Mountain of Fire

Since we didn’t have to check out until noon, we decided to make use of the “Tirto Nirmolo” waterpark that was adjacent to our hotel. It was, after all, included in our stay and we were not in a huge rush to move on. The four of us were the only people using the park that morning. While parts of the park seemed a little dilapidated, there was a well-kept Olympic sized pool as well as (my personal favorite) a set of three waterslides ranging in size from tall to very tall. From the top of the waterslides, our next destination was clearly visible in the distance- Gunung Merapi, the “Mountain of Fire”. Merapi is the most active volcano in Indonesia and regularly ranks among the most active in the world. Its last big eruption was in 2010, an event which killed over 300 people. Before heading to Merapi, however, we spent some time cooling off in first pool we had seen during our two weeks in Southeast Asia. Since we had vowed never to make the walk back to the bus depot, luggage in tow, if we could help it- we requested that a horse cart pick us up at the hotel at 11. “Depot” is my word for the Trans Jojga bus stops, which more accurately could be described as raised covered platforms that hold about a dozen people comfortably. The platforms are accessed by a set of one-way steps at each end, with the entrance holding a ticket counter and an adjacent turnstile. In order to transfer to another bus, a person simply waited on the platform, which brought riders even with the sliding door of the bus, instead of exiting it down the “out” steps. We paid about $5 for the privilege of riding in style to the bus depot- as it turns out, a bus just happened to be pulling up the moment we arrived.

The bus returned us to the airport along a route that was now familiar to me but then continued into Jogja proper on one which was not. Since Mt. Merapi lay in Kaliurang, 16 miles north of the city, I assumed that we would have to change buses on Kaliurang Street. Unfortunately, the bus became quite crowded as we entered Jogja and it was all I could do to grip my luggage to keep it from hitting those around me, let alone follow our progress on our map to see where we should alight. By the time the crowds thinned enough so I could approach the bus’ conductor, we had driven past Kaliurang and were on the main shopping street in town- Malioboro. Instead of waiting in the depot for a transfer, we decided that this opportunity was a perfect time to eat lunch. Lining both sides of Malioboro Street were people selling everything from T-shirts, to videos, to artwork, to food. We ducked inside one of these food stalls and ordered some bakso. Bakso is a type of soup which features noodles along with large spongy meatballs, typically served with krupuk, crackers made from deep fried cassava starch. It is apparently Pres. Obama’s favorite Indonesian dish. Zach, for his part, chose to disagree with our illustrious president since he found the consistency of the meat to be quite unappealing. The rest of us were considerably more pleased with this filling meal that could be had, complete with hot tea, for less than $1.

After we ate, we boarded the bus that the previous conductor had recommended and took it to a stop where we had to transfer to a different bus which would go to Kaliurang Street. We found that by far the best way to get where we were going in Jogja was to announce our final destination to the conductor of a bus as we boarded and that he would in turn make sure we got off at the right spot to transfer or, alternately, to arrive at our goal. We arrived at the corner of Kaliurang Street and Ring Road at around 2:30 pm. The latter road, as might be surmised, loops around the city delineating the metropolitan area proper. Christian, the owner of the hostel for which we were heading, had told me that the last bus for Kaliurang left around 3. I stopped inside a restaurant on Ring Road to ask where we could catch our next bus and the proprietor instructed us to wait for it right in front of his establishment. Sure enough, within 5 minutes a dalla-dalla type vehicle drove up, signposted with Jogja-Kaliurang above its front window. Unlike the setup in both Tanzania and Malaysia, however, this was not a two-man operation: there was a single driver and that was it.

Various people got on and off the bus as we made the 40-minute trip into the foothills, but as we pulled into Kaliurang itself, only the four of us remained. As far as I understood, we were to take the bus to the end of its line. The driver, who spoke very little English, eventually asked me “Vogels Hostel?” I guess it was a popular spot for foreigners. He pulled up in front of the hotel and let us off- I gave him the equivalent of $8 but he didn’t fish into his money box for any change, even though the fare should have run $6 for our group. “Oh, well,” I figured, “I guess you pay extra for door-to-door service.” Christian was waiting for us at the front desk. This 67-year old is one of the primary authorities on the volcano- he had led 6-hour early morning hikes up the volcano every day that he has guests at the hostel, but only if conditions allow it. “I’m not sure you reserved the right room,” Christian told me, “your room is very small with many beds- it is for young people.” “I’m young at heart,” I assured him. After checking out the room in person, I confirmed with him that it was fine. It was essentially a room with a window and four beds arranged with just enough room to walk between them.

We decided on an early dinner at the hostel and settled into a covered alcove where we sat on the floor around a low table. The menu held an eclectic mixture of breakfast foods, Italian fare, and Indonesian cuisine. I had pasta but most of the students opted for chocolate pancakes. After we ate, we decided to walk around town while it was still light. In a town of around 2000 people, this did not take particularly long- we bought ice cream bars at a nearby store and then strolled up and down the hilly streets. Of particular interest to us were the statues we found at the two roundabouts in town. One featured three giant lobsters crawling over rock outcroppings, while the other featured two dozen monkeys on their own set of vine encrusted rocks. What was most shocking considering that we were in a fairly conservative, predominantly Muslim country (Lady Gaga’s concert scheduled in Jakarta on the day we arrived in the country had been cancelled due to “impropriety”) was that a number of the monkeys were engaged in blatant sex acts. Back in our room, the window was still open and we noticed something else that we had not yet encountered in Southeast Asia- cool air.

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