Monday, 29 September 2008

Day 495 - Darwin (Australia)

So how about another little story then, we havent had one of those for a long time. A little bit of background information first, a memory test. If you have been reading this blog for a while you may remember that I asked for your prayers for Aoiffe, partially based on the fact that mine are never answered, but the truth is really more the fact that I don't know when they are answered. You may also remember that I met Audrey in Singapore, a Jehovoh's Witness. I spoke to her about praying and she said her prayers were always answered and she told me how she knew, the fact that what she prayed for happened, but I was still none the wiser really, I was still unsure how you could tell if it was an answered prayer or just fate, would it have happened even if you hadn't prayed at all. Anyway, this happened a few days back whilst I was in Kefamenanu in Indonesia. You may also remember that I stayed in a hotel were there was a conference with 230 government workers, well one of the Francesco came back in the evening and we went to the Timor Festival and whilst we were there we went into a makeshift cafe for something to eat. At no point did I say to Francesco that I would pay for his food, but when it came to pay he told me it would be 80,000 Rupiah. I was staggered, in this scruffy little cafe with just an average meal I was being asked to pay more than I had paid for any meal in Indonesia, 40,000 each whereas whilst in Timor I had been paying 10-15,000 for the same type of meal. I assumed there had been a mistake, maybe I had misheard and it should have been 18,000, so that is what I gave them but I was told that it was in fact 80,000. I wanted to know why and asked for an itemised bill, which they produced, apologised and said that it should have been 60,000, which was still way too high. I was still questioning the price when Francesco paid another 50,000 and received 8,000 in change, despite the fact that I had asked him not to pay. As we walked back I tried to decide what had happened, had I been ripped off, had I been conned as Francesco said he knew the people, or was it just a very high price. In reality it was no big deal, it was hardly going to break the bank, but it's the principle of the thing and I wasn't really happy about it and wasn't sure how to resolve it. So I decided to say a quick prayer, I spoke to God and asked for His guidance, though I was somewhat firm and told Him to cut the crap of the subtleties, what I was looking for was the blindingly obvious. Ok, job done, just sit back and wait for a reply, but that same old question arose, how do I recognise a reply? I started to read a book and after a while my mind drifted back to my problem, but now I was sure what I should do. I was certain that I should give Francesco another 12,000, that would pay for my meal, if I was being ripped off or conned, then it would be minimal, if Francesco had been after a free dinner it would teach him a lesson not to expect it, and my conscience was at ease that he was not paying for my dinner. I felt much happier. Come morning I had to nip across the road and buy an enormous packet of biscuits just to get the change that I needed. When Francesco arrived there was a crowd of people around us, so I took him aside and gave him 12,000, his face lit up, he was delighted and I felt good that I had done the right thing. After a photo session I was on my way. Within a few minutes, before I was even out of the town a motorcycle pulled up along side my "Where are you going?" he asked, "Atambua" I replied "Oh, ok" he said and started to pull away, but as he did he turned back and called out "GOD BLESS YOU". Those words really hit me, I shall not forget that moment for it was the second time in less than 10 minutes that somebody had said that to me, nobody had said it to me before or since. Now you can call me a bampot if you like, but I think God was playing a little game with me, he was saying "How was that, was that blindingly obvious enough for you?". At the moment I am reading a book, a novel, a thriller, but a rubbish book. But I did find even in such a rubbish book that there are sometimes some great little quotes, I stumbled on this one "If you limit earthly things, you set your thoughts free for the spiritual". I think that is true, I have done away with most of my worldly goods and something is happening to my spiritual side, may be I am just listening more, or at least able to listen. Amongst the islands of Flores and Timor I have seen alot of poverty, may be their lack of earthly goods is the reason that Christianity remains so strong on the islands. Back home we never make time to think, we are always too busy with those earthly thing, TV, music, computers (he says typing away at one), cars etc, etc.
So Saturday was to be my last full day in Asia. I started it with a breakfast of rice, eggs and that meat I like so much that nobody will tell me what it is so I would guess at either dog or goat, Then I went to Arte Moris, a little gallery that is effectively the National Gallery. It sort of summed up East Timor, crumbling and in desperate need of cash. There were some nice paintings, especially those painted on the woven local fabrics, but they were hanging loosely from wooden screens. I then rode along the coast to the Statue of Jesus, a smaller version of the one in Rio, it stands 27m high, one metre for each province of Indonesia, as it was when it was condtructed. The views were wonderful as was the ride right next to the turquoize sea. You could tell it was the weekend, there were lots of westerners about, I presumed most UN and aid workers, After a ride around town and to a couple of cemetries where more atrocities had taken place I made my way back to the hostel. In the evening we all went to a bar to watch Premiership football. The taxis all stop at 7pm as the drivers wont risk the roberies and muggings, so we had little chance of one at 1am. We flagged one down, but it turned out to be a police pick-up van, so we hopped in the back. I was dropped of at the hostel while the others carried on to another hotel for a party. Once out of the police van I then had to scale a 10ft wall and fence to get back in as the gates were locked, whilst being watched by the security man from next door. Once down Betty arrived with the keys and even though she can't speak English and I can't speak Tetun, I knew from the look on here face that she was saying "Why didn't you call me?".

I was up at 6am, the gates were still locked so I knocked on Betty's door and she unlocked my bike and the gates, I then did something I never normally do and gave her some money. I don't like doing it as it makes people think that all tourists are walking wallets. Betty is tiny, in her early 20's and works so hard, non stop, always busy whilst other workers sit around doing nothing. She never has to be asked to do anything, she is already doing it and she work from about 8am until gone 10pm. So for waking her up I gave her $2, she accepted it and said if a quiet and feeble voice "For me?", "Yes" I said, "Thankyou" she said and took a step forward and gave me a gentle hug. I felt so sorry for her, I feel she is exploited by the Australian owner of the backpackers, she is paid $1.50 a day. I made my way the short distance to Dili airport. At the roundabout at the terminal, there were two exits plus one with a no entry sign, the only way to get to the building was down the road with the no entry sign, I shall miss quirky Asia, chaotic Asia. I really don't like the hassle of flying with a bike. At the terminal they wouldn't let me in "You must dismantle the bike outside, then bring it in", "Are you going to help me in with everything when I have dismantled it then?" I asked, he showed me a badly cut finger and said "Sorry, I can't", I said "but I can't carry it all in myself and if I leave some of it then it is unattended luggage, surely a security threat", they then let me in. At check in everything was weighed, I was more than 20kg over the weight limit "That will be $125 please", "But you have priced it at $5 a kilo, I was told it would be $4", "ok I will do you a discount, $120", well I have never heard of a discount on excess baggage before, but here it seemed to be negotiable so I said "I will give you $100", "It is $120", "No" I said "I will give you $100" and to my surprise he said "Ok then". I was only allowed 3kg hand baggage, but mine weighed about 10, I even put my wash bag in there to save weight on the main baggage. I had to have it checked, he went through my wash bag, took out the beard trimmer, held it in one hand and thumped it into the other like a truncheon, "Very big" he said "No it's not, it's just the right size, it's a beard trimmer" I replied "Too big for flight" he said "Oh I see, well my main baggage has gone, so I can't repack it" I told him, "Too big" he said again "Ok" I replied, took it off him and packed everything away without him saying another word, To be honest a clenched fist would have been a more dangerous weapon, what are they going to do next, cut my hands off? And so to Australia, soon I was pedaling away from the airport and it felt like a different planet, big roads, green watered grass, strange birds, big Ibis like bird wandered on the grass. I was looking forward to being in a English speaking land, I could ask directions and understand the answers. I was heading for Palmerston, but there were no signposts to it, I would ask the way. Oh, hang on, I forgot, it might be English speaking, but it is also a western country, they was nobody anywhere, the only people around whizzed past in cars. At traffic lights I knocked on a window, "Which is the way to Palmerston?". The woman replied "It's that way mate", I had arrived in Australia. I am staying in Palmerston, about 20km from Darwin, but why so far out. Well, whilst I am in Asutralia I had decided to have a go at Couch Surfing, a web based homestay for travelers. Once you have registered you can do a search for people in the area you want to stay in, send them a message, they can have a look at your profile and decided if they want to host you, then off you go. I arrived at Mick's house for my first taster, it didn't take long to discover that Mick isn't you normal Couch Surfer, he is something of a local legend in it. Mick was out shooting, the door was opened by Isa from Finland. She showed me around and we sat on the patio until Christina from Germany returned, then later Irene from Ireland returned with Mick, so with me he is now hosting 4 travelers, the others have all been here a while and have jobs locally, he has hosted as many as 11 in the past. Mick is great, a medic in the army and so trusting, his philosphy is that he can't travel the world at the moment, so he wants the world to come to him. He says to treat the house as my home, I have a room to myself and he only has 3 rules. Firstly, "Don't drink my last beer", but you are welcome to the others. That rule is on the notice board and written in the language of every nationality he has hosted. The second one is "When I am cooking, fuck off", he enjoys his cooking, but apparently doesn't like being hassled at the time, and lastly "No politics", other than that, do as you like.

