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Yogyakarta

Written on: Monday May 19th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Other than Lake Toba, where I stayed for probably a couple more days than I had planned, I had been doing quite well for time. Foreign visitors can get at the maximum only a 60 day visa for Indonesia so I?d set quite a pace in order to see as much as possible. I?d travelled to the places I had wanted to visit, seen what I had wanted to see, done what I had wanted to do and moved on. Then came Yogyakarta, tattoos, extravagant nightclubs, ballet, Buddhist and Hindu temples and yet more ladyboys. Quite a combination I?m sure you?ll agree. I treated myself to a much needed train journey to Yogya instead of the soul-sapping buses and arrived late afternoon to a little, energetic Indonesian man with a gleaming smile that showed his back teeth and displaying a sheet of paper welcoming ?Mr Simon of England? to the city. I was quite touched. I didn?t even consider how this chappy knew I was coming here, I?d supposed that my visit must have been headline news in Indonesia. I jumped on the back of a motorbike taxi, balancing all my bags and headed to Jalan Prawirotaman and the Duta Hotel, an accommodation on par with the luxuries of Bagus Bay in Toba. The hotel had a weights room and a gorgeous swimming pool, and because I had arranged to meet back up with Ben from Devon who I had met on the ferry over from Malaysia and share a room with him it was only costing us a little over 2 a night each.However the ingrained backpacker that we now both are took a firm hold of us and voiced its disappointment and disgust at us staying in such nice surroundings and so the following day we moved out and in to the heart of the city to the basics of Nuri Hotel just off the main backpackers? area of Jalan Sosro for the measly price of a pound each. It was here where we were to spend almost a whole week as Yogya got a hold of us both and refused to let us go. Yogyakarta was firmly imprinted on me, literally, when over breakfast on our first morning, without even pondering it too much I got my first tattoo. Sometimes you just make spontaneous decisions and this one has been added to my list. The restaurant we had chosen or had selected for us by the local tourist specialist who quickly latched on to us, shepherded us in to Nuri Hotel, then to Bedhot for breakfast, and was fast organising our whole lives for us, had some excellent art, that I can only describe as surreally dreamlike, brightening up each of the walls. It so happened that the artist was called Bedhot and is the son of the restaurant and guesthouse owner. Bedhot spends most of his days either painting or leaving his indelible mark on people. Ben and I both flicked through some of his artwork, more out of politeness then real intent to get a tattoo, but one particular piece he had sketched just jumped off the page at me. I chatted with Bedhot about this particular design and he adapted it to include some ideas I had and before I knew it I was sitting in his operation chair being stabbed with needles repeatedly. I didn?t take my eyes off his busy hands for at least the first 40 minutes as he etched the outline in to my right bicep. It was at this point that regret began to seep into my mind, as looking down at it I thought it was looking awkward, amateurish and garish. I even thought Bedhot himself was looking tense, worried and uncomfortable in his work, but thankfully this all changed when he began Phase 2 of his work ? the shading, and it all began to come together. Ben arrived at this point and told me afterwards I was looking extremely pale, but the pain wasn?t that bad, feeling just like my arm was being strongly scratched with sharp nails repeatedly. As Bedhot began to begin the shading and the tattoo really came on you could see him begin to relax and use the drill as if it were a felt-tip pen like a child, focused on producing his finest colouring yet. Seeing him relaxed had the comforting feeling of putting me at ease too.Other than very talented tattoo artists Yogyakarta has many other draws to it, and over the next few days Ben and I tried to enjoy all of them. The same day as I had my tattoo done we went and watched the spectacular Ramayana ballet at the equally spectacular Prambanan Plain which houses the Prambanan complex ? a series of Hindu shrines that make up the largest Hindu complex in Java. The following day we both hired motorbikes and rode out here again to visit the temples in the daylight, then rode back past Yogyakarta and north-west to Borobudur where we visited the largest Buddhist stupa in the world and the number one tourist attraction in Java. As such, being that we arrived in time for the sunset also, the site was teeming with tourists, most of who were Indonesian school groups who took great delight in crowding round us for photos. It wasn?t just the children who were enamoured to meet two white folk. The teacher spent a fair amount of time huddling his group at the top of the stupa close to where Ben and I were sitting, he then took a few steps backwards, aimed his camera at his class, said ?One, two, three?, then quickly and slyly turned the camera on Ben and I hoping both we and his class didn?t notice, and snapped our picture.On the Wednesday night while we