The Tourist Capital of Java
Roughly 7 times smaller, Yogakarta seems like a true lady, when compared to Indonesia’s capital. Free roaming chickens and wooden fences with goats are still a common sight. Traffic remains a constant mesh of motorbikes and cars, with pedestrians disappearing in the relentless river of vehicles, when crossing the road. Locals force tourist packages down travellers’ throats and tirelessly offer transport or “selfless” help. Nonetheless, the bustle seems more courteous. Pollution is milder and the scent of smog is insignificant. Main tourist streets (jalan Prawirotaman and Malioboro) hold numerous tourist offices, souvenir shops, clothing stores and scooter rental services. Restaurants with alcohol and western food are also found here. Better yet, bathrooms in hostels come with toilet paper, not solely the little shower for butt rinsing. All of it is welcome for newcomer’s adapting to the Asian-Islam culture.
After arriving to our new hostel, we replenished our sleep reserves. The rest of the day was spent slacking off and planning our next move. All trains heading to the eastern parts of Java were still full, due to the festival, so we decided to stay in Yogya for an extra day. We quickly scanned our neighbourhood in the evening and anchored ourselves in a beer pub.
Alcohol is a shady subject in Indonesia as in many other Islamic countries. Finding it in non-tourist places is a true work of art. Excluding homemade spirits, diluted with methanol, which can blind or kill you. In 2012 Indonesian Islamic Party proposed a complete ban of the intoxicating liquids. Tourist agencies immediately warned about all the negative consequences such prohibition could have on Indonesia’s tourism. The proposal was denied. Nonetheless rigorous penalties exist in some strict Islamic provinces. Such is Banda Aceh on the northern most part of Sumatra, which abides to the law of Sharia. You know, the “eye for an eye” rule. Since 2014 alcohol drinkers in Aceh, either locals or tourists, may be punished with 6-8 lashes with a stick. The other extreme is mostly Hindu Bali, which remains almost untouched by the prohibition. Most of Indonesia however lies somewhere in the middle and respects a mild ban of alcohol. It can only be purchased in large markets and some pubs. Import fees are high, thus pricing a bottle of Bintang labelled green gold around 3€.
We started our next morning with a light breakfast – fried rice with egg and chicken. I already missed bread that was nowhere to be found. Artificial analogues grown in petri dishes are sold in markets, but they don’t count! I emptied a cup of Arabian coffee for an infusion of energy and humbly followed Tina. Today was her turn to have the honour of carrying the navigator’s sceptre. Southern parts of Yogyakarta presented us with a batik workshop. A hospitable lady accepted us in Batik Winotosastru and guided us through the process of batik painting for free.
The word batik means to dot in old Javanese and refers to a technique of textile colouring. It looks similar to how Europeans colour Easter eggs. (Associations with Easter eggs seem to be found throughout all of Indonesia.) The artist uses hot wax to paint a pattern on silk or cotton and then dips the textile in a dye. Waxed parts remain unaffected by dyeing, allowing the artists to wax and colour layer by layer. A great deal of effort and patience is required, since quality batik is ornamented manually on both sides and dipped in organic dyes that don’t get washed off with water. Needless to say, we had to test our skills in making of these textile Easter eggs. However we resorted to the lazier technique. We applied wax with large metal stamps and a qualified worker coloured our product with chemical dyes. This produced us a green scarf with ornamented white border and outlines of various animals in the middle.
In the search of next attraction we stumbled upon more remote streets of Yogya. A nearby tree was carrying an unknown fruit – durian. Also called smelly fruit, this spiky green fruit hidesedible meat and has a distinct, you guessed it, reek. Here was also the first time we sighted a banana flower. In the meantime, earth’s celestial nuclear reactor kept on scorching, so we hurried onwards. Much to our surprise, the locals kept directing us towards our next goal, without us ever mentioning it. If I’d worn my tinfoil hat, I’d be safe from all the mind reading! Of course the residents made quick assumption when they saw two Pale-faces wandering this far from the centre. The only logic conclusion – we were headed for the city’s bird market.
Yogyakarta's Bird Market
Pasar Pasty, in Indonesian, is vast and serves as the main trading ground, where people purchase and sell live birds, reptiles, bugs and fishes. You instantly ask yourself: why is the bird business so booming? As it appears, a bird stands as a symbol of manliness in Indonesia. Furthermore, a fellow living here needs 5 things, beside his pecker, to get the title of a first class alpha male: a transport device, a weapon, a house, a woman and – a bird. Odd absurdities sometimes fondle male ego.
