The old royal city of Yogyakarta lies beneath the smoking cone of Merapi volcano, some distance inland from the seashore. But a short jaunt to the south will bring you to a sequence of beaches, most of them wild and framed by tall, brutal limestone cliffs. Since this is the southernmost point of dry land - from here all the way to Antarctica, there is nothing but shifting masses of salty water. The waves are powerful even on a calm day. Swimming is out of the question, except perhaps in little rocky pools protected by sea rocks, and for surfing, there is no infrastructure. Parangtritis Beach is a singular exception - it is relatively well developed, and kite-surfers are a common sight. But mainly, a trip along the coastline in this part of Java should be considered an adventure, a hunt for great views, and possibly a homage to a goddess - Nyi Roro Kidul, the mysterious Queen of the South Seas.
Parangtritis Beach is the easiest to access from Yogyakarta - the road is good, straight, and served by regular buses. It is also the mist popular, and therefore, the most developed of the lot. Peddlers sell coffee and snacks, families stroll on the sand, surfers ride the mighty waves, weather permitting, but there is more to it than idle vacationing. The beach and a tidal cave immediately east of it are dedicated to Nyi Roro Kidul, the Queen of the South Seas, a beautiful, yet dangerous marine goddess. Nyi Roro Kidul is the protector of Yogyakarta Sultanate, bound in spiritual marriage to the royal dynasty of Jogja, but violent storms and the occasional tsunami devastating the coast are her responsibility as well. Get to the eastern edge of the beach, hike up a cliff. At the end of the trail, a set of rickety wooden ladders will take you above the hammering tide and sharp rocks, on a near-suicidal climb, to a small cave. This is Goa Langse, the abode of Nyi Roro Kidul, with a worn stone inside serving as an altar. Sometimes a few solemnly dressed Javanese men can be seen meditating in its mouth, or an old pilgrim, barely able to walk, will scramble over the ladders to pray to the goddess. If you choose to come, be sure to show respect.
In a country that runs predominantly on magic, ancient goddesses should not be taken lightly, even if they are of human origin. Nyi Roro Kidul, as the prevailing legend goes, used to be a princess, the only child of a great king. Her mother died in childbirth, and since a girl could not inherit the throne, the king was forced to re-marry. The new queen was cunning and vicious. Once she got pregnant, hopefully with a male child, she threatened her husband to run away unless he banished his daughter. Reluctantly, the king complied, and to finalize her triumph, the evil stepmother hired a witch to curse the evicted princess with leprosy. Sick and disfigured, the girl wandered the roads of Java until an itinerant sage gave her bizarre advice: "You say your life is ruined? There is no hope? You are thinking of jumping off a cliff into the hungry, roaring ocean? Well, you are right, do so." And so, she did. But after the violent death, she had become a deity, praised and obeyed by the legions of marine demons. Her beauty had been restored, and she has been ruling the sea ever after. Dare not to appear on the southern beaches of Java wearing green (for green is her color), and she may take it for a request to be admitted into her unstable, chilly, wet kingdom, perhaps as a refugee from earthly sorrows, just like herself. Who knows, maybe it is a better fate than mere human existence? But unless you actually believe so - take care. You have been warned.
Other beaches near Yogyakarta may be less mysterious, but quite possibly even more attractive visually. Pantai Jogan includes a waterfall dropping into the sea. Unfortunately, bamboo scaffolds, walkways and silly "instagrammable" heart-shaped frames have been built all around it. For natural views of a similar kind, head to Pantai Siung - Banyu Tibo waterfall nearby is larger and still more or less untouched. Pantai Timang is famous for a passenger pulley connecting it to a small island just offshore, a sea rock, essentially. A ride in a metal basket suspended over the massive crashing waves is not for the faint-hearted. A number of spots nearby have recently been equipped with similar devices, trying to steal Timang's success. Prices differ, but generally, this adventure never comes too cheap. More beaches in little rocky coves can be discovered in between, inevitably offering great marine vistas, but none are suitable for swimming - the realm of Nyi Roro Kidul does not welcome short-term visitors, only immigrants.
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