Monday, July 06, 2009

Phase Two-Java

Friday, July 3, 2009

What a difference a day makes. Cici is gone. She is on a plane back to China as I write this.

Right after I finished writing my last entry, she came back to our room. She told me she had some bad news. When she opened her email inbox she found 21 messages from her frantic brother. Her younger sister was having some health issues, something she'd been dealing with for awhile. Cici immediately called her dad. He had called her dozens of times the previous day and couldn't understand why her phone was off. Cici, refusing to admit she was traveling outside the country, told her dad that her phone was broken and she was in the process of getting a new one. She told him she would get some business settled in Beijing and return to her home in two days. Cici lives in rural Hebei Province, the province that surrounds Beijing, a hours drive from the capital.

"Why did you lie to him?" I asked. "Why didn't you just tell him where you are?"

"I don't want my parents to worry about me," Cici explained.

"What are you going to tell them when you don't actually come home in two days?" I probed.

"I will be home in two days. I have to leave Indonesia tomorrow," Cici told me. Then it hit me. She would actually go home to take care of her sister, as she had been busy doing the month prior to our vacation. Wow. The thought hadn't occured to me.

Yesterday, the day of our flight to Surabaya, Java, we woke up at 4:30 and took our taxi to the airport with Mathes, who had a flight to Medan. Cici and I went to Surabaya, the smoggy capital of East Java. From there she took a flight to KL and this morning she flew direct from KL to Beijing.

As for my day yesterday, it was very long. I thought Trip to Gili Meno Day was long. That was just a warm-up. Yesterday was considerably worse and without a cool ocean breeze. I had hung out at the airport with Cici until 9am. I then took the airport bus to Surabaya's main bus terminal to get a bus to Probolingo, from there I would arrange onward transport to Mount Bromo, my next destination. At the bus terminal the men were on me like vultures. One smiling man asked me if I was headed to Mount Bromo. "Yes," I answered and he pointed me in the right direction. I headed to where all the buses were parked. A man from the information desk waved me over.

"Where are you going?"

"Probolingo," I answered suspiciously. I'm suspicious of everyone in bus terminals.

"Express or economy?" He asked.

"It doesn't matter to me; economy is okay," I replied, my first mistake of the day.

He ushered me over to the buses as men called to me, motioned, yelled, and smiled. Info Desk Guy grabbed my hand and waved them off, depositing me in front of the appropriate bus but not before asking me The Six Questions All Indonesians Love to Ask. The Six Questions are as follows:

1.) What's your name?
2.) Where do you come from?**
3.) You married?
4.) You have son?
5.) Where you going?
6.) You speak Indonesian?

**To which I answer, "American." They then shout, "A-MER-I-CA! OBAMA!!" It took me awhile to realize why they showed so much love for our President. It slipped my mind that he lived in Indonesian while he was in grade school.

Now that you are educated about the Six Questions, we can return to the matter at hand-Hell Day. If you ever find yourself in Indonesian, take my advice and never take the economy bus. It is not comfortable, however it is probably more interesting the express bus, I will give it that. There is, of course, no air-con on the economy bus. The window is in two sections; the top section can slide open to let some air in, the bottom part does not. There is a drape on the bottom window that helps block the scortching sun. Unfortunately, the sun was high enough in the sky to beat down on me through the top section of the window. Selecting which side of the bus to sit on is a very important consideration when traveling in Southeast Asia.

The bus never managed to pick up much speed, thanks to "this country's fucking traffic" (that's a direct quote from my tour agent in Probolingo). Little speed equals little breeze, so it was just me and 60 Indonesians stuck on a bus moving at 5km/hour in the sweltering heat.

Luckily(?), we did have some entertainment, first from the TV at the front of the bus that blasted Indonesian karoke songs and second from the peddlers that were allowed on the bus as we sat in a parking lot of traffic. These guys sold everything--nuts, spring rolls, cigarettes, homemade popsicles, stuffed animal key chains, and coloring books. They also had soda in a bag. Soda in a bag is wildly popular in SEAsia. It's quite easy to make: add one 200ml glass(!) bottle of coke or fanta (comes in a variety of flavors including blueberry) into a small bag of ice and throw in a straw. In addition to all these tantalizing treats, we were also serenaded by a three-man band, then a banjo player, followed by a particularly bored sounding teenage singer, then another guitar player. After their performance the musicians came around with a bag asking for money. Finally, they jumped off our bus and moved on to the next.

Following the latter string of musicians, my favorite act came on the bus. An old man who's trade was puppeteering. He manipulated his homemade cardboard puppets for nearly 15 minutes in hopes of collecting a few coins from us, his audience. His puppets included a hunched old lady with a hand colored head scarf and matching sarong, as well as a younger, bustier woman. This hip young lady puppet featured real hoop earrings and neon green mobile phone. A real go-getter this puppet was. As an added bonus, and in true puppet fashion, their limbs could be moved by a stick controlled by their puppetmaster.

Since my Bahasa Indonesian is zilch, I couldn't understand the dialogue or songs the old man performed, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with the tragic demise of traditional values and the encroachment of Western consumerism and ideals on young Indonesians. The again, maybe it was just about two women doing laundry. In any case, I was satisfied with the act, though the old man didn't get any coin from me.

