Aug 30, 2015

The Lembata to Sumatra Lambada pt. 4

With our arrival in Lombok, we had well and truly reentered the sphere of tourism.

Kuta, Lombok: Full of tourists, restaurants, kite-surfing, and a billion little kids trying to hard sell you bracelets like they just got a pep talk from Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross

Little kids would come up to me proffering bracelets and I would invariably decline, but some of them would try tactics like "you said you'd buy one later, now it's later!" (I did not tell you I'd buy one later, tiny child, and no, I will not give you some of my US dollars because you have a collection of foreign money) Grown women were also wandering around, they would be trying to sell sarongs. Every woman, with a pile of sarongs of similar (if not identical, I'm not sure, it's dangerous to look too long if you don't want to be followed home by someone saying "good price, local price") patterns to each other. Every child with bracelets and every woman with sarongs. I wondered the whole time why nobody thought to strike out and try selling something other than what literally 50 other people on the same stretch of beach were trying to sell.

Always be closing, children

There were storefronts too, and at one point I was browsing through some bags: our daypack had developed a small hole. The store owner's ears were perked at my interest in the bags, and she began telling me of all their myriad uses and benefits, trying to get me to pick this pattern or that one. I told her that I needed to wait for my boyfriend to pick which one we wanted. She poked her head out of the shop and looked right and left, as if she was going to spot him and drag him inside to make him buy me a bag. "Where is he?" "He's getting a haircut, we'll come back later." As I was bringing him back to the bag store a few hours later the woman saw me 3 stores away, saw I had (presumably) my boyfriend with me, and was calling to me that it was time to come in and pick the bag. We did, and it's been serving us well since, but I am still surprised that she recognized me and remembered my reason for not wanting to buy earlier. We had entered a town with so many tourists that I felt like we weren't recognizable purely from being the only white people in town as was the way in many towns prior, but I guess even so, if you tell someone you'll buy from them later, they remember you. Makes me glad I never used that as a method of getting out of buying a bracelet from a kid.

Apart from our new-found identities as walking bags of US dollars, Lombok was quite relaxing and included some interesting discoveries in caves.

This view was found in the back of a cave in the middle of nowhere

Next it was a ferry ride over to Bali, jumping across the Wallace Line. This ecological line separates the fauna of Australasia from that of Sundaland and the rest of Southeast Asia. Lombok was the last of the islands of the Indonesian archipelago that remained separate from the Sunda mainland during the height of the last ice age, thus deterring the migration of various animal species across the watery expanse and into Australasia.

Wallace and some other dudes figured all of this out

Bali, the queen of Indonesian resort islands. It turned out to be a good time to be there between the Hindu Galungan and Kulungan festivals. Children paraded dressed as dragons and banging gongs, kites filled the skies, and the streets were decorated with some kinda beautiful bendy things.

Street procession

And I don't know if the holidays were leading to more burning of incense than usual, but the whole town smelled amazing.

Some kinda beautiful bendy thing

Notwithstanding, we had taken the ferry to the wrong town on Bali. No matter, we made a slight change of course and ended the day in Ubud.

"I see land!" "Hm, we seem to be going into harbor, but not at the harbor we thought we were going to." "Maybe we will go on to our harbor after we stop at this one?" "It certainly seems like everyone is getting off here." "Ah, here come the police to herd us off the boat." "We should probably just go to Ubud and skip Kuta."

Found on a brochure in Ubud, I think the ferry mistake was for the best.

Temples hidden behind the Starbucks! 

Ceremonies behind the Starbucks!

I was slightly apprehensive about going to the Monkey Forest. The day before we'd been waiting in a health clinic to get Nick looked at for the cough he's got, and 3 separate people came in with monkey bites while we were waiting! But one couple, after washing the bite and waiting for the doctor, told us, "no, no, you have to go to the monkey forest!" So I figured if the bite didn't make them warn people off, it was probably pretty cool. It was.

Bridge in Monkey Forest

There was a monkey rumble in the Monkey Forest; these guys made sure the offender stayed out

I covered some of the interesting cultural experiences of Bali and the proceeding city of Yogyakarta (Jogja), Java in a previous post. We ended up in East Java right at the end of post-Ramadan holidays trying to get back to Jakarta. The trains were booked solid for a week and so were most buses. Eventually we were able to overpay for a second grueling 18-hour bus ride, this time with no leg room for anyone over 5'3" or that handy little device called a 'toilet'.


