Bule in Wonderland



For most Indonesians traveling isn’t an option, but our host Hardi saw in workaway a valid alternative: opening his doors to foreigners is a way to learn about other cultures. In exchange for this access to the outside world, he uses his network to create all sorts of entertaining activities for his guests. Watch out: when bule (foreigners) are in town, Temanggung turns into wonderland.

Dancing with the Possessed

Hardi didn’t expect other volunteers before November 7th. Turns out a young girl from the Netherlands showed up on October 7th. So while his uncle was transforming the external deposit into a bedroom, his mayor and friend came to pick us up and offered to host us for the night in his second property up in the mountains. The plan for the evening was to take us bule (Julia the Russian, Liëke the Dutch, Martino the Italian and Julie the TCK) to a traditional Javanese dancing in a remote village close by. As we arrived, the mayor’s bodyguard (way too old and skinny for that title) was meant to escort us through the crowds, yet he seemed too busy shooting pictures of us instead. We found shelter at the leader of the village’s place.


The leader – a woman in her 40’s wearing heavy make up to lighten the natural color of her skin – proudly welcomed us in her house with endless snacks and a few selfies. She then walked us down to the arena. As we sat in our VIP thrones we immediately became more attractive than the dancers to the eyes of most villagers.


The dancing went on for a while. It all looked great until we realized that one of the dancers had turned into a possessed creature. It wasn’t the most reassuring image: she crawled on all fours and drooled like a dog while three men held onto her shirt. As the performance ended and dancers asked us to take pictures with them, the public began to roar. The creature had managed to escape and grab the leg of the dancer standing next to Martino. Whether it was enacted or not, it was a bit too much for us bule. So we kindly asked the leader, the mayor and our precious bodyguard to take us back and called it a night.

Hiking Sindoro: Easy Peasy

Sindoro is an active volcano that arises approximately 3.100 meters above sea level. Being a lifeguard, Hardi climbed it countless times and sold it to us like an accessible and fun challenge. After an hour walk through a gorgeous tea plantation followed by another hour along a steep path in the forest, Hardi found an appropriate spot to set up the tents. The wind was blowing hard. As we curled up inside our sleeping bags, he courageously stayed out to cook noodles, which would soon keep our stomachs warm.


We got back on track at 5 a.m and reached the crater three hours later. The last bit was literally a rock climbing experience. Every time our desire to stop prevailed, two motivations pushed us to move upward: Hardi’s encouragements and Julia’s promise to eat the fat chili hanging around her neck for her Russian youtube channel.


Reaching the top was like stepping on another planet. Above the clouds, surrounded with sulfur gas and a lunar landscape, Julia ate her fat chili and recorded her video to the joy of the Russian millennials. The youtube cold war was won. We could head down.  Sindoro easy peasy? Not exactly – but totally worth it.


Monkeys and Gangsters

Let’s begin with the monkeys. Fascinating animals. We met hundreds of them in a temple and Martino had doubtless a short infatuation for at least some of them. How did we end up there? Guess. A typical tour with a local gangster. Just another day in Temanggung…


Forget the bulletproof cars, tinted windows, chains and shotguns. Hardi’s friend, aka Big Mama, is a sweet “powerful” young woman in search of a foreign lover. But as a bule you shouldn’t mess with her – or else she’ll send your white butt back to Europe (true story). Thankfully she knew about Martino’s involvement with the monkeys.


We spent an entire day with her: natural swimming pools, delicious food, massages and not one selfie…what more can you ask for? As Hardi’s guests we had a free pass and felt way more protected than with the mayor’s bodyguard mentioned above.

“In the gardens of memory, in the palace of dreams. That is where you and I will meet.”

Matur nuwun Hardi for such colourful adventures.