Sunday, 4 December 2011

Off days

Thursday 1st December, 2011, 8.15am; Mahmood's residence, Kanyangar, East Java
Total distance: 275km
Number of underpants written off: 1

The sickness that night quickly manifested itself as food poisoning, and by midnight I was lying in bed with a fever, only capable of lying there panting and trying not to move because it felt like my brain was banging into my skull whenever I did. Over the course of the long night my temperature plummeted, so that I had to fish out my 3 season sleeping bag to stop the shivers, and then rocketed up again immobilising me to the bed. It got worse as the minutes ticked by, until at 3.30am I yacked up what dozens of toilet trips had failed to eject from my stomach. The fever subsided immediately, and by 5.30am I could sleep. Snorkelling was off though.

Liv was an absolute angel when she woke in the morning, and sorted everything out, got me the few things I thought I could stomach from the shops, and sat around the room all day while I just lay there recovering. It knocked a day off our schedule, but it wasn't the end of the world. Of all the times and places to get food poisoning; on your planned day off, in a bungalow with an en suite isn't all that bad really. We both shivered at the prospect of that happening whilst camping in the middle of the woods at night.

Some kind of bee manufactured by
 Sky-net that was marauding
around our bungalow
We also found ourselves getting doted on by the ever friendly waitress at the restaurant, Corman. When I first ventured out to the restaurant that evening she gave us a free pot of lemon grass tea “Is perry good for upset stomach.” (She had an endearing way of pronouncing her V's as P's) and then brought another to us when we went to bed. The next morning we found a selection of fruit outside for us, and she spent some time explaining the different fruits available at the market, and what kind of price we should be paying for them. We didn't make it to the market ourselves, as we didn't venture far from a loo for those few days, but on the morning of the day we left, we found that she had gone herself, and picked up some supplies for us. A really friendly and very caring woman that Corman. We'll miss you!

Olivia and Corman
However, on the morning that we left Lovina, the morning of the 29th of November, we did have time for one last thing. Snorkelling! It meant an early start, so we were up, reluctantly, at 6.20am and at 7am our captain arrived at our door and walked us down to his boat on the black sandy beach - the beaches here, I failed to mention earlier, are all black because of the volcanic activity in the area. The boat was a long thin dugout with two balancing hulls held out from it by supports, sort of like a canoe with stabilisers. We pushed her off into the sea, hopped in and motored out to a coral reef just offshore, where we donned our snorkelling masks, put on our flippers, and plopped in.

Our captain had his wistful seaman look down.
Liv has been snorkelling a number of times before, but this was my first. What first struck me as I gazed through the mask was the way my view seemed to be magnified and fish-eyed by either the mask or the effects of the water. The water was clear and a pale shade of blue in the early morning light. I couldn't see much moving around because we were swimming over deep water, and because I had, rather foolishly, not put my contact lenses in, and my glasses wouldn't fit in the mask. Any fish smaller than a whale would have evaded my gaze swimming around below me. I thought the place looked a bit barren anyway. I'm not really that keen on swimming, truth be told.

Liv started swimming towards the band of blunt rocks that rose up a few metres away, which I only realised was a coral reef when I got much closer. It wasn't a vibrant display of neon colours like I have seen on various tv shows before, and there did seem to be some sections where the coral had died away, but as we began to swim amongst it the citizens began to appear, close enough for even a blind person like me to marvel at. Shoals of little fish, as blue as lapiz lazui wiggled past us first, then I saw the familiar Dorito shape of a pair angel fish as they nipped at some food or other on the coral bed, similar sized ones with bright yellow bodies, and black masks wiggled by to my left, as a large gang of glasses-case sized silver fish cruised by, their scales shimmering deep metallic blue as they moved.

We didn't have the means to take underwater photos of the fishies,
so here is a picture of the fields near our bungalow. Even if you look
very closely, you are unlikely to see any fish. Wecycle would like
to apologise for this inconvenience.
We swam around the coral for 90 minutes, with fish around us the whole time. How something can evolve to require the colours that some of them had I do not know. Stretched out on the bottom were starfish the deepest shade of blue I've ever seen, round nosed fish bobbed along nonchalantly wearing a coat of scales that moved through a glimmering pink to white and back down into indigo. Was the reef once this crazy prismatic spectrum of colours? Or did the females dig the fishy mutant who happened to be born the same colour as a Las Vegas drag queen's sequin dress?

A long silvery blue fish, like a squashed and stretched marlin, swam by close to the surface. Time went on. We found that if we remained still and put out our hands near some of the more curious fish they'd come and give us a little nibble. It was all wonderful, and the Jaws theme only crept into my mind once.

Once we were back on land there was just enough time for breakfast before we left. As well as filling ourselves with fuel for the morning it gave us the opportunity to thank Corman for her kindness, she had been an absolute gem. Then at 10:40am, when we had finally finished packing, we set off west along the coast road to Gilimanuk.

It was very hot, but otherwise the conditions were near perfect for riding. The road was largely flat and smooth, and the traffic was light and easy. The peace and quiet gave us time to think about the road ahead, and there was something very ominous about crossing the Bali strait and getting into Java. Having two days off recovering in bed had given us time to do some research into the conditions in Java, and it didn't look particularly pleasant. Mr Pumpy's guide to cycling Indonesia said:

“The traffic in Java is heavy, dangerous and not for the faint hearted. It's the worst I've encountered in Southeast Asia.”

Both Liv and I were nervous as hell about it, but there really wasn't much we could do except enjoy the road as it was now: quiet and calm, with an occasional sprinkle of monkeys. Very nice too.
The road to Gilimauk

As well as frightening ourselves with nightmarish tales of the traffic situation ahead, we had also got in touch with a friend of Liv's from Java, the one and only Andi Lavahunter – a volcano expert and guide. He had told us that right beside the port that we were docking in in Java was a volcano with the world's biggest acid lake in it – the Ijan crater, and he gave us the contact details of a guy who could take us up there. So thoughts of eight lane killer traffic faded in favour of the excitement of visiting this natural spectacle.

Looking over the Bali strait to Java.
Thunderclouds rolled down the volcanic
mountains off in the distance.
We arrived at Gilimanuk ferry terminal a little after 5pm. Over the strait we could see Java, and the land rising up until it was swallowed by the thick thunderclouds that were billowing up in the sky. The sea was calm though, a deep blackish blue.

Inside the ferry was, as expected, a bit mental. When I walked up the grimy stairs to the seating area and looked over the rails I noticed kids and young men swimming in the sea below, before several more fell in front of me from the deck above, with a whoop and a splash. Health and safety does not wield any power around these parts.

The ferry pulled away - actually very soon after the people had jumped in, so I wonder if they missed their boat – and we chugged across the narrow strait as the light began to fall, and the late afternoon sun turned to orange evening. Liv and I spent the half an hour crossing down in the vehicle deck keeping an eye on our bikes, so when we pulled into Ketapang dock on mainland Java we hopped on them and walked them over to the massive door ready to be dropped to release the waiting vehicles. We were both acutely aware that cycling might suddenly take on an unpleasant and dangerous tone. The air was alive with the feeling. A massive coach stood to our left, engine rumbling away noisily, while a dozen or more motorbikes came to life and began pushing their way around us to get as close to the door as possible, so when it did drop they could get out that little bit quicker. Cars had a go as well, with less success. This enormous ferry hatch that was about to drop and let us ride out reminded me of the landing craft doors on Saving Private Ryan, and I could almost hear Tom Hanks saying to me “Remember your training trooper, and you will make it out of this alive.” Let's hope so. The ferry horn sounded deep and loud, and then the door slowly lowered. Some kids were off first, climbing up the door while it was still at an angle too high for vehicles to tackle, then the vehicles were off and we with them, pedalling up the road out of the port with coaches, pedestrians and bikes all around us. All we needed to do now was find somewhere to stay, get in touch with Andi to arrange our volcano trip, eat some food and go to bed. Easy!
The ferry to Java.
We were tired when we came off the ferry into Ketapang, and thick greasy clouds were gathering close enough to threaten us with rain; combine this with a certain trepidation about the different driving character of the Javanese and you might say that we were bound to have negative ideas about this place when we arrived. Which may well be true, but my God, Ketapang is a very bleak place indeed. It was like the scene in back to the future part II when Marty arrives back in his hometown only to find Biff has rewritten history and now it's full of shady characters, dirty roads and gangs on motorbikes tearing around the streets. Ketapang is to Bali, what the Dark world is to Hyrule.

