The beauty of Indonesia is in the variety of religions. Indonesia is a country that lies on many islands between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There are around 17 000 islands that belong to Indonesia. This fact makes this country the biggest island country in the world. There are also a lot of volcanoes. There are more than 70 active volcanoes and many inactive. Earthquakes are, unfortunately, very popular in Indonesia and local communities pray a lot to god to keep them safe. Faith, is a very important part of live in Indonesia. There is also a huge diversity, and eventhought that the country is mainly Muslim there are a lot of people who are Christians, Buddhists, Hindu etc.
In recent times, no religion is getting along with each other. Some people use faith to kill others. In the world, where we are making more walls than bridges, it was great to see a country where everybody can live together in peace. That was an amazing experience!
The most populous island in Indonesia is Java. This is where we started our trip around Indonesia. Jakarta is the capital and the biggest city. It's very crowded and there are more office buildings than history. It depends on your itinerary if you want to spend there day or two. Remember, that Java is a huge island and it takes you 10 hours to drive from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (central Java) and another 8h to Surabaya (East Java). Instead it's better to take a plane.
We skipped Jakarta and we went straight to Yogyakarta. This place has to be on your bucket list. Ideally I would suggest to check in your hotel what excursions they can offer. For sure they have Borobudur Temple, Merapi Volcano, and Pramaban Temple. It's easy to hire a driver and very useful to get a guide for the temples. Driving in Indonesia requires a lot of patience, skills, and eyes in the back of your head. We were also glad that we had a driver because from time to time you can see people on the road that collect money. As a tourist you are not sure if this is a toll fee, or just a beggar. We would probably pay every time. Our driver sometimes paid, but sometimes gave them a cigarette and drive further.
We stayed in the Hayatt hotel in Yogyakarta. It's a very nice 5 star hotel, perfect to relax. Hotels in Indonesia are cheap and you can get an up-scale hotel for the price of motel in the USA. I know – you should stay in cheaper, or less expensive hotels to experience Indonesia as it is, and supports the local economy. I agree...but sometimes people like and deserve to have some luxuries. We supported the local economy by giving tips and hiring guides. Especially, when we hiked up Merapi Volcano.
You can hike up Merapi Volcano (9613 ft) or take a jeep trip to the highest part of the volcano. Of course, we recommend hiking. However, if you have kids or don't like to hike for 8h, a jeep trip is also very nice way to go. Hike to the top of Merapi is quite easy, not technical, and it's easy to follow the trail. We decided to get a guide anyway. It costs only $20 and you support the local community. Our guide was very nice, friendly, and told us some stories about life and the volcano. Even though, he apologized for his English we didn't have many problems with understanding him. He didn't finish any school and he learned English just from the tourists – impressive!
Since most of the people there are Muslims they don't drink alcohol. And I think it's very good, because they are working. There are limited possibilities and the government is taking more than giving, but still they are doing quite well. We were in other 3rd world countries and we noticed that some people are lazy, prefer to buy a beer instead of working. That's why when you are there try to give them a nice tip. I have a feeling it will be used in a good way.
Merapi volcano is the most active volcano in the world. It erupts every 4-5 years. The last time was in 2010 so people are waiting for the next eruption. Longer time between eruptions is not a good sign. Unfortunately, the longer break it is the bigger the eruption it is. Of course, there are sensors and people are aware of an eruption well in advance. However, in 2010, when the volcano erupted, the ash was in the air for 6 months, and it was really hard and unhealthy to breath. Volcanic ash and rocks are a natural resource to them. They use it in construction, and the decorations (sculptures).
It's very popular to hike the volcano at night. It's recommended to get to the top for the sunrise. Because of our busy day before, we decided to start the hike around 5 am. If you can, I would recommend doing it before dawn. There will be more people on the trail, but when you hike later you might see a lot of clouds, and not much of a view, and the view is amazing!
Still, the morning hours are great to get a fantastic view. We saw people who were hiking to the top when we were going down. That's too late, they hardly saw anything! The trail is relatively easy, but when it rains it's very slippery. The later you hike, the more rain will be, so early start is half of the success.
Prambanan Temple is the tallest and probably the most beautiful Hindi Temple. It was built in the IX century (856 AD). The temple is dedicated to Trimurti, the expression of God as Brahma (creator), Vinshu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer). It's definitely worth having a guide. You can walk around, get to every corner, but without the guide it will be really hard to understand what is what, and why they built it that way. Through the years the temple got destroyed. UNESCO and other organizations are trying to rebuild it, but even now the temple is beautiful. It always amazes me how buildings from hundreds of years ago can be in such good condition, especially, decorations and other details. To build such a masterpiece people had to really believe and be committed to God.
