Touche, Tokay

Gek-o, gek-o, tok tok tok tok

“Quick, go get it!”

I throw open the balcony door as loudly as possible and start banging on the ceiling with a broom handle.

“It’s not…”

Gek-o, gek-o, tok tok tok 

“It’s not working!”

Our days and nights are plagued by a horrible and unseen beast.

At first I thought it might be a bird because there’s a nest in the potted tree on the balcony, but the sound is coming from above.

A frog or toad of some sort? Maybe.

Then the maid said she saw it, blue-gray with red spots, hiding in a corner of the roof of our balcony.

She told me it was called a tokex, which Google translate helpfully told me is Indonesian for tokex.

A little more digging and we figured it out: a tokay gecko, one of the largest geckos in the world.

LOOK AT ITS MENACING FACE!

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Here are some disturbing facts about our unwanted roommate:

  • It can grow to up to 20 disgusting inches long
  • They have a creepy semi-prehensile tail
  • They have a beastly “third eye” on top of their head that can sense light
  • If you look into their ear you can see directly through their abominable head (I did not make this up)
  • They have a monstrous fold of skin which prevents them from casting a shadow (also not made up)
  • They have a vicious and  painful bite
  • American soldiers in Vietnam nicknamed it the “fuck you lizard”  for obvious reasons

And of course there is its famously loud call.

Fuck you lizard, indeed.

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Making Friends

Hugo has made a friend. Her mother works at the guesthouse where the students live.

They laugh together.

They were jumping up and down the stairs and counting

They were jumping up and down the stairs and counting

They read together.

Cosmo Girl Indonesia!

Cosmo Girl Indonesia!

They share an umbrella.

Checking out the fish pond

Checking out the fish pond

I think he’s pretty tired of having just me as a playmate.

Plus, she waged a long battle to win his affections, including but not limited to bribery with crackers and juice boxes.

Obama The Menteng Kid

You probably already knew that President Obama spent a few years of his childhood in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. But did you know there was a children’s book and biopic about President Obama’s years in Indonesia?

The official poster for Obama Anak Menteng. They certainly found an Obama look-alike!

The official poster for Obama Anak Menteng. They certainly found an Obama look-alike!

The movie offers an entertaining if largely fictionalized account of a young Barry Obama. For one thing, he’s always making empassioned speeches about the importance of diplomatically resolving conflicts and how to be a great leader.

The plot centers around Obama’s struggles to fit in, find friends, and defeat bullies.

Spoiler alert: in the end, Obama learns from his sage and wise Indonesian stepfather how to use his natural leadership abilities and sensitivity to overcome adversity and reform his bully.

Next time you’re bored on a Tuesday night, the full movie is available on YouTube!

In Indonesian with English subtitles.

Gembira Loka Zoo

This morning we headed out early to check out the Gembira Loka Zoo, which is not too far from where we’re staying. In a town with very few parks or green spaces, the zoo was a refreshing change of scenery.

We got there pretty soon after it opened and almost had the place to ourselves

We got there pretty soon after it opened and almost had the place to ourselves

The zoo grounds also include a large arboretum and a lake, so it makes for a pleasant shady walk.

The lake. You can rent paddle boats, too, if just looking at the lake isn't enough for you.

The lake. You can rent paddle boats, too, if just looking at the lake isn’t enough for you.

I never thought I’d say this, but the reptiles and birds were really the highlight of the zoo. I suppose that makes sense since a lot of them are native to the region.

There were lots of opportunities for creature interactions

There were lots of opportunities for creature interactions

Hugo has been making me read him this huge book about reptiles on repeat for the last 10 days, so he was pretty excited to identify all the different things we were seeing.

This guy seems pretty nonchalant about the giant Komodo Dragon standing right behind him

This guy seems pretty nonchalant about the giant Komodo Dragon standing right behind him

The bird area had a large space where the native species were just flying around freely. I wish I had made some video so you could hear the cacophony of bird squawks and see them swooping here and there.

In the giant bird house. Did I mention that it was already a thousand degrees outside at 9 in the morning? Poor Hugo looks like he's wilting.

In the giant bird house. Did I mention that it was already a thousand degrees outside at 9 in the morning? Poor Hugo looks like he’s wilting.

This guy glared at us from his perch:

He was probably pretty mad about being awake during the day

He was probably pretty mad about being awake during the day

One of the main differences between zoos in developing countries and zoos in the US is how close you can get to the animals. This is often cool, but sometimes terrifying. I could have tapped a 15 foot crocodile on the head if I really wanted to.

This tapir trotted right up to us. Do tapirs bite? I didn't want to find out the hard way.

This tapir trotted right up to us. Do tapirs bite? I didn’t want to find out the hard way.

We also got uncomfortably close to a cassowary bird. Not familiar with the cassowary? Well, they’re huge and deadly and make the most disturbing didgeridoo sort of sound.

There was also a large playground and lots of tunnels and slides and interesting things for kids to climb on.

Overall I’d say the zoo exceeded my expectations. There were some low points (elephants in a bare dirt field), and some disappointments (small and depressing aquarium), but the reptiles and birds were fantastic, and the park itself is very well maintained.

