Bargain Leopards, Sand Adventures and Sulphur Smells

Borobodur boudoirs and a big kooky town

At the Borobudur Buddhist temple it was weekend and very busy.  Indonesian teenage boys giggled behind a Buddha, and took photos of a Japanese girl’s behind.  It was an interesting old place, but most visitors didn't seem that impressed.  We wandered off and found some pleasant shrubbery.

The hotel we spent those nights in was brilliant, with giant stone hot showers, and carved wooden furniture, and a terrace overlooking the rice paddies to have amazing food on.  It cost a measly $12.  I could have spent several lifetimes sat there, so its probably a good thing we left…

The ride to Yogyakarta was short and sharp, and we rocked up in traveller-ville an hour later.  Touts squealed at us from rickshaws, and tourists wandered about in vest tops and shorts.  

We went for a walk, and found a 12yr old boy on the pavement taking poo out of his trousers with his hands and throwing it at the ground in giant mounds.  As we left a stall-holder was trying to persuade him to make mounds elsewhere.  It seems as though there is little free mental healthcare in Indonesia- we have seen a few obviously disturbed people roaming the streets, but the sight of a 12yr old was bizarre.

At the Sultans Kraton the next day a strange wooden guide woman with an electronic voice told us about old family trees in Yogya, and we peered at dusty photos of the sultan reluctantly playing football.

Sitting guards sat.  They used to have real guard jobs, now they are employed to just sit.  Sometimes they wave puppets on sticks.  Mostly they drink tea.


Miss Caesar finalists strutted about the palace in sky-high heels and tiny skirts, posing for photos and looking bored.

In the royal courtyard, gamelan players yawned and picked their noses, then wailed discordantly over glockenspiel noise.

We walked down to the bird market, passing cacti with eggs on top..(?).


The Bird market was a whole other world of animal-torture; we found a very disheveled possible civet cat in a tiny box being kicked over in the sun.  We moved it to a shady quiet spot. 

We found a mini-leopard asleep in its mini-cage.  A Yorkshire tourist was asking the price excitedly.  It appeared you could own your very own disturbed leopard for a bargain $30. 

Two baby monkeys sat looking forlorn in tiny cages. 

Fruit bats hung in bird cages in the sun- one had fallen and got its nose stuck in the bars.  It was scrabbling around trying to fish out dead crickets from the floor.

Two very depressed little scruffy owls sat in boxes. 

Someone had dyed some little chicks and ducklets purple and pink, and thrown them into a tray. 

We wandered past boxes of hermit crabs in day-glo painted shells.

There were also more normal stalls that I felt less appalled by:


Freaked by all the cruelty, we left for the water castle, and sat in the shade trying to avoid more touts, while teenage lads snuck camera-phone pictures of us.

We found another, less torture-inclined market. Wrinkled old women sold dried fish and tortillas.  We could have had ourselves some crystal sugar, several rotting durians, or various somewhat useless plastic Chinese knick-knacks.  Everyone was very friendly, and we got laughed at merrily.  

An ancient rubber- faced man sold feather-dusters made of dead chickens from beneath an enormous hat.

We wandered home, marketed out, and that was the end of the strangeness of Yogya.

A Happy Meeting and The Biggest Big Ol’ Flood

There we were, heading to Bromo, carefree and fully thinking to make it there that day, when along came the rain.

It was heavy, heavy, super-heavy rain, and we were forced to hide at a DIY shop.  The incredibly friendly Muslim owner came out with his whole family, and instantly set about feeding us Saudi dates and hot Fanta (Good stuff.). He regaled us with his adventures in the Middle East.   

We were overwhelmed by friendliness, but determined to make it to Bromo.  He gave us strange fruits to take with us, and we stuffed our pockets with them.

