Back in “Jogja”

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Fast update on recent events:

Day 1: Arrived at Changi Singapore International Airport. Once there, we dropped our stuff at Hotel Fort Canning and hit the ground running. Explore, explore, explore. Watch for pictures!

Day 2: Breakfast at the hotel. (How did you sleep? Well, OK except for the stinking ghosts of ancient rulers moaning all night. They really must get that fixed. I think I’ll mention it at the front desks.)

We met up with Windy our guide and it was off to see Singapore in all its glory and history. This was one packed day. Our first adventure was walking through Little India, the only place with signs that said, “please don’t pee on the sidewalk.” Eh hum.

Windy (and yes – that’s how her name tag was spelled) first warned us that the market was dirty and is that OK? Well, not a fan of dirt, I figured how I felt about it wasn’t going to change anything, but then I realized she meant, do you still want to see it, dirt and all. We answered, let the adventure begin. And she was right, the place was every stage and type of humanity, unapologetically living and breathing wherever it landed.

Singapore was part of British Malaya for many centuries.  It was ruled by the Sultanate of Johor before the British came to the Island and set up a port and colony in 1819.  After World War II, Singapore was briefly a part of Malaysia but became an independent nation and republic, where she remains till today.

Today, Singapore has a diverse populace of just over 5 million people or more which is made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Caucasians and Eurasians (plus other mixed groups) and Asians of different origins, which is in line with the nation’s history as a crossroads for various ethnic and racial groups.

Experience up close the various cultures come alive before your very eyes as you explore the nooks and crannies of each ethnic heritage enclave by turns.

At Kampong Glam, admire the quiet majesty of the Sultan’s Mosque with its unmistakable golden dome, explore colorful food eateries, and browse through old-fashioned shops selling batiks, carpets, rattan basket-ware and exotic perfumes.

Travel next to the heart of Chinatown and experience the old and the new, tradition and modernity, in the rows of streets where old traditional shop houses are lovingly restored into tempting restaurants, teahouses and shops selling Oriental arts, crafts and souvenirs as well as traditional Chinese medicinal herbs.

Little India completes the cultural kaleidoscope with its bustling streets showcasing aromatic and exotic spices, colorful flower-garland shops, vegetable vendors and busy curry houses.

Stop by one of our local restaurant for Lunch.

Next, visit one of the top places in Asia, Gardens by the Bay spans over 100 hectares and is a highlight for any visitor to Singapore. Built at a cost of over one billion dollars, the gardens opened June 2012 and have already been billed as an unmissable attraction.

The gardens house two domes or conservatories, Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, which are climate-controlled indoor glasshouses. The Flower Dome (the larger of the two) replicates the cool-dry climate of the Mediterranean and South Africa, whilst the Cloud Forest replicates a cool-moist climate found in Tropical Montane regions such as Mount Kinabalu in Sabah and high elevation areas in South America.

Within the gardens, there are also 18 impressive-looking Supertrees (tree-like structures), which are vertical gardens up to 50 metres tall and perform a multitude of functions. Along with providing a bird’s eye view of the entire gardens, they also collect rainwater, generate solar power and act as vending ducts for the park’s conservatory.

Lastly, visit the National Museum of Singapore, which is also the oldest museum in Singapore. The Singapore history gallery is vastly filled with updated stories and artifacts of Singapore, capturing the nation’s significant moments, challenges and achievements from its humble beginnings many centuries ago to its refined and modern city-state now.

After the tour you will be transferred back to your hotel.

That was the promise and that’s what was delivered up close and personal. From the moment we got off the plane Singapore had a particular scent unlike anything I’ve smelled heretofore. The closest I can come is cedar-pine-musk-tropical-diesel-agricultural-humidity. Even then, there were scents that were completely unfamiliar.

Little Indian, the Chinese market and more were wild and exciting and so very different from anything we’ve ever experienced. I saw dead chickens hanging from a rope strung across a booth. Some were feathered. Others were plucked. All still had their heads and I felt their gaze. 

That was the one thing that I recognized. Nothing else. Every woven basket was full of colors and textures and shaped that were completely unrecognizable. Even when we asked the names of these curious fruit? vegetables? door stop? the word was multi-syllable with no recognizable cross correlation to anything in our world so we would just nod and smile. Hmmm.

We must have walked 10 miles on our first tour day. We went up to the top of Marina Bay. What an incredibly beautiful place and incredible views.

The day was packed and by the time we crawled into bed we were exhausted. 

Day 3: Breakfast at the hotel and it’s off to Java.  

