This was the last day of my holiday and it ended with the most stressful few hours of my entire life: the money palaver came to a head and I made a lifelong enemy of Western Union. But the day up until that was one of the best without a doubt. (Malang parts 1 and 2 are here).
The previous evening, I tried to book a trip to Mount Bromo: the area’s biggest and best tourist attraction. The plan was to travel three hours to see the volcano — wreathed in dawn mist as the sun rises behind it — and then to walk around the mountain itself and down into its crater.
But when I was there, the volcano was erupting. The gruff woman in the agency I’d found told me it would be a waste to pay £30 and travel so far, just to watch the sunrise for twenty minutes. So in the end I booked a day trip to the local town of Batu, with a guide/driver who would take me there via motorbike.
And that’s how I met Farah.
I was thrilled to spend the day with a woman my age — so much of my interaction in Java was with middle-aged men — and it goes without saying that it was amazing to have my own transport. Next time I go travelling I am so going to rent a motorbike. (If it’s possible. If the place isn’t too congested. If I’m feeling brave. If it’s a good-quality motorbike.)
Batu is a town not far from Malang which is a big tourist trap for Javanese families: its most highly-rated sight on TripAdvisor is a museum about Indonesian transport. Whilst I’m sure that would have been fascinating, Batu is also surrounded by amazing nature. The majority of my holiday had been based in dusty, busy cities, so it was lovely to breathe some fresh air for a change.
First up were waterfalls, with wild monkeys that regarded us suspiciously and let me take photos of their babies only if I persevered.
There were valleys.
There was a series of treehouses on a hill, with gorgeous views over the valley. It’s called Omah Kayu, and it trended on Twitter for a while a few weeks ago because it’s so popular.
I learnt from Farah that a better way to thank people is to say matursuwun. Everyone speaks Javanese, but Bahasa Indonesian (which I’d been speaking) is more the language of media and education. (As with terima kasih, it took me a while to memorise the sounds).
She also taught me slang: imut means baby-face (i.e. me), and luhbi is ‘too much’ or ‘too long’.
On the way to our next destination we stumbled across something quite strange.
There were about a dozen of these masks on the side of the road, with teenage boys idly watching over them. Some of them were covered in cloth, but most stared blankly at passing cars. Some were shiny and new, like the one on the left, but some were much older, with their skin (real wild cat skin) peeling off, making them look even more intimidating.
They were hot to touch in the sun.
“It’s Reog,” Farah explained. “They do it more in the north, near Surabaya. Ponorogo. It’s a dance, for the harvest.”
I had no idea how you could dance with one of those — as you can see, it’s taller than me. She told me we could see it if we got back in time, and we carried on our way.
To get to the hot spring we had to drive over a small hill; , where blokes on bikes clustered at every layby, taking selfies. Farah taught me another word: narsiss, for people who take too many selfies.
Apparently I’m less narsiss than her.
Farah bought me lunch at the hot springs: a plastic bag full of dough balls, crunchy things, meatballs, and sauce. You cut a corner off the bag and suck mouthfuls out.
It was delicious, filling, and I would never have bought it otherwise.
We sat with our feet in the pool and chatted about teenage pregnancy (very common in Java, as is getting married very young — marriage licences are unnecessary), wearing the veil (Farah just fancied being a better Muslim; she thinks women who wear anything more covering than the veil are luhbi), and chatted about our respective boyfriends.
We also bumped into the wife of the ex-Malaysian Ambassador to the UK, who regaled me with tales of how she used to live in Knightbridge for £6,000 a week.
I had almost forgotten about the reog by the time we were driving back: my money worries loomed larger in my mind. Farah had forgotten where it even was — but we couldn’t miss it; the music boomed out for miles around.
We went down a side-road to find a huge carpark and a makeshift wall of tarpaulin, behind which was the source of the noise. We paid INR10,000 each (about 60p) and slipped through a tiny gap.
It. Was. Amazing.
The masks are secured via a bit in the man’s mouth, and their arms are vertically above them, preventing the masks from falling backwards. They dance to celebrate the harvest, and the triumph of good over evil. All the men were dancing in the direction of a devil (see below), and an offering to the gods (not Allah) was beside the musicians.
Many eyes were on me, despite the dance, and Farah strode out into the centre of the field and asked if I could get a picture with the devil.
I took this video; annoyingly, you can only see a fraction of the kayyang, where the men fling the mask back and forward.