61 Day: Thursday 22nd: Melaka – Ferry to Dumai – Pekanbaru

The drive from the Hotel Wisma Indah to the ferry port took only a few minutes and so it was hard to know why we’d had another reasonably early start when the ferry departure time was 10.30pm. The ferry journey to Somatra was two and half hours long and I was looking forward to lounging on the deck taking in the beautiful Pacific Ocean and the Islands. My first impression of the ferry was that we were entering a catamaran but as we were helped over a short gap with the sea below us I deduced there were two boats and very narrow ones at that. Once inside the choice of seats was limited; down in the bowels, at water level or up one deck. Just by chance we found ourselves in the upper seating area along with a hundred or so others. This boat was as basic as the toilets in this area and whilst on the subject it did have one which consisted of a hole in one corner and what we now call a mandip beside it. A mandip is a trough of water with a bucket type ladle. The idea is to use the water from the trough to either wash or shower yourself with or in this instance to flush what ever needs removing.

The passengers consisted of mainly families etc but besides these there were some seriously shifty looking characters who seemed to be on excellent terms with the captain and his crew. I have to say they didn’t look like sharholders of the ferry line which I think was Seatran. John and myself had decided after watching all the characters going in and out of the cockpit that it must either be a tardis or else it was a larger area than the passenger area. After thorough investigation I had established there was only one way out of this sardine tin and that was by the emergency exit which seemed to be being used by the shifty characters who were now openly carrying large bundles of money. We were heading into the Adaman Sea a notorious stretch of water for pirates. The only possible explanation as far as we could see was that these wee money carrying accomplaces just waiting to give the signal once they’d established there were rich pickings aboad. Furthermore in the central isle one to every two rows were very big black buckets which must be used by the pirates to speed up the process of collecting everyones valuables. To make things even more suspicious we suddenly stopped after only a few minutes of traveling for a family to be brought aboad. Very strange.

We were suddenly distracted by the video movie which began with a loud explosion as a suicide bomber blew himself up along with the tuck tuck carrying him and a street full of people. The whole plot from there on seemed to centre around an elderly man who had lost three members of his family, seen bent praying at the graves, and arguing with tuc tuc drivers. We couldn’t decide why he hated or distrusted tuck tuck drivers and concluded that he like the one in Bangkok who refused to take us where we asked had driven them to somewhere else instead of a military target killing innocent people and hopefully himself. A tuck tuck carrying a suicide bomber is a scary thought indeed similar to a cruise misile that has gone astray. The journey was less than that stated and we were disembarking when we should have been watching the conclusion to the film.

We passed through Customs and Immigration without hinderance once we’d paid our 25 dollors a piece for a visa. Indeed I have to say the officials were very friendly, welcoming and helpful which is more than you can say for British customs and within half an hour we were on the next bus with our new guide Anton.

The hotel Wisma Indah deserves acknowledgement as one of the worst hotels of the trip. It was dark, dirty and seedy, no air con, shower, wash bason or roof fan. The walls in the so called bathroom were dirty and covered in damp mould with a large a hole leading to the outside and big enough to let rats in. The place was an haven for mosquitoes, rats and cockroaches and was on a par with the other dump in Calcutta.

We arrived quite late and decided to find a bar and hope the room would look better later. It was just our luck to find a five star hotel down the road a short way. It had a very large outdoor swimming pool, a welcoming bar if not a little expensive (£3 a small can of local Bitang) and two rooms vacant out of a total of 150. One of the rooms a penthouse suite was £80 an night whilst a standard one was a mere £30. How much Ozbus was paid for the shit hole up the road is anyones guess. Mark, Mac, Sue and Mary booked the two rooms whilst we went back to confirm that our ours was as bad after beer. It was.

62 Day: Friday 23rd: Pekanbaru – Bukkitingi

We were glad to get away from the dive and all the conversation on the bus was about it and the two back in London who’d booked it and none of it was complimentary.

The journey was through some beautiful scenery with hills, rivers and dense jungle everywhere. Interspersed between were traditional wooden houses with their upward curved corrugated roofs supposedly to stop devils from landing on them.

