We were in Surabaya, pre-Dolly. “Get me out of this
shit-hole,” I told my trusty fixer and  culture guide . We drove late into the night towards Jogyjarkata. He was tired. We back tracked back to a town where he knew a cheap home stay. Two ladies turned up in a car. “They are hookers, and only  200 000,” said Sana, after a quiet talk with the security guard, who arranges these nocturnal activities. We passed. Besides, they were already ordered for a customer.

Next morning  to Malang.

Malang, a trading post or ceremonial center. A strong wind is blowing in this high altitude town. Me and Sana have blown in from hotter climes.

We found Ben, an English graduate, at one of the Universities. He was cautious, even hesitant, when he first met us. I didn’t blame him if he didn’t want to come on a Jungle Man adventure, but I did say he’d regret it if he didn’t come. That clinched the deal and off we went. First stop was a few temples out-of-town. I wasn’t particularly moved by the old Dutch buildings, that got only  a cursory glance from us.

We took a few photos. The structure reminded me of Borobudur, in Jogjakarta, but with only one temple complex. Nearby, was a large bloated Buddha, smiling serenely. Next door as a Warung selling coffee.

Madura.  Here was my chance to see this island. Sana had been here with his partner, an American exporter of antique furniture. Sana says they make the best copy furniture there, and the cheapest, which just suits  his mate Benny fine, who has lived and worked in Indonesia for the past twenty years. I noticed that he has a nice little business, but he didn’t really take care of Sana, who has traveled all over Java, getting him the best price. It’s obvious Benny doesn’t consider Sana a partner, but Sana is keen to impart his knowledge to other budding import-exporters. His knowledge on furniture is priceless.

We get to Madura eventually. Sana is taking the back roads, and Ben and I are catching up on our off-line lives. He had helped me reach my target of 1000 likes for a story I did on sky diving in Perth. I never did get that iPad that Trip Atlas promised, to anyone who reached their target, but I did meet Ben, who helped me get the last 200 likes, when I was losing hope.

We can’t find Dolly. So we get over to Madura. I’m not interested in the expensive hotels, so we return to Surabaya. Next day we get back to Madura, and run into a hot bed. We couldn’t find the buffalo races, but we were part of a conspiracy that we could have done without.

We leg it out of Madura, and we are playing crazy techno music from a  radio station in Surabaya, which I’d  hear played on the minibuses that transports the locals around this hot and interesting city.

I’ve written about all this in past posts. It’s back to Banyuwangi. It’s a place, near the ferry, and close to Bali, where Sana feels very comfortable and a place I’ve learnt to like, despite its basic amenities and conservative feel to the place. We checked into a hotel next door to a karaoke area. We are talking about Warungs, that sell beer and coffee, with a few flicking lights and a speaker system.

The next day we hang out with the girls, who are having their breakfast. We caught them at a good time, and gives us a chance to chat and play with them. Sana loves being around pretty women and knows how to make them feel special. He did an Alpha Mart in town and came back with all kinds of goodies, from LA Mild clove cigarettes to Lay chips and coffees.

Ben, who just graduated from University, was having a field day.He was chief photographer. A woman from Medan put her arms around Ben, and Sana was chatting up a women who said she was from Bali. She wasn’t but Sana likes to make those connections.

I was joining in, and getting Ben to ask some questions. Last time we were here, I saw a few old crusty bule, who were hanging out at a brothel next door. The woman from Madura said they were ‘lost.’

I felt a responsibility for Ben. He was getting text messages from an Indonesia journalist we met in Madura, who said that we should get out of Java, because the police were hunting us down. He was also getting text messages from my sponsor, one read. “Leave that guy (me) , or I’ll have you killed too.” So Ben was getting it from every which direction, and I really felt it was time to send him home, back to his footsie and friends. He caught the early morning train, and our team was broken up. It was the best thing to do, and Ben seemed pretty happy to part of some espionage and excitement.

Now it was back to the whore houses. We heard from Gil, the owner of the only Western run  Hotel in Banyuwangi, that were was a village near the beach that had working girls. Sana and I had visited another such village, and left, one million Rupiah later with a  large beer tab, somewhat disappointed. “I could have ten girls for the price of our bill,” said Sana, and I felt for him too.

