Putting my foot in it........

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Asia » Indonesia » Java » Yogyakarta
August 10th 2017
Published: August 13th 2017
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This morning started with an early photography walk along the sea front, watching the fishermen haul in their catch and then a little light retail therapy, buying lightweight clothing from the stalls lining the road.

Our minibus packed and ready after breakfast, we headed out of Pangandaran towards the train station where we would board our train bound for Yogyakarta. Our journey took us back some way along the road we had arrived on, and the twists and turns were every bit as brutal as they were on the way in. Fortunately, this journey was to be broken up by a visit to a local brickmaker, who would show us his craft and explain the long process of creating bricks from the natural environment.

We got off the bus, alighting by the side of the road and surrounded by lush green fields. We were led into an open-air workshop, tarpaulin high in sticks covering areas of it, while other parts were had huge pits dug out of them, some full of water and thin mud, others with thick clay clinging to the sides. All around, we saw grey bricks in two different stages of production. Some were clearly half dried, and stacked up like giant games of Jenga, crisscrossed over one another and piled to almost head height. Others lay glistening in vast patios and paths around the property. We had to tread carefully along narrow grass pathways to avoid the holes and drying bricks and so wobbled over to the demonstration point in a long, shaky single file line.

Our smiling host then demonstrated the art of brick making, explaining how the clay is dug out, trampled by human or buffalo feet until it is a smooth paste, before being mixed with rice husks to give it strength and structure. He then grabbed handfuls of the mixture, pushing it, accompanied by loud, satisfying squelching sounds, into a mould which he carried over to one of the terraces of drying bricks, turning out two more perfect examples into the rigid formation already there. We watched the rhythmic production for a few moments, our guide answering questions about cost (500 rupiah a brick, which is around 3p), how many it takes to build a house (12,000) and how long they take to fire in the kiln (2days).

The host then asked if anyone else wanted to have a turn at making bricks. Never one to shy away from an experience while travelling, I volunteered. What happened next was the most embarrassing moment of my life, one which I saw coming a fraction before it happened, yet one which I was powerless to stop. As I have mentioned, we were standing on narrow ledges of grassy turf. I saw a place to pass the line of people ahead of me - a lovely wide pavement behind the path we were on. I gleefully stepped onto it, only realising a split-second before my foot made contact with the "pavement" that it was a huge swathe of drying bricks. By this point, however, I was committed to the step and I landed my heavy-soled walking shoe straight into the blocks below me. Not content with damaging just one of the bricks, I had managed to create a perfect footprint right at the meeting point of four, rendering them all completely useless.

I instantly removed my foot, and stood, mortified at what I had done. Everyone else found it hilarious, and even the host smiled as he beckoned me over to replace what I had just destroyed. It was not as easy as he had made it look, and I sloppily heaved the mud into the mould, flattening it down and scraping off the excess, remnants of clay flying in all directions, my hands, feet and trousers caked in the stuff. It did not go unnoticed that he placed the "bricks" that I had made into a different section from the perfect ones crafted by himself!

After a quick clean up, and apologising again, thanking him for his time, we boarded the minibus for the final 40 minutes to the station. As we drove along, we passed a large group of children in bright, co-ordinated tracksuits. Then we passed another, their team name emblazoned across the front. Moments later, we passed a section of the road where we're about 10 separate groups, each wearing their bright sports uniforms. Traffic was heavy in the opposite direction and the bus was crawling slowly, giving the children ample time to recognise that the vehicle next to them contained 11 foreigners. Suddenly, it was like we had become celebrities. We passed about 80 groups in total as we drove along, and we were followed by shouts, screams, laughter and smiles as we passed. People rushed to shake Stacey's hand as she leaned out of the window. They were absolutely hysterical at the sight of us. It turns out that they were all walking around 6km along the road to a huge parade where they would walk in formation and winners would be selected - all part of the Independence Day celebrations we have been so lucky to experience so far on our journey. In the whole crowd of over 1000 children, we saw about twenty adults. There was no pavement. The thought of taking the children in my class out on an excursion, along a main road, with less than a 50:1 ratio, and those children actually walking 6km without complaining is baffling. But those children were jubilant, resilient and seemed completely unfazed by the whole thing. Perhaps we go too far to create comfort and security for the children in the UK, and they would be happier and have more independence if we allowed them (not necessarily to walk unattended along a main road!) but a little freedom and calculated risk.

After a long train journey (which was not as good as the last one - there was no western toilet for a start and thus 8 women were vigorously crossing their legs, desperate not to have to squat on a shaking and wobbling train!) which also passed through some stunning scenery, we arrived in Yogyakarta. Pulling into the station, we knew we were no longer in Kansas. From being the only white travellers in town, and minor celebrities, to joining a throng of Westerners streaming from two trains that had pulled in simultaneously, we had to push to stay in our group as we headed outside to run the gauntlet of hawkers, taxi drivers and hotel representatives who were shouting over the cacophony of the traffic. It was certainly busier than the sleepy little fishing village we had come from and was quite a culture shock!

The 2km journey took around 20 minutes as we crawled through thick traffic to reach our hotel. Fortunately, it was an oasis of calm in the middle of the city and soon we were heading onto bar street - a backpacker paradise reminiscent of the Khao San as it has once been - for a group meal, followed by live music by a band with a predisposition to playing the Rolling Stones back catalogue. The lead singer even looked like the Indonesian Ronnie Wood, with his flowing mullet and striking moves! Soon though, it was time for bed for an early start tomorrow to explore the temple complex of Borobudur.


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