Solo, Java, Indonesia – From the smoking Bromo we traveled to the city of Surakarta, referred to as “Solo” by travelers and locals alike. When traveling in SE Asia we had to put in a fair amount of energy in figuring out how to get from one place to another. The Lonely Planet is probably the best guidebook when it comes to travel logistics, but it obviously can’t cover everything.
There are typically two ways to get from here to there – the ‘local’ way and the tourist way. The tourist way usually being the easier, but more far more expensive option, and the ‘local’ way being cheaper, but longer and more uncomfortable. The tourist tickets are easy to come by, especially in Indonesia where everyone and their mother extends non stop offers of ‘transport’. The local way can be a little more difficult to obtain information on. Sometimes it is as easy as going down to the local bus station and asking around, but frequently the bus stations are located outside of the town center, or the people there lie about price and times. So we always feel like we are guessing as to the ‘best’ way to travel.
By this time we were no dummies when it came to transport so we were usually able to get good information with some persistence and a decent, if not ‘local’ price, when we opted for the ‘local way’. We preferred to travel this way, not only because it is cheaper, but because it is far more interesting to travel with the locals, and the chickens and the bags of rice than with a bunch of Aussies (no offense to my friends from down under).
An employee at our hotel in Bromo tried to sell us tickets to Solo for 175,000 Rupiah ($17) – which was far too expensive, so we opted to do it ourselves, but in the morning we couldn’t find any information on the bus that went from Bromo to the Probolingo bus station, so we gave in and bought his tickets, but only after Stuart bargained the price down to 130,000 – which we guessed was only a few dollars more than we would pay on our own.
Money doesn’t always buy you comfort and on the way down to Probolingo we were packed into a bus like sardines, stopping every few minutes to pick up more locals with baskets of produce and bundles of chickens. When we arrived in Probolingo those of us that were traveling on to Solo were told we had to wait an hour for the bus that was departing at noon, but we were told it left at 11 when we bought the tickets, so we asked and they said, ‘oh yes, 11″ and a bus came and picked up those of us that didn’t go off in search of something to eat.
Our bus stopped for lunch at 3. When the dutch couple we were traveling with first walked into the restaurant and sat down they were handed a menu in Indonesian and when we walked in and joined them the waitress took those menu’s back and gave us all menus in English with prices twice as high as the other menu. When the Dutch guy asked for the other menu back with the lower prices the staff played dumb – saving face. I know that it is the way things are – people with more money pay more. Its just hard to get used to, and especially annoying when it is so obvious. I keep thinking about what an international uproar it would be if it was discovered that say, the Olive Garden had a Japanese tourist menu with higher prices.
When we finally got to Solo we spent our first day touring the city’s interesting neighborhoods, the Mesjid Agung Mosque – which looked more like a Buddhist temple than a mosque, and the Kranton Surakarta museum, which we just didn’t have enough energy to really enjoy- having reached museum fatigue sometime in China. We had this great lunch at an Indonesian take on an American diner. We got meat and veggies in gravy with french fries for $1 each. For dinner we took a bicycle rickshaw to the cleverly named O Solo Mio restaurant and had some delicious pizza. Decent pizza is always an exciting find.
We booked a tour through our guesthouse to visit some of the outlying temples around Solo. We set off in the morning with a couple Dutch girls (we have met so many Dutch people traveling, I wonder if there is anyone left in Holland) and our driver and tour guide, Patrick. Patrick was quite the character and took an immediate liking to Stuart, asking him to sit up front with him for the drive, and showing great concern for Stuart as he limped his way around the temples.
The first temple was Candi Sukuh, an old 15th century Hindu and Buddhist temple that remains a bit of a mystery as it looks more like a Mayan temple than typical Indonesian temples.
Then we continued on through the ‘country’ and stopped for tea at a roadside stall where we were served a pretty delicious black tea and a variety of snacks including, spring rolls (delicious), fried tempeh (okay), deep fried fermented cassava root (disgusting), fermented rice water (strong), and a special treat that the owner of our hotel sent along with Patrick, Srabi, a delectable sweet ‘pancake’ made from rice, coconut and sugar. It was divine.
Patrick was a great guide, and not just because he was fairly knowledgeable about the sites, but also because he was like the Godfather of the countryside, giving out handshakes, cash and words of wisdom to everyone we passed. It turns out his father had been mayor of one of the towns and it was his aspiration to follow in his footsteps.
Next we visited the Candi Ceto temple atop Gunung Lawu mountain. Covered in fog with elaborate doorways, it looked like something you’d see in a Harry Potter movie, at least that is what Patrick imagined. He actually made a broomstick that he had us take photos with in the doorway to the temple. He hid it there at the temple and only pulled it out when other guides were not around so that no one stole his idea.
We finished off our trip with a late lunch of goat satay at Patrick’s sister in law’s restaurant.