There was an irritating bee buzzing around my head. I was standing in the middle of some dark caves, with water dripping onto my head. The light from my phone was hopeless trying penetrate the dense darkness. The only thought that I had in mind was…
… what the fuck am I doing here?
Some context, if you please. Chris and I ended up at some caves the Japanese used to hide in during the war (which one, I don’t know, the Indonesians have had way too many wars) as we wanted to get away from the hot spring. Let me tell you know, my readers, that an Indonesian hot spring is very, very different from the one in Taipei.
Although the Cangar Hot Spring is located at the top of a mountain which took us some two hours plus to get to, the weather was far from being pleasantly cold. It alternated between acceptably breezy and scathingly hot. The place was packed with locals – nary a foreigner in sight so Chris and I stood out like two sore thumbs – and every men, women and children were crammed into very few pools. Nobody seems to pay heed to the many signs around the place – they smoked and ate away merrily. In the water.
All Chris and I dared to do was to soak our feet into the suspiciously murky-looking water. Ah, the joy of a true Indonesia experience. Not.
We spent the day with our very nice and English-speaking guide Riesta and an impossibly efficient yet strangely silent driver whose name we didn’t get, nor get to use. Throughout the day I shamelessly portrayed my funnier side (yes I have got one) which got them choking with laughter. In fact we spent much more time in the car than out of it, it seems only apt we strive to have good times on the go, too.
The day started with some visiting of “candi” – ancient brick temples of the Majapahit kingdom. You’ll be excused to think that these huge structures – some perfectly preserved, some fallen into ruin – looked impressive. My photography skills are to be thanked for. The temples, beautiful as they were, weren’t the grandiose I was expecting. I have been learning about the Majapahit kingdom since secondary school, and in my head I imagined them to be of similar stature like the Ottoman kingdom in Turkey.
But if their dedicated museum is of any indication – unimaginatively named as the Majapahit Museum – then probably their kingdom was relatively smaller. Or maybe the Indonesians are just not very good in drumming up their beautiful heritage.
What did strike an impression with me though, was that the Indonesians are unfailingly polite and friendly people. Save for the day-end massage in the hotel (another sorry tale I will not spend time writing about), everyone we came across – from the children clamoring around Chris at the candis, to the fried bananas seller at the hotspring – we found ourselves charmed by the Indonesian hospitality.
One of the highlights of the day was our very simple lunch at Warung Buiti, one of the many little stalls built on stilt by the mountainside of Cangar. These were stalls built with bamboos over a running stream of water. Rickety as they were (and hence not for the fainthearted) the stalls seemed safe enough, and once I sat down I forgot that I was sitting at the edge of a mountain.
All around me are youngsters. They are everywhere; sometimes in group, sometimes in pairs, stopping anywhere they think they can snatch a kiss with nobody looking or to share a friendly cigarette. They always seem to be on the bike but never in a menacing way. The Cangar mountain seems to be a favorite weekend destination for them, and for miles and miles the youths were all I see.
Warung Buiti seems to be entirely manned by two efficient, very hardworking children. They ran up and down the stairs between the dining room and the kitchen, taking orders, serving food, cleaning up tables, always unfailingly with a smile. Looking at them made me think of the children of Hong Kong or Singapore, and for the first time that day I felt a slight tinge of sadness.
But that sadness was wiped away by the delicious food served from the kitchen. May I just add at this point that the food was cooked with wood fire. Not gas. And there lies the charm and authenticity of the mee goreng telur (delicious instant noodle with impossibly thick egg), sate kelinchi and jamur (rabbit meat and mushrooms on skewers) and nasi goreng special (scarily fiery fried rice but hey when in Surabaya…). It was a true local experience and we loved it.
After a (very brief) visit to the beautiful Wata Ono Waterfall, we made our way back to Surabaya town. We had some time on our hand and so we visited the Lapindo Mud, the local name given to the calamity cause by irresponsible drilling of a local oil and gas company which drowned out sixteen villages, displacing thousands of locals. By a stroke of miscalculation, thousands of sq metres of mud spilled into the area daily for the past seven years.
It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it awed me. As I stood at the edge of the mud pond, I saw the extent of damage of man-made error and wished that things were different. Displaced villagers still station themselves by the side of what was once their home, trying to make a living out of visitors like us, but let’s be honest – do you really want to have souveniers to remember a sad disaster like that? It’s sad enough that this has happened. The world needs to learn, but not “remember”.
Later that that, I had my first experience of rujak cingur. We cabbed our way to Plaza Surabaya for dinner, more commonly known as “Delta” amongst the locals. At a shop simply named “Rujak Cingur”, I sampled the cooked slices of cow snouts. It was certainly an acquired taste, but the fragrant shrimp paste and fresh cut fruits balanced the contrasting flavors very nicely.
And on that culinary note, I ended my first full day at Surabaya.
See more of my Surabaya 2013 posts:
- The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 1
- The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 3
- The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 4
- The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 5
- The One With Symphony Surabaya – A Journey Into Nature Concluded
The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 2 by Razlan
Eating Out & Restaurants
Plaza Surabaya (Delta Plaza)
Jl. Pemuda 33-37 Surabaya 60271
Exploring Around & Attractions
Day Trip to Cangar Watefall and Candis