Krakatoa!

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I had never heard of Krakatoa before coming to Indonesia, but immediately upon arriving in Bandar Lampung, it’s been heavily on my mind. This monster of a volcano sits in the Sunda Straight right between Sumatra and Java and is technically part of the province of Lampung. In August of 1883, the thing erupted killing at least 36,400 people and completely destroying Bandar Lampung. It was the loudest sound in modern history and even as far away an England people noticed a change in the waves. It’s regarded as the deadliest volcano in history and Anak Krakatoa (Child of Krakatoa), while safe to visit, is constantly spewing out smoke and spitting rocks and lava.

Keen to visit? Ask around in Bandar Lampung and people will tell you that it costs over USD 1,000.00 to get a boat out there or you can go to Java. Neither option is particularly convenient. Last weekend, however, we got together fifteen people and a boat for USD 500.00 and booked it! We looked relaxing to a new level on the three hour boat ride — beers were out by 9am — and then spent the afternoon diving off the boat into the crystal clear waters around Anak Krakatoa. Another perfect day in paradise. And Tony Packo hot dogs were for lunch, making it a special kind of perfect for me — Thanks, Mom and Susan for getting that sauce out to me!

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yum!

yum!

From the plateau looking out over the Sunda Strait

From the plateau looking out over the Sunda Strait

spectacular sunset to close the day

spectacular sunset on the boat ride back to close the day

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Mary, Susan, Indo Part 3: Borobudur and Prambanan

Have I mentioned my undergraduate degree in archaeology? Few things get me feeling all warm and fuzzy like old stuff, and Central Java might as well be called Archaeology Disney Land. Unfortunately, three weeks is not sufficient time to see all of the ruins around Yogya, and we only had three days, leaving us just enough time to see two: Borobudur and Prambanan, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Susan has a major thing for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In an effort to rest Susan’s sprained ankle, we stopped at a drugstore to buy a pair of crutches before setting out and then had a wheelchair to minimize walking when we weren’t climbing the structures. Susan scaled the uneven steps of both Borobudur and Prambanan on crutches and in the rain like a champion – with a smile on her face the whole time.

Borobudur

In case it wasn't clear that I'm in Indonesia, here I am riding an elephant with Borobudur in the background.

In case it wasn’t clear that I’m in Indonesia, here I am riding an elephant with Borobudur in the background.

Borobudur is a mammoth Buddhist structure built in the 8th century and abandoned shortly after. UNESCO ran a major restoration project on it in the 70s – which included disassembling it brick by brick and putting it back together (woah). In 1983, bombs were planted near the top destroying some small stupas, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. Today, it is magnificent. The colossal size of the structure is one thing, but I was most entranced by all the carvings that lined the corridors.

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One is meant to enter the temple and walk clockwise in meditation looking at the reliefs that depict life on earth – with all of its pleasures, pains, and punishments, the transformation of the original Buddha from a lavish prince to The Enlightened One, and finally, Nirvana is at the top. Strolling through Borobudur was incredible, albeit confusing, and it wasn’t until after reflection and reading about the experience that I’ve been able to understand the genius behind the building as a meditation tool. For three levels, you are overwhelmed by visual stimuli. From the base of the floor are reliefs that are impossible to appreciate – due to quantity and detail – unless examined slowly and thoughtfully. It is overwhelming. Looking up, there it seems endless and there are few spaces to look outwards over the vast green field that Borobudur is situated in. One almost feels trapped, and, especially for the ignorant tourist, very confused. Upon reaching the, now circular, platforms of Nirvana, everything is open and there are no carvings, only soft shaped Stupas with Buddhas inside of them at in the very center, a large, empty Stupa. When we made it to Nirvana, I remember thinking “this is it?” But now, I understand, that yes, that’s it. Buddhism is about abandoning worldly possessions and preoccupations and reaching a state of empty clarity, Enlightenment or Nirvana. The summit of Borobudur evokes exactly that.

Susan and I at the top.

