Solo/Surakarta – Java

We make plans to go to Solo, also known as Surakarta. Maybe they should call it ‘Solokarta’?

Before we leave Jogjakarta, we visit the Taru Martani cigar factory on the recommendation of our guesthouse owner.

Our guide

Taru Martani apparently means ‘the leaf that gives life’. Very poetic.

The sniff test

Incoming tobacco is weighed.

Ladies of the weighing room

Most of the employees are women.

Rolling a fancy ending

The rolled cigars are pressed.

Cigar press

Afterwards, we spend a comfortable hour or so on the train to Solo/Surakarta.

 Like Jogjakarta, there are neighbourhoods of small alleys throughout the centre. Our guesthouse is in one.

Like most Indonesian cities, Solo/Surakarta is pretty grim. But these alleyway communities are a pleasant contrast.


People in Java like birds.

I make a new feathered friend

One morning, we help our guesthouse owner feed live crickets to his.

Sorry, Jiminy

A popular method of transport are local trishaws called ‘becaks’.

Pronounced ‘BAY-chacks’

We visit a few markets.

Contemplating a post-book world

Stroll around town.

Big banyan

Even the ugliest of Indonesian cities have some nice areas.


It’s not uncommon to see chickens in the core of the city.

Rus in Urbe

We walk around the outside of Vastenburg Fortress, the remains of a Dutch fort.

Its modern ownership is hotly contested. Goats wander around the interior.

Maria stands under a sign indicating the high-water mark of a flood in 1861

One day, we hire a car and driver to visit Sukuh, a temple about 40 KMs from town.

Looks Mayan to me

A bit of a splurge, but getting here by public transport is problematic.

Stone carving

We get a great view of the valley. And it’s cool.

View from the pyramid

At one time, all of Java was Hindu-Buddhist, like Bali still is.


Because we already have the transport, we visit nearby Cetho temple. This turns out to be a fantastic drive around Mount Lawu. There are views of tea plantations.


Alpine vistas of mountaintop communities.

Where the air is clear

And green fields of vegetables.

The hills are alive – with the smell of onions

Cetho is a relatively minor site, but the scenic route here makes it worthwhile.

Cetho steps
Looking down

Sight or Insight of the Day – Surakarta

We visit the House of Danar Hadi museum. This is a stunning collection of batik work belonging to a local family of batik merchants.

We can’t take photos inside, but you can see some samples – and the beautiful displays – here.

Shirts in the shop

One place we can take photos is the batik workshop.

In the workshop
Painstaking work
Smells like melting crayons

Jogjakarta and Borobodur – Java

We spend a few days in Jakarta before heading to Jogjakarta and Borobodur.

In our neighbourhood, we visit the wayang kulit (leather puppet) museum.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Puppet pair

This interesting device is a coconut-oil lamp for illuminating the screen for the shadow play.

Coconut-oil lamp

The museum also has 3D puppets.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Well-rounded actress

Jakarta is not a great city to spend time in. We describe it in an email to a friend as ‘kind of Hellish’. We make plans to leave ASAP.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Not exactly the ‘Venice of Indonesia’

On the way to the train station, we pass this mural. Some images are iconic the world over.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Jalan Abbey

The Beatles and Indonesia have not always seen eye to eye. Thanks to a friend who is a Beatles fan – and who isn’t? – for the link.

We catch a comfortable, executive-class train to Jogjakarta.

First stop after arriving is the Kraton, or Sultan’s Palace. We come across a performance of gamelan music.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
‘To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells, from the bells, bells, bells, bells…’

Nice pergola.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur

In another part of the grounds, we come across young men practicing Javanese dance.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Shake it like a Polaroid picture

We sit for an hour enjoying this.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
So you think you can dance?

We visit the Sonobudoyo Museum, a small gem of a museum nearby. At first we think this is an insightful installation on Indonesia, with shadow puppets appearing against an inverted Indonesian flag…

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Looking for the sub-text

….making some kind of statement. We decide we’re just overthinking it. This museum is in much better shape (less neglected) than the Kraton.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Maria in the museum garden

We visit the Beringharjo Market. Lots of batik clothing around, of course.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Jogjakarta chic

Piles of material at Batik Keris, a more upscale batik chain.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Local colour

We take local transport to Borobodur.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Roll up for the Mystery Tour

I visited here many decades ago. I distinctly remember renting a bicycle. It’s over 40 KMs from Jogjakarta, so I must’ve bussed it to some small town and biked from there.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
No shorts allowed – I borrow Maria’s lonji

Borobodur is as impressive as it was 30 years ago.

