Wednesday, May 14, 2008

High on Mt. Bromo

It was a good thing we didn't push through visiting the Thousand Islands. I wouldn't have decided to finally make the trip to one of the destinations I had to go to before I die. Welcome to the Bromo National Park in East Java, Indonesia.

The national park is an hour away from Probolinggo, a town 3 hours away from Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. Surabaya is an hour's flight from Jakarta. From Surabaya, I took a bus to Probolinggo where I checked in. The better option is to go up to Cemoro Lewang which sits on the edge of the Tengger Caldera. You can take a mini bus from the Probolinggo Bus Station to Cemoro Lewang.

From Cemoro Lewang, the jump off point, you could actually view three distinct volcanoes. One is Bromo, the other and more picturesque one is Mount Batok, while the most towering is Mount Semeru. What makes Bromo stand out is the fact that it is constantly erupting and belches white sulfur smoke. The mouth of Tengger Caldera is aptly called the Sea of Sand as it is an seemingly endless desert of fine volcanic sand that gives you the feeling of being on the movie set of Lord of the Rings.

The goal for the trip is to watch the sun rise on top of the crater of Mount Bromo. This means beginning the journey at an ungodly hour of 2AM from Probolinggo. You don't have to do this though if you are already staying in Cemoro Lewang. The trek from Cemoro Lewang to the crater is just about 45 minutes on foot. You can ride on horseback as well to make the journey easier. I chose to walk, giving me more freedom. I felt like walking on a different planet at dark with a flashlight at hand. Slowly, the sun started to rise, and you could see the fog and sulfur mix blanketing the surreal landscape.

I reached the top of the crater just at the right time, my feet already aching after going up 300 steps and half an hour of trekking on black sand. But the reward was worth it. It was an experience I will never forget. Imagine, Mount Bromo spewing smoke as the sun rose, covering the vast landscape of the sand below with a mystical haze. The sun rose gently, radiating deep colors on the sky.

After an hour, I decided to go down and head back to Cemoro Lewang. I took a horse also just to experience it. We passed by the Hindu Temple near Mount Batok.

Surrounding the caldera are lush green valleys, which gives it a stark contrast with the unearthly surroundings. The small town of Cemoro Lewang has quaint hotels and cafes mainly for tourists. The views of the valleys and mountains were very pleasant. Vegetable and tea plantations make the mountainside a work of art.

My trip to Bromo was definitely one of the highlights in all my travels. Most people don't even know this marvelous natural wonder. I must say this sight puts to shame all our volcanoes. I have to go to Mount Pinatubo soon. I won't expect something as surreal as Bromo, but at least the thrill of going up a volcano remains the same. Mount Bromo and the caldera is definitely one of the destinations you must see in Asia.

I was supposed to go up further to take a better shot of the caldera, but I had to catch my flight back to Jakarta. I was disappointed to not have shot the image that makes most postcards on Bromo. And there was mist everywhere, which blocked the views. Anyway, here was the best I could take, a panoramic shot from the highest point of view.

Living It Up in Jakarta

The last time I was in Jakarta was in 2005. Most people told me that Jakarta was just like Manila. I don't know why they say that. Back then, Jakarta was yes not that nice, but was still better than Manila. The first thing that caught me were the trees. There were trees everywhere, even on their highways. I even went to warung areas (shanties) to interview some households, and was surprised that their squatter's areas were clean. Yes, there were houses made of plywood and patched up boards, but it was not as dirty as those we have in Manila.

Two weeks ago, I went back to Jakarta and was able to see more of the city. I was surprised that Jakarta looked even better, more organized, more new buildings, more and more restaurants and even more trees. I was in awe in how much Jakarta has changed in just over 2 years.

I went to most landmarks before, so I tried going at places I haven't been to. One was the Jakarta Cathedral which was in front of one of the largest mosques as well. The cathedral was gothic, very imposing in a Muslim country.

I was supposed to go to the Thousand Islands, but my sister was sick, so we had to cancel that trip. Thousand Islands is a group of just a hundred coral islands just an hour away by boat from Jakarta. The jump off point was in Ancol, a seaside complex similar to our CCP, but with more life and activity. I was actually surprised with Ancol, because it was so huge, and there were a lot of nice resort hotels, boardwalks, a cable car, restaurants and even a beach (which was of course dirty, but people were swimming).

