We arrived in Solo after a miserable night of not sleeping outside the airport and a massive fight when security took our really nice American spray sunscreen away from Bloom. “What are YOU going to do with it??” I yelled at the security lady at 5 am. “You can put on now,” she replied calmly. “IT IS DARK NOW. I DO NOT NEED SUN SCREEN NOW.” I yelled back, and then to Bloom, “WHY WAS THAT IN YOUR CARRY ON??” I then stormed off and sat by myself for a while mourning the loss of the sunscreen.
This whole fight may sound stupid, and maybe it was, but when it’s 5 am and you’ve been up since 7am and have spent the day taking a ferry, then a bus, then 6 hours at the “airport” in Medan (airport being a very very generous term here, since it was more like a really crappy bus station) until finally flying to KL where you were kicked out of the airport and onto the streets to spend time until 5am when you can finally check in your bags…then you may not be in the best mood. Additionally, when we got to Medan super early, I asked if we could go on one of the earlier flights. The guy behind the counter checked his computer and then said “ok.” Great, I thought, but I thought too soon. The guy continued, “you will not get money back from your flight and you have to pay for the new one.” WAIT, what? “I don’t want to switch flights completely, I just want to go on the earlier flight, since I’m here, instead of the later one. Standby, you know?” He did not know, and was not hearing it. We argued for a while, and I asked who was in charge, apparently no one. We had six hours to kill until our flight, four hours before they would allow us to check our bags. This set the stage for the rest of the evening. And about that sunscreen—we have searched everywhere for a replacement, all over Java and Bali, and have not been able to find good sunscreen. So, this is why a little thing like sunscreen was quite valuable to me.
Anyway, back to Solo. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the adorable airport and friendly people. We had no place to stay, and didn’t have much of an idea of where we were going. We found an information desk and the guy wrote the name of an area on a piece of paper for us, which we gave to a taxi driver. We made it to this area, found a hostel, and slept for the rest of the day.
When we finally woke up, we wandered the streets, and we decided this was a cute place, and we wanted to give it more of a chance. It was now Thursday night, and our original plan had been to leave Friday morning for Yogyakarta (for some reason pronounced Jogjakarta), a bigger city an hour away, but now we decided we would do an early morning bike tour before making our way to Yogya. This was a wise decision, because the bike tour was really great.
Bloom and I, with a guide, set out early in the morning and biked around the city, and into the outskirts to see all sorts of artisans at work.
We watched a guy painting traditional leather puppets, people making shrimp crackers, which was crazy, because it wasn’t a factory, but people making thousands of crackers more or less by hand, tofu-making, traditional gamelan (like a gong)making, batik making, and other such fun things. At one point we ended up in a family home, where I was asked to please hold their newborn baby. Our guide told me that in their culture it is very important that people have babies, and holding this newborn would “pull the baby” out of me. I guess the idea is that there’s a baby inside me just trying to get out, and it needs help from babies on the outside. He turned to Bloom and said seriously, “do not worry, there is no science to prove this yet.” OK. Phew. I held the baby, who was only 3 days old (!) and the parents were very pleased and took many pictures. I thought of my friend Becky’s baby who was having his bris on this same day, and was sad to miss it, but found it funny that I was meeting this other Indonesian newborn on that day.
While at the tofu making hut, a torrential downpour began. We decided to wait it out, while we ate fresh fried tofu and soy milk from plastic bags. Shockingly delicious! I have been craving soy milk ever since. Our guide asked us why we had to take the early train, couldn’t we just wait and take the later train? We explained that it was our Sabbath, etc. He was interested in this, and asked us many questions about what we can and can’t do on the Sabbath, and then after a few minutes asked/said excitedly “You are Jews?” Bloom and I looked at each other. Should we admit it? He seemed safe, so we said “Yeah, we’re Jews.” He was really excited to hear this and asked us why we didn’t tell him this earlier, because he had many questions to ask about Jewish things and about the Talmud and the forefathers, and Jewish traditions. We spent the next 30 minutes or so, waiting out the rain, and answering his questions about Jewish law and tradition while he compared it to different Islamic traditions. We talked about Yom Kippur and Ramadan, praying 3 times and praying 5 times, torah reading and Koran reading, the Talmud and hadif, etc. When we told him about different kashrut laws and what we ate and didn’t eat while travelling, he was very impressed and said “you are very serious!” He decided he would take the train with us to Yogyakarta and help us find a hostel, and promised us it would all be done before Shabbos started.
Since everything was going so well with him, I stupidly decided to ask him why he thought Israelis were not allowed in Indonesia. “Thailand makes tons of money off Israeli travelers,” Bloom explained, “Indonesia would make a lot of money if they let Israelis in.” He looked at us seriously and said “Indonesia does not allow colonizers in the country.” We tried to explain that surely Israel is not the only colonizing country out there. In fact Indonesia can be seen as a colonizing country. “Indonesia allows people to live freely,” he explained. “What about China?” I said, “You know, Tibet?” “China is very good,” He said, and looked confused when I mentioned Tibet. I tried to explain to him that I agree that Israel has done some bad things, but in the country everyone can say what they want, there is a free press, etc. We also explained that many countries do unfavorable things, but they singled out Israel as the colonizers. He refused to budge on this one, but said “you are very open Jewish people,” and seemed to like us, even after the Israel conversation.
Overall, it was a great day and we had a nice time seeing artisans at work, and of course discussing religious philosophy with our guide. When we got to Yogyakarta we had an hour to find a hostel and arrange shabbos meals. We gave the guide a list of vegetarian restaurants, and he found us a hostel near a few of them, and it even had a pool. Sadly, it rained for hours every day we were in Java. On Sunday we went to Borobudur, a giant Temple, which was amazing, but again, there was a downpour and this time we had nowhere to hide. We were also, again, bombarded by teenage Indonesian tourists who took many pictures with us.
We almost went to check out Mt. Merapi, but people were saying that it was probably going to erupt soon, so we deiced we would skip it. It did indeed erupt, and I think it is still erupting, and has caused many deaths and lots of damage. It started erupting the day we left Java, so I guess we had good timing. We left Yogyakarta on Sunday night, taking a very loud overnight train to the big, not so quaint city, Surabaya. The sole reason for our visit to Surabaya was that it is one of two cities in all of Indonesia where one can acquire a Chinese visa. Since we only decided to go to China once we were in Indonesia, and since we wanted to get to China as early as possible in order to avoid freezing temperatures, we had to go to Surabaya. We checked into a hostel at 7 am, went to get our visas, went to a mall in search of food, where we found Red Mango frozen yogurt, which was by far the highlight of the day. Who knew it was in Indonesia?? And who knew it was in this random mall?? I was starving and sweating through every article of clothing, so Red Mango was a fantastic find.
We left Surabaya at midnight to see the sunrise at a volcano in Eastern Java called Mt. Bromo. We arrived at 3 am, and it was freezing, which I stupidly, was not prepared for in my sandals. We also had not really thought about the fact that we now had two bed-less, transit nights in a row. When the driver kicked us out of the jeep at 3 am, I was ready to just skip the sunrise and sleep in the jeep. The sunrise was nice, but it was packed with tourists and Bloom witnessed two Europeans get in an actual fight over God knows what.
After our time at the volcano we went to the bus station and hitched a ride to Bali with some French people. We had no idea where we were going in Bali, so we told the driver we would go wherever he was going, and that is how we got to Seminyak, a fancy beach resort town. More on that next time!