This morning everybody else had left for work by 8am, I have been on my own for the day. I popped into Palmerston centre and did some food shopping, everything is wow!!! The are big roads, dual carriageways, but so little traffic, there is a shopping mall, I could talk to people and understand what they were saying, there is a big supermarket with things I haven't seen in months such as milk, there are even different types of!! I returned and ate bread and cheese, oh wonderful, the stuff dreams are made of. For the first time since I left home, where I am staying actually feels like home, I could put the washing on, do the washing up, go into another room and write this on the internet, watch the tele or a DVD if I want, yet at the same time time I can talk to Mick and learn about Australia and learn about the road ahead, right now it all feels very strange. I only intended to stay 3-4 days in Darwin, but already I feel so comfortable that I want to stay longer.

And thanks for your congratulations about me arriving in Australia. I know that is the name of the site, but really Sydney is the destination, still a long long way to go. And Dad, I know what you mean about water, but ironically Australia will be the most challenging place for water. Ok I can drink tap water, but I have just got to find a tap. They have them here in Darwin, but when I leave I will be going through the remotest land of the whole trip, in very hot and humid weather, I will set out with 11.5 litres of water, but that isn't much as it might have to last me 2 days, hopefully no more than that. It's going to be tough, I real challenge, but I am really looking forward to it, it's exciting.

Lorna sent me an email and asked me for some fact and figures, hmm, a tricky one. Norwich drew 0-0 with Barnsley last weekend that is a fact. I don't really keep many, but I will try a few.

495 days
307 cycling days
31636 kilometres
26 countries
2 punctures in the last 12 months
5 chains
2 bottom brackets
2 dynamos
3 cassettes (gogy things)
2 front brake cables
2 back brakes cables
2 back tyres
1 front tyre (still on the one I used when I left home)
2 tightened rears spoke, otherwise wheels are untouched
2 set of brake blocks
2 pairs of sandals
Been ill twice, but only once was bad
1 car hit, only lightly
1 car hit me when I was on foot
100's of wonderful people
About 7000 photographs
About 3 good photographs
Lots and lots of fun
4 postcards sent, 4 too many! (I am just too soft)
$1200 stolen
4 items lost
About 10-15 pens used, they seem to runout so quickly, I write too much.
About 5 diaries filled and sent home

Friday, 26 September 2008

Day 492 - Second post from Dili

I left the hostel in Dili, having searched for somebody to let me out, and went on another search, this time for breakfast. Everywhere was shut, so I had to do will a few little rolls that I found at a kiosk. I once again timed it well as it was just before an unexpected climb, but the top afforded some nice views. The road ran inland a bit from the coast passing little villages and houses and skirting around mangrove swamps. There was then another good little climb around the rugged coast before entering the town of Manatuto where I was surprised to find a restaurant that actually had some rice and bits and bobs, though I couldn't get any water out of them, so I was even more surprised to get wonderfully cold water at a nearby kiosk. The road suddenly turned deserted, no villages, houses or traffic, the ground was very dry, but still a few trees around. Then I started to pass houses again with little stalls outside, some selling basketware, another selling coral, massive turtle shells and a hub cap! With 30k to go a real wind whipped up, where did that come from? Just for a change it was head on, then another climb arrived, it looked like just a little rise in the ground, but it went on and on, 9km of it, I still can't work out where that hill suddenly came from. At last I dropped down towards Baucau, East Timor's second city. I passed a few market stalls at the roadside and one or two little shops then the roads climbed yet again, I had had enough of it I just wanted to get to Baucau. After about 3km my compass told me I was heading away from the coast, I shouldn't have been, Baucau is on the coast. I asked directions and was told it was another 10km, but I was still heading away from the coast. Thankfully, when I stopped to ask again a girl could speak good English and told me I had gone too far, at least it was down hill on the way back. I was amazed to find that the centre of town was where I had seen the market stalls. I found a guest house and there on the balcony when I arrived were Philip, Brendan and Andy who had been at the same hostel as me in Dili. We had dinner together but as they had been here the previous night they knew there was nowhere to have a drink, yes, the second city and no even a bar, well, there was one, but only for the UN. We chatted away through the evening. Philip and Brendan are Irish and Liverpool supporters, I was amazed at their knowledge of the Premier League.

The following morning we had breakfast together before the other departed and headed back to Dili. In the afternoon I made my way downhill for 6km to the beach. Whilst there a lad came up to me and asked "Are you Irish?", so I can guess who was here yesterday. Baucau wasn't the most exciting of places, like everywhere else it is a bit run down, building look derelict, some of them are. There are a few old colonial Portuguese buildings, the old market place (photo) would once been the centre of a bustling community. East Timor is a struggling nation, it's been an uphill battle since it's independence in 2002, but the end of the hard times are not in sight yet. So what has gone wrong. Well, until 1998 the place was governed by Indonesia, then with a change of power they were offered a referendum in 1999, much to the annoyance of the military. The vote went 78% in favour of independence, the military had to withdraw but in doing so destroyed the place killing over 150,000 people in the process. Then the UN moved in and it has survived off aid ever since. If what I have heard is true some of that aid is misguided, for example the Americans donate rice as part of their aid funding, that meant that there was no more need to grow rice in East Timor, putting local farming communities out of work, rice paddies now lie dry and barren. Nothing is really produced here anymore, other than coffee that grows at the roadside in abundance. Aid should really be provided to educate and bring back the farming giving the people a chance to be self sufficient otherwise there will never be an end in sight. The UN are here in numbers, charities such as Oxfam and the World Food Programme are also in evidence, but it is an uphill struggle. Their is very little construction, roads are not being maintained and are falling apart. The Chinese are funding the building of government offices, even Bangladesh fund the security at Baucau airport, that surely says how bad things must be here, it's going to be a long uphill struggle, hopefully one that is worth it for the people here.

