Thursday, 25 November 2010


Saturday 13 November: I'm staying in Mataram, Lombok island's administrative centre. I need to extend my visa and also try to get a Pelni shipping timetable - their website is not the best. Both offices open on Monday.
Sunday 14: Day trip to Sengeggi, a nearby seaside resort but it's expensive compared with Mataram's convenient shopping mall, cheaper beer and internet, and good inexpensive restaurants.
Monday 15: The visa procedure is complicated with forms in Indonesian and a local sponsor is also required. There are no set fees - this is negotiable officialdom (I think my sponsor is the Muslum cleaner!) and I have my passport stamped and returned within 20 minutes - easy. The Pelni office assistant is as helpful as she can be and gives me a telex print-out of shipping routes for November and part of December.
Wednesday 17: Before heading for the Gili Islands I hire a motor scooter to visit the stunning beaches at Kuta, Lombok's Kuta, not Bali's. But, disaster strikes - I have to stop abruptly to avoid a jeep that cuts in front of me and then breaks sharply. My front wheel locks and skids on the sharp gravel - off I come - the bike lands on my foot (I know, at my age I should know better). I'm lucky to get away with a crushed foot and a few light grazes and continue a couple of miles to Kuta to clean my wounds. The beaches are reminiscent of north Cornwall''s spectacular coast but my foot's too painful to enjoy it.
Thursday 18: Today, despite strong medication (Diclofenac 50mg pills trice daily) I can't walk - my foot is badly swollen and I can only hop painfully as far as the Opey's beer shop in the garden - life could be worse . . . Oka Homestay is going to be my home for a while.
Opey is well educated Lombok Hindu of Bali extraction with a beautiful wife and two pretty daughters. He believes strongly in Karma - if you behave badly in life you will be reincarnated as a lower form of existence - Insect, Rat, Dog or a higher animal which serves humans - Fish, Sheep, Goat, Chicken (all food) or a disabled, retarded person paying the price for indiscretions in a previous life. This is why, he explains, he doesn't overcharge his customers, even tourists - his large bottles of Bir Bintang are 20,000 Rupiahs (about
£1.50), a keen price. A nice guy, I like him.
Friday 19: Sitting on the porch of my cabin at Oka Homestay, to my left a German guy is deeply grazed along the full-length of his shoulder and arm from a motorcycle skid. It's lightly bandaged and not healing - I was lucky. To my right a Swiss girl, in the care of her boyfriend, is diagnosed with dengue fever - she's lucky too, it could be malaria. We call it "Oka Hospital" much to the amusement of Opey and his family.
Saturday 20: In the morning sun the younger of my two landladies keels over in the gritty courtyard-garden banging her head on a plant pot. Jumping up I hop painfully to her side - what can I do, I can't even bend over? Hopping to the reception area I grab the older woman, who's English is not so good, and point to her colleague. Slowly she saunters over, kicks the injured woman's legs a few times until her eyes roll in their sockets, ". . . ill, epileptic . . ." she declares and walks away. Bad Karma.
Tuesday 23: Finally, with a Pelni ticket for Saturday afternoon's monthly sailing of the 'big ship' in my bag, I limp to the end of the road and head for the public ferry to the Gili Islands.
Photos around Lombok island.

Monday, 15 November 2010


Thursday 4 November: From the luxury of the Palm Hotel in Bondowoso I take the local bus to Jember's pretty little station, a train spotter's delight, where the 1:12pm Mutiara Siang express takes me to Banyuyangi for the ferry to Bali. Young boys dive for coins worth a pittance - overnight stop in Gilsmanuk, Bali.
Friday 5: On to Lovina for a few days rest
in Puri Mandara hotel, by the coarse gritty-black volcanic ash beaches of Bali's north coast. Colourful boats with outriggers, many with hulls carved-out from a single tree, bob by the shoreline. The seafood is delicious - Tuna, Barracuda, Squid - Mahi-mahi grilled in banana leaf is my favourite.
Wednesday 10: A self-drive motor scooter day-trip inland to Munduk waterfall, Lake Buyan, the rice terraces of Jatiluwia and the remote temple of Pura Lahar Batukau is a good day away from the coast.
Thursday 11:Various minibuses to overnight at Padangbai ferry port.
Photos from Bondowoso to Bali.
Friday 12: Ferry to Lombok and minibus to Mataram, the island's capital.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Sulphur Mines of Mt Ijen, Java