Put it down to experience, I told Sana, besides it was good research for a story we did on prostitution a few posts back on Banguwangi, making the connection with the working girls in Java, who mostly come from East Java.

“It’s not really prostitution,” said Gil, who had texted me to meet up at 7pm tonight. I told Sana the name of the village, and we made our own way before mid-day.  I had really wanted to know how these places functioned in a strict Islāmic society, and the only way was to go out, and talk to the locals and test Gil’s theory.

We arrived. A few working girls we saw were doing their washing. Coming into the village, we passed shrimp farms that were closed off by bamboo fences. Unlike the last place we went to, which is considered the place to find hookers, here had an almost amateurish bent to it. “They aren’t so aggressive,” observed Sana, who knows what he’s talking about.

Over two days at this place, we had got to know the locals. The first time was with Ben. It was early evening, and we had a coffee at a local Warung that had two working girls. “They are all grandmothers” commented Sana. The owner, a devout Muslim and village chief of the village, invited me a ceremony that would begin in half an hour. The community was raising money for a new member  who just moved into the neighborhood. Before we left, Mohammed gave me a plate of sweets. “If you are a real Muslim, you will accept my hospitality.” Sana reluctantly took the sweets. He was hoping to be given an offer of the second girl, who was in her early twenties, but it didn’t happen.

Ben took photos and I sat with Mohammed. Donations were passed around and counted by the head of the village, who happened to be the Imam. Ben didn’t seem comfortable taking photos. But I encouraged him. Food was offered later. I needed to go to the toilet, that Indonesian virus that renders all food into a sloppy sickly yellow slush, would ‘t leave me until I left the country. It seems to work on the principle of curses, they won’t work when you leave the land mass they were concocted, same with the virus.

Sana and me went back to the village a few days later. This time we walked around the shrimp farms. Out the back of the village, was a bamboo platform over an ocean tributary. A woman followed us, and then stopped at the toilet. Sana couldn’t help himself and took as many photos, with laughter and goading. She was the same woman who prepared the food at a bar, which had its couches cleared out for a makeshift mosque.

Far in the distance, another volcano reminded us of hour insignificant we were. The burning of the forest had left a haze, and the morning trade winds brought in large clouds that swirled around the peak. We couldn’t make it over to the beach unless we crossed on of the tributaries that is the local sewer system. We settled to mosey around one shrimp farm  that had been dried, and two workers were making bricks for a house. Two other members of the contract team were dredging another shrimp farm of sand, which they’d mix with cement to make cheap bricks.The guy who made the bricks, a back-breaking job which he did with ease, while his partner mixed the sand and cement, taking  home about 500 000 (AUS $50) a day between them.

On the way back to the village, we passed a tree which was home to large spiders. Sana took some photos. You wouldn’t want to get caught in that web, which covered every available space across the limbs. Many of the villagers who work at the whore village, have a day job, managing the farms and bringing in income. In the evening, the women do a few tricks to earn some more money.

A fisherman we met, said it was against Islam to enter prostitution. “But what can we do, Indonesia is  poor country.” A woman, wearing a scarf on her head, more to protect herself from the mid day sun, waltzes up to the toilet, with her phone playing a pop song.  I tell Sana to take some pictures. “Why are you always taking photos of me,” she asks Sana. Sana says because his Australian friend is very impressed with the el fresco toilet. And who wouldn’t be impressed taking a crap, with a volcano looming in front of you as you make your daily ablution.

These villages will  charge 10 000 Rupiah to enter, are communal and all funds are pumped back into the hands of the locals, according to the local head of the community, Mr. Mohammed.  And on Saturday, the local copper comes and picks up his cut, which we found was only 100 000. “And if they want a woman, they pay for that and the beers themselves,” said the leader of the village earlier on in the day.

Sana found a monkey that took his interest.

I got dragged into a karaoke bar and offered a few glasses of beer. Sana came in, had a sip and then legged it out.  The village leader, now pissed, didn’t even recognize us. A beer later, one of the guys around the table who was from the local fire brigade, asked me to buy four beers.  I said I needed to see my photographer, who was outside taking photos. Then we got in the car, and both laughed how none could cheat the Jungle Man from Ubud.

Last we heard, there’s going to be a foreign friendly brothel here. And I won’t make the connection who he is. But he’s money is welcome, and I’m told he got a good price for two houses here.

