Christmas in Indonesia (part 1)

Trip Start Sep 30, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

It becomes more and more apparent to me that Im truly in another world, yet it has become home.  I wondered what it would be like being away from family and friends during Christmas for the first time ever.  It was crazy seeing the month and date on paperwork, then looking out my office window at palm trees and tropical weather in the midst of December.  It never really felt like there was a Christmas, but it didnt bother me for some reason.  I didnt have any troubles with being away, I guess because I had quite a holiday trip planned and I had a lot to see and do and stayed rather busy.  Wednesday the 19th was my birthday, and after that I had free vacation time through January 3rd, so I knew I had to do something fun and get away for a little bit.  Mikal and I started seeing pictures of an island called Pualu Sempu and hearing about a hidden beach cove there.  We decided there was no reason not to try and make the trip and find a way to spend some time on an uninhabited island that even most Indonesians had never heard of.  The pictures were inviting enough to bring Cendhy and Rudy(my boss and her husband, and Mikal and I's Indonesian parents) to want to go as well, so within a few days before holiday was here, we purchased the train tickets to get across the island and the rest would be improv traveling.

This is only part 1 of my "Indonesian Christmas" because there is just simply too much information and too many pictures to put into one blog.  It was incredible how much I saw in the 8 days I was gone, so I broke it down into 3 parts.  This is the first few days of our trip and it was quite a trip indeed.  One that some of us are lucky didnt include a hospital visit or possibly even a flight for life helicopter.  But before I get ahead of myself, I'll start from the beginning, which started Friday night, the 21st.  Mikal, Cendhy, Rudy, and I all took a taxi to the train station together, where we were about to take a 10 hour train ride from Jakarta, all the way across Java, to Surabaya, the 2nd largest city in Indonesia.  This was said to be an executive train and was the most expensive, but it was far from anything "executive"  The ride was long and rough, but Mikal and I managed to laugh the entire way through and keep ourselves entertained.  At some points, the train would just stop on the tracks for a half hour or more, just sitting there in pure darkness as if it was being pulled by horses that needed to stop and take a rest.  It finally arrived in Surabaya 12 hours later, some time around 8am.  We then got directly off the train and met up with Ronnie and his friend Tepe at the station who had taken different trains.  We then found a driver who agreed to take us all the way through Malang and to the southeast tip of the island to a shore town where we would then hire a boat to take us to Puala Sempu.  That drive was crueling and I was so tired after never having slept during the 12 hour train ride.  6 or 7 hours later, we arrived on the coast where we found a boat to take us to the island and some porters to bring in water for our stay.  I might have gotten an hour or two of crumpy car sleep on the ride to this point, and then it was time to hike.  Once we got to the island, we were told we had a 2 hour hike ahead of us.  I had all my gear for a weeks trip on my back, so it was pretty grueling.  What they failed to mention is that the trail was pure mud because it was rainy season, so the hike ended up being a lot more than 2 hours.

I have camped, hiked, hunted, and done just about everything outdoors for my whole life.  I have repelled 150 foot cliffs, crawled around in an underground 5 mile cave somewhere in the middle of Colorado, even climbed a 13, 500 ft. mountain in the Rockies in the middle of Winter where I thought I was going to die on the way down.  But this hike, was easily one of the hardest and surely the most frustrating things I had ever faced.  For most of the hike I was barefoot, trekking through mud like you would see in a jungle documentary.  I was all alone during the hike too because I set off right away with the porters and they left me in the dust, but I was about an hour or two ahead of the others behind me.  At many points during this hike, I found myself praying and asking for not only safe passage but for it to just be over.  Just as I thought it was getting the most difficult, it started getting dark and to make matters worse, it starting pouring rain.  At this point I was cursing aloud and asking myself why I ever did this, but telling myself there was no going back and that I had to keep going.  Soon after I was at the point of pushing myself harder than I thought I could, I started to see blue through the trees ahead and I could hear people in the distance.  I couldnt see much because it was damn near dusk, so I started doing silly bird calls and got calls back, so I put it in overdrive and next thing I knew, the trees cleared and in front of me was the most beautiful sight I had seen in quite some time.  Sand and water, with the sound of crashing waves in the distance.  It was like a scene from the movie "beach", but it wasnt a movie.  It was a massive cove with clear water directly fed by the ocean.  When I got there, some of the porters congratulated me on making it and helped me set up our tent before the total darkness came.  After that, I ran into the water and just floated around, looking up at the sky and the moon, feeling rewarded for my struggles and challenges of getting to this secluded place in which nature decided to store some of its treasure.  I swam in the water for a good 2 hours in the dark before getting back to the tent and realizing it was time for bed and that it had taken me almost 24 hours of travelling to get this place.

