Indonesia 2016

Wonosobo and Dieng: Calisthenics, Cockerels, and Kids

I had complex feelings about this bit of my trip. Whilst the Dieng Plateau, with its remoteness, gorgeous geology, and ancient temples is so far up my street that it’s drinking tea in my front room, its remoteness also meant that I was going to have to go through some pain.

Why? I had no idea how I was going to get from Wonosobo to my next and final destination, Malang. It’s hundreds of kilometres, and I was expecting some godforsaken night minibus and early-morning interchanges in strip-lit bus stations. But it turns out that it was a bit easier than that. I left Wonosobo via a minibus back to Yogyakarta, and then took a night train that got me to Malang in seven hours. Javanese trains are great.

Wonosobo is a little town in the middle of nowhere, central Java, and it’s a handy jumping-off point for Dieng, an even more remote village in the middle of nowhere. Dieng is special: you can find some astonishing, hundreds-of-years-old temples, back from when Java was Buddhist and Hindu instead of Muslim.

One of the greatest pleasures of travelling here in Indonesia is just looking out of the window. It’s so resolutely green: banana trees, rice paddies, forests. I suspect an Indonesian in Britain may say something similar. But it’s a different and beautiful kind of green here. I was reminded of south India, and how it seemed that nature was always only just kept at bay.

I say that because there was little else to commend Dieng or Wonosobo.

I arrived in the pouring rain, as night had fallen, and found a hotel that reached new heights of mediocrity — it was one of those massive ones that have rooms around a central courtyard, but it was damp, scruffy, and quite grim; full of glassy-eyed, middle-aged men. I was reminded of the immensely grim hotel I stayed in in Aurangabad. To be fair however, the receptionist man tried really hard for help me access the WiFi, and they did give me a “welcome drink” of tea, which went cold by the time I found it.

Everyone in Wonosobo was desperate to advertise, market, and sell carica, a fruit that, if their posters were to be believed, was a superfruit that would heal all ills. What is carica? I don’t know. I wasn’t able to actually get my hands on any.

I was so worried about missing my bus to Yogyakarta for the train that I was preoccupied all day. Nonetheless, I had a glacial shower and leapt on a bus at about 8am, ready to See Some Stuff.

As we headed to Dieng, I marvelled at the relationship between the driver and the conductor. It’s something I never see in the UK, and it’s fascinating: how they communicate through short calls; how the conductor always knows who’s paid and who owes what; how the driver stops at the right time and doesn’t when he doesn’t have to; and how great their banter is. Synergy, I think is the fancy word.

As we drove through the town, we passed the alun-alun, or main square, and I watched groups of adults, children, and armed forces staff all doing calisthenic exercises (in different areas).

The view as we ascended was incredible.

Oh, and on the bus up, a man got on who had a live, loud, cockerel in a perfectly-shaped basket.

Dieng is composed of hardly ten streets, many of which are just alleyways lined with houses. The majority of tourist sites are connected by a rambling path that goes north of the village.

When I reached the ticket booth, a cheeky chappy man approached and asked where I was from.

“England, London.”

“Oh, England! Hey — to be, or not to be?”

I grinned from ear to ear. “That is the question!”

I felt like I’d said the second half of a password.

Anyway. I’m dwelling on this because I have little to say about the sights I saw. The temples were all empty and cold; their statues had been removed and they stood abandoned in their manicured little gardens.

They were old stone. Nothing more. (There were two sticks of intense, unburnt, in one).

Here is one of the temples.
Here is Dieng.
Here is a small hot spring.
The hot spring had owls.

There was also a lake that apparently had light blue sulphurous waters — but it cost 100,000IDR to see it. For reference, my hotel cost 160,000IDR. I couldn’t justify that cost.

From a Seeing-Stuff perspective, the trip was a bit of a bust. But what made it a good day anyway were the people. They were what kept the smile on my face all morning rather than feeling like I just had to get on with it. Whether because they hadn’t seen a Westerner before or just because they were being good hosts — so many people were so smiley and welcoming and kind.

That, and the awesome beauty of what was around me, meant that it was still a good day.

And I caught my train.