Round the World – SE Asia Days 16 to 18

Round the World – SE Asia Days 16 to 18

Most countries will send the flight permit, if it is required, days or even weeks in advance. Not so with Indonesia. I received the permit at 9pm the evening before the flight and I was told by my contact at Wings of Asia that this was considered early; usually, they come in the early hours of the morning on the day of departure! I like to have everything ready in advance so this had been rather stressful, with me checking my email every half hour or so over dinner. In the end though, all was good. The only complication was that Indonesia issue a permit for a maximum of 5 days, so I’d need to have another permit in order to leave on day 7!

Juvy and I left the hotel a little after 7, and were back at Seletar in good time. For a giant city, we’d found the traffic in Singapore to be remarkably light. Wings over Asia met us at the Business Aviation Center and sped us through the formalities and out to the aircraft, where I busied myself figuring out how to fit Juvy’s luggage in. The fuel truck from Shell arrived shortly after and I topped off the wing tanks, and added a few hours of fuel to the ferry tank as well. AVGAS would not be available at our first stop, so it would be over 1,000 nautical miles until we next had fuel. Do-able with the wing tanks, but not with any sense of comfort.

IFR traffic to and from Seletar is a little strange, with no actual instrument approaches despite its status as a major private jet base. Departing to the south, as we were, it is at the mercy of traffic from Changi. We received our ATC clearance and taxied to the runway, then having to hold for nearly half an hour while ATC waited for a gap to slot us through and get us away to Indonesia. As we waited, a flight of 5 or so Diamond DA40 trainers took off for training; they were from the Singapore Air Force. Eventually, we were released, and directed to fly runway heading far out from the airport until turning south.

Since my arrival the haze had worsened considerably, and above about 4,000ft it was difficult to make out much of anything on the ground. This was terribly frustrating for Juvy and her professional level camera! It didn’t take long before we had left Singapore and crossed into Indonesian airspace, although the Singapore controller held on to us until we were 100 miles or so out.

Our route from Singapore to Yogyakarta

Our assigned route was about 100 miles longer than a direct route would have been, but kept us mostly over land instead of striking out over the sea. Even so, there were a number of long sea crossings, and even over the islands we were often out of radio range with ATC. This was no problem, and whenever we could we’d check in via relay from an airliner. Our planned route took us directly over Jakarta which sadly was not to be, with ATC directing us east of the city as we arrived over the island of Java, and headed inland over the city of Bandung.

This leg held another major milestone for the flight; the first crossing of the equator! We watched as the coordinates on the GPS counted down towards 0 degrees north, and then switched to “south”. We celebrated, raucously, with a high five.

Indonesia’s volcanic nature was clear as we crossed Java. On both sides, mountain ranges rose to and above our level. It was nice to see some hills after hours of flatness, even if it did require slightly more attention paid to ensure airplane and hill did not meet. Turbulence picked up, most likely due to wind over the mountains, but never enough to be uncomfortable. After a while, we approached the southern shore of Java and turned onto the final airway that would take us towards Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta turned out to be a busy airport, shared between civilians and the military. There were a number of incoming flights stacked up, and we were given one turn around the hold as we approached to wait for other traffic. ATC then cleared us on to the downwind leg for a visual landing. We touched down after a flight of just over 7 hours, and taxied to parking to be met by a small army of people; police, customs, immigration, and handling. All were friendly and helpful and before long we had our bags out, the aircraft covered, and were escorted into the “VIP terminal”. Off we went to a taxi, and our hotel.

I had chosen Yogyakarta as a stop because of an Indonesian friend I had made through the Cessna 182 Facebook group. She had been helpful in offering some tips about organising the flying, so I thought that her home city would be as good a place as any for one of our stops, especially as it had many interesting tourist attractions. We stayed in one of her suggested hotels, the LaFayette. It stood proud, 8 stories tall, in the middle of a low rise neighbourhood, looking rather out of place. Walking in to the lobby, it can only be described as “oppressively French” – but was clean, luxurious, and ended up being a fantastic place to stay for a few nights! After complimentary high tea on the rooftop, we headed out to find some traditional Indonesian food for Juvy, and something far more boring for me, before turning in for the night, overlooked in both rooms by pictures of the Eiffel Tower.

I skipped breakfast, although Juvy reported that it was delicious. Our first stop for the day was to be the Palace of Yogyakarta. This palace was constructed in 1756 and is the seat of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, who rules the special region of Yogyakarta as the only recognised monarchy in Indonesia. We were shown around by what seemed to be a semi-mandatory tour guide, who explained some of the history of the previous Sultans (all of whom, before the present Sultan, had many many wives) and also the function of the various ceremonial pagodas and other structures around the large, open palace area.

During the visit, Juvy got chatting to a lady from China; both of them had fancy cameras. She was out exploring South East Asia, and joined us for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

We didn’t have much in the way of afternoon plans yet, so we decided to team up and the three of us set off in a Grab to visit the Pinus Pengger. This hilltop pine forest, about an hour outside of the city, is renowned for the elaborate sculptures that the resident artists create primarily out of the pine boughs themselves. While limited in number, the sculptures were certainly impressive with the more renowned ones having their own small entry fee and queue of people waiting for their turn to take another identical photo for Instagram.

We had some drinks in one of numerous identical cafes overlooking the valley, before walking back to the entrance and trying to get a ride back to the city. After half an hour things were starting to look a little desperate; the location was a bit more remote than we’d realised; but finally somebody accepted our ride request and off we went. He earned himself a large tip, given how thankful we were to be finding our way home!

