Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Eve Dispatch


Welcome to HawesBlog. This is my first posting. I decided I should start blogging instead of e-mailing when my last dispatch from our vacation ran to 15 pages. No one but my mother, and possibly not even her, has that level of detail in our lives. So I'll start blogging and send those who are interested the address, then they can find out about our vacation or post-vacation lives and thoughts as it happens.

I'm in Jakarta right now. It has been a few days since my last dispatch so I start from there and see if I can catch up. We haven't done a tonne since then, so it should be manageable.

When I last sent an e-mail we were in Yogyakarta. Pronounced Jogjakarta, or Jogja for short. In fact, I find it interested that on the streets you can find the city name spelled 5 or 6 different ways. You'll never find debate over the spelling of Vancouver or Seattle, but it's a little more flexible here.

Yogyakarta is supposed to be the tourism hub for Indonesia. It's the number one vacation destination for Indonesians, with more culture etc. than anywhere else. Frankly, we didn't see it. Sure, it was nicer than some of the other cities that we've been to, but that was setting the bar pretty low. Plus, the level of pestering was higher here than anywhere else, with touts doing anything they could to get you into the batik shops. They'll do just about anything, including lying, to get you to take a discount tour or some other kind of trip that ends up in their "cousin's" shop, or in the "government institute of batik art". Very frustrating after awhile.

Our first day in Yogya we didn't really do anything. Just recovered from our prior travels. We had a decent dinner beside a mosque, beside which there was a courtyard with several sheep tied up in the yard. The combination of the sheep and the call to prayer made for interesting dinner music.

The second day we had planned to visit the Sultan's palace, called the Kraton, as well as some of the other sites around there. As we were about to leave though we double-checked with the front desk to ensure things were open, as we had been told that the day was a holiday. I had asked the day before and they had said that everything was fine, but we thought we should double check. They made a call and let us know that yes, the Kraton was closed, as were other things due to the Idul Adha holiday. I asked what this holiday was about and was told that it is a Muslim holiday. This point was punctuated with a running of a finger across the throat. Oh. Now I understood what those sheep were doing in the courtyard the day before.

I finished reading The Kite Runner the other day. In it there are a few mentions of this holiday and of the ritual slaughter of sheep. I was pleased with how this event tied together some of my holiday reading. I decided to avoid the sacrifice and we spent the day reading, catching up on e-mail, etc. It was only later in the afternoon that I realized that this was a one time opportunity to see something like this and went back up to the Mosque/sheep area, but by then it was all over and everything had been cleaned up.

The following day we decided to fit two things into one day. We were going to do the Kraton trip that we'd missed the day before as well a trip to Prambanan, a close by Hindu temple. We headed down to the Kraton by becak (for those who missed my earlier dispatches, this is a bike with seats for two passengers in the front that drives you head on into traffic), and found our way in through all of the touts. As soon as we paid and went in through the main entrance we were offered a free tour with a guide. We immediately said no thank you, as we didn't need another tout, and start to walk around on our own. However, we quickly decided that we had no idea what we were looking at and went back to get a guide. We got a great guy who toured us around the place.

The kraton was built in the mid-18th Century by the first Sultan. They're now on the 10th Sultan, and he still lives in the Kraton, which is a large area actually housing over 25,000 people. Everyone lives there tax free, but is required to perform a few weeks of service to the sultan each year. There honestly wasn't much to see, since the whole Kraton on the other side of the entrance way was closed off, so all we could view were some of the ceremonial areas, costumes and images of coaches, but the guide brought it to life very well. He let us know that many of the other areas that we were interested in were also closed, due to the previous day's holiday, but he suggested a tour of the government run batik training institute. (Oy. Even he was pushing it.)

