INDONESIA: Java / Sumatra [#13]

Posted by Kaspar from Hue, Vietnam covering Aug. 17th-Aug. 28th.

Ok, so we left the U.S. on August 16th and this is our first post since leaving for Indonesia even though we are now in Vietnam.  One might imagine that this trip affords us a lot of time to keep up to date on blog posts, so what is it exactly that we are doing all the time that we cant even manage a blog?  Well for starters, although wifi connections are plentiful, they are SLOW.  More importantly to explain what is really happening I need to employ the most cliche "travel to find yourself" movie of all time.  Eat, Pray, Love (which I hate to admit I tried to watch over Ali's shoulder) sums up our situation perfectly. In a scene where an Italian man explains the concept of "La Dolce Far Niente" or the "sweetness of doing nothing."  In my experience it can feel like people place such value on productivity that often we forget the basic pleasures in life.  One of the things we are reminded of on this trip is the importance of doing regular everyday human things.  The way I tried to capture it in my journal is, "Take a moment everyday to be human."  This means being present in the moment, engaging with your immediate surroundings, tending to your basic needs and not worrying about a million abstract or distant concerns of your own making.  When we are not planning our next move we are having a lot of these "human" moments, reading, drawing, journalling, engaged in conversation, eating, strolling or simply staring at the sunset and/or the people walking by.  Struggling to find wifi, editing photos and translating our journals into blog posts really gets in the way of our "La Dolce Far Niente."  Therefore, in terms of photos this post will be pretty straightforward, we encourage you to go to the Java / Sumatra: Indonesia gallery for the rest.

 Ali practicing "la dolce far niente" at the Ujung Bocur in Sumatra

Ali practicing "la dolce far niente" at the Ujung Bocur in Sumatra

After 22 hours on a plane we were greeted by the great Bonsai Casafa at the Jakarta airport, a nature guide in the nearby national park and lover of bonsai trees.  He mentioned having guided a trip with Mick Fanning and Rob Machado in the area as well as being familiar with Krui, Sumatra where we were headed next.  To be clear we have never been to Indonesia and we had no idea where we were going.  I had read a book about the explosion of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester so I was excited to actually go to see this volcano.

 Our guide, Bonsai Casafa, greeted us at the airport.

Our guide, Bonsai Casafa, greeted us at the airport.

 A handy map to help you make sense of all this text.

A handy map to help you make sense of all this text.

To get there we took a 3.5 hour car ride with Bonsai to Carita on the West coast of Java where we stayed in a nice 2 story thatched roof bungalow at the Cindewulung Bed and Resto.  Carita is a small resort town for Indonesians, but we didn't see any other Westerners, also no ATMs and no place to buy a SIM card...oh well. The next day (after a small breakfast where I ate the banana pancakes) Bonsai got us on a small boat for the trip to Krakatau, well technically it exploded, so we were headed to Anak Krakatau (the son of Krakatau) which is the volcano that has grown up in its place.  When you hike up it affords a view back towards Krakatau.  Even looking at the decimated island it was hard to imagine six square miles of material being ejected into the atmosphere and the resulting 100ft wave that inundated the coastlines killing around 36,000 people.

 Indonesia's independence day was the day before we arrived, so their flags were flying to celebrate 72 years of independence.

Indonesia's independence day was the day before we arrived, so their flags were flying to celebrate 72 years of independence.

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Anarak Krakatau is still active and smoking with occasional expulsions and rumblings, which is what my stomach started to do as we hiked down.  We had been in Indonesia for one day, I couldn't be getting sick already.  Ali had a bite of my banana pancake breakfast and she seemed fine...I was not fine.  When I mentioned to Bonsai that I was not feeling well he and the boat captain sprang into action.  The solution for nausea was to vigorously massage my back and stomach as well as pressure point to my hands.  Bonsai was even using his finger nails to turn the skin red and, "release the toxins."  Another boat captain offered something that smelled like tea tree oil that they rubbed on my belly and under my nose with the promise of relieving nausea, he also had a foil package of a ginger/garlic/honey/mint mixture that was forced down my throat.  All this vigorous activity was doing wonders for my nausea which reached a crescendo and 4rs of vomiting began.  I found a quiet place to rest and expunge for the next few hours making awful noises which Ali calls "shriek vomitting", we got back on the boat and we arrived at the place where we were to go snorkeling.  I heaved one more time off the starboard side and then jumped in the water off the port side to join Ali for some snorkeling.

We returned to Carita after snorkeling and Bonsai took me on a harrowing motorbike ride to a gold dealer (since it was Sunday and no banks were open and there were no ATMs) who gave me a great exchange rate, so we could pay our bills and get on to the surfing portion of the trip.

