Thursday, December 31, 2009

From 41 to 11 (deg C)

[coming in to New Zealand - before the bumps]

From Perth to Christchurch, from dry to wet, from scorch to shiver (I know, I know: it's much colder in the UK): quite a transition! And as for the turbulence over the Southern Alps - it just served to shake us up in preparation for the changes. New Zealand is of course much more English (or I should say British) in feel and style, too, Australia being rather mid-Pacific in its leanings towards the US.

Temperatures have recovered now to 28: a very nice day for New Zealand. We're at home with Roz and Chris - with PhoebeII gurgling in the background and the snow-capped peaks of the aforementioned Southern Alps showing on the horizon. Long may the weather survive but NZ being located where it is, weather is even more of a changeable thing than it is in the UK. The original plan was to go down the west coast and up the middle (of the South Island) but a north-westerly is blowing through and the rainy side of the mountains are getting a soaking. Fingers crossed for next week! In Australia we were getting used to a constant dry but a volatile temperature (apart from the lightest of drips one day) but here anything seems possible from drought to deluge, from bake to brrrr!

One further complication (I should appreciate that I have such a problem!) is accommodation - peak holiday season seems to indicate booked-out status throughout. We have got a bed for tonight but who knows about tomorrow? Liz & Colin's strategy of motorhome all the way is looking more and more the better choice. We're in their wake/shadow and maybe we'll end up as only a pale imitation - but let's see!

[Later on: Tasman glacier and Mount Cook]

Friday, December 25, 2009

Upside Down Under

It's not quite the cliché Christmas pud on the beach but with "White Christmas" blaring out from Youtube and pictures of Chapelfield Gardens (Norwich) in the snow on one hand and a hot sunny day outside and a beach trip in the offing the contrast is quite enough! The kids have unwrapped their piles of presents and are now enjoying them in one of the three or four living rooms here (and outdoors is another limitless one) and we are contemplating how to spend the rest of the day. J has unfortunately taken her turn as the sick one and is upstairs, hopefully starting her recovery.

Australia, the Lucky Continent, is certainly a contradictory place - all that space but a heavy-handed police force and a nanny state that reduces the essentials of life to three-word phrases: "Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle" is familiar enough. "Slip, Slap, Slop" is a classic (Slip on a top, Slap on a hat, Slop on the sun-block), but now there are others, including "Look, Lock, Leave" for car-parking protocol. Now, if they hadn't included the last, would Assies still be standing beside their locked cars looking lost? It does sometimes seem as if the State here treats its citizens as children, potentially naughty ones. Where the alliterative trio of imperatives is unavailable, then an attempt at humour will do: "Lose Wait Now" announces an SMS-based service to tell you when the next bus is due - by the time you've finished texting, the bus will have come!
It is indeed a fortunate place, the amount of space - or the knowledge that it's there - helping to foster a sunny relaxed friendly informal atmosphere, helped of course by the weather - although it can get down to 5 C in winter and there's little domestic heating and no insulation! And yet it's hard to imagine, beyond the hedonism, what it must be like to live here, whether the open spaces symbolise something missing - a cultural history and a shared tradition. Rockingham, the nearby town, has social problems that mirror inner-city UK or USA, with the fissiparous mix of immigrant origins adding to the complications.
One thing's certain - it's better for most purposes to be here than in Jakarta - clean, dry, healthier, functionally impressive (I mean there are trains and buses and they work a treat, cheaply or for nothing), relaxed, milder: somewhere to gather ourselves and recover before heading off to New Zealand.
Happy Christmas to all our reader (sic)!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Phew! Enough of the whingeing Pom!

In Perth now not Jakarta: phew! Hot still but dry not humid - and the air: even though we're at ground level instead of the 23rd floor we can see further, thanks to the absence of smog! Plus our Jakarta-induced maladies (nasal and intestinal) are melting away. Now our worst worry is the red-backs (poisonous spiders) lurking in the foliage of the house plants in this home full of children (and "young adults") and other animals and birds.

More when we've properly landed but I thought that it was high time to draw a line under the whingeing: in the land of Oz it won't be tolerated - especially from a Pom!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Litter has its uses

Way back then and there (Thailand, late 60s) bags you were given in the shops were recycled sheets of used paper - old exercise books, government forms - simply glued into shape. Then came the plastic bag and Thailand's shorelines, canals and roadsides soon became lines of semi-transparent decomposition-resistant offence. Wind forward a few years to Indonesia in the early 70s: in my memory at least the plastic bag or food wrapper had yet to arrive and all that lay by the roadside in Bali in 1974 were banana-leaf offerings to the lesser spirits. Today, alas, no longer. Our first shock as the beach at Carita (opposite Krakatau) strewn with various wrappers and bags inches thick. And so it has continued, apart from select locations , especially those frequented by foreign tourists, where care is taken to clean up. And as sure as litter attracts litter, cleanliness tends to discourage it.

So how could it be useful? Well, for example, in finding your way out of a crater.

After the serene green delights of Botanic Garden town Cibodas we moved on to Hot Springs town Ciater (Ci=water in each case) but soon dismissed the springs as hopelessly mobbed (it was a weekend), tawdry and, yes, full of litter. What to do? Obviously a visit was indicated to the large volcano dominating Bandung (no dung banned, actually). Despite the Sunday crowds (and yes more litter) it was an impressive sight - a large caldera containing twin craters, one spewing steam and sulphur fumes. A short walk past the car parks (yes, a road leads to the top) and the lines of stall led us clear of the hordes and onto the track round the crater rim. Some way along, the path branched, one way going up to the higher reaches of the rim, the other along the ridge between the two craters. At the end of this, the path led on and up, the litter told us, to the opposite side of the rim. Up we toiled with frequent rests, but never in doubt as to the route, plastic reliably showing us the way.