Yesterday I made the return trip along a road described as "...a stunning road with 'oh' inducing beaches around every bend...". Hmm, that wouldn't have been my description, sure it was nice and a good 10km of it was right beside the coast, no more than 10km though, there were even a couple of lovely beaches, but there were certainly more than two bends in the road. Who ever wrote that must surely have fallen asleep on a bus for most of the journey. Near Manatuto I stopped to take a photo, I was soon surrounded by kids so took one of them as well, then showed it to them. They all ran off leaping for joy, arms in the air, shreeking with delight as if East Timor had just scored the winning goal in a World Cup Final, it was a joy so see. For once I knew exactly what was in store on the road ahead so I knew to expect 1000m+ over 125km despite being told it was basically a flat 110km, but that wind whipped up again and for a change I loved it as I was pushed along. I arrived back in Dili at around 5pm and once again checked into the Backpackers and met up with Philip and Brendan again, Andy had moved on. A group from the backpackers were heading for a nightclub and asked if I was going, but what would an old fart like me be doing in a night club? Besides, after a hot hard ride I would have fallen asleep after one drink.

This morning I made another visit to the Australian Embassy, they wanted to see ID so I gave them my driving license. It hasn't really stood thew test of time and I felt a little embarrassed as they carefully tried to open it only for it to fall into about 10 pieces. They gave it all back to me and asked to see ID with a photo before I could go in, a bit of a problem as they were already holding the only ID that fitted that criteria. At last I got in, and what's more I had a visa, a multiple entry visa too that allows 6 months from the start of each visit, no x-rays, no medicals, nothing. I went back to gloat to Brendan who is having no end of trouble getting his visa, but he was still sleeping off the effects of last night. Then I went to book a flight and typically the one I wanted was $100 more than any other, so I have moved it forward a day to Sunday. I insisted on them stating that I would have a bicycle as I am only expecting a very small plane and don't want to be turned away. "How would you like to pay?" they asked, "Visa" I said "Oh, you need to pay a week in advance if you pay by credit card", "So what other methods of payment are there?", "You will have to pay by cash". So what was the point of asking me? Before I handed over my hard earned I asked to see where they had stated about the bike "We can't do that, just turn up at the airport", but before I paid I made sure that I could at least see on their computer that they had mentioned it, but I expect that was deleted as soon as I left.

So Sunday at 11:45 I will be in Darwin, Australia.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Day 488 Dili - (East Timor)

I had breakfast in Kupang before setting off, but I was amazed at the amount of good places to eat that I passed on the way out. Kupang is pretty big so it was a while before I was in rural scenery again. Timor was instantly different to Flores, not such dramatic scenery and described as being like Australian outback. There was none of the bamboo that was so prolific in Flores, so house construction and material was all very different. Strangely their response to me calling "Hello" was different too, I received back a very laid back "Yeeeaaah". I expected a lot more climbing to Soe and I wasn't to be disappointed, the last climb was with about 20km to go. I needed refueling so stopped for the only food that I could find, fried bananas, though it wasn't enough and I needed to stop again soon after, but I only had about 10km to go, all uphill mind, I didn't want to stop so stupidly carried on, it made the last few k so much tougher. I checked into another hotel hosting another conference, then before I unloaded my bike felt weak and wobbly and had to lie down quickly. I got up a few minutes later and still felt as though I was about to faint so I shoved some biscuits down me and after a few minutes all was well again. I knew I needed them earlier, I am so stupid at times. During the night I woke up, my left leg felt very odd, I could feel the muscles is the shin tightening, slowly becoming more and more painful until I really wasn't enjoying myself very much at all. It felt like cramp so I stretched my leg out, it just made it worse, my foot became locked and any attempt to move it was agony, all I could do was lie there and take the pain, but after about 10 minutes is started to subside, gradually returning to normal. Very strange, it must have been cramp but I have never had it in the shin muscles before and never had it come and go so slowly before.

I bought some doughnuts as I was heading out of Soe in the morning, but I was looking for a decent breakfast, but unlike yesterday there was nothing so I stopped to eat the doughnuts. One of them contained fish, not something I would ever have thought of putting in one, but they do things differently here, hopefully I can avoid them in the future, they are not really recommended. On the map todays ride looked much longer than yesterday, but it was about 25k shorter, less zig zagging up the hills I guess. I found yet another hotel with a conference, this time in Kefamananu with government workers, but from all sectors, teachers, road workers the lot. I decided to have a chat, it was really easy, all I had to do was pull up a chair right outside my door on the ground floor, within a minute or so I had about 15 around me, questions being fired from all direction. It didn't seem to be much of a conference, they were all in sports wear and the only organised things they did was some synchronised exercises and they only seemed optional, everybody else sat around in groups and talked. Franceso spoke the best English and translated for the others, Maria spoke some English too, then Arreta, an English teacher arrived, but she spoke very little English, a bit of a problem I would have thought. Maria asked "Are you married?", "No, I'm not I replied "Will you marry an Indonesian?", "I doubt it" was my reply which was met with laughter all around. "Why not?" Maria asked, "I only have 2 days left, I will have to be a bit quick. Will you marry me?" I asked "But I have a husband, a 5 month old baby and I am happy" she said in a very sad voice, I think she was taking me a bit too seriously. Then somebody took a photo with a mobile phone camera, that started a rush as everybody wanted their photo with me. Then I took a photo of them, they were desperate to be in the photo and when I had taken it they let out a big cheer. After a closing speach and prayers they left at about 6pm and filed past me to shake my hand, there were 230 of them but thankfully they weren't all willing to wait in a queue. Franceso returned at 7pm and took me to the Timor Festival, a group of stands in a square, each a different company with lots of hierachy charts, graphs and words that I couldn't understand. There was a big stage in the middle and as they were about to play some music I was marched off by Franceso to have some food at one of the makeshift cafes.

At 7am they were all back again, this time is uniforms, another photo session started as they had brought their cameras in. I at last I got away, another day of less distance than expected, but a hot day and I didn't see a single place of route to buy an food, I had to survive on biscuits. I passed by little hamlets of little wooden houses with beehive shaped thatched storage rooms beside them. I stopped at one for a photo and was shown around. I then arrived at Atambua and wasted an hour cycling around town looking for somewhere reasonable to stay.

