Transition metal solutions, the waft of elemental sulfur and lots of talk of a certain halogen, this isn’t a holiday, it’s back to the lab…130 days in.
Bali, the tourist capital of Indonesia with its party atmosphere, surfing beaches and luxury resorts; well, two and a half out of three ain’t bad! We had barely checked in to our hotel (with swimming pool: that’s the half) before making our way out to the all you can eat and drink buffet of the Sky Gardens. We were off to join in the birthday celebrations of Ron, a Dutch engineer whose been on the move for two years, we first met over two months ago in Mulu and have since been bumping into throughout Malaysia and Indonesia. At a cost of £6.80 each, this was an expensive night out, but we soon went to work on the western style cuisine of pasta, pizza and burgers and of course a beer or two; not that not it takes much for either of us to get a little tipsy – especially as we have had a three month alcohol hiatus. Well, we gorged ourselves, mostly with pasta and gnocchi, foodstuffs that are the preserve of expensive western style restaurants; nasi goreng? not tonight, mee ayam? no way, for we are in Bali, where everyother shop attempts to sell you slogan adorned T-shirts and novelty bottle openers and the rest ply you with booze. When in Rome!
The nights banquet left its mark, and Helen took it easy the following day leaving Mike to venture out on his own. Hiring a surfboard he did battle with the 2 metre high rollers that Kuta beach is famed for and came back battered and broken by the experience, but amid all the crashing surf that did plunge down on his head and toe him under, there was one wave, one wave to which he stood high like Nelson on his column, one wave that could not part board from rider, one wave that was mounted like a trusty steed with steadfast saddle; the wave hitherto known as Sug’s Surge, and for three whole seconds Mike did gallantly stand above its frothing white crest. Then, in the spirit of chivalry, Mike did plunge himself bum first into the angry torrent so as to ensure Sug’s Surge was never to be conquered.
Not wishing to be surrounded by lots of drunk Aussies (although the great difference between our Olympic success and their poor performance was a topic I always steered towards) we only plumped for a few days by the beach before heading to Java, our final Indonesian island. On the short ferry journey across two French travellers inquired of our plans for Java, and after a little chat we decided that perhaps teaming up would get us a better deal. So after thirty minutes of hard bargaining by Marie and Janis we had our driver for the next three days, time to call the wife and say you might be a bit late for dinner Sahid!
Our first stop was to Arabica homestay on the volcanic slopes of mount Ijen. Arriving at the coffee plantation we had no reservation and the hotel was full, but they made room for us in the workers quarters, a double bed with desk and shared bathroom so just like a hotel room round these parts; dusty and mouldy walls included! However, with a 1 am start there wasn’t much time to enjoy our surroundings before heading into the volcanic crater. With the French pair setting a blistering pace up the steep sides we quickly overtook the hundreds of like guided tourists aiming to see the renound blue flames of the actively worked caldera.
Summiting the rim we were greeted by a shivering wind, plumes of steam and our first glimpse of blue bursts of light far below us. The descent was even steeper, full of loose rocks and even workers already hard at it trapseing back up with their 60 kg loads of sulfur erupting out from wicker baskets. Each turn of the twisting path threw up exciting new views. On reaching the source of the flames we were mesmerised by the motion of the blue flames as areas of rock all of a sudden ignited with bright violet as if a silk sheet had been flung into the air then whipped away only moments later. Of course there was sulfur around us, we had seen the miners carting it away and it certainly made an impression in the nasal passage, but we were only illuminated by the moon and the dim glow of our headlamps and so when we looked at the camera images we could not believe that we had been posing next to giant yellow mounds of [Ne]3S2,3P4
Waking Sahid from his slumber it was then a six hour ride to our next destination, Mount Bromo. The French had booked a hotel and as we wound our way up into the mountains grew increasingly concerned that Sahid wasn’t quite going the right way, and with our visit coinciding with Bromo jazz festival and fully booked accommodation we stopped to ask some locals for clarification. We didn’t need to know much Bahasa to understand the look on Sahids face, “hotel other side of mountain, five hours”. Oh dear! But there is always a solution and so we followed a man on a scooter to an unmarked guesthouse, Marie did her usual hard bargaining and we had a bed for the night at half the price and a relieved Sahid!
A 3 am start and mission “get in for free” commenced. Following the instructions of a Belgian, we turned right from the long queue of desert storm 4×4’s and laid up by a radio mast. A 45 minute walk took us to the view point to witness a sea of clouds around Bromo as the sun crept over the horizon. Our first in three attempts at experiencing such a wonder! We stayed longer than most of the other sightseers and lapped up the different moods of the sky; beguiling, secretive, melancholy then bold.
It was then back to our mission. Avoiding the vehicle entrance and passing through an unstaffed gate with the message “fobidden entry to tourists” we made our way down to the barren plateau of the sea of sands. A desolate flat kilometre away lay the volcanic cone and a line of pedestrians snaking their way up its slope. We joined the slow precession amid frothing horses to climb the narrow staircase to the craters edge from where steam swirled and booms reverberated through our bodies. A few adventurous types accompanied Mike a little further along its narrowing escarpment but not wishing to end up like Boba Fett soon retreated to take in the vista from the path, but given the numerous tourists taking photos and oblivious to their fellow visitors this was actually worse!
Back to the car and a short ride that felt like Sahid’s entry to the downhill slalom and we were in Probolinggo saying adieu to our French friends who took us on a great adventure that we would have otherwise skipped, bonne chance!