There is a more pleasant ending. After the main volcano view, a track leads down to a side crater where steam vents and hot water pools steam and bubble and stain the rocks yellow, giving the visitor a hands-on - or rather feet-in - experience of a volcano in tick-over mode. All the way down, the path was swept and spotless, not a speck of plastic to be seen. It can be done!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gazing at Krakatau

.. as the Indonesians call Krakatoa - and they should know. Sitting on a beach in West Java and peering into the mist we could just make out the perfect volcano-shaped outline of what remains of the biggest bang in recorded history. This was when the marine volcano by that name collapsed in onto itself in 1883 and the sea rushed in - only to form one of the mega-tsunamis of history too - ripples reached the English Channel and the bang was heard in Aden. If I'd been sensible we'd have taken a boat out to watch Anak Krakatau in action - Kratatoa's child already going through the Terrible Twos - but the price shocked me: I'm not used to current Indonesian pricing, which seems to defy the law of Supply and Demand. After the Bali bombings and the current recession, the number of visitors has fallen lower and lower. So do operators compete by lowering prices to entice the few punters to their wares. No - the thinking seems to be: now we've got them, how much can we charge?

The next day, driven and navigated by Alex, we headed south - or thought we had - in a scenic route through low mountains interspersed with rice paddies in all stages of the growing cycle. Two hours later we reached a suspiciously familiar intersection, with directions to two places we'd thought we had left far behind. Road signs are rare at intersections, at least in West Java, and we'd asked for directions - only to be sent north at a critical point, when we should have turned the diametrically opposite direction. We struck lucky the second time, using the coastline and shadows to navigate by - although we didn't reach our destination till gone 9! It was a surfers' accommodation on a rocky southern shore run by a typically sun-roasted, hard-bitten Aussie, who regaled us with life stories and personal prejudices whether we wanted to hear them or not, or whether we wanted to balance out the conversation with some reciprocal details. Still, some amusing generalisations about the host country, centring on his idea that the Indonesians are adept at shooting themselves in the foot and cutting off their nose (you know the rest). But the elevated position of the rooms and the cooler climate had us staying there through the second.

The third destination was here in the hills above Bogor, crammed with nurseries complementing the Botanical Gardens, a gentle climate and people sufficiently comfortable not to need to trouble us. Today's achievement was to climb up along forest tracks first to a conventional waterfall and then, ignoring advice that it was "tutup" (wonderful Indonesian word for "shut"), to the hot springs, which turned out to be a hot waterfall, with water too hot to bear the hand in, even a way away from the base pool. Altogether it was something like 18 km., much of that up steep and rocky/rooty/streamy/muddy forest tracks so we felt quite smug (and sore) on getting down the hill to this minute but working internet cubby-hole.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Unlikely "holiday" destinations

Aficionados (if plural) of this blog may be expecting aspirational prose and attempts at global philosophy but then again, maybe not. However, when the first destination is most definitely not a holiday haven, please don't expect great flights of fancy: Jakarta is definitely not a place to get away from it all: rather the contrary. And sitting as I am in the subterranean zone of a multi-tower apartment block complex with little light but plenty of noise from the small but intrusive television on the wall.

If I was feeling creative, I might expatiate on the theme of "Rain dries up taxi flow" and recount our experiences of how a bit of a downpour turns this already dysfunctional city into one continuous jam. The doorman at Block 14 said "taxis finished". It had started to rain heavily and no taxi was going to come out for a booking when fares were to be found begging on every corner. Even the ones that dropped off at the flats were picking and choosing their destinations and a request for "Blok M" only elicited a four-finger gesture, which I took to mean 4xmeter amount but apparently was simply "minimum 40,000" (less than 3 pounds in fact but he was gone already). We abandoned waiting for an amenable driver and headed out to the main road. It was Friday (Moslem Sunday, of course), still raining and the road was solid with clogged traffic. None of the taxis had their lights lit (plying for hire) so if we were to make it to Jackie's dentist appointment, there was only one option: motorbike taxis. They were asking 50,000 each - 3.30 in sterling - but they at least would get us there in time. It was hardly going to break the bank, but we were perhaps at risk of breaking a leg as the riders wove expertly round cars, over pavements, among other riders, dashed into gaps, detoured through forecourts, sliding though the smallest of gaps - fun but scary too, at least for this retiree four-wheel preferer. Through the whole of the 1/2 hour trip we saw only one taxi for hire. The fact that taxis are so cheap (to us) is fine in the good weather but means that in the rain many people feel they can afford one. They must pray for rain - and the motorcycle taxis doubly so.

Jakarta today is barely recognisable as the city I first saw in 1974 when poverty was extreme and extremely distressing. Not that people are comfortable - a worker by the road asked us for money and a tip of 6p is really appreciated for a small service - but I've seen no ulcer-covered beggars wading through open sewers in search of the merest item to sell, as I did then. And the volumes of private cars clogging the roads suggests someone is doing OK. In some respects it's reminiscent of Bangkok in the 70s but with a skyline of Bangkok today. What Jakarta lacks but is only likely to get by the end of the coming decade is a practical rapid mass transit system. Bangkok has its Skytrain AND underground, KL its monorail but this huge and sprawling metropolis has only a rag-tag system of buses and roads unable to cope.

We're staying 23 floors up in the air, with a fine view of the skyscrapers - and the pollution: worse than anything I remember from Bangkok. It has the convenience of being a home but it's not ours, so it has the complexities of being on someone else's turf - a bit claustrophobic and inhibited. Still, we're getting out of town tomorrow (6th December), perhaps in the direction of Krakatau. Hopefully it will be a relief!