My fiancé Ben and I are now in Java, after a thirty hour plus journey from New York. Not that I’m complaining. I managed to sleep a bit on the plane and watch a few movies, including the charming ‘Julie & Julia’, about a thirty-something blogger in New York. How fitting.
From Yogyakarta airport we took a bluebird taxi, through a dense shoal of motorcycles to Duta Guesthouse. En route a poster read ‘You’re not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic’ and I had to smile. On arrival there was less smiling. Confusion over whether we’d pre-paid or not. But in the end Duta turned out to be a gem, spotlessly clean with an endlessly polite and cheery team running the joint. Then there were the spontaneous, complimentary snacks handed out around the poolside. I think this was Ben’s favourite bit. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
After a big sleep we got up and ventured out to the district of Kraton, the colourful streets around the Sultan’s Palace. Here we stumbled upon a food market, where we tried and failed to name all the fruits and vegetables on offer, before heading to a performance of traditional dance back at the palace proper. As the gamelan orchestra struck up their first song I took my seat and watched an attractive, batik clad woman pad across the floor, moving slowly in a flat-footed squat. As the piece progressed, a series of precise hand moves were executed — perfected over decades — meanwhile Ben had taken up position by the xylophones and a gong the size of a town hall clock. I lost him there a while as he took it all in, decoding as I’m sure he was, the source of each different kind of sound. My fiancé is a curious soul, endearingly childlike in his enthusiasm for any and all things new. Days later he confessed he’d been wondering how he could get his hands on a gong to keep at home, so he could beat it and stand downstream once in a while, bathing in the vibrations.
After seeing the palace we travelled to Prambanan, a ticketed Unesco World Heritage complex containing four ancient Hindu temples — with Buddhist elements too. Today the temples are part-restored part-ruined, following earthquakes in the 16th century and in 2006. But they are beautiful, especially Candi Sewu — or the ‘Thousand Temples’ — arranged in four concentric rings. After dark we stayed for the Ramayana Ballet, a highly stylised performance of a Hindu love story, set in front of the epic, floodlit Candi Shiva Mahadeva. The performance was hypnotic with the wobbling heads, jangling costumes, and aforementioned precision hands. But I must admit my mind did wander. I found myself playing Director, exercising my OCD tendencies, commanding tighter formations from the troupe and pin-point adhesion to the beat. At one point I inserted a breakdancer straight out of New York, spinning from stage left to right, narrowly missing the Javanese warriors and maids. The two hour show, it transpires, was a little too long for me.
And that is the way with travelling isn’t it? If we’re honest. For every majestic, breath-taking Borobudur, every paddy field dotted with palms, there’s a packed and mosquito-filled train, and a questionable meal that leaves us queasy. Truthfully though, this is ok. While our patience may be tested, it is also rewarded. The lows all play their part in making the highs. Cliché but true. Here, there is sun. Here I have free time. Here I read, talk, collect keepsakes, photos and thoughts. Spreadsheets are a world away, e-mails too, and routine is replaced by the great unknown. Here there‘s an awareness that, just as the triumphs will soon become our favourite memories; the trials too will metamorphose, into sketches and punchlines for our friends.
Onwards. To our billy basic home stay in Oro-oro Ombo near Batu…