Welcome to the world of luxury shopping 

Jakarta is a glistening metropolis of some 11,374,022 or so people. The luxury shopping malls seemed to sell only exceedingly top brand names and the contrast to the rest of our experiences in Indonesia was striking. There was no middle ground, you could either hang out in the palaces of conspicuous consumption pictured about or delve into the lower-cost local markets:

 I got a much better deal on new socks here, plus I get double the brands: one sock says Gucci and the other says Louis Vuitton!

The streets were filled with shiny, new cars and double-decker buses. They almost wouldn't let us on the tourist bus because there was 'no standing allowed' an no seats free. How absurd! Mixed in the stream of glistening metallic fish would be a couple of old buses that stood out like Melville simile in an otherwise ordinary sentence. They looked like they were about to fall apart--actually they were literally in the process of falling apart--but they would take you around town for 4,000 rupiah and you wouldn't have to haggle!

Jakarta had some other interesting sights too:

Jakarta's National Monument... looks a little familiar

The old Dutch part of town has fallen into disrepair

The old harbor had massive boats coming right up to the roadway!

Under bridge pool hall will take care of any of your entertainment needs!

Aug 24, 2015

The Lembata to Sumatra Lambada pt. 3

Having made our way to the nethers of Sumba, we now had a vague notion of the extended maritime adventure that we would undertake in order to progress the great quest. Some informatical willow-wisps of the internet had whispered to me of a ferry from Waikelo in western Sumba to Lubuan Bajo, west Flores. This ferry might come on Saturday, but would more probably come by Monday, weather permitting. It might be a fast boat taking only two hours or it might be a slower government ferry taking six. A passing peripatetic recommended a ship from there to bypass the formidable but also interminable island of Sumbawa to disembark us on Lombok.

Dawn, waiting for the ferry to arrive?

As it turned out the first leg would be two steps: first to Sape, then on to Lubuan Bajo for which we spent a consecutive 33 hours on ferries.

Life on board, we staked out a prime spot on the upper platform early

The boat would arrive in Sape in the evening, dock for the night, and leave for Lubuan Bajo the next morning. Hearing from 2 different people (including the guy behind the snacks counter on the ferry) that we would be allowed to sleep on board while it was docked for the night, we decided that is what we would do. As other passengers scurried around getting their bags and children in order, we remained stubbornly put. Multiple passengers attempted to shuttle us off with promises of leading us to a hotel, some seeming rather anxious about our intent to “sleep here” as we obstinately repeated in Indonesian.

Eventually we were informed, with much pointing and small, slow words on both sides, that this ferry was not going to Lubuan Bajo in the morning, but was in fact turning around and headed right back to Sumba. Now. We reluctantly joined the last trickle of people leaving the boat and were led to a different one. This was the boat we’d be taking tomorrow. We could sleep there. It was not docked for passengers, but we were led through a bit of a window and allowed to pass the night there along with about 2 dozen locals who had the same idea.

Elizabeth catching some shut-eye

They turned the ferry around by attaching a huge rope to the pier and just swinging it. At this point we were unsure our ferry no. 2 actually had a rudder

 Another dawn, another ferry

Lubuan Bajo was a world of contrast to Sumba. A massive fleet of tour boats sat idled in the harbor and the mixed languages of many different nationalities percolated up from the streets to the rooftop bars.

Lubuan Bajo: an epicenter of diving and dragon-based tourism

Our ship of destiny was quickly located, but we had a couple of days to wait so I decided to take a diving course to pass the time.

First time in the water!

Yarr! We had to ask this roguish vessel for a spare scuba mask

Some fishy things and other animals

Exhausted form a full day of exploring the deep

I decided to keep both feet on land and chatted (in English!) with people other than Nick for the first time in a while.

Not that I'm getting tired of his company or anything :)

Departure from Lubuan Bajo: A whirlwind of seaspray and dragons ensues.

All aboard the good ship Santosa!

First stop was Rinca Island, Komodo National Park

The Komodo dragon is found only on a tiny group of islands in Wallacea. It is a thundering great lizard, literally a living dinosaur. The Komodo survived as the dominant predator in its islandic niche while other Pleistocene megafauna died out. It mainly hunts deer, but sometimes goes for prey as big as water buffalo and its bite delivers an eloquently bespoke cocktail of bacteria and anticuagulant proteins that will take up to two weeks to finally kill its prey from blood loss and infection. All the while this gargantuan lizard waddles after it, swinging its front and back legs in opposite directions like a pudgy teenager doing side stretches. Meanwhie, absolutely EVERYTHING in its path gets the affectionate tongue treatment of a Komodo tasting session.

After avoiding being eaten, the rest of the boat ride was gravy. We only ran aground once!

