Lombok is calling, she’s been calling for a while now. From Lombok, Sumbawa is the next island, and a wild frontier. I know next to nothing about it. On Google Earth I discover it had a very large volcano. Beetle collecting Alfred Russell Wallace wrote in the 1860s a “great eruption” happened there in 1815. “The ashes darkened the air and fell thickly upon the earth and sea for 300 miles around.”
Seen from the skies, a large lunar crater hinted at its sheer size before Sumbawa’s volcano exploded. The Chief Editor did some research. “It went up with ten times the force of Krakatoa. Ten thousand people died instantly and there’s a city buried like Pompeii.” The explosion set off a year without a summer, epidemics and mass starvation all around the world, and Mary Shelly penned her gruesome novel Frankenstein. “
A volcano causing global devastation appealed. I have my sights on it, but first I have to make it to the island. The cancelled trip to Lombok and Sumbawa is back on track. Where was the Chief Editor with her mosquito repellent when I needed her at Christmas time? The rain just wouldn’t stop, and clouds of mosquitos were everywhere. A cloud, a dark cloud, and then it came, that dengue feeling, in the back of the eyes. No Lombok, no Sumbawa this trip. It took another six weeks to recover.
Now I’m back, Sana is willing, and I’m able. No dengue to interfere. Sana packed up his stuff in one bag, a few clothes and my MacPro. I carried the MacAir. Straight to East Bali and the ferry terminal. Today we are going to cross the Wallace line and Sumbawa is our vague destination. No stops, no massages, no detours. We are travelling light. No hiring cars. Where we are going, there is only public transport.
But first, find a place to park the bike. Sana asks around. A Balinese opens the door. On the door is a sticker of former President Suharto. “For president,” he says. I thought Suharto was dead. Parking the bike will cost 5000 rupiah a day, 50 cents. He offers me a room for a year. “Only 25,000.” I said it was cheap. His wife piped up. “25 million a year.” Dive masters rent the two bungalows he has out the back. “I would love to stay for a year,” I say, “But I’m going to Sumbawa.” He shows us his bar. It’s not finished. ”I ran out of money.”
From his house we walk down to the terminal. Touts are trying to sell us tickets on a fast boat to Gili to see giant lizards. And backpackers. I want to give the backpacker trail a big miss but the tout’s not convinced. “Slow boat takes eight hours.” Sana is interested. He likes big titted back packers. He likes western women full stop.
The next ferry for Sumbawa leaves in half an hour. Between four and five hours is the estimated travel time. I don’t care if it takes all night. The sea is calm, no wind. We wait outside a guesthouse. Hordes of backpackers arriving in minibuses are embarking on the four engine fast boat. A Scandinavian is basking in the sun in her bikini. Susu besar, big boobs, I tell Sana. He’s ahead of me. It’s old news for him.
Four hours of ferry bliss. It doesn’t get any better than this. A western couple set up their hammock next to us. “I took the fast boat three years ago,” he says. “Never again.” It’s air-conditioned and they play movies the whole way.” Sana is speaking with a Lombok man who is bringing back a new Mitsubishi dump truck. Sana arranges for a ride into the city. I find out the truck man is taking the truck to East Lombok. Perfect timing. Let’s go with him.
Lombok sighted. The volcano Gunung Rajah ahead. Wallace said the Rajah of Lombok had gone up the mountain to consult the spirits when citizens were cheating him of head tax. He wanted to know how many citizens he had. Thirty kilometres from the terminal we can hear the evening call to prayer. The ferry horn blasts. We jump with fright.
The truck driver takes us far away from the tourists. We arrive at his house. There’s a cheap losman next door. It’s late, and I don’t have any cash. We need to find an ATM. The truck driver drops us at an ATM near a hotel. I get cash. Sana gives the truck man 100,000 rupiah. Soon the hotel will be full, and the price is too high. But now we need to find another hotel. The next one is full. Sana scouts and I wait. Some teenagers asked me what I was doing here. They knew of a karaoke joint on the beach with bungalows. They want cash for cigarettes. We jump on the back of their bikes.
Twenty kilometres later, we hear loud music, sounds of laughter, and giggling. Dancing girls are ducking outside to gossip with their friends and smoke clove scented cigarettes. The large karaoke complex has one bungalow still free. It’s 150,000 rupiah a night. This is my kind of place. One of the teenagers’ bikes has a flat tire. “You are too fat.” Now now, I say, as I hand him 50,000 rupiah for the ride.
The security guard says I must show my passport. My passport is sent to the local police station for safekeeping while Sana is chatting with the Balinese cashier. She left Bali two years ago. She was a very sick from a black magic spell her ex-husband planted on her. The only way to escape it was to start a new life on another island, where the spell couldn’t cross the strait that separates the two islands. Obviously she’d consulted a practitioner of the dark arts to counter the spell that had left her lethargic and out of energy most of the time.
Then it’s our turn to have a few beers. It’s another world. Inside the main complex the dancing is Lombok style, men shuffling together, or shuffling alone. There’s no Saturday Night Fever rhythm going on here. The security man shows me a photo album of karaoke singers in the VIP area. Female company, 40,000 an hour, minimum three hours. That’s a lot of drinks for them. We decline. Instead we do the drinking ourselves. It’s good to see Sana relaxing. The night is ending and a narrow double bed is waiting. It’s going to be a tight squeeze. We have no choice. Sana doesn’t seem too concerned.
