Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sumba culture

Hey everyone,
First off, Merry Christmas from Bali! I've already mentioned that I'm not really celebrating Christmas, but it's still pretty cool to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt and be glad there is AC on Christmas day, and oh yeah I was walking on the beach and swimming in the tropical water on Christmas Eve!
I'm actually only in Bali for transit. I'm coming from Sumba where Ashley and I traveled. It was a really interesting experience. Ashley and I managed the entire trip where the best English we ran across was a 17year old boy (i.e. our Bahasa Indo is better than we thought!). And not only did we survive, but we really enjoyed ourselves (though there were several times it looked like going to Sumba or doing whatever we had decided on was the wrong choice). We got into Sumba really only having decided that we wanted to stay in the western portion because we had a limited amount of time. We ended up taking a business class style bus to the town we wanted and stumbled into a hotel. That afternoon we toured around a bit on the back of ojecks (motorcycle taxis) led by the LP (lonely planet), Before that however we had found a traditional village, literally a 5 minute walk from our hotel and in the middle of the city. As touristy as this would be in the U.S., it felt legit there, and the people were really nice. We spent at least a n hour sitting and chatting with the people there (largely some of the children, both because they had some English and just because it made it less awkward). That village ended up being a good warmer up for us because throughout the rest of the time on Sumba we spent a lot of time sitting and chatting with people and entering villages; figuring out when to give gifts, what to give, etc is a bit difficult, especially when at least for me, I'm trying not to seem like some big shot westerner coming in and throwing money around. It's impossible not to look like a rich westerner though because there is definitely significant poverty there (maybe I just noticed it more since we were more immersed in it). On that note, I'm not sure I would have wanted to go to a location that was much more remote than Sumba without significantly more preparation, but Sumba was perfect; it felt like we were really getting in and meeting people, but there was enough of an infrastructure that it was still somewhat possible. Coming in the low season but before the rainy season (which was supposedly late this year) was a big help as well. Supposedly the people in Sumba see 'many' bules, but I have a feeling their defn of many maybe a little diff than mine.
Ok this is getting long so I'll just list the highlights:
-an amazing 'drop hole' cave and waterfall that was a former power plant and current washing hole.
-A stunning, deserted, white sand, crystal clear beach
-spending hours just chatting with everyday people
-the stunning traditional houses and huge stone/cement tomb/megaliths
-GORGEOUS sunsets over a sea that continued all the way to Africa (kinda cool!)
-Befriending the local 17year old who came from a pretty big family that had nothing (the father was the seeming breadwinner and he collected coconuts for a living). We took him various places for a little more than a day and he acted as a voluntary guide. Ashley also had the fantastic idea to give a cell phone for a Christmas present. It may seem a little ridiculous, but handphones are hugely popular in Indonesia and the kid really had next to nothing. It was a pretty nice feeling, even if I'm not celebrating Christmas!
-And oh yeah, should also mention we did a village stay! You know, no big deal! What that means is that we spent one night hanging out with some local villagers in their home, slept in their traditional bamboo home (the horses and pig were underneath), chatted with them all evening, ate dinner with them, and then gave in and bought some Oleh-oleh from them (basically we got a very unique experience, that is about as authentic as you can get without being an anthropologist (ran into one of those, flying from Flores), and they got more money than they would have earned any other way > everyone was happy!).

Ok I guess that's about enough for now!

The take home is that I'm safe, sound, and having an amazing time!

Happy holidays to all

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What a fantastic weekend!

