Merge & Al's Excellent Adventures

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3 min read

I need to return to Surabaya, Indonesia

Surabaya is Indonesia’s second-largest city (after Jakarta), and is known as the “City of Heroes” due to its significant role in the Indonesian National Revolution against Dutch colonial rule.  I (Merge) was there for a short visit in November 2023 as part of my adventures on the MS Westerdam.  The city has a bustling port, known to be one of the busiest in the country.  Its skyline mixes modern high-rises with preserved colonial buildings, and culturally, it offers a diverse mix of Javanese, Madurese, and Chinese influences. I originally had big plans for Surabaya, but the day was a scorching 40℃ and expected to go even higher.  Despite my usual FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I knew that keeping my exploration goals minimal that day was a good idea, so I decided to visit only one place – the Sunan Ampel Great Mosque, located in the Arab quarter.

This mosque is a historic and culturally significant Islamic site, founded around 1421 by Sunan Ampel, a revered Islamic saint and one of the nine Wali Sanga responsible for spreading Islam in Java.   As a sacred burial site where Sunan Ampel and his descendants are interred, it also attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors.  Built in the traditional Javanese style with a tiered roof and natural ventilation, I had read that it was worth a look.  Alas, when I arrived, the mosque was closed to visitors.  I was unable to determine the reason and for how long, so after waiting around for about 20 minutes, I decided to explore Pasar Ampel instead.

Pasar Ampel is also known as Ampel Market, and it surrounds the mosque right in the Arab quarter.  I had read that it is particularly famous for its range of Middle Eastern goods and traditional Indonesian products.  As I explored, I saw Islamic clothing, prayer rugs, perfumes, and Arabic spices, to name just a few.  And lots of stalls selling a variety of Middle Eastern foods and local Javanese dishes.  Normally I would have sampled some, but the heat was just too oppressive.

Pasar Ampel

After about an hour roaming around, I was uncomfortably hot and sweaty, and decided to return to the ship.  I entertained myself taking photographs of the two-wheeled traffic around town, much of it quite unusual by Western standards.

Two-wheeled traffic around town

Decidedly a disappointing day in terms of exploring the city, but it means that I will just have to return to Surabaya another time to explore some more.

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