The trip to Sengiggi on Lombok was painless. We were collected from the guest house bang on 7am in a mini bus. We quickly picked up two other couples and headed to the port. One of the couples was young and Polish. They had been on the road for about 18 months and were planning another couple of years. It made us feel like we were just on a long week end break. They had some useful information, especially about India. We had planned to be there for 3 months but it seems that when you get your visa in Bangkok it starts from that day. So it's unlikely we will get a full 3 months in India. Anyway we will cross that bridge in Bangkok.
We booked the fast boat to Lombok so as not to waste time. It takes about 1.5 hours. You can take the cheaper public ferry but it takes 6 plus hours. Once on the island we took a taxi to our hotel. It has good points and bad. It is well located and has a small cafe attached for breakfast. We had booked an air conditioned room but in the first room the aircon was not working. We moved to another room. Aircon is fine but no hot water. It's been three days with tepid water. Each time we ask, the reply is the same 'Needs new part. Engineer come today and fix'. We never saw him and it was never fixed.
It's been a nice couple of days. We hired another moped to take a look around. First day we went north along the coast road. It's very pretty but once you leave the resort area there are just small ramshackle dwellings and small road side stalls. Poverty is clearly an issue. There are only a couple of petrol stations so locals buy it in bulk then sell it by the roadside in bottles. It keeps the army of moped riders going.
Day two we went the other way. We soon hit the island capital Mataram. Mistake. It is bigger than I imagined it would be. The roads swarm with mopeds and assorted other vehicles. There appears to be no road rules. There are also next to no road signs. Despite having a map we were soon lost. We drove round and round looking for an escape route. Fortunately it seems ok to go the wrong way up one way streets and you can ignore red lights and no entry signs. With a little help from a roadside trader we found the correct road out. The morning was not fun.
Back in Sengiggi we had a cold drink on the beach. Tomorrow we are heading back to Bali. We've booked a ball breaking tour which will take us to the top of a volcano to see the sun rise. Hopefully it will live up to its billing. This evening we went to a beach bar to watch the sunset. I tend to think if you've seen one sunset you've seen them all. I was wrong.
If you stand on the beach in the day and look to sea that's all you see. Just sea and blue sky. At sunset something quite amazing happens. As the sun sets a huge volcano on Bali almost like magic slowly becomes visible. It gets larger and clearer as the sun goes down until it stands on the horizon shrouded by clouds and bathed in red light. It actually looks as though it is floating in the air. I was gob smacked.
Today we are heading back to Bali. We've booked a fast boat back. Then it's a bus to Kuta, a coastal resort. We are spending a night here before heading to Java in the morning.
We were picked up by Danny in a very old mini bus. It was just Jill and I. We couldn't put our ruckies in the back because the door wouldn't open. They went on the front seat. Off we went with Danny trying to chat in a form of IndoEnglish over the top of a whining gearbox. On route a moped rider came in the other direction. He obviously went into the bend too fast and exited on our side. If we had been 20 yards further on we would have killed him. Danny braked, the moped went back on to the correct side and we continued.
At the ferry terminal (a wooden jetty) we had a long wait, but it was a lovely view so who cared.
The ferry was a little late arriving. We boarded and sat inside. It didn't take long to realise why it had been late. Once we cleared the shelter of the island the sea was rough. I've been on some rough sea crossings but this was a bit scary. The boat was being tossed about and rolling heavily. Lots of people laughed nervously the first time it slammed down off a wave. Then it was very quiet apart from people throwing up. When I'm unsure on a boat or aircraft I always look at the crew. If they look relaxed then I just think ok. Having said that I could see the 'Indonesian ferry disaster' headline. The crossing took about two hours and I think most people were relieved when it docked.
Oh well it can't get any worse we thought. Wrong. We had a shuttle bus from the port to Kuta. Most people were getting on air conditioned modern mini buses. Not us. I'm not sure which was oldest the bus or the driver. Anyway we all got on with Jill and I sat in the front. Have you ever sat down and thought great only to change your mind. Sitting in the front with the window open seemed good. Then I noticed that the driver had to pump the brake pedal to make it stop. I wish I hadn't known. Fortunately he didn't or couldn't go over 30 mph so hopefully the crash wouldn't be too bad!! He was without doubt the worst driver I have ever met. How we got to Kuta I will never know.
As I got out I looked at him smiled and said 'Your bus is dangerous and you are the worst driver I have ever known' He gave me a big smile and said 'Bye bye'.
