Bird market in Yogyakarta on 20th May 1978

Bird market in Yogyakarta on 20th May 1978

20th May 1978

I left for Yogyakarta (often spelt Jogjakarta) with Doug and Ann C, James A and Terri B to climb up Mount Merapi. The return flight cost 33,400 rp (42).

When we got to Yogyakarta we went to the Sultan's palace but found it closed as it was a commemoration of the Sultan's birthday. Yogyakarta, the old Javanese capital, was still the centre of Javanese traditional culture and had schools for dancing, music, etc.

We visited the bird market and water palace then went to the Batik Palace Hotel because it made a good base to get help organising a minibus to Borobudur. I had my first becak ride returning to the hotel but perhaps I was a bit heavy for the old man cycling hard behind me. It was so slow I could have walked faster and was it uncomfortable rubbing my back.

Borobudur on 20th May 1978

Borobudur on 20th May 1978

Borobudur was just starting a major restoration project as the stone structure sits on a hill which was subsiding. There were two tower cranes at one side. We were lucky to go at that time because later the whole structure was shrouded in scaffolding or ripped apart by repairs.

Masses of souvenir stalls were nearby but well out of sight from the monument and hidden in woods.

We took the minibus on to Selo which is a village in the valley between two volcanos, Merapi being the highest and still slightly active at that time. A few years later there was a terrible disaster when invisible poisonous gas rolled down the hill and killed many people.

The driver didn't know the way and went up a long bumpy lane which petered out at a forest fire lookout point. A violent thunderstorm started, then he suggested that we would have to walk, but we could see from our maps that we were not 3 km from Selo as he said but about 30 km across rough country on the far side of Merapi.

We retraced our route and eventually got to Selo at 7.30 pm. We met our guide and went back to his house. It was usual to start the long climb at night when it was cool, so we had some time to get a meal. At the village makan (food) shop we had some rice with extremely good beef, it really melted in my mouth. I think it was actually curried and dried, possibly water buffalo. Lots of little children crowded round the open window giggling at my beard and Terri's very blonde hair.

We slept side by side in our clothes on a typical sleeping platform that poor village houses had, just a raised boarded platform covered with matting. It was quite cold being about 5,000 feet above sea level. I shivered and got chattering teeth even in my pullover. All the time there was the distant sound of gamelin gongs and tinkly music, probably from a radio somewhere.

21st May 1978

We set off at 2.15 am each with a torch. Dartan the guide set quite a fast pace along a track, too fast for Terri who felt sick before she got her second wind. Then the hard climb started, all in the dark, often along mud gullies only nine inches wide between bushes.

After four hours we reached the first of three peaks, sat down, had our breakfast and watched the sunrise. All we could see were the neighbouring volcano peaks above the clouds. The faint gamelin music continued and it was quite enchanting listening to it from up the mountain.

Fumes from Mount Merapi on 21st May 1978

Fumes from Mount Merapi on 21st May 1978
Ann C, James A and Doug C

We had passed the tree line and decided to leave our packs there. We went on up and reached a plateau just below the summit where there were notices in memory of three people who had fallen off the steep summit screes and been killed.

It was 6.30 am and we had to be back at the base by 10 am to be sure of getting local buses to the airport. We were within striking distance of the summit but I reckoned it would take another forty minutes up and twenty minutes down - another hour which we didn't have.

Terri was very tired and probably wouldn't have made it up the last steepest bit anyway. If we had got to the top no doubt we would have wanted to take photos of the crater and walk into it a bit. We would have been hopelessly late. Reluctantly we started down.

We started down at 6.45 am and reached the guides house at 9 am - earlier than we expected. We crammed into a small colt minibus for the trip down from Selo. We had our packs and the locals had produce so it was a really tight squeeze. At one stage there were eighteen people inside (including a child and an infant) and two boy conductors hanging onto the back platform, plus the driver.

We went hurtling down the bumpy road and at a village got a normal Dodge bus to Solo for 75 rp (7.5 pence) for about 10 km - ridiculously cheap. The colt trip cost us 50 rp. The hired colt we used to get to Selo cost 7,000 rp (7) in total for the whole afternoon and evening.

At Solo we got something to eat and drink, then got on an express bus to Yogyakarta. After sitting in it waiting for over half an hour we realised it didn't leave until 1 pm, giving us little time to get to the airport. We got out, got our money back and looked for a colt bus or taxi. Neither were available and Doug was fuming. He lost his temper with some hawkers that were pestering us.

There wasn't time to get a becak to the railway station either. We returned to te bus station and found out that it would definitely leave at 1 pm and could drop us before Yogyakarta at the airport entrance so we wouldn't have to go into Yogyakarta and hire a taxi out as we had thought. We re-bought our tickets and got on the bus.

No sooner had we got on the bus at 12.45 pm than James decided he wanted a drink and dashed off, but just then the driver got on and started the engine. Doug and I got out to find James and when we had got him back the driver just sat there with the engine running choking us with fumes for quarter of an hour.

The bus roared along with horn blaring and we reached the airport entrance at 2.10 pm. Terri was fast asleep and I had to wake her and get her to hurry before the bus started off again. We had an hour to spare before our flight back to Jakarta. We had a nice cool beer and relaxed.

Borobudur and Mount Merapi - May 1978