Time to leave Sumba. The weekly ferry to Flores was no convenient so I went through Sumbawa again.
The boat departed with a 7 hours delay, time I spent inside waiting. Good thing, it saved me to pay for 1 night accommodation. This time the lower deck was filled up with lots of bananas and a few horses, like my University.
Once in Sumbawa I slept a few hours in a bench waiting for the sunrise and ferry to Flores. I was quite determined to find other bule there so I could speak some English. They were in the VIP room so I spent most of the time again with friendly Indonesians who advice me about local cheap accommodation in Labuan Bajo. There I just said I like drinking and quickly someone brought a bottle of arak (strong booze) to share with me. and once more I spent most of my stay struggling with the language.
The Portuguese named the island Flores (flowers) for its beauty. They were right. The island is gorgeous, somehow reminded me of the best Sumatra. Just following the main road the dramatic landscape couldn’t get better with plenty of perfect shaped volcanoes, river canyons, pretty beaches… And that’s why this post title. There are not white roses so maybe but roses are flowers and the island s as pretty as the song (OK, maybe a bit pushed). Unfortunately I saw most places from vehicles so no pics.
As the number of tourist is increasing I was a bit worried about locals being spoiled. Not at all, they are very friendly and helpful, even for Indonesian standards. I even enjoyed a couple of homestays.
I am very impressed by Flores nature and people, one of the best places in this trip. I regret not spending more time there. Strongly recommended going as soon as possible before they start developing resorts and such.
Kelimutu will have its own post. Very interesting, even for this blog standards.
Following the hello mister trail my next destination was Sumba, The island is somehow on the map for the blood spill of Pasola, but that was in March. The overnight ferry was quite entertaining with some gambling happening and lots of chicken around the overcrowded passenger deck. On the vehicles deck, I found these friendly fellows sleeping around the overloaded trucks, so I was not the smelliest there.
Before even boarding, I arranged my transport (breakfast included) to Waikabubak. I am getting popular among Surabaya friendly truck drivers. On the deck, I even arranged a spot on the same truck for a local guy, hitchhiking level God.
Once in the town above mentioned I was determined to rent a motorbike and be a UFO on wheels. People were sending me from one place to another, but no one would solve my issue. I end up at the local market were I with lots of people around me. Locals were going around trying to find me the bike but no results. I enjoyed asking them about ferries to get out of the islands, each one would say different days and destination ports. All of this happening without a word of English spoken. Sumbans have a very melodic accent that resembles Galician (homesickness feelings).
After one hour or so a guy offered me a deal. He would drive me around for $10 a day. He neither spoke any English. He happened to be a protestant pastor. As a man of God he had a big belly and an ability to ask for money adding extra costs, which doesn’t go well with my difficulties to say “no”. At the end the thing was more like $20 a day all included. Not that bad as I slept at his place and his wife would feed me well. He had 5 dogs at home. I asked why so many and got the obvious answer 😦
There were a lot of odd moments due to the language barrier and he being a priest. Didn’t remember pretending so much praying since I was a child. Before every meal it was a prayer, as in American movies, even I was requested to do it once in Indonesian!. He took me to church and he asked me why I wasn’t traveling with the Bible, and he didn’t mean the Lonely Planet. The best one was him trying to read me the bible in Indonesian. For someone like me with attention deficit, it was too good to be true. The drummer monkey in my head was performing his best.
Traditional villages are Sumba main sight and look like this:
There were as well some amazing beaches and a pretty lagoon:
It is a very poor island where locals have a traditional life and rarely go out without their machete.
When visiting one of the villages they were having a conversation. I was not paying attention till I heard the word pesta (party). Pesta??? Di mana? Marikita pergi (Party??? Where? Let’s go!).
