Chapter 2 - Culture and temperature shock
30th October - I arrive in Makassar and a wall of heat hits me. I am shuffled into a little office in the airport to get my visa and offered a seat. The printer won't play ball and is printing in landscape instead of portrait. It takes 3 very friendly, smiley and totally unflustered people to sort it out, nice and slowly, as the queue of foreigners gets longer. As I sit there observing, I start to shake off London and get a feel for what Indonesia is like :-)
I get a couple of text messages from Uwe, one of the other divers joining me on the Wicked Diving trip with whom I'd emailed in advance.
The first, received when I was in Singapore, reassuringly says he'll be waiting on the left as I come out of the airport, with my name on a placard. The second, slightly less reassuringly, says he and the driver have had a small miscommunication and they are going to be late. He's not sure how late. And I start to get more of a feel for Indonesia.
I go to CFC, which is a local version of KFC. I buy a bottle of water and settle in next to a little girl to watch a soap on the TV. It shows a teenage girl who has collapsed for some reason, and her mother or sister who is blind and trying to help her. It is all very melodramatic. The sick girl ends up in bed, is left alone in the house and a guy knocks at the door. Disorientated, she gets up and answers it. An animated discussion takes place which culminates in him attacking her and her kneeing him in the groin and escaping. The little girl and I look at each other with relief that she has escaped, and I can't help thinking that this little girl is probably too young to be watching something like this. But maybe I can't judge the way kids are treated here... what do I know about the culture?
I chat with some of the men who seem to be hanging around not doing much, and politely fend off all the offers of a taxi with "No thank you, I have a friend coming". About an hour later, I'm relieved to see Uwe arrive, and off we head in the taxi from Makassar to Bira.
The trip lasts about 7 hours and how we manage to miss all the roadside toddlers and miscellaneous poultry is beyond me. But we do, and we arrive way after nightfall in Bira at our "Guesthouse".
The Salassa Guesthouse, which had some rave reviews on Tripadvisor, is an acquired taste. Our first impressions are definitely very poor. Uwe has to phone Eric to get him to let us in. Our rooms are up some steep stairs, so I decide to leave my main bag with my dive kit in Eric's room. Just as I am opening the bag on the porch to identify what I need to take upstairs with me, there is a power cut. It later turns out this is a very common occurence in Bira.
Triumphantly, I produce a head torch within seconds. Bira nil, Sally 1. Oh yes! I'm a little less cocky, however, when I see the bathroom, where I'd hoped to have a hot shower and then rub myself dry with a fluffy towel. The Salassa Guesthouse doesn't supply towels. And the bathroom is a mucky-looking tiled room at the end of the corridor with a squat toilet, a shower head, no sink, no toilet paper and no running water. To be fair, it turns out the next day that Eric forgot to put the generator on, so we did get some semblance of running water the next morning.
I collapse on the bed and admire glimpses of stars through the gaps between the pieces of straw in the roof. I have a fabulous night's sleep sans creepy crawlies and the next morning I awake to the sounds of cockerels crowing, and look out of my window to see a couple of goats chilling on the piece of land between this house and the next.
I go down to the terrace for breakfast. It turns out that the menu is for display purposes only, and you end up just asking the waitress to point at what they DO have on the menu, and order that. I chat with Uwe who has been up for 2 hours already. He's a real early bird. He kindly takes the above photo with my cool scuba diver egg cup (one of my leaving gifts from the Keystone team at work).
Then I mosey over to the other group of 30 or 40 somethings sitting on the porch to see who they are. There's a French guy who, disillusioned with Europe, has moved to Bira and is having a boat built which he then intends to charter for luxury cruises. An English couple from Peckham who are out visiting their friend who works in Bira, and a few others. A nice group, and I end up chatting with them for a couple of hours.
Alain offers to hire a scooter and take me on a tour of Bira, so I happily accept as he seems to know what he's doing and anyone who learned to ride a scooter in Paris has my vote of confidence.
Wait for the next instalment to hear about the tourist attractions in Bira!