Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The High Seas and an Active Volcano

The computer we are on right now is very very slow and, though we've worked for hours trying to upload our beautiful photos, they were just erased. We will add them soon. Sorry...

(By Mia)
About a week ago we finally left Bali and headed east for Gili Trawangan, the largest in a string of three teeny tiny islands off the coast of Lombok. The boat ride was terrifying. The seas were very rough, and our boat, a 100 foot long ferry, nearly capsized. Well, I don't know how nearly, but it felt far too near for me. We were on the upper deck (is that what you call the top part in ship terminology?) and would have to cling desperately to the railing to keep from sliding off as the floor beneath us slanted to a 45 degree angle or more. Even the crew was getting nervous, casually positioning themselves near the lifeboats and rereading the instructions.

But we arrived safely, welcomed by pats on the back and the wiping of brows by local business owners who, watching from shore, didn't think we were going to make it. Oddly enough, we're leaving on an even smaller boat for a 4 day tour of Komodo (where the Komodo Dragons live) and Flores tomorrow morning. You'd think I would have learned my lesson.

There are no motorized vehicles and no dogs permitted on Gili Trawangan. It is a miniature diver's paradise. Lots of dive schools, open air beachside restaurants, small but luxurious hotels, beautiful white sand beaches, and little pony-drawn carriages to taxi tourists back and forth down the main strip. There are also signs all over the place for magic mushrooms. Just there on the posted bar menu, "Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri, Psychedelic Mushrooms Take You to the Moon and Back!" Oh, and there's also no police on the island.

The first morning we decided to rent bicycles and bike around the island. It should have taken us about two hours to cover the entire circumference but, right about the time when we were far enough out of town not to know whether it would be quicker to turn back or keep going, my bike stopped working. First it was just that the back break was squeezing the tire. Joe fixed it with some string he found on the beach. Then the tire started rubbing the frame so hard I couldn't pedal. Joe used a rock to bend the frame away from the tire. We switched bikes. We'd pedal for ten minutes or so, and then another thing and another thing would go wrong with this damn rental bike. Finally the gear shift arm thing... this big mess of wires and chains that hangs down by the back tire... just fell off altogether! Somehow Joe got it back on with a seashell and a cigarette butt he found on the beach- not working, but looking together enough that we wouldn't have to pay for returning a broken bicycle. His mechanic skills were remarkable, but it ended up taking us all day to get back into town. After numerous repairs, however, the bicycle stayed together long enough for us to give it back and then quickly duck down a side street to avoid being charged for the defective rental bike.

We stayed at a small family run homestay, just a few rooms and the house in which the family lived. A cat and her kittens played in the yard alongside a brown chicken, all coming over to beg for bits of egg each morning as we ate our breakfast on the patio. The family had two little girls who would get home from school each morning and immediately strip down to their underwear, leaving their starchy school uniforms in the yard. I sang them the one and only Indonesian song I know, and they gleefully joined in each time we met. Salt water came out of the cold water shower, but Sutra (the woman of the house) added onion and tomatoes to our egg sandwiches for free.

There was a hookah bar on the beach, where we sat on elegant cushions and smoked and played cards with Charlotte and Nicola while watching the ocean. There were also one-couple movie theaters set up on the beach, where we could eat ice cream in a small wooden bungalow and choose from a large selection of movies to watch on our own personal screen, again with the ocean as a backdrop.

(By Joe)
We set out on a 3 day trek up Mt Rinjani with our French friends, Charolotte and Nicola. They have become a part of our travels. At first, purely by chance, we ran into each other in every town we would travel to. We eventually became great friends and have spent the last month hanging out, and sadly we said goodbye to them today.

We found a smokin deal on our trek package. The guy said he would charge us 700,000 rupia each, to which we replied "Great!", but then said if we asked him he would go lower. I haven't quite figured out the business model here. We got it for 600,000 rupia each. After missing our "tourist" ferry from Gili Trawangan we hopped aboard the local ferry, an over loaded motor boat packed shoulder to shoulder with people and filled to eye level with assorted textiles. Then, after handing an envelope off to a shady, James Bond villain type named Mr. Kli, he rushed us across the island of Lombok at breakneck speeds and through an obstacle course of lawless drivers and horse buggie riders to our base camp.