We stopped for lunch and our first taste of Indonesian food. It was ok. Once again dried up chicken and sludgy rice. There were some complaints but nothing to the ones coming. We were all aware that we were crossing the Equator today but when it was mentioned and the guide announced ‘sorry we’ve passed it’ people were not well pleased. So not only had Ozbus booked us into a terrible hotel but had also employed a guide who didn’t see the point of standing on the Equator. If the hotel tonight is bad we could see fireworks.

The Hotel Mitre Arena Gemini was not a great deal better and Sue and Co upgraded to the recommended Novotel for 650,000 rm or £35 a room before we even came down from our room. Our room had a shower and mandi but no air con or fan. We agreed to stay because Bukkitingi at 900 metres above sea level should be reasonably cool at night.

After booking in we set off into town with John to find somewhere to eat. The very first place we came to on the main street was an internet café with little signs of food other than a menu. As we were reading the menu the owner came up to us introduced herself as Anita and very quickly sold the place to us. The Turret Café turned out to be a gem of a place, the food was excellent, the surroundings comfortable and calming, except for the odd noisy bike passing and the broadband link was ok.

After the Indonesian food, so far, I decided to go European and have stake and french fries. The stake was very good as was the fries and they came with an accompaniment of tomato etc salad which was the first since leaving Europe. John’s Nasi Gorem, a popular Javan dish of rice, chicken, prawns etc was excellent. A kind of dish of left overs but fresh and tasty. We also had sweets which was rare. I had a bowl of delicious rice pudding with lots of cinnamin and bananas. The beer was ice cold and only 1500 rm the cheapest so far. The local brew is called Bintang and is very good but like all bottle ales gassy.

As we sat waiting for the food we were approached by a local man purporting to be a guide. He quickly brought out two photo albums of groups living as indians on one of the islands of the west coast and said he could arrange it for us. The tour was a minimum of 4 days and so was out of the question. He then presented us with a leaflet of different day tours. Eventually we settled on a half day tour to see the world’s largest flower, a canyon he called grand and Lake Manga ( I think). For this we had to pay 500,000rm for three of us and I, always trusting, left a 100.000rm deposit. We left the café content, tired and tipsey agreeing to see our new friend and guide Awanga at 11.00am in the morning.

63 Day: Saturday 24th: Bukittinggi, Hotel Mitre Arena Gemini

Didn’t get out of bed until 10.00am, had a leisurely mandi and breakfast and set off to meet Awanga our new friend and guide for the day. He approached us well before we reached the café and even though I told him we were coming he didn’t seem to trust us. I explained I was trying to find a sim for my phone and he organised it immediately. Down at the Turret Anne and Ted were having drinks when we joined them. By the time we all jumped into his minibus we now numbered six. This included Noreen, Ted, John, Mac, Anne and myself of course.

The tour to see the flower started with a drive through beautiful countryside and well kept little hamlets with tidy gardens and immaculately manicured paddy fields. Awang had told us he was not allowed to take us to see the flower and must hand us over to a local guide. The walk with our new guide to the flower started easy enough down into a series of paddy fields which in itself was a revelation and an education. What looks so natural from above consists of carefully manmade and maintained mounds and water courses. As we made our way carefully walking on the top of the mounds we passed smiling workers, ankle deep maintaining the structures. One old man who was very willing to have his photo taken as he used a rotavator to turn the soil whilst others were attending to the mounds gave us a large smile and welcoming wave. Peacefully grazing by the side of the field was a very large oxen who looked as though he could do some serious damage with his large horns.

As we made our way to the top of the fields we dropped into the stream which was the life source of the system. Things now began to get a little more demanding as we negotiated swamps, fallen trees and bushes and leaches. As I was stood with the new guide (forgot his name) he folded his leg behind him, pointed to a very small black strip and said ‘Leach’. He then pulled it off, grabbed a large leaf, placed the mite on it, took out his lighter and began to burn both until it was dead. I was surprised he’d killed it but I understood him to say that it takes his blood and he takes its’ life. A kind of fair swap. We had now been walking steadily upwards for half an hour and the humidity (70%) was causing me some distress. Things gradually got better as the stream now entered a very narrow gorge, one person wide, with the walls rising 10 to 15 feet above us. At least it gave some shade and the air was cool but damp. This did not last long and once again we were crossing the stream from side to side and rising steeply. The last few hundred yards took us up the side of the valley with only the exposed tree roots as help.

