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.