A late rise. I look over the wall of The Beach Resort and Café. We’re somewhere near the city of Pondok, maybe in Pancor. We’re travelling by word of mouth not by a Google map. Waves are gently lapping, wind rustles the tropical palms. There’s a pontoon limping in the water of a half completed harbour. I need coffee. Last night’s singers come down for breakfast in their pyjamas. More coffee.
From another warung we can hear some serious beats coming from the jungle. The warung owner tells us there’s a wedding 500 metres away. I’m already dancing. Tiny ants are eating me alive. We head for the speakers and find a wasted man sitting beside them, lapping up the vibe. Young women are dancing with men, a flirtatious kind of dance. This is rave, Lombok style, fuelled by cheap rice whiskey. A fight breaks out. The dancing stops. Everyone helps push the two men out. The music starts again. Outside the two men keep on fighting. A policeman wanders up to see what is going on.
Back at the beach a soldier is patrolling. On weekends this sleepy village is a magnet for the youth of Pondok. Its late evening, and the motor bike races are really irritating. A drunk follows me from the car where he’s been drinking with his mates. He’s trying to ingratiate himself. The soldier saved me from another drunken rant. He hooked the drunk’s neck with his arm, and dragged him to the side of the road for a heart to heart. Then the soldier turns his attention and his big stick to the motocross. Eighty whimps on motor bike are heading back to town. The beach is tranquil again.
Tonight the double bed is too small, the karaoke annoying, and the ants haven’t stopped. They’re eating me alive. Take laptop out of bag – no cigarettes. It’s time to hop on over to Sumbawa.
We have made our way out to the highway. Money. Need to change it. Don’t believe their rates. The man behind the moneychanger counter shows me the rate on his computer. “I’m not lying, this is the rate today.” The Aussie dollar has dropped big time, according to his current list. The shop out the front is selling rambutans, red prickles encasing sweet sticky padding round a seed. “Export from Bali, only 12,000 rupiah a kilo.” Not at these exchange rates.
The skies are darkening. We regroup at a warung near the market. East of Bali, clove cigarettes aren’t the preferred smoke. We’re in Marlboro country now. Soup, just bones and fat. It’s beef apparently, and tasty. I throw the bones and fat to Sana. He sucks them bare. We share half a bowl of rice to add texture, “And to be full,” says Sana. The owner of the coffee stand says he bought this land for 100,000 rupiah. An international airport has opened. It’s worth millions. He tells us many people immigrate from Java, Bali, and Lombok to Australia. It was vague what he meant, but it was understood. In Lombok, Australia is any place south of the Bali Sea.
Sana is back on track. He’s asking about “susu g’day” in Sumbawa. “Arda tutup,” says the Lombok warung owner, prostitution is very underground there. Time to move, we’ve a ferry to catch. We hitch a ride with two guys also drinking coffee. My hat falls off, twice. Funny that 60 kilometres an hour does that. Stop. Pick up the two-dollar cap with Australia written on it. It served me well during the summer roadying season, and it had some sentimental value for me.
Lombok is like Bali in many ways. Canals bring water round the passing rice fields. We haven’t seen much, and we won’t, not now. The landscape is changing. The volcano slopes down to the dark blue, greenish sea. The clouds hug it. “A bus and ferry to the main city of Sumbawa, only 100,000 rupiah,” says one of the terminal’s motorbike boys. The sea is dark blue, and The Spirit of Indonesia is waiting for us. Only 15 minutes and it departs. Our timing is impeccable these days.
The ferry ride is slow and therapeutic. Sana is chatting with rice farmers. They are all off to Sumbawa for the harvest season. It’s calm, and clouds hover very low. Rain isn’t far. Inside the mess the captain tells us the price of a bus ticket to Alas. The young mate in charge of directing traffic on and off the ferry pronounces it as Alice. He used to work for an Australian who has a surf operation in Sumbawa. He shows me his website. It’s in Indonesian, and has a picture of The Spirit of Indonesia. We’re not surfers. He can’t figure out why we’re going to Sumbawa.
Sumbawa. Verdant, and mountainous, the peaks prehistoric. Off the boat there are many bus packages out there. We try to hitch a ride with the rice farmers. Full, said their driver. A toothless man in his sixties says it’s only 20,000 each to get to Alas. An eight-seater bus arrives which can easily cram in 20 people. We get in. No one else gets on. The driver gives 10,000 rupiah to the toothless old fellow. Now I know how it works. I’m learning fast. Not that I begrudge the old fellow a quick profit, but if I can outwit them in their game, more power to me. We overtake the rice farmers. They are getting off their truck and on to a local bus.
Alas came, a small town, and the rain decided to bucket down. The driver parked the bus beside a graffiti wall and a fruit stall. He lives in the next town, Sumbawa Besar. I liked the name. He says Sumbawa Besar has susu besar. Sana’s back on board. I give Sana the difference in the fares. The adventure is warming up. We’re heading into the big unknown, uncharted territory east of Bali. The air has cooled. It has rained.
We leave. Along the way the bus is filling up. To the left, Teluk Saleh, the protected sea. Westward, the island Pulau Mojo guards the bay from the tempests of the ocean further out. The sea’s dead calm, the sun reflecting, mountains to the right, and a rainbow ending in a golden rice field. Farmers are separating the rice from the husks. It’s golden brown, its texture like honey. The beauty’s as breathtaking as puffing on my Dunhills.
