Instead of walking up the volcano all night and then down in the morning, we get to sleep in. Our flight is at noon, but is delayed a fair bit, so the plan to meet up with Jourdan and Alex for dinner in Jakarta ends up falling through. In no small part due to the fact that Jakarta is huge and getting around, even by taxi, takes forever. It’s cheap enough though, which is nice.Decorative car The Jakartan girls we met at Jomblang had given us a few suggestion of things to do, but we didn’t write them down so they’re pretty much forgotten. There’s this market street that the guide books recommend though, so we head over there to have a look.

The market sucks soo bad though, I wouldn’t even call it a market. It’s more like a shopping street filled with regular stores. So we don’t linger long, but instead start walking to the nearby art museum. All the museum-looking buildings in that direction appear closed though, so we keep walking, aiming for a cool looking statue, standing high atop a pillar in the middle of a park.

ParkThere isn’t much more to the park than the statue though so we wander off in search of the cathedral tower we saw earlier. It proves somewhat problematic though, mainly because Jakarta seems to hate pedestrians, so we finally get a tuk-tuk to take us there. The cathedral has a wedding going on so we just sneak around on the outside and briefly peek inside. (too bad we didn’t know what we learned later when talking to Rara and Vera (the Jakartan girls), that Indonesian weddings are very public affairs and that generally anyone is welcome to just walk in and join the festivities!)

The fact that most things are closed, that you can’t really walk anywhere and that it’s raining finally add up and we decide to head to another part of town. Something had caught my eye earlier when researching things to do; there is a JKT48 show in town! Now, the JKT48 phenomenon requires a bit of explanation: It all started in Japan as the all girl group AKB48, short for Akihabara 48 (which is a district in Tokyo). It is an all-girl constructed pop group where most of the girls are teenagers or early twenties. They usually perform in groups of 12, called teams, and do two or three shows a day.Cathedral I was fascinated by this concept back when I worked in Japan, but trying to get tickets for a show is very hard if you don’t know any Japanese so I never managed to go. I did manage to go to their gift store though, which is pretty fascinating all by itself. There are all manners of collectibles, including albums you put stickers in with the different members, much like the sticker albums I had as a kid with the Transformers.

So the place we go to is the mall where the JKT48 are performing, but since the show isn’t yet for a few hours we roam around the pretty cool mall. In the middle of if there is an open space that runs all the way up to the ceiling on level 5 and in it is a long tube spiraling down. As we trace it up with our eyes we suddenly hear a trundling noise and inside the tube there is a person zipping past! Obviously this is something we need to investigate, so we head up to the top floor and find the entrance to it. The guy shakes his head though and says we need to buy tickets down at the slide exit. We’re pretty much used to this kind of nonsense at this point though so we head back down again (in the end it did make a certain amount of sense though since you have to leave your bag and such in storage since you can’t take it on the slide). When we finally get to ride it’s pretty cool, you get a little rug to sit on and off you go at breakneck speed. When you exit the chute at the bottom you slide and tumble for several meters before coming to a halt on the padded mats. I guess there is a good reason they make you wear a helmet…

ArtistWe roam around some more before the show until it’s time for the lottery. We weren’t really sure what the lottery was but it turned out to be that you don’t buy a specific seat, rather they call out a random number, and everyone with that number on their ticket get to go in and choose a seat. A pretty good system when you’re dealing with fans who otherwise would be willing to wait for hours to get in. We get seats in the back but the hall is pretty small and there are no really bad seats in there. We notice that the fans are almost entirely teenage boys, with the occasional sprinkle of girls (and one or two men in their fifties, as you might expect…).

We’re seated next to a university student who speaks great English and can explain a lot of what is going on. The show is mostly prerecorded singing and a lot of (rather good) dancing. Every now and then though, four of them will be alone on stage and do some sort of dialogue with each other. The student explains that they talk about their plans for the future, favorite foods and so on. One of the girls repeatedly talks about how she’s going into politics and becoming the president of Indonesia. All in all the show is a rather fun spectacle and something you really only see in this part of the world (but give it a few years and I’m sure it’ll come to Europe as well).

When the show is done you get to shake hands with all the performers and I even get a present from one of them; a cute little origami box. You can also take a picture with one of them, but only if you buy a single as well. They’re a moneymaking machine after all… Afterwards, all we really have time for is to get our luggage and go to the airport. Jen hops on the plane to Hong Kong while I board for Beijing, feeling like my adventure is just about to start.

Yogyakarta Caving

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.Psychedelic bathroom 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.Going down! 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.Looking up 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.

Pillar of lightThe 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)

Civet catOn 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.

Monkey Wrestling

Back in Bali we have booked transfer along to the inland town of Ubud.Hostel backyard! When we finally get there it’s after four in the afternoon instead of noon like we planned and the tour we booked has to be cancelled. The hostel Jourdan found for us is super nice though, I’d call it a hotel actually, and has a very cool temple-like backyard with an infinity pool and everything. Ubud itself also seems like a rather nice town, certainly bigger than I’d imagined when looking at the map. The sidewalks are terrible though, meandering up and down in sometimes inexplicable level changes.

It seems like every other citizen of Ubud is either running a taxi service or a massage parlor, according to our rather unscientific sampling. They generally only ask once though and can take no for an answer, so they aren’t that annoying. We end up eating at a rather upscale-looking place that has about twice the price level of Gili Air, but also twice the food (and drink-) quality.