We took a chance on a hotel in Kuta as it was only for one night. It had no reviews on the website but it seems really nice. Our mate Dave said costal resorts in Bali are like Blackpool on acid. Good description. It's club/bar/club/bar. We've just had dinner in a 'quiet' restaurant to the sound of four discos across the road. Nightmare. However we did both buy a sarong. Well it has to be done, doesn't it?
Anyway the hotel was good. Lovely and quiet apart from the mosque at 4.30am. Thank goodness for ear plugs. In the morning we loaded our ruckies and headed to the tour company office down the road. We were heading to Bromo to see the sunrise over a volcano. It all sounded very romantic. The 10 hour bus journey was pushed aside as an irrelevance.
We climbed aboard the bus which was better than the last one but still not brilliant. Our driver was about 80 years younger. After about 100 yards I thought there are old bus drivers, there are bold bus drivers, but there are no old and bold bus drivers. This lad was a mad man. For those old enough to remember Alan 'Fluff' Freeman here we go. Queue the music.....
Down from last week's number one it's this week's number three Colombian coach drivers. This week's biggest climber, up to number two it's every driver in Indonesia. And pop pickers from out of nowhere it's straight in at number one it's Indonesian mini bus drivers.
It's difficult to describe the driving. Drive as fast as you can, as close as you can to the vehicle in front. Keep swerving out to see if it's clear to overtake. If there is a large lorry or 25 mopeds coming towards you, go for it. At the last second sound your horn, flash your lights and swerve back in. If you can't see the colour of the other drivers eyes you pulled in too soon. Repeat this process nonstop for 5 hours.
I've been in plenty of high speed driving situations but there has always been a highly trained driver behind the wheel, not a 12 year old on a mobile phone. It's little wonder Indonesia has one of the worst fatality rates in the world. In the end I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to slow down, which he did for about 5 minutes. I honestly don't think he could help himself.
5 hours of near death experiences and we arrived at the ferry. We were met by a chap with the worst mullet since Chris Waddle. Does Chris waddle know what people say? Anyway he took us over on the ferry then handed us over to another bus driver. This guy was middle aged and seemed calm. Wrong. 'I get you to Cermo Lewang quickly so you can have relax time. I've been driving 27 years' he proudly said. 'How many people have you killed in that time' I retorted. This guy made the other lunatic look positively chilled. Clearly they don't get paid overtime. We had 3 fag paper near misses in the first half hour. At the first stop I went over put my hand on his shoulder and told him to slow down. It had much the same effect as with the previous one.
When it got dark he didn't slow down at all. I will never understand what possesses someone to get on a moped on an unlit road solid with fast moving lorries and buses travelling at 70mph at night with no lights on. I don't know how we didn't kill dozens of them.
10 or so hours later we were relieved to arrive in Cermo Lewang. It was 10.30pm. We booked into a budget room for 5 hours kip (turned out to be 3). 3am we were up and climbing into a jeep to head up the volcano. Us and another 100 jeeps, 500 mopeds and an equal number on foot. People come from all over Asia for this.
We stood on the viewing area with all these people and watched the sunrise. It was a great atmosphere but still just a sunrise. When the sun came up suddenly we could see all our fellow revellers. They could also see us. Next second we felt like Posh and Becks. Despite all the travellers it seems that most of the tourists in Indonesia are still Indonesians, Koreans and others from the area. They don't see many white faced, red haired Europeans. About 10 people formed a queue and wanted to have a picture with us. I wasn't sure if it felt good or like being a zoo exhibit. We eventually seemed to have been photographed with every combination of the group and we headed back to the jeep.
As we headed back down the driver stopped at a view point and we got some stunning views of the valley and the volcanoes. Much better than the sunrise. Next stop was Bromo volcano. This is a small but still active volcano. We were dropped off and started walking towards it. It was a large expanse of volcanic sand leading to the base. There were throngs of people some on mopeds, some on foot and some riding horses supplied by sellers. It was a strange sight.
We climbed the 200 plus steps to the rim of the volcano. It was amazing. At the top you could look down into the core and see a bubbling pool of liquid belching large clouds of sulphur gas up into the sky. No walkway, no safety rails just a sheer drop into the molten core of planet earth. We watched in awe and took our photos. Just as were about to start our descent we were surrounded by another group of locals wanting our picture. 10 combinations later and we were allowed to go.
We were soon back on the jeep and then back at the hotel. A light breakfast and back on a mini bus. I feel like I live on a mini bus. This was a short sedate drive back to the tour office and a change of buses. To be honest I was dreading it. We knew it would be around 10 hours to Yogyakarta our next stop. As luck would have it our driver was a nice chap and didn't have a death wish. Unfortunately the traffic was horrendous and the journey took around 12 hours. Unlike everyone else on the bus we had booked our hotel in advance so he happily dropped us right at the door. We walked into the swanky All Seasons (soon to be an Ibis) hotel leaving the rest to debate where they would find a hotel at 10.30 at night.
