This was a post I started in March and never finished because Indonesia is too beautiful to stay inside and type on a computer for extended periods of time.
My experience in Indonesia has largely been shaped by fortuitous instances in which a new friend extends an invitation to come along on a trip somewhere, and every time it has felt like stepping through the wardrobe to Narnia.
Details are always fuzzy or completely lacking. What time are we going? Later! What will we be doing there? Not sure yet. Who else is coming along? We’ll see! What time will it go until? Until it’s finished.
I learned pretty quickly to stop asking questions and just say yes.
Always say yes.
Because these moments of spontaneity have taken me to beautiful places, shown me valuable cultural glimpses, and have begun friendships I’ll hold on to forever. That’s how I met some of my best friends, learned how to ride a motorbike, attended an Indonesian funeral, saw my first Javanese wedding, hiked an active volcano, the list goes on.
But most importantly, that’s how I met the rock climbers of Yogyakarta.
Sometime in January I woke up on a Saturday morning to a text from a new friend, Aden –
“Me and my friends will doing rock climbing at Siung beach, would you join us?”
I looked at the clock and thought about it. I didn’t really know any of the people that were going, I hadn’t been rock climbing since I left America in August, and I had no idea what outdoor climbing at this beach was going to be like.
An hour later, wind whizzed through my helmet as I sat on the back of Aden’s motorbike and chatted as he wove through trucks and cars.
Two hours and one sambal-licious lunch stop later, we pulled up to Siung beach and stretched our legs. Siung beach is like any other beach in Wonosari- soft white sand, clear blue water washing over lush green algae, beautiful cliffs and dark ash colored rock. To get to the climbing area, you have to hike up into the hill, and then you’re surrounded by towering slabs and soft green grass.
There was a whole group of people climbing that day, all of whom were Javanese and also from Jogja.
You should have seen them.
If there is one defining characteristic of Indonesians that will always be ingrained in my mind, it’s the consistent presence of humor in every situation. The climbers on this trip were no different. They joked as they climbed – laughed as they moved – and because of this, it took me a while to realize that the routes they were climbing were actually insanely difficult. These Indonesians were flying through routes that were way beyond my level and definitely would have given the climbers I know back at home a run for their money.
Aden on the boulder
Naya on lead.
Coko free-climbing way too high.
Angga on lead.
Tikha almost to the sky on top rope
And finally, me giving it a go.
Long story short these routes weren’t easy, but the people I was with were awesome about having me try everything. And just like in American climbing communities, the Indonesian climbers gave me their beta, spotted me when I climbed, caught me when I fell, and made me feel welcome.
The greatest part about climbing with Indonesians was it suddenly gave me all of this common ground with them. We could skip fishing for small talk and we could talk about climbing instead.
What I learned was that all of these climbers were part of a community that practices every day in Yogyakarta. This community ranges from recreational climbers to professional athletes that represented Yogyakarta in national and international competitions. Their daily training sessions take place in a stadium called Mandala Krida, where they have bouldering, top rope, lead, and speed, and they said I should come climb with them during practice.
As the year went on, these 4pm practices became the highlight of my day outside of teaching. This was where I really got to know the climbing community – where I could joke and laugh and climb with them in the golden hours of the afternoon, and where I made some of the greatest friends I have in Indonesia.
Luki on top rope at Stadium Mandala Krida.
Meet the climbers of Yogyakarta!
Or the ones I could get pictures of anyway.
Kibli – super silly and free spirited. He told me he just started climbing but he’s already getting those long legs up routes with no problem.
Argo – has so many other cool talents like martial arts and extreme mountain biking. Also has competed internationally in speed.
Atmaja – the perfect example of an incredibly sweet person but a mean lead climber.
Ismu – an extremely committed national and international speed climbing competitor. The first time I saw him climb the speed route at practice my jaw dropped. He’s won so many gold medals I’ve lost count. A great friend who loved to practice his English – he introduced me to the Indonesian equivalent of the NBA, and sometimes we went to watch basketball games after practice!
Surya and Lintang – the power siblings. They’re both in their pre-teen years but are two of the best climbers in the entire group. They take home gold and silver medals left and right at youth competitions all over Indonesia, and they make Jogja proud.
These climbers set their own routes.
Luki, such a spunky girl!! She’s only been climbing for a couple of months but she’s got enough sass to make up for any lost time. This is her in front of the score sheets of her first competition ever! She did super well.
The climbing community opens its doors to climbers of all ages. Ranging from as little as this munchkin to climbers well in their thirties.
Coach Mate. Humble and soft spoken, and the whole team respects and loves him like he’s family.
Fitri – a really inspiring female climber, she competes in national and international competitions and has taken gold in the Southeast Asian Games. Honestly one of my favorite things to do was watch her do pull ups at practice – she’s such a strong and grounded woman. Before I left for Indonesia, she gave me her jersey from the Southeast Asian Games as a parting gift!
Not only were these people great friends and such fun people, but they were also some of the most dedicated and impressive climbers I’ve ever met. They all come from humble roots in Yogyakarta and their commitment to climbing has taken them to different cities across Indonesia and even countries across the world. Check out one of their awesome climbing videos here!
These climbers train hard and laugh hard. They’ve taught me that you can push yourself to pursue something challenging that takes a ton of discipline but still have a smile on your face and laughter in your lungs.
I learned a ton from these athletes, and I miss them so much. I miss parking my motorbike in the stadium and being greeted by smiles, high fives, and laughter. I miss the way they hollered at me to get my harness on and clip in in next. I miss blasting music, finishing each others lyrics, and singing “wrecking ball” while swinging from the rope after a fall. I miss helping them with their English homework between climbs. I miss being a part of the circle as they closed each practice with prayer. If I ever had a bad day, I knew rock climbing practice would turn my mood around. Their energy was contagious, and I left every practice beaming. Even after returning to America, they still send pictures of their climbing trips and I love hearing updates on their upcoming competitions. And to think I might not have ever met them if I hadn’t hopped on the back of Aden’s motorbike that Saturday morning in January.