The driver is chain smoking too, to loud daungdat, folky upbeat hip-swaying Indonesian music. The farmer in the front seat doesn’t want me to take her picture. Too late. I need a piss. The driver has his home in his sights, the bus won’t stop. “Piss in the bottle.” Sana hands me an electrolyte drink bottle, one with a larger entrance.
The bus driver drops us at a hotel five kilometres out of town. A fence covers the perimeters of the hotel. It’s empty of everything but some heavy-duty excavators. For 200,000 we get an air-conditioned room. Sana can’t find any karaoke bars or special warungs. If there is ever a high season here, we have missed it. We really need to move into town. Positioning is important.
Next day we hail the first yellow minibus and leave the fisherman throwing nets into the dead calm sea. I’m keeping us away from the karaoke joints. I need to tame the beast. Once that Balinese Barong comes out, there’s hell to pay. Besides, Sana is a married man. He’s playing pimp well, but I’m knocking back all offers. Good info, I say, we’ve done all the research we need.
Find a warung. If you jell with it, use it as a base. Make sure it’s located next to a fruit stand. That doubles your chances of picking up everyone and everything you need to know. We found just such a warung at the local market. , I shake Artin’s hand. She’s the owner, and her husband is in bed, and won’t be in until the evening shift. This warung is open 24 hours. She puts two little cakes next to our coffee. I eat one. She puts another cake on top of my coffee to keep it warm.
Sana doesn’t eat his cake. He’s chatting to the fruit lady holding her child. Sana never wastes much time for getting information. He’s working in the background. His operating system for collecting information is spot on most of the time. If some things get lost in translation, it’s usually for the best. A market lady is selling raw tobacco. I am tempted. I haven’t lost my rolling papers. I’d asked about komodo dragons. The tobacco lady and her friends say they have them in Sumbawa.
A guy carrying his fighting cock leaves another warung, and his mates follow. They are off to a park to put their roosters through a few rounds. The warm up is taking too long. Sana says they don’t have Komodo dragon in Sumbawa.
I’m hoofing it. No cigarettes. I’ve lost another packet. There’s a deep fried chicken joint and two Balinese ladies are working in it. Their parents moved here more than 40 years ago. They tell us the owner is an Australian with a resort in west Sumbawa. Land prices here are cheaper than in Lombok. It’s an upmarket place with a birthday party for a five year old girl. I put a Mickey Mouse hat on Sana’s head, he’s really cutting the image as the clown. We are grungy. We need find another base.
The mama-san in a losman near the market offered us cheap rooms with the bed bugs. The toilet has no running water. She’s from Jogjakarta. We hummed and hahaed. “The girls go from losman to losman, and find customers,” says Sana. The last thing I wanted was my stuff to disappear. We found a more up-market hotel, one with air-con, and TV. Sana bargained our rooms down to 150,000. When I said we’d stay three nights, the manager dropped the rate to 125,000 a night. They don’t get many foreign tourists here.
Hot days, cool nights. We sleep most of the day. It’s too hot to go out
Walking around the market reminds me of a market in Phnom Penh. Billabong bags and caps and clothes sale between the fruit and fish sellers. Sana’s fruit lady is selling grapes from America. “100,000 rupiah a kilogram.” She says customers might only order 15,000 worth, just enough to savour the flavour grapes grown on the other side of the globe. Her husband is smoking Marlboro Reds. The fish ladies are wearing a yellow mask of something organic. “It keeps us cool during the hot day,” says one of the fishmongers.
At the warung I’ve been playing loud music and chain-smoking and now the owner has a headache coming on. My ongoing joke about everything being gratis is starting to annoy her. Sana says my Sumbawa nickname means “the noisy one. ‘Thomas’ means be quiet!” We’d better find another warung, give her a break. I reassure her we’ll be back. Another headache she says. We really do need to find another warung.
The owner of the matabar shop is from Madura, his wife is from Sumbawa. Matabar’s a deep fried curry puff, like a flat samosa, sold everywhere in South East Asia. Sana comments the matabars are bigger and more expensive in Bali. “Chicken is expensive here,” says the husband. “And if we made bigger matabars, we’d never sell any.” He sells them for 3000 each. They are actually the same size as the matabars in Bali, and one-third of the price.
The men collecting money for the parking charge 1000 for a motorbike and 2000 for a car. “In Lombok parking is double the price,” they say. They are highly amused with the Australian and Balinese. Sana is still looking for cewek and I’m letting Sana do his thing. The parking guy says he’ll find one. Broaching of the subject of cewek, or sexy girls, is akin to discussing how to avoid the wife at a Men’s Shed. It’s a good conversation point and he’s extracted everything we need to know. You can take a boat across to the volcano. It will shave off six hours of bus traveling. With the volcano as a backdrop, it should be an amazing ride.
Sana spots a Balinese Hindu temple. It’s full moon. We have no sarongs. Sana says just to watch from outside. The temple is empty.
We stop at the brothel losman again. The mama-san, a larger lady, in her early 30′s, has an Italian accent. “My husband was Italian.” She’s travelled the world, even visited Perth. “Do you want this girl? Or maybe you want this one, from Banyuwangi?” She says the Java girls fetch a higher price than the local girls. ”I give you special price. I know you really want some relaxing pleasure.” She continues. “Some girls have whiter. And some have better experience.” Her dress hugs up her thighs. We can see her white knickers. Sana can’t stop looking. Common sense said get out of the place quick.