Indonesia is a bit like a training camp for everything. They almost get it right but not quite. We checked in smoothly and our room is lovely. Into our king sized bed after a great shower. So far so good. So why at 8am would someone knock on your door and ask if you need the laundry service followed at 9am by a phone call to remind you breakfast ends at 10am agghhhhhhhh let me sleep.
As we were now awake we went for breakfast and then out to see the sights. We walked to the Sultans palace. They do still have a local Sultan. Then we went to the Water Palace. It used to be like a Roman baths but not anymore.
We were wandering around when a chap on a moped pulled up and said 'Hello meester where are you from?' We thought he was a tout but turns out he is a postman and thought we needed a hand. He showed us some places on our map then explained about taking a rickshaw. 'Two types' he said. Pushy ones for tourists. Look for the ones who are sleeping he said. They are the local rickshaws, they are much cheaper. At which point he woke one up, sorted the fare of 30p and told him to take us to the Batik Art Group factory. Jill likes fashion so we were happy to go.
These rickshaws are clearly designed for tiny Indonesians and it was a tight fit. He had also picked a driver who smoked 50 a day had asthma and probably Tuberculosis. He was also about 300 years old. Pedal down, cough wheeze spit. Pedal up, cough wheeze spit. I was sure he would die before we got there. But get us there he did. We both felt a bit guilty but that's how he makes a living. He took the money then pedalled off to find another fare.
The Batik factory was fascinating. We got to watch the cloth being painted and had the whole process explained to us. There was no pressure but we couldn't resist buying a small picture as a memento.
Next we went and booked a trip to Borobudur for the next day. This is a Buddhist temple about 50kms out of the city. It was a long walk to the tour office so we decided to get a rickshaw back to the hotel. We are feeling a bit like Charlie Boorman with all the different transports we are using. Anyway we agreed a price and climbed in. It was now getting dark. This driver was a lot fitter and we moved a lot quicker. There is something a bit unnerving about being pedalled out into the middle of fast moving traffic at a busy crossroads. I kept thinking these guys do it all the time gulp. He got us safely back.
Today the hotel (soon to be an Ibis) excelled themselves. At 6.45am they started playing pop music through speakers in the corridor. Loud enough to wake me up. At first I thought it was an inconsiderate neighbour but no. I phoned reception to enquire. 'Is it too loud?' said the young girl. 'No' I said. 'I like being woken at 6.45am by Adele at full volume and thought I would call down to congratulate you on your music selection at the (soon to be an Ibis). Yes it's too bloody loud, turn it off!!!!!'. By 9am it was off. That enabled me to hear the phone ring to say breakfast ends at 10am agghhhhhhh.
We've walked across the city to book a trip to a Buddhist temple at Borobudur. We decided to use an ethical company that gives money to the local communities. We spoke with Atik and she said she would pick us up in the morning. 11am and she was there in her people carrier. It soon became clear that it was just Jill and I. Once in the car Atik began to talk freely about her life. She had been a PR officer with Hyatt hotels but had given it up for a complete change. She now wrote books,ran tours, trained young people and helped build houses in local villages.
She had been brought up as a Muslim and had married into a Muslim family. She explained how she had become disillusioned and had started to read about Christianity and Buddhism. When her husband's family found out they threw her out. She had to go to court to get her children with her. It was an interesting story of a free thinking woman in a society that keeps women down.
Java used to be Buddhist but the ceaseless march of Islam has changed the island. Bali however is still very much Buddhist. Recently the Indonesian government tried to stop women on Bali wearing bikinis off the beach. The Balinese basically said F off we aren't doing it.
We also learned about the big earthquake of a few years ago. It's difficult to comprehend how fragile these islands are. If it's not earthquakes it's volcanoes or tsunamis. Atik took us to a local village where she is doing a project. She helps build houses and educates the villagers about keeping their houses clean etc. With no education many people don't have basic life skills. We saw the skills of the people making pottery for sale. Jill had a go and made a pottery ash tray. I think she may have a new vocation.
The temple was a great sight but I think hearing Atik's stories was the highlight of the day. At the end of the day she kindly dropped us at the main rail station. We have booked a train to Jakarta. Yet another mode of transport. We've also booked a flight out of Jakarta. It's a tricky thing as most Indonesian airlines are banned from EU air space because of their safety records. We have found one that is not banned so fingers crossed !