So we went to the party, a funeral this time. In this trip I attended 4 weddings but this was my 1st funeral. Sadly it was not a boozing party, instead 10 buffaloes would be killed. A couple of years ago a big cat died and they went for 150! Unfortunately it is not possible to kill buffs by throwing apples at them as in the Simpsons. A bunch of men hold the buff with a rope tied to the horns and bring it to a circle. Then other guys dance and jump around aiming machetes to the buff neck. Women on the back were chanting Zulu style. It’s a slow painful death. I didn’t like it. Not saying that animals shouldn’t be slaughtered to feed us, but no need to make them suffer or a show of it. OK, fuck it. I want 20 surfers crucified on their boards for my funeral.
Here a few pics:
You don’t care about buffs? What about this…
So I was supporting the church and attending animal torture. I may consider sponsor a banker and voting right wing.
Once sorted out my visa extension (corruption paid) and laundry (after the rainy Rinjani climb my clothes were chemical weapons) I headed to Sumbawa.
Sumbawa is a nice islands that sees almost no tourist, apart form a bunch of surfers. It is a top destination on the hello mister trail, I just made this up and I like it. From now on I will use the term to refer to the places where tourists are seen as Unidentified Foreign Objects. Places on the trail are quite different among them but they share some common features:
English is mostly not spoken and the few locals who are able to produce some basics will chase you for a friendly talk.
Often children will point at the UFO and loudly exclaim “bule, falang…” or similar. Either they welcome you with enthusiasm or hide scared.
People will not try to scam the tourist so no need to ask for the price first. Sometimes taxi drivers and other of the same kind may occur in an exception to this rule.
Local will greet the UFO with a big smile and a “hello mister” (hence the name) or any other friendly greeting in their native language. Be aware they have a sixth sense to spot foreigners, even in extreme conditions. On the darkest night you still will get lots of “hello mister” from speedy motorbike riders.
Quite often people would like to take pics with you as if you were a famous football player or a hot chick.
Kindness gestures are common, including sometimes free lifts, food or accommodation. Efforts to speak the local language are usually highly rewarded.
You won’t find package tourist on the trail as they see it as scary, difficult or can’t cope with the lack of facilities. Neither banana pancake fans as they regard these places as boring: nothing to do there.
Most parts of Indonesia (Bali is NOT Indonesia) and Myanmar fall into this trail. In Cambodia or Lao it requires some research to find these places when in Thailand is really difficult and you will need to search for places not listed on the Lonely Planet (this trick works pretty much everywhere).
Places fall in this trail for different reasons: no major attractions, difficult to reach or sometimes just the tourist industry didn’t aim at them for unknown reasons.
Back to Sumbawa… The 1st night I managed to get a lift to a remote secluded beach (remember the kindness gesture bullet point). Big surprise, there was a group of surfers (my favorite) setting a bonfire for the sunset. Huge wtf??? What are the chances??? They were nice and let me get into their endogamic society and enjoy their coolness for the night. I can’t avoid been sarcastic, actually they were nice guys and even got me a beer. This time I shouldn’t take on them.
I spent the rest of my time there wandering around the island as an UFO. As usual I enjoyed a lot the food abundant local markets. Nothing bits the thrill of haggling hard over that yummy pineapple with an old lady to end up downing the price $0.10.
When coming to Indonesia I was looking forward to seeing some lave. Apparently this is not possible anywhere in the country nowadays :(. Still, volcanoes are pretty awesome.
Next one on the list was Rinjani (3.7k) in Lombok. I went with my friend from Gili. The night before starting the climb we slept at a local family house in a nearby village. They had 10 chicken!
Rinjani is big business as it is not far from Bali and a porter at least is required and there is a step entrance fee. We try to dodge these unfair restrictions but we couldn’t as the local mafia wouldn’t rent as a tent without the porter. I wouldn’t mind the huge fee if they use the money to take care of the place. That was not the case, plenty of rubbish at campsites. We didn’t load our porter with any extra weight and the path was easy to follow and even we let him to stay at the campsite when doing the final climb to the summit.
The climb was tough and the views and landscape terrific. There were hot springs and and amazing lake with a small volcano in the middle.
