Weekend Away: Jogjakarta & Ngandong Beach

Peace Corps Volunteers are allowed two nights away from site each month. This month, I realllly needed to see a beach. Another volunteer and I decided on Jogja.

Jogjakarta wasn’t even on my radar before coming to Indonesia. It’s considered the center of Javanese culture: a coastal region that’s neither part of East Java nor Central Java. It’s actually called “The Special Region of Jogjakarta,” which goes to show how special it is. Today, it’s a college town and tourist destination—for locals and foreigners.

After school on a Friday, we took a three hour-train from Madiun to Jogja—which is sometimes spelled Yogyakarta, or Yogya, but it’s all the same place. We got off the train and into the rain after seven, and started walking toward our hostel. I was navigating, which is always interesting because I can’t really read a map. Verbal directions? Great. The spinning blue arrow on an app? Not so much. So we went a roundabout way but eventually found the place. At least the neighborhood looked cute at night? This is what it looks like in the daylight when it’s not pouring, and we’re not lost.

I like to travel with minimal planning. So we booked the hostel within walking distance from the train station. We asked one person where we should eat, and we went there. The next morning, we asked another person what beach we should go to. We found the WhatsApp number of a cheap driving company. I called them. They said, “Please text, we don’t understand you.” So we texted them and a driver showed up 45 minutes later to take us to the beach.

Jogja beaches are about an hour to two hours from the city. The buses are a gamble, and we didn’t have a lot of time to play with. We’d heard that the nearby beaches get crowded on weekends, and that the surf is too rough for swimming. So when we got to the calm cove of Ngandong Beach, we knew we’d lucked out.

From Jogja, you can rent a car and a driver for 12 hours, for about 400,000 rupiah or less. Our driver, Anto, just hung out and sipped coffee at the beach while we relaxed for the day. It didn’t even rain– which is nothing short of a miracle this rainy season. Then we drove back at night, ate a plateful of mie, and decided the next morning to just explore the city by foot. On Sunday, we made our way to Taman Sari.

Taman Sari is an 18th century bath house that used to belong to a sultan. Taman means garden in Indonesian, and the complex is a series of three wading pools, or baths. There’s no fish, and no one can swim here, but it looks nice. Plenty of people were staging photo shoots.

By afternoon, we walked back up Jalan Malioboro, the city’s main commercial street, and stepped into Pasar Beringharjo, an enormous market. Vertically, it’s packed floor to ceiling with batik, the traditional hand-painted cloth and clothing that’s unique to each region of Indonesia. Horizontally, the pasar is packed with people. As soon as we realized this section was all clothes and no food, we made our escape back outside.

On the sidewalk, we pulled up plastic stools in front of a vender and asked for a bit of everything she was serving. I love the tahu and tempe bacem. It’s darker in color because it’s cooked in a soy sauce with brown sugar. The noodles, papaya leaves, and carrots are all topped with a spicy and nutty sambal.

Jogja is home to the Buddhist Borobudur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as countless other sites that I hope to see over the next two years. For now, a little saltwater and exposed shoulders was just what we needed—and what we could fit into a quick weekend.

Sampai jumpa, Jogja. We’ll be back!

Special shout-out to my dad. This post is brought to you by his early morning tech support with my mannnyyyyyyy computer problems over the past week. I can type again! Typing is great.

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