Where was I when I wrote this: Just said goodbye to Chantelle and on my flight from Bali to Singapore. Chapter 2 awaits!
To sunrise or not to sunrise…with 3 hours of sleep…that is the question! So like I said in my last post we arrived at the Manohara close to midnight. When we arrived, we were a huge mess coming out of that mini-bus. It was hot, stuffy and no sleeping positions were comfortable for the 12 some hours we were on the damn thing. By the time we were ready for bed it was like 1 something. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to be doing the Borobudur Sunrise package, which was the original plan. This meant waking up at 4AM to be able to head out at 4:30AM. I was okay with not going but Chantelle said she’d be “OK” with going and I guess we both felt that that we’d think “what if” if we didn’t go. So we both sucked it up and knew this meant 3 hours of sleep.
4AM came by quickly as we hauled our asses out of bed. I had all my gear including tripod ready to go so it was relatively quick so we quickly washed up and I double checked everything. Tripod – check. Camera with tripod mount – check. 16-35mm with UV filter – check. Bug spray – check. Headlamp – check. We made our way to reception and we were handed our sarongs. There was a surprisingly large group of people assembled there ranging from all ages and nationalities. At 4:30AM we started heading out to Borobudur in the dark. The walk out to the top didn’t take more than 10-15 minutes. Once at the top we walked around to survey the area and in my head I was busy trying to figure out where I was going to camp out for sunrise. In the photos I had seen of Borobudur I always liked the ones where a Buddha was out in the open and surrounded by the bells.Circling around we only found 1 originally and so ended up setting up there (later on I realized there was another that may have been in a better location but a level lower and facing directly East). The good thing was this area wasn’t facing directly East so not all the tourists were sitting around there. Instead it was facing slightly North-East. 5:30 came along and we could soon see the entire Borobudur grounds without lights. By 6:00 it was bright but still the sun was nowhere to be seen. I wanted to stay patient so I didn’t really roam around. I just took my usual 3 bracketed shots every once in awhile but there wasn’t anything to write home about.
The colors were blotted out and the sky teased with barely any interesting colors. Suffice to say it was a very cloudy day. Another sunrise fail but thank goodness for HDR I guess right? You keep waiting for the sky to surprise you but on a cloudy day like this its almost like the sunrise phase never happens and instead light comes on just like a flick of a switch. Soon more tourists started coming in and it was very hard to get a clean shot without someone in the way. The grounds open to the public at 6AM. I think Chantelle was pretty bored early on so I told her to snap away and get around. Eventually I gave up and even I started to roam around with my camera still mounted on the tripod as well. There are an infinite amount of compositions and angles here that you really can’t go wrong. The only thing you have to deal with are the other photographers and tourists that stroll in and out of your shots. I can’t imagine how it would be like during high season when students and tourists alike roam around in full force. By 7 we spotted huge armies of kids on school trips come up so I quickly wrapped up at the top 3 levels and we started making our way down to the lower levels. We tried our best to circle around the temple in a clockwise direction because that is what one of the signs said. I think the stone sculpture/murals tell a story in that way.The pamphlet said something about there being a story of lust. Walking around a full circle for each level seemed a bit much so we only did a quarter or half rotation on each level before moving down.
By about 8AM we reached the bottom and took a few more photos including some goofy jumping ones I’ll post later. At this point I think we both had seen enough of the temple and was ready for some food. Famished! A little bit about Borobudur. I have to say that Borobudur is pretty spectacular in terms of its sheer size. Having seen pictures of Angkor Wat I would say that this must stack pretty close. It’s multi-leveled and topped up with the upper 3 levels surrounded by stone bells and each one enclosing a Buddha/monk in different praying poses. Of course at the very top is the final bell topper. For something built in 9th century AD it’s also in incredible shape. This must’ve been a crazy restoration job from when it was first discovered by the Dutch. Definitely impressive for what is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world. Random thought. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and number 592. I wonder what % of them I have seen so far if I tallied how many I’ve been to? We’re totally exhausted after another lovely free breakfast. We find out that the check-out time is 12PM so we go back to our room and just crash – well Chantelle at least.