By the time we got our first glimpse of the flower my clothes were drenched in sweat. I actually physically shook my head and the sweat sprayed off like water off a dog’s back after having a swim. I was actually feeling a little sick and dizzy from the heat and humidity and had to take a little time to compose myself. A few minutes early the new guide asked me if I play sports and when I said many years ago he replied you still have stamina which I thought was a strange word for him to use with his very limited vocabulary. Only twenty minutes later and my stamina had left me as I hung on to the tree roots on a 60 degree incline staring at what looked like a very big plastic flower some 60 cm across. We were informed that this is not the biggest they grow, quite often they pass 100 cms. The flower only blooms for seven days and was surrounded by black looking cow pats which we were told were dead rotting ones. The flower is a parasite that lives off the tree roots. It took a good hour, of some difficult walking at times, but it was a magical moment for all six of us and one we will remember. We actually felt as though we’d achieved something. Sitting on a bus for ten weeks is not the best way to train for a jungle trek, all be it, a very small one. I will remember for the rest of my life the heat and sweat and John doing a very good Tarzan impression that really echoed up the narrow gorge and made the guide laugh and Anne shouting ,getting me out of here’, etc. If you’ve got a couple of thousand pounds to spare and time on your hands you to can see the world’s largest flower. If not go to Kew Gardens, they’ve got one to.

Our next call was to the so called Grand Canyon which was little more than a river gorge. Although it was disappointing we didn’t care we’d done enough seeing the flower to warrant the 150,000 rm a piece. As we sat looking up the gorge from a drink stall we got our first view of an Indonesian fighting cock caged by the roadside. His proud chest was bare and he looked very much worse for wear. John remarked you should see the other one. I also made another interesting observation, at least to me, when we asked for ice cold drinks at the stall the lad serving said he hadn’t a fridge but took our money and went across the road to another stall and came back with them. Not something that would happen in the UK. The same thing happened in Varanasi in India when the photo shop sent out a runner to get me the right card reader for my camera. Strange that in small communities outsourcing should exist.

The last part of our tour led us up the beautiful hillside past more well manicured hamlets and gardens to overlook the lake. The lake looked beautiful and remind me of Crater Lake in Southern Oregon USA: it also being a very large volcano. All that was missing was the snow.

It’s strange how things turn out, just twenty four hours earlier I was handing over a deposit to a complete stranger with little expectation of a good outcome and now we have had the pleasure and satisfaction of the flower walk, the scenic drive through the area with our very own private chauffeur who also bought us little treats of the area to try, the stunning views over the lake and most important of all the company of a very interesting guide and new friend. We all agreed we’d just had one of the best days so far of the whole trip.

The days was not over yet by a long way. In our conversation with Anita the night before she’d promised to prepare us a local traditional meal. When we arrived at the Turret the table was beautifully laid out with tablecloth, serviettes and a central revolving china food server. The food came very fast and consisted of a very tasty soup of chicken, noodles, vegetables and prawns; fish steamed and served in palm leaves and then the selection of dishes placed in the revolving serving dishes. To finish we had a kind of mango paste pressed and served once again in palm leaves. There were a selection of chicken, beef and vegetables and fried rice. The total bill for six people including the beers and fruit juices came to 500,000 rm just over £30. Our guide Awang who sat on the next table kindly refused my invitation to eat with us as though it was not the done thing.

After our excellent meal we crossed the road to another bar to celebrate Mary’s birthday. As we set off Awang leapt onto his motorbike to find a birthday cake and Anita found a single candle. Things in the other bar was far from jovial. Sue and Mary and a few others who’d ignored our comments about the excellent food and service at the Turret had now sat for over an hour for food. Mary was arguing with a young barman come waiter about her stake meal which had just arrived. ‘She asked him what is it?’ He said ‘stake’. She replied ‘show me’. This was repeated with the waiter looking more embarrassed. Eventually Mary grabbed the folk and slid it across the centre of the plate saying ‘where’s the stake’. Sue and Mary walked out after a round of happy birthday.

We spent the last part of the evening checking our mail and trying to delete the junk mail. All in all an excellent day with a very good tour with a lovely man as a guide, great food cooked by a very charming woman, plenty of cold cheap beer and a bit of fun to finish off with.