We find entertainment. Toddlers are fishing in a. swimming pool with a magnet hook. It has flashing lights, and toys floating in it. All over Indonesia families are holding tight on these Thomas the Tank engine trains, or blocking loud Top Forty music from their ears.
Back to headquarters, the 24-hour market warung, the headache lady’s husband is in control, and a local policeman is drinking tea. His wife owns the hotel we are living at. He says the girls at the losman are dirty. “AIDS,” he whispers.
Two motorbike taxi drivers nearby are drunk on arak, Indonesian rice whiskey. They are having a discussion. “I speak English little,” says one drunk to the other. The other drunk says, “I like speak English too. But I no very good.” I volunteer, “Hey, I can speak English,” and my camera flash goes off. “You crazy, you crazy!” We are out of here. One of the ojek drivers follows me. He’s repeating himself. “You crazy, you crazy!”
Tonight a mild case of the chills. Paracetamol seemed to help. Unexpected roommates didn’t. Mosquitoes were buzzing everywhere. I know something is up when I’m taking a piss every ten minutes. Copious amounts of tea don’t help the bloated bladder, but it’s that taste in the mouth, a bit dry and the way that saté Madura just sits in your guts. It’s not a way to start the day when the nights are for reading, the days for sleeping, and the evening call of prayers wakes you.
Next morning, no chills, no fever. Just fisherman netting fish on the seafront, and look, we’re not the only tourists in town. A middle aged man from Holland looks like he’s walked out of the pages of a Lonely Planet guidebook. He’s carrying one too. He says it’s the rainy season, the volcano is closed until June. He asks Sana where the royal palace is. Sana didn’t know.
The rain came early, washing the humidity away. In the late afternoon the sun is shining and Sumbawa is having a second awakening. At our 24 our warung market smells assault our senses and the rats scatter. The owner’s really proud of her son. He’s studying Islam in Mecca. He’s the hope shining for a family working hard, just to get by. We watch a guy with an empty box on his head and a bottle of glue tied to his pants. He’s laughing, and asking a parked car for money.
An old lady in distinctive Muslim dress and headgear moves unsteadily through the market, doing her shopping. The ojek driver helps her through the horses and carts and motorbikes and across the road. She must be in her 70′s. We head for the Royal Palace. It’s like a house made of cards, a double headed, three tiered pile of wood and straw. I’m into historical preservation. I light my cigarette at a safe distance. A taekwondo group is high kicks and grunts and taking pictures of themselves in front of long houses.
The walk up the hill is a breathtaking slog. The view from the top revealed how surrounded this town is by ancient hills that rumble and wreak great devastation. A family waves to us. We go over to their house. The head of the family worked in an Australian gold mine called Newman in West Sumbawa for 19 years. He worked in rescue and wants us to stay the night. His house is opposite the cemetery where his children run around.
You never feel alone here. Even in the dark, walking down the hill, someone says Hello Mister. Wings, cherub wings. I’ve spotted an angel. The façade of a church, or a nightclub? Ladies in white dresses are entering. A security guard, big and dark, blocks our way. We won’t be attending this sermon.
Sana finds us another coffee warung, this one next to a white jumble the Dutch built for the Governor in 1932. A group of University students are have no classes. “They aren’t studying,” says Sana. “So they are here trying to make some pocket-money for when their term starts again.” He enthralled the students with his couch surfing stories. “I’m new to the internet,” he says. They are studying Administration. I know what he is studying. “If karaoke, must pay 40 000 a beer, and another 40 000 for talking to the girls.” Sana is practical that way
It’s Friday, and Sumbawa Besar won’t let us leave. At a new warung the owner, Atika, likes my music. She has a speaker unit. We set up a mobile disco unit with my Ipad. She’s hoping it will bring more clients to her warung. I’m blasting the town with Taylor Swift and other great top forty songs. Fly by Nicki Minaj, special request, at Radio Sumbawa, next is Payphone by Maroon Five. Atika’s warung is now full with clients. Today’s big attraction, loud music, crazy bule. Wide Awake, by Katy Perry reverberates across the old part of town. Sumbawa is wide-awake. I’ve played my part.
In the morning I was woken by a soldier barking orders. Sana packed my stuff. We checked out. Getting around takes time. We’ve been a week in this a rocking little town with its administrative buildings and its 3G wirelesses Internet flickering in and out. Bima, the capital, is on the east coast, and still a seven-hour bus ride away.
Mountains surround this town, a hot place, with its own ecosystems. We trudge in the baking heat. Ponies trot past us carrying carts, some underfed, others with a healthy sheen. I’ve lost my hat. We’ll get there eventually. A man cuts coconuts, his wife scoops out the flesh, and adds a generous spoonful of sugar water. We devour their sweet drink. They’ll be sold out and home before midday.
It’s really hot. The heat is just sapping. But there’s no sleeping through it today. We keep walking. A saté lady, in her early thirties, full lips and pretty, a bit tired from the long hours, puts mascara on her 2-year-old girl. Her eyes look gigantic. Her son, six, and her other daughter, four, come up to us and chat. Sana feeds them his hamburger. Then I give them Sana’s Big Cola. The toddler is laughing as her big brother holds the bottle for her. She swallows a big mouthful of soft drink.
We see an ojek. The ojek driver clapped his hands, looking for a second bike and rider for a whip-cracking ride, seven kilometres to the town’s only petrol station. At the petrol station, we’d be able to catch every passing bus, less waiting time than at the terminal. Warung information is priceless. I waved as we passed the warung where I was DJ yesterday. Too fast, she didn’t see us. We were slow to leave, noted Sana, but quick to leave.