In the Pramabanan temple park is also Lumbung Temple. This one is a Buddhist temple. You can walk there or take a train that goes around the park. I would recommend walking because then you can spend a lot of time in the temple. It's less visited and those who come by train have only a few minutes to get off, take a picture, and go further.
Plaosan Temple – we probably would never go there by ourselves. That's another advantage of having the guide. He or she can take you to less popular, but very beautiful places. This temple is definitely smaller and less crowded, but this makes it even more beautiful. I saw local people just hanging out there, and relaxing on the grass. In Indonesia, school age kids, love to take pictures with tourists. Our guide told us that later they post it on Facebook and counting who has more. They asked us quite often to take a picture with them.
Next to Plaosan Temple is a rice plantation. The best rice plantation you can see on Bali, but for me it was still something new, interesting, and amazing. It was the first time when I saw a rice plantation. After the rice plantation and temples we went to a coffee plantation.
In Indonesia, there are two types of coffee: Robusta and Arabica. The second one is better and more expensive. Arabica plants are very delicate and they can only growth high up in the mountains. On the other hand, Robusta can growth everywhere so, is more popular and of course cheaper.
Kopi Luwak is the animal that loves to eat coffee cherries. He always picks the best one, the ripest fruits. The coffee beans get digested, and then defecated by the animal. Coffee makers believe that this process improves the taste of the coffee. This process definitely requires a lot of time and manual work so, the coffee is currently one of the most expensive in the world. We tried it and we bought some to bring home. I like it, but I am not sure if it's worth paying $30 for a small package.
Borobodur Temple is the biggest and the oldest Buddhist temple in the world. It's a 40 km drive from Yogyakarta. We didn't even notice the time go by. We had an amazing guide (different than in Parabanan) who was a Buddhist. He told us all the stories about his religion and overall about Indonesia.
We learned that the temple was built between 778 AD and 842 AD. It is 42 meters high and the base is around 14K square meters. They used volcanic rocks to build the temple. Our guide commented that they get those rocks "for free" from the volcano. It's good that they see some positives in the volcano eruption. After an eruption, people collect a lot of rocks that are used to build houses, temples, sculptures etc. Of course, the Buddha sculpture is the main decoration in the whole temple. There are 504 real size sculptures, 73 huge, and 1399 small ones. Buddha in most cases is in a meditation position. On the picture below, Buddha meditates when I am in the learning position. This position means that I teach or I learn.
There are 3 main levels of the temple. You have to pass through all of them to achieve Nirvana – the highest level of spirituality. The first level is about temptations. That's the lowest level, and has sculptures, pictures of different temptations – hazard, gossiping, drinking, cheating etc.
The second level is rebirth. After eliminating all temptations we can move to the next level and rebirth. On this level there are a lot of sculptures (embosses) presenting the story of Siddhartha. There are 1200 different stories, and our guide knew them all. He just focused on the major ones, but we still learned a lot how Siddhartha was born and his father heard the prophecy that Siddhartha will die in poverty. To protect his son he did everything to keep him in the castle. Unfortunately, up-scale life in the castle didn't make him happy and Siddhartha left the castle and traveled around. He met ascetics, and they taught him about meditation, nirvana etc. Siddhartha was smart and understood that life was not about moving from one extreme to the other. He had everything, in the castle, very often too much food, too much pleasure, too much fun. When he become ascetic he had nothing and very often pushed his body to illnes, hunger, and exhaustion. Siddhartha knew that life was about the balance.
Unfortunately, nobody wanted to follow Siddhartha's new idea and he was by himself. He doubted if his beliefs were good, and if he would ever achieve the nirvana this way. One day, he asked God to give him a sign. He needed a miracle. He threw the bowl of rice into the river. The bowl went up-stream not down-stream. That was a sign that Siddhartha needed. So, when you ever see a decoration like on the picture below don't call it a bell. It's in fact the bowl of rice.
Finally, Siddhartha achieved nirvana. We also could move one step up to the last 3rd level – level of Nirvana. There are a lot of „bells” and in each of them is a Buddha sculpture.
It was a very educating trip and I am super glad I got this guide. It was a pure pleasure to listen and learn about a new religion.