A few minutes of walking around the market sufficed for us to start noticing and judging all the ruthlessness. Feathered creatures were packed tightly in their cages. Most stood still, staring blankly in front of them, others were lying on the floor exhausted. The ones still strong enough quickly took warning stance if we approached their cage. Cruelty peaked with colourful chicks and we only hoped they were dyed as embryos. The other option is more bizarre – soon after being hatched, a dye is poured over them and they get mixed in it, like salad in oil. So much for people respecting their status symbols.
Yogyakarta is one of Java’s main tourist cities and offers plenty of architectural, cultural and historical sights. During a walk down the Malioboro shopping street a trader directed us towards the Art Academy. In its gallery students and masters alike exhibit and sell their work. Each piece of art is marked with a letter, representing a price range, which depends on the author’s reputation and the size of the painting.
One of the masters taught us how to distinguish quality batik from cheap one. He warned us of similar galleries around the town, where academy’s batik is being resold to travellers for higher prices. Good tourists as we are, we stumbled in one such gallery a few hours earlier and happily bought ourselves two pieces of painted cloth. Luckily tight budget prevented us from overspending and after some heavy bargaining we paid nearly the
same price as it was originally bought for. El Hefe of the university’s gallery comforted us some more by confirming we bought authentic batik. One of them is, in fact, his work. It has a background of radiating red and black colours, with hollow heads levitating timelessly in front. From them slender mushrooms sprung, like some sort of brain periscopes. I encouraged the author with my questions and he finally confessed with a smile on his face – he had painted many of such paintings under the influence of shrooms.
Palace Kraton governs the centre of the city. It is surrounded by many streets, separated with high walls. In this concrete maze we came across a sign for Kopi Luwak Coffe House. Truth be told, being two caffeine addicts we didn’t even try to resist. A friendly girl accepted us in the pleasant garden. She explained the process of manufacturing the poop coffee and offered us a cup of the praised beverage. We spotted an open cage in the corner of the yard. A little fury fatso was lying in it – Luwak! If you somehow managed to mix a domestic cat and a racoon you’d wind up with something similar to this lazy beast. The acclaimed poop coffee is named after it, since Luwak is the first step in its production. Owners seem to spoil their spherical pet immensely, because it tamely allowed us to stroke him.
Coffee is nowadays the second most valuable commodity, right after oil. But why did people even begin producing coffee from poop? The answer lies back in the times of colonialism, when Indonesian islands were part of the Dutch administration. Dutchmen wanted coffee for themselves and for the export to Europe, so they forbid Indonesians to harvest and drink the brown stimulant. However, the indigenous inhabitants have known of civet cats, living in high forests. The animals enjoyed eating ripe coffee berries, but couldn’t digest the resistant coffee beans. Resourceful Indonesians thus started collecting excrements with beans. They washed and cleaned them thoroughly and left them out on the sun to dry. After roasting them they finally cooked themselves the forbidden beverage. The high price of Luwak coffee is therefore mostly a consequence of strenuous and lengthy production process.
Kraton Luck Harvesting
On the other side of the palace lies a square park. In the middle grow two Banyan trees with their characteristic hanging roots. According to local legend, everyone who successfully walks between the two trees without looking, will be blessed with eternal luck. As we arrived, many were stumbling around, all blindfold and in pursuit of their own endless supply of luck. Nearly all began cautiously, but soon became sure of themselves and unknowingly wandered away from the trees. At first I found it silly walking around blinded by the cloth
and with outstretched hands, but I soon realized it was much harder than I had anticipated. It is funny how we seem to lose our orientation way before we lose our confidence. In the end Tina and I both managed to cross between the trees (though with some help).
Street Food of Yogyakarta
I ate my cheapest meal near the palace. It cost around 50 cents. Paid vs gained ration even improved, when we were leaving the food stand and saw how many ants were crawling over the unprepared food. Free proteins! Just as Bear Grylls taught me.
There are numerous street-food stands all around the town. In the evening carpets are rolled out on the pavements and low tables set on them. Canopies guard the feasting folk from wind or rain. We tried the greasy meals ourselves with our sleeves rolled up. Though we ordered “no spicy” we barely managed to extinguish our burning mouths with ice tea.