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Mad in Pursuit: Indonesia Bright & Dark

5::On the road: Jakarta to Wonosobo

Our driver arrived on time to get us started on our journey. He isn't actually our driver. He brought a driver. But he's certainly not a guide because he doesn't speak a word of English, but somehow we manage to communicate.

We set out on our long drive east. I am mesmerized by what I see.

Somewhere along the way in my planning I picked up the notion that Java would be an Asian Costa Rica: volcanoes and tropical rain forests. We went to great lengths to find and lug along a fat book on the birds of Indonesia.

Somehow I missed the fact that 110 million people live on this island the size of New York State. It is one of the planet's most crowded places. I missed the fact that Java is so incredibly crowded that the government is shipping whole villages away to other islands.

The endless village presses against the "highway," which is a narrow two-lane road. We stare right into people's lives. Ancient huts squeeze together with tiny homes under construction. My impression is that families have never moved but just keep building on.

There is not a square inch of uncultivated land. It doesn't take a guidebook to know that the awesome beauty of the terraced hills could only have come from centuries of attention. I've never been so aware of the difference between the Old World and the New. We came thinking we would see Nature but we have found Civilization.

Jim follows the route with maps and guidebooks, always wanting to know where we are. I can only stare out the window in awe.

We did see volcanoes in the distance. It is the volcanic soil that has allowed so many centuries of productive agriculture. The big volcano at the center of the island -- Merapi -- is acting up and people are being evacuated from its slopes.

We got hungry but there were no restaurants open. Not sure if it has to do with Ramadan or its being Friday. We stopped at a tiny shop and bought crackers and soft drinks. Having learned to  be prepared for foodless hours on these trips, we brought our own wedges of foil-wrapped cheese and plastic utensils and had a small feast in the back seat of the car. The two drivers were fasting so we didn't have to share.

Wonosobo is a  crowded town among endless villages. We picked a hotel from the Lonely Planet Guide and got our non-driving driver to understand where we wanted to go. As we went out for dinner, the town was bustling with preparations for sunset when the Ramadan fast could be broken. As we walked back to our hotel in the dark, there was laughter and cheer and delicious aromas all around us as families feasted together.


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Merapi volcano. Pictures and facts.