It’s been quite a trip through Java. Braving daunting distances on rickety old busses, we’ve covered a serious amount of ground. We’ve travelled alongside chickens, with our bags piled on top of us, feet inside a market trader’s basket due to lack of space on the bus. But we made it, and were rewarded for our endurance by some truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Merapi was our first stop, where we groaned our way out of bed at 3am for a sunrise hike in the hills. Merapi is the most active volcano in the world, having had a full-scale explosion in 2010, the damage from which can still be seen in the landscape. The surrounding area has new forest growing amid the scorched remains of huge old trees, with lava trails hardened into new riverbeds.
Next stop was Borobudur. It’s a huge, 1400 year old Buddhist temple that was overgrown by forest for circa 1000 years until it was rediscovered in the 19th Century by the famous Sir Raffles. The loving detail carved into each stone coupled with the beautiful landscape make an awe inspiring scene. My personal highlight is the tale of how historians have studied the boats depicted in the stone carvings. Doubts about the ancient Indonesians’ ability to sail to Africa had to be cast aside when they actually sailed a full-scale copy all the way to Madagascar.
Bromo was our next destination. Rising from a bed of volcanic ash, the lunar-like slopes of Bromo and its neighboring peaks are a photographers dream. It’s a shame Ferg’s SLR camera chose this moment to stop working. (And lucky we have a half-decent pocket camera too). It was my first chance to climb to the rim of a volcano’s crater and peer inside its mouth. With sulphurous gas swirling constantly from the centre I found it terrifying to be so close to such a natural wonder, and felt very far from home.
We were unsure if it would be worth the journey to see another volcano at Ijen. It involved 7 hours on the worst quality bus we’ve seen so far (quite a claim) plus a further 3 hours in a jeep, and a vigorous walk. Astonishingly, it was worth every minute. Quite unlike the other 2, Ijen has a sulphurus lake inside its crater. It’s a steep climb, but as you round the final corner you are rewarded with a change in landscape so dramatic and unique, you feel you have entered another world.
Java is quite simply the most astonishing place I’ve ever been. Arduous and uncomfortable, yes, but it has left me with a sense of being exceptionally lucky to have seen such things. It reminds you that ‘normal’ life at home is far from normal, the vast majority of people in the world do not live in a small semi in suburbia like ours.
I wonder how it will impact the children to have seen such amazing sights so early in life?