The trek included a guide named Alam and two porters who carried all of our things, save for a day pack each. These things included tents, sleeping bags, mats, all of our food and water for 3 days, 5 pineapples, cans of chocolate sauce, a giant cast iron tea kettle, some big pots and pans, their own food and water, eggs, and a giant sack of Lombok tobacco. Each of our two porters, Nurr and Pesang, carried the equipment for 3.5 people, tied into laundry baskets and fastened to each end of a long bamboo pole. I picked one up and it must have weighed at least 100 pounds. They wore only old, mismatched flip-flops, shorts and a sarong on their shoulders for warmth. And they chain smoked. Fat, unfiltered, hand rolled cigarettes. And they made it up and down that mountain much faster than us. It was like watching a cirque de solei with these guys, going up and down parts of the trail we were having trouble on using both hands and both feet, and they breezed through in their flip flops, no hands, balancing these huge barbells. Good guys.

For every meal they cooked us fantastic, well rounded Indonesian dishes from scratch. They had fried noodles with vegetables, eggs, chicken, prawn crackers, coffee and tea with chocolate sauce and more. Everything was prepared gourmet style, with pineapple spirals and tomato flowers. Beautiful.

The trail starts in the jungle in a banana forest full of monkeys. It ascends from about sea level up to about 10000 feet, at which point you come over the rim of the volcano and can see down into it. The inside houses a lake, and in the center of that lake is the new cone of the volcano. It last erupted in 1994, and it still steams and feeds hot springs which are perfect hot tub temperature and set up beneath a series of waterfalls. The lake was also stocked with fish 10 years ago, by the president of Indonesia, who flew over in a giant military helicopter and flung massive carp and trout out of it by hand, machine guns blasting the Indonesian National anthem! A small group of fishermen now make their livings by treking up this mountain and catching a bunch of fish, then treking back down to sell them. Alam told me that the night we spent camping with them by the lake, they stayed up all night crying in the cold, in their bed of hay and old tarp. They were expert players of the card game "Chase the Ace" once we taught them, and were also expert fishermen, using only hooks and line wrapped around old beer cans as fishing poles. I tried fishing, adding a stick to my beer can. I caught nothing, but I looked good doing it. Really good.

We played a game with one of the monkeys near the camp who kept trying to sneak in and steal things. We placed a bottle of spicy vegetable sauce in plain view of its tree and then when it tried to come down and get it we would spring up from where we were reading to each other and chase it back into it's tree. It always grabbed whatever was close to it when we chased it, as if that was the thing it had come down for, but we all know that a monkey has no need for an old clump of grass. It hated that game, and it let us know by baring it's teeth at us and hissing. Eventually we lost interest.

Our guide Alam told the worst campfire stories EVER! They were sooooooo long and in broken English and he added all these details that were totally unnecessary. "Then she go to the first suitor and he say he want a coffee, then she go to the second suitor, and he want a coffee, then she go to the third suitor, and he want a coffee, then she go to the fourth suitor, and he want a tea, then she go to the fifth suitor, and he want a coffee..." for 21 suitors (who were irrelevant to the story). He also blended ancient and modern, like when the first man ever yells to the first woman ever, "I loves you! You married ME! Any other man no matter! I do anything for you! I give you nice house, I give you best cow, best rice, best automobile, all fanciest automobile!"

The trek itself was beautiful, the most beautiful hike I have ever been on, and by far the toughest. It was so windy that we were unable to make it all the way to the top of the tallest peak, as the trail winds along a crumbly, volcanic knife edge that was getting pummelled by some of the most intense winds ever. A German girl was recently swept off into the void. We could watch from where we camped as dark purple clouds were smashed against the side of this jagged peak in what looked like fast forward. Incredible.


Ryan said...

I'm going to need to see proof before I believe the President of Indonesia stocked a lake that way.

Bean's Thoughts said...

Joe, I am quite impressed that you fixed a bike with a shell and a cigarette butt. That's some talent right there my friend. =) You would think that both of you would know better than to tease a monkey! I would love to see pics of this place. Love you both. BEAN

Bridget said...

It is not possible that any two travellers have represented more generously and in higher spirits their beautiful hosts and guides or the minutae of their days and activities. This is without a doubt the best vacation I've never been on. I love you for the telling of it!

Dan said...

Great stories, thanks Mia and Joe. Meanwhile in my own exciting life, I went to McDonald's twice this week. It was crazy man.

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