Jakarta to Yogyakarta: A tale with lots of twists
After viewing the cult road-trip film Easy Rider for a second time, I had this harebrained idea of driving to Yogyakarta during the long weekend in March. I enjoy driving long distances, particularly when the destination city offers attractions like food, sight-seeing and shopping. This was my third time in Yogyakarta. The second time had been on a school trip, traveling by bus, when I was still a teenager.
Like many other travelers, we planned this trip only two days before we departed. But unlike other travelers, my pregnant wife and I did manage to book a room in the city of gudeg for a few nights, through sheer luck and networking.
A friend who lives in Yogya estimated we were in for a seven hour drive. "Eight, if you go slow," he said over the phone. I checked with other people and received a range of answers.
It was 6 a.m. when we departed from our Tangerang home. We took the southern route -- a winding road through lush green rice fields and forest -- rather than pantura, the northern sea or the ocean road.
Central Java folk have a relaxed attitude to the clock. When I asked them, "How long to Yogya from here?" they'd give it their best shot --but couldn't they have said six hours when they meant six hours,
and not three? It's each man for himself on the road to Yogya. The underground mosque in Taman Sari is popular with both local and
foreign tourists and has great acoustics. (JP/Alvin D. Soedarjo)
We drove on, past Tasikmalaya, Ciamis, Banjar, Majenang, Purwokerto, Kebumen, Purworejo and Wates. It's a shame there are no decent rest stops or hotels along the route. We began to suspect the signs indicating the number of kilometers between towns were not accurate either.
After going through a full tank of gasoline (all the gas stations from Bandung to Yogya had sold out of Pertamax and offered no Pertamax Plus) we arrived at a gas station in Yogya at 7:45 p.m.
The dusty car was like a hungry and weary horse that needed food, a shower and rest. We had been on the road for about 12-and-a-half hours with the occasional stop.
We made our way to the centrally located Grand Mercure Hotel. It was like taking a huge, deep breath after minutes of oxygen deprivation. Iced tea, which the hotel served as a welcome drink, had never tasted so good.
The design of the historic hotel, which was once a man's home, is derived from both European and Javanese architecture.
The Taman Sari complex (JP/Alvin D. Soedarjo)
If you happened to be in the area and were after a quick bite to eat, the hotel serves delectable thin-crust pizzas, which are stacked high with cheese and spinach, as well as creamy tomato soup. It was just the start of our culinary expedition, which only got sweeter from then on in.
In the morning, we awoke to the gentle sounds of live traditional Javanese gamelan music. After a brief consultation with the front desk staff, we headed to Warung Soto Pak Sholeh on Jl. Wiratama. They cook soto daging on a traditional charcoal-fueled stove, which makes the dish tastier due to the even spread of the heat. Pak Sholeh's hearty sop buntut is also packed with flavor. The eatery usually closes at 3 p.m. as customers have wolfed everything down by 2 p.m.
We spent our first full day in Kasongan, an area that is full of art and craft stores. A woman selling Buddha statues said she also supplied shops in Bali, "But prices are lower in Yogya". We ended up buying a ceramic teapot and cups, garden pots and other household stuff -- lucky we had the car.
Next we headed to Taman Sari, where the architecture shows the influence of the Portuguese. The sultans of Yogya used to go there for a range of reasons, including to bathe with their wives. The heritage site had closed early in the afternoon, but we were lucky to meet a tour guide who led us to a residential area from where we could view the pool. There are also ruins of the sultan's castle and an underground mosque, which is a popular place for local pop artists to shoot their video clips. The hilly part of outer Yogya is also full of tourist spots. We decided to go a bit higher by driving through the road to Kaliurang, which is similar to the cool and breezy Puncak hills.
The road to Kaliurang, which skirts around Mount Merapi, was nice and smooth. There are many small places to spend the night along the way. The road has many forks, many of which lead to forests or waterfalls. In one of the most famous spots there, we tried the local dish jadah tempe, which consists of tempeh and sticky rice. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Merapi is the Merapi Golf course. It is a gorgeous location.
The posh Cangkringan Village nearby resembles a Balinese enclave with its variety of plants, flowers and ethnic architecture. "In peak season, the place is usually full with returning guests," said a staff member there. It is definitely the place to stay if price is no option. People who are looking to shop can visit one of Batik Mirota's outlets across greater Yogya. They carry batik, handicrafts and collectibles, such as vintage posters.
Yogya has many restaurants. Jalan Wijilan, near the Kraton area, boasts a number of restaurants selling gudeg, which is made from young jackfruit boiled for several hours in coconut and brown sugar and served alongside white rice, chicken, beef, tofu/tempeh and a hard-boiled egg. Our favorite eatery there is actually a Chinese restaurant that has no name out front. The place is called Restaurant Pasar Baru Jakarta and is located near the Tugu of Yogya.
On the way home we tried the duck satay at Banyumas. There are many kiosks that sell the tasty dish. The place that we happened to stop at used a local brand of kecap (sweet soy sauce) from Banyumas near Purwokerto. Talk about authenticity.
We made the mistake of driving back to Jakarta at night. As street lights were far and few between, we kept as close as we could to the other vehicles on the road.
Would we visit the city again if we have the time? Absolutely. Would we drive again there? Maybe -- if we left from a nearby city in Central or East Java.