I wanted to visit to the Ijen Plateau to see the stunning turquoise lake set in a yellow-rocky landscape, but I left immensely more impressed by the endeavours of hard-working sulphur miners.
Tuesday 2 November: Walking up to the 7,769ft peak of 'Lonely Mountain' the surrounding volcanoes, ringed in cloud, are a fantastic sight. From the rim of Mt Ijen the miners look like a trail of ants toiling with their bright yellow loads. The view of the crater lake is not good, through the haze.
For me it's down into the crater, into the bowels of the earth - this is the stuff of 'fire and brimstone' sermons -
preachings of damnation (brimstone is the old name for sulphur). Acrid yellow gas pumps out from fumaroles - do I really want to go in there?
At the working-face men stuff their mouths with damp cloths to absorb the choking fumes, piping-hot liquid sulphur,
like melted candle wax, pours out - cooling to a solid slab on the floor. Yellow-orange stalactites cling to the condensing pipes only to be snapped off when the miners, harvesters really, gouge out chunks of the concrete-like sulphur to load into the waiting baskets of their beasts of burden - men. These are very tough men, in worn-out rubber boots with rags for socks, who struggle up the slippery paths under their incredibly heavy loads, which I struggle just to hold still. Up, up through the burning-hot breathtaking fumes, to the crater rim, this is slow work involving many stops, and then gently down a winding path, via the tally station, to waiting trucks just a couple of miles further on. Many workers leave their baskets here to tackle the 'easy' downhill stretch later in the day. One of the 'beasts' stumbles shortly after I take his photograph, badly cutting-up his knee. I spray-clean his wounds with antiseptic and give him a sterile bandage (I only have two) - what more can I do?. He hobbles onward under his load - there is no sickness benefit here. This is a hard way to provide for your family.
Each miner has two sets of baskets which he runs in tandem, leaving one basket-load perched by the pathside while he fetches the other, staggering his work to allow a respite from the toil. This is the work of men, 300 or so, with thick bulging calfs and shoulder pads only of muscle, no women are involved.
From this sulphur we get medicine, cosmetics and fertilizers. A load weighs around 15 stone, often more - workers are paid 4,000 Rupiahs per stone (about £4 for each twin-basket load). I will never again whinge or complain about any job I ever have - I will place a Mt Ijen photograph carefully on my desk, just a reminder.
Staying in the valley - in the
guesthouse of the Keburn Kaliset coffee plantation in Sempol, I enjoy free aromatic Arabica coffee all day and Sweet Charlie strawberry juice, also from the estate, with breakfast.
Pictures of Mt Ijen.
Lungs still raw from inhaled sulphur, I take the afternoon minibus back downhill to Bondowoso.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Java: Mt Bromo

Saturday 30 October: A long day travelling - executive-class sleeper (eight hours) to Surabaya for breakfast, business-class train (two hours) to Probolinggo, small yellow minibus to the bus station for lunch, and (after a three-hour wait) large minibus uphill (two hours) to Cemoro Lawang village on the lip of a one-million year old super-volcano caldera, Tengger crater. At six-miles in diameter it's huge, with three volcanoes at it's centre, but everything is invisible through a curtain of cloud and rain. Local tourists buy hats, scarves and gloves which they will only wear once, on top of their tee-shirts (it's not all that cold). For me bedtime is at 8:00pm, beneath a snug woolly blanket.
Sunday 31: Rising early, by 3:30am I'm hiking up to the summit of Mt Renanjaken
(9,088ft, twice the height of Ben Nevis) poking-up high on the outer crater rim. It's a difficult slippery, wet and muddy ascent through the damp and misty moonlit-darkness, but I'm hoping for clear dawn views across the caldera over the billowing Mt Bromo to a distant Mt Semaru (12,060ft), Java's highest peak.
Dawn breaks quickly over the eastern skies but the clouds remain. Teasingly slowly Mt Bromo's streaming cone emerges above the blanket of cloud, barely visible through the wafting sulphurous haze. Disappointingly, this is as good as it gets, but the trek down, off the mountain, to Cemoro Lawang past a patchwork of potato, onion and cabbage plots - this makes the effort worthwhile. The fragrant, but highly-toxic, ochre-yellow pendulum blossoms of the aptly named Angel's Trumpet
Brugmansia are a fantastic sight in the early morning light.
After breakfast, I cross the caldera's gritty black floor and, with hordes of locals (it's Sunday), climb to the rim of Mt Bromo's crater to take a peek inside. Puffing and growling as it goes, the roaring vent spews gaseous smoke upwards in an ever-changing bulbous cloud.

An oil painting in the visitor centre shows the scene on a clear day.
Photos of Cemoro Lawang and Mt Bromo.
It starts raining again - time to leave. Minibus back downhill to Probolinggo, local bus eastbound to Bondowoso.