From Bali we fly into Yogyakarta on Java, where we’ve booked two adventures; the Jomblang cave and a trek up the volcano Mount Merapi. The hostel we’re at is cozy little place with a quirky atmosphere. But not until I open the door to the bathroom am I able to fully appreciate the how truly bonkers this place is! The bathroom looks like it was built by a hippie on an acid trip, it feels like stepping into the bathroom at Willy Wonka’s factory. Colors everywhere and a sort of lovingly hand crafted bath tub and a mirror masoned into the wall! It would have been really funny to see the other bathrooms at this place! The owner is probably an amateur artist, because the entire hostel is filled with awesomely bad paintings and questionable taste.
The cave tour is early next morning, so we make sure to set our clocks for 7 am. Too bad we forgot that there is a time zone change between Bali and Java… So of course we’re up one hour early, which is too early to get any breakfast even. Back when I was booking this tour I spoke to the owner of the hostel and I got the feeling that he wasn’t really booking us. Miscommunications like that aren’t uncommon when the staff doesn’t speak great English though so I reconfirmed several times, using different wordings to try to convey that we wanted it fully booked. He repeatedly said that it wouldn’t be a problem though, but never explained why, so I’m still a bit skittish when we get into the car with our driver.
He’s a really nice guy, but doesn’t speak a lot of English. He probably is the world’s biggest Aerosmith fan though, and we lose count of how many times we’re forced to listen to Cryin’, Pink and “I don’t Want to Miss a Thing”. The few songs that aren’t Aerosmith range from Dido and Roxette to Europe – a rather unexpected mix I’d say. After about an hour of driving, we start to realize that the driver is lost. This doesn’t help the already uneasy feeling we have. Luckily he’s not too proud to stop and ask, so we’re soon back on the right track. The road leading up to the cave is a rather small dirt road, and just as you think it can’t get any smaller, it does. Towards the end it’s scarcely more than a foot path, but we do manage to get there.
Going up to the house, it seems like my fears were justified. There is hardly anyone around and our driver speaks to a few workmen who are busy making some sort of huge drums. It looks to us that no one here was even notified that we were coming… The driver seems calm enough though and tells us to sit down. The thing with this tour is that you go down into this cave and you make your way over to a natural shaft where the light shines down in a very special way, but only at a very narrow window of time. So the fact that no one seems to be aware of that we were coming is rather worrying. Well, not much to do but to wait though.
After a good 45 minutes or so a guy comes and tells us to try on rubber boots. He actually seems like a guide, so we start getting our hopes up that this is happening after all. We get geared up in safety harnesses and everything and we walk down a few steps. What we didn’t realize was that the cave was actually right there in the back yard all along! The entrance to the cave is basically a big hole in the ground, some 60 meters in diameter and about as deep. You enter by being hoisted straight down into the hole. When I read about it, I got the impression that we would be rappelling down, but no, you’re pretty much dangling like an earth worm on a fishing hook the entire way. This is of course rather scary if you’re afraid of heights like I am, but it went surprisingly well.
Down in the pit it is very hot and humid. For some reason we are told to wait around and finally our guide is able to explain why. Apparently while we were going down, two more tourists arrived. So we have to wait for them to get down as well. Fortunately it goes rather quickly, and since it is two rather petite girls they just took both of them at the same time. The girls are two architecture students from Jakarta; Rara and Vera. They speak excellent English which is really nice, since the guide hardly does at all. They are also cool as cucumbers and doesn’t even blink when Jen does what she usually does; i.e. finds a millipede and picks it up.
The way down into the cave is super slippery. It’s basically a mudslide with tiny steps. When you get to the bottom, there is nothing but ankle deep mud, except for a line of stepping stones laid out for us to walk on. It is a rather precarious walk and we try our best to light the way for each other. It’s not that far, maybe 300 meters, and we do manage without embarrassing slips to finally find ourselves in the shaft. Here we have to take our boots off in order to protect the sensitive calcium deposits, accumulated over god only know how many years.
It’s a really neat feeling walking around barefoot on the calcium and we just go around exploring a bit, waiting for the time when the sun is supposed to start shining down the shaft. When it finally does you instantly understand what all the fuss was about, it’s a truly awesome sight and we hurry up to pose for photos. The phenomenon only lasts for about 30 minutes, so you want to be there in time for sure. We linger about for the full half hour, just enjoying the special atmosphere of it. The entire time water is dripping down from the surface and you have to take care not to get the camera wet. There are little pools forming on the ground and Jen even spots a little crab in one of them! There is also an underground river down below that you can swim in if you come at the right time of year. But right now is rainy season and the river is quite unruly.
Going back out is a fair bit quicker now that we’ve gotten a hang of mudwalking and once back at where we landed our guide shouts something to the guys up top and down comes the rope again. Going up is surprisingly fast, about two thirds up the ascent comes to a sudden halt that sends me spinning round. (not at all helpful if you’re already scared) Once back up top I see why; there is a team of maybe ten guys that just grab the rope and start walking down a path, away from the hole. After 40 m or so the path stops and they put the rope down and walk back to take it the rest of the way. (the rope goes through a thingamabob that prevents it from going the wrong direction of course)
On the way back the driver has promised to take us to a small family run coffee roastery where they make some of the famed Kopi Luwak coffee. Kopi Luwak is not like other coffees in that the production of it involves the civet cat. This creature feeds on coffee berries, and it is very picky, only taking the very ripest berries. The kernel (which is the actual coffee bean) then passes through its digestive tract, which supposedly make the beans lose some of their acidity. The turds are then harvested (we got to see them, they are actually neither smelly nor sticky), the beans peeled (by hand!) and then roasted. This roastery had the cats in cages though so I doubt they’re fed only the ripest of berries… I bought two bags, which were certainly cheaper than in Sweden but still rather expensive. But hey, it’s java from Java, bought fresh right from the producer.
Our driver also had a suggestion for lunch that was a bit too cool to turn down: bat skewers! He pulls up next to a shed and shows us inside. There are a few benches and a makeshift stove with an open fire and we get to choose between soup and skewers. Jen gets the soup and I get the skewers and we sit down to eat. It’s actually rather good, but the meat isn’t exactly tender and there are lots of sinews. Still, it’s pretty cool to have tried bat. Our driver drops us off back at the hostel after that and we get some sleep before the tonight’s trek. But Jen once again comes down with the mysterious nausea she got back on Kinabalu (no, she’s not pregnant =P) and we decide it’s best to cancel it. I can’t say I’m all that torn up about it though, climbing one mountain was enough for this vacation.