When thinking of Indonesia most people immediately think of Bali, so I figured we should go somewhere else, but I had no idea where and I was using google to figure it out like a real seasoned pro. (heavy sarcasm).  Somehow through shear luck Ali and I ended up not only picking the perfect surf destination, but also the best lodging situation and place in Indonesia to experience for our first time.  There is great surf and very little tourist infrastructure, maybe that has to do with the 6hr car ride from the airport, maybe it is because people are too busy visiting Bali, regardless it worked out well for us.

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The Ujung Bocur Bungalows where we stayed are situated right at “the point” which is a popular reef break in the Krui area.  It is pretty open to swell (bigger than the Krui break) and well oriented for the trade winds (although not as protected as Krui).  This part of Sumatra is still pretty rustic, meals are provided as there are not really places to go eat and you need to take a motor bike into town to buy anything or use an ATM.  We lucked out because after talking to others staying in the area it sounded like our place had the best cooking staff.

When we arrived in the afternoon it was over 2meter surf, which I’m not sure how big that actually is, but it was bigger than I have ever been out in.  I was having serious FOMO.  Finally with some tips about where to paddle out off the reef and where the channel was to come in I paddled out on a 6’3” fun board rental.  At first I was having the time of my life.  The long multiple section lefts for me were perfect as I am goofy foot and there were only a handful of guys in the water.  After 3 rides I was beat and ready to ride in, but the sets were big and I didn’t want to paddle into the channel, rather catch a wave as far in as possible.

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My ride came and when I got to the 3rd section I was not set up for it.  The lip of the wave slammed me down into the reef and since I was wearing booties I tried to push off the bottom to shoot back to the surface (I will never do this again and any surfers reading feel free to cringe).  My foot lodged in a hole and the leash wrapped around my calf and the reef.  I struggled a bit, I pulled at the leash, which only synched my leg tighter to the reef.  Exhausted and not able to take any more time underwater I pulled the tab on the leash and swam up.  The rest of the set was rolling in on my head as I swam out of the current of the channel and onto the shallow part of the reef.  The board was left doing its best impression of a tombstone bobbing in the channel.  I rested on the reef and made an attempt to swim to the board, but the current was too strong so when I got to the board I couldn’t release the leash and took a set on the head.  I was so tired it was getting dangerous.  On my second attempt a surfer from the line up had paddled in to help.  He got to the board just as I was swimming up, he released the leash and I rode the whitewater of the next wave into the channel.  It was a sobering experience.  I didn’t surf the next day.  I just spent low tide walking the reef and inspecting the dangers half hoping to spot my lost leash.

When I got back out there I was gun shy, but after a few successful take offs it was back on and the more I surfed the reef at different tide levels in different spots the more confidence I got.  Nana, our surf guide even convinced me to go out at Way Jambu “Sumatran Pipeline” on a small day.  This was a whole different level of surfing than I was accustomed to.

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Ali got into the surfing too.  Nana Gapero took us to his secret beach that has a wide sand bar and lots of powerful white water.  At first it looked a bit rough as Ali was getting tossed around by the powerful surf, but they made a good team and after a few waves she was popping up and riding every wave she went for.  We went back several days later when she was paddling into her own waves and even turning onto the face of the wave.  I think she surprised herself with how good she was, but she looked like a natural.

Surfing was not the only activity, believe it or not.  Once we figured out the motor bike situation (other than Ali badly burning her calf on the exhaust) we had fun exploring.  We were fortunate that a more experienced traveler to Indonesia showed us around to Mandiri Beach, Way Jambu and to the quieter parts of Krui.  We stopped to see the Balinese temples, walked the reef at low tide to examine all the sea life.  Ali was able to identify pretty much everything by the end.  Mainly we watched sunsets: hot blazing sky filling sunsets, cool purple glowing orb sunsets, cloud dispersed atmospheric sunsets, lots of crazy sunsets.  I was reading Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight who traveled the world before starting what would go on to become Nike and Ali was reading A Brief History of Indonesia.  Every time I would ask her what she was learning she would say, “the Dutch are assholes” (no offense to our Dutch friends, when we got to Vietnam we were saying, “Americans are assholes” a lot).  I was making drawings based on the sea life.  We were beginning to take pleasure in these moments and let go of any expectations we might have had.

 Cool glowing orb sunset.

Cool glowing orb sunset.

 Blazing, skyfilling sunset.

Blazing, skyfilling sunset.

 Atmospheric, cloud dispersted sunset.

Atmospheric, cloud dispersted sunset.

So now we head to Bali to see what all the hype is about.  Is it still paradise?  Is it overrun with resorts, bikinis and mediocre surfers?  We will find out.