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Look up…look way up…
Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Borobodur southeast corner

Jogjakarta and Borobodur

Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Borobodur bas-relief panels
Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Mountains around Borobodur
Jogjakarta and Borobodur
Stupas at the peak
Jogjakarta and Borobodur

Sight or Insight of the Day – Jogjakarta and Borobodur

When we leave the Krui Surf Camp, Zane drops us at the bus terminal. We realize that we forgot to pay the remainder of our beer tab (an honours system for grabbing cold ones from the cooler). In an email, we offer to send Zane the cash. He suggests donating it to a mosque instead. We wait until we find a modest mosque that can use the money – not a giant Saudi-backed showpiece.

In Jogjakarta, we come across the tiny Nurul Huda mosque in a narrow alley.

‘Bismillah’ – in the name of God
The irony is not lost on us that we are paying our bar tab by donating to a mosque. It’s for a good cause.

Indonesia – Singapore – Indonesia

Back to Singapore. This is not a hardship for us. You may remember our fondness for the place.

It turns out to be simpler to get an Indonesian visa here rather than go through the rigmarole of dealing with the bureaucracy in Indonesia itself. A big shout-out to Max and Jade from the Krui Surf Camp for providing step-by-step instructions. Merci, Max and Jade! We stay at the recommended Chinatown hotel, too. It’s great.

We use our one full day in town to visit the zoo. We normally don’t go to zoos in non-Western countries because they’re usually concrete monstrosities full of sad, neglected creatures.

Needless to say, this is not the case in Singapore. It’s one of the world’s best.

Back to Singapore
Horsing around is a serious business

All of the environments are spacious and well-planned.

Back to Singapore
Happy rhinos

We think it’s significant that the info about rhinos is prominently displayed in Mandarin as well as English. Where the text says ‘some people’, what they mean is ‘Chinese people’. Very timely, as the Chinese seem to view any creature precious and rare and on the absolute cusp of being snuffed out as a handy source of ‘traditional medicine’.

Back to Singapore
Paws off the horn

Strangely, this doesn’t apply to pandas. We wonder why not? We’re sure if you tried draining the bile ducts of pandas, you’d have a sure-fire cure for baldness.

Back to Singapore
This plump panda, ripe for a bile-duct draining, looks like a sports fan snacking in front of a TV.

The zoo has both Borneo orangutans and Sumatra orangutans, of which there are fewer than 5,000 left.

Back to Singapore
(Rapidly disappearing) Man of the Forest
Back to Singapore
‘…if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’

This handsome fellow is a channel-billed toucan, from South America.

Back to Singapore
¡Hola, gringo!

As with many creatures here, he doesn’t mind being close to people.

A pair of pelicans groom themselves.

Back to Singapore

We marvel at the good behaviour of Singapore school groups.

Back to Singapore
Sugar and spice

Elsewhere in Asia, kids are absolute hellions in public places, where they scream like banshees in echo-ey museums and race around without interference from indifferent staff or their own indulgent parents.

The zoo has an impressive reptile house.

Back to Singapore
Back to Singapore
Residents race for the food trough in the tortoise enclosure

The zoo has several examples of animals in unenclosed spaces. Like this gibbon.

Back to Singapore
Upside-down gibbon

And this cotton-top tamarin.

Back to Singapore
Albert Einstein called. He wants his hairstyle back.

The next day, 2-month Indonesian visas freshly stamped, we fly to Jakarta with Lion Air. This is our 16th flight in six months. (19th, if you include the flights from Ottawa to Bangkok.)

Somewhere over Sumatra

We stay in the Kota Tuas area, the site of the original Dutch city of Batavia.

Fatahillah Square, formerly the Stadhuisplein

The square is popular with young Jakartans as a meeting place.

Shadow puppet museum

Sight or Insight of the Day – Back to Singapore

We mentioned that at the Singapore Zoo, many creatures don’t mind being close to people.

This includes the wilder creatures. We come across this snake dropping from a bush on a quiet side path.

Back to Singapore
Snake crossing

Afterwards, we try looking up what it may be. No luck. Hope it wasn’t poisonous.

Back to Singapore
Best. Zoo. Ever.