For once we got a cloudless pretty sunrise at the top with superb views
It was great and we enjoyed it a lot but I was missing the friendly atmosphere from Semeru. Semeru was very social with a lot of sharing and encouragement words. Rinjani is about business and bule in package tours mainly. In these expeditions very often servants outnumber masters. You can see porters heavy loaded with chairs, lots of foods and drinks, setting toilets… A good option if you want to have in the mountain the same comfort standards as at home, strongly recommended if you suffer for colonial times nostalgia.
Someone can tell me that this creates jobs and it is good for locals. True that. They just have to sell out the place and local values to the tourist and construction industry to get money. It maybe a fair price, and they can follow a growth model that clearly have succeed in countries such as Spain or Greece.
After so many volcanoes I am thinking about adding “volcanoes” to the interests section of my CV, right between reading and anal sex.
With a short transit in Lombok we arrived to the Gili islands. Spanish speakers will find a clue on the name about who they will find there. The place fills up with a mix of Bali bule and the banana pancake trail usual suspects. A place where hormones clearly outnumber neurons. The beaches are quite average for SE Asia standards. Maybe I became too picky after that much time around this pretty world part. I probably would have loved it if it was my 1st destination. True I only stayed in the party island and didn’t bother visiting the other 2. And I have to admit the 18 years old Julio would have thrown an epic party there, very likely leading a horse into one of the divers pools. Actually there is a a band playing pretty good reggae every night. The matter maybe I am just to old but I don’t agree with the backpackers consensus according to which places like Pai, Gili, Tongsay or the 4000 Islands are cool. Of course if you meet the right people you will have good fun but they are as much theme parks as much as places like Bali, Phuket or Bangkok despised by them, just catering to different costumers and budgets.
Anyway I stayed at a friend’s and had a good time there chilling out, drinking and mainly diving. As my friend works there as a diver instructor I decide to to my PADI advanced certification. It comprised of 5 dives including a nigh one and a challenging extreme hangovered dive. Now I have a title that allows me to dive down to 30 m and show my genitals to the aquatic life. With the dive master (next step) you can dive on mushrooms and put your finger up marine creatures anal cavities.
The diving in Gili was much better than at the Koh Tao factory and for most dives it was just my friend and me. I saw lots of cool shit: parrot fish, butterfly fish, huge turtles, gay fish, surgeon fish, manta ray, nemos, octopus, morenas, not giving a fuck fish, unfortunately no sharks…
Sadly the Gili was the end of the bule gila team. Time to say goodbye to Jesus. You can find him now halting motorbikes at Valencia streets. Saman jumpa teman. Terima kasih. Hope life brings you lots of wanita and ayam.
Sadly it was time to leave Java, and worse than that, saying goodbye to Rose. It was a great time we shared. Now the bule gila team has only 2 members. This means as well no good pics from now on. Terima kasih wanita tinggi, sampa jumpa!
We arrived to Kuta (Bali) and went straight on to the party. Observing the people there and thinking about the bombings in 2002 awakened on my an unknown Nazi side. For a while I sympathized with the terrorist and thought the world with be a better place without all of those people.
During day time things got not better there. The beach fills up with the same wannabe surfers and pretty people you see at night. I wish I was they had something similar to Cambodia. I would pay lots of money to fire at surfers with an AK-47. Seriously, that place beats the worst Thailand. And Ubud was not much better. Where is our Indonesia?
Quickly we got a motorbike to run away. We saw pretty rice fields, beaches and jungle landscapes. What makes Bali different is its own branch of Hinduism, with all the temples, flowers and ornaments, ceremonies and all of that pretty stuff.
Sad to see how the business very often is becoming more important than the culture and tradition. In example, we saw a pretty temple by a gorgeous mountain surrounded lake. Then, suddenly, the tourist buses arrived releasing flocks of topless men and women in bikini, a few beer in hand. It didn’t matter, forget about respecting the sacred place, as long as they pay the overpriced entrance fee. It reminded me of the Bible when Jesus found his father house taken by merchants and money changers.