GA 825/SIN-CGK/10:00 am – 10:50 am, then connect

GA 210/CGK-JOG/1:05 pm – 2:20 pm

The ride to Jakarta was a roller coaster. They stopped the beverage service several times due to the turbulence. Once on the ground, head through immigration (the kid in a uniform with a stamp) and try to find the gate for our next flight. It was a hike and a half getting there. To make things even crazier, the flight to Yogyakarta was a half hour late departing and then circled the destination airport for another half hour before landing. JOG is a VERY small, 1 runway airport. Once we landed, somewhat sideways and with a BIG THUD… the pilot hit the thrusters and we nearly screeched to a halt. We quickly spun in a circle and proceeded back down the runway where we had just landed. Michael and I looked at each other and started laughing. Taxiways? Who needs taxiways.

The plane stopped, steps were pushed up to the plane and we were dropped out onto the tarmac. To say the airport is small is an understatement. The 737 definitely used every bit of runway the airfield had to offer.

The airport reminded me of the a runway we landed on in the Masa Mari in Kenya.

What an incredible experience. Once inside the hut… I mean terminal at Yogyakarta airport, collected our bags and then we were off to the resort near Borobudur Mesastila Resort & Spa – Arum villa (check the sink when you wash your hands Michael, it’s flowing in the opposite direction). Time to explore (can I rent a car now?)

Wow. What a place. Botswana has been toppled from my all-time favorite. Mesastila was breathtaking, morning through night. Just spectacular.

Our was a villa. Quite decadent. Complete with at least 1 resident lizard. (scream… Michael!) Michael came running and by then the old chap had made his way back outside.

Day 4: Yogyakarta, breakfast in the rain forest with the wildlife. Michael, get the safari hats.

Borobudur district in central Java.

And it’s up at the crack-crack of dawn.

Setting out before sunrise, head approximately 40km out of Yogyakarta to the stunning temple complex at Borobudur, one of South East Asia’s most impressive sites and the largest single Buddhist monument in the world. Receiving UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991, the monument consists of six square terraces topped by three circular ones. Two million stone blocks were required to build the temple and with at least 2,500 relief panels and more than 500 Buddha statues, it is exquisite beyond comparison.

Ample time will be dedicated to exploring this incredible Buddhist structure before heading to Candirejo, a peaceful village surrounded by plantations and lush scenery where you can learn about harvesting and other local activities. Getting to the village is part of the fun as you traverse the attractive countryside by traditional Dokar (horse-drawn buggy). Alternatively, you may choose to ride your own bicycle to and from the village.

This morning’s excursion ends with a lesson in Indonesian Gamelan music and lunch at a local restaurant before heading back to the hotel.

Day 5: Yogya city tour to discover Java’s heartland.

Begin today’s excursion with a visit to the Sultan’s Palace, which is also known as the Kraton.  The innermost group of buildings (where the sultan still resides) were built in 1755. As you pass through the Palace, be sure to note the ornate reception halls as well as the large Pendopos (open-air pavilion built on columns) that was erected specifically so that the sovereign could listen to private performances of gamelan (traditional ensemble) music.

Other points of note include the museum-like room containing the desk at which the ninth sultan planned the overthrow of the Dutch colonialists and the ornate ‘his’ and ‘hers’ entrances that are decorated with huge male and female dragons.

Located within the grounds of the Kraton, the Taman Sari, often referred to by its old Dutch name of Waterkasteel (Water Castle), was designed in the mid-18th century as a royal pleasure park for the first Sultanate of Yogyakarta and his entourage/harem. It is said that the sultan would sit in the tower overlooking the now restored central bathing complex watching the goings-on below while being entertained by his wives.

The final stop this morning is the city district of Kota Gede. Famed for its silver crafting, there will be time to witness a demonstration of this ancient skill at a local workshop as well as delve into the backstreets of this historic neighborhood where more craft showrooms and interesting buildings await.

Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta – Phoenix Executive

Day six: Merry Christmas! and now we are up to speed. There are so many stories to tell but by the time we get back to the hotel it is late and we are spent. That, and we’re getting maybe 5 hours of sleep a night but completely energized by the new world we’re exploring here.

One last story and then we are off to explore again. We went to Mass today. We made a pact last night that if the service was blown up, at least we would be instantly canonized as saints. St Michael the 986th would be the patron saint of sunburns, and St Linda the first would be the patron saint of psychosomatic allergies. Needless to say, we attended Mass (soooooo many stories to tell about that to follow) and were not blown up. And so alas, we were left here to earn our wings otherwise.


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