Any where that gets a regular stream of people who have to stay there and have to eat there has much of the magic of market competition removed from it, since nobody has to try hard to get your business. Stall after stall of soggy vegetables mixed with questionable chicken, or stale dry foodstuffs of unknown origin populated by flies lie along the busy dirty main road. Young kids motioned a knife cutting a throat before giggling and running off into the dark streets. Rats scurried in the ditches along the side of the road. The man at the front desk of our hotel never managed so much as a smile the whole time we saw him, his lips remained humourless flat lines every time we spoke.

Which suited the place really. Our hotel, hilariously entitled the Banyuwangi beach hotel despite the fact the industrial dock “beach” at the end of it was cordoned off with barbed wire, seemed to have been styled on a concentration camp, with high concrete walls and line after line of featureless huts – some even without windows. The rooms themselves were featureless, but serviceable, although one of the window panes in our room was removed and a fan unit that didn't quite fill the gap was put there in its place. Not surprisingly there were numerous mosquitoes hanging around inside, and several large but harmless ants roaming around the white lino floor.

By the time we checked in it had gone dark, so we set off up the road with a torch and our phrase book to find a “warnet”, that's Indonesian for internet cafe, so we could arrange our volcano trip. It didn't go exactly to plan.

Coming from Bali where pretty much everyone speaks a level of English, and someone nearby is probably almost fluent, it's easy to get arrogant, and think that our few phrases could get us by anywhere. But upon crossing the strait to Java, where suddenly most people didn't speak a word, and our trusty phrase book had to come out again and again and finding out the most simple thing was, well, not really possible any more. We found an internet cafe quickly, but we were told it was full.
“Where is internet cafe?”
She pointed down the road. We walked down there. Nothing. We asked someone else and got directed back to the one that was full. We couldn't explain that the internet cafe could not let us in, so we just had to amble back up the road, this time walking past the internet cafe and on until we realised we were leaving the town limits. We turned back and decided to abort the internet idea and just call Andi from a payphone, since we had spotted a booth near our hotel. Another twenty minutes walk, and we found that the telephone from the booth was missing. Gah!

Our stony faced receptionist ended up coming, reluctantly, to our rescue, and after a ten minute conversation explaining we needed to make a local call, and couldn't ride 10km in the dark to the telephone kiosk in the next town, he let us use his mobile, and we finally arranged for a jeep to pick us up the next morning and take us to the Ijan Crater.

With that sorted we headed back up to where the internet cafe was, and found the least grim looking food stall to buy some dinner. We also noticed that directly across the road from the internet cafe that was full, was an internet cafe that was not. But no matter, the night was nearly over, and we were tired. We popped in to the Indomart and picked up some mosquito killer to rid our room of the buggers, and we walked back along the oily black street to the hotel

Unfortunately our ordeal wasn't quite over yet, because it turned out that we hadn't so much bought mosquito killer, as we had armed ourselves with a thermonuclear creepy crawly killing device. It was an unassuming looking little white spray and when we sprayed it at a test victim it carried on its way as though nothing was the matter. Liv chased after it spraying it a few more times as I went outside to take a photo of a gecko. Pah. That spray can't be much good if you have to spray each offending individual a few times before it dies.

If we had bothered to translate the instructions however, we would have discovered that one spray was good for killing every mosquito in a room for ten hours. What would spraying an entire bottle of it into the room do?

“Erm.. Robin, you'd better come in here.”
I had found a very obedient gecko, not a common thing, that was willing to stay still while I waved a torch at it and took photos. “Um-mm in a sec.”
“Robin there are ants coming out of the walls.”
“Oh God there are hundreds of them. They won't stop coming.”
And sure enough, as I opened our door there was an entire ants nest evacuating onto the lino, and writhing about as the photon-bomb bug spray set about killing them. Liv was in the bathroom where another hole had hundreds of these ants falling from the wall onto the side, into the sink and on the floor. They kept coming for a few minutes, but eventually the wave subsided and our hotel room was left with a carpet of large dead ants by the door, and in the bathroom. What would the receptionist think! What would our mad Israeli room mate from Darwin make of it!?

Dead and dying ants in the bathroom
The thought of him reminded us that we should probably aerate the room before settling in for the night. We didn't want to breath in a substance that had managed to wipe out an entire ants nest, possibly two, just by spraying it near them. We opened the door and windows and took a stroll around the place, swept up as many of the ants as we could with the dish cloth style welcome mat, before finally collapsing into bed. We had an early start tomorrow, and a large acidic lake to see.

No comments:

Post a Comment