Monthly Archives: August 2013

AND A WAVE WE GO

“Ready?” Bazza turned to me.

I breathed in deeply. “Ready.”

After three days in our cabin (leaving only to fill our 2-minute noodles with hot water), we docked at Lembar in Lombok.

We gathered our gear and headed down to Deck 3. The rest of the passengers had congregated on the deck and made it almost impossible to get through. Somehow, we found ourselves in the crowd being pushed out towards daylight. Baz got sucked right out as though the craft were losing pressure through an airlock, while I was pushed along to the gangway.

“We made it,” I grinned at the blinding sun, welcomed by its tropical heat.

As soon as we stepped off, three bus drivers latched onto us.

“Where you going, Mister?” they said.

“It’s OK,” said Baz. “We will make our own way.”

“$40 I take you to Mataram,” said one.

I cracked up laughing and patted him on the back. “You’re funny.”

“$20,” said another.

“Thank you, but we’re good,” Baz explained, his words falling on deaf ears as the drivers hung around like Outback flies.

As we started to walk up the road in the melting heat to get the public bus, one driver made us out to be a cow-pie and followed us.

“$4 each,” he smiled.

“$1.5,” I said. I was over being ripped off and this sonofabitch was going to take us for just, “$3 for the both of us.”

“$4 each,” he haggled back.

“How much did you pay?” Baz asked one of the passengers.

“$4,” said a man in a yellow shirt. “Local price.”

Bullshit. “$3,” I said again. “You can make money, or you can make no money.”

He drove off leaving us to pool sweat out of every pore under the beating sun. I could feel one uncomfortable drop slide down the middle of my back and into my crack. We reached the main road, every O-jek and bus driver asking for $4.

The same driver returned. “$4,” he said again. “Each.”

“$3 for both of us,” Baz haggled.

And to our surprise he agreed. Baz sat up front while I sat in the packed back, kindly asking the man in the yellow shirt to remove his hand from my knee.

He asked me what religion I was and, forgetting that I was in a nation where lack of religion meant arrest, I found myself explaining to him that I believe in what I see. “If I see God, I’ll believe in him. I don’t see him so I don’t believe.” I explained Karma and when he asked about my sex life in the very subtle words of,

“Do you like to fuck?”

I told him kindly to mind his own business.

We were dropped off at the outskirts of Mataram. We walked a further 300 meters to the crossroads where a police outpost was setup in the shade. The cops hiding from the sun spoke perfect English and helped us stop a bus and negotiate a $2 price each to Sengegigi, where waves were to be found.

After almost losing my surfboard on a tight turn, we made it to the small resort stretch of beach –Sengegigi. Westerners were everywhere and after obtaining some information from Anne, a local working in the Internet\dive shop (who let us leave our gear there while we walked around) we headed off to the surf shop so that I could get some swell conditions.

“No swell this week,” said Jocko, the local behind the counter.

“Shit,” I said, staring at the the Magic Seaweed website showing that my best chances would be Saturday night and Sunday morning.

We thanked him and headed off to find a money exchanger. While we enjoyed the air con, two westerners walked in.

We said, “G’day,” and chatted with Brian O’Brian, an Irishman and Pablo, an Argentinian living in the South of Lombok. They invited us for some beers where we chatted about life on the island. Baz and I explained how we were travelling and by the second beer Pablo looked at us both and offered, “If you want, you are more than welcome to come and stay with me. I have plenty of room but no running water yet.”

Baz and I stared at each other. We couldn’t believe our luck.

“Thank you,” we both said. “Thank you so much.”

Pablo shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.” He even called Suliman, a local friend of his to ask about any swell down where he lives. “Tomorrow big swell coming,” he said. “I will take you there in the morning.”

Finishing off our beers, we piled Pablo’s car with all our gear and with the surfboard in the middle, we drove around Mataram as they had errands to run. It was the first westernised city we had come across since arriving in Indonesia. There was a Pizza Hut, a McDonald’s, a KFC and a shopping centre.

“Disgusting,” I said aloud.

Coming into the island we had noticed the abundance of mosques everywhere.

“There are a thousand mosques on Lombok,” said Pablo. “My house that I am building is right next to a mosque. They face their speakers right into my window. I’ve asked them to turn it away but do you think these people have any regards for me?”

Mosques sound off the call for prayer at 04:00 every morning, then just before lunchtime, just after lunchtime, mid-afternoon and the evening.

We bought groceries at the supermarket as there is, “Literally nothing and nowhere to buy food where I live,” said Pablo.

Baz and I bought a thick crusted $4 pizza which we devoured in the car and our new friends stopped at McDonald’s. Bazza and I had a McFlurry (I haven’t eaten junk food in 8 years) with M & M’s and with the first bite I knew I had made a serious, gastronomical mistake.

As we drove through the dark, unlit streets, Pablo struggled to stay awake at the wheel. “I just landed in the night from 3-months in South America,” he explained as something started to move in my stomach.

I turned to Baz. “Baz,” I whispered across my surfboard, “Baz, I’m touching cloth.”

He could only grin as I clenched every muscle in my lower torso. I breathed in and out slowly, trying to participate in the conversation.

“We are about 20 minutes away,” Pablo announced, answering Brian’s query of whether he was OK to continue driving. “I’ll be fine.”

But my stomach wasn’t. My ass was begging me to let the flood gates open and I was holding on for dear life. I was about to tell Pablo that he needed to pull over when he took a right turn and stopped before a gate.

“We have arrived,” he announced, hoping out to slide it open.

