Java, Bali, Indonesia, Jakarta are all magical names that conjure images of far away exotic lands to me. After loving our trip to Burma we really wanted to return to Asia and spent a while looking at different possibilities. Indonesia was the place we kept coming back to and about a year ago we decided that that's where we'd go.
Planning the trip proved a nightmare as it's a vast country spread out over thousands of islands with so much to see. At first we had quite an adventurous plan to see about 4 islands, but with this trip we thought it would be nice to have a smaller focus and spend more time in different places. For me, the huge Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the amazing volcano at Bromo, both on Java, were the big draws. For Teresa it was the cultural city of Yogyakarta, also on Java, as well as Bali that she really wanted to see. So after poring through guide books, GoogleEarth and various sites on the web, we decided to focus on Java and Bali and limit the locations we stayed in so weren't constantly on the move.
Any flight into Indonesia means going to Jakarta. It's not much of a destination in itself, there's really not much to see there, but after a long journey (26 hours door to door) it's good to have a place to sleep, get into the new time zone, and generally prepare for the trip without stress. So we decided to stay in Jakarta for two nights, the evening we arrived, and then have the following day to have a quick peak at the city before starting the trip proper in the central Javan city of Yogyakarta the following day.
Arriving in Jakarta the heat was incredible, although the temperature had actually been higher in Dubai where we'd had a changeover, Jakarta has really high humidity which makes the heat so much harder to deal with. The traffic is something else as well. I think I read somewhere that Jakarta has the worst traffic jams in the world, and the relatively short trip to the hotel took well over an hour. We'd booked into the small Pesona Guesthouse and right from the start Nana, the owner, made us feel so welcome and prepared us an amazing dinner. We went to bed early, tired after the long flight, and slept for around 12 hours.
The next day we decided to brave the traffic and explore Jakarta a little bit. I wanted to see the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in south east Asia. It can accommodate over 200000 people praying there but it's only that busy a couple of times a year like Ramadan, and when we were there the huge hall was almost empty and the upper galleries closed. Even so, the space is amazing and I enjoyed trying to capture its vast size.
The walls of the mosque are all open, allowing a cross breeze to blow through, and the openings in the walls make beautiful patterns which are best appreciated when looked at head on from the opposite side. I used the Fuji XF 55-200mm telephoto lens to create an abstract image of the galleries and the wall openings.
After that we jumped in a taxi (Jakarta isn't the kind of city you want to walk around) and headed to the Kota Tua, the old town. It was a bit disappointing really as there aren't actually many old buildings left. We had a drink in an old cafe, wandered around some of the smaller streets, took a few pictures of details, then jumped in a taxi and headed back to our accommodation. The next morning we got up, sorted out our stuff and then headed to the train station to catch a train halfway across Java to Yogyakarta, the cultural capital.
It was dark when we arrived but even in the short trip to our hotel we could already see that Yogyakarta had a lot more character than Jakarta. From the old rickshaws waiting next to the station to the much smaller scale of the buildings, with shop and restaurant openings that spilled out onto the street. It reminded me a little of Mandalay with its low buildings and tree lined streets, whereas Jakarta had felt like a faceless Asian city with no real centre or character.
After a great breakfast of fried rice we explored the streets around our hotel in the morning, and then in the afternoon headed off to the temples at Prambanan, just outside the city.
The temples here were built around one thousand years ago and although they're actually Hindu temples there seems to have been a huge amount of crossover between Hindu and Buddhism at the time. Just a few kilometers away people were building the Buddhist Borobudur temple at the same time, and in Prambanan we saw various statues of Buddha. Around a millennia ago this area must have been a thriving with activity and incredible culture.
Visiting the temples is expensive by Indonesian standards, and like Borobudur the area around them has been manicured to the point of blandness. These places must have been amazing when surrounded by forest. They are incredibly popular and there were thousands of people there when we visited. Despite this, they're still pleasant to walk around and if you go to the temples that are slightly further out like Candi Sewa, they're a little quieter and it's easier to take photos.
Just before sunset I headed back to the main temples of Candi Siva, Candi Brahma and Candi Vishnu to try and get a workable shot. It's a hard location to shoot for a number of reasons. They are big temples and spread apart so fitting them all in requires a wide angle and you need to get some distance. They are also on a mound, so getting distance means that you are looking up at them cutting off the bottom of the temples behind walls which isn't ideal composition. Shooting them backlit by the setting sun turns them into not particularly attractive silhouettes, and then there's the sheer number of people there. Eventually I found a spot which I thought wasn't too bad and attempted to do long exposures which would make the moving people disappear as movement blur. The sky was thick with haze and sunset wasn't particularly interesting, but I did the best I could.
That evening we walked over to the next street to our hotel and ate a fantastic Indonesian meal at ViaVia, before coming home an attempting to do night shots of the beautiful local rickshaws.
The next day we took a rickshaw ride, which turned out to be a great way to see the city. The experience is great and we shot some great video from the tiny carriage. Our first stop was the Kraton, the walled palace of Yogyakarta, which was really interesting. There was a shadow puppet performance on while we were there and the musicians were very comfortable with cameras so I had the opportunity to photograph them as they played.
It was also a good place to ask the guards and off duty musicians if I could take their picture for a posed shot. The people here were incredibly willing to cooperate and always enjoyed seeing the result on the back of the camera. I was shooting with the Fuji X-T10 with the 35mm f1.4 or the 55-200mm for shots of people further away. Once again I was mightily impressed with how intuitive the Fuji was. It's quick to focus, the EVF gave me an exact idea of how the image will turn out, and the OIS (image stabilization) works superbly with the long lens. I knew then that for street shots I wasn't going to miss my Nikon at all.
After the Kraton we headed to a local market a little to the north. It was a dark, labyrinthine place which sold everything from raw fish to wedding dresses. It wasn't a particular easy place to photograph, the spaces were too narrow and there was so little light, but it was fascinating to see.
Our next stop was at a shadow puppet maker, and then the bird market. We weren't sure about going to there but our rickshaw driver promised us we'd enjoy it and so we went. It's pretty bizarre, there are thousands of birds in cages from tiny ones as big as a thumb to huge fighting cocks. Some of the cages have hundreds of birds in, and as you get deeper into the market you see huge lizards, snakes and even otters in cages. While some of it is a little troubling, it's an undeniable part of Indonesian life and fascinating in a strange way.
By the time we left we were pretty tired so we called it a day and headed back to the hotel. Over the course of the afternoon we felt we'd got to know our rickshaw driver pretty well, his English was superb, and his knowledge of his city and culture fascinating. Before leaving I asked if I could take a portrait of him and some of the rickshaws.
After that, we relaxed a little and then ate a fantastic meal at ViaVia again, before getting an early night. We'd enjoyed Yogyakarta and now it was time for two iconic Indonesian locations, Borobudur and Mount Bromo.