Solo Travel to Indonesia - A Love Story
It’s been months since I first started backpacking in Southeast Asia. I’ve been all over Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, a quick stop in Singapore and now Bali. I quit my job about 5 months ago. Left behind my life in pursuit of following my passion to travel the world. Newly single, sick of my boring life back in the states, I was on a journey of healing and learning self love.
My next adventure is a volunteer position teaching English at a school in the island of Java, Indonesia. Workaway.info is where I found the school. The host’s name was Hary and the name of the school was Manding Serut in Bantul, Yogyakarta.
Day 1: Bali to Java
Woke up early to get ready to fly to Java to meet with the teacher, Hary. At the Bali airport, there was a giant stuffed bear in the middle of the terminal. I mean GIANT! Once on the plane I sat next to this super sweet lady. She is a teacher from Lombok and offered for me to stay at her place to volunteer in her home. So sweet and full of love. She talked the whole flight but I enjoyed what she had to say. Very genuine. She told me how great it would be for me to write a book about my experiences, about the locals I meet, not the typical tourist areas. I should show what it’s really like to live and work in that tiny part of the world. She said to make it more like a magazine though with lots of pictures and real life examples. I love that idea!
She said its purpose should be to open people’s minds and show a rarely seen before side of the local life. Take the fear away from outsiders scared to visit there. I told her I really want to do that. I like the idea of blogging not for financial gain but to serve a real purpose. To enlighten people to reality and approach it with nothing but love, an open heart and to teach all those willing to listen and learn. That purpose would give me way more motivation to accomplish it and write about how we are all humans, connected on some deeper level. We need to respect and appreciate other cultures and beliefs.
I want to inspire others to travel for the pursuit of happiness but not to the usual 5 star resorts in the tourist towns. Not to all the standard westernized accommodations. People need to get out of their comfort zone. Explore.
After landing in Jogja’s airport, I met with Hary and couple of his friends. It was raining pretty hard. We went to some small street vendor for dinner. It was a street cart with two tables for us to sit. I let them order for me and ate Indonesian fried rice with chicken. Later I found out it was called Nasi Goreng. Sitting on the table were condiments and cucumbers. The dish was spicy but adding the cucumbers gives it a good mix of cool and hot.
We arrived at the house after about a 30 minute drive from the city. The house had several rooms being constructed with two floors. Only one bathroom. My room is upstairs and was very simple with just a mattress on the floor and a small fan. The WIFI at the house doesn’t have a great signal but it’s sufficient.
Day 2: Bantul
After morning coffee with Hary, we are going to see the school and ride around the town. We went to the local market and I bought some fruit. I tried a fruit that I can’t remember the name of anymore but had a brown peel and was white and crunchy on the inside.
For lunch, we stopped at a food cart and ate this veggie combo. It had veggies, bean sprouts, rice, noodles, and spicy peanut sauce. I think it was something similar to Gado Gado. It was delicious.
Next, we rode on his motorbike to a local store where they make leather and showed me how they do the entire process of making a purse by hand. Later we went to the school to give a test for two advanced students. I was instructed to read a few phrases for them in English and then they were tested on the translation.
I was given a schedule for the coming week and the assignments for the classes I will have on the days he is gone. He is also a filmmaker and will be on location shooting all weekend. We made plans for him to take me to the Borobudur Temple in the morning and to go to a Batik painting shop to learn the art of Batik. Later in the week, I would go to a traditional Indonesian music show and Sunday I was free to lounge or explore on my own.
Day 3: Borobudur
Woke up with a ton of energy and excitement to see the largest Buddha temple in the world! We rode the motorbike across the countryside back roads. It was gorgeous with all the rice fields, luscious green palm trees and the backdrop of mountains. I doubt I would have been fortunate enough to see this side of Indonesia if I had not met my local host. Before dropping me off at the entrance to the temple he stopped to get some kind of chicken noodle soup.
From there, I walked to the temple entrance and paid the $20 ticket. A complimentary drink is included at the entrance. The temple, in the shape of a mandala, is sitting on a hill. There is a sign posted with directions that explains in which order you should walk around the temple. You are supposed to start at the East entrance, walk clockwise around each level until you reach the top. Then exit at the North entrance.
The temple is huge and filled with detailed and intricate carvings. It’s truly incredible. The shape is a 3 tiered mandala with the center level representing Nirvana. Once at the top, there’s a breathtaking view of the beautiful landscape of mountains and luscious green trees. Simply amazing. I got chills walking the levels to the top.