“Brian,” I turned to the front seat. “I need to use the toilet. I’m touching cloth.”

“Touching cloth?” he turned to the backseat.

“I have a turtle head.”

“Ah. Shit.”

Literally.

Pablo drove us in and parked in front of the garage. As I stepped out I was greeted by his Labrador, Jupiter, a beautiful beast that had me flashbacking to my childhood with memories of my Belgium Shepard.

As soon as I stood up it was easier to hold off the turtle head and I even helped carry in the heavy bags of groceries.

“Pablo,” I turned to our gracious host, “how do you go to the toilet if you don’t have running water?”

“I’ll show you,” he said – after he showed me the upstairs where he got a flash light.

And then Baz, Brian and I helped him take his outdoor furniture from the living room to the outside patio. Then he took me through the darkness of his huge property and flashed the light on the outhouse.

“That’s the well where you draw up the water,” he pointed to the bucket next to the shallow well, “and here is your toilet. Enjoy.”

He gave me the torch and I breathed a sigh of relief as I released every muscle from my lower torso south as soon as my butt cheeks touched bowl.

An hour later I came back to the house. “This is why I don’t eat junk food,” I announced.

We chatted with our hosts up until midnight before we retired to bed. Bazza and I shared a mattress and at 04:00 the muezzin of the next door mosque blasted his morning prayers into our room.

“The fuck is that?” mumbled Baz.

“Call for prayers,” I mumbled back.

He shut the double-glazed windows and silence settled back in.

***

“My mate here almost died yesterday,” Baz was talking me up to Lisa (German), Thea (English) and Gabby (American), three girls we met at a roadside eatery.

“What happened?” they gave me the floor.

The girls were staying with Suliman, the local who had told me about the surf and had hired out his bike to us.

P1040160“Suliman said there was big swell coming into Desert Point which is a reef break,” I began my story of defying death. “We arrived and there were these beautifully shaped, perfect barrels going left for about a hundred meters. Only thing is, they were breaking on reef and all the surfers were gunners.

This point is for pros, I found myself thinking.

Nevertheless, I paddled out and tried to get some waves. They were no bigger than 4-foot. But then Neptune dropped the bomb – literally. The 4-foot swell suddenly grew to 9-foot. It was like watching a 3-storey house rising up out of the water. Everyone had started to paddle and so did I except I was a lot further back.

I got caught in the impact zone. I watched as this giant wall of water rose above me, blocking out the sun. I ditched the board and dove under. The water treated me like seaweed. It threw me around and I was holding onto the leg leash so that I would know which way was up.

I popped my head above the whitewash and sucked in some air before being sucked under and thrown onto the reef. And lemme tell ya something, reef is fucking sharp. Every time I got to the surface, another 8-footer took me under and threw me over the coral like a soccer ball rolling across the road.

It was a 6-wave set and I copped every one of those 9-footers. I seriously thought I was done. I managed to ride my board over the reef on the whitewash of the last wave, sacrificing two fins. I limped out, almost collapsing on the beach. My feet looked as though they’ve gone through a blender which is exactly what one of the locals said to me as I dragged myself out.

I said to him, ‘Blender? It was a fucking industrial food processor.’

Then I managed to haggle the price of 3 fins from $20 to $15 from Suliman,” I grinned, blood dripping from my feet.

Not that the ordeal was worth it but I was glad that it was only me feet that copped it. My board was still whole and surfable and my face still held its rugged good looks.

The girls sympathised and we agreed to meet up in the evening for beers and music provided by my guitar.

Upon reaching Pablo’s house, I cleaned my feet with alcohol, biting my lip to as the level of stinging reminded me what it was like too accidentally scratch my balls after handling chilli. I spread aloe vera straight from the cactus onto the open cuts.

“I recommend you don’t go into the water for a few days at least,” suggested Pablo.

It bummed me out but he was right. The wounds were open and I needed to wait for them to close to avoid infection.

Later that night, after applying the third round of aloe vera, Baz, Brian and I headed over to Suliman’s with my guitar. We met the girls, I jammed and we shared about 13 Bintang beers between us.

The girls were returning to Bali the next day so we exchanged contact details and invited them to come to Bazza’s birthday bash in Kuta.

“I reckon take your board to Bali,” Baz suggested. “You’ll get your wave there.”

And hopefully, I won’t die.

***

“Check this out, bro,” Baz stirred me to wake. “Ol’ mate that’s getting married in Singapore lives in Malaysia. His invited us to stay with him at his home after the wedding.”

“Sweet,” I murmured, trying to resume sleep since it just happened to be raining this morning.

When the rain subsided, we rode out to snorkel around the peninsula near where Brian lived. We swam across the channel which was 45-feet deep. I couldn’t see the bottom and, to avoid panicking, I kept my head above the water.P1040215

Reaching a small, white sandy beached island, we decided to circumnavigate it – snorkeling. For the most of it, it was tall grass on sandy bottom with hand-sized, black-dotted orange starfish everywhere, looking like specialised cookies.

As we rounded the island, we came across an amazing coral garden filled with small, colourful tropical fish that darted in and out, hiding from us as we approached them from above, like large zeppelin balloons.

A steep drop-off into deep blue waters had me sticking to swimming above where I could see the bottom. We rested in a small hut on the beach before returning to the water to swim back across the channel. The current was powerful and the bottom nowhere to be seen.

Baz was pointing at something, gesturing with his hands that it was big. As I looked down, a car-sized coral reef, from 5 meters below, appearing out of nowhere, took me by surprise. My jaw dropping, I took in seawater like the Titanic.