The rain just did not stop.  After 5 hours of it, the water had flooded the streets, and several rivers along the way had burst their banks.  There were lots of small floods, with the normal odd flood-junkies stood by the sides.  It was all good though, and we rode straight on through…

..Until it got dark.  Then we lost our way in mad flood traffic, and while we were looking for directions an enormous truck quietly ploughed into Adam’s shoulder.  Luckily he was wearing his jacket, and it caught the shoulder pad, or we would have been in A&E for the night.

Worried and weary, we trundled on, past a huge traffic build-up and… straight into the biggest flood yet.  In the pitch black we tried to scoot round the edge of the cars, and sort of ran straight off the edge of the invisible road, into the invisible mud.  We sank for a minute or so.  Eventually a humungous revving yanked us free, and we bounced off, cursing.

Finally after a very long day we found a Muslim hotel, where they asked if we were married, and then fed us handsomely despite the fact that we were filthy and grey.

We've ridden all the way to MT BROMO!!!

The next morning the first sighting of Bromo made us very, very excited, and we sang all the way.  I was having reality checks for a while.  We had ridden here, as much as humanly possible, and it felt like a far cry from deepest darkest Yorkshire.


Anyway, there were lots of clouds and volcanic hills, and ridges with little windswept villages, and robust women in shawls with pink cheeks.  It was all very healthy.  I kept expecting someone to yodel.  

The road took us down an insanely steep, pitted track into the actual crater, straight onto a massive piece of black sand. 

 big plates of settled ash

Sand-surfing, we lugged the bike with all the luggage across the plateau, straight past Batok and Bromo and up the other side, stopping to drink tea at a cold tent. 

We found a semi-blind, slightly insane villager with a cold little house to rent, deflected his inane oddities, and went straight back down the crater for another look.  

The mist had blown in and we couldn’t see our own noses (in my case a definite advantage), but we chartered two ridiculously miniscule horses across the plain up to Bromo.  We pegged it up the steps to peer into- well, really, who knows...  there was a whole lot of swirling mist, and some grey fog, and a few bits of cloud, but not a large amount of actual crater to be seen...  Still though, it was an impressive location, and the rain announced itself and thunder peeled about sneakily.
 ha ha ha.  look how chuffed Adam is with his tiny horse.

My night was freaky and damp in our little scary house, and we got up at 3am on Valentines Day to ride back the way we’d come to see the sunrise.

The sand plateau was a damn sight harder to negotiate in the dark.  There being no actual road or real track across it, we picked our way based on jeep tracks, occasionally getting it wrong and ending up nose-down in the sludge, or swerving about in ash.  After an hour we had made it across, and at 4am happily set about tackling the steep track up.

Success may possibly have gone to our heads, and in the dark we chatted about how easy the road was.  Then, predictably, we fell off.  And rather than fall somewhere reasonable, we opted to fall off less than half a meter from a giant gash in the road that led straight down the ravine.  It was gravelly, and dark, and at a stupid angle, and our bike was stuck halfway up a huge mountain, attempting to head its way into a large hole by virtue of gravity, and threatening to take Adam with it.

By the time we made it to the top the words ’Better be the best bloody sunrise I’ve ever seen…’ had been uttered more than once, by more than one disgruntled soul.

The viewing point was full of sleepy tourists with tripods, and we all stood and waited for the sun, like comedown revelers at a really dead festival.  The mists wafted about, and the clouds parted occasionally. 

The views across the crater were amazing (if cloud-ridden).  Tourists clambered up the trees, and several had a heated argument about positioning.

I stood grinning, dressed in all my clothes at once, with bed-hair and a cold nose, while Indonesian tourists took souvenir photos of us, presumably to scare their children with. 

Later we crossed the plateau again, and in daylight without the luggage it looked like a biker playground- much silliness ensued, and we rode all over it, accelerating over sand dunes and volcanic rock, and generally being as daft as brushes. 

 oh the cheese.  you have to love it for the cheese...

Adam practiced his motorcycle magazine shots.

