I'm going to break from my usual update format for the next couple of posts. I'm going to write a more general update encompassing most of the week, and then a couple of post about specific things.
First things first - where the heck am I?
Last time I updated I was about to fly from Singapore to Jakarta and meet up with a new group and a fair bit has happened since then.
I left Singapore at stupid o'clock in the morning, and arrived in Jakarta not that much later. Thankfully my hotel was all ready and made up, and I was able to go straight to the room even though it was not yet 10am.
The ride into Jakarta didn't leave me with a favourable impression of the city, and I could see exactly why I'd seen it described as one of the worst cities to travel in. Just riding in the car made me want to clasp my wallet closely.
So it was that when I arrived, I simply showered and then did something I've not done since leaving home.
I watched TV.
More specifically, I watched the whole MotoGP program with a large bottle of water and my feet propped up.
I later met the new group, which has a much younger make up than the last. Most of the group are English, and by co-incidence live either in or around the Poole area. The others are a couple from Austria, a Spaniard, a Dutchman (who being a Feyenoord fan described Spurs cult hero and former Ajax manager Martin Jol as a "dick" within 5 minutes of us meeting), and continuing from the last group, Karol and myself.
We only spent the one night in Jakarta moving on early the next morning via a very comfortable train to Bandung. The route was spectacular and seemed to encompass Asia in a nutshell. Towering mountains, plunging ravines, tightly packed cities & towns and rice paddies as far at the eye can see.
In Bandung, we arrived in the afternoon and took a bit of a drive before stopping for dinner and moving onto a performance at the Udjo music school for a Angklung performance.
This is normally the kind of thing that I try and avoid as I find it kitch. But this was really enjoyable. Children from as young as three, up to middle teens played instruments made of bamboo, sang and danced and even got us joining in.
We were only in Bandung for the one night, and it was up early again and into mini vans for a huge travel day driving through winding and twisting mountain roads down to the coast and Pangandaran.
We arrived at a lovely hotel right on the beach and a fantastic swimming pool
The following day was the best day away since leaving Krabi what seems like an eternity ago.
First we stopped off to visit a community project that is run by our group leader, Nova's mother.
The project allows woman to create small bags and purses from discarded materials that are collected around the town. These are then sorted, cut, woven and then eventually sewn into the completed bag.
The woman are able to work from home, and are paid for each bag that they produce. They can either chose to take full payment immediately, or they can participate in one of the savings schemes that the project offers.
The bags look deceptively simple to make and the ladies of the project indeed make it look simple. Us? Well lets just say that we made a start.
I was very impressed with the project. Those that take part seem to enjoy it, from both being able to make a little extra money but also from the social aspect as there was a real community feel about it.
That welcoming feeling can be extended to nearly everywhere that I have been in Java. People smile, wave and say hello when you pass. The whole place feels so relaxed compared to the other Asian countries I've been to.
We walked through a local market, and as we walked the stall holders welcomed us and invited us to talk and take pictures. In fact the hardest thing was trying to take a natural shot as everyone would pose with a huge smile.
Next we went to a coconut plantation, where a woman made opening them look like childs play and we talked Nova into climbing a tree.
We also tried brown sugar made from the sap, and then tried the warm sap itself. It is by far the sweetest thing that I've ever tasted.
A short walk later and we arrived at a puppet makers house. A family business and trade, we were shown how the carving in done in balsa wood and the amount of work that goes into creating the puppets which are used in Angklung performances.
If I was heading straight home I would have loved to have bought one. The craftmanship was immaculate and you could see the pride he takes in his work. We saw some in a shop a couple of days later. Mass produced, twice the price and not even half the quality.
The highlight of the day was a boat trip into the Green Canyon and jumping out of the boats and swimming through a canyon and into a cave with water falling from the ceiling and looking like falling diamonds as drops caught the light as they fell.
I will write about the Green Canyon more fully as it was an amazing experience.
Moving on again we caught a not so comfortable train to Yogakarta, where I am at this moment. The train itself was a good one, but the weather was so hot that we were all sweating heavily even though we were not doing anything at all. Pretty much as soon as we arrived we all piled into the hotel swimming pool for relief from the heat.
It is so hot here, that we were up at 5am to head for Borobudor - the largest Buddhist temple in the world and returning mid morning. Even then the temperature was pretty much at my limit. Then we hid from the heat in the afternoon, before heading back out to see Prambanan Temple. Another huge complex, but this time Hindu.
These two temples are breathtaking and exactly what I hoped to see on my travels. I will write about them in detail and post when I have prepared some photos.
That brings me up to this morning when we all split to do optional activities. Nearly all the others have gone on another temple tour, some for a city tour.
Myself? I went to a local art gallery and learnt how to do Batik - painting using wax and dyes. This was tremendous fun, and I even produced something that I'm really pleased with. A write up and photos will follow, soon but I'm not going to spoil the surprise of the finished piece here.
This afternoon I had a bit of pampering with an amazing massage, a bit of a swim and then retreated inside as a huge downpour hit.
Tomorrow we move onto Seloliman, which entails another huge bus journey of somewhere between 8 and 10 hours.
Still, at least I should get to work on my photos!