Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bumpy buses and violent volcanoes

As Christine put it, and I'm paraphrasing a little, "This is an endless summer filled with endless bus rides." So true.

One thing I am truly failing at here is spending time at the beach. Sure, I got placed in a city with no beach around, but that's no excuse. I've been on this archipelago comprised of thousands of islands for more than six months now, and I've only been on one trip to the beach? What's wrong with me? We had to fix that.

Rie made this. It's a reference to the fact that our "four-hour" trip took seven. We arrived hungry, tired, and thankful we at least made it in time for the sunset.

So Christine and I planned a trip to Carita, as close as you can get to where the terrible Krakatau Volcano erupted more than a century ago.

"Few volcanoes have as explosive a place in history as Krakatau, the island that blew itself apart in 1883. Turning day into night and hurling devastating tsunamis against the shores of Java and Sumatra, Krakatau quickly became vulcanology's A-list celebrity." The volcano sent ash 80 km into the sky and the explosion was heard more than 4600 km away. "Coastal Java and Sumatra were devastated: 165 villages were destroyed and more than 36,000 people were killed." -LP

It doesn't look so scary now, does it?

Sadly, the waves were too high on the day we planned our boat trip to the actual volcano, and our guide said it wasn't safe to go. We were disappointed, but when Indonesians are even telling you something isn't safe, I think it's usually a good idea to trust them.

So instead, we spent our time on the beach. The beach was a lot dirtier than other beaches I've been to, but the prices were a lot lower there too, so I suppose you have to take the good with the bad.

We watched movies on television, tried to sunbathe through the clouds (and got burnt), and Christine and I destroyed 4 kilos of rambutan in a single day.

Christine invited two of her friends from Depok to come with us. Traveling with Rie (of 'Parental Advisory on your Knees' fame) and Anas was a very different experience from traveling with a group of Americans. In general, Indonesians don't travel except to visit family.

The most notable difference was the constant (well-meaning) warnings about our clothes. "Please, please, please," Rie would say. "Do not wear a bikini. It is inappropriate. You will get many lust stares." Lust stares? He didn't even want us to wear shorts or tank tops, though most of the Indonesians at the beach were dressed casually.

The boys speak fluent English, and sometimes it's easy to forget we're we're from different countries... that is, until the cultural differences suddenly appear. One night at dinner, we asked Rie and Anas if they had girlfriends. Rie shook his head no, but said that he'd probably get married this year. "Get married? Haha... how? You don't have a girlfriend!" we said. Arranged marriage, he said. He shrugged. He's been fixed up three times already, but he decided he wasn't old enough then. He feels old enough now.

Rie insists that the greatest pleasure in life is listening to Radiohead while sitting on a beach, pretending that the crashing waves and people walking by are part of some everlasting music video. He might be right. We did a lot of that:

And of course, Anas and Rie (like almost all other Indonesians) smoke. They tell us, "Smoking makes us healthier. That's why we live so long."

"But, Indonesians don't..." Umm, ok.

It's incredible how much the atmosphere clears up when you leave the big cities. The air in Carita smelled fresh and clean, not like in Palembang or Jakarta.

But it’s impossible to understand how good the sand feels between your toes until you can understand what it takes to get there. The bus rides in Indonesia are… well, impossible to put into words. If I had to try, I’d use smelly, loud, and dangerous. But I don’t have to, because I took a video. This honking and speeding continued for a solid four hours. My favorite part is the guy who attempts to wave the other vehicles away from the front window. At one point, our bus took off the mirror of another oncoming bus, but unfortunately, I wasn’t recording then.

Note: I've been trying to blog more often during the first half of this month, because I have next week off while the seniors at my school take their national exams. So I'm heading to Padang to volunteer for a week with a group of Americans. We'll be helping to rebuild after the earthquake. I'm not bringing my computer, but I'll be back in a little over a week.


  1. Wow! You saw Krakatoa? Or Krakatoa Anak? That's really cool. I'm reading Simon Winchester's Krakatoa right now and am fascinated by everything that happened. If you haven't read his book yet, I highly recommend it. I think you'd especially enjoy it now after having been there.

    Have a great week in Padang and I'll look forward to reading a blog about that experience.

    Btw, I feel like I'm not being a good blogging role model this month since I've only posted twice so far! You've got me beat ;-)

  2. uh...WHOA. kinda like bush taxis in Zambia. were you sitting on anyone's lap or holding anyone's baby? :)

  3. After seeing your, how do you not throw up on the bus? And, how do you escape the mounting headache from the horn honking? Thanks for taking me there with you via your clip.

    Smoking makes you healthier...guess they don't have a very good surgeon general yet, eh?

    Love you!!!

  4. Sigh, so much has changed since this post. But that is what happens in Indonesia.

    "I think I love this girl..." but you are getting married to a stranger and not because you HAVE to.

  5. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be in small towns than in big cities, whether in the US or overseas. The tourist sites are in big cities, but life happens in small towns (I think I just came up with a book title).

  6. What a bus ride! And that horn, I think that I would kill the driver, before he killed me in an auto accident. That video really did explain it better than any words could. Get back here safely, asap. Dad

  7. oh how i miss buses in indo. now take a 22+ hour bus ride from padang back to pbang and talk to me about buses in indo... :-)