After a brief stop at the hotel to relax we headed for the largest mall in the city for a meal, as it was close to where our new friend Jia had left her rented scooter. A post-dinner search for the scooter revealed that the scooter parking area she’d left it in turned into a market at dark, and it had been moved away to parts unknown. A lengthy search eventually located it, remarkably far from where it had been parked, and that was the excitement done for the day.

We left the hotel at 3:30am. I didn’t regard this as a terribly good idea, but Juvy was adamant that the only way to see the Temple of Borobudur was as the sun rose over it. The hot and humid conditions of Malaysia and Singapore had gone, and it was surprisingly cool at this time of the morning. I hadn’t thought to bring warm clothing! The temple was about an hour’s drive away, and on arrival we were given tickets and torches (“flashlights” for any confused Americans reading this; we didn’t wander around with flaming sticks, although that would have added to the experience). We set off to follow the sporadic trail of tourists heading in the direction of the temple.

The Temple of Borobudur dates back to the 9th century, and is the world’s largest Buddhist temple. It consists of nine stacked platforms, with no fewer than 504 Buddha statues. I left Juvy to scramble around preparing photograph angles, and made my way to the top level on the east side, to await the dawn. Soon, a glow appeared in the night sky behind the volcanoes in that direction, and the sun gradually hauled itself into the sky. There was no denying that it was a beautiful sight! As the sun rose, the throng of tourists milled about taking Instagram selfies, all wearing the same identical loose trousers with elephants on that they’d bought in some market. Being a tourist myself, I couldn’t be too critical.

After touring the temple, we treated ourselves to the breakfast that was included in the ticket price, and returned to the car. Joan, the driver who was looking after us for the day, was waiting and we set off for stop number two, a Jeep tour on the lower slopes of Mount Merapi. This volcano, the most active in Indonesia, has regularly erupted since the mid-1500s. I crossed my fingers that today would not be the day; and thanks to the thorough monitoring that the Indonesians now carry out on the volcano, our chances of making it through alive were good. As we neared the volcano, the varied businesses along the streets seemed to give way to nothing but a mass of Jeep tour companies. The one that Joan took us to had vintage Toyota Landcruisers, and we organised one for a couple of hours and set off.

Given that the price was for one vehicle, we asked Joan if he’d join us in the extra seat. The three of us, plus our driver, stopped first at the home of Mbah Maridjan. He was the spiritual guardian, or “gatekeeper” of Mt Merapi, and was killed at the age of 83 by the pyroclastic flow during the 2010 eruption. His home can now be visited on tours, and has a number of displays of the devastation caused by the eruption.

From here we visited an emergency bunker that had been built on the slopes of Mt Merapi, to try and provide protection to people during an eruption. In the 2006 eruption, this bunker was covered with over 6 feet of hot volcanic ash and rock; tragically, two volunteers who’d been helping evacuate people became trapped there and died from the heat before they could be rescued. Today the bunker is on display as part of the mountains history, no longer used for a refuge.

Our driver stopped the Landcruiser at an overlook, above a quarry on the lower slopes. The rock that had been deposited from the eruption was in great demand, and a flourishing industry had developed in mining and selling it. A long queue of trucks snaked up to the excavator; something like a giant sieve was placed over each truck as it arrived to eliminate the largest rocks, and the excavator then loaded them through the sieve. Even the worst disasters usually leave an opportunity for someone; as well as the quarry, local people had set up little toll booths on their land to collect a fee from each jeep as it went past, touring the volcanic landscape.

The final stops were varied. The first was another overlook of the mountain; featuring a large rock that if you squinted just right had a face on it, and a man offering photographs with owls for $1. The next, a small museum showing some of the ruined vehicles and other items from the 2010 eruption, as well as photographs of the devastation and aftermath. The region had been battered by the eruption, the pyroclastic flow, ash fall, and mudflows; it was incredible how well it had bounced back since then. In 2006, a major earthquake had killed 5,000 people in the region, and the 2010 eruption killed more than 350. Still, people came back, many perhaps having little choice.

The final stop was to a river near the Landcruiser business. This was just an opportunity to drive around fast in the water and splash everywhere. Great fun!

From the Jeep tour, we headed on to the Temple of Prambanan, and ate lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking the site. This 9th century complex is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. The center tower is 47m high, incredibly impressive for such a stone structure. The complex was abandoned in roughly the year 930, most likely due to an eruption from Mt Merapi (as you’ll be starting to realise, the mountain has been one of the strongest factors affecting the region throughout the centuries.)

The locals, of course, knew all about the temple through the years, but its western “rediscovery” came in 1811 when it was chanced upon by a surveyor in the employ of Sir Stamford Raffles. Proper restoration did not start until 1930, and continues to this day. The site is also home to a variety of smaller temples such as Sewu, in various stages of restoration themselves, and an easy walk from the main temple. Other attractions include a small petting zoo.

Juvy met up with Jia, and the two of them attended the Prambanan ballet. I went my own way, taking a car to the town of Klaten nearby, to meet up with my friend Viana. I’d met her through the Cessna 182 Facebook group, and she had been very helpful in offering tips about flying in Indonesia, as well as where to stay and what to do in the Yogyakarta region. We had tea at her house, where it was fascinating to meet and talk with her father, before heading into the center of town for a great dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner we walked around the town for a while, before taking a car for a short tour of the city, seeing a couple of the impressive mosques. After a great evening I said goodbye, and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow, another flight!

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