Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quiet day. I have spent so much time in buses, hurrying from one place to the next, that I thought a rest day was in order. I went to the beach, and walked for several hours through rice fields and little villages. They have lots of roadside shrines, mostly consisting of a little empty throne and some offerings of fruit. Bali is nominally Hindu, but there are a lot of animistic gods and sprits to appease as well. I didn't ask if they did some controlled studies to verify whether the fruit voodoo works or is just a waste of fruit. Finally I went back to the hotel and spent the afternoon at the pool. Fragrant Frangipani blossoms float on the water, and the staff brings cool juice. I managed to catch up on reading a little.

Tomorrow I'll be off to some small islands off the coast of Lombok. I'll probably drop off the Internet for a while.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ubud is a town north of Denpasar, close to the center of the island. It's known as an artist's village. I went there by shuttle, motorcycle, and finally a bemo (a minivan with benches in the back) all to myself. Ubud is a quiet village with none of the hustle of Kuta. It's very green and all the houses are low and unassuming. They are all either souvenir shops selling locally made trinkets, or galleries for paintings or wood sculptures, which amounts to the same thing. A few are tourist restaurants but I found an Indonesian one. They have a market too, which is a labyrinth of souvenir stalls. But the town is so nice and pleasant to walk in that I'll forgive it for the rampant souvenir racket.

They have a Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary at the edge of Ubud. True to its name, lots of monkeys sit on trees and on the paths, and some were enjoying themselves by jumping into a small pool to the delight of the tourists. There is a temple as well, and a number of very scenic paths leading to a river through the jungle. Lots of Banyan trees here; they have big bundles of vine-like roots instead of a trunk. The bridge, stones, and the many statues and sculptures in the park are overgrown with moss. The park feels like a Tomb Raider set.

There are trails south of the park that pass through a few villages and rice fields, but the rice fields here look pretty much like the rice fields on Java, so after a couple of hours walking I return to the hotel by motorcycle. The driver doesn't know it and I don't have the address so I navigate him with my GPS receiver.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I have been warned about Kuta. It's a tourist trap gone wild, with big ugly malls and resort hotels, souvenir shops, brand clothes stores, fast food, billboards, and taxi drivers yelling "transport". It's also quite modern and clean. But this is also Bali, and a smile and some friendly words quickly make easy friends. And to escape the hustle of Kuta, I had chosen a guesthouse some distance inland that was very nice, with a shaded pool in a nice garden.

The beach of Kuta stretches from Kuta to the neighboring town of Legian. It's a wide stretch of white sand. There are many sunbathers, surfers and bodysurfers (although the waves aren't high), and food and drink vendors in the shade of the trees at the edge of the beach. I chatted for a while with a surfing instructor; there is much competition but little business at the moment. It's unusually hot,
It's three km climbing a steep dirt path up the forested slopes from the minibus parking lot in Ijem to the top of the crater rim of the Ijen volcano. A stream of workers carrying a pole with a basket full of big sulphur bricks at each end over their shoulders. I talked to Suleiman, going back up with empty baskets; he carries as much as 100kg! I tried a 70kg basket and could barely walk straight, but they go up and down the mountain with this load. Many have big scars on their shoulders.

There is a large green lake of hot acid in the crater of the volcano. Near the surface steam comes from crevices at high pressure, carrying sulphur. The crater wall is yellow there all the way to the top.

I climbed down the extremely steep rocky trail to a place near the bottom of the crater where I could watch the workers. The trail is barely discernible, just a big rock face where the workers carry they 80-100kg loads up. For me it was hard enough doing it without any load. I saw one guy doing it barefoot, and another whose legs were shaking. They get 30 kilorupees per load carried up there and down the volcano, about two euro. They do it two or three times a day. Nobody seems to be over 30.

From my viewpoint I could see workers hacking the condensating sulphur into big bricks that get loaded into the baskets. Sulphur is yellow when cooled, and orange when it's still liquid. The steam is poisonous and cannot be breathed, but they stand right where it comes from the ground; I heard a lot of coughing. Eventually I had to run away from a big cloud coming my way; breathing through a scarf doesn't stop the sulphur.

If you sometimes don't like your job, imagine doing theirs.

The minibus took us to Ketapang harbor, where I caught a ferry. I am now on Bali.
A jeep picked me up at 3:45 to take me to the top of Mt. Penanjakan. The view of the sunrise is fantastic there. Much of the large crater with the Bromo volcano in the middle and its white plume are spread out before us. The bottom of the crater is with a sea of fog from which the volcano and a few other peaks rise. There are maybe 50 other jeeps and vans parked there, and the viewpoint platform is packed with other tourists, who enthusiastically take snapshots of the sunrise with a lightning storm of flashes.

On the way down up I couldn't see much because of the fog and the dust, but the return trip revealed just how steep, deeply rutted, and close to the edge of the cliff the road up Penanjakan is. The jeep trip passes the volcano so I paid it another visit. I didn't have it to myself like the day before though; hundreds of tourists had the same idea and lots of guides with horses were expecting them. A long caravan of tourists trundled up the path to the volcano's crater rim. Because of the fog and dim yellow sun, the scene had a slightly surreal Lawrence of Arabia feel.

Took a minibus to Probolinggo, then another to Ijen, then yet another because the previous one broke down. The distance is small but takes six hours anyway because when the road reaches the mountains, the road is more potholes than asphalt, and big trucks very slowly crawl up the mountain, sometimes two side by side, passing at 5 km/h. Much of East Java is a series of national parks like Bromo and Ijen, which is the easternmost one. There are lots of Arabica coffee plantations on the way. After arrival, I could just barely see a nearby waterfall before sunset at 17:20.