We made it back to where we started from and we rode back to Pablo’s house, stopping for lunch at the same roadside eatery as the day before.

“Big serving, please,” I gestured to the mama, trying to explain that we had been swimming for a few hours and we were very hungry. She seemed to understand as we were both presented with mountain-sized portions of a vegetarian dish called ‘gato-gato’ – tofu, with clotted, nugget-like pieces of rice, a satay-peanut sauce spread over  green beans and bean sprouts with a dribble of soy sauce. I added the spicy lombo and I was in gestation heaven.

We planned our next step. “Tomorrow we’ll catch the ferry to Bali,” reckoned Baz with myself agreeing.

And hopefully find a wave that won’t kill me.

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THIS IS THE ENDE

“Will we have time for lunch?” Baz asked the harbour master. He looked at our tickets and pointed to the one o’clock departure time on it then to his watch and shook his head.

The ferry we were taking was a huge, Titanic-like boat but it was nowhere to be seen along the port. The only boat docked was a small cargo vessel.

We carried our gear to the vessel and asked around for the ferry.

“Two o’clock,” said one guy.

“Three o’clock,” said a uniformed officer.

“Four o’clock,” said Willy, a Bali resident.

“Let’s put our bags back at the Port Authority office and head off for lunch,” I suggested.

After a rough morning riding to Ende in the back of a converted dump truck, it was good to be hopping islands again, this time to one that had waves.

“Ende?” Baz asked the driver who stopped by the side of the road. He nodded. “How much?”

“$3,” said the driver.

“We give you $2,” Baz haggled. The locals were paying $2 for the ride. Besides, that extra dollar was lunch. The driver agreed and the kids on the back of the truck jumped down and piled our gear on.

We parted ways with James and climbed through the open side of the truck, squeezing into the tiny wooden benches.

“Get more leg room on a plane,” I muttered, somehow holding onto my guitar and daypack.

We trucked on stopping due to road works every few kilometers for almost half an hour at every stop. It seemed the driver had it in his head that he was the owner of the single-lane road, almost knocking over motorbike riders and forcing other cars to give way, practically pushing them off the edge of the cliff.

Then again, maybe he did own the road.

We climbed up through the astounding scenery of green jungles and remote villages, the road having been built right up to the cliff edge, an intense rocky drop to the low-level river flowing below.

“Probably floods here during the wet season,” Baz reckoned.

We held on tight for every corner and almost four hours after leaving Moni, we reached the bus terminal of Ende at the bottom of the mountain where the sun mercilessly cooked us.

O-jeks and bus drivers jumped on the truck, calling out, “Where you going, Mister?”

We did our best to explain that we were staying with the truck. We assumed he was going further into town.

But when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

The driver jumped out and told us kindly to get off of his truck and that if we wanted to head further into town, we would need to take a separate bus.

We watched as he drove off, taking a left into Ende.

“Sonofabitch,” I muttered, heading for the shade.

All the bus drivers that latched onto us were charging a dollar each to take us into Ende. The only thing we knew about the town was that it was by the water. We were hoping there would be a ferry that went to Lombok, our next island.

If not, our next best option was to take a 13-hour bus ride to the touristic town at the far end of the island and wing it from there.

Baz, the gifted haggler, managed to convince one driver that knew a bit of English to take us both for a dollar. But when the driver saw my surfboard he began to back off. Baz convinced him that it would hold on the roof with our backpacks.

“I can’t wait for you to get rid of that surfboard,” he said.

As soon as we had left Tropicbird I had decided that once I catch my first wave on it, I’ll give it to a local and rid myself of the hassle.

“Is there a ferry to Lombok from Ende?” I asked the driver from the empty back seat. He was taking us all around town, picking up rides.

“At 19:00, today,” he replied.

Baz looked at me as I at him. “Can you take us to the seaport?” he asked.

We thanked him and shook hands as we hopped off at the busy port, packed with bikes, pedestrians and every shop owner trying to sell us something. We headed to a white building which turned out to be the Port Authority and had English-speaking locals.

André, an Indonesian as tall as Baz, directed us to the ticketing office up the road. He was kind enough to allow us to leave our bags in the lobby while we walked up.

IMG_9288The small office was packed with locals buying tickets using the 8-Step method. Baz hit the ATM while Alexander, a local man, helped me fill out the paperwork.

Our names had yet to be called out when Baz returned. I waited for almost an hour until the ticket collector announced mine.

“Yo,” I grinned.

“To Lombok is $21,” he said. “For two is $42.”

“Is there any food on the ferry?” I asked as I paid the man.

“Food is included,” he replied.

“Sweet!” I grinned.

Since the first stop was Sumba, where I knew I would find waves, I asked, “Is it possible to hop off at Sumba and take the next ferry a few days later on the same ticket?”

“The ferry only stops for one hour, maybe two,” explained the collector. “If you hop off, next ferry is in two weeks.”

I raised my eyebrows. “The ferry only goes every two weeks?”

“Yes,” he said calling out other names.

“What time is the ferry?” I asked the collector as I picked up our tickets.

“One o’clock,” he said.

I looked at the clock on the wall.

12:45.

“Baz, we gotta go.”

After our survey to find out what time the ferry would arrive, we figured we had until 15:00 so we ate a Padanag lunch of rice, a fried egg and beef slices that were amazing. We thanked the mama and took photos with her and her kids before heading back to the port.

It was cracking on to 14:00 when we sat in the air con of the Port Authority’s office. I fell asleep while Baz went out exploring. He shook me to wake at 14:30.

“Ferry’s arrived.”

We headed down with our gear and mixed in with the sea of locals that had gathered to board.

“This is going to be interesting,” I reckoned, as we found ourselves in the mosh pit of a rock concert without the concert. P1040149

We watched the para-military police beat the surging crowd back while the approaching ferry, the biggest floating, rusty tin can either of us had ever laid eyes on, floated up slowly to the dock.

Hundreds of people peeked from every opening and hung from every deck. It was like an Indian train, arms and legs everywhere. You couldn’t see the boat from the amount of human cargo.

As the gangway was lowered and another was placed on the side, the carnage began. Baz and I were sucked into the depths of the mob, the crowd pushing us forward. I wasn’t even sure if my feet were still on the ground anymore.

“This is going to be interesting,” I repeated before I realised that I had lost Bazza.

How a white, 6”4 Englishman with a house-sized backpack can disappear in a crowd of 5-foot Indonesians is a trick that is beyond magic.

The para-military team weren’t shy of using force, beating back the people, yelling and pushing, trying to restore what little order they seemed to think they had.

They had a better chance of negotiating peace in the Middle East.

I was crowd-surfing through the hundreds of arms and legs, my surfboard in tow, being half pushed-half directed by the crew to go down to Deck 3. I clambered down the stairs, almost tripping over the throng of families, screaming babies, people calling out to each other, waving every limb possible – some not even theirs.

I rolled down the staircase and landed on the doorstep of hell. In what appeared to be a converted holding container, air was replaced by clove-cigarette smoke. Humidity and CO2 hit me in the face and lungs like a hot oven door being opened. Through the waterfall of sweat cascading over my brow, I saw wooden beds laid out in rows with black mattresses, every single one taken up by a single local or an entire family.

“Your friend over there,” a local directed me.

Thanking her, I wormed through the crowd, trying not to step on sprawled out bodies as I easily picked out Bazza who had found a corner with two benches (one broken) blocking the lockers that supposedly held the life jackets. One corner was tailor-made to fit my board and guitar.

We were the Leonardo di Capprio of this Titanic but being the only westerners among the thousand people on board, there was no Kate Winselot in sight.

We laid out our sleeping gear to claim the benches. Baz went off to explore while I stayed to write about the last few days. He came back a half hour later, looking as though he had run a marathon.

“It’s like a concentration camp in the lower decks,” he said. “There are people everywhere.”

I rationed my water, prolonging my need to use the toilets. It didn’t smell promising. Baz mustered up the guts and went in, coming out with a horrified look on his face.

“What?” I asked him.

He sat down and looked at me, shock all ever his beak. “Have you seen Trainspotting?”

“Yeah, years ago.”

“Remember the toilet scene?” He dropped his head, trying to shake out the image.

I stared at him. “No.”

He nodded. “Yup.”

We had to get out.

Leaving our heavy bags to explore the ferry, we climbed over strewn out bodies, families that had collected together on the floor that seemed non-existent as all you came across were bodies and smiling faces that called out, “Mister! Mister!”

We bumped into a crew member who asked if we wanted to rent a cabin.

“You have cabins?” I said.

“How much?” Baz asked.

“For two people,” he smiled at us, “$80.”

“Can we see the cabin?” Baz asked.

He took us up to the top deck. On the glass door he opened it read, ‘First Class Cabins’. He lead us up another flight of stairs, opened another door and showed us the double bunk cabin with a table, a soft back bench, shower and toilet and electric outlets.

Baz and I looked at each other and, as though reading the other’s mind.

“$50 for both of us,” Baz haggled.

“Oh, no,” grinned the mate, tightening his grip around our balls. “$80 for two. $40 for you,” he pointed at Baz, “and $40 for you,” he pointed at me.

“We have no money,” I stressed. “We have $50. You can make money now, or you can make no money.”

“No, no,” he grinned, escorting us back to our deck.

“I don’t mind hanging with the locals,” I said to Baz. “It’s just fucking stuffy and hot in here.”

Back on our bench, a few locals that knew English stopped to talk with us when a middle aged, toothless man sat beside Bazza on his bench. He didn’t know a word of English and when Baz jokingly gestured if he wanted to share his bench for sleeping; the guy stripped off his jacket and sat closer to the Englishman.

I cracked up, Baz staring at me in disbelief.

“Looks like you’ve got a new bunk mate,” I said, erupting into fits of laughter.

Bunker even went as far as to place a divider with his jacket, generous enough to leave Baz with just enough room for his knees.

We headed up to the outdoor deck to get some air, chilling out on a bench in the café area. We were talking to some locals when Bunker appeared out of nowhere and sat beside Baz.

“I think he likes you,” I laughed out.

We walked all around the boat, trying to find a bit of surface to sleep on (and escape Bunker) but everything was taken. It was like trying to walk barefoot through shards of glass.

On Deck 4 food was being handed out. The cue went all the way down to the stern of the boat but when a crew member saw us approaching he grabbed two meals and handed them over, Baz failing miserably in trying to explain that we would wait in line. Not that the steamed rice and bit of fish (that was better off being used as bait) was worth the wait. We headed up to Deck 5, where Baz had found a cinema.

“It’s got air con and the guys only charging a dollar,” he said excitedly, wiping sweat off his brow. We spent the next two hours watching Fast and Furious 6, lying on black mattresses, turning into ice cubes by the air con.

Mid-way through the movie Bazza jumped in fright.

“Jesus! You scared me!” I heard him say.

I looked over and saw that Bunker had found us.