I lay in bed the following morning knowing I had an easy day ahead of me, a run down to the coast, cross the border to East Timor, then a flatish run to Maubara. You dipstick John! Why or why do I keep thinking that? It was tricky getting out of town, I kept stopping to ask for directions, I was now on a narrow rough old road, but I saw small buses going the other way so I guessed I was on the right road. I could see hills ahead, I couldn't see an easy way through, the road climbed steeply, this wasn't the plan. It got tougher and rougher, but what goes up must come down, it did, very quickly, very steeply, the near the bottom it turned to gravel, I was heading for a very steep, sharp bend, the brakes were full on but I was struggling with control over the rough ground, then as I went around the corner it turned to sand, the front wheel went straight on, that meant the rest of the bike and I followed it, we all left the road, I tried hard to stop at the same time as trying even harder to stay upright whilst also trying to avoid the trees, this could only end in fall, I just waited for it to happen. But somehow I enceremoniously managed to bring the bike to a halt, I looked and felt a right pillock as a bus came slowly past. Getting the bike back on the road was just as tough, but at least I was in control, in was then down gently over gravel to the border. Interestingly enough I had a recurring dream that I haven't had for ages, it always involves reversing in a car then losing control as the brakes don't work, but always ends up without any damage. This time it was very different, I was reversing into a garage, then when I applied the brakes nothing happened, I went straight through the garage wall as well as somebody elses. It's a dream about not being in control, I certainly wasn't in control around that bend. At the border the signpost showed 2 ways to Atambua, I bet I had come on the worst road! At customs they wanted to go through my baggage but lost interest when I piled 7 bags in front of them. Here I met a couple of NGOs from America, Sheldon and Erik. We stopped and chatted for about an hour, they were from the far end of the island and had come all the way across to renew their visas. They were here to teach English but also taught religion as well. They offered me a lift to Dili, I would have loved to have talked to them for longer, but lifts aren't for me. Before we left they prayed for me, for our friendship and for Aoiffe who I had told them about. I would have loved to have visited them where they worked, but it would be too tricky to get to. So I set off into East Timor, flat along the coast to start with then more steep climbs and descents along the rugged coast. I reached Maubara where I expected to find a town and guest house, but it was just a small village with one little kiosk and nowhere to stay. It was another 50km to Dili, but I decided to find somwhere to camp so bought a tin of sardines, a big tin, the biggest tin, a cyclist's tin, I don't even like them but there was nothing else. I found a spot away from the road to camp, right beside the beach. It was deserted, I even went in for a skinny dip, bliss. I prepared dinner, I opened the tin of sardines to find it was a tin of 'sardine', the rest was water, I suspect the thing had been alive when it went in there. Still, who cares, the stars were clear and ir was just magical. As I sat there gazing I had a visit from a large goat size animal but couldn't work out what it was in the dark.

Come morning I discovered what it was as I was paid visits from boars. I had a leisurely start but was already dripping sweat everywhere as I packed the tent away. Heading for Dili was on a nice road, in and out around the bays, then into Dili itself all of a sudden there was traffic, lots of traffic and an alarming amount of UN vehicles. I checked in at the East Timor Backpackers, set up and run by Henry an Aussie, a very sociable place but to be honest a bit of a dump. I met Andrew another Aussie who has traveled home overland but has been trying for an age to get a boat for Darwin but has now given up and booked a flight. At least that saves me the effort of searching.

Today has been a visa run for me too, to the Aussie Embassy, a massive book of a form to fill in, then I was told I needed a bank statement. So off I went to the internet cafe to find the banking site down. Later it was back up and I made it with 20 minutes to spare. They told me to come back on Friday, but I will be amazed if it is as easy as that, others I have spoken to have been asked to take a medical or have a chest x-ray.

So with 3 days to spare I think I will head off to Bacau tomorrow, the coastal road is supposed to be stunning. I will return the same way so see it from both directions, then it's just a case of getting the visa, getting a flight, then I will be in Darwin.....easy!

So what do I know about East Timor and what can I tell you? Not alot really, it's small, only half an island, no surprise there. When I left home it was the world's newest nation, created in 2002 but that might have been passed now by Kosovo. It's FIFA lowest ranking world football nation, even I would get in the team. It's pretty low on the wealth league too, the 7th poorest nation. The women here apparently have 7.9 kids, that a heck of alot and 50% of the population is under 15. They import all their chickens from Brazil and eggs from Malaysia. They use the US$ for their currency and have their own coins, but they do have a nice flag. Hmmm......that's not much really is it? Hopefully I will be able to tell you ab it more by Friday.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Day 481 - Kupang (West Timor)

Thursday was a good day, I got my passport back with an extra months extension on the visa and it was Teresa's birthday and I was invited to her beach barbecue in the evening. She even arranged for me to be taken over there by car at 6pm, though at 6:30 Benny, who would also be in the car said "I think I will have a shower" and off he went. At last we set off at 19:15, it felt very strange being in a car, I worked it out to be the first time in just over 6 months. There were still another three stops to make before we had traveled the 7km to Gading Beach. Once there I was given a very welcome cold beer and introduced to everybody, all Indonesian apart from Jo from the Philipines, most of them were sat around playing music on guitars and drums and singing, some of them were very good. Fish and bananas had already been barbecued, the bananas were not a sweet variety, were solid and tasted strange to me, but the fish was absolutely delicious, and that's not something you will hear me say very often. The arak started to flow, each time the glass was passed to me I did as was polite, downed it in one and passed the glass back. A bottle of rum also appeared and started doing the rounds. Cake was cut and passed around, I was offered a second piece, but for the first time in my life I preferred fish to cake, so had some more of that, just wonderful, I couldn't stop myself picking at it. After a while I stood up , or at least tried to. My intended destination was the wall all of 5 paces away which I wanted to sit on, but my legs had a mind of their own, they didn't want to go to the wall. I should make that a little clearer, they had 'minds' of their own as they were working independently of each other and wanting to go in different directions, it all resulted in me returning rather quickly to the sand. Still, I was going to give up easily, I tried again this time knowing what to expect, however the result was pretty much the same, I was back on the sand. It was third time lucky, arms outstretched in a desperate lunge for the wall. Having got there I decided it was probably wise to stay there. It was all very strange, fish has never done that to me before. But I could feel things getting worse, the fish was working its way up to my head, it was taking control of my mouth as well as my legs, when I spoke it sounded very strange and as with the walking generally took more than one attempt to say anything. When it came to going home Teddy was asleep on a bench, a wise move to let him sleep it off, but he was awoken and even managed to head back into town on his motorbike.
I woke at around 8 the following morning. Even lying in bed I could tell that my legs were still not going to be fully functional. I went to have breakfast, very carefully as there was no sand to fall on to. Of all those that saw me last night not a single person said "Good morning" they just laughed instead. I did a few odd jobs, washing etc and by 1pm when I ventured out to lunch I was almost back to normal. Teddy and the others had carried on last night at a karioke bar, thankfully I didn't go, they wouldn't have liked my singing. I returned to the hotel at around 5pm. I bought some fried things on the way back, veggy somethings and bananas. That was a bad move, I was soon surrounded by kids screaming at the tops of their voices, "I am hungry, I am hungry". When I got back Teresa was there, she had tried to phone me 3 times and sent a text message, I hadn't heard a thing. On a Friday evening she hosts an English speaking phone in chat show on the local radio and she asked me to be her guest and talk about my trip. Is there nothing that Teresa will not turn her hand to to help the people on Flores? She is heavily involved in a number of activities here, and ok she has a good time and social life, but most of her time is spent helping people, all I do is get up in the morning, get on my bike, then get off the thing in the evening when it stops, she rather puts me to shame. So for an hour in the evening I joined her at the radio station (photo, with Martin, the technician), Radio Sonia, and people rang in for a quick chat. Strangely I wasn't a bit nervous, but did have a little trouble hearing the questions, probably due to the accent. The questions were pretty easy to answer though, mainly about my time in Indonesia, what I thought about Indonesia and Flores and what I liked best etc. The one hour passed very quickly and I was sorry it was over. Teresa gave me a lift back to the hotel and was soon on her way. Despite her hectic lifestyle she has been a good host for the week I have been here and given me an insight into the work she does and local lifestyles. Thanks Teresa, I wish you well for the next two years in Flores.