The bus, an old rattler, had parked next to a warung at the petrol station. I went to sit down on a bench. Hundreds of quail eggs fell over with me. I did a little judo fall, those classes as a toddler have saved me many times. The teenage seller started picking up the eggs. Some were broken. Sana offered the seller 5000 Rupiah. He didn’t want any money. A good omen.
The bus was loading. Bags of rice, stones, and vegetables were thrown on the racks, the roof, up the aisles, on the seats. We paid for tickets, kicked back another coffee, and stocked up on cakes and drinks. Those 1000 rupiah cakes, you don’t know what you are getting, but when you are hungry on a bus that doubles as a truck, they are damn delicious.
Occasionally goats and water buffaloes crossed the road, or rice filled little pockets of flat land. The conical mountains were always present, their jungle virgin, and thick. The bus slowed, stopped, picked up, put down. I helped carry heavy bags, always keeping free the seat next to me. “I need to take pictures of the mountains.” The volcano had a long and gentle and long slope. Since the 1800s, and the world’s biggest eruption in history, it might be only half its height. It still demanded respect.
We must be getting near. My arse hurts. The bus has no suspension. The battery on camera is dying and I’m charging the Ipad off the MacAir. Many months after picking it up, I finished Jake Needham’s The King of Macau on this bus ride, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I’d reviewed the first chapter Jake had asked when I was going to read the rest. I’d read The Ambassador’s Wife in a sleazy Jakarta bar. Jake endorsed that.
The bus turns into the terminal, not far from the main part of town and the “Hello Misters begin. They don’t stop until I leave Bima two weeks later. We are now in the far flung of east of Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea and East Timor aren’t far away. “Flores,” says one of the touts. It’s another five-hour ride. We’ll hold off for now.
We found a park, and the local Vesper club drinking arak. They are friendly bunch. A few shots of the rice whisky mixed with lemonade are offered. Sana asks if there are many tourists here. They say only in transit. They are all going to Flores to see the kimono dragons. I sponsor two more bottles.
Mary, the only girl in the group, had the kind of body to die for, and even Sana was enchanted by her bubbly, almost blokish personality. She was a freelance cafe girl. A few times in the evening she went out, to entertain a few guests over some beers. She quickly came back. We were mesmerized by her, and under her spell. Mary loved her arak. The more I drank, the more Sana pulled out notes from my wallet to buy more rounds. Along came the real Vesper boys, the Bob Marly look-alikes.
The arak was finished and one of the boys was down for the count. Mary wanted beer. She opened the beers with her white teeth, popping the lids. One tooth jutted out over her full lips. Mesmerized again. Smile. Her father, from Bandung, is dead, she tells us. Her mother is still alive and lives in Bima, Sana says. He’s taking a parental interest in her and I’m mixing local arak and beer, under the spell of a Sumbawa Apsara.
This was a happening and I was paying for the fuel that charged this relaxed party, no denying it. I have spent many nights and a lot more money at Karaoke joints. So why not let these locals get a bit of enjoyment too. The booze runs added up. And Mary told me to stop buying beer. The owner of the warung wasn’t getting much from our way. I’d bought cigarettes from him. All the beer and arak I had bought came from the local liquor store. Mary got some money for being so gracious. Everyone is thanking me for the booze. I even get a neck rub. We start chanting, Mary Mary. A guy has his arm around her. She asks me for 100,000. I had already given her 150 000 for her great company. Before she leaves, she commandeers my Marlboro Red cigarettes and my lighter from Australia. I’m touched.
The call of prayer. Birds chirping. Mary long gone home. Head spinning. Get me home Sana, I’m out of the drain now, not spiralling down it any more. High five as we walk back to the hotel. The fever and the cold are gone. I’m cured. “Tramadol is good for fever,” says Sana. Another great night not to be repeated.
When we wake up goats are roaming in the streets. Ramadan is near, fattening them up for the slaughter, says Sana. Mary is still in our dreams. “She likes to hang out with men,” says Sana. “She doesn’t like to mix with woman that much.” Mary can’t do wrong. Sana has gone out to buy some KFC. I run into one of her friends. We break into the Mary Mary chant. He says she’s feeling a bit under the weather.
That night we go back to the park for a nightcap. No booze, only Flores coffee. A quiet coffee has become noisy. A large group of teenage boys is watching me write. Blue sex. Do I have any? The helper at the warung is cadging cigarettes. He giggles perversely at the mention of blue sex movies. Tidak adah, I don’t have! The boys start a pathetic motorbike race. The show was intended for me. Not bad, but it didn’t come close to the speed demons we saw in the sleepy fishing village in East Lombok.
Next day we go to the laundromat to change money. Where else would you clean it? The rate is crap. Withdrawing from an ATM is even worse. The moneychanger counts the money in front of me. I get Sana to double count it. I have to make him look important. “You are my secretary.” Sana likes that one.
We down an avocado shake at the juice shop before we set out to see the Sultan’s cemetery. We pass Vesper Head Quarters. We chant Mary Mary! For old time’s sake. Hey, you owe me a coffee, I said to one of the guys all over Mary. We don’t linger.
To get up the hill, we cross a suspension bridge. I jump up and down on it. While it was swinging, Sana cried, “It’s an earthquake!” He likes to play up to the camera when it’s rolling. The walk to the top was steep. A junior football team did sit-ups on the road. We followed the steps. Cannons lined up outside the Sultan palace, old cannons.