“He was stroking my arm,” he turned to me as I erupted in laughter.

Bunker sat behind Bazza, grinning his toothless grin. When the movie ended, the cinema man played The Restless but the opening scene showed a man lying in bed, his Johnson out in full bloom.

We headed back down to Deck 3 but discovered to our surprise that all the doors were locked.

“What’s going on?” Baz asked aloud, hoping someone would understand.

“Ticket checking,” said a local.

While we waited, a large contingency of crew and para-military officers walked down the stairs and checked our tickets. They were led by Boni, the crew mate that tried to hustle $80 out of us for the first class cabin. He looked like Mr Miagi from The Karate Kid only with dark hair.

When the doors opened, we headed in to find a local lying across Bazza’s bench. We sat on my bench and watched as the entourage of officials took some stowaways into custody while checking the passengers.

“I have cabin for you if you want,” Boni said, turning into Kate Winselot.

We agreed to meet at the information window on Deck 5 after he had finished his rounds.

While we waited, we met Arthur, who spoke fluent English, holding his infant child.

“Because the Ramadan holiday is over,” he explained, “everybody is going back home.”

“You mean it’s not always like this?” I asked.

“No,” he said. He placed his baby with his wife and he invited us upstairs to the outdoor café for some fresh air. “Do you smoke?” he asked us.

“No,” we said.

“Good. I wish I could stop.”

“You can,” I said, recalling how I had quit the nicotine back in 2008. “Just stop.”

“Think about your baby,” Baz added, “then you will stop.”

We conversed for half an hour and then went to find Kate…  I mean, Boni. The information window was dark but music and singing was coming from a door down the hall. We walked into what appeared to be the restaurant area of the boat where a woman in a tight mini-dress was entertaining the crowd with her singing. In the darkness it was hard to see if she wasn’t a lady boy but easy to see that she was gorgeous.

Boni magically appeared with new information. “After midnight, when we stop in Wangipu (on Sumba Island) you have cabin.”

“We can’t go now?” Baz asked.

“No. People sleeping there.”

We decided to pass the time by going back to the cinema. American Pie was on at 21:00. We caught the end of The Restless which turned out to be a foreign language film. I guessed it was Portuguese while Bazza reckoned it was Estonian.

It didn’t change the fact that there was more cock in it than a chicken breeding farm. Then American Pie 6: The Naked Mile came up with more breasts than a poultry shop. The film after that was an erotic Japanese piece called Cyborg Café which looked like a failed attempt at soft porn.

Not being a fan of porn and not wanting to be in the same room with horny locals that would probably rub themselves (perhaps that’s why the mattresses were of black, easy to wipe off fake leather) we passed the last hour in Deck 3.

The lights were bright, the smoke was thick and everybody was wide awake. I had a better chance of sleeping soundly in a Turkish prison than down in here. Baz was in the same mindset. Midnight came by and we headed back up to the information window on Deck 5.

Boni was asleep according to one crew mate so we entered the now empty and dark restaurant. The air con was going full blast and we figured we’d sleep here until we were either thrown out or breakfast was served.

At about 01:00 Boni woke us up and took us to the first class cabin, the same one he had shown us before.

“No one has slept here,” Baz said as he hit the shower.

Boni came back with a case of water for us. I thanked him and shook his hand. The air con was going which was better than nothing since the sealed porthole overlooked the top deck where I could see people trying to get comfortable. I closed the blind and got ready for my shower.

The bridge of the ferry was a few doors down and the soft humming of the engine from somewhere deep in the belly of the boat sounded as though we were on a plane. The easy-rolling motions added to the fact, as though we were going through some very light turbulence.

I was out before I could I hang my towel.

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HOPPING FERRIES

“So we’re not taking the car?” I turned to El, scratching my head. It was a perfectly good car for packing all our gear in. Why would the option of using a scooter even come to mind?

Sure, the puke-green, 2-seater flatbed Landcruiser looked like it had come straight out of the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy but if it got to El’s house then surely it could get to the harbour.

“No,” El smiled. “We take the bike.”

IMG_9258

© Barry-Dean Anderson, 2013

With my 75-litre pack on my back, my daypack on El’s chest and my surfboard lying horizontal between us, we rode through the empty streets of Kalabahi on a Sunday morning where El helped us purchase the ferry ticket.

There’s an 8-step system for purchasing a ticket on a ferry:

Step 1: Fill out a piece of paper with your name, age and destination.

Step 2: Place the paper onto a spike (or hand it over).

Step 3: Wait for your name to be called out.

Step 4: Keep waiting. Maybe grab a coffee or tea. You’ll have time.

Step 5: When your name is called, excuse yourself through the crowd to pay for the ticket.

Step 6: Repeat Step 3.

Step 7: Maybe grab a bite to eat. You’ll have time.

Step 8: Collect ticket when your name is called again and thank the ticket master (make sure you collect with your right hand) .

Our ferry was a barge. Its loading ramp was fully extended to accommodate the loading of scooters and two trucks along with 150 people, a goat and a handful of chickens. There were large, black mattresses for sleeping (which were hired out for 50 cents) and upstairs on the deck was the seating room.

To climb the stairs you must go through rock-climbing training in the Himalayas. They were almost at a 90° angle. Somehow, and with great difficulty, we managed to place all of our gear in what resembled a hospital’s waiting room complete with a flat screen television and metal benches (which, oddly enough, were comfortable – until your bum went numb).

