Last week saw the end of my fourth month teaching in Indonesia. It was a pretty slow month in terms of teaching. Local schools had a long holiday, so I had no in-school this month and only a few classes at EF. My lessons went wonderfully, but with no particular moments that stand out, I’m going to use this update to instead mention the highlights of my trip over Christmas break.
Josh and I are still sifting through our photos and notes from what was the best trip we’ve ever had, so we’ll start to share more stories and pictures over the next few weeks. For now, here’s an overview of what I got up to.
On Christmas morning, Josh and I woke up early, caught a sunrise on our roof, and headed to the Xtrans office, where we boarded a shuttle to Bandung. After checking into Hunny Hostel, we recovered from the early wakeup call with a nice afternoon nap, and then we dragged ourselves out again to have a quick stroll through the insanely crowded market streets before getting lost in what was possibly the red light district of Bandung and then finally finding a nice dinner spot at Nicho’s Healthy Kitchen.
The best part of the day was watching the sky outside change color as we finished our meal. When we left the restaurant, it was just starting to rain, but the sky was on fire, and we admired the sunset as we walked through a food market back to our hostel. It wasn’t an eventful Christmas Day by any means, but we thoroughly enjoyed the down time.
So much happened on Day Two; we spent a good half of the day in traffic, but our time out of the car was spent trekking around a volcano, strolling through the rolling hills of a tea plantation, finding some inner peace (and football-sized spiders) at a Buddhist temple, walking around the Floating Market where vendors sat in their boats at the lake’s edge to sell their goods, hand-picking our own berries at a strawberry field, and then enjoying dinner in a restaurant on a hill with a view of the city below.
While these all contributed to a perfect day, my favorite moment was near the end; after printing our tickets at the train station, we still had some time before boarding so we just sat outside the station and ate our fresh strawberries while we watched the clouds change from white to orange to pink and purple. Just after sunset, we boarded the night train and tried to get some sleep.
Remarkable. Magical. Mystical. Astounding. Surreal. Unforgettable. I can’t decide what word best describes the third day of our trip. We arrived in Yogyakarta at 3 am, and our guide was waiting at the station, ready to take us to Borobudur Temple, where we climbed to the highest level of the massive structure. The sunrise from the top of the temple was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. (At the time, it was THE most spectacular thing, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.)
After sitting down for a quick coffee and snack at the nearby hotel, we hopped back in the car and headed to two more temples, the second of which was attached to a lovely Buddhist monastery where we admired statues of Buddha, lotus-flower decorations, and even more head-sized spiders.
Just after ten, we arrived at our guesthouse, the Ministry of Coffee, feeling like we had already had a full day of sightseeing. We rested for a few hours before going to see yet another temple, switching gears from Buddhism to Hinduism as we marveled at the massive Prambanan Temple.
Back in our guesthouse’s neighborhood, we ate dinner at a nearby tourist pub that surprisingly advertised an extensive vegetarian menu. Though our stomachs were full after splitting several veg dishes, we found room for dessert when we stopped in the Ministry of Coffee’s cafe to snack on a piece of chocolate torte in the starlit courtyard before going back to our room and crashing.
This day was as relaxing as our previous day was busy. We slept in until 7:30 and shuffled downstairs for a very impressive complimentary breakfast. Back in our room, we got ready and used our lazy morning to make holiday phone calls to family members. At noon, we checked out of the Ministry of Coffee, but we stuck around to order some lunch from the cafe and ended up in their library, where we discovered a chess set and spent several hours battling against each other.
The driver for our next tour arrived at 2:30 and we spent the next 5 hours in the car, driving far, far away from the city and ending up in the chilly mountainous region of Central Java known as Dieng Plateau. We met our guide, ate some dinner, and were shown to a modest room in a local hotel. Before bed, we went out and found a stall that sold hats and gloves–we were going to need them.
We woke up at three and bundled up as best as we could with the clothes that we had previously been wearing in 95-degree weather. As we whispered to each other in the silent guesthouse, we were shocked that we were able to see our breath. Isn’t Indonesia on the equator?!
Our guide met us in the empty dining area downstairs and brought us some much-appreciated cups of hot tea. Soon after, we drove even higher into the mountains, the stars twinkling in abundance, our day bags stuffed with protein-rich snacks, and our anticipation mounting as we neared what was sure to be another spectacular morning climb.
And indeed, it was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever done. We climbed and climbed until we ended up on a hill with the best view of the sunrise over the hilly terrain. That view was hardly the end of the day’s wondrous sights. We spent the next six hours trekking through those very hills, where we saw volcanic craters and lakes, abandoned temples, beautiful terrace fields, and so much more!
Around noon, we said goodbye to this amazing region and spent much of the 5-hour drive back to Yogya catching up on sleep.
Back in Yogya we ate yet another meal at Ministry of Coffee before checking into a new place, the impressive Hotel Rengganis, where we spent the rest of the night relaxing.
Our big activities finished by this point, we had the rest of our holiday to relax. (This, of course, didn’t stop me from waking up at 5:30 so that I could be downstairs by the time our complimentary breakfast began at 6!) It was another impressive hotel breakfast, with delicious Indonesian food.
After we got ready, we decided to see some of the city and spent our morning exploring Taman Sari, the old water palace of the (very short) sultans.
We then checked out of our hotel and into our last place, an eco-guesthouse called ViaVia. The rest of our day was spent souvenir shopping and eating our way around the tourist area. When it finally started to rain late afternoon (seriously, it’s wet season but we’d had blue skies and sunshine for our whole trip–such good luck!), we made yet another stop at Ministry of Coffee for more hot games of chess as the storm raged outside.
Feeling as if my sleep patterns were ruined forever, I woke up shortly after 5 and read my book until it was finally time to go out to the guesthouse garden for a freshly-cooked breakfast of banana pancakes. We packed our bags, which were by now bulging with dirty laundry and souvenirs, and we took a taxi to the train station.
Of course, this is when all of the good luck we’d had during our trip abandoned us, and our train broke down multiple times as I lamented that I just wanted to be home.
Clearly, that wasn’t meant to happen, as we finally arrived in the center of Jakarta and were stranded in an insane New Year’s Eve festival that stretched for miles in every direction. It wasn’t until about 3 in the morning after hours of pushing through the crowds that we were able to flag down a taxi. Forty-five minutes later, we finally burst into our damp, smelly, mold-covered room, ecstatic to have made it home in one piece!
Needless to say, we slept in late and spent our last vacation day in recovery mode.
Despite our nerve-wracking finale, I’m so pleased with everything we were able to do and see during our week of travels. It was a side of Indonesia that we haven’t seen until now, and I am eager to share it with everyone!