64 Day: Sunday 25th: Bukkitingi – Pedang Airport – Yogyakarta

The dreaded day had arrived, time to get on yet another plane. As we set out Leighton informed us that we were not driving from Jakarta as previously told but doing two flights. The first as previously stated a one and a half hour flight to the capital but now followed by another one and half hours later to Yogatarka. Although the second flight was only an hour I was not well pleased. This is now making a mockery of the idea of an overland trip to OZ. If all goes to plan we will have caught four planes. Mac announced in the café yesterday before our guided tour that he was taking public transport and not flying. The journey time is 29 hours down to the ferry to Java. I would have gone with him but for the logistics of our luggage. He’s the only one staying true to the original ideal. We calculated in the café that only six of us have stayed with the coach all the way. The list consists of Fe, Viv, Claire, Zoe, Anne and myself. All the rest have left to do other things. At the moment we are 18 and it will be interesting to see who turns up in Bali for the last flight.

The drive to the airport was interesting with beautiful views of a valley and its’ river, a 75 metre high waterfall and a single rail line which looked disused but added romance to the scene. After a few miles Kate announced she’d left her passport back at the hotel. After a phone call the hotel agreed to send it to the airport by car.

Pedang Airport looked very pleasant from the outside with low buildings roughly based on traditional wooden structures. The inside was just a large hall to hold people with very few shops, bars etc and no sign of alcohol. From my point of view it was just another nervous environment to sit around waiting in. It became very clear that the plane was late and this could well jepordise catching our connection. A thirty minute delay became an hour. There was no sign of any planes carrying the Adamair logo. Eventually an orange 737, looking for all the world like Easyjet, landed and quickly taxied into place and shed its’ passengers. Within minutes we were boarding and taking off. The 90 minute flight was okay but would have been better if they’d handed out cold alcoholic drinks instead of cartons of warm water. Very lucky Anne had found me cold cans of beer in the airport. The connecting flight took off over 90 minutes late and did provide Anne with beautiful sunset on her side of the plane. I sat quietly watching a cloud storm in the distance and found the landing at Yogyakarta smoother than at Jakarta.

The journey from the airport to the hotel scheduled for an hour took about 15 minutes. The hotel was yet again a basic affair with a money grabbing owner. Our room had an air con blower which only worked once we’d paid the manager 50,000 rm a day. When I pointed out we had no hot water and would he reduce the price accordingly he said no. I replied he could bollocks for the money. The breakfasts were very poor consisting of half toasted sweat bread, a strange tasting butter which I compared to Kerrygold and almost started a war between the Irish and myself. There was no fruit juice to drink just green tea or cups of sludgy coffee. The only thing that saved this place was the swimming pool which was clean and the area around it. Had it not been for this I think there would have been a mass walkout.

The area surrounding the hotel was a backpackers’ haven with lots of cheap bars, cafes, restaurants, internet cafes etc, etc. The little restaurant/ bar next door was buzzing by the time we’d checked in and walked the twenty five yards from our room to its front door. A group of teenagers playing guitar, fiddle, bass, percussion and mandelin had many of the bus singing along with old time favourites: Beatles, Stones, Bob Marley and Everly Bros numbers etc. The food was very good to. The band played for an hour or so and then left to carry on a few doors down at the Ragae Bar.

The regae bar was a dissapointment, the lads were now amplified but still good but the beer was dearer and and there was nothing else alcoholic to satisfy Anne and John.

65 Day: Monday 26th: Yogyakarta

Breakfast was very poor with cold scrambled eggs, white toast and a kind of puried fruit, tea or coffee with no milk. Fruit jiuce was extra like the air con and when it came it was watered down cordial.

After breakfast set off to visited an indoor market, the Sultan’s Palace and silver factory in the morning. The market was quite interesting for its shear size. On one occasion Anne got left behind with Mas and for a few moments I was worried for them. What was good was the comradeship of the store holders, porters, etc market workers very much like the markets in Sheffield when I was young. Every isle had a character keeping the place human with their wise cracks.

The Royal Palace was not to my liking and mainly about wealth, privilege and status. The silver factory was quite amazing and dangerous. All the goods were designed and made by the locals and sold at knocked down prices which Anne and John could resist. John more so than Anne, eventually walking away with a considerable bill for jewelry.

We were heading back to the hotel for lunch (not in the hotel) before heading to see a temple. Only a handful of us set off to see the temple. When we arrived we found out that it was Borobodou one of the must see tourist sites on Java. It is a 9th Century Budhist Temple.

From a distance it reminded me of an Inca temple like a very large stone cake three tier high. The walls on each level consisted of stone statues and carvings depicting various aspects of Budha. Our guide was brilliant, being very knowledgable and funny. His name was Budha and he was hoping for enlightenment at some future point. in the after and fish restaurant at night. the site had been seriously damaged by an earthquake and access was limited but sufficient to stand in awe at the massive ediface stood in the middle of a field. The builders had covered it in earth to stop Muslim invaders taking it and it was only discovered 300 years ago. The task of covering it with soil to hide it was remarkable enough but possible understandable.

When we arrived back at the hotel and those who stayed behind found out the temple was Borobodou another argument broke out. The guide didn’t think it was important enough to tell us its nameand leighton was not aware. Things improved later when Leighton sourced our evening meal at famous restaurant serving traditional Indonesian food. The food of fish and meats was served on Palm leaves and all agreed it was excellent. This place also had a good live trio playing mainly Beatles and Bob Marley classics. They seemed generally surprised to have customers singing along with them and they thanked us before we left.

66 Day: Tuesday 27th: Yogyakarta – Ngawi

We should have been heading for Solo but for some reason Leighton suddenly announced, last night, that we were now going to Ngawi. He said by missing out Solo we would cut the following days 14 hour journey to Mt Bromo down to only 7. It seemed reasonable to have two 7 hour trips, however, we arrived at the non-discript shit hole of a town after only three and half hours so we couldn’t workout how it saved any time. When we looked at the map Solo and Ngawi were quite close.

I can’t remember much about the journey, according to Anne I fell asleep. It’s quite easy to do it because we have so much room on the bus and it’s quiet with the noisey ones staying behind in Thailand for the full moon party on Koh Penang. We’ve heard that Mike has been beaten up along with J.P Duggan who’s also broken his arm in a seperate incident, Das fell off a bike and has seriously damaged his foot and Geof has burnt the back of his neck playing with fire. We’ll find out the details in Bali when they all turn up in a few days time.

We arrived at the Hotel Sukowati which looked modern with good facilities at 3.30pm. Our room was ok but very small and hot and the air con was pretty poor. It seems the town was over a kilomotre away from the hotel and when I asked the receptionist for a map of the area he took me outside to show me a map of Indonesia on the wall. During our conversation a Greek from Melbourne, very proud of his association with it and its’ culture, gave me the lowdown on the town. In short too far, nothing to see, don’t go. I’m glad we took his advice within an hour the heavens really opened and I think there must be a god because Leighton got drowned and spent most of the night trying to dry out his passport with Anne’s hairdryer.

We spent the afternoon drinking Bintang and, as dusk descended, watching the most amazing bat catching large insects outside the hotel reception. As he turned and crossed in front of the large moonshaped forecourt lights with his large transparent wings stretched out it looked like a scene from a Hammer horror film. I also saw a very large brown rat scurry across the hotel drive. When the ones who went straight off to town returned they confirmed the Melbourne Greek’s assessment. Scooby who can always find danger but who alas has been very quiet since leaving the others behind in Thailand told us as we ate dinner how he stepped back into what he thought was dog poo but on looking down found it was a dead rat which had swollen in the sun and then exploded under his weight.

Needles to say that surprisingly the food at night was good. Went to bed with little to write home about. The bat was the highspot of the day for me but not Scooby.

67 Day: Wedensday 28th:Nwami – Mt Bromo

Glad to get away from this place. The journey started ok but then began to climb up to Mt Bromo and I fell asleep and missed the best part. I have fallen asleep a couple of times now and it’s worrying because I usually find the scenery compelling veiwing. We were told we had a three hour drive before transferring to two smaller buses to make the climb up to our stop at Lava View Lodge. I awoke just before the transfer.

