When we last saw our heroines, they were walking the bird seedy streets of Yogyakarta, devouring turkey sandwiches, and watching princesses burn themselves alive at the ballet. That was just on Thursday.
The duo head to Solo
Friday started early, and Christine and I took the train an hour-long ride into Solo. Solo is smaller than Yogya, but has quite a lot of culture of its own. For some reason, it’s also a hotbed of political unrest. But not on the day I visited, thankfully.
I’ve heard many Indonesians say that Palembang is the “rudest” city in the country. I would like to suggest that maybe Palembang is the second rudest city. The citizens of Solo were, without question, the pushiest, grabbiest, loudest bunch of people I’ve ever seen.
We ate lunch at a yummy Italian restaurant. Sadly, the Office of Tourism was closed for the holiday, so we explored by guidebook alone. Supposedly, the largest batik warehouse in all of Indonesia is in Solo. Again, we arrived by becak (a bicycle with a small cart in front for passengers), and we couldn’t believe we were where we wanted to be. But a nice old man appeared like he always does and pointed in the direction of a large building surrounded by shouting food vendors. We dove into the mayhem.
There was definitely a lot of batik inside, but most of the booths were closed like the tourism office. The booths that were open were home to the bravest and boldest vendors, apparently determined to make a sale if it meant literally stealing the money from our purses. Some people wouldn’t even let us through; they blocked our path with crazy colorful shirts. I tried to buy a scarf, and the woman insisted on trying to sell it to me for about three times what she was selling it to Indonesians. We speak enough Indonesian to communicate that with her, but she just shook her head and refused to budge. The Indonesian women in line were laughing because they knew she was cheating us, so we finally abandoned our souvenirs and walked away.
Everyone shouted and grabbed us. We tried to be nice and say “Tidak, terima kasih.” [No, thank you.] Then people mocked us! One woman flipped her hair and batted her eyelashes and strutted around saying “oooh tidak tidak tidak terrrrrimmaaaa kassssiiiihhh.” I tried to give her an international look of death.
We read about one restaurant that served cobra. There, you can also drink the snake’s blood mixed with an energy drink or a glass of wine. We decided it was at least worth a visit.
The “restaurant” wound up being a lone food stand and the cobras, the only item on the menu, were just restrained in cloth bags. The vendor saw us coming and let three of them out, who circled around him and bit at his hands. It was pretty terrifying. He offered to cook one for us, but I’d already watched something die at the sacrifice earlier in the day (more later, promise), and I wasn’t in the mood to do it again. So we just paid him for the cost of one anyway and ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction. We could still hear the snakes snapping at him as we rode away.
Snakes alive! (heh)
The train was an experience in itself—filthy and crowded, but delightfully cheap. It was just $.70 for a ride. It was hard to find our own seat to share, but people (not Solo natives, I would like to point out) were nice enough to shift around to let us share.
Chris and I were walking around on Thursday night, and I was in one of those vacation moods. You know the one: you’re tired, you had a full day and a camera full of new pictures, but you’re not just not ready to cross off one of your precious vacations days and declare it over. So we walked around the streets near our hotel (lucky for us, right downtown).
We spotted a few salons advertising a bunch of things I’d never heard of at really terrific prices. Chris was thinking about getting her haircut, but wisely decided that these joints probably weren’t the safest bet. Regardless, we were curious.
Have you ever heard of a cream bath? Maybe they have them in the US and I can’t afford them there; that’s very possible. But I COULD afford the $2.50 listed on the sign out front. In true Indonesian fashion, they were excited to get us inside and then tried to charge us $4 because “our hair is so long.” (Our hair barely reaches our shoulders.)
It was great—cream baths are basically glorified conditioning hair treatments with an added upper back and shoulder massage. (Don’t worry, there’s no taking off your clothes at all.) Judging by Chris’s grimaces and muffled whimpers of pain, her beautician was rubbing a lot harder than mine. But mine was perfect and relaxing. My only disappointment was that the water they washed our hair in was cold, of course. For some reason, I’d forgotten.