Here’s as brief as I can reasonably make it, recount of my Thanksgiving weekend:
Of course the travels weren’t as smooth as expected but I spent the night with Jimmy and got to the airport in plenty of time the next morning.
The night I stayed I got a nice big free dinner with Thin Thin (Jimmy’s friend) for her Bday: Chinese food, best fried rice in a long time, pork ribs, crab, and more! The following morning I also went to Jimmy’s school; he works in a cave (though the mati lampu didn’t help), but the school’s not SO bad. The students seemed kinda rowdy, but nothing too out of the ordinary here.
No issues on plane, got in, got the bag and went to bus station to wait for Kerry, hassle-ers backed off when I spoke Indo (I was pleased with my Indo throughout trip asI spent quite a bit of tiem chatting people up).
After hanging with Dani and Erica at Dani’s school (once we found her, her phone had been on silent) we went to Cassie’s mansion: she has a homestay with a really nice older woman whose son must be LOADED.
From there a group of us including Mike and Cassie and another Fulbrighter (a judicial reform researcher, named Bill) went to a giant nearby mall and to a Western grocer with tons of foods I hadn’t seen in months and then to an Italian restaurant (OMG! Lasagna!) and then out until 2-3 am at two clubs: I see why there are so many ex-pats here. This was the first time I got to live like that, and while it seems completely different from what I’ve been doing, and frankly out of touch with the general reality of Indo, it was/is a ton of fun!
Up early the next morning eventually got Erica and Kerry to go with me to Arab quarter, not too much, just shops, though we should have gone in temple. Did buy some sort of muffin like thing there for B-fast.
We were lost for awhile, but eventually got to Chinese quarter after some random woman insisted that we take a becok she payed for. The temple there was really nice and some guy served as a bit of free (well we didn’t pay him anyway, because we didn’t ask for him either) tour guide. Kerry started feeling crappy but bounced back so we walked to the ‘red bridge’ (some significance that escaped me) and then to McD’s (it was an Ex-Pat day!) before returning to Cassie’s.
Chilled/napped until Thanksgiving dinner which was FANTASTIC! It was held in the home of the consulate general; I met an artist there who was here on an independent Fulbright and had an interesting conversation with her about the view of artists here (male artists are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want, including sexually). Also finally had some wine again (not supposed to since I had just finished the meds that morning, but whatever!). Great company, mostly ETAs there, but some other folks, we went around the room and people said what they were thankful for. It was kind of corny, but really made for a nice feeling too, I was surprised at how heartwarming it all felt. And the food was delicious, as V said ‘Hunger is the best spice’. It was also really nice to catch up with so many people. It made me realize just how different my placement is; Java is really nice, it is much more city or more city-like setting and that changes everything. That’s not to say it’s all city, just that the city’s are much closer and more developed including public transport. I still like my posting, but to be honest a more city/rural combo would be nice. Part of it is on me that I’m not getting out of the Pesantren enough though.
I wanted to leave earlier Friday morning, but b/c we didn’t, we saw a goat slaughter and also met the owner of the house. Idul Adha, which is what the slaughtering was for, is surprisingly similar to Thanksgiving: relaxing with family, eating a lot, reflecting on what’s good, donation of food to the poor, etc.
Ashley, V, Dani and I got to bus station and had to take a bus to Jemper which meant we were on a bus to the wrong town and had no place to stay (we tried to call several times to no avail). Once in Jemper we took an angkot, then another angkot (following some friendly people) which got 22 people, 3 big bags and a regular backpack stuffed into it! There was also the crappy driver who was always stopping to recruit more riders and almost left the little boy who was peeing behind. We hopped out in Bondowoso after seeing a sign for a hotel, and walked to the hotel, but found it to be a little more expensive and fancy than we wanted. They rec’d another spot not far away that proved to be really helpful. Michael, the son-in-law of the owner of the cheaper hotel, was fresh from LA with his wife and 2.5month old son and was eager to be helpful; we didn’t end up using their car (though they gave a fantastic deal, just like they did with dinner) as Dani had a friend of a friend through CouchSurfing who was able to give us an even better deal.
We didn’t really sleep as we woke up at 130am to go to Kawah Ijen and the road was too rough to sleep. The night sky was gorgeous! We arrived after going through 3 registrations and paying the post fee itself; since it was getting light, V and I took off to try to get up to the top for sunrise. As it turned out you can’t see the sunrise at the top b/c of another peak, but we did get some nice pics of clouds being lit up. I didn’t go so fast as not to notice and appreciate the ridiculously heavy sulfur baskets on the backs of these little Indonesian men. Each basket ways around 70-100kgs and these guys pack them down on their backs down some pretty steep trails (my knees hurt enough to need Ibuprofen and that was just with my backpack!)
When we got there (took me 55mins to do the 3.2 km) the visibility was almost nonexistent through the sulfur steam, but we got to watch as it burned off and I hiked above on the rim so I saw the sun pour into the crater. The color of the lake is a stunning opaque turquoise and the nice blue of the sky and the yellow of the sulfur all combine to make a beautiful scene. The sulfur also has the effect of letting out noxious fumes that do significant damage to the lungs of the men down there harvesting the sulfur shortly after it hardens (it’s liquid due to the volcanic pressure and heat); apparently the men get paid relatively well, but their life expectancy is significantly shortened. Ashley and Dani went below to the sulfur section; which was good teamwork because we got pictures from all the spots that way! The sulfur also made some places look like a scorched earth and gave grey coatings elsewhere.