The next day I woke up frying in the tent, so I got right up and jumped in the water.  Across the cove was some reef and the only opening in the cove where the ocean met the water.  I swam over to it and there were a few people there, but I was more interested in a different part of the cove further over, where I saw what looked like a cave.  I swam over to it and started to explore.  I climbed up a lot of rock and stumbled upon a scene that took my breathe away.  It was some of the most beautiful reef I had ever seen and a place that was simply magical.  I didnt spend more than 5 minutes there before I climbed back out of it and went back into the cove to go get my camera.  I bagged up my camera and swam back over across the cove and set out on a photoshoot.  I was there alone for about 20 or 30 minutes before Mikal and the others found it too and joined up with me.  We all went out on the reef together and took a lot of pictures and just admired the beauty of it all.  We were probably there another 30 minutes just enjoying ourselves and taking pictures, when the ocean must have decided it didnt want us there anymore.  I was up on a rock taking pictures of the others, when a decent size wave came and washed up onto the cliff we were on.  It was about knee high to everyone so it didnt do much.  You can see that in one of the pictures where everyones hands are up and one of the guys is on the wall.  The next picture, you cant see anyone.  I had my camera on everyone, about to take there picture when water came up out of nowhere and reached so high it got my camera wet even as high up as I was.  When I looked back down at the guys to see if they had seen my camera get wet, they were all gone from where they were seconds before.  I looked down and some of them were in a reef bowl, against sharp and jagged rock.  I looked for Mikal and he was just coming up above the water and when the water receeded, he was bleeding and had cuts all over his body.  I yelled to see if he was alright and he said yes, but he seemed to be in a bit of shock.  The other guys started running up the rocks to get out of there, they were pretty scared.  Some of them were cut up pretty bad.  Luckily nobody got badly hurt, but it was a close call.  We got back to the cove and crossed back to our campsite and started helping out some of the guys that were cut up and bandaging them up.  That was not a good start to the day.

I spent most of the day in the water, or playing sand soccer on the beach, it was a blast and I was having a great time.  By the end of the day, I wasnt.  I was badly sunburned and my legs were covered in sand flea bites and mosquito bites too.  It was a miserable night in the tent trying to sleep and the next day we were all pleaing to leave and get off the island.  I set off on another hike through the mud, but I couldnt even carry my own bag out because my sunburn was so bad.  One of the guys who didnt get injured was nice enough to help me out.  On the hike out, the rain came and it was pretty bad.  We had to wait over an hour on the coast in the rain for the others to get out, before finally getting on a boat and going back to the tip of Java.  We were all muddy, cold, and hungry.  I set off up the hill to find some food I liked and hot tea.  We spent a few hours there waiting for porters to get everyones bags out and off the island, before craming into a van to head back up to Malang.  At least we had been able to eat and get cleaned up before that trip.  The road to Malang was long and we didnt arrive there until dark, where we got dropped off at a hotel.  We went right to our room, ate some food and went to bed.  Although it wasnt the most pleasant sleep due to my sunburn, it was nice to have a warm bed and a roof that wasnt made of thin leaky canvas.

The next day we checked out around 1 or 2pm and were met by another driver that Rudy had hired.  He was going to take us around Malang for a bit and show us a waterfall there, before heading to our next destination, Jogja.  Malang is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  Its like the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. but set in Southeast Asia and highly cultural.  Its one of the greenest places on earth and gets more rain than some places see in a decade.  It was sometime during the drive that Cendhy said "Merry Christmas" to me.  I had no idea what day it was or that it was Christmas.  We went to an area on the top of a mountain in Malang and stopped at a food stall where I had some roasted corn and a beer.  That was my Christmas dinner, but it was special in its own way.  After that, we set out on a small hike up a trail to the waterfall.  I couldnt get the best pictures because it was raining and the lighting was bad, but it was amazing to see in person.  Sunburned back and shoulders, chewed up legs, and sore body, I was just glad to be off the island and dry, well kind of dry.  It didnt stop raining all day, and I spent the entire day in a car traveling to Jogja.  We finally arrived to the villa at 2am, and that is where this travel blog ends and part 1 of my Indonesian Christmas reaches its conclusion........
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