Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Yogya, Indonesia

After spending ten hours in an airport in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), I finally got on my plane to Jakarta (Indonesia) with that blankety-blank airline, Air Asia. After a four hour delay. Actually, it wasn't even a delay. They just happened to change the flight time. For no reason. Air Asia sent me an updated email itinerary, informing me of this change. The day after.

Nevertheless, I made it to Indonesia, with Dagan being kind enough to wait all those hours for me and pick me up at the airport at 2am. We then decided on the spur of the moment to make a trip from Jakarta, where he lives, to Yogyakarta in the southeast of Java for his Easter vacation. Funnily enough, all flights, trains and buses appeared to be booked in this Islam nation for the Easter holiday. Go figure.

Our solution? Well, to be factual, Dagan's boss' solution? The black market.

Basically, we just stood around outside the train station "looking for a score" (the boss' words, not mine), which we found in the form of train tickets to Yogya for about $50 a piece, even though they should have cost $10. I wasn't too upset though. I'll spend the extra $40 just to say that one time in my life, I actually bought something on the black market. It felt good.

Yogya was definitely a happy city. Horse and carts, restaurants that were actually made of canvas tents, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, traditional dance shows and music music music. I've never seen a city so filled with music. Guitars, drums, violins, flutes, cellos, the works. People in cafes just having coffee and scratching out a tune on their fiddle. A hole in the wall guitar makers' shop with the creator creating right there on the side walk. I would live in Yogya based on that alone.

The highlight of the weekend, except for Dagan's company (obviously), was Borobudur, the ruins of the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The tiered structure stands 34.5 meters tall, covering an area of around 200 square meters. Each level represents a different stage on the path to nirvana. The first four levels depict man's earthly existence in stunning stone carvings and reliefs, as he begins on the path of enlightenment. The high gallery walls on the first four levels cut you off from the scenery around you, effectively representing the murky spiritual world inhabited by man. Suddenly, as you enter the fifth tier, reaching enlightenment, the walls and busy reliefs fall away; below is the chaos of the world, above is nirvana, represented by a huge empty stupa (a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) almost ten meters in diameter. Surrounding this stupa are seventy two smaller ones, each occupied by a statue of Buddha, said to give good luck if a person can reach in and touch the statue. The stupa at the top, however, is empty. There was once a Buddha here too, but it seems somehow appropriate that this has disappeared, nirvana signifying, after all, a state of non-being. Buddhist pilgrims (along with tourists) should approach from the Eastern side, walking clockwise around the base before ascending to the next tier via the eastern stairway. This is repeated on every level so that as you make your way around the temple passages and slowly spiral to the summit, you are symbolically following the path to enlightenment.

Now before anyone gets overly excited about that last paragraph, I should state that the words aren't really mine. I basically just paraphrased (and in some cases blatantly plagiarized) The Rough Guide to Indonesia. There is no way that this little noggin of mine could have held on to that kind of info on its own accord. Oh, I had the basic idea of what the temple was about, but things like 'stupa'? There's no way I would have come up with that word on my own. So, to avoid being sued by The Rough Guide series, if they ever somehow manage to blunder their way onto my blog, I'm giving them full credit for the information. Even if I did reword it in some places to sound better than the original. No offense.

One of the truly interesting things about Borobudur was that the temple itself wasn't actually the main attraction. Dagan and I were. By the time I started keeping track, at least ten groups of people had come up to us and asked to have their pictures taken with us. Babies were thrust into our arms. Men with video cameras followed us around. Giggling groups of school girls called out their undying love for us. Apparently they get a kick out of foreigners. Now I know how the guy wearing the Mickey Mouse costume at Disneyland feels.

The main attraction for Dagan and I was discovering the scariest bloody spider I've ever seen in my life. I've never come across anything like it, even in a zoo. It was about the size of my hand with a web that could have caught small children. Birds had nothing on this spider. He ate them as a warm up. His body was yellow and speckled, with long ass legs in the front and creepy little short ones in the back. Dagan and I spent about fifteen minutes getting to know him and taking his pictures. We didn't name him because I'm sure he's already taken care of that. He seems like the kind of sketchy bastard who would legally change his name to something like "Executioner" or "Death". It's probably even scarier than that.

