Look south of Surabaya, and, on a clear day, you can see volcanoes towering in the distance. The earth here is lush and fertile. Rice paddies, bananas and coconuts grow in the lower slopes. Coffee, apples and grapes are raised in the cooler highlands. Since there is no winter in Java, workers must pick the leaves off the apple trees by hand in order to “fool” the tree into flowering, budding and producing apples again! Malang, a hill station cum university town, was our first opportunity to discover Java on our own. It was also the first test of our language skills. For months before leaving we had stuck to our lessons: listening to the recordings, doing our homework and memorizing vocabulary. At first we stumbled over simple words, mixing up numbers, asking backward questions and flubbing greetings. The hugely inflated value of the Indonesian Rupiah, where one thousand is barely pocket change, posed no end to problems. As we tried out new phrases, each conversation became a delight. What new word would we uncover next? Do Indonesians really talk like the recordings? It turned out that they did, but much faster! Soon, however, we had the market ladies cackling with delight at the pointy-nosed foreigners who knew how to drive a hard bargain. How much for those bananas? What? They grow on trees, after all! Too much - can you drop the price a little? But they're cheaper over there! How about five thousand for the lot? No? Ok, six thousand but we'll take a few of those oranges!
We hopped into a “bemo” to visit some nearby ruins. Candi Kidal is a jewel of a temple, looking like something transplanted from India but somehow still fitting in perfectly with the volcanoes, palm trees and terraced green rice paddies. Everywhere the fertile soil was under intense cultivation. We walked into the nearly fields and were soon picked up by a local farmer who invited us back to his place. When we arrived, he climbed one of his palm trees, chopped down some coconuts with his machete and offered us the fresh juice to drink. We sat and talked with his family for a while before heading down the road to catch another bemo back to town, stopping along the way to buy some fresh chicken sate smothered with sweet peanut sauce.