Tickets were 20,000 rupiah each (approximately $1.55; children under 3 are free).

The zoo and park are stroller-friendly, so if your little one tends to get tired, I’d recommend that you bring one. There are ramps next to all the stairs, but be warned there are 2 very steep hills (down at the entrance, back up at the exit).

“Green Islam” And The Bumi Langit Institut

The Bumi Langit Institut is a Muslim organic farming cooperative located about an hour outside of Yogyakarta.

An overcast morning view of coconut trees and red roofs. In the foreground is a solar panel. They say on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean.

An overcast morning view of coconut trees and red roofs. In the foreground is a solar panel. They say on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean.

At Bumi Langit, they strive to live off the grid (hence the solar panels), and use biogas systems to generate gas for cooking.

Homemade kefir and sorghum bread for breakfast

Homemade kefir and sorghum bread for breakfast

There is also a focus on permaculture farming, a farming design method meant to create a self-maintaining, integrated habitat system.

The kefir was a big hit

The kefir was a big hit

There is also an emphasis on the idea that being good environmental stewards is essential to the Islamic faith.

I told him he could look at the sorghum, but he couldn't touch it. Following this rule requires all the powers of concentration that a 3 year old can muster.

I told him he could look at the sorghum, but he couldn’t touch it. Following this rule requires all the powers of concentration that a 3 year old can muster.

Despite the negative news hitting the headlines recently about the high volumes of plastic waste in the ocean here, Indonesia was a pioneer of the “Green Islam” movement.

Touring the farm

Touring the farm

In 1887, in order to combat growing unrest and conflict over scarce resources, the Pesantren Gulak-Gulak school was founded to teach environmentally sustainable practices in an Islamic religious context.

Checking out the duck pond

Checking out the duck pond

Today there are many such schools, including a school called Ilmu Giri, founded in 2003 by Nasruddin Anshory, whose work in environmental education was recognized by the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.

Making a friend

Making a friend

Hugo and I just spent the morning touring the farm, but they have many educational programs available for visitors.

Excited to pet the farm cats

Excited to pet the farm cats

If you are interested in reading more about Bumi Langit Institut, please see their website.

Looking for bugs

Looking for bugs

For more information about Islam and environmentalism, I invite you to check out the Islamic Foundation For Ecology And Environmental Science (IFEES), a UK-based charity focused on environmental conservation.

Yogyakarta Bird And Animal Market

I feel like in the US we have well-defined categories of what kinds of animals we would consider to be pets and what kinds of animals should be “wild”.

A visit to the Yogyakarta Animal Market will challenge those assumptions.

If you're in the market for a messenger owl, this little guy is more of a Pigwidgen than a Hedwig

If you’re in the market for a messenger owl, this little guy is more of a Pigwidgen than a Hedwig

There are a lot of birds for sale.

It seemed like there were a thousand of these little brown ones

It seemed like there were a thousand of these little brown ones

Some familiar (pigeons, parakeets), some more exotic.

Is there anything more exotic than a hot pink baby chick?

Is there anything more exotic than a hot pink baby chick?

And lots of beautiful cages.

IMG_20150218_141127952

There is a fish section, which you know was Hugo’s favorite part.

Baby koi

Baby koi

Jars of colorful bettas

Jars of colorful bettas

There were kittens and puppies and bunnies to pet.

And if you venture to the back part, sometimes you see some monkeys.

Did you know that monkeys like to eat carrots?

Did you know that monkeys like to eat carrots?

Last time I came here, there were two baby monkeys that looked very sad and probably should not have been separated from their mothers. These seemed healthy and calm.

This market leaves me with mixed feelings. Seeing fish in aquariums or many kinds of birds in cages don’t seem unusual, but monkeys, squirrels, bats, and owls are the kinds of things I’d rather see in trees.

Taman Sari Water Palace

When I visited Yogyakarta in 2011, I didn’t have a chance to go to Taman Sari, a site that I first read about on Atlas Obscura.

Side note: Atlas Obscura is a fascinating website to read about weird and wonderful places to visit around the world. You’ll find yourself making long mental lists of where to visit in your next holiday.

ANYWAYS…

Taman Sari is the former garden and bathing house of the Sultan, built in the mid-18th century.

The (former)  main gate to the complex.  Now visitors enter through what used to be a side gate.

The (former) main gate to the complex. Now visitors enter through what used to be a side gate.

The complex used to be in the middle of an artificial lake, which contained several man-made islands reachable via underwater tunnels.

The lake has since been drained, and now there is a residential neighborhood surrounding what remains of Taman Sari.

Entering the gate leading to one of the bathing areas.

Entering the gate leading to one of the bathing areas.

While the lake is no longer there, the tunnels are still accessible and open to visitors. I was most excited to see the underground Mosque and the MC Escher-esque stairs described in the Atlas Obscura article. And judging by how much Hugo loved exploring the tunnels at Wat U Mong, I was pretty sure he’d love it, too.

Here’s where our visit got a little disappointing:

Inside one of the bathing areas. Notice the brown murky water?

Inside one of the bathing areas. Notice the brown murky water?

The whole site is undergoing some major restoration work, which means the pools have been drained and the tunnels are closed to visitors. According to my guide, they will be open again in March not long after we leave Yogyakarta. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to return to Yogyakarta again!

Leaving Taman Sari feeling a little let down, we hopped into a becak (a three-wheeled cycle taxi) for a short tour of the neighborhood.

Hugo cautiously accepts his first becak experience

Hugo cautiously accepts his first becak experience

The neighborhood surrounding Taman Sari is home to many workshops for traditional arts and crafts. We saw some batik artists at work:

Applying the first coat of wax

Applying the first coat of wax

Some wayang (Indonesian shadow puppets):

There was incredible detail on this particular panel

There was incredible detail on this particular panel

And some marionettes:

These are characters from the Ramayana story

These are characters from the Ramayana story

After a long day out, our becak returned us to the Taman Sari gate to go home.

Until next time, Taman Sari. Some day you will show me your underground secrets.

Until next time, Taman Sari. Some day you will show me your underground secrets.

What’s For Breakfast?

A friend of mine on Facebook posted this video the other day:

I’ve often felt that breakfast was the most difficult meal for “going local.” There’s just something about eating strange foods early in the mornings that’s harder than at other times of day.

Here, every morning at 6am, our breakfast arrives in tidy boxes.

It's like Christmas every morning! What surprises await?

It’s like Christmas every morning! What surprises await?

Let’s take a look inside.

Everything is neatly wrapped, even the little green spoon.

Everything is neatly wrapped, even the little green spoon.

Today it was rice, a piece of chicken, garlic vegetables, some krupuk, and a tiny banana.

It's never too early for roasted chicken! It's usually some variation of this. Sometimes fish or tempeh, sometimes a different fruit or vegetable, but all in all not bad!

It’s never too early for roasted chicken! It’s usually some variation of this. Sometimes fish or tempeh, sometimes a different fruit or vegetable, but all in all not bad!

What did you have for breakfast today?

Beringharjo Pasar: Open For Business Since 1758

Today we went to walk around the historic Beringharjo Pasar, where you can buy anything from clothing to food to herbal medicine all under a single roof.

The market has been in the same location since 1758, but the current building was built in 1925.

You can buy fresh spices in bulk and even ready-made mixtures of spices and sauces for cooking

You can buy fresh spices in bulk and even ready-made mixtures of spices and sauces for cooking

There are different types of sugar available in large crystals.

The sugar vendor gave Hugo a free sample. I think it's his new favorite snack.

The sugar vendor gave Hugo a free sample. I think it’s his new favorite snack.

Of course there is a huge array of fruits and vegetables available.

IMG_20150214_103921574

And you might even find a jackfruit as big as tour toddler.

I'm not sure who weighs more

I’m not sure who weighs more

There is row after row of these little multicolored disks that look like chips that are a favorite local snack called krupuk:

These are actually raw krupuk

These are actually raw krupuk

When you fry them in oil, they puff up to many times their original size.

One of those small baskets in the previous photo can cook up into a giant man-sized bag of crispy krupuk

One of those small baskets in the previous photo can cook up into a giant man-sized bag of crispy krupuk

The best part of the market is the part where you can buy all kinds of snacks, including these delicious coconut balls:

Hugo approved street treats

Hugo approved street treats

Borobudur, The World’s Largest Buddhist Temple

Yesterday we visited Borobudur, a Buddhist temple completed in the early 9th century. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and is the most visited site in Indonesia.

It's difficult to capture the enormity of Borobudur in a single photograph

It’s difficult to capture the enormity of Borobudur in a single photograph

The whole structure consists of six square levels at the bottom and three circular levels at the top.

This expression says "hurry up, Mommy!"

This expression says “hurry up, Mommy!”

The square levels are decorated with bas relief panels on the walls, which altogether are considered the largest collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

A detail of one of the relief carvings

A detail of one of the relief carvings

The three circular levels at the top have 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated, bell-shaped stupas.

The weather was perfect for a clear view of the surrounding mountains

The weather was perfect for a clear view of the surrounding mountains

Hugo enjoyed climbing up all the stairs as fast as he could.

"Big steps for little feet."

“Big steps for little feet.”

And climbing around all the stupas at the top.

Going around the stupas was a good way to hide from all the people who wanted to take his picture

Going around the stupas was a good way to hide from all the people who wanted to take his picture

He was less interested in taking selfies with me.

I'm still perfecting my "sweaty and glistening with sunscreen" look

I’m still perfecting my “sweaty and glistening with sunscreen” look

My suggestions for visiting Borobudur with a toddler:

1. Go early in the morning. It’s a two hour drive from Yogyakarta and you don’t want to be climbing in the heat of the day.

2. Carry a backpack with water, extra sunscreen, etc., so that your hands are free to help out the little ones on steep stairs. Hugo was excited to climb up but balked when he saw how steep it was going down. I had to carry him most of the way. But there are sturdy hand rails so don’t worry!

3. There are a LOT of vendors and little restaurants at the bottom. Take some time to sit and enjoy a kelapa muda and some gado gado.

After a morning climbing stairs under the hot sun, your kiddo is sure to enjoy a long nap on the way home!