This past week I crossed the halfway point of the Ring of Fire World Tour. It is pretty crazy to think I have been gone for 2 months, and have roughly 2 months more. If someone asked me how long I had been gone, my first thought would be around 6 months. That isn’t a bad thing- feeling like I have been away from the homeland much longer than reality- just what it feels like. I think of it as a good think- 2 months away from regular “home life” feels much longer. Considering time is the most valuable thing on earth (and the only non-replaceable commodity), it stands to reason (at least to me) that making that time feel like it is stretching out is a great thing. Although going through 3 months of chemotherapy felt like 10 years, so maybe time stretching it isn’t ALWAYS a good thing.
So far, the trip has so far included 3 countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia), 12 locations, 13 beds, 9 flights, and a larger number of ferries/ boats/ scooters/ cars/ taxis. It has also been exactly what I needed- a long break from my beloved homeland of the States. Getting so far away from my daily comfort of home lets me appreciate so many things.
There are also things I definitely miss by being away from the States for so long. Topping off the list of things I miss is spending time with my friends and family. I would love to enjoy a cold beer with a friendly face or 10. A cold IPA would be incredible right now. As would a burrito. And a big turkey sandwich with all the fixings. I also miss going to the gym, watching sports in real HD, being able to speak the local language, and knowing what is going on around me. Those are all short term inconveniences though. And they will all be so much sweeter when I return home in a few months.
Being so far away from my comfort zone provides far more benefits than negatives. It reminds me how to adapt to all sorts of different people and environments, as well as be resourceful- often without being able to speak the local language. It reminds me what it takes to be happy, and focus on doing that everyday. It shows me that I don’t need ALL the creature comforts of home ALL the time (even though a lot of those creature comforts ARE pretty awesome). I can go weeks without a hot shower. There are days I hardly talk to anyone beyond a “Hello” or “I am from America.” Exploring this big planet of ours constantly provides new, fun, exciting adventures. One of my favorite parts is not knowing (or caring) what day it is. Every day isn’t a Monday or Wednesday- it’s just a day. (Except for Mondays over here- that was when Game of Thrones was available for streaming!). There are times when I forget the rest of the homeland is often at work while I am wandering around the streets of some random Asian city.
Since I last checked in, I have left the friendly confines with my relatives house in Bandung and flew to Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta, or just Jogja). The generosity and hospitality from my family in Bandung was amazing, and will never be forgotten. Hopefully I can return the favor someday if any of them venture to America.
The main reason I came to Jogja was to visit a huge temple in the area- Borobudur. It is one of the largest buddhist temples on earth, thought to have been built around 800 AD.
For the trip to Borobudur (about an hour drive), I hired a private car. One of the not so awesome parts of traveling alone means a lot of excursions cost several times more. Because I had no fellow travelers with me, I had the whole car to myself, which was pretty cool. Having a private car with no one felt pretty baller, but it also meant I paid the $35 myself too. $35 is hardly a bank breaking amount of cash for a 6 house private car, but the price would have been the same had it just been me or if there were 5 other people in the car. Oh well- that is the price of venturing around the world solo. I was also shocked by the entrance fee, which is different for foreigners or Indonesians. The “TOURIST TAX” price is $20, which seemed astronomical for this part of the world. My guess is people are going to visit anyway so the locals might as well charge MR TOURIST MAN $20 to walk around. I let the employees wrap a sarong around my waist and headed toward the temple.
While planning each location, I look at pictures of various landmarks and highlights to visit, so finally seeing in person whatever I have looked at dozens of times in photos online is always an experience. Borobudur was no exception to this. The signs pointed to “Temple,” with many various people selling things along the way- umbrellas (Asians to NOT like sun on their skin), photos, and other trinkets. Eventually, I turned the corner, and there it was- one hell of a temple. The first look at any famous monument is always memorable. There it stood- a huge temple built about 1200 years ago.
Wandering around the temple’s big stone steps and thousands of stone carvings was amazing. To think about the history behind the place- building this enormous monument without one second of either electricity or gas powered vehicle- is incredible. Standing where thousands of builders had carved intricate detail into the stones and then manually moved all the big rocks into place was really cool. Borobudur is definitely a place where you can “feel” its’ history. It has stood for over a thousand years, a monument to Buddha (and whatever else it meant all those many moons ago). It was in relatively good condition, although the main thing to have been affected are the buddha heads. The majority of the heads on the statues were gone- either taken out by earthquakes, vandals, or thieves over the years.
The trip to Borobudur also featured the largest amount of PICTURES WITH MR TOURIST MAN of anywhere I have been on this trip so far. I am still a bit perplexed by the local’s extreme desire to have a picture with me, but I continued to go along with it. I took at least 30 pictures with all sorts of students and other Indonesians. One guy even wanted me in a picture with his mom. Most of them seemed to be teenagers, so there was a lot of giggling along with the photos. They would usually say “thank you” in English, and I would respond with “sama sama” (“you’re welcome” in Indonesian) which would result in a chorus of giggles. It is still pretty weird to be a local celebrity for no other reason but way that I look. The locals would often trade being from being photographer to being IN the photo, so there were times I had to wait for 6 or 7 photos with a variety of cameras. MR TOURIST MAN IS HERE! PHOTO TIME! I am very curious what happens to all these photos. I can only hope I at least make it into some sort of Facebook or Instagram post. This time i made sure to get a few of my own MR TOURIST MAN photos.
The irony of thousands of visitors a day running around, eating Oreos, taking countless numbers of selfies, and getting group pictures with MR TOURIST MAN is not lost on me. Here is a massive temple that has stood for over a thousand years, and today it is a place where people come and visit for an hour, snap a few selfies (and hopefully a few shots with a westerner) before running off.
After wandering around Borobudur and appreciating it for a few hours, I began my walk back to the car. Before I could get to the exit I had to pass through what seemed like a thousand of tourist stalls. It was staggering how many tourist booths selling T-shirts, food, snacks, statues, and other trinkets. At first I went through an open area with vendors on both sides, but that was only the beginning. Closer to the exit were what definitely hundreds of not a thousand more vendor stalls. It made no sense to me how so many vendor stalls can exist. I would be shocked if more than 5% had daily sales, meaning 95%+ don’t make a single dollar most days. I don’t have any proof of this, but based on the number of tourists and number of stalls there have to be a huge majority that almost never make any sales.
I spent 2 hours at Borobudur, meaning I had 3 more hours of my hired car. This meant I could go to one more location, so we set off for the other big temple in Jogja- Prambanan. I paid another Tourist Tax of $20, got another sarong wrapped around my waist, and walked to the temple. The Prambanan temple is Hindu (as opposed to Buddhist), built at a similar time as Borobudur. Instead of one giant structure, it was a series of large towers. It was still all built and carved out of stone, with the towers reaching over a hundred feet into the air. The interiors were hollow, which was another incredible engineering feat without any electricity or gas powered machines. I wasn’t able to spend too much time marveling at these giant structures, as I had to get back to the car. Even being there for less than an hour was well worth the visit.
That ended my double temple day, by far my most active while I have been in Jogja. The rest of the time has been spent doing lots of reading, relaxing, and watching late night World Cup games. I even woke up at 530 am this morning to watch the USA-Ghana game. My alarm was too late to see the first goal (who would have guessed a first minute goal?!), but I saw the rest of the action. 5 am kickoff is definitely not an ideal time for a game, but it was cool to stay connected with my beloved sports world even from the far side of the planet. I have two more nights reading, walking, relaxing and eating in Jogja before making my way to Singapore. Returning to the first world will be interesting. A land with real public transportation and first world prices to match. More adventures to come.