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The unusual escorts in Java, Indonesia (Part One)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When I arrived at the port of Semarang, I was a little apprehensive. Here I was, I had no expectations, traveling to a place that I had never imagined I would go to and yet my first view of Java seemed to be a letdown. I'm just being honest here. The first thing I saw seemed like a brown haze mixed with fog and a mountain just barely peeking out from under it all. Then the industrial mesh of cranes and rusty looking docks jetting out into the water. Granted, most ports are not that attractive to begin with, and I'm sure that this one was well functioning and perfectly fine, it's just not what I wanted to wake up to.

Port of Semarang in Java, Indonesia

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the island of Java was huge. It was merely one island out of 17,508 that were owned by Indonesia (although only 6000 of them are inhabited). It is hard to fathom that there are over 230 Million people living in Indonesia...very crowded. So, I kept my hopes up that I would soon experience something more interesting than what I saw on my arrival.

Semarang houses on the edge of town

I knew that Indonesia was not really a prosperous country, so I wasn't expecting a slew of designer shops and movie theaters to be thrown everywhere, nor did I want to see that. From where I was, it wasn't possible to walk into the town of Semarang. I had spoken to a guide who told me that not only was the town of Semarang not possible to walk to, but it wasn't really a place to go exploring. I wasn't sure if his advice was sound, since everyone has different tastes, but at his insistence, I decided to try something else.

Semarang on Java, Indonesia

Little did I know that a tour through Java, would include a police escort. Not just one cop, but a number of them in patrol cars. I watched and interacted with a number of different uniformed officers at the port while they were inspecting everything and watching everyone.

Officers in Semarang on Java, Indonesia

A slew of men in uniforms scoured the area and even led a bomb sniffing dog around the bus (before we got on). You can imagine that I was feeling somewhat intrigued from all of this, but oddly enough, it didn't scare me like you would think it would. Although, these are the kinds of things that I would have never told my poor (recently departed) mother about my trips, who spent most of her time in sheer panic when I traveled.

Officers in Semarang on Java, Indonesia

I am sure that I could go into great detail as to why there would be all of this ruckus going on, but I imagine that most people understand the problems that Indonesia has and has had in the recent past and why a threat of safety would be a concern for the local authorities. The local police were very kind and friendly. It was such an odd sensation to be sitting in the bus and begin a long journey through Java with flashing lights of police cars in front and back to keep a watchful eye.

Officers in Java, Indonesia

What was explained to us, and I am sure is partially true, is that due to the long windy roads, traffic and small towns we'd be passing through, that it was necessary to have police escorts to be able to cut down on travel time. However, that doesn't explain the dogs and constant police presence at every single town we went through. In order to keep you from worrying too much (in case you plan on going there), we never had one single incident on our journey. As I explained, the police were great and fun to talk to.

Leaving Semarang on Java, Indonesia

I don't want you to get the wrong idea, as you can see in this photo, there is a normal city life there, but as we travel into the country, it is mainly small towns and villages. You will see more of that life later on. So, here we are, heading out into the mysterious island of Java. A small highway took us towards our first town. I kept my camera positioned at my window and snapped shot after shot. Unfortunately, the tinting on the window (and the driving speed) made most of my photos a bit grainy and blurry. I saw the usual poverty that I had been witnessing on my journey over the months and photographed in curiosity, not in judgement.

Homes on Java Indonesia

There were many homes along the inner waterways. There was a certain fascination and charm to them, and the small bridges that snakes across the water. A strange coupling of industry and poverty existed with little thought to layout. It seemed homes were erected wherever they would fit.

Java, Indonesia

It was explained that the expensive homes were on the adjacent hills and were occupied by the doctors, lawyers and government people (sounds very familiar). Now, before I go any further with my posts on Java, I want to explain that I had a great time. I was absolutely fascinated with Java and everything I saw. I just like to write honestly and post what I see, as it is. So, bear with me.

Java, Indonesia

 As you've probably gathered from my other posts, I love to people watch. So, driving through these small towns and villages was a great way to photograph the lives and faces of the local people. Although this bus trip was hours long, it seemed that every town we went through was aware that we were coming through. Many people were outside and watching as we went by.

