You can’t always do it all. Can’t always see it all. I’d be lying if I said I know this because I’ve always tried. Although travel has put some of this planet’s most breathtaking sights and scenes right square in front of my eyes, those sights and scenes aren’t necessarily why I love – or continue – to travel. There have been times when I’ve not always found it imperative to conquer every ‘must see and must do’ out there. Truthfully, for me, after consecutively seeing half a dozen museums in London, cathedrals in Spain or temples in Thailand, they begin to seemingly blend together, creating a rather familiar experience/feeling with each next one.
So, by the time we’d arrived on the island of Java, following a pretty extensive and challenging two-week trek to and through the island of Flores, the idea of once again waking up at the ass crack of dawn to ‘see and do’ the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan didn’t sound overwhelmingly exciting.
The all-day trip would require yet another 4 a.m. wake-up call. One that would consequently have us driven away from the glowing night lights of Yogyakarta, into pastures of rich farmland, which were sparingly separated by small, traditional Javanese villages. Driving into what seemed like the middle of nowhere, so that we could catch a glimpse of what Borobudur looked like when the morning’s first rays shined upon her.
Our taxi driver, the one who does this ‘driving people around’ thing for a living, and who was highly recommend to us by a very keen, traveling mother-and-son Spanish duo, got lost more than thrice on our way up into the hills. We were headed to a particular lookout point that was said to give a spectacular view of Borobudur come dawn. Ironically, he had to pull over four different times to ask local villagers (whom were mostly between 70-80 years old, each carrying exhausting amounts of harvest uphill, on their bare backs at 5 o’clock in the morning) where he was going. Though it was briskly cold out, both Ashlie and my blood began to boil knowing that we were in a race against time. We’d not woken up at 4 a.m. to miss this sunrise, Mr. Cab Driver. Even though I’d been back in the relaxed mode of SE Asia for more than two months, I’d spent the previous two years back in America. Needless to say, my patience for situations like this had unfortunately diminished. Nervously smiling and candidly peaking through the rearview to try and gauge our level of discontent, by the third and fourth time he slowly began to veer the car over to once again ask directions, I had to ask out loud “Are you effing kidding me right now”?
Once there, the car was parked and our feet quickly hit the dusty, dirt road. We aimlessly looked to our driver for direction (ha!). With daylight creeping in closer by the minute, he once again had to ask some locals, this time teens, which way was up. Low and behold we found the footpath that led to our desired destination. Unfortunately the sun seemed to be elevating at a pace quicker than our own. It took another solid 20-minute uphill trek for us to get where we needed to be. Ashlie, sensing my disappointment and frustration, looked at me, smiled, threw her shoulders up to her ears and calmly spoke the truth, “It’s okay”.
Maybe it’s because I have more experience than she does travel-wise that I sometimes put unnecessary amounts of expectation upon my own shoulders. If something does not go exactly according to our plan, I blame myself. But I should know better. Because that same experience has taught me that some of the most cherished and wonderful memories are cultivated by what can follow the most frustrating and/or stickiest of situations. And that is exactly what our taxi driver’s moments of ineptitude brought to our day.
We were late. We missed sunrise. But because we arrived at the exact moment in which we did, we paired up with one of the local villagers who guided us up to where we wanted to be. Though he had to have known we were not going to make it in time, he was hell bent on getting us up there ASAP. He served us much needed hot tea and coffee once finally overlooking the majestic Borobudur, he walked with us the entire way back down, sharing with us in his broken English, what life was like deep in the heart of that remote Indonesian village. He cut down vines and yanked off their leaves to make Ashlie an impressive little keepsake necklace. His old, kind soul and toothless smile were warm enough to replace the sunrise we’d come looking for.
Once back down to the village he invited us to his home. He proudly led us there with the same eagerness in which he’d taken us up into the hills. The home was built with nothing more than wood, bamboo and a tin roof. It was his parents’ home before and his grandparents’ before that.
He insisted that his children, who were combing their hair and putting on their red and white school uniforms, come meet and greet us, which his daughter shyly did, but his son was having none of it. His wife graciously offered and insisted that we sit and eat the family’s leftovers from breakfast. As we ate and leisurely sat on that ‘front porch’, the roosters crowing, the kids continuing to prepare themselves for school, the wife cleaning dishes, and our new friend drawing directions back to Yogyakarta in the dirt – I said to myself, “This… It’s moments like this why I travel”.
Though we were indeed late for sunrise, on this particular morning, it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d been up there all night. The skyline between the viewpoint and the temple was filled with clouds and a thick, heavy fog. Visibility was minimal. Once the sun got a bit higher and brighter, it burned a more distinguishable and stunning view to the great Borobudur.
Our taxi driver might not have been a master at getting folks from Yogyakarta to Borobudur’s lookout point before sunrise, but he was a genuinely sweet natured, patient and welcoming man. He went above and beyond his call of duty throughout our two days together. And despite spending hours driving us to and from two of the most recognized ‘must see and must do’ places in all of Indonesia, his seemingly unforgivable bad sense of direction ended up leading us to an encounter with a villager’s family that will always be remembered as an accent to our time in Java.
Borobudur, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a 9th century Buddhist temple which consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with over 500 Buddha statues (many head and armless from the centuries of wear and tear).
Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and one of the largest Hindu temples in all of SE Asia, is also a UNESCO world heritage site and was also constructed during the 9th century.