This day would be a painful one.
I booked for an ojek tour to visit some temples up Mount Ulawu. I'd have preferred a car, but prices in Solo for such tours are way too expensive. Last night, the price quoted was 150,000 Rp from Cakra, but it seemed to have hiked up miraculously to 200,000 Rp overnight. Car would have been 400,000 Rp and though there could be budget for that, I just thought it's a bit of a highway robbery. Imagine, I only paid 125,000 Rp for an van with AC in spectacular Ubud and 75,000 Rp for my Borobudur visit from Yogya - and it took me 2 hours to get to Borobudur! The temples in the neighboring areas from Surakarta (aka Solo) won't even take an hour - Jumog is 30 kilometers from Solo from road signs. So why more than twice the rate?
Backriding from a motorcycle was never a thrill. But I knew I'd survive it. Barely.
My driver was a guy named Wahyu who's mild mannered and a bit shy. Unlike some ojek drivers, Wahyu doesn't impose stuff on you, and there are no agonizing autobiographies nor cinematic family tragedies, although much later during my tour, I was able to "extract" such tragedies. The bike was smaller than I expected - what do they call this, a scooter?
By 9 AM, I was ready after an early stroll at the kraton grounds, but Wahyu had several agendas along the way. First was a detour to a small village called Bekonang where he needed to speak to someone who wanted him to find a house (he's a small time real estate agent on the side - where he gets 5% commission from each sale). From there, we traversed an impossibly busy Sunday Market in Bekonang, an exciting place for snaps but I was worried because we could hardly move from the weird admixture of manual and motorcycle traffic. This particular Sunday market is marked in some Javanese calendars, and i was there to witness it.
As we finally made our way up the hills, I was getting a little sore. I am not comfortable riding bikes and every part of my muscles were straining - I couldn't relax. But wait, there was a chugging sound right under me. So once again we detoured to a village called Sekawan for a "change oil" in the middle of the darn tour! Can you believe my luck?
Candi Sukuh (Sukhu Temple) is an odd temple, with sculpted figures taking erotic themes and phallic images. Constructed sometime in the 15th century, Sukuh was one of the last Hindu Temples built in Java. The whole temple complex consisted of 3 levels that's easily scaled on foot - each level representing the phase needed to attain perfection in life - "nirvana".
But what actually pleased me was its location. From these levels were amazing vistas of rolling greens down below, and the brisk movement of fog enveloping the temples - then just as fast, blowing away. It was drizzling while I navigated around.
From Sukhu, we descended back to a crossroad then took another caternary that traversed a magical landscape of tea plantations much like Cameron Highland's. I would ask Wahyu to stop at particular spots for photos. But also because I noticed that the motorbike was once again making weird clunking noises. Stopping would rest the motor and save Wahyu some face. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck in the middle of nowhere. This was Mount Ulawu after all.
The road to Cetho Temple was even steeper. I offered to walk the last 100 meters, which turned out to be more arduous than I ever bargained. Taking 3 steps up was just hell - I couldn't believe it was harder than the way up Mount Bromo - which has been shut from tourists as I write this! The way up was almost vertical and the sidewalk covered with algae, I slipped twice despite my spikey shoes - so I opted to walk at the center of the uneven road. I could see the entrance, but I was just bushed. Was I really this unfit? But I noticed that some light vehicles (Ford Fiera-types not dissimilar to angcots) had to ask their passengers to get off and walk their way up the ticket booth.
Cetho Temple is curiously designed like the Incan temples of Peru. There were several more levels, though they're less intricate and less impressive than Sukhu. The final temple up above was locked so that felt a bit anticlimactic. Once again, there were phallic symbols. You could hardly ignore designs shaped like penises, couldn't you? Even a series of directions were unmistakably penises in form. But the way down was relaxing. I got to a soko (shop) selling Mie Goreng and ordered a cup of local tea, harvested from the tea plantations I mentioned earlier. It felt good to make it alive after those harrowing climbs.
On our way down, Wahyu offered if I wanted to check out an airjun (waterfall). After considering the distance - and if this was gonna have those steep ascents), I said yes. Unlike the candis (pronounced "chan-di" - aka temple), Jumog Waterfall is dominated by local visitors, and the entrance was just 3,000 Rp (while the temples were 12,500 Rp each). This involved hiking down the hill to get to the foot of the waterfall, which was an adorable place to relax. But I was aware that it was going to require some effort to climb my way back up. I was good with that as long as I won't be rushing.
The ride back to Solo felt long. In fact, I felt sore from the position and from trying to hold the imaginary rails under my seat. Upon reaching Cakra, Masdodi (the hotel's mayordomo) asked if I could grant an interview with some students. I said yes. They were just school girls who needed to finish an assignment for their English class. Marita and Ismi were bashful beings, but they kept asking questions while recording the interview. By the time they asked me for a photo, they metamorphosed into social butterflies, posing with me like pros, not unlike some Japanese girls, making "peace signs". It was hilarious.
That night, Helen (from Melbourne) invited me to watch a "cultural show" at theTaman Budaya. I was more than glad to be watching some wayang and gamelan, but the trip there and back would be laced with a bit of an adventure, finding a taxi in the rain. It was actually a musical variety show. There were dancing, gamelan playing, stand up comics and - finally - a big local star named Mike Mohedi. "You wouldn't expect a matinee idol looking at him, would you?" whispered Helen. Hahaha. Mohedi was a bit chubby, but has this satiny soulful voice, I was spellbound by his songs which turned out to be religious (with words like "Jesu" mentioned several times). Think Jay Durias of "South Border". Even his guttaral sounds and vocal curlicues were exquisite. I will be looking for his CD in Jakarta.
This is the Eye in the Sky!