"I am beginning to get fed up with the amount of nonsensical rubbish I take all day and every day. If one more [New Zealand] child asks me what it's like to be a prince, I shall go demented... Will you visit me when they strap me in a white apron and deposit me in some institution?"
/England's Prince Charles, in a letter to friends during a 1981 tour to the southern hemisphere. The letter was part of a collection of Charles's private writings released by the Guardian last November in honor of his 60th birthday./
Last time I have promised to bring to you amusing road accounts from other fellow travelers. This one is short but quite deep, isn't it?
On December 5 of year 2008 AD a two mast 65-foot schooner Santa Maria left the port of Cairns in the north-east of Australia and set sails eastward, towards the outer ridge of the Great Barrier Reef in the Pacific Ocean. We carry a crew of 8, a lot of diving equipment, and a good barrel of Australian Cabernet. The wind is south-south-east 10 knots, the waves are ca 2 meters to the starboard, and the sky is clear. It is hot. Many hundreds of miles to the north, invisible behind the horizon, rise steamy volcanoes of the enormous, exotic and mysterious Indonesian archipelago, 18,000 islands of which stretch over 5,000km east-to-west just below the equator. Some of these islands I called home for the past month.
4th most populous nation in the world, Indonesia is huge, rough, cheap and diverse beyond imaginable. It is a country where you will have trouble getting change from your $4 dollar banknote. "Do you have small money?"- they would ask... Indonesia can be anything to anyone, and with a little planning you can pretty much choose any adventure, but take care choosing according to your ability level. Because the best (and only) thing you can do if you expect that the place will play by your rules and everything will go as planned - is lough at yourself (if you still can) and think of Mikluha Maklay. Because Indonesia just doesn't play by anyone's rules.
I started my trip in the capital, Jakarta, a city of 16 million, where in the matter of minutes (your brainspeed allowing) you can navigate between fancy airconditioned malls selling Cartier and Prada, and endless wasteland slums with streetside cooking fires, mountains of garbage and rats the size of a cat. There are thousand-people rave parties in bat-cave dark clubs and there are shady, colonial Dutch-era cafes with wooden ceiling fans and piano music. There is a cargo port that loads and unloads japanese megatankers and ramshackle local wooden cargo boats that bring palm oil from Borneo and Sulawesi and carry back cement and fertilizer (frequently sinking on the way, making spectacular diving wrecks). The latter are loaded and unloaded by hand by the legendary Kuli (I used to think that Stevenson and London made them up) - local bull-strong little folks from eastern Maluku islands. They had a good laugh at me, as, terrified of the option to fall into stinking black-brown canal, I crawled to their ship doggy-style upon a narrow board they use as a plankwalk to unload tons of cargo.
The rest of the country turned out as diverse as its capital: you can climb smoking cloud-poking volcanoes and cross lava seas (in the past month there were three 6-point earthquakes, 4 floods and countless mudslides somewhere in Indonesia, but I have learned about them only from your wary night calls), trek in deep jungle, visit villages whose people have never been to the nearest town, and lose your sense of time to the iconic surf and sunsets of paradise-like Bali. You will wake up at 3am to the prayer call from a nearby mosque, choir of village roosters, catholic church bells, pig oinking under your window, or the smell of hindu incense sticks. And some days (after Bali nightclubbing) you wouldn't really go to sleep and wouldn't really wake up at all. In one week or day you can try on the hats of uber-urbanite, beach bum, Christopher Columbus, dragon food, tomb raider, yogi or disco-dancer. You are never sure if you are an observer or an observed. While sailing to Komodo - home to the legendary dragon lizard we have anchored and went ashore at Sumbawa - one of dark, deep and enigmatic Eastern islands - to be met by almost entire population of a remote fishing village, who came out to the beach to look at the strange people from the strange white boat. It almost felt appropriate to wear a cape and a sword and hand out bright plastic jewelry as a proof that you are a god. On the next day at Komodo, we received quite a different eye from the dragons.
Perhaps the most intense of my 2-months long third world campaign was the last day in Indonesia, which packed into 24 hours all the stresses of return to civilization. I woke up at 5am at Moni - tiny godforsaken village in the mountains of Flores, a remote island in the east of Indonesia. There is no water in the village, so you only get to wash your face and teeth if you remembered to buy bottled water the day before. I packed and went to stand on the road for an hour, watching the sun rise, because no-one knows for sure when and if the bus will appear. When it did, i caught my ride on the sack of rice to the nearest town, to be there 3 hours before my flight, because it is not clear when and if the plane would please to arrive and to depart. While waiting I got my $0.50 haircut and my daily fried rice. Then flew to Bali, checked in to the flight to Australia, bought Newsweek and The Economist, learned just how bad things are, and .... got sad.
So, here I am, in the north-east of Australia. It is +30C and omni-present Christmas trees and Santas look idiotic and out-of-place. The most heard phrase is "no worries!" (I actually love that one) After returning from the Reef I plan to rent a camper and spend the next 4 weeks going south all the way to Melbourne. Navigator and travelmate(s) are wanted. I have already put up ads around backpackers' places, but you, my friends, have the priority. All you need is passport, swimshorts, and a ticket to Australia.
Hope to see you soon,
Pictures as always, are available at http://picasaweb.google.com/dmy2008
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