Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Driving Mr. and Mrs. Lazy

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Yogakarta, Indonesia – We took a 1-hour train ride from Solo to Yogakarta, which literally cost $0.30 each, and checked in to a guesthouse that turned out to be quite lovely. They served us tea on our little porch every day which we enjoyed most afternoons while listening to the parishioners singing Gospel music at the church next door. Stuart needed to give his knee a break, and it was a great place to do so.

On Sunday, after being awoken first by the morning Call to Prayer at 4.30am and the Christian’s singing at 6.30am, we got up around eight and headed over to the main attraction in Yogakarta, the Kranton Palace. Some guy told us it was closed. Of course he did – the guidebook warns that they try to trick tourists into going with them to visit Batik and jewelry store stores which pay them for bringing in customers. Well, we aren’t suckers and so we ignored him and went to investigate ourselves, only to find that it was in fact closed because of some holiday!

There was still plenty to see in the complex around the palace, so we turned down the Batik sales offer and wondered around the ‘old city’ and climbed the ruins of the former “Water Palace” bathhouses, for a good view of the town. On our way down we met a really friendly guy who stopped us to ask about Stuart’s knee because it had a big band-aid on it. He laughed when Stuart explained the crash. For some reason people think it is really funny that we were in a motorbike crash. Maybe they expect it of tourists.

Mr. friendly offered to show us the way to a cool underground mosque and we followed him to the entrance before we realized that we were being had – knowing he’d show us around and then ask for a tip at the end. The mosque was cool, with these staircases that reminded me of the movie “Labyrinth”, and I don’t think it was even in the LP.

It was nice of him to show us, but I hate it when people take advantage of us, so we had to figure out how to shake him without causing a scene, otherwise we’d be stuck with him for hours, all the while resenting the fact that he tricked us into becoming his customers. Thankfully, Stuart handled it very well. After we left the mosque and he was attempting to steer us to the restored portion of the Water Castle, Stuart said very politely, “We’re all set, thank you so much for being so nice.” And it worked.

Thinking back, I guess I feel kinda bad because this guy was just trying to make a living, which isn’t easy, and we could have given him something. It’s the way he did it which made us feel used and tricked, and we don’t like being forced into those situations. But now I think I feel worse about not paying him than I feel proud that we got out of being scammed. It’s a hard one.

In almost every country, we have been stopped by kids who always seemed to have a school assignment of asking foreigners for interviews – to help them learn English. Indonesia was no exception. So while walking around we couldn’t go more then a couple blocks before being asked for interviews. Sometimes the students would write out our answers, but most often they would recored the interview with their cellphone cameras. It’s funny to think about a group of students in their classrooms watching us. I hope we got all the answers right.

As we’ve mentioned before, the “A” in PETA does not stand for “Asia”. But the inhumane containment of animals reached a new low in the bird market downtown. It was a little area off a main drag that was stacked about ten feet high -and many deep – with cages with all types of animales – exotic (and illegal) cats, dogs, owls, vultures, cranes, civets, various songbirds, monkeys, snakes, and of course, chickens. There must have been maybe a thousand animals here – and one cute little vegetarian cafe where we ate lunch. Unfortunately the rank oder from the market kept me from enjoying my strawberry smoothie.

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While at breakfast the next day, Stuart’s legs developed this huge, and ever growing rash almost instantaneously, and not having our mom’s around to ease our minds, I decided that he needed to see a doctor. When we pulled up to the hospital in the taxi, I almost told the driver to take us back to the hotel. The hospital looked like something out of the 1800’s, the kind of place that you walk into with a simple rash and roll out of with the bubonic plague. The were people on gurneys outside, nurses in old timey uniforms, and crucifixes on the bare white walls.

We talked with a nice woman, who eased my fears and helped register Stuart (which took all of 10 minutes – suck it Kaiser). Stuart paused at the part of the form that asked his religion – unsure which would be the “best” answer. “Christian”, I whispered. “Christian” turned out to be the right. As soon as the nurse saw that, we immediately where shown to a doctor, cutting ahead of the long line of waiting patients.

The doctor assured us the rash was just a reaction to bug bites and was nothing to worry about. I also asked him about the nasty wound on Stuart’s knee which he also said was fine. He seemed competent enough, but I did strike me as odd that he didn’t really look at either the rash or the knee very closely.

We picked up a bunch of medicines that he prescribed for the bargain price of $20, which included the doctor’s visit. And then took a taxi back the guesthouse. I was feeling like a dope for overreacting to the rash, but was glad I did, because going to that hospital was a neat insight into the heath care system in Indonesia. It might have looked scary, but the hospital, was efficient, cheap and mostly professional.

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We looked around at several companies that offered tours to visit a few temples that we were interested in seeing outside of Yogakarta. We decided after much research the best, and most interesting, way to do it would be to hire our own car and driver. Mr. Driver picked us up at 9am from our guesthouse and we learned that he did not speak much English, but he did sing – a lot. His cell phone rang frequently, with the tune to Aud Lang Sang, and he would sing some Indonesian version of the song after every phone call. He called us “Mister” and “Misses” all day. I liked that.

The Prambanan temple complex cost $11 to get into for each of us and they charged in US dollars so they didn’t have to lose out to exchange rates – but of course they gave change out in rupiah.

The main temple were severely damaged by an earthquake in 2006, so there was a lot of scaffolding and we couldn’t go in most of the temples – some were even blocked off entirely. We wandered around the larger complex visiting smaller groupings and stopping to take photos with some kids on a school trip.

The last grouping of outlying temples that were part of the Prambanan complex had their own admission fee. The price wasn’t posted, but our drive assured us he could get us a good price. We wanted to mention that the official price would be a good price, but that isn’t always how it works.

At first the gatekeeper wanted almost the same price as the entire complex. Our driver nodded as if this was a fair price – also knowing he was gonna get a good kickback. We haggled more and got it down to like a dollar each which seemed good enough to stop wasting our time.

The highlight of our trip was at the Borobudur temple. Its a cool temple built in a circle and you wind you way up staircases to the top. At the top there were tons of school children. A few came up to us and asked to take photos with us and a few others saw that, so they wanted a turn and soon we were sitting and posing with dozens of kids for what was probably a good hour.

This is what it must be like to be Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie. It felt awesome! But it was extremely tiring. It was so cool that these kids got excited about little old me who is never going to be famous, so I tried to relish in every second of it, even though it hurt to smile for so long. That is what I knew I would miss about Asia: being famous by just showing up.

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