I overcame my fear of the open water and swam ashore a couple times!

 Sailing past this crazily smoking volcanic island like it's no big deal

We popped off to a couple of local islands after three days cooped of on the ship

Sunset on the bow

We were soon in Lombok watching surfers ply the waters graded for ‘kamikazis only’ level waves.

Catching a wave!

Sunset saw the tiny, bobbing heads of surfers still holding out for that big barrel

Aug 11, 2015

The Lembata to Sumatra Lambada pt. 2

...So we arrive in SUMBA! Mysterious land steeped in ancient animist tradition; where the annual arrival of the Nyale sea worm heralds the traditional bloodletting joust called Pasola that will christen the earth with human blood for an auspicious harvest; where massive, megalithic tombstones weighing hundred of tons are still dug out of the earth to cap elaborate graves; where each funeral necessitates the sacrifice of many buffalo and the building of a new home necessitates the sacrifice of many pigs; where the only comment in traveling within the island on Wikitravel is 'Independent travel to and within Sumba has its challenges.' Getting around isn't really that difficult even with only a smattering of Indonesian language. In the end, as with so many things, it's only a matter of pricing.

To kick things off, our ferry actually arrived early! A 10 pm arrival instead of 2 am meant that we were not quite as screwed in trying to find a hotel that would take us in.

And the ferry itself went much more smoothly than the last one. Logistically, not literally, it was a pretty choppy, but very enjoyable ride. We split up upon entering the ship, I went in search of actual bunks while Nick scoped out the potential for claiming a spot on deck. I found 2 bunks in the dingy under-deck economy class room just as Nick texted me that he'd found a good spot on deck. Unfortunately the padded mats were not removable from these bunks as they had been in the last ship, so I couldn't bring any to his spot. Deciding that fresh air was worth not having any padding, I started up the stairs to Nick's staked claim. In the stairwell were 2 mats, un-monitored and therefore un-claimed. I seized them and struggled my way clumsily up the stairs and out onto the deck with my 25 lb. backpack and 2 sleeping mats. We passed a decidedly comfortable day being fed a constant supply of fresh sea air. Also: no "Pelni Mob."

Sunset from the boat.

There are so many good things to say about Sumba: it's beautiful, the people are friendly, they have waterfalls, traditional villages, and delicious food.

We had the best fried chicken of my life. Straight out of the street wok and onto your plate!

The best fried chicken evar!

It was so good! It almost made me a vegetarian just because I don't think I will ever have chicken that delicious again in my life.

We headed for the arid western half of the, where the landscape looks like it might be from the American west in contrast to the fertile jungles of other Indonesian islands. There we rented a motorbike, and just roamed the lands, soaking in the sights of massive megalithic tombs and getting to know the locals in the traditional villages. They were very welcoming and quick to offer us coffee and lots of areca nut (betel nut) as we attempted to communicate and share our life stories across the multifarious language gap.

150 buffalo were sacrificed during this chief's funeral

One of the biggest tombstones in Sumba 

Of course the local kids were overjoyed for a paparazzi session

At one village we witnessed the beginning of a marriage negotiation. The groom's party arrived with two horses, three buffalo, and a pig. This wasn't the bride price mind you, this is just the ante, the gift to get a seat at the negotiation table for how many animals would follow each month for the following year. The prospective groom seemed to have the advantage for negotiation since they bride had 'already been spending too much time with in his village.' First things first though, upon arrival of the groom, animals, and all manner of extended family and villagers, there commenced a serious volume of betel nut offering and chewing. I tried one bit and it was heinously bitter, though not quite as nauseating as I feared. The quicklime that they spike it with to keep the active ingredient in its freebase form made me salivate like Narcissus when he learned about Facebook.

I declined to try.

One of the buffalo, no doubt destined for marital bliss.

We met a lovely woman there who offered to take us to her home for some food. We accepted and she promptly had her sister catch and cook us a chicken. Upon hearing our plans to go to a waterfall the next day she gave us some grave advice. "If you go hiking in the jungle with a guide nobody will bother you because he can always translate/explain what you are doing. But if you go hiking in the jungle alone it is dangerous because people will be afraid that you're here to kidnap someone."