The last hour took us up and up round some scary bends at a breakneck speed. If the bus hadn’t been old it could have got seriously frightening. As we climbed the daylight faded quickly and the sky above the mountain turned crimsen as though the sky was on fire. It reminded me of the last scenes in Lord of the Rings as the two Hobbits headed up to Modor. When we arrived at the lodge the sky was black and gave no indication of the extroadinary teraine that surrounded us. The lights from the lodge were welcoming and as we stepped in we were accosted by three lovely young girls demanding to know our names and telling us theirs: Efer, Winda and Tin Tin. It seems her name was Ti Tin and a guest, probably Belgium, had added the n. Before I’d consumed my first beer I knew I was going to like this place. It just felt special and not just because of the girls. Everyone was happy and helpful.

The restaurant/bar area was very comfortable with good solid dark wood chairs and tables, the food was adequaate but the service was good and the prices did not reflect the location. In England this would be a very expensive place. We spent a very relaxing few hours eating substantial food and drinking lots of cold, reasonably priced Bintang beer all served by a team of well mannered, smiling, lovely young ladies. Every time I walked into the place, approached the bar or requested assistance it invoked a beaming smile and ‘yes Peter’. These were ‘Smiley’s Angels not Charlie’s.

68 Day: Thursday 29th: Mt Bromo

I first woke up about 4.20am but managed to dose until 7.00am when my attention was drawn to the scene outside through a thin strip of window not covered by the curtain. The lodge house sat on a flat area overlooking a large crater and rising above everything in the distance were two volcanoes, one cone-like and extinct and the other, to its left, was irregular in shape and sending large clouds of white smoke into the atmosphere. Just before breakfast I walked out to the edge of the flat area and gazed in awe at the full scene. It took me straight back to Ecuador in 1993 and the large extinct volcano that we all so innocently set off down for a little stroll only to return five or six hours later distressed and shattered. This crater was not of the same dimensions but housed the two volcanoes described earlier and also a large modern looking temple. What did make this basin different to the one in South America is its’ depth. This was a couple of hundred feet below my point looking out and not a couple of thousand.

After an excellent breakfast of two fried eggs, toast, a very tasty fried rice and as much mango, melon, pineapple and bananas we set out to walk to the smoking Mt Bromo. The journey started very well with a very refreshing breeze accompanying us on the descent to the basin floor. Once down things got a little harder, the man made path quickly changed into a black sandy lava floor stretching for as far as the eye could see. The wind had dropped which was bad because the heat factor quickly rose but a blessing because the sandy black dust was not been blown about. This however, quickly changed when we were joined by two or three men leading ponies which could be hired for 50,000 rm. The ponies were kept just in front of us and kicked up enough dust to make walking uncomfortable. It was impossible to get in front of them and if we fell back they waited thinking we were about to give in and pay for a ride. Much worse than the ponies were the motorbike riding tea shirt sellers who would speed past to the front of the stretched out group kicking up more dust than the African Core in WW2 and then making their way back down the line waiving their products and saying ‘quality, After about 45 minutes we reached the base of Mt Bromo and were confronted by a very steep incline of steps leading to the summit and more tea shirt sellers and also men waiving dried flowers. One quietly, in wellingtons, waiving his wares in our faces, slowly stayed two steps in front of Anne and myself all the way up to the top.

Once at the top the scene was breathtaking, we were now standing over 7000 ft with views back and beyond our lodge to the mountains behind. In front of us was a perfect cone tapering to the smoking core about a 1000 ft below. As the smoke rose into the clear blue sky the wind swirled it round the cone like a vortex and we’d be engulfed in a thick choking sulphurous fog. The crater took over an hour to circumnavigate and was as far as I’m concerned very dangerous. At one point the path along the top was no more than a foot wide with a drop of a thousand feet into the smoking cone and a three or four hundred foot drop on the other. Which ever way you looked at it, it was death on either side. I gave it a miss and just stood looking at the belching smoke and the stunning views all round. About seven set off round and as they approached from the other side I had to look away in fear for them. For Leighton, as always, it turned into a competition and Zoe seemed intent on giving him a good run for his money but as she came striding towards the very dangerous bit she stumbled for second but managed to keep her foothold. I have to say I did not witness this but was told by the others after their gasps of horror. But as always she passed it off with a beaming smile.

During our stay we got talking to Leslie a thin, red bearded, pony tailed, sarong wearing, bare footed Belgium who informed us that he had seen photos taken by some backpackers of Krakatoa erupting last week just over a hundred and thirty years since it provided the modern world with its largest explosion. If we’d stayed in Jakarta as we were supposed to do we would have also seen it. Something else they have robbed us of thanks to their incompetence.

