2016
06.09
NICOLA AT LOWAK COFFEE SHOP

NICOLA AT LOWAK COFFEE SHOP

SYNOPSIS:  Today, you will have the pleasure to read a guest blog by Nicola Ainsworth, my travel companion for the next five days.  (See yesterday).   Enjoy!  ET

This time I can’t just blame Elisabeth!  Two years ago when we met an Indonesian family in North Korea we agreed that a trip to the archipelago was definitely on the agenda and so here we are in the city of Yogyakarta, stopping off point for some of the greatest archaeological treasures of South East Asia. It’s hot and wet but the air has a deliciously heavy aroma reminiscent of ripe fruit and slightly overblown flowers. It’s strange but also familiar, so comfortable and welcoming that it’s hard to believe that I haven’t traveled this region since 2009.

So what have we been up to on our first day in this, the cultural heartland of one of the ancient Kingdoms of Indo-China? Well, when we set out after breakfast to explore the city we straight away fell for one of the most obvious tourist scams in the book. An apparently guileless chap in this land of guileless people engaged us in conversation at a road junction. We must be sure not to miss the Sultan’s parade down Malioboro Street at 4pm. However this did mean that all the main museums were going to be closed for the public holiday so perhaps we like to try the Artist’s museum around the corner?

Yes, of course it was a sales outlet but not such a bad one and, given that I only have a few days here, a good enough opportunity to see a few traditional examples of the ubiquitous Indonesian Batik. They also just happen to pack up to next to nothing. When we found out that museums and Sultan’s palace were really open today we puzzled about why he had bothered to scam us at all. Our purchases were modest and did not turn out to be overpriced so he would have been able to claim a minimal commission: if any.

The Sultan’s Palace is only a couple of hundred years old and refreshingly democratic given the preposterous, diamond encrusted luxury of the Maharajas that I’ve become more familiar with in India. This was the only Royal family to survive independence here and they apparently achieved it by a close enough association with the rebel forces in 1949 to frighten the Dutch into some pretty heavy concessions. The Current Sultan, #10 has disgraced himself by having only one wife and producing five daughters. He has more than enough brothers to ensure the succession though and there is talk of the law being changed to allow one of the princesses to inherit the title. Radical ideas indeed.

Another self-styled guide picked us up as we left the palace and in his company we enjoyed a lovely, if rather eccentric, walking tour of the city. We visited the Water Castle and the Underground Mosque, squeezing through tiny gaps in the haphazard back alleys where everyone seems to live, work and cook in open-sided houses or shared porches. The caged songbirds, pot plants and general lack of rubbish reminded me of the picturesque Walled Villages of Hong Kong. I snapped the “batik camouflage” guy in the featured image (Man and Mural), Elisabeth snapped me with a live civet cat on my shoulders while we sampled the wares at the “Laugh until you cry” coffee shop, we watched artists making elaborate shadow puppets and met a young wannabe Che Guevara who told us that there had been a parade down main street today after all.

It may have been some sort of political rally but our informant rather lost his sangfroid as he brandished his ancient looking machine gun for a photo and it fell apart in his hands. But still, it’s pretty amazing that the city authorities allowed him to walk down the street dressed like that at all. We also noticed plenty of fraternization between teenaged boys and girls, a tolerant attitude towards foreigners in casual dress and some of the prettiest colored headscarves it has ever been my pleasure to see in any predominantly Muslim country. The call to prayer here is unrecorded, melodious and not over-amplified; a delightful backdrop to passing of such an enjoyable day.

We have a charming little guest house in Yogyakarta (often simplified to Yogya) where you enter through lush gardens and step onto a bridge over a teeming pond of ornamental carp. What is it called? Funny you should ask that because we two seasoned travelers realized half way through the afternoon that neither of us could remember the name of the guesthouse and that neither of us had written it down.

It’s just as well taxi drivers here don’t overcharge because ours had to take us down an awful lot of back roads while we attempted to proffer suggestions based on a small scale tourist map. It’s the Tegal Panggung Inn and the (non-ornamental) carp which they served me for supper was absolutely delicious.         

Good night, for now.

 

8 comments so far

Add Your Comment
  1. Hello Ann,

    I’m glad you are enjoying our adventures. I’m looking forward to meeting you in the Michigan town that bears your name when Elisabeth returns from her Indonesian trip and I am waiting by the lake at her house to greet her. (After coming via Australia, the UK and Rapid City, South Dakota)

    You are welcome to follow my route too if your world map is wide enough.

    best……………….N

    • Hi Nicola…it will be nice to meet you, have heard (and read) a lot about your adventures with ET. Will follow you on my very wide world map. You guys be good, now…and stay out of trouble. LOL

  2. Really enjoyed the blog entry from Nicola. You both are great writers. Love seeing lots of photos of Elizabeth, finally. That outfit … oh man 🙂

  3. How Moslem is Yogyakarta? What political position does the Sultan occupy? Is he just governor of the province? How did he get into power? What sort of powers does he have? Who makes the laws in Yogyakarta? How does religion influence the life of the people there?

    • For accuracy and the full history, I recommend google. This goes way beyond the scope of what I can find out here. But as far as I can tell, this is an autonomous sultanate with all the power-making decision that comes with. As this is an enlightened ruler, the people seem to be doing fine. Christians and Hindus are a minority but judging by their well-kept houses of worship are doing fine,too. Women are covered or not. Couples are dating and people are having fun. There is music, there are museums, there is life as we know it. And occasionally, there is a sultan parading through town… 🙂

  4. I absolutely love the Indonesia blog so far. So interesting! It’s my first action item in the morning … a cup of coffee and check what the new day had to offer in Java and earlier in Sumatra. I’m not a morning person but your blog always puts me in a good morning mood.
    One question: Does Ramadan right now have any influence on your travels? No problem finding food during the day?

    • If I were still in Aceh Province everything that has to do with food (or drinks) would be closed during fasting hours. I would be a fool to eat or drink in public. Not so in the “rest” of Indonesia. Live and let live, it seems so far. But public performances in the sense of entertainment, stop for a month.

  5. Sort of like parking in Briarwood, knowing that you parked somewhere around Penny’s and forgetting the exact door you entered (did I see women’s underwear or shoes first?)…then a lot of walking the back roads through the parking lot…and this was before keys had the emergency horn on them.