Moving to Jepara

Dec. 2


The morning is cloudy, without a breath of wind. I try to think of the sweat pouring off my back and brow as a natural sauna; or, as a t-shirt I saw in Semarang, “weakness leaving the body.” I carry around a mosquito coil wherever I go to at least put up a meagre defense against the insistent little bastards.

After my last breakfast at the gazebo, I’m writing about the bats when Gina from Leipzig shows up again, ready to kayak. Like the Dutch girls, she too was stiffed by her arrogant homestay host regarding a snorkeling trip. There is a bank of dark clouds in the direction of Bird Island, so she decides to hang out and wait. Wiwit is very generous about making the space available even though she is not a guest and will pay only about $1.50 for the kayak!

I need to clean up, pack, and chill out rather than provide company for this solo traveler who, she says, is not having a good trip thus far because she is surprised at being lonely. Her right leg is tattooed in a kind of Maori style (bold ink) but she says it has no meaning and is entirely her design. Whatever.

At checkout time, I say goodbye to the entire staff assembled up by the main gate where an old minivan riding on almost completely bald tires takes me the five minutes to the ferry. It’s Monday afternoon, 1:15, and the place is a hive of activity. I immediately run into Anouk and Lise and we get on the boat and find our places: the two of them outside in the sun and me sometimes out, sometimes in the 1st class (even though I paid for a regular ticket).

The only thing I know about my destination of Jepara for the next four days is that it is a woodworking town, was a stronghold of Islam in the early days of its arrival in Indonesia, and that I have a reservation at a place called Bayfront Villa, not mentioned in my Lonely Planet guide but recommended by Wiwit.

After a calm couple hours, the speed-boat ferry glides past a bayside park, a big concrete building that looks like a turtle, and pulls in to a regular terminal. Bechak drivers are everywhere, wanting to take me and my luggage to Bayfront Villa, but I find a taxi, say adios to the Dutch doctors, and in 15 min. am being shown my room on the 3rd floor: the penthouse suite! I’m a bit dumbfounded and don’t ask many questions in case this is all a mistake, then at least I have one night in this spacious and well-furnished room. It faces north, directly to the Jepara bay, but out the road-side windows is an interesting scene as well: fields and countryside that leads to a village about a kilometer away, w/ a gold-domed mosque and minarets rising above the treetops.


It is only after I’m settled, the AC cranked up and body showered, that I realize how rundown I am. Head cold, sore throat, rheumy right eye, various bites and scratches, a still-creaky knee–these are all physical ailments that will, given a few days rest, return to something resembling normal. My attitude is fine, and though I have these discomforts I find myself pushing ahead without whining or feeling sorry for myself. After all, the decision to spend more and not less time on the islands was my decision, and it played out thusly.

At Bayfront Villa, I can actually relax and not worry about something biting me, or whether I have the mosquito net arranged without any gaps, or if the electricity will start working, or if a breeze will provide some relief from the sweat rolling down my back. These are the words of a privileged westerner who has had his clock cleaned by an island ecosystem and culture that challenged his sensibilities and physical stamina at every turn. I’m humbled by my fragility, grateful for the experiences and lessons learned, and relieved to be back in a more stable infrastructure.






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