Saturday, 23 August 2008

Day 458 - Sumbawa Besar, Sumbawa

Heading out of Mataram was busy, very busy. There were no useful signposts so I just headed east, so long as the road remained busy I guessed I would be on the right one. It climbed very gently too for about 20km, but only went up to 375m, so easy going with people working in the fields and a view of the mountains behind them, I guess I appreciated it more than they did. I found a nice place for lunch, then at last the road headed back down gently to the coast. Heading north along the coast was a very different road, though technically the same one, few houses, little traffic, all rather nice. As I neared the port a group of vehicles came the other way including a huddle of motorcycles, I guessed that they had just come off the ferry and as it was every 2 hours I upped the pace and made a dash for it averaging about 30kph for the last 2km. I arrived in a sweat, but it had all been wasted effort, the ferry was there, I would be on it, but I still had 30 minutes to spare, but it's just not possible to pottle along when you don't know what time the ferry goes. The crossing was good, this ferry wasn't full, plenty of seating and only 1 1/2 hours, very pleasant. By the time I reached the other side the weather to the north looked threatening and heading this way, I needed to find a hotel quickly. As I made my way to town all that was there was a few rickety houses on stilts (photo), this wasn't hotel country that's for sure, so I had to carry on. It was already obviously different on this island, everybody called out enthusiasticly, it had gone a bit quiet on Java, Bali and Lombok, there were few trees and it all looked rugged. The weather was showing that it wasn't just empty threats as it started to rain heavily. I was going to get very wet very quickly, but I spotted a small warehouse type building and went through the partially opened gates and took shelter. There didn't seem to be anybody there despite the opened doors and lights being on, a bit of a shame as I hoped they might let me stay there for the night, though it was still early. A motorcyclist passed, then returned and joined me. He was drenched, but we got talking. He was Zen, a doctor on his way home from the local hospital. I asked if there were any hotels or homestays around, there weren't, but he offered me a night as his place. though he said he lodged with a family and it was very basic. I followed him back, by the time I reached the house there was near hysteria outside, so I took refuge inside. I don't like having quite that amount of attention. I could keep an eye on my bike by looking through the wall, a thin ageing wicker affair. I was introduced to the family, though there was a language barrier and enough people coming and going to confuse me. Another man arrived, another Zen, it's so much easier when people have the same name that is easy to pronounce. Zen and Zen wanted to take me fishing, I was up for it, though when I went out with my sandals on the girls all laughed and said "You don't need those", so I had a very slow painful walk across the rocky path to the boat. We went out into the bay and I was given a handline with 3 hooks, baited with half a little fish. The water must have been 20m+ deep and very clear. The Zens were soon fishing too and quickly caught fish calling out "Mr John, Mr John", laughing and taking great delight when the caught one, though they were all small. I watched what they were doing and was soon catching fish myself. It took a while to dawn on me that I was looking at dinner....ooh shit, I am not a lover of fish, and these are just too beautiful to eat. I had a great time and after about 2 hours we were packing up though I didn't want to leave. We headed back as the sun was about to go down behind the mountains of Lombok (photo), just fabulous. Once back a crowd soon gathered as we washed ourselves and Mother started to prepare the fish. The shirt I cycle in now smells of sweat and fish, oh lovely. I was being taught Indonesian, but there were just too many people and too many words being thrown at me, it wasn't going to work like that. Dinner was served on the floor by the women, and eaten by the men! The women eat in the kitchen, something that I still find very strange. Sure enough there was plenty of rice and plenty of fish. It seemed that appreciation came in the form of very noisey eating. Each time I ate a fish it was replaced by another two, a sort of feeding of the 5000 only on a slightly smaller scale, the feeding of the cyclist. The women did all the clearing up, a very old tradition, the men go hunting and the women do the cooking. After dinner we talked whilst watching Cambodia loosing at home to Myanmar 4-1 in an empty stadium. Dr Zen got a phone call, he had to go and take somebody's blood pressure, so Zen and I went along with him. I suspect it was just a ploy to get the stranger over for a chat and a closer look. I was interrogated, all very friendly, but I always hate the question "How much has this trip cost you?". By the time we got back it was almost bed time so I asked to go to the loo. As I said it is all very basic, including the loo. Grandma was in the kitchen so I was taken outside, along the path to a heavily shadowed area and told to pee outside somebody elses house. I just hope I don't have different urges later! I took out my mattress much to the fascination of everybody. I slept on the floor and every time I looked around, another person seemed to have come in and be sleeping on the floor. It moves and creaks as you walk over it, I hope it can take all the weight.

The Indonesian day starts early, when it get light, before 6. I was one of the last up and was soon given breakfast of coffee, lovely little bread rolls and rice in banana leaves. Mother and Father were heading to Lombok, the little girl was getting ready for school and Zen was trying to persuade me to stay another day to go up a mountain and then go fishing. I didn't want to outstay my welcome as Mother and Father didn't seem as keen, so I told him I had to move on. He helped me down with my baggage and was amazed at how heavy it was. I eventually set off leaving a crowd behind. As I made my way along the road people were calling out "Good morning Mr John", news of a stranger in town travels fast in these parts. It was a wonderful morning, clear skies, views back to Lombok and the mountains, a quiet road beside the sea, cycling at it's best. Zen had told me the road to Sumbawa Besar would be hilly, but it wasn't, it was easy going. Time and kilometers slipped by without me realising it, though my stomach was keeping an eye on things and telling me I needed a break. The cafe I stopped at played loud music, western music that I recognised, they even played the Carpenters "I'm on Top of the World" and I wanted to hear it again, it's just about how I felt at the time. It made me miss my music, but the music in my head at the moment is from an album of an Indonesian artist that I hear so often, I would like to buy it if I could find it, it will remind me so much of my time here. Once on the road again I turned southeast, straight into a headwind. Take your eyes of the weather for one minute and it plays havoc, so the afternoon was a little tougher. I spotted a man on a motorcycle selling pink frog spawn stuff so I stopped for some, though he sold it in plastic bags with icecream, you just snip the corner off and suck out the contents, wow, fantastic, it added a little power to my legs and I soon forgot about the wind. And so I arrived in Sumbawa Besar, a place that had seemed light years away when I first looked at the map of Indonedia, yet here I am already. Another 3 day then I have an 8 hour ferry crossing to Flores, somewhere I thought I might have to rule out if I was running out of time.

The main reason for this post so soon after the last one is that it is rumoured to be the last place for the internet before Ende, NOOoooo, not "The End", Ende on Flores, about a week plus away, so my dear family wont have to start worring about me. Tomorrow I don't even expect to see a hotel, let alone an internet cafe.

I have put two photos with this post, but the internet even here is so bad it can't display them, but I think they are there. The same applies to other photos I have uploaded to the album.

See you in a week or so, have fun, I know I will be.


The Sloths said...

Hi John

we just caught up with your blog, as fascinating as ever and beautiful pictures!!! I was in Flores years ago and remember it being a lovely place...don't go too fast and don't get eaten by a Komodo dragon!!

We're still in Pakistan, internet access is dire but it's so beautiful up north that we're finding it hard to leave...but Ramadan is coming!!!

Best Wishes
Gayle and John (the Sloths)

Tony said...

Photos present and correct, and the first one is outstandingly impressive. It takes a lot to "outstand" among your pictures.

Just been reading an extract from Paul Theroux's forthcoming volume, a bit about returning to Yangon. Like yours, very enlightening!