Monkey feedingJourdan and Alex have a cooking class the next morning, so Jen and I are off by ourselves. We start by going to the nearby Monkey Forest. It’s a very pretty area in the middle of town with lots of vegetation, and of course, monkeys. There are tourists everywhere, feeding the monkeys bananas that you can buy at the entrance. Finally I too cave and get some, and sure enough, along come the monkeys. But there is one big, surly one that gets most of them on account of being rather scary looking and insistent. We do eventually find a smaller one and as instructed by the lady selling the bananas we hold them up high to get the monkey to climb up. Jen has one sitting on her shoulder happily eating as we snap a few pictures, I also get one and even if it’s very touristy, it’s quite fun.

We walk back and find ourselves in a rather deserted end of the park. There are plenty of monkeys here as well and we get some nice pictures, they’re even more climber happy than the others and several of them try to munch at the Docomodake mushroom plush toy I have on my bag. They are sorely disappointed though and another climbs on top of my head and start gnawing on my hat.Monkey king? Fortunately their teeth are much like human teeth and not sharp at all, it wouldn’t do to have them breaking skin and having to get rabies shots.

At this point we feel rather done with the monkeys and head back to city center. After wandering a good while we stop in at a Italian restaurant called Blackbeach, boasting to have an Italian owner. The pizza is actually decent, but their bruschetta with black olive tapenade is to die for! We end up staying there for most of the afternoon before we have to head back in order to catch our taxi to the airport. The cabbie has a terrible taste in music and it seems that if I put my mind to it I could make a breakthrough recording artist around here; the music is filled with cheesy synthesizers, uninspiring vocals and awesomely bad drum fills.

Gili Air

Since we arrive in the evening we have one night at a hostel in Bali before heading out Gili Air the following morning. It’s a good thing too, since the hostel is pretty skeezy – lots of older men with younger, local, women. The food is really great though and in the morning we’re picked up by a van that will take us to the speedboat.Mellow cuttlefish We’re not very impressed by the fact that the speedboat leaves dock at 1.5 h after designated time. Equally unimpressive is the freezing temperature they’ve set the AC and the hysterical techno beats pouring out of the speakers just overhead.

It gets us to Gili Air though and as we find our way to the dive shop and everything looks very good; super nice rooms, a big reception area, their own beachside restaurant with cozy cabanas to have your breakfast in. The diving part of their operation is less impressive though; they only have two full time dive masters and we find out that we can’t even do a dive the same day since they’re short-staffed – even though we booked over a month in advance…Harlequin shrimp They also don’t do more than two dives a day, which isn’t very much (we were planning to do at least three a day). It all works out really well though and there is never a problem doing a dive, they are also very nice about us being late a couple of times when lunch service had been terribly slow. (whatever you do, don’t eat at Zipp’s, even though their wood fire oven looks promising)

In terms of diving, Gili Air has some really nice features, chief among them the abundance of turtles. I saw two within ten minutes of my first dive, so you’d have to be very unlucky to not see turtles here. Our most memorable dives were probably our muck dives – dives where you go fairly shallow and look at small stuff and get rather long dive times. Outside Lombok we saw spiky sea horse, ghost pipefish and ribbon eels; on our night dives out in the house reef we saw decorator crabs, juvenile sweetlips, spanish dancers and even a mandarin fish! We also witnessed a tussle between two squid, ink in the water and everything.Bike inspector Additionally, the probably most unlikely thing to happen to me on any dive so far was when we found a green turtle at the end of our night dive. We followed along with it when it swam, when it suddenly veers sharply towards me and then takes off like a rocket. I suspect the turtle was as surprised as I was when it hits me square in the chest! It was never aggressive though and went on its confused way after that.

There was also the fabulous Secret Garden, or Turtle City as I’d call it. Immediately upon descent we meet two turtles and a trigger fish, munching away at some coral. We pose for some pictures while our dive master goes off and finds us some more, even bigger, turtles.Hermit crab They are all very friendly and don’t mind the attention. In the area Jen finds a mantis shrimp (head on over to The Oatmeal and read about these awesome critters right now!), this one is rather shy though and doesn’t really show itself. Just a few meters off though, I find another one. This one is out in the open and is even stalking a fish. I get some great video of it all, or so I thought. Turns out that I’d double-tapped the button and immediately ended the recording… Mantis shrimps are super cool, and I’d never seen any before this trip, but around the Gilis they seem to be relatively common. Just be on the lookout for those big freaky eyes poking out from under a coral rock, after a while you’ll get pretty adept at spotting them.

Another memorable dive was the second one I did, at the so-called Bounty Wreck. It’s actually a jetty that sunk during a storm back in 2005 and it has become the home to a lot of fish and corals over the years. This day however, it was super strong current, so strong that you had no option but to just go with the flow at most times. It was both scary and fun, even though we didn’t see much on that dive. At the very end we did find two turtles taking shelter from the current behind a rock.Duuuh

In the end we were pretty satisfied with both the diving and the dive center. 11 dives, of which two were night dives cost me roughly 1600 sek, but then I also lugged my new BCD along and only rented fins, tank, weights and wetsuit which earned me an additional 5% rebate.

Getting back to Bali turned out to be harder than we thought. We’d already booked speedboat tickets through the dive center but over the days we’re there we hear that the speedboats aren’t running due to bad weather.What are you looking at?! That sounded rather strange to us since the weather seemed just fine. Little did we know… On the departure day we get word that there will be one speedboat leaving, but that it will be leaving at 10 instead of 8 as we booked. Not much to do about that, but when we get there they say it’s 11 instead. When we finally leave, it’s more like 12 o’clock and as we get out on the open sea we find out why. The waves are something like three meters high and we’re bobbing along at what seems like far too high-speed. The captain seems to really know his/her stuff though and even though we’re blazing along at full speed, it never felt unsafe. It’s a good thing I don’t have any motion sickness, poor Alex wasn’t as lucky and ended up spray painting all four 150 hp engines in one glorious stream of puke! Rather impressive if you ask me.