The Last Day In Yogyakarta

I hate packing. It’s not just the thousands of small decisions that come with preparing for a long trip, but also in the middle of the trip when all you have to do is just throw everything into the bag. For some reason it generates a feeling of inertia like no other.

It’s our last day in Yogya and we’re taking care of a long list of last minute things to prepare for the next leg of our trip.

I’m definitely ready to move on. It’s not that I dislike Yogya, but our living situation has been less than ideal (somewhat isolated location, difficult to get transportation), and there were seemingly endless little things wrong with the house: only one bathroom drain that works, a roof that leaks in the most inconvenient places (onto the bed, right over the exact spot you would like to stand to brush your teeth), the somewhat hazardous wood floors. Don’t even get me started on the tokay that lives just outside our bedroom window.

Hugo also gets a bit out of sorts on packing days. Despite how much we talk to him about each place we’ll travel and making sticker charts to count the days to each destination, he still gets upset to see all his things zipped into his bag. He is much happier once we’re on our way.

I’m excited to share our next destination with you! Stay tuned…

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A Day At The Kampung

Mt Merapi looms ahead of us, a perfect dark cone, partially enveloped in mist. My ears pop, proving we’re gaining altitude even though the road doesn’t appear to be going uphill.

They say the volcano is smoking 300 days a year. Every time I look at it I doubt my vision, half convinced that it’s just wisps of cloud like we see around our more familiar and benevolent volcano at home, Mt Rainier.

Mt Merapi’s last major eruption was in 2010, the year before my previous visit to the area.

Today we’re taking a day trip to a village (kampung ) in the shadow of Mt Merapi where the students are doing a brief homestay.

Looking for fish, of course

Looking for fish, of course

Except, instead of spending time with the group, Hugo decided he’d rather spend time with his new friends.

Another 3 year old who likes throwing big rocks in the water! What are the odds?!

Another 3 year old who likes throwing big rocks in the water! What are the odds?!

Notice the black volcanic dirt:

Three boys, some trucks, and a pile of dirt

Three boys, some trucks, and a pile of dirt

The highlight for Hugo was this moment:

"I touched a baby duckling!"

“I touched a baby duckling!”

This village is also the home to a gamelan, which is a set of instruments used to play traditional Javanese music.

A detail of one of the pieces of the gamelan

A detail of one of the pieces of the gamelan

There are mostly xylophones and gongs, but one person will play a hand drum to keep the beat.

Hugo grabs a mallet and gives it a go

Hugo grabs a mallet and gives it a go

The pieces range in size from a xylophone about 18 inches across to this enormous hanging gong:

This calls for a bigger mallet

This calls for a bigger mallet

If you’re interested in hearing the gamelan in action, check out this video below:

We headed back to Yogyakarta, Hugo exhausted and dirty, the best way for a toddler to end the day.

Malls Are For More Than Shopping

In the US, malls are on their way out. People would rather shop online, and visiting a mall, even at the holiday season, is kind of a depressing experience.

Here, however, malls are glittering, exciting, bustling centers of commerce. We came to the mall to look for some new English books at the book store, stock up on groceries at Carrefour, and, most importantly, check out the indoor playground.

Everyone remembers their first time in a ball pit, right?

Everyone remembers their first time in a ball pit, right?

I’ve mentioned a few times that there really aren’t public parks with playgrounds here. In fact, the only place I’ve actually seen a playground was at the zoo, although I’ve read that some of the fancier hotels have playground areas for guests’ children.

The playground in the Amplaz mall is 35,000 rupiah ($2.69), and boasts slides, climbing structures, trampolines, and a ball pit.

There was a lot crammed into a small space

There was a lot crammed into a small space

There was a train shaped like a lion that kids can ride for an extra fee. Hugo hates rides of any sort so we skipped it.

Seriously, I forced him to ride on a carousel once thinking he’d like it once it started: worst idea ever. I guess this ride-o-phobia will save us having to endure a Disney vacation in the future.

Well that was a bit of a tangent. Back to the topic at hand.

There was this waterbed trampoline thingy that would slosh around when the kids jump on it

There was this waterbed trampoline thingy that would slosh around when the kids jump on it

There were also different kinds of blocks for stacking and building, and an art area (the art area was closed when we were there).

This was the best part by far:


I’m pretty sure those are the squeals of a child who had forgotten how much fun it is to go down a slide.

There were just two other kids there, so I encourage you to go on a weekday to avoid any crowds. The place seemed a bit run down, but was safe and clean. I think we’ll be stopping by again before we leave town!

Two Days At Batik Jolawe

Batik has a long and rich heritage on the island of Java.

Tools for making batik, including canting, different types of wax, and natural dye-making materials

Tools for making batik

We spent two days with Dedi Perwadi and his wife  Wineng of Batik Jolawe, where they make batik cloth using traditional methods of hand drawing with wax and dying with natural materials.

Different types of wax and materials for making natural dyes

Different types of wax and materials for making natural dyes

Batik is made by applying wax to a cloth in a particular pattern, then dying the cloth. The wax prevents the dye from reaching the cloth, so when the wax is washed away it leaves behind the pattern on the cloth.

Learning how to use the canting, the tool for applying the wax

Learning how to use the canting, the tool for applying the wax

canting is used to apply wax to the cloth. It is a small tool with a wooden or bamboo handle. At the end of it is a small reservoir for the hot wax, and a spout for slowly dripping or pouring the wax onto the cloth.

Perfecting my canting methodology. It was a pretty steep learning curve to not accidentally leave gobs of wax all over the fabric.

Perfecting my canting methodology. It was a pretty steep learning curve to not accidentally leave gobs of wax all over the fabric.

Every time you want to add a new color to your batik, you must re-apply the wax to all of the areas you do not want to color. It is a detailed and painstaking process.

A display of the different methods of dying batik

A display of the different methods of dying batik

It’s a deceptively simple process. Anyone can do it, but it takes a real artist to draw masterfully with the canting and understand all the nuances of the dyes.

Hugo perfects his skill with the canting. Don't worry, this pot of wax was not hot!

Hugo perfects his skill with the canting. Don’t worry, this pot of wax was not hot!

The first day, I wasn’t very satisfied with my work. I thought there would be more contrast in the dyes I chose.

You can see the fish, but unless you look very close, the details are lost

You can see the fish, but unless you look very close, the details are lost

So I came back again a second day to re-apply the wax and try a new dye.

Meanwhile, Hugo got to do a bit of painting himself. He calls it "a bunch of eels."

Meanwhile, Hugo got to do a bit of painting himself. He calls it “a bunch of eels.”

There was also a cat to play with, so he was pretty happy.

The cat was not interested in his overtures of friendship

The cat was not interested in his overtures of friendship

I’m pretty sure my skills improved in the second day. I only burned myself with hot wax once, and the end result was much,  much better.

I think I'll turn it into a pillow for Hugo's room at home. Next step: learn to sew!

I think I’ll turn it into a pillow for Hugo’s room at home. Next step: learn to sew!

If you are interested in visiting Batik Jolawe, check out their website here. There is a long entry on February 28th about our group’s visit.

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.

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.

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.

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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.