Up to this point of the trip, I have been dealing with some discomfort involving a dull throbbing pain with one of my tooth. It got worse after dinner on Day 05 which forced me to take the pain medication that my acting medical officer traveling companion had the foresight to bring with him. It all came to a head that particular night when I woke up whimpering at 2 am in the morning from the unbearable pain in my mouth. Getting sick or needing treatment during the trip was a possibility that we planned for and hoped to avoid but I never imagined that I would be the one needing medical attention. Took another dose of pain killers but woke up again at 4am to take another when it seems that the pain was getting worse. By the time I woke up again in the morning, I was down to my last pain killer dose and was feeling a bit wonky from what I already took.
Deciding to go ahead with the tour that has already been planned and I’ve been looking forward too for months, we got ready for breakfast which was provided as part of the package and then waited for the minivan pickup that would take us on our tour. Since we took the budget tour option, we would be sharing the minivan with several other tourists from the surrounding homestay places in the area. By the time we finished picking up the other people in our tour group, we ended up with 3 Malaysians (us), a French couple and a Dutch couple making up a total of 7 people in the minivan plus driver. Our first stop was to a pharmacist (known locally as an “apotik” from the word apothecary) for me to fill up my supply of pain killers pills. It was a good fortune to have someone who knows the medicine along in this trip or else I would be a loss at what to ask for. Thankfully as well the medicine that was available was not as expensive as I expected and I didn’t even need to get a doctor’s prescription to buy it. Once I got my pain killer stash, we continued on our way to the next destination.
Our first destination of the day was the Borobudur temple complex that was located about 45 minutes by car from Jogja city. I was not paying too much attention to the road to the temple complex thanks to being hopped on painkillers but thankfully for me, it did it’s work just as we droved into the parking area. Almost immediately after we got off the minivan, we were swarmed by touts trying to sell us t-shirts, plastic replicas of the temples and other knick knacks as souvenirs. Tying to avoid them was quite a challenge since they were very persistent and pushy to make their sale. Eventually we managed to walk into the complex entrance were we were given our entrance tickets. We had earlier paid the US11 entrance fee at the homestay last night which was what tourists would have to pay to enter the temple complex. Locals paid less than 10% of that cost which we could probably paid had we came here directly and tried to convince the people at the ticketing booth that we were local tourists. Since we were in a group of obviously international tourists, that ruse would not worked in this situation. Given that the money was used for the preservation efforts for the site, the extra fee was justifiable for me.
We also, as a group, decided to split the cost of hiring a guide to walk us through the temple complex. An hour guided tour, which was all that they offered, was available for 50,000 Rph per guide. Almost all of the guides available were fluent in English and was also able to speak quite a bit of French and Dutch for mixed groups like ours. I would assume that they would also have Japanese and Chinese speaking guides to cater for that group of visitors as well. We were also accompanied that day by two young ladies who were training to be guides which I found to be interesting (the idea, not the ladies :-p). It seems that secondary school leavers would sign up here to be trainee tour guides and learn about the complex and interacting with tourists from the more senior tour guide as an apprentice. I thought that this was a great idea since not only did they get a chance to learn about their own history but they also got a chance to enrich their language skills.
(Borobudur Temple Complex)
(R: Relief sample at lower level Borobudur, L: Restoration workers at Borobudur)
Our tour started from the temple grounds with stops at certain points where our guide would point out vantage points for good camera shots of the temple. He would also show us several of the relief details that told the story of the Buddha and his teachings. With nine levels to walk around, there were quite a few points of interest to stop and either take pictures of or listen to the explanations. I also noticed quite a few restoration workers doing their work at the site which gave us the opportunity to see how the preservation work was being done. We had the guide with use explaining the temple complex up to the circular levels where the bell stupas were located. From here on, we had an hour to explore the rest of the temple ourselves and we parted company with our informative tour guide. Since there were 7 of us in the group, we decided to give him and his team 70,000 Rph (10,000 Rph per person) for the guided tour including tips.
(Borobudur lower - mortal world - level sights)
(Stairway to Borobudur "heaven" levels)
The remaining circular levels were the most unique for me and what I have been imagining to see since I planned the trip. We did the challenge of trying to touch the right ring finger of the lucky Buddha inside his bell stupa and making our wish (I did and made my wish … see if it ever come true). We also took countless of pictures on top of Borobudur temple as we pondered (more or less) about the effort and devotion required to build such a magnificent wonder. Since the day was getting hotter and we still had to walk quite a bit to get back to our minivan, we decided to leave the temples after spending about 45 minutes in heaven (the circular levels) knowing that we can now tell ourselves that we have set foot on this wonder of this part of the world. As before, we were swarmed by touts again pushing their wares on to us. It was definitely hard not to empathize with their plight especially when these people had as recent as 2006 deal with earthquake devastations that destroyed most of their homes. I finally relented and bought some of their items but really limited myself to really just the things that I really wanted. It was not much but hopefully it would be made to good use.
(Three levels of heaven with stupas at Borobudur temple)
(Sights at Borobudur heaven levels)
(Parting shot of Borobudur as we left)
After a refreshing break with some cool young coconut water, we left Borobudur temple complex to head out to higher elevations to possibly see the summit of the volcanically active Mt. Merapi. The visit to the Kaliurang viewing platform was not actually part of the tour plan but it was added with compliments of the tour company for us that day since it was on the way to the Parambanan temple complex that we would be visiting later that day. But before we went there, we stopped on the way at a local silversmith shop which the area was well known for. We were met by one of the staff who guided us through the process of silver processing and the making of the intricate jewelry the area was famous for. I have this weakness for silver jewelry so it was a very dangerous situation for my wallet and credit cards to be in. There were more than a few pieces that caught my eye and there was definitely a pair of rings that I was dying to buy but while the prices were quite affordable, it was not something that I had to plan to buy on this trip. Last thing I needed (other than being wonk out on painkillers which I already was at that point) was to run out of money before the end of the trip.
After out brief stop at the silversmith shop, we proceeded to the Kaliurang viewing platform area. On the way there, we passed many villages and padi fields which were being harvested which also made for a good photo opportuinity. Along the way, we could see the Mt Merapi summit spewing up smoke in the distance. The driver told us that Kaliurang viewing platform was the closest that we could get to see Mt Merapi’s summit without actually hiking to it. Even then it was dependent on a measure of luck since Mt Merapi does get covered by clouds that would obstruct the views of the summit from Kaliurang. As we traveled on the winding road to higher and cooler altitudes, I kept wondering how much of the summit that I would be lucky enough to see. The thought of be able to actually see the summit of an active volcano was really exciting for me since it was never planned in our trip.
(R: Silversmith workshop and display room, L: Cloud covered summit of Mt Merapi viewed at Kaliurang)
Unfortunately for me, it was not meant to be. When we reached the Kaliurang viewing platform, we saw that the clouds had rolled in covering the summit top of Mt Merapi. We could not tell the difference between clouds and volcanic smoke when that happened and all we could see was just the side of the volcano. They had binoculars for rent for 3,000 Rph per set at the viewing platform but since there was not much to see, I decided not to rent them. From what I did see, thanks for the zoom feature on the camera I was using, were some distinct lava flow formations which I guessed was left behind by the last Mt Merapi eruption. After spending 30 minutes at the viewing platform, unsuccessful in our quest to see the summit of Mt Merapi, we began our descent down from the cooler climates to sea level to proceed to our next destination, the Parambanan temple complex.