As we set off back to the lodge Leighton and Zoe began climbing the extinct cone which looked higher – but not according to the map – followed by Ted, Caroline and Mas. After making the ascent the two then reclimbed Mt Bromo but abandoned their second circumnavigation because the weather changed for the worse. When they arrived back at the lodge all were black faced and tired but ecstatic at their achievement.

Anne on the other hand decided to risk hiring a pony back and thoroughly enjoyed her first riding experience. As she slowly rode into the distance leaving me behind to carry the rucksack, water, camera etc it remind me of the time in Annecy when she sailed away led by Philipe. However, on a more positive note she now has no excuse for not going pony trekking back in England. I walked it back at a slow pace with John who was finding it hard to breath with his chest infection. Just before the final and all knackering climb back out of the basin I spent a pleasant couple of minutes resting and talking to a young couple from Warwick who just arrived in Java from South America. What a coincidence.

The round trip took us about 4 hours and left us with a dilemma: what to do with the rest of the afternoon. Needless to say it was spent drinking ice-cold beer, reliving our triumph and wallowing in the atmosphere of an absolutely maginificent place. There is something special about places that exist only at the behest of mother nature. This magnificent place and its beautiful smiling people could be wiped out at any moment. But it seems the risk they live with everyday makes them happier and more content than us in our sanotised protective environments.

After a rest to recoupe from the beer and I suppose the walk we had dinner early. I had a chicken, noodle soup which was delicious, Anne went European with spag bol and John had is usual Nasi Gorem. The evening was spent drinking more beer and listening to a lad providing live music. Once again we were entertained by a talented young man who played guitar and electric piano and sang an eclectic mix of rock, blues and folk. I’m really sad that we’re leaving tomorrow morning for Bali. This is one place I’d recommend to anyone and I have to say I’m very grateful to the two in London for putting it on the itinerary. If you get the chance to come and see Mt Bromo take it. The sceneray and the people make this is a 5 star destination.

69 Day: Friday 30th November, Mt Bromo

I didn’t sleep very well last night, for me the evenings are ending too early. Last night we were in bed for 10.30pm and I spent another hour catching up with my blog. I seemed to drift restlessly in and out of conscientiousness. Not like the night before when I had the most weird dream. Where it came from is beyond my understand of the brain. If anyone out there can work it out let me know. Anyway, somehow Mac and myself had discovered that by compressing palm leaves we could convert them into an organic type of substance which was a perfect substitute for plastic. Once compressed it could be shaped and polished. Very quickly in dream fashion we had a factory unit in operation down the hillside from here producing the raw material to make toothbrushes, knife and fork handles etc and anything else that can been made of plastic. We were paying the workers a minimum wage of £1 an hour and all seemed well. However, I suddenly awoke with the feeling that all was not what it should be and as I tried to recreate the conditions to return to my stupor all I could think was that we’d changed a happy rural idyll into a factory controlled system, changed the happy nature of the locals and Mac and myself were a bad influence ruining this paradise for ever. If only the dream had shown me the process of how to do it. I’d be rich and happy or would I be?

Once the luggage and us were loaded on our separate buses the downward journey began. I did manage to say goodbye to the Smiley Angels team at breakfast. The scenery downhill was stunning with well kept houses and gardens with the most beautiful deep red flowers hanging from bushes. Some of the fields were full of rows of lettuce, big dark green cabbages and potatoes. This didn’t interest Leighton who felt the driver was not going fast enough and tried to get him to speed up saying ‘we came up faster’. I am pleased to say the driver who obviously didn’t know the road as well as someone from Ireland nonetheless stuck to his preferred speed. Had he asked the driver in a polite manner it would have been just a lack of commonsense but by grunting and demanding him to ‘get going, faster he was just being ignorant and irresponsible. Had the driver responded by putting his foot down I would have totally lost my wrag with him. This was a very dangerous road of sharp bends, other users (bikes, cars and buses) and children by the wayside and he would be putting everyone’s lives at risk just to meet an unachievable timetable. It makes me angry and I’m beginning to wonder what they will try next to get us to Sydney on time. On Monday we land in Darwin at 8.00am in the morning and head for Kakodu Nature Reserve. We have a couple of days there before heading into the outback. We are arriving in the middle of the wet season (October to March) when visitors are advised not to visit. This is another of their must see places that looks like going sadly wrong for us.