So the following day the wheels were turning again at last, it felt good to be on the move again, to have people waving and calling out again. It was to be a short day, I had two days to get to Laratuka before the ferry left, so I made the most of it and stayed at the beach hut hotel that was furthest from Maumere, all of 30k! It was a bit more expensive than I had expected, but the food was thrown in as well, no not literally. In fact the food was the hightlight, cooked by the man owner and it was just great, by far the best I have had in Indonesia and so well presented, plentiful too, enough even for a cyclist, albeit one that hasn't cycled much recently. The huts were right beside the sea and the shower and loo were in a little roofless courtyard, it was wonderful having a shower in the open air. Whilst I was there I met Peter from Bournemouth and his sister Viv, Peter is another of the VSO's in Maumere so works with Teresa, so I have now met 3 of the 4 VOs's here.

The ride to Larantuka was fabulous, flat and by the sea for a while, then through the mountains to come out face to face with yet another volcano, then back down to the sea which was a vibrant blue. Another climb of a few kilometers and with 24km to go there was Laratuka in front of me, across the bay and at the base of yet another volcano (photo), they have a few to spare here. On the way in I passed the port for the ferry so I stopped to check and was soon surrounded by kids. I asked them if the ferry left from here to Kupang and they all just burst out laughing, I took that as a yes. I checked into the last room available at the basic but homely hotel where I was asked by some people (I am not sure if they were male or female) if I would like a massage, I declined. I asked at the hotel for the time of the ferry and was told 11:30. Walking about in the evening I got talking to Abdul. "Are you married?" he asked "No" I replied, which as usual resulted in laughter. If you are old as I am and not married they assume there must be something young with you, may be they have a point there. "Are you married?" I asked, "No, but I have lots of boyfriends, I am gay". He worked at the hotel I am staying in so we walked back together, he told me the ferry left at 13:00, hmm. He spent the evening doing massages, I was beginning to get the hang of how things worked here.

After breakfast I went for a second breakfast, I didn't need it this time, it's just that I had some time to kill. It was all of 5km to the ferry, I bought a ticket and was soon on at just past 11am. I was one of the last vehicles and I sensed other people knew the ropes as mats and bedding were already being laid out on the car deck, soon my bike was surrounded by bedding. I met a guy who I had seen on the ferry when I arrived at Flores, he was a cyclist too, a 3 wheeler. He is handicapped and powers his bike with his arms, though I discovered there is also a little motor underneath, but even so, what a guy, hats off to him. I went upstairs, it was only a small ferry with about 7 lorries on, so the seated area was packed, already people were asleep on and in front of the chairs, it was going to be a long journey. The whole area was covered but with open sides. I found a little staircase that led up to an open deck, there was nobody there at all, but I had made a mistake, I shouldn't have been then as when a crew member arrived he asked what I was doing. He didn't tell me to leave, so I didn't, then the cooks arrived and I was made most welcome. I had a large deck area and a bench to myself and I could help myself to as much sunshine and fresh air as I liked. We sent off at 2pm, then the cooks set to work, out came massive woks placed on a single burner with an oil drum to protect it from the wind. They were preparing the packaged meals for the passengers, first a mountain of rice, then about 100 eggs were boiled followed by noodles and rice crackers. I was invited to join the crew and eat their food which was much better, I even had a sweet soupy type thing that was delicious, so delicious I had a second helping. When the sun went down I went inside and watched a couple playing chess, they were fast, each game lasting no more than 15 minutes. I fell asleep on a mat whilst they played and that is where I spent the night, very comfortable too.

We arrived at Kupang at 05:30, or at least near to Kupang as it was a 9k ride into the town, a hilly 9km! Even though I had a reasonable amount of sleep I still decided to hang around for the day. I struggled to find breakfast at that hour, but really didn't want to check into a hotel so early. It was too hot for walking around so I made for internet cafe, so here I am, the FIFTH time I have been here today as every time I get a bit done they have a power cut, I am not best pleased.

So what did I make of Flores. Well, my opinion is the same as for Indonesia as a whole, the longer I stayed there the more I liked it, and it's turned out tops, really beautiful, nice people and after that first hideous climb the rest have been ok, I even enjoyed them. To be honest I am a bit sorry to leave, as each time I head for a different island it is almost like entering a new country. And how has the biggest Muslim country been through Ramadan? Fantastic, I reached the Christian islands just in time!

And lastly before we hit another power cut a brief not on Aoiffe. She had a bad spell a week or two back and had to return to hospital for about 5 days, but that is not uncommon with bone marrow transplant patients, but on the whole the doctors are very pleased with her progress. She is building up strength and even read this blog by herself rather than having to rely on others reading it, and she even has the strength to reply to me texts. Welcome back.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Day 472 - Maumere

