Twenty-three years old, artists just out of college, writing a travel blog… even though it’s not our style, we had to try out a hostel during one of our visa runs to Singapore. Only for one night, just to say we’ve had the experience, and only because we thought it would make a good blog post. We had high expectations for a wild night of drinks and games, meeting people from all sorts of places with plenty of interesting stories. Anticipating very few hours of sleep, we booked the co-ed room with four sets of bunkbeds for the cheapest rate. With only the bare essentials in our backpacks, we were on our way.
On arrival we were greeted by a less than friendly woman who took our payment, went over the long list of do’s and don’ts, handed us sheets and escorted us to the third floor dorm. We made our beds and laid out our folded clothes territorially. It was late in the day and Jeremiah and I were starving, so we grabbed dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant down the street. On the way back we spoke anxiously about the night ahead of us.
Walking into the common area we realized that we had been naive in our assumptions. The room was full of people, slightly more men than women, yet it was completely silent, like walking into the school library on exam week. There were people on their phones and laptops in the comfortable lounge area, and others with their headphones in using the computers along the far wall. Jeremiah and I made our way to the lounge area where we sat across from a guy passed out the couch. Behind us, in the dining area, someone sat slurping instant noodles. Someone else was moving about the small kitchen, microwaving leftovers. After a few minutes the quiet started becoming uncomfortable. Jeremiah and I were even unsure about talking to each other, opting to whisper so as not to disturb anyone. The loudest things, in my memory, were the notices posted all over the doors, walls, and refrigerator; handwritten capital letters in thick black marker, demanding adherence to hostel protocol.
Jeremiah and I hung out in the common area for over an hour, until the air conditioning turned on in the dorm upstairs. All the while we waited for someone to initiate any sort of social interaction. How disconcerting, to see young adventurers isolating themselves from the world around them, preferring instead to escape into their own private world of technology. It’s nothing new; we’ve become accustomed to the sight of people tuned into their phones, even in social settings. But the hostel is a very unique social setting. Where else can young people from all over the world congregate, with the opportunity to share a meal, a bedroom, and a bathroom with other travelers? Instead, every individual sat silently secluded in their own little space, and the fact that we were strangers, became even more strange.
Hiking through terraced rice paddies beyond a remote Indonesian farming village, en route to an ancient temple hidden away in the mountains; it’s by far one of the most amazing adventures I’ve had in my life.
The sculpting of the land is incredible for two reasons: it is an innovative technique serving an agricultural purpose while maintaining the integrity of the landscape, and it is a magnificent work of art.
The hour long trek took us through a network of narrow paths, over makeshift bridges, and up mud-carved steps, as our guide explained the process of farming rice. Late in the dry season, farmers are busy harvesting golden stalks of rice and setting the grains out to dry in the sun. After the fields are plowed and prepped, it’s time to plant seedlings, one by one into the mud, spaced neatly in long rows. The rice will mature over the next few months, getting plenty of water from the coming rains, until it’s harvest time once again. The farmers in this village have been growing rice using traditional agricultural practices for many generations. They pride themselves on their hard work and simple lifestyle, refusing to adopt modern technology to ease the physical burden.
After hiking through the mountains and climbing numerous sets of stairs, we finally arrived at Candi Selogriyo. The temple itself is modest, with ancient elegance but nothing spectacular. The views, however, are breathtaking. We relaxed in the shade of a tree with our guide, enjoying the cool mountain air with a cold soda and a clove cigarette.
Black sands composed of lava fragments.
Sand patterns made by bubble crabs.
After two months of living on an island in the tropics, it was gratifying to finally get my feet in the sand and to wade in the refreshing waters of the Indian Ocean. On this particularly bright, windy day there were very few people on the beach. Jeremiah and I took a long walk along the shore, observing the intricate sand patterns made by bubble crabs and ATV tires. Curious about the dark sand, I did some research and learned that Pantai Parangtritus is a black sand beach, composed of ash and lava fragments from the nearby volcanoes. When the hot lava flow meets the ocean water it cools rapidly, shattering into tiny particles. Plenty of sunshine, warm sand, healing seawater, fruit juice and fresh fish for lunch; it all sums up to a perfect afternoon in my mind.
One of the best parts of staying in the bungalow was the stunning scenery along our walks to dinner each night. At dusk, the flooded rice paddies became mirrors of the sky, reflecting the clouds, shadows of buildings, and power lines. So calm and serene. I love the strong lines, shapes, and composition of this image; the lush, saturated greens and the gleaming waters in the fading light of day.
Without a doubt, the highlight of our trip to Yogyakarta was the day trip to Borobudur. Our adventure began at 2:30am when we hauled ourselves out of bed, threw on the clothes we had set out hours before, and packed our backpacks for the day. The staff at Yabbiekayu had packed us breakfast to go- muesli and cold milk, fresh papaya and pineapple with yogurt, and a thermos of hot water for making instant coffee or tea. At 3:30am our driver met us at the parking area and we piled into his van with our gear.
The quiet drive to Borobudur took about one hour. Along the way we ate our breakfast, made small talk with the guide, and tried our best not to fall back asleep. As we got further away from the city, the road got narrower, bumpier, then steeper and more winding. Halfway through the ride, we observed the village people setting up for their morning markets. We started up invisible mountains, the headlights illuminating piles of ash on the side of the road, evidence of the last volcanic eruption still waiting to be cleared. Finally we arrived at the Manohara Hotel at the base of the temple. After paying the outrageous entry fee, we were given flashlights and directed to a path leading up to the temple.
If you ever get to Indonesia to visit Borobudur, go at sunrise. Pay the ridiculous fee. It is worth it.
Climbing the steps of an ancient temple in complete darkness just before dawn…. it is a powerful, spiritual experience. The only sounds are that of your footsteps and your own breathing, distant chanting and the call of the rooster. Shuddering softly, the stones wiggle underfoot; a result of the changing earth upon which the structure was built. The cool mountain air is refreshing and rejuvenating. A lingering scent of ash is an eerie reminder of a catastrophic past, but also brings to mind nature’s miraculous cycle of life and death.
The stairs to each platform got steeper as we climbed. By the time we reached the top we were accompanied by many tourists setting up their camera gear on the east side for the perfect shot. Jeremiah and I decided to find our own, more private area to view the sunrise. As the sky brightened we felt anxious, caught between desires to experience the moment for ourselves and to capture it for our friends and family. After the weeks of anticipation, the long drive, and the climb, the sunrise lasted for mere minutes. Still, in those few minutes Jeremiah managed to take some incredible photos while I took in the view and offered some silent prayers. What a magnificent place to build a temple. Every church, temple, shrine, mosque, or place of worship should be built on a mountain, surrounded by nature’s majesty. If I could, I’d spend every morning in an ancient temple, meditating atop a mountain.