Regretfully, we say goodbye to Krui

It’s time to say goodbye to Krui. We feel so at ease here in Zane’s place – easier to say than any of the three other names that it’s known by.

We’ll miss the beautiful ocean, and watching surfers from the tree house.

Our beach

Most of all, we’ll miss the relaxed ambience and family-like groove that is so easy to slip into here.

Our little group is joined by John and Martina, a hybrid USA/Slovak couple, to round out our mini-United Nations.

goodbye to Krui
Front row: Maria, Jade, Nita, Lisa. Back row: David, Martina, John, me, Max, Zane

We’ve learned more about surfing and its attractions in the last 11 days than in our entire lifetime. The world needs less Donald Trump, more surfing.

We rent a scooter on an overcast day and drive up the coast.

goodbye to Krui
Fishing boats, Krui harbour
goodbye to Krui
View of the Indian Ocean
goodbye to Krui
Rice drying by the side of the road

Mealtimes are a social event. Nita and Lisa keep everyone well fed.

Lunchtime at Zane’s – courtesy of Martina Lyons

On another day, David, Maria and I rent scooters and make our way to the nearby waterfalls.

goodbye to Krui
Road through the paddies

It’s a bit like the Amazing Race getting there. We wade through rushing waters.

goodbye to Krui
Crossing a dam

Hike through somebody’s cow pasture.

goodbye to Krui
Tramping through calf-high mud

We arrive for a cooling dip at last.

goodbye to Krui

Another attraction at Zane’s is puppies. There are adult dogs around. They are not actually Zane’s – they come to the property because they are treated well here. A neighbour comes by with a gunny sack of puppies and leaves them. Everyone knows that Zane is a soft touch.

They bolt under the porch and gradually venture out to explore.

goodbye to Krui
Maria’s favourite is the black one
goodbye to Krui
My favourite is the spotted one

We’re not even sure how long we’ve been here. We have to leave to get our Indonesian visas extended. We’ll miss the sound of the sea outside our window. (Accompanied by barking puppies.)

goodbye to Krui
Goodbye, Krui world

If any surfers read this, you should make your way to Krui, Sumatra, and stay at Zane’s. But only if you’re not an asshole.

Sight or Insight of the Day – Goodbye to Krui

Without a doubt, what makes our stay here so special is the character of Zane.

goodbye to Krui
Zane and his very pregnant kitty

He has such obvious affection for the people of his adopted country. He’s a fair and honest man in a part of the globe that is often neither fair nor honest. He’s the perfect bridge between his western guests and the Indonesian way of life because he’s at ease in both worlds. He is a surfer to the core.

Zane went to Bandar Lampung for a few days to visit his family. In his absence, it’s as if the soul of the place was missing. Everyone – guests and staff – is so happy to see him back. People are always dropping by for a chat or advice. Kids love him.

Zane is one of those rarest of creatures – a man who is comfortable in his own skin.

Krui – South Sumatra – Surfer’s Paradise?

From Bukittinggi, we take a shared taxi to Padang airport. We fly from Padang to Bandar  Lampung – via Jambi – then take a seven-hour bus trip next day to Krui.

Too much, the magic bus

Krui is little-known on the farang circuit – except to surfers.

The few foreign visitors here are all surfing people. We can see where their passion comes from.

<Cue the ‘Hawaii 5-O’ theme>

From what we can absorb, surfing is part art, part science, and part lifestyle philosophy. My misfortune to be born 1,000 kilometres from salt water.

‘Surf’s Up, mm-mm, mm-mm, mm-mm
Aboard a tidal wave
Come about hard and join
The young and often spring you gave
I heard the word
Wonderful thing
A children’s song’

– The Beach Boys, ‘Surf’s Up‘ (alternatively, a stripped-to-its-essentials version. )

(This song has little to do with surfing, apart from the title. I just like the enigmatic lyrics.)

Krui is not an easy place to get to. But once we’re here, it’s extremely pleasant.

Palm-lined road

Our guesthouse has several names, for example  ‘Mutiara Alam’ (Nature’s Pearl), ‘Hotel Zandino’, and ‘Krui surf camp’.

Stumbling across it was a happy accident.

Hotel Zandino/Mutiara Alam/ Krui surfcamp

It’s owned and operated by Zane, a transplanted Californian from San Diego who has made this place his home for more than 25 years.