Java, Indonesia

I suppose the police escorts weren't too subtle, but it was great to watch the smiles and waves. I saw a group of ladies sitting in the back of this pickup truck. I'm not sure what they were doing, but what a great contrast. The fun part is always trying to imagine what's going on in people's lives. There is a large Muslim presence on the island, most of the women cover their heads. There is still a Buddhist population and it's generally easy to tell the difference with the locals in the way they dress.

Granted, not everyone was smiling as we passed, but it was interesting, non the less. I love the look on this guy's face (below). This happened a few times, but you can't really blame people. I don't like my photo taken either.

Java, Indonesia

There were so many fruit and vegetable stands that we passed. The most obvious fruit was the "Bread Fruit". This is a huge fruit which has a very light taste to it. I ate this a number of times on my trip. In fact, I ate multitudes of exotic fruits that I had never heard of or seen before. The sad thing about this, is that I found a couple that I loved, and can't get in the states.

Bread Fruit in Java, Indonesia

Many of the roads through Java were small roads which wound up and down hills and mountains, along with thick patches of forest. We saw quite a few farms and lush, beautiful pastures. It began pouring rain at one point and made it a bit more difficult to see.

Java, Indonesia

Java, has a haunting feel to it in the rain. Not in a bad way, but an eerie look to the older buildings and huts. There were so many that I couldn't possibly photograph them all. I felt sorry for the other people on the bus who had to listen to my camera clicking over and over again.

Java, Indonesia

We eventually stopped at a coffee plantation in the hills. They took us in and gave us fresh fruit and fresh local coffee. The aroma there was amazing. I'm not a big coffee drinker, but the combination of coffee, tropical forest and rain in the air was intoxicating. It seemed that everywhere you go in Java, there is a unique smell to that area. Sometimes it's just the burning of fields or tropical plants.

Java, Indonesia

There was a great old Banyan tree that was growing at the plantation. It's root system was beautiful and this photograph doesn't do it justice. It was much larger than it appears here.

Coffee Plantation on Java, Indonesia

There were some local ladies in a "Traditional" dress who were greeting and speaking to everyone. they were also very nice and had no problem with having their photo taken. If you're into handmade crafts, there were also plenty of those here to buy, and at good prices.

Java, Indonesia

There were interesting statues on the grounds, and locals selling packages of dried snacks and nick-nacks. The large pieces of dried breadfruit and beets were tasty. Since we were up in the hills, there was not much to photograph of the plantation. Mainly it was just a group of us and the cops enjoying our coffee and snacks.

Java, Indonesia Police escorts, giving me the "Thumbs Up".

After we filled up with coffee...and used the restroom from excess coffee drinking...we finally piled back in the bus and left. I will continue on Java Indonesia in a day or two.


Anonymous said...

Did you do a tour of Java? did you like the food? i'm from there but now live in the L.A....Esther.

Luther Bailey said...

Hi Esther!

Yes, I did a tour of Java. I will be posting more information on that over the next week. Indonesian food is wonderful and very flavorful. I especially like the various fruits, such as "Snake Fruit". Thanks for reading! :-)


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read about Java coming from a foreigner. Most people go to Indonesia to see Bali, Yogyakarta maybe Jakarta. I haven't been back for 20 years, nor I have desire to, it's crowded,humid and traffic everywhere you go....Did you go to Bali ?Esther.

Luther Bailey said...

Hi Esther!

Yep! Went to Bali and Komodo, but it may take me another week or so before I'm finished with Java. I will be posting pictures of those islands also..along with my thoughts. It's generally a shock to the senses for people to go anywhere that is very different than what they are used to. I imagine that coming to the states was quite an adventure for you the first few weeks. :-)

Sam said...

Hi Luther,

Really enjoy your pictures. I'm from Jakarta and I think you captured it right. Java's main attraction is off course Jogjakarta (the city, Borobudur, Prambanan) and the magnificent Mount Bromo. But there are other less popular places that are as attractive like Dieng plateau, Sawarna beach, Karimunjawa islands, and Krakatau. But other than those beautiful and/or rich cultured places, mostly Java is dull and poor.

Luther Bailey said...

Thanks, Sam! Java was such a huge island, that it seems it would take a while to see it all. I have visited other islands in Indonesia (will post on those soon), but I haven't had a chance to get to Jakarta yet. Some day.

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