I stayed for as long as I could taking in the views. Eventually it came time to leave as I had a class to teach in a couple of hours. Getting back to the house was an adventure. I don’t know why the connecting bus I was looking for didn’t exist. I asked around and waited a long time for it to come. Because of the delay I missed the first class I was scheduled to teach but finally found a ride and caught the second class.
It was a long day but I needed to get some sleep. Tomorrow is Batik painting day!
Day 4: Bantul
A friend of Hary’s picked me up at the house and brought me to the Batik shop so I could try and learn the process. It’s really pretty patterns and the process is all done by hand. I’m told it takes a full day to make one shirt from start to finish.
They start with hand drawn patterns on the white sheer cloth, tracing with a pencil. Then use hot melted wax to make the outlines by hand. I tried to use the tool they had to trace the patterns with the hot wax but I was terrible at first. After a bit of practice I sort of got the hang of it. The hardest part is learning how to control how much wax drips out at once. The instrument is a small hand piece with a spout, dip it in the hot wax, then carefully hold it at just the right angle to control the flow of the wax. And also try not to burn your other hand while holding the sheer material. All while tracing very intricate patterns. I’m sure there is a special technique that one could learn with more practice.
The young girls had great patience teaching me how they make the patterns. They were very young and kind. I took selfies with them and showed them what Snapchat was and how to use the filters. We had fun.
I was escorted back home I was alone so I read my book and relaxed for a bit. I made plans to visit another temple, Prambanan. Maybe catch the sunset or check out the dance performance.
Day 5: Bantul
It is Sunday, my day off and my host is still out of town. The Ballet dancers were not performing today so I skipped Prambanan for another day and instead found a ride to visit Marlioboro Street to shop and walk around. There is a big mall at the center of the area and I went into get some cool air. I sat in the cafe and drank this amazing coffee called Kopi Luwak. I tried the black gold blend, it was very good.
I booked a flight to visit Bali next weekend to meet a friend from Singapore for a day. It would be our first face to face meeting as we had been talking over the phone after meeting online a week ago. Sort of spur of the moment.
Then I went to see the gorgeous Batik art exhibit across the street from the mall. It was incredible work.
I love to draw mandalas by hand so I went back home and spent the rest of the evening doing that.
Day 6 & 7: Bantul
Class starts again this week and I had two scheduled for the afternoon. My first class was a group of young girls who were already very good at English. They had been practicing for several months. Super sweet and talkative. We took a selfie together. So cute.
Day 8: Prambanan
I hired a driver to take me to Prambanan and Ratu Boko temples for the day. It was about an hour drive to the first temple. The temple is absolutely gorgeous and even more magical with the volcano in the background. I sat on one of the benches for a while staring at the temple and meditating. Eternally thankful for the opportunity to be sitting here across the world from my home, and exploring this beautiful country.
There was a lot of walking involved to see the smaller temples that were part of Prambanan complex. After, I was taken to the Ratu Boko Palace. It was smaller but had a nice panoramic view of the countryside. I also tried making to the Sultan’s Palace but it closed early to visitors.
After all the sightseeing, we rode back into town and I taught the evening class with the two advanced students. They were super nice and I really liked getting to know them.
Day 9: Bantul
Class was cancelled today. I wish I would have known I had a free day so I could have planned to go explore somewhere. It’s been an interesting last few days getting to know this new friend I met online from Singapore. We are planning to see one another in Bali soon, but I don’t really want to think about it because I really don’t know what to expect. We’ve been talking on the phone everyday single day for the past week. We’ve gotten to know each other and really enjoy the conversations but I don’t want to go into it expecting anything.
Let’s be real about the situation. We live on opposite sides of the world and she has another “friend” situation already. Where could this possibly lead? But I am intrigued enough to really go see what she’s about. And at least I will get to be in Bali for a couple more days and enjoy the beach again.
Many other thoughts come to mind as well when I start to evaluate my current situation: I’m unemployed, homeless, and alone. This has been the most incredible and interesting experience of my life and I have no regrets.
Day 10: Bantul
My plan for today is go to back to the mall to get a few things before I head to Bali for the weekend. I did a bit of research and purchased an unlocked phone from the mall so that I could insert a local SIM card and get wifi. I would need it to be able to communicate with my friend, Navitha and meet her in Bali.