The gate was locked. Two caretakers, sweeping the grounds, said we could jump over the fence. Sana has trouble. Eventually he gets over the fence without losing his family jewels. I jump over the fence. A big stag looked at me. I looked back. I imagined those sharp serrated horns going into my gut, pulling out my entrails. I stood very still. The deer moved on to greener pastures.
The graves had simple tombstones. Two, more ornate, dominated the others. One Sultan had died in the 1600′s. The other, I don’t know. From here you could see the layers of mountains surrounding us, and the mist rising from the sea. The city circled a port, beaches, and shrimp farms. A conical island at the end of the bay, that must be Sanggeang. We won’t be visiting. It’s on eruption alert. All farmers off the island please.
Outside the Sultan’s gate electricians drinking arak, are putting up a few light posts. I feed the palace caretaker cigarettes, and do the samba a few times. The tiny ants are out in force. A lone goat is roaming the warungs. Shoo shoo, get away. It nimbly jumped up on a long wooden stool at the bakso soup stand. It gently rammed the bakso man. For a few minute they played together. The bakso man spoke its language, he really did. Then the man found the goat a bag with food scraps in it. He teased and goaded the goat over the fence into the Sultan’s place. “He will be bones in a soup soon,” said Sana, watching the goat beating the deer to the scraps.
Coming back down, hundreds of Hello Misters, and handshakes, how’s your mother in reply. We’re heading for the port we could see from the cemetery. More “Hello Misters.” It’s like being a celebrity. “No one ever says ‘Hello Mister’ when I’m walking alone,” Sana says. He’s not hurt about it.
The next ferry leaves for Sulawesi in the morning. Other ferries leave for Borneo, Bali, and Surabaya, Sumba and Flores. Sumba, an eight-hour ferry to the south, seems interesting. So does an island is in between Sumbawa and Flores. It’s tempting. “Stick with a ranger if you go there,” advises the Chief Editor from in Far Side Headquarters in South Australia. “Those monitor lizards aren’t like my pet goannas. “
Dungeon or Dragons. I’ll let the coin decide. I’ve not tossed the coin yet. We walk back to the hotel and the Fox channel. The TV news reports a Komodo dragon bit someone today. He’s stable but in a critical condition. Flores crossed out. The volcano it is.
Seven hours of bumpy, winding roads, that’s the bus ride from Bima to the village at the foot of Sumbawa’s volcano. The bus was full. Bags hanging on the rails, and used often. The young girl who vomited first vomited the whole way. The next victims were the lady sitting next to me, and her little boy. It was a winding, bumpy road. Some sections weren’t good.
At the terminal in Sima, goats, cats and dogs roamed for scraps. I thought it was Pancasila. Too easy. We off loaded all our sweets to some children who were helping their grandmother dry the rice crop on tarps on the ground. Another bus to Dompu arrived. A lady offered us a ticket to Lombok. “Have AC and toilet.” Nothing made sense. Where was the volcano, Tamboro? We contact Far Side headquarters. The Chief Editor emailed us some directions. Another five hours. Find the local warung. Get Mr. Couch Surfer asking questions.
We ate. The food was crap. We were overcharged. A bus is about to leave. Five hours. Sana encouraged me. “It’s the last bus to Pancasila. If you don’t get it now, you’ll have to stay here for the night.”
We’re on the last bus to Pancasila. The next five hours were tough, but my bag stayed on the rail. For most of the way the road hugged the coast. Other mountains concealed the volcano. Sumbawa Besar across the large bay.
Wooden houses and a soccer field. It’s doubling as grazing space for cows wearing bells. The bus drops us at the Mt Tamboro trekking centre. It’s a home stay, and its dinnertime. Sana works his magic. The warung owner’s brother is a guide. He’s not trying to sell us a package. “It’s still wet. The slopes are dangerous.” The owner of the home stay says “it didn’t stop a group of Sumatrans who trekked here last week.”
We could risk it but we have another mission. Find the Pompeii of the East. We stock up on Indonesian donuts and settle in for the night. A new three-room bungalow is going up by the toilet out the back. One of the construction workers offers to rent us his motorbike. Only 50,000 rupiah. Done, now we’re cooking with AvGas. We are back on track. With a wing and a prayer we may just pull this off.
Next morning people are friendly. They’re riding hybrid bikes made from spare part, Frankensteins. There’s innocence about this place that’s really hard to pin down. Hope in the air.
We fill up the bike with fuel. There’s enough for a ten kilometre round trip. The warung directions have been vague. Many people know about the digging site. “The museum is over there.” Finding the museum isn’t that easy. We have been driving on a track for half an hour. A sign says the museum is to the left. We find a run-down coffee warehouse. It doesn’t look like a museum. We drive the motorbike down a goat track into a gully. No museum there.
We back track to a few houses, a little village. The houses are vacant and run down except for one. A lady comes out. She says the Museum isn’t far. I scratch her black cat under the neck, and give it a belly rub. “Wait for my husband, he knows how to find it.” A man is dragging five 10-foot planks on the back of his motorbike. His forehead veins are popping.
Finding him on the track was a stroke of great luck. “It’s only 300 meters down the path, later I’ll come and show you.” Suleiman has been here since1983. He’s harvesting trees he planted in 2003. “Alhumdelah,” says Sana. “He’s one of the main researchers.”