Above every stairway and doorway was a cage with a colourful bird in it. There was a bright yellow weaver, a small green flock of feathers, an even smaller black bird, a large black bird with yellow flaps around its head and a white spotted bird that was very restless.P1040032

We explored the barge. And by exploring it wasn’t like going around the Titanic. There was the cargo area which doubled as the sleeping quarters, car and bike storage, the seating area and the outdoor deck in front of the bridge. From the outdoor deck we said ‘hello’ to the crew and watched the hustle ‘n’ bustle below us. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 08:00 which really was wishful thinking. At 08:45 the captain blew the horn, raised the ramp and off we chugged at a steady 6.9 knots.

“Goodbye Tropicbird,” Baz waved at the 50-foot Ketch that had been his home for a little over two months and mine for just eight days. “There’s another westerner onboard,” he said, pointing to a tall, dark-blonde haired man. “Betchya he’s German.”

“Hello, I’m James,” James introduced himself in an accent that sounded like a mixture of South African-meets-German-living-in-England. “I’m from London,” he said as we introduced ourselves.

“What’s that smell?” Baz sniffed the air. His face turned from wonder to one of disgust as the full scent of the biochemical weapon unleashed by someone in our vicinity reached his nostrils.

“Oh, yes,” James smiled, “I just farted.”

“Well, I guess we’re friends now if you’re breaking wind this early,” Baz leaned back, whipping at the invisible odour. “Good God, man, what is that?”

James could only smile as I cracked up, glad to be in his up wind. An experienced scuba diver and an underwater film maker, James told us of his other business entrepreneurs. We chatted for a bit and then he retired to his laptop, watching the second season of ‘Homeland’ while a few locals sat behind him, fascinated by his Macbook screen, ignoring the Angelina Jole and Ethan Hawke movie playing on the TV, direct off the satellite.

Baz and I hit the outdoor deck where the wind was a cool breeze. I whipped out the guitar and strummed away when Mr Ecky, a crew member, came and joined us. I showed him the harmonica and he blew on it as we jammed a bit before he was called up to actually operate the boat.

I put Baz to sleep with two hours of playing as we cruised through the channel and out to open sea. We had two ports to stop in on our 24-hour passage before reaching the town of Larantuka on the large island of Flores.

The food on board was a choice of purchasing chicken flavoured 2-minute noodles, resorting to the wafers we had bought and hope that some of the locals that had brought an entire kitchen’s worth of food (and utensils to match) might share some with us.

They did offer but we declined politely and bought the $1 chicken flavoured 2-minute noodles.

James had gone downstairs and returned just before lunch, holding a plastic bag to his elbow, wincing slightly.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I fell down the stairs,” he showed us his right elbow which looked as though someone had inserted a baseball under his skin. It was as if he was giving birth to a troll through his elbow.

“What’s in the bag?” Baz asked.

“They gave me some ice,” James said.

“They have ice?” Baz looked at me surprised.

I couldn’t stop staring at James’ elbow. “Holy shit,” I finally said. I was caught in the glare of his injury, like staring at the sun.

“That is awesome,” said Baz, taking a closer look. “Absolutely glorious.”

We offered what little assistance we could as we passed the time with sleeping (Baz) and writing (myself) and watching a movie (me again as Baz was still asleep) and more writing. When Baz woke up the TV was playing Spiderman but the captain had other plans. The international badminton championships were being held in China and apparently, Indonesia had some rank on the world scene.

We watched the mixed doubles finals, Indonesia against China which saw the Indonesians take out the championship title at match-point in the third set. If that wasn’t enough, in the men’s doubles final, Indonesia showed Denmark (Denmark?) how it’s done while in the men’s single final, China demolished Malaysia who pulled out late in the third set due to an injury.

The barge was in high spirits.

As night fell, Baz asked the captain for permission to let us sleep on the outdoor deck. Permission was granted and we rolled out our camping mattresses and sleeping bags (mattresses courtesy of Baz) and laid down, staring at the impossible starry sky, the Milky Way in its full glory, stretching above us.

“You can only sleep after you see a shooting star,” declared Baz.

Who could sleep with the universe at your doorstep? But the diesel engine of the barge did knock us out quite quickly.

I awoke suddenly to the night-piercing horn that the captain had blared out.

“What the fuck?” I said aloud, shooting to a sitting position. Baz cracked an eye open.

“What’s going on?” he asked sleepily.

There was a lot of action happening around us and as I rubbed my eyes to adjust to my surroundings, I saw the bright, stadium lights of a small town as we approached an island. Over the loudspeakers, orders were being directed to the crew. One of them threw a badly aimed line over to the people on the dock.

It fell short of its target and I watched as the barge overshot the port.

“I think we’re docking,” I commented and remained sitting, watching the commotion. Whoever was now piloting the barge took almost an hour to line it up to the dock. The ramp was dropped but the engineering abilities of the Indonesian people weren’t up to scratch with this kind of vessel and the ramp only went halfway as the dock was too high.

It didn’t stop the locals from loading and unloading cargo and even carrying the scooters over the ramp.

I resumed sleep a little past midnight and awoke (again to the blaring horn) in the morning to see that we had docked all night.

James’ elbow was looking a touch better as he relayed his travel plans on us. “There’s a small village on Flores called Moni that lies beneath a volcano. The craters have become large sulphar lakes.”

Baz and I looked at each other. “Sounds good,” we agreed. “How do we get there?”

“From Larantuka you have to take a 5-hour bus to Maumere which is a large city. From there you have to take another 4-hour bus to Moni.”

Since we were heading in the same direction we grouped together to become travel buddies. We debarked at Larantuka and a caught a bus to Maumere.