Breakfast was taken at the hotel with a lovely view over the harbour. I spotted a map of Flores on the wall with a distant chart. My aim for the day was to get to Ruteng, but the chart indicated that it was 137km, I knew instantly that I wasn't going to get that far, not through the mountains, no rush then. So with that in mind I dropped back down the hill to the main drag and had another breakfast, a proper breakfast, one that would at least get me beyond the first hill. The first hill arrived after oooh....150m, and continued for 2km, then it rolled along for 10km for before starting a stinker of a climb, it was horrible in the extreme, steep, twisty and at times with a very rough surface. I had heard Flores was tough going, but if was all going to be like this all the way it was not going to be enjoyable, it would also be very slow. With my heavy bike I needed to stop every now and again to get my breathe back, I might need it later. It seemed to go on forever and what's more there wasn't even a view to look at. I stopped for some bananas, the only food I had seen in ages. They was in a tiny hut with a woman inside and 2 lads on the outside telling her how much to charge me, 5,000 for 3 bananas but I eventually agreed on 2,000. The same happened when I asked for a coffee so I just said not to bother, so we both lost out. At last I reached the top, it was only just over 900m but being so steep it had taken a lot out of me, the descent was a bit kinder, not nearly as steep and a better surface so I made up a bit of time. It was then a bit flatter but every now and then the road would plummet into a gorge, cross the river and climb steeply out. At last I reached a town where there were some places to eat. The first place I went into the food looked terrible so just filled up on water, bottles and stomach, then moved next door. It was around lunchtime and busy with the passing buses that stopped by. I filled my belly, no mean feat, then carried on. It was straight into more climbing, though this time gradual through rice fields, though gradual didn't really matter, I was knackered so was going nowhere fast, and despite a belly full I had no energy. After 8km I stopped again, I knew I needed sugar. I pulled up at another tiny kiosk with a total choice of about 8 items for sale, one of them sweet wafer biscuits, they would have to do. Despite so few items and an easily pronouncable name of Tango, the woman in the kiosk who had been weaving, still ran off to get her husband shouting "tourist, tourist" as she went. I sat on a rock and chomped away again and Mr Kiosk offered me some coffee, so I gratefully accepted, piled the sugar in and it went down a treat. I felt somewhat better after that, though still way off 100%, I timed it right too as it started to get steeper and enter the mountains again. At about 16:30 it started to rain, I slowly ground my way up through a village and picked the best looking house to stop at for a while for shelter, in fact it was the only non bamboo house around, chosen as I thought it would be the best chance of getting some fresh water before I found somewhere to camp for the night. There was nobody at home, so I took shelter anyway, then the next door neighbour, Iffy, brought over some coffee and the man across the road, Darius, supplied the bananas. Everybody that passed was called across and I was introduced to them all. I very soon felt comfortable there and as there was a small flat front garden I asked if they thought the owners might let me camp there and they said they would. Camped there I would feel very safe and comfortable as the villagers would know I was there and keep an eye out for me. I became very aware of the close knit community spirit here in Indonesia, something lost long ago in Europe. Women held children and when I asked them if they were their children I was invariably told, "No, this is the child of so and so over there", everybody seemed totally at home with everybody else, it made for a lovely atmosphere. Darius returned to working on his freshly picked coffee beans, putting them though a large hand operated grinder type thing. I went over to take his bananas back and give a hand, he must have been delighted as everybody else moved over as well and all wanted a go, freeing Darius up to do other tasks. It was getting dark so an oil lamp was lit and I was invited into his house, made purely of bamboo and immaculate. Inside was a small table and 2 wooden chairs, though as everybody else also moved in he brought in some benches from outside. As I was about to bring my bike over to his house the owner arrived, Christina, and I asked if I could camp, but she insisted I came inside and I was given a room to myself, complete with bed. A generator was started up, the only house with electricity in the village and after a good wash down I ate dinner with them on the floor, some family, some outsiders. Honorius, Christina's husband had returned, he is a lorry driver. I was surprised to find that none of them had ever left Flores, they told me the ferry was too expensive, which rather puts things into perspective for me. Flores is a strong Christian island, so men and women are not segregated here. I spent the evening learning a bit of Indonesian and watching music DVDs with them on the tv. They kept saying I looked tired and should sleep, but I said I was ok, until I realised that they would not go to bed until I had.

After breakfast of fried bananas and coffee I was on the road early, the day always starts early in Indonesia, far earlier than I care for. It was still tough going but much easier than the previous day, I still lacked energy though. It was only another 55km to Ruteng so I decided to make it a short day, go in search of anything with sugar in and get myself prepared for the following day. The plan worked well, until I went in search of a hotel. I covered 10km searching around town, they were either full, dumps or way overpriced, I went for the last option rather reluctantly. Once again I timed it well as it tipped down just after I had checked in and I hadn't even seen it coming, though it did nothing to dry the clothes that I had just washed.

There was a little more climbing to do after I departed Ruteng, but I was now feeling my old self again, I reached 1260m before a nice long descent to sea level, though just as I started my front brake made a very strange jerk so I stopped to check and half the strands in the cable had broken. I changed it immediately, I didn't fancy a 30km downhill stretch on the back brake alone. I passed through a small town with good cafes, too good a chance to miss and it was lunchtime so the buses had once again stopped. A guy in his mid 20s sat opposite me and what followed was truly disgusting, but I couldn't drag my eyes away. His food arrived and he gave me a demonstation of speed eating. A fully loaded spoon of rice fairly shot into his mouth, closely followed by a second, though the second resulted in some of the first spoonful dropping out and some of the second spoonful remaining caked around his mouth. Still, there was no need to start chewing yet, there was only rice in there, some fish and vegetable were then squeezed in and then he started to chew, bits oozing out. Before he had swallowed it all the process was repeated, only broken by the process of removing the bones which was done by spitting them on to the table, complete with other debris caught up in the spit. It was revolting, but I have to give it to him, he was fast, no danger of him missing the bus. At the end of it all it was washed down with gulps of water and then his arm cleaned the outside of his mouth. It then made me realise why people watch me so closely when I eat, we just do it very differently to them, that's all. Needless to say that if I was at sea level another climb was to follow, Flores doesn't do flat, nor does it do straight, but I felt so much better than the previous day and I felt so strong on the next climb that when I reached the top I was sorry to be going downhill again. I found a little Losmen at Aimere on the coast, much easier than finding its owners. As I wandered through, the room doors were open, bees were swarming around one room, they seemed to have made a nest in some drawers. I watched the sun go down from the beach, with wonderful volcanoes behind me, though the scene was somewhat ruined when 2 young men arrived who started digging up large crabs and playing "football" with them.

It was Sunday, it's taken pretty seriously here, their only day off on Flores and they go to church. Consequently, when I set of to climb up to Bajawa the road was deserted. It was bliss, no traffic, good weather and even views most of the time I climbed, I even took my shirt off as there was nobody around, it was just wonderful. The climb was long, but a nice gradual gradient, I was enjoying myself immensely. As time went by there was a bit of traffic so when I stopped I was soon joined by a couple on a motorcycle that stopped for a chat. A real problem I have noticed on Flores that didn't seem to be so bad elsewhere is spitting, they do it constantly. Soon I was pretty much surrounded by phlem, it was creeping towards me like a larva flow, I was eating buscuits, the two didn't go together that well. The guys lit up cigarettes, every male seems to smoke in Indonesia, they find it strange that I don't, I now had a joint attack of phlem and smoke so I fought back and asked them to stop spitting. They were very apologetic, "Sorry, sorry, sorry.....sorry.....sorry, sorry" "Ok, ok, you can stop saying sorry now", "Sorry, sorry......sorry". They meant it too, but within minutes another barrage of phlem was around my feet, getting ever closer, they just don't even realise they are doing it. If only we could rid the world of spitting and litter it would be a much cleaner healthier place for all. I decided it was time to move on, before the flow reached me. I stopped at a cafe at the top of the climb. I knew it was downhill from there on, so I relaxed, had lunch and a coffee, followed by another coffee. Ordering the first coffee is easy, it's pronounced the same here though spelt 'kopi'. Ordering a second is always a challenge, it is just not the done thing, usually the request is ignored as they don't understand what I want, it can't possibily be another coffee, then I have to take the glass out and ask again, they usually just look puzzled and say it was coffee, this time they just kept telling me the price, but I eventually got a second cup. I was wrong too, the road didn't go down, there was more upness, but then it was generally down to a lovely little village of Boawae with volcanoes looming nearby, where I found a delightful wisma, a big house with a row of rooms to let in the large garden, spotlessly clean with a nice veranda, just what was needed after another tough day. When I showered I was surprised how burnt my back was, I now have a white stripe across my back where my heart rate monitor strap goes, it goes well with my white hands and feet.

