Sunday, June 8, 2008

Natural Disaster Area

Still backtracking here, but I'm getting closer to being caught up! When I entered this into my diary, I was sitting on a beach in Pangandaran, Java (my favorite place so far) watching my new friends surf big waves a drinking a nice cold Bintang Beer at sunset. More on Pangandaran later...

Our first stop in Java was in the town of Probolingo, from where we caught an overpriced minibus at 1:30am to Ganung (volcano) Bromo. I must pause here a moment to explain how many natural disasters have occurred in this part of the world, especially on the island of Java.

In the past 10 years, there have been numerous devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, a mud eruption and, of course, the 3 meter high Tsunami the claimed the lives of over 1,000 people in 2006. We stayed in the town where the Tsunami originated (Pangandaran) and saw some of the repercussions first hand. Because of it's location, Java is a hub for natural disaster. It sits just on top of ever-shifting tectonic plates, making it highly susceptible to seismic activity. That being said, as you can imagine, there a quite a few really impressive volcanoes, and disaster-ridden villages peppered among the beautiful natural jungle and volcanic black sand beaches.

Okay, back to Bromo. So 1:30am, and it's dark, misty, and quite cold. We catch an extra hour of sleep in the minibus before we embark on our journey through the sulfur rich air. We bought some water and sound a flashlight to rent because the approach is absolutely impossible without a bit of light. We carefully followed our flashlight beam as we navigated across the dried up riverbed with thick mist and an extremely bad smell of sulfur in the air. It was so thick, that when we got near the top, we needed to cover our nose and mouths just to be able to take a breath in! We laughed when Bromo finally appeared after an hour of following tire tracks, footprints and horse droppings ever so carefully. Turns out, Bromo is surrounded by a big open field...that just gives you an idea of how thick the air was! She was massive, and incredibly breathtaking.

We enjoyed the sunrise from the rim of the steamy caldera and then partook in yet, another Javanese photo shoot. Once the photos had ceased, we walked half-way around the rim of the volcano in order to see the many impressive landscapes that Bromo had to offer. Every 20 steps revealed a new vista, bitter than the last. The sketchy footpath was made of packed volcanic ash, and slipped out from under our feet in a few delicate places making for a rather adventurous walk. Nothing too risky though! Bromo was certainly one of the most beautiful natural wonders that I have ever seen, and my first Volcano! What a great one it was. I got some beautiful pictures like the one I included a couple of posts ago.

We decided to arrange our own transportation to the next stop, which would be the cultural center of Java, and the old capital of Java called Yogjakarta.

After about 9 hours of travel by local bus, we arrived in Yogja exhausted. We got a really cheap room ($3) and looked forward to sleeping in and relaxing after a couple of days of early rising and travel, and Yogja was just the place to do it!

After breakfast, we set out on foot past the central market, selling everything from batik to leather to Jesus on a cowhide towards the Sultan's palace. Java still has a Sultan, although he is not an active part of the government anymore. The president makes the political decisions, while the Sultan and his family act more as a royal presence. His dwelling wasn't all that impressive, but our guide was. He was very informative and gave us all kinds of good tips for our stay in Yogja.

We followed his advice and took a becack to the Batik workshop and picked up several beautiful batik paintings for really cheap. One in particular that I absolutely fell in love with made it's way into my backpack, despite the fact that it was way too expensive before I bargained the artist down to less than half the price!

The next morning, we set out for the world's largest Buddhist temple, "Boroubador". Due to the fact that we were still a bit sensitive about getting ripped off, we again arranged our own transportation via, you guessed it, public bus, and made the trip almost in time for sunrise. Although it didn't hold a candle to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the Grand Palace in Bangkok, BBador still had quite a bit of charm. Despite getting swarmed, yet again, by local students, we managed to escape the crowds long enough to appreciate the sheer beauty of this very holy place. It's cement lattice enclosed Buddhas and multi-tiered stupas were magnificent. Not to mention the 3km of carved reliefs that adorned the temple walls.

That evening, we attended the Leather-Puppet show...BIG mistake! We should have known when we were 2 of 4 people that had turned up for the performance that it wouldn't quite live up to our expectations. The puppets were incredible, but the performance was BO-RING! The fight scenes were the only saving grace. Much like the Gamelan musicians themselves, we were getting tired and irritable, and decided to leave after an hour (we were the last ones standing!)

The next morning, we were off. Up early for breakie and Internet, and then a quick exit to the train station destined for Pangandaran.