“Are we staying the night in Myanmar?” I asked, both gentleman looking at me oddly.

“It’s not Burma, mate,” said Baz as James laughed. “It’s Maumere.”

“Yeah, that place,” I deflected. “Are we staying the night?”

“We’ll have too,” said James. “It’s quite a large town so there’ll be decent food and perhaps internet somewhere.”

All of a sudden we heard a loud bang and the whole bus rattled. It felt like we were dragging a body. The driver pulled over and within 10-minutes he, the scout and the relief driver had changed the tire whose treading had ripped off.

“That spare doesn’t looking any better,” remarked Baz.

I agreed. It’s treading was a little too smooth and would never have passed Australian roadworthy standards. But when in Rome…

We continued driving through mountainous scenic scenes of coconut palms jutting through the thick, green canopy of the hillside jungles.

“Is it much further to Myanmar?” I asked again.

Baz cracked up. “It’s not Burma, bro. Think ‘hail Mary – Mau-mere’.”

It wouldn’t stick. I just couldn’t take on the pronunciation of the city.

“We’re not far,” said James as we rolled on.

Just after 16:00 we pulled into the Myanmar… I mean, Maumere bus terminal where local bus drivers were demanding money from the passengers, as though we had to pay some sort of entry tax. A local was hassling us for 50 cents but on principle we refused to pay.

“Fucking extortion,” I said to the man’s face, not that he could understand. He let us be and our bus dropped us off at the Wini Hotel.

The girls managing the place looked no older than 14.

“I am 19,” said Tootie, a girl who wouldn’t stop smiling and laughing. And although our $7.5 rooms were absolute dumps, the staff of barely legal teens made it worth the while to stay as we laughed and joked with them.

We hit the packed streets for dinner. Maumere made Kalabahi look like a small country town with the amount of vehicles and people on the road.

“Must be the New York of Flores,” I reckoned.

We found a Bakso Baso place and ordered three rounds of the delicious meatball soup. It was James’ first time trying the delicacy and he took to it quite well. The chili sauce on Flores was spicier by about 37 degrees. Something I realised only after I had dolloped a large spoonful of ‘lombo’.

“Jesus,” I sputtered, “I’m gonna feel that in the morning.”

Back at the hotel, Baz had roped in a bus driver who agreed to take us to Moni early next morning for $5 a head.

In the morning we hopped on the bus. The driver, Iman, seemed like a good character. Good enough to change a tire before driving around town for two hours trying to fill the bus up. Then he disappeared and let what appeared to be a 19-year-old kid take over the wheel.

The kid seemed to have aspirations of becoming Indonesia’s first international rally driver as he took the hairpin turns at breakneck speed – with one or two passengers sitting on the roof. He had all of us hanging on to whatever was stationary to keep from flying about the cabin. The music he played at nightclub volume was a mixture of auto-tune pop and auto-tune pop. I had to give Baz earplugs as his 6”4 height put his ear in the speaker.

After an hour I couldn’t take the music anymore and the usual laid back Aussie in me erupted to the typical pissed-off, just lost The Ashes Aussie.

“Oi!” I yelled towards the front from the back bench. The entire bus – 7 adults, 4 kids and 3 chickens – all turned around as I timed the call with the ending of a poppy auto-tuned number. “Can you please turn it down?” I added a mime to it, knowing the driver lacked any English.

He surprised us all by turning off the stereo completely.

“Thank fuck,” Baz said as he took out his earplugs.

P1040074I stared out the window as we raced through dense jungle cliff sides and watery rice paddies. It was a tranquil scene, reminiscent of Vietnam war movies from the 70s. Instead of exploding napalm bombs we had the 4 kids competing for the title of ‘Best Presentation of Breakfast’.

Baz had his money on the 10-year-old boy sitting between us. He saw that the kid was ready to chuck and smartly swapped seats with him, placing him by the window. The kid’s nana had given him some smelling salts which seemed to thwart off the impending outcome.

 

But it was the two toddlers in the row before us that showed us their breakfast all over each other, their mother and my innocent sandals, caught in the crossfire.

The infant up front in James’ row also presented what she had for breakfast – all over her father.

I handed the mother a wad of toilet paper just as the bus pulled into a small town for a lunch break. The restaurant was overpriced so Baz and I stuck to dipping our wafers into the chocolate spread we had bought in Kalabahi.

Continuing onwards with our would-be rally driver, we climbed up the mountain and entered the tiny village of Moni. To our slight disappointment, it was full of westerners. It was Baz and mine’s first touristy location and the prices matched.

We haggled with Allan, a dreadlocked, English speaking local over the rental price of a scooter to go up to Mt Kelimutu (which sounds Japanese if you pronounce it with the accent). He wanted $15 but Baz shoved $12 into his hand and with a reluctant smile, Allan took James on his bike and lead us up the mountain.

As we climbed higher through the Jurrasic-like rainforest, it became colder. Baz expertly handled the hairpin turns as I took photos of the landscape, the jungle going on through valleys and over mountains before reaching the sea far off in the distance. Great white cotton ball clouds were rolling in beneath us.

You know you’re high up when you’re looking down on the clouds.

We rode through remote villages and stopped to admire the immaculate rice paddy fields that seemed to be all the rage in Flores.

“Hide your camera,” suggested Allan. “It’s $5 to have camera on the mountain.”

Thanking him for the tip, Baz placed his Nikon in the seating compartment while I pocketed my Lumix. At the gate to the national park, we paid the $2 entry fee and the 30 cents for taking the bike up.

