Ahhh! Salaam and good evening to you worthy friends, please come closer and listen to this incredulous tale of Indonesian intrigue, of mystery, of fleeting fame and yes, it’s all true.
So we booked it out of Jakarta on business class train to Yogyakarta (Jog-ja), the cultural capital of Java. Happily we didn’t have to ride on the roof of the train like some folks but 12 hours on a train is crappy, particularly when you expect the fellow passengers will try to steal your shoes.
Indonesians are just insanely inviting, but you never know if someone is talking to you because they’re crazy friendly or because they’re trying to direct you to their friend’s tourist-trap Batik shop. Walking down the street you hear a chorus of, “Hello, what are you doing? Where are you going?” and if you answer that question, “Where are you from…You’re from US!!!” and now you’re screwed. Sit back, relax, chill out. You will not be moving for at least 30 minutes.
When an extremely gregarious local tourism dude asked us to attend a local parade, we judged him to be the friendly sort and not the buy-my-stuff kid of guy and quickly agreed. He promised us an authentic Indonesian dance show and a small dinner. What reason would we have to say no? Little did we know that we were going to be the main stars of the parade, except for the freaking Sultan of Yogyakarta himself, of course.
That afternoon we met up with a group of other whities who agreed to the same proposal and our guide who arrived wearing his traditional clothes. He also arrived with four bicycles, explained that the eight of us would ride the bikes to the beginning of the parade.
The eight of us – a German couple, the English girls and Vinnie and me – took a long time to process this information. It wasn’t until we were ready to depart, half of us standing there waiting for our bikes, that we realized that we were meant to actually ride in pairs on the back of rickey, rusted peasant bicycles, on the wrong side of the street, through insane amounts of traffic.
To make it even stranger, we weren’t led to the sidelines, instead we were directed to the entrance of the parade and given signs that we couldn’t understand. I didn’t know if we were protesting, advocating, directing – what the hell are these signs and why are we holding them?
Suddenly everyone wanted to take our photo.
And at that point we were told that we would be riding these ricky-ass bicycles onto a stage where we would open the parade festivities. Huh?
So we slowly, with great balance, rode through the streets, waving and smiling at everyone until we reached the red carpet. The crowd was forcibly parted by the green beret guards and suddenly a bevy of photographers descended upon us. We stood with our bikes, and our signs as people started, clapped and the press took our picture.
Once the flashing lights subsided we were led to a tent where we were sat one row behind the city’s Mayor and the Sultan. Around us sat important looking men in their Batik shirts, and women with their heads covered. The crowd pressed in from all sides, trying to get close to the Sultan and watch the events that were about to unfold. We sat there awe struck, wondering why the hell we had VIP seats to watch the Sultan’s address, the gorgeous dance troupes and some fancy signing ceremony.
Once the dancers cleared out and the festival ended, we were paraded around the city and asked to pose for pictures with locals. The Sultan’s personal guard circled in around us, leading us behind the sultan as he inspected the festival grounds.
Finally at the end of this confusing, exhausting day, we were invited for dinner at the Kraton. A huge spread of food was laid out at the Sultan’s brothers house where all the dignitaries and us, the token whities, feasted on Ayam Goreng, fish curry, and fried tempeh.
So what the was all of this!?
We still don’t know what the hell the festival was for. Some people have told us that Mohammad’s birthday is coming up. Other’s mentioned that it has something to do with crop production. The photo they used in the paper was to show solidarity with the recent earthquake victims.
We all know that mother nature has not been kind to Indonesia during the past decade. And with the occasional tribal scuffle in Kalimantan or the foreign-targeted bombing in Bali, tourists have chosen to spend their vacations elsewhere.
We’ve concluded that our friendly tourist bureau dude was told to provide some white faces to promote tourism during the festival. Instead of asking us to help, he just kind of threw us into the situation where we all played along.