A week leading to our Java trip, Sana took me a sacred bath, about a 20 minute drive in the mountains from Ubud. It was 8pm and I was bored. Sana had to pick up his Japanese friend at the airport in the morning, so he rented a car, and me and Crystal, a French back packer who stayed at his house as a couch surfer, came along for the ride. “I’ve spoken a lot about the holy bath,” Sana said. Nine fountains lined the Roman looking bath.

The water was crystal clear and being a new moon it was dark . “Not a good time to come,” said Sana, “you can’t see any pretty girls.” Crystal, a new tags type, in her early forties, and a Yoga teacher, was enchanted by the pebbles on the bottom of the pool and the large gold-fish that reflected the strong lights that surrounded the two bathing pools.

Sana points out the big building up on the hill, surrounded by old teak trees. “That’s Sukarno’s former residence that is now used for meetings with local government.”

I had swum and bathed with Sana near his home in Ubud. It’s a stream that comes from the cave in  the mountains. And it’s here where Sana takes his grand children and does the week’s washing, while his wife Wayan makes decorations for Hindu ceremonies. Here, the Balinese bathe naked. You won’t find any tourists, except the curious few who are staying at the nearby resort, that also has a bathing area by the river.

On the way back from Java the first time, over a month ago, Sana took me a famous hot spring. It only cost me 10 000 to get in, and Sana got in for free. The water wasn’t hot, but it mineral water was soothing.The toilets were closed, and in the changing room, a sign said no pissing. I took that as a sign to piss. The baths have three pools. Two of them have fountains that bring down hot water, that cascades on down on your back, acting as a shiatsu massage, says Sana.  He meets his friend in one of the pools, and the conversation turns to gutter talk, that the Balinese and myself are  fond of.

Life and Death, the trade winds bring in the kites and blow out the smoke from the cremation. Sana’s neighbor, an artist, had died at 65 of too much smoking and whisky, says Sana, who wants me to see my first cremation.

I went to the house, and half of Sana’s village was there. I was really put in a funk, seeing this dead man being attended too. We followed the procession along the street, then the gas flame thrower was fired up. I took as many pictures as I could of this man’s burning limbs. Sana senses my despair, and we walked back to his house.

That evening, we rented a car, and drove to East Java, our first adventure that over the last month has been filed here. If anyone needs a great fixer, who can translate, drive, and keep you amused, and laughing all the time, I’d highly recommend you contact him here. Trust me, you will never regret it, and you may learn a bit more about Indonesia, as I did.

As Aunty Anne said yesterday, “The fixers never get their recognition.” Sana, the Far Side salutes you.

We are leaving Bali again. I come across a Muslim wedding. Stop, and Sana does. I get out. I take pictures. I’m invited to smoke their free cigarettes the sponsors gave. I’m now cuddling the bride. And I’m not the center of attention, and Sana saves me. I show him the pictures. No, she wasn’t the bride, she was the MC. A sigh of relief.

Driving back to Bali, San’s in his element. It’s nearing mid night and we need to get back to Ubud. Sana goes the back way, a high way that has very little traffic. A fire is burning on the mountains, and the symbol of a giant horn burns hot with embers- I’m not making this up, it really did look like a bull’s horn. We are now going uphill, and the temperature has dropped. We stop at a Warung. It’s now nearing 2 am, and Sana needs a pick me up.

A young lady  serves us coffee.She’s only 25 and Sana gets into a conversation with her. Her boyfriend, who has his 250cc Ninja motor bike parked outside, is listening to us two desperate travelers. He obliges us. Sana relates about the hot spring bath, and how I pissed in the cubicle.  I excuse myself, and take a piss. The cool wind is blowing, and it’s now 14 degrees, being Bali’s winter. The canvas of the Warung is flapping in the wind, and with the  light in the shop, shadows are taking shapes, unknown and primal.  It is  a fitting enough metaphor for Bali and Indonesia, with light and shadow  dancing to conjure new and endless possibilities.

Jump in the car, we tune into a station. It’s our song. I turn the volume to max. That Calvin Harris is so cool, and Sana is turning into those curves like a mad man. ” I feel so close to you now, it’s like a force field.” That’s Indonesia, and the night is quiet, the fog is blanketing the us. We reach Ubud, somewhat richer than the last time we left it.


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