My patience eventually ran thin, especially with puppeteer gone. After three hours on the bus I was near my breaking point. The traffic, the heat, the constant guitar playing and selling--I was ready to scream or cry or both. But alas we made it to Probolingo. Now I'd just have to get to Cemoro Lewang, the village next to Mount Bromo. According to my sources (a page ripped out of the Lonely Planet), it was a mere two hours by minibus. Piece of cake.

I arrived at Probolingo's bus terminal at 1:00pm and the bus to Cemoro Lewang leaves at. . . 1:00pm. I'd have to wait for the next one, which would leave when full. I parked it at Toto Tour Agency and booked my trip to from Cemoro Lewang to Bromo by jeep, as well as my onward bus to Yogyakarta. I talked to the owner, let's call him Mr. Toto, and his wife, Mrs. Toto, for nearly two hours. Mrs. Toto and I are now facebook friends. Yay.

Mrs. Toto suggested here and I sit outside Toto Tour Agency where there was more of a breeze. As soon as I sat down the hoards descended. First a peddler with a strap around his neck with a box attached to the end of the straps that rested against his abdomen. This peddler only had one arm, on which was only two fingers. He did most things (smoked his cigarette,k showed me his merchandise) with his feet. Two other gentlemen approached, not selling anything but simply wanting to ask me The Six Questions.

Finally, I went over to a shop selling bakso, an Indonesian noodle soup with meatballs. As soon as I finished my meal, Mr. Toto took me on his motorbike over to the minibus for Cemoro Lewang. The bus, as previously mentioned, would leave when full. In this teensy, tiny van, in which you sit with your knees touching your chin, there was somehow room for about 20 people. We currently had eight; it was now 3:30. I spent the next hour repeatedly answering The Six Questions, until finally I had reaching My Breaking Point. Just then our bus pulled out of the lot and my heart did a little dance of joy. Then we stopped. Our bus sat parked, engine running, straddling the lot and the busy road for the next ten minutes while Creepy Guy with Long Hair screamed "Bromo! Bromo!" out the window. Two German girls sate at the front of the bus and didn't seemed phased by any of this. It appreared they were actually enjoying themselves--laughing, smiling, chatting with locals in Indonesian. I hated them. I was about to scream, to cry and then the driver hit the gas. We went 50 meters down the road and stopped again. I closed my eyes ("Serenity now! Serenity now!") and breathed. A minute later we were off again, this time for real.

As we made our way to our destination the bus emptied out. I thought this was a good thing; I could stretch out my legs and take my backpack off my lap. However, these luxaries came at a price. Creepy Guy with Long Hair came over and started with The Six Questions, but then he cleverly manuevered the conversation to the topic of massage. And how he would give me one. I told him I don't like massage and I had to keep telling him, again. . . and again. . . and again. He ignored my attempts to brush him off, even after I put my earphones in and closing my eyes he would not let up. "We friends. Free. You no pay," Creepy promised. I decided to play my trump card and showed him pictures of Ming, "This is my husband. He is in China now, where I live," I explained to Creep.

"China in China. Indonesia in Indonesia. No problem," Creep rationalized.

"Problem," I said sharply, wanting to get my point across but not wanting to get angry.

At last we arrived, but it was after 6:00 and therefore dark. The driver took me directly to a guesthouse and the German girls got off with me. I was hoping Creep would go, but he worked for the bus and took it upon himself to help us check-in to our rooms. The offers of free massage continued, as did my terse rebuffs. Eventually Creep went away and left me with the Germans, Anna and Maria, who invited me to join them for dinner. I no longer hated them, turns out that I quite like them. They have been in Indonesia for nearly a year through their university back home and Anna has actually studied Bahasa Indonesia(n) for five years.

We ate at a local "restaurant" (two tables) and I ordered teh jahe (ginger tea) and tahu telor (rice with veggies, tofu, and peanut sauce) for the bargain price of 7,000 rupiah (70 cents). We returned to our rooms, which are spartan to say the least. I'm definitely overpaying at 65,000 rupiah, if that tells you anything. My room contains a bed, a cigarette butt, a mirror, and two blankets. That's fine. The real problem arises in the toilet, which is shared. That's not really the problem either though.

It is a typical Indonesian toilet, which is squat and accompanied by a tap that fills into a large trough of water (no sink). You dip a large ladel into the trough and dump that water into the toilet to flush. Okay, no problem, I can live with that system. No soap, okay, whatever, I have some of my own. There is, alas, no shower. Problem. If you want to shower you have to dump a ladel of freezing cold water over yourself. If I was in Bali or pretty much anywhere else in Indonesia, this might be okay, but Cemoro Lewang is cold. So cold, in fact, that I had to buy a winter hat and scarf here.

Yes, last night I froze my ass off, waking up repeatedly from sweet dreams that included winter jackets and long underwear. It is indeed very strange to go from dripping sweat to shaking in my boots all in the spanse of 35km.

Today is cold and rainy. I had lunch with Anna and Maria, bought a few postcards, and managed to run into Creep. There's not much to do in this tiny village, but I kinda enjoy being bored and freezing cold. It reminds me of Wisconsin.

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