We (or I) enjoyed it so much we went back for $2.50 manicures the next night. This one wasn’t quite as terrific, but it was still an adventure. They pulled tools out one by one from a mass of metal in a grubby cardboard box. They cut, trimmed, yanked, and filed. Honestly, I think they were afraid of messing up for American customers. Sadly, this didn’t stop them from chopping Christine’s nails into something that looked like a profile of the Rocky Mountains. Poor Chris. Although, I have a chronic case of bad luck ordering food in restaurants, so we’re even.
Another ancient structure. I always have lofty goals of one day seeing some forever-old monument or building and truly being moved. Now, however my thoughts follow a familiar pattern, something like Hmm, that sure is pretty. It must have taken an awfully long time to build. I’m so lucky to see this. I should take a picure. (I do.) Woah, I’m pretty hungry for 10am. Did I eat all the toast they gave me at breakfast? I wish I’d remembered a granola bar. Do I even have any left or did I eat them all? I bet Mom would send more. Hmm, that sure is pretty. I should take a picture.
The more I know, though, the more I care. (Surely that’s a universal truth, right?) So I made myself carsick on the ride to the temple reading everything about what we were going to see. And I’m glad I did, because it’s a point of pride that I am annoyingly well-informed on ways to bring yourself good luck and other anecdotes.
Indonesians pay $1.50 for admission. “International guests” pay $10. I suppose that’s fair—although I don’t think their taxes go to upkeep or the natives who can afford to travel here need a break on the cost of a ticket more than I do. In a proud little turn of events, they accepted our police ID cards as proof of residency and admitted us for $1.50 each. I walked through the gate with my head a little higher. Oh, hello, all you visitors. I live here.
We walked around a garden before attempting to scale the steps to the temple. (Weren’t people shorter then? Why do ALL ancient temple/pyramid/ruin steps I’ve ever been to require me to step up a yardstick at a time?) The temple, and the view from it, truly is beautiful. Unfortunately, terrorist attacks and natural disasters have robbed almost all of the little Buddhas of their heads.
It started to rain while we were at the top, and we decided we’d better move toward the ground quickly, lest the rain would make the stone slippery and we would slide down meter by meter on the steps. Luckily, before it started raining, we made sure to get our good luck by reaching in through the stupa and rubbing the Buddha that sits inside for good luck.
There is a sultan in Yogyakarta. I had no idea about this until we got a cab at the airport and the driver proudly told that his president and his sultan were good men. I’m glad about that, at least. I have since looked it up. There IS a sultan here, and Yogya is the last province with a monarchy in the country. He acts as an elected governor, though.
What I understand perfectly well… is that he has a palace. A real palace with a huge concrete wall surrounding it. Thousands of people live inside that big concrete wall, but sadly, it was closed to outsiders (literally, with a deadbolt on the 40-ft tall doors) for Idul Adha.
Outside of the palace, however, are two huge Banyan trees sitting about 70 feet apart. Buddha was supposedly sitting under a Banyan tree when he achieved enlightenment, which is obviously awesome. The Banyan tree is also featured on Indonesia’s coat of arms; it represents that the country is one, though the people (roots) are sometimes flung far away.
There’s a legend that says if you can successfully walk blindfolded from the other end of the courtyard (maybe 200 feet away) through the trees, your wish will come true. You have to make the wish before you take your first blindfolded steps.
I had to try it. I went first, and our guide secured the blindfold around my eyes. I decided I would point my hands forward and just follow them—you just have to walk in a straight line. The thing is, after about 30 seconds, it really is hard to remember which way your hands were pointing and where you are and you start to be afraid that your head will smack into the trunk of a Banyan tree at any moment.
Our guide wouldn’t help me, but he kept telling me to concentrate on my wish, and if it was meant to come true, then I would find my way. Is it cheating a little bit if I could tell that his voice was coming from pretty far off to the right? I concentrated very hard on my wish while at the same time heading more toward the sound of the guide’s voice.
He later told me that I walked completely left of the path I should have been on, then stopped and thought, and walked right back and through the middle of the trees. He said my wish would surely come true. I’m going to believe him.
Of course, I can’t tell you what my wish was if I want it to come true, but it was vague enough that if it really didn’t come true, that would be seriously bad news. Whew!