Jogjakarta was my next stop. One of Ika´s contacts had taken myself and one other guy to the station via minibus. I thought something was up when he bought the train tickets and gave them to the guard, saying he would put us on the train. I smelled a rat. The guard wasn´t keen on handing them over, and nade out he didn´t understand what I was saying. He just kept patting his top pocket and saying "Yes...ticket". So I said "Yes, how much ticket?" and took them out of his pocket myself. Looks like the guy had ripped us off, but he´d long gone. Worked out at 12 quid for a half hour car drive. Cheeky bastard. Ika wasn´t amused when I told her, either.
Jogja isn´t an exciting place. There are a couple of temples to see, and I saw one of them...couldn´t really be bothered doing the other one. Especially as Prambanan was covered in bamboo scaffolding...I haven´t got the patience to Photoshop all that out. I wandered through the earthquake-ravaged ruins with a few English people I got chatting to. We made our way to the back of the complex, to a fenced-off area the archaeologists and re-builders were working on. It´s a massive job, and has been going on since the quake in 2006. An Indonesian Richard Pryor beckoned us over the fence and gave us a quick tour. He said the work was very slow, and I told him I wasn´t surprised, considering there were all of 20 people working on the site. I sugested getting some Polish builders in, they´d have been done by now.
I did meet a few locals there, three young lads, who I had an amusing conversation with. All they wanted to talk about was sex, how it works in the West, what English girls are like. Needless to say, I didn´t mention any names. But they asked me how long I lasted? Bit of a personal question, but you get used to it in Asia. They said five or ten minutes for them. I pondered a minute and said "Well it depends how attractive the girl is, really...but on average, around 3 to 4 hours?" (I was lying, obviously: it´s usually 2) I remained poker-faced as they all looked at each other incredulously, one of them raising a hand to high-five me. The conversation got more X-rated after that, but my Mum reads this blog, after all.
The only other incident of note was a local weirdo who followed me up the street giving it the usual best pals act. What´s your name, where are you from, where is your wife etc etc. I tried to shake him off by going into various shops, but he just lay in wait outside, hiding, only to appear again and try and pick up the conversation. The situation rapidly evolved into a chase somewhere between James Bond and Benny Hill, me crossing the road several times, leaving shops by different exits trying to shake him off. Took me a good twenty minutes, but it was worth it to stand sniggering behind a market stall watching him run round like a headless chicken looking for me. Fool.
The Bromo volcanoes were the real reason for heading this way. I booked a trip to Bali via that region. I usually deplore doing things that way, it feels like you´re back in Thailand on the Tourist Escalator...but I only have a month here, and there´s a lot to see. I had two Poles and a German couple along for the ride, and we picked up a huge American guy called Mike. The Poles and Germans got along famously, which surprised me considering the usual hostility between the nations, trouble at the football etc. But I suppose that the Germans (mainly men) have been holidaying in Poland since September 1939, it should be no surprise they know each other well.
2329m above sea level, the region is quite cold at night...the air noticeably the freshest I´d breathed in a while. Starting at 4am, I was driven up to the jump-off point. The Polish fella had said he was getting up, but after a 30 minute wait in the freezing cold, I went to his room to find he was still in bed. I thanked him for bothering to get up and tell me he wasn´t coming. I passed on the opportunity of taking a horse to the summit, and set off walking. The valley was pitch black, and I was thankful for my dive torch...far more powerful out of water than in. There were a few other people around, and I picked up the pace to get ahead of them. By the time I reached the steps to the viewpoint, there was just myself and a Japanese guy in the running. He obviously wanted to be first up, too. 200 steps are hard going, and we passed each other a couple of times as the other rested. I pipped him in the end, though. Chris Bonnington would be so proud. Can´t have been much harder than this doing the North face of the Eiger, after all?
I picked my way around the crater rim, trying to keep my footing as I got higher and further away from the bloody tourists who were whooping and yelling when they got to the top. Deary me. Light trickled into the picture, and the volcanoes appeared around me; a stunning sight. Purple and blue light gave way to warmer reds and oranges as the sun made it´s appearance in the distance. It´s a sight I´m not likely to forget.
The trek back down was harder, as you leave the valley and climb the hill back to the village; then it´s an agonising walk downhill, the muscles around your shins screaming in agony. I had a brief panic attack when I realised I didn´t know the name of the hotel, and the transport was due to leave in half an hour. When we were dropped off at midnight, we´d just been told the hotel was new. "New hotel this way?" was just getting shrugs from the locals. Shit. I found my way back most of the way when a minibus pulled up with the Poles in it, they´d risen late and just gone to see the view froma distance. Fair to say I was more than a little relieved.
Big Mike was there when I returned. He´d found it hard work due to his bulk, but told me he´d lost 60 pounds since setting off travelling a few months back. He comes from a big family, but said it was his own fault he´d got this size. A stomach-stapling operation had taken some of it off; he must have been huge before. I really admired his guts, though (pun intended) as he was doing something about it. He´d started comfort-eating as he got bigger in his youth, and got past the point of no return. We had a laugh about flying, when he told me about the looks on people´s faces as he heads down the aisle checking for his seat. He understands the reactions, and was actually apologising all the time for taking up so much room in the minibus. He´s a really nice fella with it, and I wished him the best of luck with ditching some more. Can´t be easy.