were there the Champions League Final was being played and a huge screen had been erected at the end of the lane where our hotel was. However, because of the time difference the game wasn?t due to kick off until 1:45am so to amuse ourselves in the mean time we had a few drinks and then decided to sample Yogya?s nightclub scene. The biggest clubs in Yogya, Hugo?s and Embassy were a short taxi ride out of the city, where upon we were enthusiastically received, provided with a reserved table and directed to enjoy the Indonesian band screaming out a series of Western tunes, and the fancy-dress clad staff perform dance routines on top of the bar. After the band had finished they came immediately over to us and began talking to us as if we were the famous songsters. Feeling rather self-important at all this attention we took it upon ourselves to wander up some stairs that led to a private room that looked out over the entire club which happened to be the VIP room, and unlike VIP rooms at any nightclub in England, was actually hosting some VIPs. The lead singer of the band was here and welcomed us, and very kindly introduced us to some of the higher standing people in the room. The queen of the crop here was a lady named Zeus Ocean, who everybody seemed to flock around, especially the eager-to-please staff, who were forever keeping her glass full. I once met a man in Sioux City in the States called Lyle Pumpkinseed, but I think Zeus Ocean may well had stolen his crown as the most ridiculous name in the world. Who calls their child Zeus, especially when your child is a girl, although I have just had a thought that her father might have be Billy. Zeus was certainly omnipotent in this realm, even introducing me to her personal chef, who apparently makes a delightful shrimp salad. Zeus asked me if I had a drink and when I told her I?d finished it she beckoned a member of staff over who flung himself towards her with slave-like passion and rushed off to bring me a drink. Now I know we English have a reputation around the world for liking a wee tipple but seven bottles of Chivas Regal whiskey is well beyond my capacity. Nevertheless this is what she had ordered, signed a few papers that were humbly presented to her and proceeded to offer everybody in the room as many and as much drink as they cared to consume. Needless to say Ben and I arrived to watch the Champions League Final back on Sosro extremely drunk and also rather late. It was a good job it went to extra time otherwise we would have missed the entire match.A few days later began the first day of many where we would get by on the shortest amount of sleep possible to keep our bodies ticking over. Standing just 25km north of Yogya is another Gunung Merapi, this one taller than its Sumatran counterpart at 2,911 metres and a fair bit more volatile. In fact it is the sixth most active volcano in the world and so promised to be spectacular. Like Merapi in Bukittinggi it required another night-hike to reach its summit by sunrise. Although I only had just one hours? sleep before climbing the last Merapi it was enough to sustain my energy levels. Our mistake here was to not even have that hours? charge, and before this earlier in the day we had found a basketball court and played basketball for two hours.We drove out to the town of Selo at the volcano?s base at 10:30pm, with a group of 6 French people who were to join us and began the climb up Merapi?s northern side at 1am. Going up wasn?t so bad, slightly less distance than the other Merapi and not as steep, but coming down was really hard work, with my knees taking an absolute pounding from the steep decline and the hard rocks underfoot and Ben?s blisters that he had acquired playing basketball barefoot the previous day causing him to walk like he had soiled himself. The view of the sunset, the volcano?s peak emanating vast amounts of sulphuric gas and the surrounding area made the pain worthwhile though. We arrived back in Selo at 9:15am, a full 25 hours after we had last slept and therefore passed out on a villager?s sofa. It took the uber-slow French group another two hours to arrive at the bottom, meaning we got a reasonably good snooze before heading back to Yogya.Being Saturday and our last day in Yogyakarta we didn?t intend to waste it so instead of hitting the sack we prepared ourselves for one last night out on the town. We?d met a fair few people in Yogya by this stage and had arranged for our mass entourage to visit the nightclubs again for a masked ball. With probably just about every Westerner in Yogya we rocked up to the nightclub about midnight in three taxis and partied the night away making sure to regularly keep the Redbull levels up. Ben met back up with an Indonesian girl named Iren he had previously met on the Wednesday night in the same club, who it must be said was very attractive. They were getting on very well and as happens in nightclubs when boys and girls have a fair bit to drink relationships blossom shall we say. Well it was lucky for Ben?s soul that this relationship wasn?t allowed to blossom very far at all as luckily I received crucial information just in the nick of time about Iren?s sexuality. Apparently, and to see this girl you?d never guess it, Iren used to be an Ian. Yes, she used to have a penis! What is it with all these lady-boys in Asia!