We try to make our own way. We travel up one path. Nothing. The paths fork. I say to Sana “let’s try that way, it’s at least going down a gully.” The gully doesn’t look like there’s ever been any digging. We go back up to the fork. Where is it? We can’t find it. Alarm. All the paths look the same. We stop. We don’t know what to do. Then we hear a noise – a motorbike. Suleiman is looking for us.
Our first goat track was the right path. We couldn’t see an overgrown footpath joined it. We leave the bikes and cut into the bush. The ground is sandy. Suleiman is glad we found him. “Many people come this way. It doesn’t mean they’ll find the site” he smiles. He was in the jungle when Australia’s Channel 7 came looking. “They couldn’t get any information.” A few days he saw a foreigner passing here with an ojek driver. “They didn’t find it either. If anyone wants to find the site, first they need to find me.”
Teak trees, and we are walking all over an archaeological site. In the brush, there’s been digging. Suleiman shows us volcano dust two meters deep, a wall of it, and then a house. “This is how deep the village was buried,” he says. A team from America found it with a ground radar-detecting machine. He shows us how they uncovered the house. He slides down a steep slope. He digs. It’s sandy, and soft. Then they hauled sand up, and sieved it at the top.
Suleiman pulls away a piece of rice bag protecting burnt wood. Proof that someone lived here. I touch the wood. It crumbles. Two people who lived in this house were buried alive in ash. The volcanologist with a radar unit wrote a field note saying he found them lying in a kitchen hot enough to melt glass. He thought one was a woman holding a machete and a sarong. He felt like he was invading someone else’s privacy when he found them. He reburied them without disturbing them.
Sulaiman says the first dig was in 2003. Archaeologists have been coming every year since. “They usually come in July, in the dry season.” The bodies have since been moved to a museum either in Bali or Bima. He is not sure.
Sulaiman has some things he’s found that he wants to show us. They’re at his house. He pulls out a rice bag, and takes out a bronze instrument and some ceramics. Maybe they came from China. He also has some rice he found in a container. He placed rice that looked like roasted coffee in my hand. I held 200 year old rice. The family who had lived in a buried house never had the chance to eat it. He pulls out a few more piece of pottery. “They used this as currency.” he says.
His wife brought us coffee. I handed him two packets of cigarettes and 50 000 Rupiah. “For the coffee.” I said. Sulaiman and his wife Marianne are all big smiles. He shows me a book on the history of Bima. He’s proud of his role in finding the past of Sumbawa. I wouldn’t be surprised if underneath his house another village is waiting to be excavated.
Back in the warungs we’d heard of a Balinese temple. It’s still another three kilometres further on. Sana wants to see it. We pass the main track to the volcano and yellow signs signalling where the trek begins. . No signs for the track to the temple. Fear of getting lost is never far away.
The rain is still around, and it turns the soil to slosh. Holes filled with recent rain made riding the paths motocross. Branches with thorns scratch the skin. You really get the feeling of nature here. The Honda isn’t made for this kind of off road terrain. I jump off so Sana can make it through some deeper puddles. My sandals got stuck in the mud. Sana is determined. We continue on.
Coffee grew on the mountain. We ask a young boy where the temple is. He says “just down the road.” Large trees, and Balinese sarong cloth wraps around tree base ten meters wide. “Over 100 years old,” Sana says. The trees look even older to me. A sign, Pura Tamabara. It’s a good sign.
The holy man, from Bali, shows us around. Nagas, water snakes, lead up to the temple’s shrine. The holy man lived in Bima when he started building this temple in 1985. He says under Tamboro volcano is a good location. “Over 20 Hindu families live in the area,” he tells us, and “many Indonesian climbers come here to make an offering to the Mountain Spirits. There’s also accommodation near the temple, built by the government, for Hindus making their pilgrimage. “Recently a group of 20 came from Sanur,” Bali, the holy man says.
The next big important day for followers is in September. It’s going to be the biggest mountain ceremony in the Republic. Over ten days 10,000 Hindus from Sumbawa, Lombok and Bali will visit the mountain. We meet the boy’s father. He’s from Bali too. They grow the coffee on the mountain. Sana says he has a good feeling already. He’s coming back in September, and he’s bringing Balinese dancers with him.
I’m taking photos. The priest has his Nokia phone out. So does Sana. The priest wants to give me a good picture. He and Sana have blue tooth on. Sana finds my Bluetooth on the Mac, and sends me the two images. We are all blue-toothing in a jungle temple. After we eat, I offer money. The holy man refuses. He and his wife will be offended if I offer it again. They tell us we arrived the long way. There’s a short cut, it’s only 3 and half kilometres to town.
We cut along a barb wired fence. Do you have the directions, are you sure you can remember? I get off the bike, and start walking, fast. “Tamboro” means “lost” in the local language. I can see how easy it is to get lost on this mountain. We nearly got lost earlier. Two bikes went past. One rider was carrying a shotgun. Suddenly we see the power line to the temple. We followed the power line, hugged that line like she was our baby.
We came down from the mountain, sun-burnt, muddy and fatigued with big shit eating grins, and we knew at once we’d been accepted. Six hours of driving around without a map and few guides or guideposts, and we’d made it back by a different road. No summits climbed no accidents, just a few scratches and a cramped calf. The mountain had initiated us. We’d flirted with Tambora, and she’d flirted back.
