times what I should. During my trek to the volcanoe, the 'mandatory' guide charged me ten times what we originally agreed, but with the stockiest dogs I've ever seen at his side, I didn't feel in a strong bartering position. The Volcano was average.
Another poor nights sleep in a complete hole of a room later, and I was back on the train to Yogakarta. Positioned in central Java, the city has a few sites worth visiting. My tour the next morning took me to Borobadur, an ancient temple the Lonely Planet describes as being on a par with Cambodia's Angkor Wat. I can assure you it's nowhere near as impressive! During the afternoon we saw the temples of Prabang, again, nothing special.
At this point, as you can probably tell, I had not been enjoying Java in the slightest. I've tried to rewrite this section a number of times to come across less negatively, but in truth I simply didn't take to West Java. I felt threatened like I hadn't in any other country, the cities were seriously filthy, and the people unfriendly. However, as I entered Eastern Java, this all changed.
Gunung Bromo. I arrived at my hostel mid afternoon (unfortunately after yet another travel scam where the tour company wouldn't let me board the bus until I'd paid for him to take me onwards to Bali a couple of days later), and took a quick walk in the chilled air up to the edge of the plateau. The view laid out before me was breathtaking. An incredible moonscape of vast plains and puffing Volcanoes stretching to the horizon. The next morning we jumped into our 4x4 around 4:30am and headed out across the sandy plains towards a mountain 20km away. The drive through the dark was awesome, and took us up to a viewpoint where we positioned our cameras for sunrise, and what a sunrise. I'd been up early to see sunrise countelss times during my travels, and this one was by far the most impressive. As dawn approached, the silhouette of the Volcanoes came into view. The smoking carter of Bromo in the foreground was framed by the backdrop of the lava slopes of another, which puffed every 15 minutes. The entire landscape was breathtaking.
That afternoon, I headed for Bali. You guessed it, my final journey through Java again turned not to be as anticipated. That's almost a 100% success record for being ripped off in Java. Would I return? Definitely not!
Bali - what a serious breath of fresh air. This place rocks. Arriving around 1:30am (a little after 8pm I was promised), I checked into a hotel room and got some much needed sleep. The next morning I changed hotels to an awesome place in Kuta, the backpackers area of the island. For less than the price of the hovels I'd been staying in on Java, here I got a double room, with aircon, and en-suite with hot water and shower. Having a shower was refreshing. Javanese don't have showers, instead a large tiled basin called a 'Mandi' is filled with cold water and ladled onto the body for washing. Needless to say, with shared facilities this is incredibly unhygienic, so most days I simply washed with wet-wipes.
My 5 days on Bali were a great opportunity to catch up on much needed rest; travelling through Java had run me down and I was feeling pretty ill. My days were spent chilling on the beach watching the surfers shred Kuta's waves, whilst the nights were spent partying at awesome bars and clubs. My final night here was October 12th, the anniversary of the Bali bombing. The ceremony at the site of the nightclub, now the memorial, was thought provoking. Hundreds of people from different nationalities sat on the candlelit pavement, and in the seated area to the side were those families who had lost loved ones. I can't imagine what they must have gone through, they seemed remarkably composed throughout the proceedings.
What a contrast. The cities of Java appeared to comprise poor, traffic congested neighbourhoods dotted with areas of stagnant water filled waterways filled with rubbish, the inhabitants of which are eager to take scam even the most aware and prepared westerner. Then there's Gunung Bromo and Bali.