All of us were able to get caught up and walked down together after almost missing each other. Our guide, Yoyo, drove us to a nice waterfall along the way (green water from the volcanic action) and then to one of the coffee plantations/home-stay (Catimore). I was a little disturbed by some of the obvious deforestation around, but it was still attractive, just not primary forest. Driving down into the valley of the plantation was an awesome feeling, felt like I was really entering a remote village; maybe helped by the commune feel in the little mini-city (everyone had a garden, including strawberries). Also, there was cabbage everywhere! Had late b-fast then Yoyo took us to this awesome waterfall in the plantation; the hot water and the cold water mix right before it plunges. We then went on to some ‘caves’ that were really just recesses into the rock walls, but very cool nonetheless; it was a bit of a scramble to the caves on tired legs. All in all: Really awesome!
So late by the time we were done we took off straight for Problingo with a stop in Bondowoso (bought some oleh-oleh: fermented cassava called tape). After a good dinner (Yoyo’s choice), yeah beer, good to be healthy again (!), we dropped Ashley off at the bus and headed up the mountain to Bromo in the dark. Got a great hotel deal (again Yoyo’s choice, the three of us split a spartan room for 104.000Rp with tax, breakfast, a shared HOT shower, and tea when we arrived and in the morning before leaving for Bromo, and Yoyo stayed free), but may have stayed in the drivers quarters. Good deal was tempered by the entrance fee fiasco where we had to pay a separate entrance fee though we believed it was part of the expensive jeep fee (300.000Rp, the company has a monopoly on it and charge fees that are too high for what they provide (basically just a ride), but we ended up getting the majority of that back). Again up early for the drive to Bromo to see an AMAZING sunrise, one of the best I’ve seen. Though as soon as the sun was visible, it hit the haze and the sun itself was no longer pretty, though some of the mountains were; hung out there a long time taking way too many pics. Then down the mountain, actually crater, and down quickly: wow it was steep! Up the stairs to Bromo’s crater, tons of steam pouring out. Bromo last erupted in 2002 with lava that killed 2 tourists, so that was in the back of the mind as I walked all the way around: wow! Little dicey at the very end (one step actually slipped into the crater), but so glad to have done it. I had a moment where I stopped at a point where there was no bank to either side, spread my arms out and realized that I was in Indonesia, standing on an active volcano! What a life I lead!
Back down, negotiated a horse for V, her first ever. During the drive back I was stunned by the steepness; how the hell do they ever farm that? I’ve never seen anything that steep inhabited, not even close.
Had to argue for a while about the money, but got it sorted out, got a little food then headed down, ate lunch, and took a bus back to Sura (AC again severely lacking). Back to Dani’s where we eventually had an expensive Mid East dinner (good tho) fell asleep watching 2012, slept in a wiasa that Dani’s school paid-for for me. Getting there was interesting because the movie took until 1230am so I was walking down kinda dark streets not really knowing where I was going. Fun! The place was nothing special, but it did have English cable TV which provided me with live American Football in the morning! It also allowed me to finally get a full night’s rest. When I woke up, I went back to Dani’s school for two classes. I was impressed with the school and the kid’s ability. Still not a whole lot of class room management by the look of it though (exact same as everywhere in Indonesia, just a culturally different thing). After that, there was a free lunch in school, then Dani konked while I played with pics and email for a few hours.
Later than we should have, we got moving and went to this fair grounds type place after stopping by the grocer and picking up some good beer, crunchy veggies (pea pods), and cheese: all things I had missed terribly! Hung out at the temple eating and drinking and lots of talking. Taxi’d back (damn I dropped a lot on taxis this weekend) to the mall, got a very belated B-day gift for Daya then booked it to the airport, I of course had plenty of time, but Imran still had me scared. Flight delayed after we boarded: the power cut out when I was 3 seats away from sitting down. We stayed on for a while then got off slept in the terminal for awhile and eventually took another plane; Merpati seems ok though the appearance of some places isn’t the best (hopefully they concentrate on maintaining the important parts!) After arriving in Makassar I slept in the airport a bit, and eventually caught up with the driver Daya had set up for me, after talking on phone with him (again my Indonesian is doing pretty well, though I need to continue to improve my vocab (which I haven’t done since returning, too tired to be motivated)). I couldn’t stay awake on drive back, but got in around 830 and was greeted by Mom’s package!
Wow what a weekend! It felt so good to be a traveler again, and catching up with everyone was really nice, though it made me wish I wasn’t quite so remote. But that won’t matter too much soon. I’m planning some more traveling which is keeping me very busy along with finishing up the semester here. Testing begins the 14th of Dec.
Ok that’s a lot, but as short as I could make it.
Here are some of the Facebook pics, no comments yet and I'm still in the process of adding them, but at least you can see some of the amazing sights: