Chapter 3 - bumming round Bira
So, having accepted the kind offer from a French local, we head off to explore. And we have a brilliant day!
First of all we go to the ship-building beach (sooo different to Camel Laird's back in Birkenhead) and visit James' (a friend's) boat, still in construction. We climb a ladder and walk around through wood shavings, saying hello to the workmen happily smoking away. Not for the first time since I arrived in Indonesia, I hear the little "Health & Safety" voice in my head making a feeble attempt to come to terms with what I see, without commenting.
I'll do a separate write-up about the ships as we also visited with the diving group the next day and I think I can fill a blog page with it, for those who are interested.
We have a little walk on the idyllic, empty beach, which has tropical forests cascading down onto it, and drive the scooter through a couple of local villages. I feel like I'm in a film. Either because they recognise Alain or just because they are friendly, everyone smiles at us and says "hello!" as we drive past. Men, women, children.
The traditional houses are on stilts and are beautiful. They seem to be very well designed and I'm told later by someone else that there is natural air conditioning thanks to this design, and the houses are really pleasant to live in. Underneath them, with the goats and chickens, you often see looms where the women are weaving while the men go and fish or build ships (or sit around smoking with their friends).
Next, it's the freshwater cave. We park the scooter on the side of the path and head down a smaller path into the dark cave. You really have to know it's there - there is no signpost. The rocks are sharp and slippery, but Alain's already taken a few people down here, including a group with a 70 year old lady, so, luckily for me, he is experienced at helping people get down without breaking their necks. And my pride won't take it if I can't make it down after he tells me how agile the 70 year old lady was!
We arrive at the bottom and slip into the water. We both have underwater torches and our masks and snorkels. It's like being in the Cenotes in Mexico, but without the swarms of mosquitos. It's a few metres deep and there are stalactites under the water, indicating it must rise and fall. There are larger caves off to the sides which Alain explores a little, freediving. There are no fish in there - just a small pipe which the locals use to take water out of the cave (as a supplement to their usual water source, not their main one). Quite a cool experience, in more way than one, as it's sweltering outside.
After that we hop back on the scooter and go to a headland, clamber down to some rocks where the local fishermen have wedged their small boats onto wooden structures in the rocks 6 ft above the beach, to keep them above the level of high tide. We leave our bags there - there is no need to worry about anyone stealing your stuff even if someone did come by, and for now we haven't seen a soul - and go for a snorkel along the coast, seeing lots of fish and coral. The water is crystal clear and it's lovely!
Back up the hill and we encounter a local couple who have probably come here for a romantic moment so we go for a small walk along the headland to dry off before we get back on the scooter. It's so nice to just be able to walk around abit to dry off, and not need to worry about a towel and a change of clothing! The views of the coastline are lovely, and we also discover a huge bush which is actually a mint plant, but as tall as us and very robust. Never seen anything like it! Is this what happens when a diddy little mint plant is allowed to do its thing in a lovely warm, fertile place?
Dry, we hop back on the scooter and zip back along the really cool long straight road, with a view of the sea on the left, the wind on our faces. Life's good.
We go through another little village, saying "hello" to everyone and receiving big smiles and hellos in return. I discover that you get a great reaction if you read their T-shirts to them. Little boys wearing "Messi" football shirts. We go to another beach, and take some photos of an island which looks like it's floating, as the sea has worn away some of the rock (pic included above).
I, who usually plan my day around my meals, have not missed lunch. Gallons of water and a little fruit and biccies did the trick. But finally we head for a very late lunch at 5pm by the port and see the Jaya - the boat which will be my home for the next two weeks. I'm reliably informed by Alain that it is worth going down to the sea front to watch the sunset, and he has boat-related stuff to be getting on with, so I go and join the others from Salassa at the luxury residence by the sea, to watch the sunset from their bar. There, I meet Phil and Howard, who are also on my Wicked Diving trip. I assume they are probably a couple (which I admit to them about 10 days into the trip, much to their horror!). Turns out they are "just good friends" who met when Phil taught Howard to dive many moons ago. They do sometimes share swimming trunks, although they claim this is by accident.
We pick up on some unrepeatable banter relating to a rather bizarre horse-related conversation they'd had with the Peckham couple the night before. When they hear of my Salassa woes, they also kindly offer to let me have a decent shower in their lovely luxurious room while they have a beer.
We end up having dinner in the Warung Bamboo, which becomes our second home for the next couple of days.
It's always interesting, when you go on a trip, wondering what the other tourists are going to be like. Two down, 9 to go.