The following night was spent at Ende at sea level, still plenty of climbing though, but some great views across mountains and volcanos, then rolling along the rugged coast. I arrived early and went in search of an internet cafe, a challenge in a spread out town. The first place was open, they let me park my bike inside, then told me there was no connection to the internet. They directed me to another and as I stopped on a corner a girl asked me what I was looking for "An internet cafe, warnet" I said, "There is one just up there" she replied "how far is it" "oh, er, about 1000km", sod that, I am not that desperate! Thankfully it was only 100m, but shut. I eventually found one open, with one PC with 3 Frenchmen on it. Having searched still further I returned and waited for them to finish. At last I was on, only to find I had left my glasses behind, I gave up the will to update the blog, hence it has been a while since a posting.

At breakfast I was told by some Indonesians that the road was pretty flat to Moni then hilly for the last 90k to Maumere. I had a contact in Maumere, Teresa, a friend of a friend. I was already late getting there due to the tough going in Flores, so I sent her a text message. She was in Moni, heading the other way so we would pass on the road the following day. Sure enough we did and she told me it was possible to get a visa extension in Maumere and told me the hotel to head for and to ask for Teddy. So I had a shorter day to Moni (photo), though don't worry, there was still plenty of climbing, topping at 1078m, and that was said to be flat! I am in the shit when it gets hilly as I was told. Having showered I ordered some food, there were lots of young men hanging around and a bus outside with flags fyling, they looked Russian flags to me, but it was the local football team waiting for the last player to ready himself, but he was preparing my food, I hadn't reaslised all the mayhem was of my making. They set off horn blaring. On returning they had won 2-0 and the coach set about handwashing the whole teams strip in the fresh water that was running through the gutter. I had a sociable night with Sue, a Paramedic from Alice Springs and an instantly dislikable Englishman, from England. He drank too much Arak, the local firewater and as he turned in for the night he staggered down the steps then toppled over the side and down a drop into the bushes below, much to the delight of all who watched, no harm done, but it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke.

Moni is just a little village, but it has lots of guest houses, due to the fact that the volcano of Kelimutu is nearby with its 3 crater lakes of different colours (photo). The done thing is to head up at 4:30 for sunrise, but I needed my beauty sleep and set off at 7:30. I had been going for about 3 1/2km, not too steep yet, then "AAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGG", my right knee was in agony, I shouted out in pain, it was as though a knife had been stuck in. I looked down to brush of the creature that had stung me but there was nothing, I felt nothing other than the sting and saw nothing. After about 5 seconds the agony was over to be replaced by normal pain. I stopped, but then continued, but the knee was too painful to bend properly, I couldn't cycle so stopped again to see if things would improve. After 20 minutes it hadn't, so I made my way back down to make use of the rather useful paramedic. She gave me a pill and put a bandage on to stop the swelling. By 2pm it was feeling much better so I went back up. It was a steep climb for the last 6km up to 1600m, but it was so easy without all the baggage, so I now realise how fit I am. The 800m of climbing took 1 1/4 hours, with the "stuff" it would have taken over 2 hours. But the afternoon was clear, there was nobody else about, I had the place to myself. The edge was shear, time to be careful, if I fell I had had it. Two of the lake were side by side, the blue one (green in my opinion) and the red one (brown). There was a wonderful view point down to the lakes and the mountains beyond. But the temperature was dropping and in my sweaty clothes I was soon chilling so I made my way back. As I walked back to my bike the only sound was the wind through the trees. There had been another football match involving 2 different teams to yesterday, I think the Greens beat the Yellows 2-0, but it didn't have a happy ending as bottles were smashed and bush knives were produced which resulted in the watching tourists running off terrified. (Yes, I know Dad, it's just like watching football back home isn't it.) Back at the cafe Darius and Tara walked in who I had met about 6 days ago, they had just arrived and were going to have dinner with some people they had met on the bus. As we wandered around looking for the place that had been recommended our numbers swelled until there were 10 of us, 5 Brits, 3 Danes and 2 Germans, it all made for a very sociable evening. My leg had been very stiff when I returned so I bandaged it up again, though I think I did it too tightly as when I took it off when I went to bed it was enormous, very swollen.

I was up at 7am, but knew I wouldn't be going anywhere, the size of the swelling had subsided, but the area had increased, I couldn't really bend my knee properly, I wasn't going to be cycling today. After breakfast I went back to my room to read, but just fell asleep. By 9:30 Harriet, Ben, Daniel and Tima had arrived back from Kelimutu, so I sat and chatted until their bus went to Ende, then Darius and Tara arrived about mid day and we spent the afternoon doing a tour of the cafes, I just loved the banana porridge, any time of day will do. Then we went to the waterfall, a good 10 minutes walk from the guest house. Tara said I looked like Charlie Chaplain walking across the bamboo bridge and insisted on taking a photo when we returned. She swam in the pool whilst Darius and I sat and chatted. Another trip to the cafe followed.

The following day was more of the same. My knee was improving but not yet ready to take on 90 odd km of hills, so another days rest. D & J returned from Kelimutu so we went in search of banana porridge and were told that we were eating the last of it, I can't believe we have managed to eat them out of bananas! Then it was back to the waterfall where 4 or 5 young lads were skinny dipping, not that they were bothered by our arrival, but they soon hopped out when some girls of their own age arrived. Tara this time was braver and swam under the waterfall. We had dinner together at their guest house, all the others were running out of food, or at least food that interested us, then had a couple of games of chess outside. They have been good company, I hope one day we meet again, before they emigrate to NZ, though on reflection after might be better.

So Saturday I was last on the move, the knee wanted to stay another day, but my stomach needed a cash machine, and so would the lady at the guest house if I stayed any longer. What followed seemed a fairly easy day, though still well over 1000m of climbing, it's all relative. I arrived at the Gardena Hotel to be told it was full, though I still went inside anyway. They had one last room, an air-con room, so I took it and asked if Teddy was around. A little later there was a knock at the door and I was told that Teddy was waiting outside for me. I instantly got the impression that there was a hierarchy amongst the guides here and Teddy seems to be at the top. He is only young, 25 I think he said, but when he quietly asks somebody to do something, it is done, no questions asked. The immigration office would be closed tomorrow, so I would have to wait until Monday to get the process started.
Sunday I did not alot, but as I was heading out to dinner Teresa arrived, so I had some company. She had travelled to Flores a year or two ago and was determined to come back and stay longer and by shear persistence has made it back here with VSO, further proof that you can always make your dream come true if you really want it to. She is still in love with the place and speaks very good Indonesian and has friends across the island and I am sure will find it hard to leave, though she still has another 2 years here yet.
On Monday Teddy took me to the immigration office where we carried out the endless paperwork. Tourists visas are not really extendedable so I am "visiting friends", though the longer I stay the truer it becomes. I saw for my own eyes the speed that work is carried out here, all very casual, no rush, all rather 'la de dah, what shall we do next?' but by mid day its in and filed, I just have to wait for it's return, who knows how long? Back at the hotel a conference on AIDS awareness has started, it is running over 3 days. Teresa arrived at lunchtime as she works in the health sector and knows those involved. I am invited to join them for lunch and later for dinner, in fact any time there is food I am invited. Come evening Teddy starts on the Arak. It's seems to be drunk in groups, but with only one glass. The person with the glass pours a measure and passes the glass to the recipient who then downs it in one, predictably my first one made me cough much to the delight of all those around me.
Thankfully I have books to read as Tuesday is the same as Monday but without going to the immigration office. In the evening I am once again invited to join the conference for an evening meal where Vera latches on to me. Vera seems to be the only one that can speak a little English and it's much better than my Indonesian. Vera is a man, or was a man, I get a bit confused in such situations, not that it really matters either way, she is friendly enough and good looking too, as men go!

