October7-October 16 2022
A two day motor sail past more volcanos and we arrive to my next jumping off point in eastern Java.
Throughout Indonesian waters are an assortment of unique fishing devices that at night are very hard to see…..No AIS or Radar…Our thermal camera was often a big help
As there are no marinas here Fabian takes me in the Dingy to a private beach in Surabaya , Java’s second largest city on its eastern tip. We meet my guide Subchan on the dock along with several Muslim women who want a picture with me. I get a unexpected tight squeeze from both burka wearing women. Then I am met by 2 Polizi who want to see my papers, boats papers and why is a tourist coming on to a local beach. I was the only white guy tourist on a beach packed with Muslims celebrating a religious holiday with their families. After a 30 minute visit to the Polizi office where Subchan smooths things out we are off.
We visit a Russian submarine exhibit from the 60’s where Sukarno got Russian support in his bid for independence from the Dutch, so they like Russia. Very primitive sub…. No wonder the Russians are losing to Ukraine. All the little Kids want their picture with me. It must be the hat and because I’m the only white guy around. Subaraya is a beautiful clean busy city .
I am told that Surabaya is voted the cleanest city in Java on my way to catch the train to Yogyakarta. The reason I mention cleanliness is the beaches and water are in striking contrast ,filled with plastic and floating debris as we have seen in virtually every country we have visited from the San Blas to Indonesia. It is the single biggest disappointment of my journey. Even Australia ,that is fastidiously clean, has beaches contaminated by the oceans floating plastic debris.
I got more than a few curious glances when friends learned I planned to travel 1000 miles through Java by train.
I had 2 reasons:
-I wanted to see and experience more of Java and the Indonesian culture.
-Indonesian airlines have a very poor safety record.
Indonesian trains are modern ; expanded upon the original train system laid out by the Dutch. After traveling 300 miles past volcanoes, predominantly agrarian countryside seeing countless rice fields, small villages and family farms we arrive 5 hours later in a blinding rain storm.
There are 2 seasons here dry and wet: the wet season usually starts in December but for the past 5-10 years has been starting earlier and lasting longer, a consequence of global warming. More on this later.
Yogyakarta is in the geographic center of Java and historically was predominantly Buddhist. I have come primarily to see Borobudur the world’s largest and most famous Buddhist temple . The drive from Yogyakarta to Borobudur is along very busy 2 lane roads occupied mostly by motor scooters. There are no freeways that I saw on my journey to Indonesia, until Jakarta that is.
I stay at a beautiful resort, Platarin near Borobudur, which is nearly empty except for a Dutch couple returning to the site of their wedding. She was an X-ray tech in Rotterdam…small world 🤪 The Dutch colonized Indonesia until thrown out by Sukarno in 1949 when Indonesia gained it’s independence. Dutch influence is still widely felt especially with the beautiful classic Dutch architecture.
The next morning Yanto , my guide for Central Java, takes me to a small village near Borobudur where I spend a fascinating day with Eva , my village guide, touring her village on bike. We bike through the village farms and am invited unto many of her neighbors homes getting a feel for how they live. It is mostly a substance farming life. These people have been farming these lands with their rich volcanic soil for centuries. They know how to get the best yield from their fields with just hand labor, no pesticides and minimal fertilizer.
A few words on global warming . Global warming is not a politically charged topic in Indonesia or any low lying or island country I have visited; it is a serious fact of life that has everyday real implications on the economy and their lives. To drive home this fact there was a recent article in the WSJ highlighting the impact of rising seas on island communities. San Blas one of our favorite stops on the Caribbean side of Panama has over 300 hundred islands that at the time of our visit I thought were endanger of submerging. Here is the story.
In Java and most of Indonesia global warming means earlier and heavier rains causing flooding and preventing them from planting and growing their traditional crop: tobacco. To deal with the anticipated flooding they plant 4-5 crops in each field hoping that the weather will allow 1 or 2 of them to harvest. They start with tapioca then add papaya, peanuts, peppers in between the tapioca plants. Their pesticide is old tobacco leaves mixed with banana leaves and water creating a liquid so bitter that when spayed on the plants the bugs stay away. The soil is very rich and it is easy to see the reason . Merapi, the closest volcano, erupts regularly spueing ash 3-6 inches deep over the entire valley. Most recent eruption was in 2018 which Eva tells me took the valley 6 months to recover.
Every school in Central Java has a special shelter for all the villagers to seek protection from volcanic eruptions.
