Meet, stay, love

In­done­sia is big­ger than Kuta, says Pres­i­dent Joko ‘Jokowi’ Wi­dodo. He wants tourists to stay longer, wan­der far­ther and drop their dol­lars into tills be­yond the Three Bs– Bali, Borobudur and Bromo. Dun­can Gra­ham took his ad­vice.

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between The Lines -

Pity hote­liers try­ing to stay afloat in a tidal and turbulent mar­ket. In the bad old like-it-or-leave days a hard bed and a squat toi­let in a bar­rack-cell los­men was the best lo­cal trav­el­ers could ex­pect. Over­seas visi­tors might get up-mar­ket ac­com­mo­da­tion in the big cities. There was no point in com­plain­ing that the lights had gone out and the wa­ter ran rusty be­cause the phone wouldn’t work.

Now the world is on the move; guests are get­ting choosy and can rank ser­vices on the in­ter­net. Odors in the lava­tory and stains on the sheets? Tell all — and they’ll steer clear.

Air con­di­tion­ing, hot show­ers, a fridge and a ca­ble TV ser­vice are now in­dus­try stan­dards. Staff with real smiles are essen­tial, not the gri­maces of yesteryear. Room safes and free Wi-Fi are be­com­ing com­mon, even in small towns. Now add bi­cy­cles. Borobudur isn’t just one of the world’s won­ders, a ma­jes­tic 9th cen­tury three-tier Bud­dhist tem­ple de­scribed by its first bri­tish dis­cov­erer Sir Stam­ford Raf­fles as this ‘‘noble build­ing’’ and ‘‘ma­jes­tic ed­i­fice’’. It’s also a Cen­tral Java town.

Back­pack­ers use it to board un­sprung busses for next stop Yo­gyakarta, while the mon­eyed ma­jor­ity head straight from the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park gates to the air­port. That’s a mis­take.

In the vil­lages be­yond and in a straight line are the re­lated tem­ples Pa­won and Men­dut. Few for­eign­ers bother to drive the ex­tra 5 kilo­me­ters even though the en­trance fee is only Rp 30,000 (US$2.25) for the two com­pared with nine times that sum for the big­ger mon­u­ment.

Wa­nurejo is a nearby ham­let off the tourist track, though only by a few twists and turns. Here the lo­cals have ac­cepted Pres­i­dent Jokowi’s chal­lenge to ex­pand tourism by com­bin­ing to of­fer must-try ex­pe­ri­ences. Their se­cret lure: Art­house Homes­tays.

These are con­verted or pur­pose-built cot­tages in or­di­nary lanes and among lo­cal res­i­dents. Reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit more than five rooms so even with a full house dou­ble-digit oc­cu­pancy is rare. That means fel­low trav­el­ers are easy to meet. To avoid, push ped­als.

Homes­tay is not al­ways the cor­rect term as the own­ers may be else­where — guest­house is more ac­cu­rate. Staff tend to be neigh­bors so the men watch the premises while the lady who cooks break­fasts and mops the floor lives a few doors down.

When not boil­ing eggs straight from the nest or air­ing bed­ding she may well be ap­ply­ing wax on cot­ton and happy to let quiv­er­ing hands try the tjant­ing. Batik de­mands pa­tience so city folk should pack plenty be­fore leav­ing Stress Cen­tral.

Oth­ers paint and hang their im­pres­sive work on guest­house walls, or make or­ganic soap and other sup­plies for ho­tels. As Art­house Homes­tays are only now get­ting known the vil­lagers have yet to de­velop the Kuta syn­drome where every bule (Cau­casian) is re­garded as a walk­ing ATM, ripe for a with­drawal.

No flash uni­forms, no unc­tu­ous re­cep­tion­ists, just whole­some kam­pung friend­li­ness and the chance to see the way most In­done­sians live. That’s not in high-rise anony­mous apart­ments but among the rice and sugar cane fields of

ru­ral land­scapes like the fer­tile and flat Kedu Plain. Which means it’s ideal for cy­clists of any age.

