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.


jac said...

Another wonderful update. Whenever I read your blogs I always feel a strange urge to feed complex carbohydrates to you through the screen! Banana porridge does sound wonderful.
Glad things have worked out well with Teresa and great news on the visa extension. Must be nice not to have a deadline anymore. Things are slowly returning to normal here in bonny Scotland. Still waiting for the rubber mallet of reverse culture shock to hit...
Good roads. Jacsx

John Harwood said...

I have just licked the screen Jackie, those carbohydrates aren't getting though!

Having had time on my hands and a fist full of Rupiah, I have managed to get the photos up to date despite a very slow internet.

jac said...

Just had a major Indonesia photo-fest which made me pine for Asia, want to set off travelling again and glad to be home at the same time?!? Delightful. Your photos are stunning. The long-finned bannerfish the guy is holding is one of my favourites when I'm diving - they are so graceful underwater. Sorry about tempting you with the carbs, hehe. :-)

aoiffe said...

I need the recipe for banana porridge and fried bananas urgently as like you I have trouble consuming enough calories - or maybe I should take lessons from the rice stuffing bone spitting lad that you observed.

Did you know that Flores was home to an ancient race of hobbit sized humans, I think the article said they predated any other human finds but don't quote me on that - someone has stolen my brain and replaced it with marshmallow.

Caff said...

All this talk of banana porridge, marshmallows and other yummy food in the fight to pile on the calories is making me very green. I'm afraid I must have put on at least 205 calories just reading about it. So I am now going to have to go on a 10 mile brisk hike just to get it back off again. Do you or Aoiffe want my excess?!!!