For some reason I have the urge to process a few photos and put up the remaining backlogged blog posts. Totally stupid because by the time I’m done it’s 11AM and we agreed to wake up at 11:30AM. I get what rest I can and before long we’re back up, packed up, checked out and on our way to Yogyakarta.
At the Manohara we also make a hilarious discovery. Remember earlier I talked about getting stamps for postcards and finding out that they’re called “Meterai”? I talk to the receptionist and ask about helping me mail a few postcards I wrote for Borobudur with my “Meterai” already stuck on. Turns out that “Meterai” aren’t stamps at all and only for something along the lines of formalizing or approving important documents. What the heck right? Back at the Conrad I had a bunch of postcards with these on and when I handed it to the business center lady she didn’t say anything and I even paid her some money to top up postcards with stamps because I didn’t have enough. WEIRD right?
The private ride to the Sheraton costed 250,000 IDR which is pretty expensive but we were tired of dealing with the local drivers that would surely pick up random people along the way. Ah well! Continuing my postcard stamp saga story, the receptionist said something to the driver and the guy was nice enough to say he’ll drop us off at a real post office along the way. He seemed like a nice guy and had decent English. We find out as well that he’s also kind of like Putu and does day trips on his van around the Yogyakarta area. He tries to do a bit of upselling but we already have plans for our final few days. The first post office we drop by is closed but the second is open. Things are so much easier here as I tell them I need to send a postcard (full with hand movements of me holding the postcard and flying away) to Canada. I buy the stamps needed to send the Borobudur postcards and buy a few extra sets for the next few days. At this point I also finally confirm that it’s 10,000 IDR each postcard.
Checking into the Sheraton Mustika Yogyakarta Resort and Spa is a breeze and of course I get upgraded to the junior suite which his awesome! I used cash and points for this booking and it pretty much depletes all the remaining SPG points I had collected during my blitz in Memphis for the Hawaii trip last year with my parents. Sadly this is probably also the last time I’ll be able to take advantage of my Platinum status *sniffles.
The hotel lobby is nicely decorated in a traditional way and the room itself is pretty big complete with a bar area, living room, 2 balconies and bedroom. Another thing we noticed was that the hotel must’ve had tons of kids in sporty clothes roaming around. We later found out that there was a ping-pong tournament going on in town and all the kids were staying at the Sheraton. Haha ping-pong tournament…only in Asia.
Oh another random thing that happened. We were talking to the concierge lady at the front to get our bearings and book our hotel shuttle for the day after tomorrow and the whole time I was talking to her I was both mesmerized and scared when looking into her eyes. Indonesians already have pretty big eyes for Asians but she emphasized this even more by wearing these contacts that cover the entire iris with pure black. The whole time I kept thinking about that girl in Heroes that kills people surrounding her when her eyes go fully black. *shudder.
The rest of the day is spent chilling, me posting more blogs and napping. In between we go out for lunch at a local restaurant just outside the hotel to try the local specialty – Gudeg. We get there and it’s purely locals and no one really speaks English. The menu is also a mystery but with after playing a bit of Pictionary with the waiter we figure that each menu item differs in whether an egg is included and what part of the chicken you want. Our food comes out almost immediately and to our surprise is actually pretty decent for food that isn’t particularly hot either (temp wise). Definitely worth a try!
Dinner is hilarious because I already know about this high tea business for suite/Platinum members. Normally this is something hotels will have in the late afternoon for some light snacks and refreshments. So far we haven’t really done anything like this as I know the HK Conrad had it but I’m usually out and about to ever go to one of these. Anyways we get a call in our room in the afternoon from the Club Lounge people informing us about this high tea that runs 5PM – 8PM and that they were waiting for us to go. Literally she made it sound like we were the only ones in a suite or Platinum members and that they were going to be there waiting for us exclusively. I go “uhh okay yeah we’ll be there”. So around 7PM we finally decide to make our way down there and all the people at the Club Lounge are super friendly. They open the doors for us and chat with us for a bit. More important is the food itself that we’re presented with. The mains included this spaghetti looking thing and spring rolls. For the rest there were cookies, cakes, éclairs, cheese, yogurt, fruit and juices. Seeing this we totally go into pig-out mode. With no shame we totally clean out all the mains and almost all the desert as well. I swear the staff there were probably laughing their asses off but whatever…we were the only ones there…we were doing them a favor! Satisfied with all of our food we agree that we effectively turned the high tea into our dinner. Prambanan is up next and our 8:00AM pickup. Early mornings suck!
