Jogja: First Impressions

How cool to have a city’s name reflect the spirit of its people? On maps and officially, it is “Yogyakarta” but “Jogja” is the preferred term, in part because the region is semi-autonomous from the rest of Indonesia. It is ruled by a governor who is not elected democratically but who is the overwhelming choice of the people. In particular, this same family of rulers made the city an enclave of of rebel resistance during the independence wars against the Dutch.

And a further backstory is the geology of the region.  According to Wikitravel: “Alas, Yogyakarta lies in one of the most seismically active parts of Java and has thus repeatedly been struck by earthquakes and volcano eruptions. The worst in recent times was the earthquake of May 27th 2006, which killed over 6,000 people and flattened over 300,000 houses. However, the epicentre was 25 km north of the city, which thus avoided the worst of the quake, and a surprisingly effective disaster recovery effort saw most of the physical damage repaired quite quickly.

Only four years later, in October 2010, the nearby volcano of Mount Merapi erupted, spewing lava over nearby villages and killing 353 people. After rumbling on and off for two months amid fears of anotherKrakatoa devasting the entire island, the volcano quieted down by December 2010.

On past form, it’ll be another 2-3 years until the next small eruption and 10-15 years until the next biggie, so pay a visit while you still can!”

How reassuring!  

The contrast with Bali is quite intense, mostly because Jogja’s infrastructure of roads and stores brings people to the streets in unprecedented (for me, at least) numbers and ways. The 4 lane road in front of the hotel is one of the central routes in the city and is thus a neverending flow of cars, buses, trucks, pedicabs (becak) and most of all, motobikes! And yet, people rarely use their horns or display any anger or irritation at the constant maneuvering, lane-cutting, narrow-misses, and little nicks that occur regularly.

My first foray into the city was to take a bus to the proximity of the central palace (kraton, a word that sounds like it came from Star Wars). For 60 cents, one stands on an elevated platform of about a meter, and the bus door opens to allow passengers to step over the considerable gap. Older people couldn’t do it, and so they ride the becak cabs and move along at a snail’s pace. I did return to the hotel in one of these little cabs, after several drivers refused to take me for small change ($2.50 instead of the $3.50 they were asking). But I found a guy who was happy to oblige and off we went.

It started raining immediately and so the top went up, plastic came out, and only a brief delay ensued. The area from the old palace to the central train station was most interesting, with all kinds of fabric and batik shops lining the streets. Ads for Islamic clothing were everywhere, but so were all kinds of hotels, restaurants, computer items, banks, and so forth. How they can all stay in business is beyond me…but then a general sense of bewilderment is becoming par for the course! Maybe a city of 1.5 million provides all the clients needed?


Sightings also included a live music place called “Lucifer,” a stunning mural pleading for more trees and fewer cars, several large modern buildings completely abandoned, and an older couple walking bravely through the river of traffic. My own attempts were at first overly cautious, but after observing the flow for about five minutes (as one would do the ebb and surge of ocean waves when trying to get around a tight spot w/out getting washed away) I survived to write this post.


More soon on a major trip on the back of a motorbike to visit a 11th century Hindu temple.



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