Sunday, February 1, 2015

Yogyakarta and the Early Risers

This really is a land of morning people, the culture and the surroundings demand it. If the crowing of the many roosters at dawn doesn't wake you, the call to prayer will. And as you lay in bed debating getting up or trying to go back to sleep, the meowing of the many street cats hunting the many tiny bats and lizards will make your decision easy. Which is all to say that I've been getting up by 5am pretty much since I got here and while for some of you this is normal, it's definitely not something that I've been accustomed to. But the lovely Homestay where I'm at makes a pretty good breakfast and they have a rather lovely spot to sit and enjoy it, so I guess I'll have to make it work.

After breakfast I headed out to explore the city. It was just after 6am, but the streets were already bustling for an early Sunday morning. My main destination was Keraton, or the Emperor's Palace, but on the way I stumbled into a massive town square surrounded by thousands of bikes and mopeds and filled with people being led through a yoga routine by two guys with megaphones...and two giant banyan trees that looked so out of place that they must have been placed there as a symbol of a gateway or something equally purposeful. They were wrapping up as I approached so the voices of my sisters that I carry in my head didn't have time to make me feel guilty about not joining in.

I ventured into the palace through what felt very much like the side door and was shown around by a janitor, who insisted that I try at least half a dozen rambutans he kept pulling off the trees as we went, and I happily obliged. Little factoid: hair, in Indonesian, is rambut, which is where the fuzzy little fruit gets his name. Now you know.

I concluded my snack tour and ventured down the street to the Water Palace, which is where the Emperor and his cohorts...cohorted. Most of it was in major disrepair due to a combination of neglect, purposeful draining of the majority of the complex, and a fairly massive earthquake that terrorized the area in 2005. Ah, the dangers of living in the land of the world's most active volcanoes and other natures beautiful nasties. Once more a guide appeared out of thin air as if by magic, this time with slightly better English, better history lessons, but no snacks. This one was also definitely looking to get paid. He led me up and down and through the grounds showing me everything except for the only remaining part that still holds water, but it looked like that was closed for "maintenance".

Hey look! An Indonesian eggplant! Get it? Horticulture puns!

I headed out for Malioboro street, which is like a massive market of all things, but on the way I kind of fell for one of the MANY local tourist trap scams. I was taking pictures of the graffiti elephants (symbol of peace and unity of the city that the city in return decided to add some local color to), and a guy came up and told me about a batik gallery show that was going on that day ("today only" should have been the first alarm). It sounded interesting so I followed his directions and diverted from my path. Along the way I met a gentleman who claimed to be a teacher at the said batik art school who'd be happy to show me the way. What a lovely coincidence (alarm  #2)!

The art school, of course, turned out to also be a shop, but to be fair it was a pretty awesome one. One of the "students" was working on a piece in the back and the store was filled top to bottom with gorgeous hand made batik pieces of all sizes on both cotton and silk. The "teacher" showed me around the shop and explained in detail how the different waxes and dyes are applied to the fabric using various funky tools to get the unique effects batik is known for. Apparently the craft of batik is sort of a hot button topic around here. To hear them tell the story, the Malaysians stole the craft and then proclaimed to the world that they came up with it, even though it originated in Indonesia all along. Who's right? Who's wrong? I can't judge, but after some serious haggling, I fell for the general idea of the scam and bought two pieces that I really loved (spoiler alert, someone might be getting these as gifts at some point).

But the story with the "nice batik teacher" doesn't end there. He offers to show me some of the other craft shops the city is known for, and as some of these were already on my list, and as I was not planning on buying a single thing more, I accepted his offer. He walked me through the Malioboro street where I was heading to before the diversion, past the many vendors hawking things I was never going to buy to his friend the sarong seller, where they taught me the right way to wear one. They were both a bit sad that I didn't buy one in the end, but my trusty guide was confident he'll get me on the next stop.

Snake fruit, probably the coolest thing in the market. Looks like what a snake egg should look like, but tastes like custardy honey. Disturbing and delicious all in one!

The next stop turned out to be at the puppet maker shop. Free puppet shows are a popular form of entertainment all over the city in the evenings, and there are quite a few shops around town that compete for the most beautiful and most intricate of them. Here the owner showed me how they make the puppets out of cured leather and then paint each one by hand, sometimes taking several months to create one. But hey, I'm in luck because they also sell small versions for tourists if I'd like to buy some for my kids! I'm not interested, but thank you very much for showing me around mister, better luck next time.

Next stop on the free tour guide list was the silver smith. There is a fairly intricate process traditionally used in Indonesia to create their intricate silver filigree pieces and there are again, several craftsmen around town who try to outdo each other. 97% silver gets mixed in with a bit of copper and some mystery meat, and gets spun into very thin strands, which are then manipulated, twisted and coiled into various constructions to form anything from very simple jewelry pieces that they conveniently sell in the back shop to insanely intricate statues and silverware also for sale. Needless to say, I did not go home with a miniature version of Borobudur and so the tour was over and after half-heartedly trying to sell me on dinner theater or a guided tour for the remainder of my stay, he took me back to the start where I hopped into a rickshaw and headed back to the homestay.

It was pretty late into the afternoon by this time and having been up at an ungodly hour I was exhausted, so I decided to adopt the siesta concept and took a nap in my nicely air conditioned room. The bonus is that my beyond white skin was indoors during the hottest/brightest part of the day. I'm already pink at the edges since the highest SPF I could find was 30 and I'm much more accustomed to the fictitious promises of 110, so venturing out until dinner at dusk was not as crazy as it might seem. Hopefully the pink will die down overnight as I'll be up even earlier tomorrow for an all day outing. Stay tuned!


  1. Amazing!! The puppets actually look so intricate and cool!! Sounds like a phenomenal market!!

  2. EVERYTHING looks intricate and quite beautiful. You seem to have lucked out with your homestay. I would have been nervous to use air bnb in another country. Good to know that's an option! So is there any way to get to Yogyakarta without having to go through Jakarta first?