Eva takes me to the local cemetery used for all religions. She is remarkably open so I ask why Muslims in Indonesia appear so tolerant of other religions compared with the more radical Middle East. She explains that they all respect each other’s beliefs. Her Christian friends honor her celebrating Ramadan and she gives them a present for Christmas. We in America could learn a few lessons about tolerance from these beautifully kind people.
I was treated to Borobudur with a special early morning entry so instead of thousands of the usual tourists there were only a few of us. Borobudur, Sanskrit for “Buddhist Monastery on the Hill, “was built around AD 800 when central Java was predominantly Buddhist. Not much is known of its history as the Buddhists influence declined shortly after building this monumental temple considered Indonesia’s greatest cultural site. Conceived as the Buddhists vision of the cosmos it is composed of several million stone blocks. As you walk from the base to the top you are taken on a journey of stone carvings leading to their vision of nirvana at the pinnacle. It is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Declared a World Heritage site in 1991.
Near by is Prambanan the famous Hindu temple which we skip as I had seen many Hindu temples in Bali….You can’t do it all.
Next on to explore Solo competing with Yogykarta for title of the heart of Java, where Yanto and I visit Kraton (the Sultan’s palace )the political and cultural head of Central Java and where the last remaining Indonesian Sultan and his family live. We visit the Sultans palace and home where I learn trouble brews. The Sultan is old with failing health and has only daughters.Indonesian law requires a male heir take the thrown. Stay tuned as the local drama unfolds over the next year.😀
We finish with a visit to Solo and a Batik Art Gallery… Great fun where I am shown the basics of this well known historical Indonesian art form and try my hand…😂
Next day we drive 3 hours to northeast Central Java to visit the site of the Java man discovered here by Dutch physician Eugene Dubois in 1891 or 1926 . Java man or homo erectus is now recognized as the link between ape and Homo sapiens but was so controversial when first proposed in 1891 that Dubois “ buried his discovery for 30 years” due to the storm it caused back home in Europe. There is still debate as to whether our predecessor traveled from Africa to Java or whether 2 separate Homo erectus developed simultaneously ( one in Africa and one in Java).
Fascinating visiting the area where early man emerged. Walking through the Solo river basin and imaging our early ancestors eking out a living battling tigers and mammoths with clubs and primitive stone weapons. The early fossils date back 1.7 million years with the youngest fossils dating back 40,000 years meaning that Homo sapiens were present at the same time that Homo erectus was in Java. Continuing archeological digs here reveal major findings in the Solo river valley and Sangiran. Our guide was a young man who helped with the early archeological discoveries back in the 1950’s. It was clear listening to him talk that this was the highlight of his life as he walked us through the impressive Sangiran museum.
The Sangiran Meuseum houses the largest collection of H erectus fossils in the world.
Next morning Yano drops me off at the Yogykarta train station and 7 hours later I am in the heart of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. A city of over 11 million, juxtaposing Indonesia’s rich and their gleaming skyscrapers with Jakarta’s ever-present poor living on the edges. This sprawling rambling city lives under an ever present cloud of dense air pollution. In Jakarta one rarely sees the sun. I never did.
Recognizing Jakarta’s struggles with its exploding population in 2024 Indonesians will begin moving their capital to Kalimantan, a large and less populated island to the east. This move is partly inspired by the problems with Jakarta’s overpopulation but also a more serious problem… Jakarta is sinking into the sea at the alarming rate of 25cm /year .
A summary of Indonesia’s bold move is contained in this WSJ Special Report:
Earlier this year, at a vast eucalyptus plantation on the island of Borneo, construction crews broke ground on Indonesia’s new administrative capital, Nusantara. Almost everything about the new capital is charged with symbolism, from its location at the geographic center of the Indonesian archipelago, 1,400 km (870 miles) northeast of Jakarta, to its design as a carbon-neutral and sustainable city.
In 2024, Nusantara is scheduled to become Indonesia’s new seat of government, an important center for learning and innovation, and a new pole of economic development for high-tech and low-carbon industries.
I grab a cab and meet Infinity in the only marina deep enough for our keel, Batavia Marina. The marina harbor house is a beautiful all but deserted historic Dutch hotel. A reminder of the enormous influence the Dutch had on Java and these 17,000 islands called Indonesia.
After provisioning ,refueling and 3 days of dealing with Indonesian authorities to get proper checkout paperwork, sans Oysters help ;we say goodby to Java.
Next stop the infamous Gunung Krakatoa.