So what now? Who knows? I think a ferry goes from Larauntuka on Monday and Wednesday, possibly on a Friday too, it depends who you talk to, but makes no difference if you don't have your passport. Larauntuka is only 127km away, but I am assured there is another big climb involved, I can believe that so it doesn't come as a surprise. I think I will take 2 days to get there, which in reality means I am probably looking at the Monday ferry to Kupang.The internet is slow here, pictures just don't want to upload, I guess it will be Australia before I can really get up to date with them.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Day 462 - Luanbajo, Flores

(Written and posted from Maumere)

Gosh it's been a long time since a post, so at this stage I am not sure if that means that I am going to write a lot, or just say "Oh sod it, I can't be bothered!"

Ok, let's see what I can remember. Well I set out from Sumbawa Besar straight into a climb, a bit of a shock as it was the first one encountered on Sumbawa after a flat day the previous day, but thankfully it didn't last too long. By mid morning though, things were getting tougher, the road had deteriorated to badly broken tarmac which resulted in vehicles weaving around the road looking for the smallest holes to drive through, and the wind had got up, so no surprise there anyway! Progress was slow and I rather feared that this was how it was going to be from now on, my backside wasn't appreciating it one little bit. I stopped for a well earned rest at a decent looking cafe but the only staff about were teenage girls who just laughed when I spoke, ran off to the kitchen giggling, repeating my order as they went, but never actually doing anything about it. I really didn't need this right now but when I eventually chased up the order an older man came out and normal service was resumed. When I came to pay there were more problems, they didn't have change for my 50,000 Rupiah note so went off in search of change but came back with the same note which was then screwed up and thrown between them until they just left it and nobody even looked at it. I picked it up, put it in my wallet and started to walk off, that got a reaction at last and the man once again put in an appearance and came back with the change without leaving the building. Thankfully soon after I was back on normal road surfaces again. I arrived at a place called Empang ready to call it a day but knowing I would have to find somewhere to camp, but I stopped and asked a group of people if there was a losmen (hotelly type thing) nearby, they all pointed very positively and said it was in 2km. 1km later I arrived at the hotel, a group of bamboo huts, perfectly suitable for a nights kip.

The next day had some great scenery, mountains to one side, sea to the other, just as I like it, the wind head on, just as I hate it. The roads were now very quiet, no traffic, no villages, no houses, nothing. The kilometers stones told me it was 38km to BTS, my map wasn't going to help me out with that one, but on arrival I went straight past it thinking there had to be more around the corner, there wasn't, so I back tracked. All that was there was a cafe and a mosque, I made use of the cafe and just looked at the mosque wondering who on earth used it. The road wound its way up and down around the bays, delightful stuff, then climbed away from the coast. I stopped at another cafe for drinks and topped up my water bottle. Then I managed to do what I have threatened so many times in the past and left a bottle behind. Now, I know it's only a small thing, but I found it so annoying, still I bought a litre of fanta which fits the holder, so now I am carrying more water, more weight, oh joy! I arrived in Dompu, a sizable town with 3 reasonable hotels, though not alot to keep one entertained.

Then I was off to Sape at the other end of Sumbawa island, the road going around a massive loop and sticking close to the mountains when it looked far shorter to have just cut straight across the flat land, but only on reaching the far side did I find the problem, a big lump of sea. Having gone around in a large loop it meant that I had the wind behind me, oh that was just wonderful for a few kilometers, especially as the road was once again right beside the sea looking across to mountains on the other side of the bay, I was in heaven. I never seem to stay long in heaven, hell is always beckoning to me and sure enough I once again turned inland up some nice steep hills before settling into a climb, only reaching the highest point I had been to on the island with just 18km of it left to cover. When I checked into a losmen there was a small classroom with an English lesson about to start. I asked how far it was to the port for tomorrow morning's crossing to Flores, "Oh, only about 3 minutes" I was told, "Oh, less than a kilometer then" I said surprised, "No, it's about 3 kilometers". So why is it that people think I can cycle at 60kph, I can't even do that going down a steep hill, let alone through a village, no vehicle can average 60kph on these roads.

Come morning I set off to try and cover the 3km in 3 minutes, it was never going to happen, the school run was on, it was 7am and the roads were overcrowded with horse and carts, motorbikes were squeezing through, lorries and buses had their horn blaring out, but at least we were moving. I reached the dock and the ticket office before it had opened so I was all but first on by 7:40, we were supposed to depart at 8am. I grabbed a coffee and found a seat, there was no shortage. I was soon surrounded by 3 undesirables, I really didn't want to be with them for the 8 hour trip, so I wasn't exactly welcoming. As soon as they moved off the next one moved in, again I wasn't welcoming to his question "Where are you going?", "Guess", "I don't know" he replied, "Well where is this ferry going?", "I don't know" came the answer. I was surprised to see foot passengers still casually walking on at 8:30, then I found out it was a 9am departure that eventually left at 9:15. I was surprised to see other foreigners on the boat, 5 of us in total. Toby from Kent had just come across Sumbawa on the overnight bus with an American, "Don't talk to the American" I was advised, "He is alright to start with but then he starts talking about his penis enlargement with a graft taken from his stomach, and also about the 350 women he has had sex with", I took his advice and when he came over I kept the subject strictly to travel, his eyes were somewhat glazed over, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say that was probably from the overnight bus journey. I kept hearing that same old tune being played on peoples mobile phones so I asked an Indonesian family who it was, then was given samples of all the other tunes he had on his phone. I got talking to Darius from London and later to his wife Tara, a lovely couple. What bothered me most though was the open sided lounge on the ferry, or more precisely the way that everybody seemed to want the covers down as there was too much fresh air, it soon got very hot and filled with cigarette smoke so I went of in search of an open section. That wasn't much better as it was filled with men spitting over the side, how do they produce so much plem in such a short time? Once the ferry docked I was about the first off and I was amazed to see more foreigners walking along the streets of Luanbajo, for some reason I just hadn't expected that, the place was full of us. After visiting 4 hotels and being amazed at just how expensive they were for the poor standard, I checked in with moments to spare as the heavens opens and it pelted down for about an hour, one more minute and I would have been soaked. Once the rain stopped I was off for dinner, then found Darius and Tara who were with a German caller Olivier and we had dinner together as the local hawkers tried to sell us wooden Komodo Dragons wearing necklaces, very fetching. I nice sociable evening, I even had a couple of beers, the first in a long time.

Ok, that will do for now, but don't even start to think you have got off lightly, I am far from up to date so you might well get another load tomorrow......are you keeping up?

I have given up waiting for the photograph to lod up too, I might try that again tomorrow.