There were cafes and restaurants along a very long stretch. I envied their one cafe, Le Bridge, that was in a curved boardwalk that extended out to sea.

The vibe was cool and there were young people just chilling out. The water was murky but there was no funky smell. A lot of Jakartans were enjoying a stroll during sunset.

I do think the clean up of Roxas Blvd is a good thing, but it was now too bare for me. What should have been done was more of a regulation of establishments, not totally eradicating the activity at Roxas Blvd. San Miguel by the Bay is perhaps our version, but it's all concrete. Ancol looked old though, not that clean, but at least well maintained.

Going back in the city, I explored more of the other thing that made Manila look like Jakarta, the invasion of malls. Malls were everywhere. There were a lot of high end malls like Senayan, Plaza Indonesia, EX, Pacific Place, Pondok Indah Mall and Cilandak Town Square (Citos). There were even more international brands selling in Jakarta.

Finally, the one thing I was frustrated at, the number of very nice looking restaurants. Now, I stayed in South Jakarta, so travelling from the airport to the South at rush hour meant a 2 hour drive. Passing by the streets, I noticed several well-designed restaurants and cafes. It seems that most restaurants really place an eye for design. I got to eat in some of them, and all tasted great.

The ice cream below is one of the best I have tasted. It's from Tamani Cafe. It's milky but not too sweet.

I just wanna single out a restaurant that really shocked me. IZZI Pizza offered 50% discount in all their menu items. Imagine, we ordered a Seafood Cream Penne Pasta, a Four Cheese pizza, a Classico pizza, Caesar salad, and paid only P500. Yes, P500, and I know they used authentic ingredients. See the pictures below. Amazing. That's 5 cups of plain rice at Lago de Oro. Wow.

All in all, Jakarta is not like Manila. This makes me real sad as we are really lagging behind our ASEAN neighbors. Vietnam is on its way. Indonesia keeps getting better. I couldn't stop thinking why we can't advance. It really bothers me to the point that I want to confront GMA and ask her sincerely WHY. And I'm willing to offer my free services. Of course, it's not that simple. I just don't get it why all our neighbors can do it, and we can't. Final word? Plant trees. Plant them at EDSA.

I just love A&W's Waffle Sundaes. Too bad A&Q closed down in Manila.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

JCO Donuts and Coffee

Its logo looks like Starbucks and the look of the place is like Krispy Kreme in orange. I guess the owners of JCO really thought of merging coffee and donuts, which are of course, perfect for each other.

I stumbled upon JCO when it opened in Jakarta 2 years ago. The lines were unbelievably long, and that reminded me of our Gonuts Donuts craze back then. After 2 years, JCO in Jakarta has established itself as a donut shop serving great coffee and blended drinks. They also serve ice cream (gelato). JCO is a franchise that began in Singapore, spread in Malaysia, and hit Indonesia. The donuts craze came about the same time across all countries in Asia.

JCO for me is different. When I tasted it the first time, I just had the glazed donut served by my clients. MY initial reaction was, it tasted like Dunkin' Donuts. And that held my interest. While Go Nuts and Krispy Kreme tasted the same, Dunkin Donuts was still different. In the Philippines, Dunkin' is targets the mass market, making their donuts more affordable and thus, smaller and of less quality. JCO had the dough texture of Dunkin but with excellent frostings and toppings. And I am a fan of Dunkin', so I was delighted.

Just take a look at their selection and you'll know you're in for a treat. Caramel, almond macadamia nut, cream cheese, green tea, sugar ice. The almond macadamia nut was very good. They sprinkled in a lot of nuts. The cream cheese was unique, because it was a savory dish. It was real cheese. The green tea tasted like green tea ice cream and the sugar ice was a treat. The really was a cool sensation in the mouth as you bite and savor the confectionary sugar.

They even had the JCO Crown donuts, which are shaped like crowns. They looked so cute and premium.

There are so many donuts to choose from that all look interesting, I had a hard time selecting our 6 donuts for a snack. We also ordered coffee that also came in with glazed donuts. I had my Iced Hazelnut Latte, however, I was disappointed. I should've bought my coffee from Starbucks next door.

I contemplated in bringing home JCO but being the light traveller that I am, I held back. Now I regret it, seeing these pictures again. I just want to share with you the joys of eating great donuts that tasted different from Krispy Kreme. I don't know if JCO would ever reach our shores, given the stiff competition here already. So just ask your friends and relatives to take home some when they're in Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore.


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