We were meant to spend one month volunteering in Ubud (Bali) but due to a series of unexpected circumstances, we decided to change our itinerary after only 5 days on the island. Luckily, travelers tend to share tips along the way and that is how we ended up going to Ijen, Yogyakarta and Borobudur. Kulo nuwun Java!
Hiking Ijen with Riyan
After a day of dolce far niente in our luxurious resort along the beach, we booked a night tour to the top of Ijen volcano – one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Our guide was Riyan, a young local with an excellent level of English and a very open mind. From 1 a.m to 7 a.m, he guided us to the crater and offered us the most spectacular view on the sunrise from his secret spot.
Born and raised in the surroundings of the volcano, Riyan used to hike to the crater when it wasn’t yet known to many. After leaving his hometown during the years of his studies, he eventually decided to return in order to transmit his passion for Ijen to those who, like us, didn’t know much about it.
In the heart of the crater dozens of minors work the sulfur in extreme conditions every night. In the early morning, they then carry approximately 70kg of sulfur on their shoulders all the way down.
We understood why their life expectancy was so low when we suddenly got caught up in a cloud of sulfur. Although, unlike the minors, we were wearing gas masks, we did think we were going to die asphyxiated for a few minutes. But here we are, still safe and sound.
It took us two days of travel by train to reach Yogyakarta. Jogja, as the locals refer to it, belongs to a special region with two governments: the Indonesian one and a local sultanate. It’s the artistic and cultural youth center of Java and we sensed that from the moment we arrived at our guesthouse. ViaVia, located in the hipster, artsy part of town, is much more than a place to sleep. It’s a fair trade with a restaurant, a bakery, a shop and a tourist agency that organizes courses and all sorts of authentic tours. It’s a place where travelers meet and get in contact with locals.
Thanks to ViaVia we did a bicycle tour in the neighboring villages and visited a tempeh factory. We also attended an amazing cooking class with a Balinese chef, who took us to the pasar (market) and shared her delicious recipes for over four hours.
Signing Autographs in Borobudur
At 3: 45 a.m, we met up with Giono – a becak driver who had taken us around town the previous afternoon. The idea was to ride our scooters to the famous temple of Borobudur and catch the sunrise. Yet at 3:50 a.m, we ran out of gas. Soon, a man stopped by and, before we could even greet him, he already had his lips stuck on our tank. To this day, we are still unsure what he did but, somehow, our scooter got back to life and we made it to the nearest gas station. After losing a helmet and our sense of direction numerous times, we eventually reached our destination. Obviously, we missed the sunrise.
Borobudur is undeniably impressive. Nonetheless, what we will remember are the dozens of selfies we took with the local students on a school trip there and the number of “proof of acquaintance with a foreigner” forms we signed. Justin Bieber we feel for you.