by Peter Nelson
Editor’s note: a reminder to our readers that Peter Nelson’s articles are a series of letters that he wrote home from his travels in the 1970’s when he traveled the world on a shoe string as a young man.
Public transport in Indonesia is cheap, but deservedly so. In fact, when you consider the conditions in which you travel, it’s hardly a bargain. The train from Djakarta to Jogjakarta we thought a nightmare journey at the time. Now, from our vantage point as seasoned travellers across Java and Bali, we look back on that first train ride as the most comfortable one we had!
Indonesia is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population, which means people don’t have room to respect a Westerner’s expectation for a moderate amount of personal space. Every bus and every train is crowded, crammed with people scrambling over each other in a frenzied search for a seat, a corner, a spot on the floor. But if nothing else, travel teaches one to adapt, and we always managed to survive and even look back with humor at our minor trials.
Java is the most crowded of the islands. Jogjakarta, considered small and quiet by Indonesian standards, is more than 3 times the size of Kansas City, with maybe 1/10th of the land area of KC. The Buddhist temple of Borobudur nearby is the largest in the world, but not nearly as impressive as the intricately carved Hindu temple of Prambanan.
Jogja is the batik center of Indonesia, and we toured a number of workshops where the women painstakingly execute the intricate designs of the most famous batik artists. We bought two paintings and had a great struggle not to buy more. We got a set of 9 batik tools, and maybe we’ll try our hand someday. The process is fairly simple to understand, but incredibly slow and laborious to execute.