Had lunch in a very pleasant restaurant by the sea. Zoe, Leighton, Caroline and Mas all went for a swim while we waited for lunch. Anne and myself had meat ball soup while the others stuck with good old chicken and rice. The food, however, was very good. It seems the nine hour journey from Mt Bromo to the ferry port has gone down to five. The journey from our lunch stop went from thirty minutes to two.

The ferry port was very interesting. The ferry looked like one of the run down overcrowded tugs seen on the news after a disaster. As we climbed to the upper deck young lads jumped from the top into the sea as passengers threw coins for them to dive down for. The top deck was situated through the pilot house and once the outside had filled passeners overflowed standing with the crew. The ferry sailed out into the Straits of Java with young lads still hanging onto the side shouting for money. Behind us hiding in the haze and clouds stood a tall forbidding volcano.

The Straits of Java leading to Bali was no distance at all but the ferry made hard work of it almost drifting along with the tide. The crew deserve special mention. The two in the pilot house sat with their feet on the controls, one actually steering with his bare foot and before we reached Bali the boat seemed to be being steered by an Indonesian passenger who took his opportunity when the actual pilot got up to move. The upper deck consisted of young people all carrying cameras digital and traditional and who turned out to be students on a photography course at the local university. They were very eager to talk to us and before too long the conversation sank down to football. What a sad reflection on the world that all its’ inhabitants can find in common to talk about is twenty two men kicking a bloody bag of air about.

Once on Bali we had to put our watches back another hour which took us from 5.30 to 6.30 and into darkness. The journey across the island took longer than anticipated and I have to say the driver was travelling faster and more reckless than any time before. Hope Leighton han’t been at Anton and the driver to put his foot down. Whilst travelling Colin received a phone call from Jimmy who was about to fly into Bali along with Andy and Lauren. He also rang to wish Sue happy birthday. Today is also St Andrew’s Day and the Scots were hoping to celebrate but the way things are going it may be too late when we arrive.

70 Day: Saturday 1st December: Bali

Didn’t have breakfast until nearly 11.0am and it was the worst so far. The only choice was between fruit or juice. The toast was made from sweet bread, the butter ransid and the jam awlful. The hotel looked fine from the outside with a pool, bar area and chalet type rooms. Ours even had a split fancy carved door and shuttered windows. But once inside things quickly deteriorated. The fancy door when closed had an inch gap between the two halves when shut which was no deterent to mosquitos. The air con unit was not powerful for the size of the room which had chairs, coffee table and a couch. The toilet and bath/ shower were quite smelly and slippery.

Went for a walk to buy a top-up card to ring home and it was so hot and humid that we went into the first air-conditioned shop which turned out to be a surfing shop. Finished up buying shorts and a tee shirt.

Arrived to find Jim, Lauren and David in the pool. They arrived from Bangkok late last night and went straight to a club, eventually emerging in the late afternoon.

Went to the beach at about four and enjoyed the plunge in the sea but chose a bad spot. As soon as I went in I was called out by a life guard who said it was a very dangerous spot. The beach front was strewn with good looking reasonably priced hotels with pools and bars looking straight out to sea. All an improvement on ours.

Now found out the flight to Darwin is now at 9.00pm tomorrow and not Monday morning as originally told. No reason given. This means with the time difference we’ll arrive in Darwin at about 1.30am

Went for dinner with John, Zoe, Jim and Lucinda. I had Lobster Thermidor for 145,000. Then went to a type of night club. Cocktails came in small fish bowls. Played pool until the rest of the lads turned up from their travels. By 1.00am Ben, Geof, Fergal, Barry and Das had all arrived. Only one missing now is Mac. Heard, later, he was on the island but staying at another hotel.

It’s amasing we’re on one of the most beautiful islands in the world and we’ve had no oportunity to see it. We arrived late, catching the ferry at about 5.00pm and spent three very bad hours driving across the island. It really shows poor understanding of the terraine. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we were traveling in daylight to the airport but it was only a twenty miinute ride from the hotel and once again we left in the dark. All in all we agreed today was a waist of a day but long hours spent on the bus really takes its toll on us. We just need to relax.

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