Quote of the Day:

It's actually an old one I found in my journal that Kaare had said months ago while we were in Poland. I was feeling a little nostalgic and home sick for the guy, so I thought I'd include it here.

"What came first? The alcohol, or the abusive father we call God...(tea drinking pause)...I almost spat my tea out on that one."

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Thailand = Islands

And you know what? The title even rhymes. Dang if I ain't a smart one.

I know I keep making promises about writing more, but hey, if you were island hopping in tropical weather, would you be on the computer? That's what I thought.

So let me explain.

No, there is too much.

Let me sum up.

Phuket: The Island I would have never gone to if it wasn't for my Australian friend Amy.

You know, everyone hates this island because they think it's soooooo touristy, and guess what? It is. But so is the rest of Thailand, so I don't know what everyone is complaining about. Quite honestly, I understand it's popularity because it's the most beautiful beach I've ever seen in my life. Well, at least Karon Beach was, the one we were staying on. Patong Beach, the more famous one (slightly north of Karon), was pretty much Bangkok on a beach. And if you've ever been to Bangkok, you'll understand my horror. If you've never been to Bangkok, imagine the smell of sewage, at least 2.8 million 7-11's, and ladyboys trying to sell you a ping pong show. And just to quiet any fears, no, I have not yet attended a ping pong show. I thought I'd wait for the boys to get here to do that.

Ko Tao: The Diving Island.

It may be a diving island, but as Simon Billy Beard put it, "I had to quit diving because it was getting in the way of my drinking". I was smart enough to just not even bother diving in the first place. I did some snorkeling in Phuket, but as some of you may know, I hold a slight (SLIGHT) phobia towards undersea creatures. Some of the boys that I met on Ko Tao tried to convince me to go snorkeling with them. You know what their selling point was? All the sharks that we would get to see. Needless to say, I didn't do any snorkeling on Ko Tao. I did, however, get to listen to some amazing music played by some incredibly cute Australian boys. And no, there was no hanky panky on my part. Australian musicians working in a foreigner playpen in Thailand? That's just asking for an STD.

Ko Chang: Not to be confused with the larger Ko Chang on the other coast.

This is my secret island paradise, and most of the reason why no one heard from me for about two weeks. I can't say that it's the nicest beach I've ever been on, but it was certainly one of the most peaceful places I have ever been in my life. My cabin was made of wooden planks nailed together. My shower was a hose in the wall that intermittently spurt cold water...if you were lucky. There were trails all through the jungle which was filled with cashew trees, Hornbills, jack fruit trees, coconuts and Sea Eagles. There was even a bakery in the middle of the jungle run by an Aussie ex-pat and his Burmese wife. And for the first time in my life, I went swimming by moonlight with glow in the dark plankton. It was amazing.

Railay Beach: Not technically an island, even though it feels like it.

This would be where Miss Lisa Cham lived once upon a time! I traveled here from Ko Chang with some kids from Quebec that I'd met, Stephaie and Matthew. Some of the coolest people that I've met so far this trip, hands down! As for Railay itself, you can only get there by boat from Krabi and you can only get back to Krabi if you happen to have enough people to fill a boat. One side of the peninsula is filled with mangroves and mud, while the other side is filled with white sand and rock climbers. Tons and TONS of rock climbers. Stephanie and I had a fascinating time watching all the men rock climbing. Fascinating.

I think that there were two best parts of Railay Beach for me;

1) Drinking a triple Lisa lindy at YaYa's Bar where Miss Lisa use to hang out all those years ago and

2) Running through the jungle with Stephanie screaming our brains out and freaking out the local foresters because a swarm of bees were chasing us. Terrifying at the moment, but we couldn't breathe for laughing afterwards.

And now I'm off to Indonesia! Well, that's sort of a lie...I'm already in Indonesia, but as far as this blog is concerned, I haven't gotten there yet. That's a blog for another day.

Quote of the Day:

Stella turned to me while we're were on Koh Tao and said,

"Oh darling, you are just so cute that I want to put you in my pocket and feed you peanuts!"

I think she was calling me a squirrel.