Today it’s Friday, mosque day. Everyone is streaming out of the mosque. A Javanese farm worker walks into the warung wearing rubber boots. Her husband is from Bima and she picks coffee. “The coffee beans are coming off,” she says. .For every five bags she picks — its takes her about five days – she receives a bag as payment.
We catch a couple of ojeks out of Pansacila. A rainbow spanned the village living close to the pulse of a mountain where nature once winked. We didn’t know until we were near the next village that the bike transporting me was the one we had thrashed in the jungle. The person who rented it to us started giving me the big kiss. He wanted another 100,000 for renting us the bike. “Tidak adah,” no cash, look, there’s our bus, it’s leaving.
Humidity hit us in the face. Bima’s got cows in the road works. Three plates of French fries at the Mini Mart, a meal fit for a king. My toothache is getting worse. Hugo, our hotel manager, took us to a swimming pool at another hotel. If we had discovered this pool earlier, I doubt we would ever have left Bima. The salt-water pool was warm and situated up a hill. It overlooks the beach road and hills dramatically making their way down to the beach.
There’s a lot to Bima, and if we don’t leave Bima soon, we’ll never leave. A ferry departs for Sulawesi tomorrow morning. It’s a 24-hour trip to Makassar. Sana says a flights direct to Bali will be cheaper. We’ve booked a flight to Bali tomorrow afternoon, leave at 2.20, arrive 3.30. Bye bye Sumbawa and bumpy bus rides, we will fly over you!
The rain has stopped. The sun poked down from the clouds, like shards of light. Two middle-aged ladies stopped us for a photo. They want me to find them a husband from Australia. One of the ladies had a Belgian husband and lived there for 8 years. She’s single now. A man from across the road yelled something at me. He was drunk. Hugo is spread eagled, asleep on the hotel foyer floor. We found the vesper group having coffee down near by the beach, their music blasting my head off. The bad vibe persisted. I’ve got that dengue fever behind the eyes feeling.
A crowd is gathering in the street outside my balcony. The call of prayer outside coincides with the call of prayer on a documentary about Yemen. Maybe a KFC fix will sort this dengue feeling out. Sana came back from his little walk to the mini mart to buy dinner.
Sana doesn’t miss much. He’s always on the pulse, both good and bad. He was away for an hour and half. “What took you so long, I’m hungry.” He said he heard that a little girl was murdered across the road. The man was drunk. Had a fight with his wife, took it out on his daughter. She had died a few hours earlier.
Hugo is shocked. We don’t go over to the house to find out what happened. A sad story is unfolding and a large crowd is milling outside my balcony. A drunken father cut his daughters throat, she was only five years old. Apparently he’s orang arak, a drunk. It’s still confusing. Sana says the father is at the hospital with his daughter. I can’t see why the father would be there. Shouldn’t he be in jail?
Sirens announced the hospital ambulance had arrived. The five-year-old dead girl brought home from hospital for the grieving mother. The father who committed the murder, says Sana, is now in jail. We saw her body, naked on a stretcher, being brought into her grandmother’s house. Half of Bima has gathered to see her body come home.
The guys next door are silently drinking arak, strong rice spirit. The evening news, an official version cutting through the swirling rumours. The man who killed his daughter was an orang arak, a serious imbiber of this drink. He’d parked his pickup truck outside the house of the girl’s grandmother. He took his daughter away on a motorbike and then he slit her throat.
This morning she would have been running around the street with her friends. Now she is dead. In revenge for the murder, the other children released the air from the tires of the murderer’s car. It is still parked across from our hotel. A dark grief cloud hovers over the house. Kids play around in the parlour, moving chairs around the room. The grandmother sat outside, stoically welcoming guests. My tooth is really playing up. Magrib, the call of evening prayer, carries over the hill, and a wail of grief, a woman’s voice. Maybe the girl’s mother wants to be heard, that no one should ever have to experience such gruesome death again. The crowds stayed for hours.
Most of the ambulance chasers are leaving. A few die-hard spectators stay on through the night. The funeral is today. This morning men set up a marquis. It was oppressive. They put nice plush chairs from the shop in it, and posted a white flag to signify a wake. A man carrying three shovels got on his bike. He went to the cemetery to dig a small grave.
The grim wake continued through the morning. It’s very humid. Rain isn’t far away. A group of ladies attending the funeral give me a big “hello mister” as we leave. Hugo dropped us at the airport. I gave Hugo a hug. It was a bit emotional. It was sad saying good-bye. He took out his dictionary and English phrasebook. “I only have friends from Indonesia.”
We’ll be flying over Tamboro. We hope to see the cauldron satellites see from space. We ran into a few Australians who just got back from the surf beaches. They looked shocked. Quiet. They’d had an amazing trip in a remote place. The last thing they wanted was middle aged Australian breaking their illusion. We were in mourning too. Even Sana didn’t feel right. We’d tasted the dark side of Bima. The heat, the humidity, and the isolation, breeds an evil cradling.
The plane flew over Mt. Tambora. . We saw the flat top, not inside it. The plane stayed way clear of the cauldron. Clouds were hovering. The volcano sloped gently down to the ocean. Now we are descending over Bali. What took many buses, and ferries, and bumpy roads, Wings has achieved in an hour. But to not travel overland would have been a big injustice. It’s sad to say good-bye. It’s also nice to discover a new place. Air turbulence. We are going to be fine. Denpasar is under us. And Sana is glad to be home.
We’d made the plane to Bali just in time. Soon after we left, Sanggeang snorted. Ashes and fumes closed all the airports from Bali to Darwin.