Susan and I at the top.

Stupas in the Nirvana representation

Stupas in the Nirvana representation

One cannot help but to notice that many of the Buddha statues are missing their heads. As it turns out, that even at a place meant to motivate people to abandon greed and possessions, people struggle to resist themselves and still take.

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Prambanan

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After visiting Borobudur, we went to Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex roughly one hour from Borobudur and built only fifty years later. Java embraced both Hinduism and Buddhism, and it was very interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two sites.

Prambanan is said to be one of the largest and grandest examples of Hindu art. Unfortunately, it has not survived the earthquakes as well as Borobudur. Restorations are still underway and not all the temples are completely stable, check out the hard hats we had to don in the main Shiva temple.

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The main Shiva temple tells the Ramanaya epic in reliefs, which was very interesting to see because the previous night, we had attended the ballet. It was amazing how easy it was to identify parts of the performance on the temple walls. The story is about a princess who is abducted and then rescued by Hanunan, the white monkey. The ballet was incredible complete with armies of colorful monkeys, fire, and beautiful costuming.

 

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I was not as taken by Prambanan as I was Borobudur, but we also didn’t allow ourselves sufficient time to embrace the complex. Eight key temples are clustered together while just on the outside is a border of temples that now lay in complete ruins. The entire complex lies over many square kilometers that would have been wonderful to explore on bike, like we did at Bagan in Myanmar.

I was most impressed by Prambanan’s beauty at night when the main temples were the backdrop to the Ramanaya Ballet. It was very cool to see the reliefs brought to life with gamelan music and Javanese dance. IMG_2625

 

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Mary, Susan, Indo Part 2: Gunung Merapi, the part we thought would kill us.

After three glorious beach days in Krui, we went back to Bandar Lampung for a night and then flew into Yogyakarta in Central Java. We had the sunrise Merapi Volcano hike in the back of our mind, and then upon arriving at our guesthouse, we decided that that very night was our night.

Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness will be fine. says Lonely Planet Indonesia. Susan — a marathon runner — and myself — well, thin — have always considered ourselves to be in AT LEAST a reasonable level of fitness, so we set off in the middle of the night undaunted and unprepared to scale the volcano — one of the top ten deadliest in the world.

Already chilly, the rain did not help at all. The Rp 7000 (70 cents) ponchos that Susan bought us at the base turned out to be the most — er, only — valuable piece of equipment we had. Besides that, Susan was wearing exercise spandex, a light jacket, and tennis shoes while I was wearing shorts, Chaco sandals, a tank top, and a cardigan. I know better than to set off on a hike like this, and punished I was for not using my head when I was packing. Fortunately, I had my sarong to wrap around my legs, which added some warmth.

The hike was steep right from the get go and never flattened out. We were marching into cold, slippery darkness with no briefing from our guides, no maps, and just in general no idea of what to expect. There were six of us in the group. Two seemed pretty serious about hiking, and also in a hurry for some reason, while Susan and I and the a Dutch couple felt like Merapi was killing us slowly and painfully.

We lost hope at various points of the hike, but we snapped and vocally said that we wanted to go no further when we reached the first plateau and had this conversation with our guide.

Will we make it to the top? No, the weather is too bad.
Will we see lava? No, it isn’t clear enough.
Will we have a nice view for the sunrise? No, it’s very cloudy this morning.
Can we just stay here then? No, we need to at least make it to the second plateau.

And then we saw lightning in the distance.

Three hours in.

Three hours in.

We continued our death march, now, with the lowest of expectations.

When we made it to the second plateau we huddled in a tiny cave for warmth. Some managed to get a little bit of sleep, I decided to quit smoking. By the time we arrived at the second plateau, I realized that I was indeed NOT in a reasonable level of fitness, so cigarettes had to go — I’m one week in.