David, Zane, et moi graze at lunch

The other people here are Max and Jade, a lovely young Mauritian couple, and David, an adventurous young South African who has been crewing on yachts. (All surfers, of course.) There’s a relaxed atmosphere that threatens to trap us here for a while.

Eddy, Zane’s majordomo, climbs a coconut tree for some refreshments….


…then he hacks off the tops.


David and I enjoy the fruits of Eddy’s labours.


Our accommodation faces the ocean. Delicious meals are included. Beer is freely available. (Not a thing to take for granted in this conservative part of Sumatra.)

Our corner suite

We walk everywhere, which makes us conspicuous. Everybody in Indonesia rides scooters at all times.

A walk on the wild side

The sun sinks into the Indian Ocean at the end of our first day.

Krui sunset

Sight or Insight of the Day – Krui

One of the best places to hang out is the tree house. Not only does it overlook the ocean, it overhangs the ocean.

Tree House

It’s also a good place for a sundowner.

Safe arbour

This is the view of the beach from the tree house. Whenever we’re by the ocean like this, Chris Rea’s ‘On the Beach‘ runs though my mind like a soundtrack. Hell, the whole album is a classic. Takes me back to my silo-building days.

The Sea of Nostalgia

Bukittinggi – West Sumatra

We eventually wrest ourselves from the sloth-inducing grip of Lake Toba and head for Bukittinggi.

Still in Tuk Tuk, we discover that chickens love Marie biscuits. We throw a few crumbs to a sociable hen. She returns with her friends and mobs our veranda. There goes the rest of the pack. And some cream crackers to boot.

Popular with the chicks

We fly to Padang (via Medan) rather than face a 16-hour bus ride to Bukittinggi. Getting to the local airport is a journey in itself. At the airport (and elsewhere), Maria is requested to feature in family photos by complete strangers. This never happens to me.

Popular with the locals

On the flight back to Medan, we pass this volcano emitting a puff of smoke. It might be Mount Sinabung. No guarantees.


Bukittinggi is a hill town. Like Lake Toba, it’s cooler than the plains below.

Our guesthouse is surrounded by mosques. (Technically, so is every location in town.) At prayer times, it’s like a titanic Battle of the Muezzins. The reception desk provides complimentary ear-plugs at check-in.

For lunch, we have a nasi Padang, elbow-to-elbow with the townsfolk in a popular eatery. Nasi Padang is basically rice and a dozen or so side dishes.

Praise the Lord and pass the gado-gado

A park in town overlooks the Sianok Valley

Valley view

In town, we visit the ‘Japanese tunnels’. This roomy network of tunnels was built – using slave labour, of course – during the Japanese occupation of Sumatra. Interestingly, the gardens outside have a recent statue/memorial to Japanese soldiers. There is no English information, but it looks sincerely flattering.

Possibly because the occupation paved the way for the successful post-war independence struggle against the Netherlands. Apparently, the modern government won’t let the death of four million Indonesians due to the Japanese occupation stand in the way of saying ‘Thanks!’ for getting rid of the satanic Dutch.

Tunnel vision

One day, we hire a guide and a driver and tour the area surrounding BT.

We walk through beautiful rice paddies.

Rice is nice

We stop in a plantation that grows things such as turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon.

Cinnamon, in case you don’t know, is made from the bark of the cinnamon tree.

Allow me to demonstrate

The proprietor climbs a papaya tree to provide us with a snack.

Come to papaya

They’re juicy.

By their fruits ye shall know them

This is where chocolate gets its start.

Cocoa pods on a cocoa tree

We visit a couple of villages, Rao-Rao and Balimbing, that have many Minangkabau-style houses. Similar to Batak houses around Lake Toba. But different.

Minangkabau house
Minangkabau house interior

Notice my new hat – my third since we began this trip six months ago.

How now, Rao-Rao?

Balimbing is also a rice-farming centre.

Minangkabau-style  town hall, Balimbing

We come across a small enterprise of women producing some kind of biscuits over a wood fire.

Balimbing cookie business

Like many places the world over, women seem to do most of the work. Men spend their time hanging out in groups, playing games, smoking, and gossiping.

Sight or Insight of the Day – Bukittinggi

During our motorized tour, we stop for lunch at the Pondok Flora restaurant. Besides a pleasant outdoor setting, the property has several resident birds of prey.

This professorial-looking owl isn’t shy about being around humans.

Barred eagle-owl and strigiphile

Another owl.


And an eagle.

The eagle has landed