Slightly skeptical of how much prevalence there is in Sumba of random white people trekking through their jungle to kidnap people, and confident in our benign appearance, Nick and I soldiered out to the waterfall next day sans guide. Nobody accosted us except the gatekeeper. Despite the fact that we'd been driving on an overgrown gravel road with nobody in sight for an hour, there was a gate and ticket booth to get into the waterfall. It was definitely worth it:

Lapopu waterfall

This post and the following tranquil float are dedicated to my dear friend Steven 'Goober' Marshall, who passed away this week following a tragic hiking accident. Goober was one of the first people I met when I arrived at WPI for freshman orientation. He welcomed me into the new and uncertain realm of college social life with his characteristic broad, warm smile (no to mention his perennial sandals and shorts) that would continue to enliven many a moment in the years to come.

Goober survived on only white bread, milk, and ketchup (not pictured)

He held an unequivocal exuberance for life and his passing makes it keen that we should all find the a similar joy in every moment, even without him here to remind us of it. And as a river, every moment presents a facet of joy to ponder as it passes. And we to the sea.

Aug 4, 2015

The Lembata to Sumatra Lambada pt. 1

The time is bloody well nigh to put metaphorical pen to paper about how it is this sojourning duo has made it across the vastness of Indonesia from the last time I checked in at Lamalera, Lembata.

Dual post time!! E (shockingly) in purple and Nick in black because he's a psychopath who doesn't have a favorite color. 

My favorite colour is the clarity of contrast.

After fishing and feasting upon Mamma Maria’s fantastic comestibles in Lamalera we bused it back to Lewoleba, a journey that includes stops to hack off any uppity tree branches that had gotten ambitious enough to impinge on the road since the last time the bus had been through. Lewoleba was a welcoming little town where the locals were quick to pull the paparazzi card on us and ask for a photo. The kids would then inexplicably flip off the camera during these photo sessions. Adults too! Grown men would ask to pose with us and flip off the camera.

One of the few pics with this trio that didn't include the bird

Lovin' the camera

Not in an unfriendly way of course, just with a big smile and middle finger raised to the heavens. This is something that seemed very particular to the local Lewoleba youth and if anyone has an explanation for this birding penchant I would love to be enlightened.

Across the bay smolders the sulfurous peak of Ile Ape (literally Fire Mountain). So naturally, we had to climb it.

Scene: a fluorescent-lit office redolent with muzak. Buttoned-up interviewer: "So what are your hobbies outside of work?" The gruff reply: "Whalin', climbin' volcanoes."

Ile Ape was a great, physically grueling climb. Four hours up and three hours down, it was the most intensive trekking that we've done on this 5 month trip by far.

Stopping for a coconut refreshment

Emerging from the jungle into the grasses on the way up (click for a larger view)

We could see the entire dragon-with-a-duck-on-its-back shape of Lembata and other islands from the top

Our next task would be to catch a speedboat to run the chute between the islands of Solor and Adonara to Flores. This endeavor was somewhat dubious given the harbinger that had greeted our Pelni ship when we first pulled into Lewoleba one week ago:

A fishing boat actively sinking at the dock as we pulled in

Unflinching, despite a day's delay for food poisoning (I suspect those fish eyes from the boat, or some of the other sailor's fare they gave me during the whaling voyage), we boarded. We were soon hurtling through the surf as one woman let out a shrill scream every time our small craft smashed into the next wave, three massive outboard motors roaring in top gear at the rear.

Young porters in action before departure

As is the penchant upon debarkation of any vessel in Indonesia, we were immediately set upon by drivers offering us "ojeks" (a paid ride on the back of a motorbike), taxis, and buses. Often they won't even wait until we've gotten off whatever boat we're on before attempting to secure our business. Drivers ignoring the masses of locals debarking will crowd around us in an unrelenting plea for us to follow them to one vehicle or another. I don't know how much they overcharge us on average for the same service, but given how desperately they try to gain our attention while ignoring dozens of others, I imagine it's not insignificant.

In this case we were looking for a bus, and—given the description above—it's not surprising that we were on one within a few minutes of stepping foot on land.

A funny thing about buses here, with the exception of Java island, is that they actually will pick people up and drop them off at oddly out of the way locations. When getting on a bus we can tell them the name of a hotel and they will drop us off at the door. This is not a perk of being overcharged or "special," they do this for everyone. Which means that it's not uncommon to be very close to where you're going on the public bus, only to have it turn down an absurdly narrow side road for 10 minutes to drop a passenger at home. Turning around will then take a further 10 minutes before the bus is back on track again. We've even been picked up at a hotel that was accessible just to pedestrian/motorbike by someone coming inside to get us and lead us to the bus.

It adds a lot of time, but overall I like it. It's no worse than going to a bus station and having the bus drive around for an hour trying to fill all the seats before leaving town. The latter method often seems less productive and you have to listen to someone leaning out the door yelling the destination name to every pedestrian that looks slightly inclined to travel.