Thoughts On Hardcore Backpacking
I will be the first to admit that I’m not nor was I ever a hardcore backpacker. Anytime I meet one I am in awe and feel guilty for spoiling myself with luxuries such as hotels, expensive meals and excursions. Somehow I feel inadequate in the way that I’m not really “roughing it” and not going all out where travelling is concerned. Let me first define a “hardcore backpacker”. A “hardcore backpacker” is someone who is thrifty and light packed traveller, typically travelling solo, that is away from home let’s say 5 months or more that has no concrete plans, will have to take on volunteer or paid jobs along the way to fund the travelling and has no return ticket home.
On our trip through Java we met quite a few “hardcore backpackers” and it was pretty awe-inspiring to hear about their stories, where they’ve been and more importantly how long they’ve been on the road. The trend for many of these guys and gals were that they have been away from home from anywhere between 5 months to 3 years and even 5 years. These guys have been truly gypsies/nomads for as long as I’ve been out of school for which is crazy ridiculous. They live for the day-to-day on the cheap and never knowing a few more steps ahead of where they currently are. Armed with a Lonely Planet (or sometimes without any at all) they hop from one place to another when they get bored or have some sort of job lined up.
Some of the people we met have literally roamed around the entire Southeast Asia and South Pacific. One was even telling us tales about him doing the Inca trail or travelling along the Amazon on a cargo ship with real danger of being boarded by pirates.
Something interesting I did learn was that there are websites like helpexchange.com or something called “woofing” that allow “hardcore backpackers” to stay afloat during the travels by working in anything ranging for organic farms, taking care of someone’s grandma, doing housework or teaching English. Individuals or families all around the world post work on these type of sites and I guess if you qualify, you can volunteer for a specified period in exchange for food and accommodations at their place.
As much as I am in awe of these folks I just don’t know if I’d ever be able to do what they do. I do kind of wish that I was travelling for longer so I had the chance to really see everything these countries have to offer instead of doing quick hops. Maybe I should have made these 3 months into 5 or even more.
Still, how the heck do you stay away from home for that long and without any income no less. Also travelling alone must get lonely at some point. Most of the people met were solo travellers. I’ve done a bit of both and honestly things are that much more fun if you can travel with a friend. I feel like “hardcore backpacking” is something that you can do for maybe a few months but sadly reality has to set in some time when you have to make something of yourself whether it’s some sort of career or family right? Eventually you have to set yourself up for the future right? Perhaps I’m just not wild enough hah. I guess it could work if you were a life-long nomad and were satisfied with just doing the roughing it lifestyle. What do you think?
- Always pack a headlamp. You’ll need one for sure if you plan on doing any sunrises but regardless you never know when you might need light in dark places.
- If you’re like Chantelle and have the honor of pumping delicious blood then you’ll want to carry bug spray EVERYWHERE you go.
- Manohara for the Borobudur Sunrise is a good idea for sure. We weren’t lucky enough to see the advertised sunrise but with less tourists to fight with to get unobstructed photos and cooler temperatures I say you can’t go wrong. Just try to check into the hotel earlier so you don’t have to do what we did and sleep 3 hours!
- Make sure you try the local Gudeg when you’re in Yogyakarta. Local specialty and pretty good.
- Stamps are ACTUALLY called “perango” and not “meterai”. Also it’s not exactly easy to find out how much it costs to send a postcard back to Canada but it’s 10,000 IDR.
- Wake up at 4AM
- 4:30AM – Borobudur grounds open for Sunrise ticket holders
- Meh sunrise. Damn you clouds!
- Breakfast @Manohara
- Nap until 11:30AM
- 12PM private transport to Yogyakarta
- Check into the Sheraton Mustika Yogyakarta Resort and Spa
- Bum around
- Lunch @ local Gudeg place outside hotel
- Bum around some more
- High tea @ Sheraton (aka free dinner)
Tours That You Should Check Out
To read about the next day, head over to Day 12 – Yogyakarta – Misterrr Misterrr.