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One of the guides came into the cave and announced that the weather had cleared and we were going to continue on to the third plateau and possibly the crater. Skeptical, we followed. Significantly lighter outside and the breath taking scenery coming into view, this part of the hike was easily the best and we all began to feel much better about the previous four hours.

the first sign that we had made it through the night

the first sign that we had made it through the night

When we arrived at the third plateau, we couldn’t make it up to the crater because the volcano is active and was smoking, so we watched the sunrise from where we were. It was magical. We were high above the clouds and other mountains were all around us and the forests were lush and intriguing. The view from the top truly was stunning and offered one of the most intense feelings of freedom that I’ve experienced.

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Not going up there with all that smoke coming out!

Not going up there with all that smoke coming out!

Unfortunately, a helicopter did not come to pick us up, and we had to hike down. It was just as bad as the hike up, and especially awful for Susan because early on, she sprained her ankle. I’ve always said that Susan is the toughest girl I know, and watching her get down the mountain with a bum ankle and, all things considered, in good spirits, is now making me wonder if she is even human. Having walked off the mountain without any injuries, I cherish that feeling of freedom that I felt at the third plateau watching the sun come up, and if Merapi blows in 2014 as it’s expected, I will be saddened and feel lucky that I got to know her a bit. Susan, has different feelings on whether the hike was worth it.

So the bottom line if you’re planning to hike Gunung Merapi is wear the sturdiest of hiking boots, go during the dry season, bring a head lamp, and prepare to be cold, even though you’re in Indonesia. It’s not easy, hiking at night is scary, and no matter your level of fitness, you’ll probably really hate at least a portion of the hike.

back down near the bottom. We survived.

back down near the bottom. We survived.

Mary, Susan, Indo Part 1: Krui

Susan arrived in Jakarta looking more discombobulated than I have ever seen her. Twenty something hours in the air and a doozy of a time difference will do that to ya. I was so happy to see her walk out of customs and report that she didn’t have any trouble on her journey and we relaxed at the airport for a bit in Jakarta and then went off to Bandar Lampung.

Monday was dedicated to me tying up loose ends at work and Susan hanging out at the spa. We took it easy Monday night because Tuesday morning, we were beach bound to my favorite ocean-side spot in the world: Tanjung Setia, near Krui in West Lampung on the  Indian Ocean. I’ve been there a couple of times before and each time, leaving gets more and more difficult.

Not too much to say about this bit of the trip, besides that it was Indo-perfection (or even better). I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

Three Sisters Beach. A great little secret.

Three Sisters Beach. A great secret slice of paradise.

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Good morning, Banana Island!

Good morning, Banana Island!

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Hangin out on the Banana Island shipwreck

Hangin out on the Banana Island shipwreck

First time ocean fishing! The ceviche we made from it wasn't bad at all

First time ocean fishing! The ceviche we made from it wasn’t bad at all

Riding home after a great day on Banana Island!

Riding home after a great day on Banana Island!

Sunset from outside our cabin

Sunset from outside our cabin

We were gunna leave pretty early on Thursday morning... and then we hung some hammocks and changed our mind.

We were gunna leave pretty early on Thursday morning… and then we hung some hammocks and changed our mind.

Watch out, Indo! Susan’s coming!

I’ve been out of my mind excited for the past two months because Susan, my favorite travel buddy, will be in Indonesia on Sunday! We have a super exciting holiday planned out that includes a surf beach and isolated tropical island in Sumatra and then the pre-Islamic ruins of Central Java. Many stories are sure to come from the next week and a half!

Here are some photos of our previous adventures, though this is only scratching the surface of places we’ve been together!

Carnaval - La Vega, Dominican Republic 2009

Carnaval – La Vega, Dominican Republic

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Valparaiso, Chili - Rumor has it this summit was Darwin's favorite place

Valparaiso, Chile – Rumor has it this summit was Darwin’s favorite place

Wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina

Wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina

Colonia, Uruguay

Colonia, Uruguay

Potato Creek State Park, Indiana - the half way point between our two houses in the States

Potato Creek State Park, Indiana – the half way point between our two houses in the States

Chicago

Chicago