“Camera?” asked the ranger.

“Nope,” Baz and I said together.

We rode up through the lush forest, overhanging ferns all around among the trees. We parked by the stairs that lead up, “One kilometre,” said Allan.

We trekked up stopping at a crossroads. To the left and right, a 4-wheel drive track lead through the forest. Before us was a rock wall that suspiciously looked like it might be a crater wall.

“Very dangerous to go up this wall,” said Allan. “Almost all tourists go on the car track. But not us.” And he shot up the wall.

I was losing grip with my sandals so I went barefoot and was close behind Allan while Baz huffed and puffed behind me with James taking it easy due to his elbow not far behind him.

“I need to work out more,” Baz said, out of breath.

Allan had reached the top and I clambered over the last rock and stood frozen, jaw-dropped and spellbound.

“Guys!” I said, “you gotta get up here!”P1040077

We were standing on the lip of the crater. Before us was what appeared to be a hundred meter drop into a large, turquoise green lake, not a ripple in sight.

“Allan,” I turned to our guide, “this is amazing.”

He grinned as he pointed to the lake next to the one we were standing above. It had a greyish white layer on top the aqua green.

“Sulphar,” he explained. “Hot water.”

We could see the steam rising from it although there was no distinct smell of the component.

“ECHO!” Baz boomed out, his voice bouncing off the crater walls all around.

“About 5 years ago,” began Allan, “a man and woman come up here. They had argument and jumped. Very sad.”

Baz threw a rock over the crater wall which never hit the water. Allan laughed.

“You will never make it,” he said.

Baz, always up for a challenge, sling-shot his arm back and let fly of the rock he held. We watched it fly out and it seemed that it would hit the water but as it fell below we could hear it land on the rocks.

P1040093We trekked on up the hill, climbing 228 steps to the lookout point that overlooked the Black Lake on the other side of the two craters we had looked over. As we took in the view of the mountains, the jungle and the white fluffy clouds we heard a distant cackle.

“What’s that noise?” I asked aloud.

“Monkeys,” said Allan.

“Monkeys?” I repeated. And before I could question him, forgetting that I was now in a land where monkeys were as abound as kangaroos in Oz, three little makaks greeted us with begging faces for food.

It was the first time that we had been somewhere in nature that was actually clean and free of rubbish. I looked around and noticed the bins lining the pathways every ten or so meters. Unfortunately, the monkeys had taken to human food scraps and rummaging through the bins, they had emptied the rubbish out of them.

It was a Catch 22.

Still, cleaner than any other place in Indonesia.

P1040066We hiked back to the bikes and rode down, cutting the engine to save on fuel. We stopped to take photos of the eternal views and rice fields. Allan took us to a remote village where the locals had set up a bathing area that received natural hot spring water, the men and women bathing separately.

He then took us to a waterfall.

 

 

P1040139“Jesus, Allan,” I said walking behind him, trying to side-step the small mounds of rubbish that was piled everywhere. “You must educate your people to throw rubbish in the bin. This is disgusting. You guys are killing your nature.”

Baz backed me up. Since we didn’t have the time to help out with animals in shelters and couldn’t find any charities to work with, we decided that the best we could do was try and emphasis the importance of recycling and keeping rubbish in the bins. Allan could only agree and we could only hope that maybe he will educate his people.

All through the tour Baz and I explained our way of travelling. “We are broke,” Baz said to Allan. “We travel without money. We stop and work in places to make enough to keep going.”

I convinced Allan into letting us stay with him for the night in exchange for jamming together. James had already booked himself into a homestay where he was kind enough to let us leave our bags for the trip up the mountain.

Back in Moni, local population of 400, we ordered a late lunch. But because it was cooked to order in the home-cooking style of ‘Island Time’, our late lunch turned to dinner after we waited an hour and a half for the food.

“Tonight you play at Bintang Coffee,” Allan booked me in for a gig at the popular bar in the village.

After watching some of James’ amazing underwater films, we headed down at 19:30.DSC_0085

“I am Billy,” the young manager introduced himself. “Billy the Kid.” He pointed out where I could set up just as Allan arrived with a tambourine and a pair of bongo drums. I was surprised when Billy the Kid asked if I could play any Radiohead or REM.

“I know ‘Streetspirit,’” I offered.

“Fade out?” Billy confirmed.

I nodded in surprise as Allan set up beside me with the drums. The bar was full of westerners and I kicked off with my favourite, U2’s, ‘Desire’. There was a group of South African’s so I played a rough rendition of Jesus Rodriguez’s, ‘Sugarman’.

We jammed through the night, swapping the guitar for the bongo drums. Allan was much better than me on the six-string and did an almost perfect cover of The Eagles acoustic version of ‘Hotel California’. He belted out Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’ while I played ‘Jammin’. We had the whole bar singing along.

Baz and Billy the Kid where trying to outdo each other with bar tricks involving cards, origami and toothpicks (not necessarily in that order). We mingled with a French girl working in Java selling cashew nuts, a family from Liverpool and a few locals that plied us with sopi, their local drink. The colour of it resembled Absent and the taste was that of a lemon that had gone off.

By 23:00 we called it a night. Baz had walked up ahead with James while I walked with Allan.

“So we’ll bring our stuff over now?” I asked.

“Actually,” he began, “it’s better you stay with your friend. No good staying with me. I live with my parents and they will not like it.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.

We parted with a hug and I promised to find him on facebook. I explained the situation to Baz and James generously offered us to sleep on the floor of his homestay room. We somehow managed to make space among the luggage on the floor and slept soundly.

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