Then back to the school and taught another advance class. One of the older students, a lady, is a history teacher. The man was a police officer. Both so nice. The second class for the day was a group of very younger kids. They were all so cute. I wanted to take them all home with me.
After class I went back to the house to rest and back my bags for the early flight to Bali.
Day 11 & 12: Bali
Wow, what a crazy weirdly wonderful last 24 hours! Navitha picked me up at the airport, dressed all cute in a hat. We exchanged a quick hug and we joked right away. She had an Uber driver ready to take us to the hotel in southern part of the peninsula, called Maha Residence Guest House. It was about a 30 minute drive from the airport. It was only slightly awkward at first in the car, but we were joking and getting along right away.
We arrived at the hotel, which was in the middle of nowhere, quiet and lovely. I purposely picked a place to stay on this side of the island so we would have more privacy. The room was nice with an outside private bathroom, bathtub and king size bed. Cute little patio on the outside. I loved that it was far away from everything.
After settling in, we decided to go to the beach. One of the owners of the hotel took us to Dreamland Beach. About 15 minutes drive through some bumpy back roads. The water was blue and gorgeous. We rented a seat under the umbrellas and lawn chairs, got a couple of beers and started to get to know each other better. We tried the 36 Questions That Lead To Love from the New York Times article.
We really opened up to each other very quickly and the questions made it easier to start those deep conversations. We took breaks and swam in the warm waters, getting knocked down by the waves but having fun. All that talking worked up an appetite and we ate at a nearby restaurant on the beach. Then watched the sunset at the beach and finished the last of the 36 questions. I learned a lot about her.
It was amazing to have spent hours just talking, laughing, swimming all while being very comfortable around her. It was dark but we stayed on the beach watching the full moon just listening to the waves. It was as close to a perfect day as I think I could get. I lost all track of time. I couldn’t even be bothered to look at my phone. I didn’t want to leave her arms.
Finally, we decided we should head back to the hotel and get cleaned up. We walked around the area near the hotel and found an Italian restaurant to sit and have some wine. We talked some more.
By the morning, we both didn’t want the fun to end. She had to leave that day as she had plans with her friend. The hotel made us breakfast. It was super delicious banana pancakes with fruit and coffee.
I rode with her to meet her shuttle ride where we would part ways. It was a short time we spent together, but we made the most of it.
Day 13: Jogja
To the airport again to catch a quick flight back to Jogja and the school. During the plane ride I began questioning my life choices. I very much want to stay in Asia and see what happens. But I would need to find a job and I still had a lot of unfinished business back home in Dallas. I am dreading going back to the States and dealing with reality. I knew I would feel this way after meeting Navitha in person. I’ve already booked a flight back to Dallas though.
It seems crazy to think of how complicated it would be try and have a relationship with someone who lives on the other side of the world. But I am also thinking that after all of my heart breaks, I am not scared to open my heart to someone else. I have so much love to give. Those 36 questions helped me learn so much about her. We have similar relationships with our parents and similar values in life.
I don’t know that I am in a place to commit to anyone right now. I am still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, where I want to go. I am drifting aimlessly, although very happy, and alone. I’m enjoying my alone time. But I do realize this friendship with Navitha could be the beginning of anything we want. I just don’t know when I would get another chance to see her again.
But after my time spent traveling I’ve learned to just take it day by day, live in the moment, appreciate what I have been blessed to experience. What is meant to be, will be.
I just remembered that I am supposed to be documenting the real life lives of the locals so I can do some kind of book or blog about them. I want to include the younger kids and their religious practices, etc. I think back to Hary’s neighbors and how they are always smiling, warm and friendly. The family working at the Maha Guesthouse were especially amazing and kind. They hardly spoke English but were nice and attentive. That was by far one of the best places I’ve stayed at in all my travels so far.
The lifestyle is laid back, no one really seems to be in a hurry to get places, minus the busy traffic in the larger part of the main city. Most people drive a motorbike and it is a status symbol to own a car.
Day 14: Bantul
Today is my last day in Jogja. I had one last class and said my goodbyes to the students. I’m super sad to be leaving but my next stop is in Manila and then on to Hawaii to meet up with my nephew and his family there. I will also be sad that I am going to be so far from Navitha.
There is something special that is drawing me to pursue getting to know her better. I don’t know where this will lead but if she is willing to find out then so am I.
Navitha is now my wife and we share a home together in Dallas. On a journey to find myself, I also found true love.