Bali offers easy accessible pretty places well marked on the tourist guides. Beautiful? No doubt but not better landscapes that the ones you can find randomly in other parts of the country. In my opinion, still can be a good destination when not having a lot of time, otherwise better to skip it.
According to the Bible the Ijen Plateau is a quiet place to escape the crowds. Not any more. Since the construction of a new road linking Kawah Ijen with the harbor to Bali the place is included on package tours and sees flocks of bule from that side. Still the place is worth a visit, extremely beautiful. Definitely we are not lucky with the weather at volcanoes and we could only enjoyed the views the few moments the clouds allowed. We missed the blue fire at night as we didn’t know about 😦
The place is as well known for the hard working sulfur miners. They go all the way to the crater to extract the yellow element and fill their baskets. They have then to climb all the way up to the rim and go downhill to the road where the trucks are loaded. They are paid per kg and earn about $8 a day. The sulfur they extract is of vital importance to our society being used to produce indispensables such as cosmetics. The same cosmetics you can see on the pretty Bali package bule faces accomplishing the heroic task of climbing to the rim with their guides. Some of the flocks don’t realize how they obstruct the way slowing down the miners on their job. Never mind, they will take pics smiling with one of them who will be happy with a cigarette on return. One grotesque image to illustrate XXI century Economic Colonialism.. Unfortunately one of many… without moving from Indonesia, Western renowned firms use dirty cheap child labor to make expensive clothes, JUST DO IT!
On the way up we were chatting with one of the miners. He was very friendly and took us all the way down to the place they extract the sulfur. Probably he liked we were making an effort to speak his language and asked about his life beyond the yellow stuff. The way is strenuous even without extra weight and wearing good shoes (they go on flip-flops). Mouth and nose must be covered with a wet clothe to ease the effects of sulfur gases. Sometimes when the wind was blowing a sulfuric steam in our direction I had to close the eyes and breathing was very difficult. The suffocation and nausea feelings were very strong. I tried to lift one of the baskets, no way, not even an inch. I don’t have enough words to describe such a painful job.
Sulfur stinks in a way that can even mask my socks, so does modern Capitalism. The perfect system that allows roughly 20% of the world population a “good life” (consuming is happiness, don’t forget new big brother teachings) just by using about 80% of the planet resources. The best system ever that should never-ever be replaced or questioned since God itself gave Milton Friedman the free market commandments. Unfortunately Western World needed of a crisis to start thinking and even then not much.
Someone can say I shouldn’t write this as I am another douche traveling on credit cards, taking advantage of the system and probably not better than the Bali bule I so much despise: mentioning Stalin or North Korea always give extra points in these matters… True that. Anyway this is my blog and here the sense of democracy and justice is as fake as in the so called Western Democracies.
Yogyakarta was our first stop in East Java. Nice city and nice people. Thanks to a friend we stayed at the Uni dorms with the friendly Kalimatan students.
We took the arguable decision of avoiding the crowds and skipping Borobudur and Bromo.
Instead we climbed Gunug Semeru (3.6k), yes another volcano. Randomly in a nearby village we met a member of the Mentawai bule team whose track we had lost. A friendly local with him offered us a tent for the climb. When back we stayed at his place having and he played us some good reggae. Few bule climb this one. We had a great time with the local tourists along the way and at the campsite. As usual they shared their food with us and even one day they gave us beer (and arak) for breakfast, drunk trekking is fun.
On Labour Day we reached the top. Apparently on a clear day you can see an amazing sunrise, Gunung Bromo, Bali, a few seas and even naked girls. No luck for us, it was foggy at sunrise time. Later it got better and we could enjoy some pretty views. A local guide told us not to get close to the crater as the ashes from the eruptions that happen quite often are dangerous. We respected his advice and waited till he left to go there.