Up the other side of the crater we found Scotland (discounting the volcanic action), and went for a lengthy ride along a tiny yellow brick road.  We found some local biker-tourists on the way.


Another scary house night, and the blind semi-retarded owner banged on the door at 7am the next morning and started doing the weeding.  It was time to move on.

A Smidgen of Ijen

Having been so crazily impressed with Indonesian volcano experiences, we decided to make a detour to Ijen plateau, a 2100 meter active volcano crater, with sulphur miners and everything!

The ride was spectacular, then horrible, then really, really spectacular in a ‘this shouldn’t be allowed’ sort of way, and we were there. 

We stayed on a coffee plantation where there were villages set up for the workers.  They seemed to be doing quite well, and there were doctors and schools and basketball courts.  The worker houses were excellent too- they all had personal vegetable plots out the front, various generations of inhabitants, and lemon and avocado trees.  

The road to the plateau base-camp was stunning, and I may or may not have seen a gibbon in the trees.  

Then there was the massive hike.  

It was alarmingly steep, and completely knackering- especially when we kept suddenly bumping into 50yr old sulphur miners merrily stomping their way along with 70kg sulphur-baskets strapped to their backs.  It made me feel more than a little unhealthy.

An hour and a half of slow but steady stomping, and we were stood on the crater edge, quietly repeating ‘wow’ like a daft tourist mantra. 

The crater was really rather large, the lake was really rather blue, and the sulfurous gases were really rather…smelly.  

It was the best place I have ever seen in my life- straight out of a National Geographic center-spread, though I completely understand why the Scratch n Sniff version didn’t catch on. 


We drifted up higher to stand out of the sulphur gas- the fumes make you giggly and daft, and then make you fall over.  All good clean fun, you might say, but possibly not the best plan whilst standing at the edge of an enormous hole in the ground.  (On the way up a souped-up Peter Storm trekker had mocked our lack of preparation and told us we needed wet towels to cover our faces.  We had scoffed.  Twenty minutes later we had our jumpers wrapped round our mouths, gasping…  Bloody organized trekkers.)

On top we posed ourselves for photos, and the vents fortuitously pointed the other way.  The photos all look a little bit fake, like we are secretly actually stood in front of a screen in a BBC news studio somewhere in Altrincham- they're just too good.

 We met a friendly German couple who made us promise to clamber down the side of the crater to the sulphur mines at the bottom.  On the way down the wind blew the gas straight at my face, and I couldn’t see where to step without plummeting.  We passed miners scooting up the rock face with sulphur baskets.  They grinned at us poor fools and showed us the way. 

At the bottom though it was deserted.  It all looked a little like the inside of hell, only someone had thoughtfully added beautiful surroundings.  


The sulphur gas was being funneled into eerie Hieronymus Bosch pipes with rusting oil-drums as the outlets, and it poured out in scarily bilious blasts.  


Below the vents there was a thick slime of bubbling sulphur, turning rapidly into fluero-rock.  In a shack there were some workers, asleep.  There was no one else around, and we pratted about on top of rocks and mined our own sulphur. 



The way back up was hard and long, and I kept having to stop in little corners to try and breathe.  

By the time we reached the top, the plateau was completely empty, and we meandered back down the hill to the weighing station, where we met an incredibly fit young sulphur miner who lived on bananas and Bruce Lee films, and strode up and down the 1800m twice a day carrying 75kgs a time in flimsy baskets. 

Then we met Sulliman, who we instantly renamed Superman.  Tiny and 48 years old, he was carrying a load neither of us could move (we both tried), but stopped to chat with us and persuasively offload a small moulded sulphur turtle.  

You really couldn’t decline, these guys are heroes and deserve every extra penny.  They earn about $6 a day, and start work at 3am.  They look as though they will live to two hundred and three, though their back muscles are spongy and cracked. 

Back at the coffee plantation, a tour group of French adventurists ignored each other and got drunk.  And this morning we were off again, to Bali.