Indonesia held promise. We weren’t going to Bali. No. When so many work opportunities presented themselves in Java, why would we hit over-touristed Bali?
As our plane began its descent at Yogyakarta Airport, I spotted two pointed mountains emerging from the clouds.
“Yep. Now we are in the Ring of Fire,” John said.
I filled in the next required line, “Burn, burn burn, The Ring of Fire, the ring of fire.” (Some things must be done.) We laughed. We successfully made it to Yogya without an overnight in Jarkarta and we were feeling good. It required catching a cab in Kuching at 5 a.m. for our first flight to Kuala Lumpur. Then a wait and another flight to Jakarta. Then a shuttle to another terminal, then a long wait until our 5:30 p.m. flight. Long day. No matter. We booked a fancy hotel (for cheap) and would soon have five-star luxury to bolster us.
Sweltering heat greeted us as we deplaned and walked across the tarmac to the terminal. Brief confusion over transport to our hotel left me drained. Then we busted a move and found our cabbie; the evening sky was dressed in neon pink and orange sari.
Suddenly, as can happen when traveling, I felt euphoric. Off-duty cabbies played guitars and sang as they sat on luggage trolleys near the taxi stand. Now that I could sense it, I realized Indonesia was fantastic! So many new experiences awaited. Until that moment I was in a state of limbo. Sad because I had left behind a place I really loved, and, unsure because I did not know what I was heading into. Transition, eh? Life, eh? In a nutshell. So, during that moment in the sunset with the musicians playing, I felt awaiting me the promise of ancient culture, modern cities, great food, music, art and a big swimming pool.
We checked into our gorgeous hotel complete with the simple niceties of hot showers and air conditioning, as well as the most comfortable pillows and beds of our trip, a massive pool, an indoor playground for Clara, a gym with a rowing machine and a spa! Heaven! Since it was already 8 pm and we’d been going for 15 hours we decided to fully luxuriate, get room service pizza and get to bed early. John wanted to explore a bit (i.e. find cheap beer) so he headed out to the Circle K. He also picked up a SIM card for my phone and loaded it with a 5G data plan for super cheap. My hero! We all went to bed happy and excited about the next day’s plans. John had a talk at the university the next morning, and I wanted to explore the markets and temples just down the street. The bed was heavenly, and I slept until 8 a.m.
“You have to see this,” John said as my eyes popped open. He had been awake for a couple hours working. Pulling back the curtains from our floor to ceiling windows of our fifth-floor room revealed the city in the daylight, and it was snowing.
“Snowing?” I said, still a bit groggy. In the tropics? In my defense I’d never seen anything like it before.
“Volcano,” he replied. “Kelud Volcano.”
“HOLY !#$@%” was the best I could do under the circumstances. The city was monochrome and I was looking at a poorly developed black-and-white photo. Trees, bushes, roofs, cars, bridges, awnings, roads were grey. The sky was impenetrable – hiding all that was farther than a few blocks from our fifth-floor window.
“My talk is cancelled,” he said. “The university is closed.The front desk gave us these masks.” He handed over white and green surgical masks – not a HEPA filter. I doubt they’d do much against the ultra-fine dust out there. “We need to stay inside, especially Clara, because it is bad to breathe this stuff,” he added before he went off with a colleague for a car tour of campus.
Clara and I kicked around the hotel: kids play area, (massive, complete with a zipline), foot massage, lunch, hotel room down-time and getting ready for dinner (at the hotel). The main dining room was done up for Valentine’s Day. A colleague of John’s, who was also stuck in town, joined us for dinner buffet. Sue and I were given roses. We had a pleasant dinner and were able to bolt after only one very loud karaoke song was sung.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday were a blur. Any hope that we would get to see Borobudur or other local sites were dashed as the extent of the ash became more obvious. All John’s work plans on the island were similarly washed out. Missing Indo was a big pill to swallow, and I’ll admit it took a few beers to wash it down.
Monday we were taken out, out! for a quick tour of a few parts of town. Most shops and restaurants were still closed. We caught a shadow puppet performance. Then we learned Semarang Airport on Java’s north coast was open. We hired the same airport cabbie to drive us and Sue across the island. If only we’d done that on day one and headed to Bali! Instead, on Tuesday we were escaping to the one place we had wanted to avoid, Jakarta. At least in the massive city we could leave our hotel and get some cheap food, do some shopping and, well, breathe the relative cleanliness of the Jakarta air, which is just what we did. One day, after enduring an hour-long traffic jam, we went to the old colonial Dutch port Batavia, now called Kota. Seemed like everyone we met in Jakarta asked us if we’d been to Bali. Ah, they all said, Beautiful. Very different from here.
Clara’s favorite hotel of our trip is the Hotel Tentrem, our five-star home in the storm. To her the hotel (and its ridiculously nice staff) was the destination, and she enjoyed every minute of it. Smart girl.
Next, we head to Malaysia’s Langkawi Island to begin our island tour through the Andaman Sea. Our final two weeks loom large. Clara is excited. I’m trying to stay in the moment. John is feeling the weight of work. After some nights on limestone specks, then a few nights in Bangkok, (Sorry if that song popped up in your head, but no, not ONE night) we catch a 5:30 a.m. flight to Tokyo, then Seattle, then LAX for two days before our return to GNV. The trip is winding down. We will be home soon and that will be wonderful, too.