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.

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