The ultimate couchsurfing experience in Yogyakarta

I didn’t expect my stay with M to be so epic. For me, this was the defining experience during my Indonesia trip. M was a German guy who lived in Yogyakarta for his masters research on waste systems, and at 2m tall, he was easily the tallest person in the city. He picked me up from my hostel on his bike on his way to “lunch” at 5pm, and from there, we went to pick J, another couchsurfer who was staying with him, from the city center. This was my first time riding 3 people on a bike, or cenglueing, as they call it in Indonesia. It was really quite an experience, but thank god we weren’t too big. I guess it was rather normal as no one else stared. The three of us chilled at a small food stall while it poured, and as we shared how we ended up here, I could easily see myself being really good friends with them. That night, we joined M and his friends at the House of Raminten, a restaurant celebrating slow food and crossdressers, where we met yet another couchsurfer who was staying with him at the same time, as well as his flat mate. On our way back that night, M got a flat tire but we got it fixed within minutes. I guess the cenglueing really took a toll on his bike.

The next day, J and I wanted to visit Borobudur, and M brought us to try a breakfast of soto ayam before getting our rented motorbike. Eternally grateful to J, who refused to split the cost of the bike and for driving us around. After being used to R’s very safe style of riding in Vietnam, J’s much more aggressive driving scared me for a while, but we got on fine. One of the most exhilarating moments was when he tried to overtake a whole row of cars in a jam and we found ourselves head-on another row of incoming cars. It was the first day of chinese new year on that Saturday, and we couldn’t have picked a worse day to visit Borobudur lol. It was absolutely packed with local families. After trying and failing to help J get a student ticket using my card, we were finally in!

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Caught a Javanese performance dance as we were about to go into the main complex.

It was difficult to take a photo with no one else in it, but I managed to sneak one just after a couple of Indonesians got their photo with J. I think he was just as much of a tourist attraction as the temple itself, with several groups of students asking for his photos and “interviewing” him.

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I can really imagine how peaceful and otherworldly Borobudur would be on a quiet day.

We couldn’t wait to escape the crowds, and decided to head to the mountains we saw in the foreground. But of course, we would have to weave through the 52347568 souvenir shops arranged like a maze near the exit. We actually spent more time making our way through the shops than at the temple itself. It was rather tiring, so we rewarded ourselves with a coffee break, where J told me of his travels. At only 24, he had been traveling for almost a year, and would be making his way through southeast Asia in the coming months. I guess this round the world, long term travel thing isn’t that big a deal for Europeans, and as someone who was about to embark on something similar, we really had lots to talk about.

The Chicken Church which we went to after that was really quite a sight. I am pretty certain there is nothing else like that elsewhere, a giant bird on top of a mountain where you can go up into its beak and crown for photos. And it really was a church – the waiting area was actually the altar where people pray.

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The views from its beak weren’t too shabby at all

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On our way back, while driving past rice fields, we stopped for a nasi padang lunch/dinner, and had lots of fun guessing what we were actually eating.

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It then started to pour, and by the time we got back to M’s place, I was absolutely drenched, to the point of being able to wring rain water out of my clothes. After a nice warm shower, we were getting really lazy to go out again, but finally dragged ourselves out to meet M and his friends at a bar.

The next two days were spent going around the city. We were planning to walk around the graffiti-covered streets on Sunday, but it just would not stop raining, so we just spent the whole day chilling at M’s friend’s hostel. I guess the old me would have been rather annoyed at “wasting” a precious day of my holiday, but I was actually quite happy to just do nothing for a bit, even if this wasn’t a particularly long holiday that would have required me to take a break of sorts. It was really nice just jokng around with J and M, while feeling warm and comfy out of the rain.

The following day, before we went around the city, M’s flat mate, A, took us to a swimming hole which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, but a group of students were already having fun there by the time we reached. The water was so clear, it was probably the cleanest water I had seen throughout my trip in Java.

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And just next to us, women from the nearby villages were doing their laundry. It was just awesome

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J and I finally had our long awaited brunch, at a “romantic” cafe, as touted by the owners. It was rather funny how they assumed that we were together, and J played along with it. There’s no denying that he is really cute, but I respected that he had a girlfriend back home. The good ones are always taken :/

We parked our motorbike at the corner of a street, and wandered through the street art. It felt like the whole city was an outdoor museum, and both being huge graffiti fans, we couldn’t get enough of it.

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J also wanted to check out the bird market, and it was really more than just that. The market had vendors selling all sorts of animals – civet cats, cobras, pythons, bats, lizards, and of course, the more “normal” dogs, cats and birds. I got rather squeamish when I saw a stall selling trays of maggots to be used as animal feed. It was quite something to see bats in cages like this. The locals claimed that boiling them in water, and then drinking the water, would cure asthma. Erm, no thanks.

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Before we went over to meet M’s friends, J and I had our usual afternoon coffee. This time, we went for kopi joss, which had a piece of burning charcoal added to the coffee for added roasted flavour. I am really sensitive to caffeine, and usually wouldn’t be able to sleep after a cup, but the coffee in Indonesia was delightfully weak but full-flavoured. As we strolled through Malioboro Street, our conversations got a little deeper and more personal, and I was getting to really enjoy my time with J. It was rather sad that we would be parting ways after that night.

The next morning, M kindly dropped us at our respective bus/train stations, cenglueing with our big bags on, while trying to avoid being seen by any police that might be patrolling the streets. I couldn’t have asked for a better time in Jogja, and this couchsurfing experience really reminded me why I like traveling this way so much. It’s not about the costs saved, it’s about the lame jokes and deep conversations you have at 1 in the morning after sharing a few beers together. Somehow, traveling enables you to bond really quickly with people,  because you see each other 24/7 for those few days and you share so many first-time experiences, with nothing else in your normal lives to distract you from each other. I guess some might question if this sort of friendship is real, but for me, I prefer to just take it as it is, enjoy the fleeting moments and not think too far ahead.

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