After tipping our guide, we went out to just see the outside of some of the other areas, even though we now knew that they were closed. We walked down the street and discovered what looked like another entrance to the Kraton, with lots of people going in. Knowing that it was closed, we were rather confused by this, so we went up to entrance way to ask. It turned out that this was the main entrance to the Kraton, and the other had just been a supplemental tour. Our previous guide had lied to us, in an effort to get us to do a batik tour. Aaaaargh. I wanted to go back and take his tip back, but that probably wouldn't have gone over well.

So we took the rest of the tour of the Kraton, which was far more extensive than the first bit, but still not particularly fascinating. What was interesting was the Sultan's continuing role in society. Back in the day, the Sultan had been seen as a near God and had been somewhat supported by the Dutch. After WWII, when the Indonesians were fighting the Dutch for Independence the Sultan back the rebels, but the Dutch left him alone, knowing that if they opposed the Sultan the entire population would rise against them. After Independence in 1949 the Sultan took on a more ceremonial role, although it seems he was (and possibly is) still governor of the region.

After visiting the Kraton we had about an hour until we needed to get back to the hotel to catch our ride to Prambanan. I knew that there was a bird market nearby, so we walked in it's direction. When we came upon it a local grabbed us, wanting to show us the best of the market. This time I said yes, as it was a maze of cages and shops, selling any kind of bird or other animal that you could think of. I thought it best not to be walk around unescorted. Our "guide" showed us around, introducing us to all sorts of animals, most of which were for pets/training, some of which were for dinner. There were bats, whose meat is apparently good for treating asthma. Mongooses, for fighting cobras. Cocks, ready for fighting each other. Owls. Wildcats. Monkeys. All in small cages ready for sale. Our guide wanted to know if we wanted to see snakes. Of course. So he took us to the snake/spider/giant lizard area. Wow!

One of the guys had a python in his arms and Colleen asked if she could hold it, something I'd rather not do but something that she has done in other countries. Colleen proceeded to take the snake and wrap it around her neck. At that point the snake decided he'd had enough and completely relieved himself on Colleen. I'm amazed that that much liquids and solid could even fit into the snake. It went all over Colleen's legs. To her incredible credit, she semi-laughed, handed the snake back to the owner, tipped him(!!), and was led to some water to wash her pants off. I know I wouldn't have been that cool if something that nasty had happened to me in that very bizarre place.

It was time to leave. We started to head out. I tipped our guide, who actually tried to decline the money, and he asked if we'd come to his art shop. We needed to get back now, but we let him show us where it was, in case we needed to come back later. To get to his art shop we wandered through the Water Palace. This was a series of pools, rooms and gardens built by the Sultan to entertain himself and his people. It was all broken down now, and a poor part of town had been built on its remains. It was beautiful and would have been a nice place to explore, but we had to get back.

We returned to our hotel. Got Colleen's pants in the wash. She showered. And we went out to catch our ride to Prambanan.

The trip to Prambanan was 45 minutes out of town, but we were still in a very populated area when we arrived. We paid our entrance fee and a guide joined us. Prambanan is a Hindu temple, built between the 8th and 10th century and largely destroyed in 1006 by a volcano/earthquake. It was "re-discovered" in the 19th century and rebuilt in the 20th. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Which seem to be a dime a dozen.)

It's a collection of about 240 temples, all surrounding a series of central temples devoted to Shiva. The size and scope of the building that would have had to have taken place at that time is amazing. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Prambanan it was pouring with rain and the rain only intensified as we were there. As we went through the gates I was happy that it was a temple we were seeing, as we'd be able to go inside to see the good stuff and get out of the rain. What I was not aware of was that last year, in 2006 1000 years after the first one, there was another earthquake that seriously damaged the temple. So now, for our safety's sake, we could only walk at a distance around the outside, in the pouring rain.

It could have been so much better. I tried to imply to our guide that I'd pay extra to get inside and that I was willing to take the risk, but he wasn't going for it. The visit was impressive and well worthwhile, but also disappointing.

We headed back to Yogya and to bed early. Our ride was to pick us up at 5:00 the next morning for Borobodur.

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