Maumere, the largest city of Flores

On our way to Maumere on the bus, Nick and I picked at semi-random a hotel to stay at. Wikitravel has been an invaluable source for things like this, and we picked from the "budget" category one of the hotels that didn't have a bedbug alert on it. (Knock on wood, we haven't had bedbugs yet, all of our myriad bites have been from mosquitoes, spiders, and ants).

Glittering food stalls beckoned from directly outside of our hotel serving up goat sate

After being ceremoniously dropped at the front door of the hotel, we began the request for a room from the woman at reception. Although in cases such as these we rarely use much English, she was overwhelmed and called for her son to come translate. Hilarity ensues, her (adult) son is one of our fellow guests at the last hotel on Lembata island. His name is Troy, and he promptly tells us that his mother likes the look of us and wants to give us a discount, making this our cheapest room yet at IDR 100,000, ~$7.75/night.

That night we ran into him and ate some dinner at a small street cart across the road from the hotel. As I picked up my fork to dig into my fried rice he stopped me. "There is a tradition we have here in Indonesia before you can eat." I was intrigued, and laid my fork down expectantly. He handed his phone to a friend and posed between us for a photo. I should have guessed: I can't even begin to think how many Facebook pages we must have appeared on in our 60 days here.

Indonesian tradition: take pictures with tourists.

We also met Febrian, who offered to show us around and out of town as well as help broker rental deals with motorbike owners possessing varying degrees of sanity.

Trekking to the elusive Maumere hot springs with Febrian

Next stop: Moni and the inimitable tri-coloured lakes of Kelimutu. Local mythology has it that the souls of the dead come to rest in one of the three lakes at the summit of Kelimutu. Which lake the ethereal bouncer lets you into will be in accordance with your virtues and vices through life. The lakes also change colour periodically according to the varying concentrations of minerals as they leech into the water from the crater sides.

On the topic of various colours, Kelimutu is also one of the major tourist attractions of Indonesia. 'I haven't seen so many white people in months!' I exclaimed as three other foreign travelers walked into our guest house. They, having just come from tourist-saturated Bali instead of our route from the east, just gave me a queer look.

Ohai! I found a british traveler!

We rented a motorbike in Moni and paid the highest price that we've paid anywhere in the country. I think it's probably because it wasn't so much that there were motorbikes to rent, as that our hotel owner knew a guy who probably wouldn't be using his motorbike the next day and we could have it. Without an established rental system in the town there wasn't any competition to drive the price down. Also I think that anyone else claiming to know about motorbike rentals was probably talking about the same one dude's bike. There weren't even 2 helmets available with the rental and we had to borrow an extra helmet from the hotel.

Two of the lakes..

 They said I couldn't get all three in one photo, ha!

After Moni we made a beeline for Sumba, an island known for keeping a very traditional lifestyle. We arrived in Ende, the harbor town, 1 day before the ferry was to depart for Sumba. It was perfect timing because there was no way we wanted to spend any more time in Ende. I have 1 good thing to say about Ende: we ate a really delicious chocolate filled pancake from a streetcart. Yup, that's about it.

The hotels were all full of the "economy" level rooms (although I'm actually quite skeptical that this was true and sometimes wonder if it's just a ploy to get us to pay for an upgrade from our obviously bottomless Western bank accounts) and we ended up paying the highest price that we've had in the country (~$15.50). We asked to order some food from the menu sitting on the counter and they said they had no food until morning. We asked for a towel for the room and they said they had no towels.

The best thing Ende has to offer: a way out

I think every single motorbike in that town had a backfiring problem. You couldn't walk for 2 minutes down the street without some bike or other driving past with a loud explosion. On top of this the kids playing on the beach had a particular love of firecrackers that we haven't seen elsewhere in the country. In combination it leaves us with a very definite perception of Ende as a town full of very loud popping noises and not much else.

The Pelni ferry office had computer troubles and we sat in the waiting area for an hour. I went up to the counter to see if the problem was anywhere near fixing and the guy was sitting there reading a magazine. "Problem" he told me with a shrug. I asked if we should come back later when it was fixed and he seemed to think that a capital idea. We went to get some food and when we returned the office was closed for the day. Hoping upon hope that they would be open before 9am the next morning when we were supposed to board, we left.

Buildin' a new boat in case the ferry doesn't come.

A nice surprise was waiting for us, however. As we were reluctantly checking into our expensive hotel, who should greet us but Troy, our Lembata and Maumere friend! And we did end up making it onto the ferry, so all was well.

Set ourselves up with a sweet spot on deck. Things are looking up!