But where to wheel? After over-dos­ing on an­cient ru­ins and sat­u­rat­ing irises with shim­mer­ing land­scapes it’s takeit-easy time. There are no pool­side bars but there are cafes and stu­dios.

An­tique dealer Umar Chusaeni and his Ja­panese wife, artist Ya­sumi Ishi, have set up a col­lec­tive stu­dio and per­for­mance space where artists can per­form or show their works. It’s not a guest­house.

“We try to stage an event once every two months,” said Chusaeni who once ran a ma­jor show in the fields be­hind his house with ele­phants.

“There’s much artis­tic tal­ent in this area — per­haps in­her­ited from the crafts­men who carved the pan­els on the walls of Borobudur Tem­ple, though many would have fled when Mount Mer­api erupted. (There was a ma­jor erup­tion in 1006.)

“We keep ask­ing the govern­ment to al­low more homes­tays, but few of­fi­cials un­der­stand the busi­ness and how it’s build­ing a cre­ative econ­omy.

“Every vil­lage has a tourist com­mit­tee — and they know what visi­tors want.”

That in­cludes see­ing artists at work at the Li­man­jawi Art­house where lo­cals have space to work. Like Wawan Geni, 34, who thank­fully con­fronts his can­vases out­side. For in­stead of brushes and pen­cils he uses glow­ing mos­quito-coils and lighted cig­a­rettes to pro­duce strange shad­ings.

When J-Plus vis­ited Li­man­jawi the In­sti­tut Seni In­done­sia (ISI -In­done­sian Arts In­sti­tute) stu­dent was smok­ing over a big can­vas of Borobudur tem­ple as seen from above. He claimed he only used a pack of smokes a day but an over­flow­ing ash bucket and yel­low fin­gers sug­gested oth­er­wise.

“Smok­ing helps me re­lax and gives me in­spi­ra­tion,” he said. “I’m not wor­ried about get­ting sick.” Com­mented Chusaeni: “He gets paid well for his work with to­bacco com­pa­nies among his ad­mir­ers.”

Although most vil­lagers fol­low Is­lam there’s no sense of fun­da­men­tal­ism. Bud­dha stat­ues are widespread in pub­lic and pri­vate ar­eas.

“The ones in China are fat and in Thai­land al­ways rest­ing,” said Chusaeni, a Mus­lim. “But our Bud­dhas in Java are lean and happy.

“This is a safe area where out­siders are wel­come. Peo­ple come here for the cul­ture and to feel the spirit of Borobudur. They come for peace.

“There is no sense visi­tors are in­ter­fer­ing or dam­ag­ing our tra­di­tions and cul­ture. After a few days here you get to un­der­stand a lit­tle of our lovely land.”

Art­house Homes­tays are ideal for cou­ples on a bud­get, se­ri­ous about un­der­stand­ing Java and get­ting closer to the peo­ple. Visi­tors who want to re­lax in com­fort but are not into he­do­nism should find this ac­com­mo­da­tion ideal.

Most homes­tays are listed on in­ter­net ho­tel book­ing agen­cies with prices start­ing from around Rp 300,000 per room/night in­clud­ing break­fast, tax and ser­vice charges. Some of­fer pick-ups from the air­port or bus ter­mi­nal.

Bi­cy­cle hire is ei­ther free or around Rp 30,000 a day. Buy fresh fruit from road­side traders. Those with spe­cial di­etary needs should bring their own sup­plies.

Kids? Yes, if ma­ture and ap­pre­cia­tive of difference. No if their world is de­fined by Poke­mon. There’s raft­ing nearby for the ad­ven­tur­ous. English is rare but tol­er­ance com­mon so en­coun­ters can be fun.

Bali re­sorts have man­i­cured gar­dens, aer­o­bic classes, fashion shows and menus to cater for most tastes. Art­house Homes­tays are the af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive with all add-ons the real thing. They are also well be­yond the ugly tout-zone en­cir­cling the big tem­ple.

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