- Tim Notier
The Republic of Indonesia is the fourth-most populated country in the world, and Java is the world’s most populated island with just under 150 million people calling the island home. The traffic that swallowed us whole everywhere we went was as if we were riding down Michigan Avenue towards Grant Park during the Taste of Chicago.
But Marisa and I slowly made our way out of Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta and could breathe in the fresh air of the trees that now stood tall in place of the hotels and shopping centers in the city’s limits. The hustle and bustle of what was half of the island’s population was now spread out, and our newly found moments of Zen couldn’t have come at a better time
Nowadays, my birthday comes sooner than I would like it to, but it was inevitable that I would be turning 41. Marisa had a few surprises lined up in an effort to stop me complaining about my growing belly, aching knees, and thinning hair as the years seem to overlap on themselves like my love handles. But Marisa plugged in some secret coordinates into my GPS, and I happily followed the blue line on my phone down a twisty forest road. I parked our Pulsar Bajaj 220 in front of a remote wooden shack that sold tea and noodles. The old man who owned the shop agreed to watch over the motorcycle as Marisa led me to a path through the woods.
The two of us fought our way down a narrow path that had been reclaimed by thick grasses, fallen trees, and a thousand little burrs that clung to every piece of our clothes from our socks to our chests. But the view of a small, two-tiered waterfall in a remote section in a far-away land made the difficult trek worth every sharp prick from a thorn in our shoes. It was the perfect setting for me to reflect on the fact that turning 41 may have been difficult to accept, but the result has turned out to be pretty remarkable. And with Marisa by my side, as a team we were bound to tackle any obstacle that lay in our way.
Central Java holds some scenic waterfalls to enlighten the aging soul, but it also has Buddhist and Hindu temples that are scattered across the island. We were on our way to the city of Magelang, where Borobudur resides, a place that should be one of the 7 Wonders of the World. But before we entered the gates of such a magnificent achievement of human ingenuity, there were a few less visited sites that we were lucky enough to explore without the thousands of foreigners that flocked to the entrance of Borobudur.
Before reaching Central Java, Marisa and I had roamed through temples and small villages where few Westerners visit. But now, we were on one of the main tourist circuits of Indonesia. But Marisa and I were staying with a local man, Fendi, who would not only be our temporary landlord, but also offered to take Marisa and I on a little tour of area.
I do not play the role of pillion often, but at 4am the next morning, I climbed on the back of Fendi’s scooter as Marisa mounted someone else’s as we took off to catch the sunrise. That chilly morning was the first time that I had felt cold in nearly a month. When the sun has yet to rise, it is a comfortable 70 degrees. But as soon as the sun rises over the horizon, the temperature similarly ascends to astronomical heights. Marisa and I hiked up a thousand steps to a wooden platform with a view that took our breathe away more than the strenuous climb up the stairs. Rivers of low hanging fog flowed through the forest-covered mountains. We could faintly see the highest temple of Borobudur through the mist, while exotic birds sang their morning songs along with the call to prayer that softly echoed from the numerous mosques in the valley below.
It had already been an amazing morning, but Fendi had a few more surprises for us as he chauffeured us around to the next attraction on his list. It was nice being a passenger on a motorcycle. I was able to look around at the passing stalls filled with roasted chickens and the rice paddies that climbed up the hills like the patterns of a giant quilt. Usually, I am piloting the motorcycle like the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid belt of potholes and oncoming traffic. But I was loving the backseat ride through town while still being able to giggle with Marisa over our headsets even though we were on different scooters.
Our second stop was the 9th century Buddhist temple of Mendut. Marisa and I were the only people that walked around the site as we admired the detailed bas-reliefs that were carved into the structure. Different scenes of Buddhists teachings were etched into the stone like an ancient comic book strip.
Just outside of the temple was an active Buddhist monastery that was once again nearly empty of any other tourists. We walked around in complete silence, with the only sound being the swift and gentle sweeping of the groundskeepers who maintained the walkways. Giant stone bells that will never ring stood stoically as the time slowly passed. Different nobles and saints would come and pass, but those grand stupas would outlast just as many presidents and kings as they have seen fade from history. Buddha statues peacefully sat in their own meditative silence as they contemplated the world in the present. Marisa and I tried to absorb as many lessons as we could on our stroll through the many teachings carved into the surrounding stones.
After our brief but spectacular moments of Zen, we left the monastery a little wiser than when we had entered, and we mounted our driver’s scooters to be ridden to another attraction.
Our last destination for the day was something that I had heard of through strange stories, but I had not realized that we were on the island that produced the world’s most bizarre coffee. It is a fairly unique coffee that’s beans are brewed after being partially digested by an Asian Palm Civet and defecated back into the world of the living with other fecal matter. The excrement of this lovely mammal looks like a Payday bar full of peanuts and caramel. Some genius looked at that fantastic bar of nuggets and decided to throw it in an expresso machine and sell it for its weight in gold to seemingly foolish people. I am one of those foolish people.
I couldn’t resist. It is usually Marisa who eats exotic grubs and drinks fermented fluids that bubble and stink like a witch’s brew. But she can’t stand coffee, and I couldn’t live a day without it. Marisa watched in horror as I lifted the cup of coffee to my lips. But after nearly five straight years of drinking instant coffee, I was not a certified connoisseur whose opinion held any merit. But I thought my cup o’ crappy coffee was just as good as I could ever imagined it to be.
I was 41 years, 2 days, and 6 hours old, and everything was just as it needed to be. My wonderful wife was by my side and there was a whole world waiting to be explored. There were life lessons to be learned, challenges to fail and to succeed at, and a beat-up motorcycle that bottomed out on every pothole. But when life hands you poop, make some coffee, and head out into the world with a smile on your face, and stains on your teeth.
Marisa and I can't thank all of our Patrons enough! We wouldn't be able to be on this incredible adventure without your wonderful support!
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