Musings - Day 49
Day 49 – 13th February 2020
Thank you, one and all. The followers, the contributors, the message senders, it is so good to know that you are taking a regular keen interest in the project. Great Stuff!
Last nights hotel was clean enough, albeit in a very rough part of town. The only complaint about the establishment were the towels. They had been laundered, but felt like linen emery boards on your skin. Similar to drying your back with sandpaper, or rubbing your skin against a column of pine cones.
I am always in places for earlier than is required due to a paranoia of not making a connection. Today was no exception. I have everything done in terms of ticketing and boarding pass, so it just a case of passing time until getting on the thing for another seven hour stint. I have just had the best croissant and coffee for many a week and it’s taken me back to recollections of France. In a motorhome, touring, everyday a different village. The Lot et Garonne or the Gorges du Tarn, beautiful areas of the middle band of France. Rich black coffee served in a cup the size of a gnomes jock strap, with fresh baked warm pastries. The smell of strong French cigarettes gliding across the street air. Galois, Cetanes’, Camels, their thick wafts blown unapologetically, by mostly old French men, more occasionally ladies with small dogs, just making absolute their routines unaltered. I was reminded of the days when cigarette advertising was the norm, and you only saw colour images on still paper photographs or movie trailers at the cinema. I remember one of the first of such, in the early nineteen sixties, when a woman in her thirties looked longingly into the camera lens. When all lipstick was either red, red or red, she inhaled then exhaled the smoke directly into camera. She delivered perfectly innocuously, “I have tried them all but nothing satisfies me like a Camel.” - must have been a pretty hard act to follow.
It is another one of those days when I have no idea, where I will end up. The ferries from Ketapang, (my trains terminus and nearest point to the island of Bali,) do not adhere to any regular timetable, or certainly not one that is published. The distance from Gilmanuk to Kuta, my eventual billet, is around one hundred and seventy kilometres, but I have no idea of the roads condition or the kind of traffic it encourages. Timings, availability of resources etc., are all very difficult to get information about. Well the adventure into the unknown continues and I have to work with what I know. My train gets me to Ketapang, East Java at around 15:35 this afternoon, it is beyond my control, so I just settle back to enjoy the ride. The first part of the train journey is odd because literally I am the sole paying passenger in the carriage of around sixty seats. The only exception to that, is the obligatory railway security guard at the front.
See his orange beret in the front seat on the right.
Becoming a little OCD
As we pull out of Surabaya (a city which I personally dislike. Dangerous, unglamorous and not very welcoming in my experience,) I am appalled by the proximity of houses to track. We are passing within inches of kids playing, mothers making breakfast and the elderly taking their morning constitutional. There are washing lines hitting the train, dogs waiting patiently to get across the track, and views directly into the sanctums of the homes of the poor. I am assuming that these lives are lead not by choice but necessity. There is however, one material common denominator with all of these dwellings, in that no matter what their financial circumstances, they can all afford to install a six foot satellite dish. Don’t need air conditioning, washing machine or kettle, but never take away my TV and the chance to dream.
After fifteen minutes the carriage fills. In front of me is the cutest little girl travelling with her mom. To keep her quiet, occupied and comforted, she has been given a milky ice lolly. Even from an early age females seem to understand the imperative of multi-tasking, because she is absorbing her surroundings at the same time as the lolly. Because the train has now filled the ticket inspector together with the armed security guard in his smart orange beret, are making their rounds.
The guard breaks rank, and duty responsibilities to play with the little girl. Chuckling wildly as he pretends to throw her into the air in exaggerated movements. I got the impression that he was trying to impress the mom more than entertain the little girl – ‘Good with kids’ looks imposing in big print on his dating profile. At which point the little girl sends a milky vomit projectile onto the freshly pressed black shirt and all the merit badges of the guard. Try ‘Good with laundry’ on your CV. He disappeared after saying to the mom in Indonesian vernacular, “Sokay it’ll wash off.” Never saw him again. The Habib toting mom took the little girl to be cleaned down, continuing her journey remorselessly, uniform forgotten!
A couple of hours later, I had the kind of stirrings that forewarn of an approach at no mean rate of knots, of the ‘Galloping Gazumptars.’ After going through seemingly obliged by process of elimination, the food that I had ingested over the last forty eight hours, I decided, that it must be caused by something that I had driven past. My options were limited at sixty miles an hour, so I made the transition from train seat to my desired destination in the speediest, but most unnoteworthy way possible. Let me put it this way: My gait would not have passed a James Bond audition at this point. Nor would it have graced any Paris catwalk during fashion week. I reached the carriage end and the facilities start. Both engaged, by other needy passengers. Dilemma: Do I attempt the trek to the next carriage facility, possibly exposing a weakness to stride correctly. Or do I wait for the door lights to change to the now magical green for vacant sign. I chose the latter based on the German ‘Glumnvar’ scale of internal gurgling. (They really do have words for absolutely everything – if a German ever starts a sentence with “I can’t describe it,” then you know they’re lying!) The light goes green. “Come on, hurry up woman, there is an emergency happening here, never mind your skirt being tucked into your knickers, get out of the damn toilet!” Of course I didn’t say those words because I am English, but the relief was palpable. I wanted to marry the lavatory. The stainless steel bowl was probably the most gorgeous piece of furniture that I had ever laid eyes on. The relief bought on a mild psychosis, that delivered the kind of euphoria similar to that of a winning goal at Wembley Stadium. The events that followed every procedure in natures comprehensive manual, were joyous for nought but a fleeting three minutes, when it came to addressing the point of departure. I discovered that I was locked in this hurtling sanitary capsule. I tried the actual bolt mechanism. The twisting locking device, the pull handle that folds the door inwards for access or departure. Everything! The lock had jammed. The twisting device that assured privacy, had gone on a timely break. “Perfect, just perfect!” I exclaimed to myself. So much so was this condition perfectus, that I noted that we are now approaching the second station slowdown since my incarceration. I had to stand on my new fiancée to look out of the slat window at the top of the carriage. I hadn’t brought my phone with the translator app to find the Indonesian for stuck in the bog. There had been other, more pressing concerns, rather than have I packed my phone, going on in my head, and stomach for that matter. This had now reached the embarrassing time to around six minutes of confinement, with the train picking up speed by the minute. I imagined a line of thirty impatient business intendees waiting in the small passageway, wondering about the scale of my metabolic problem? One last effort saw the emergence of a hands-on practical brainwave. Using my booted foot as a lever into the weakest part of the hinged door, I gave an almighty shoulder charge to the exit. This was while firmly turning the locking mechanism that had decided inappropriately (in my opinion) to falter. I was free! Not exactly Nelson Mandela or the Birmingham six, but I was actually out of the lavatory capsule. Praise be! To my incredulity that no one was waiting for the facility. Everything was fine, I took my first steps to freedom, when the ‘Glumnvar scale’ came a knocking for the second time. “Just sooooh bloody perfect – lovely to meet you again!”
After the tribulations of the disorder, which thankfully had now subsided, I looked at the array of wonderfully evocative station names we were attending. Names like ‘Kalibanga’, ‘RogoJampi’, ‘Klakhah,’ (Indonesian for tonsils) and ‘Probolingo.’ (which sounded like a new language for delinquents.) My personal favourite was ‘Banyuwangi’ mainly because it was the penultimate station for me.
This won station of the year in 2016.
This won won station garden of the year in 2017.
Before I go on, I have to tell you about the rain storm that we encountered. One of the most horrific in my memory. The torrents and incredible speed of delivery where awesome. Coupled with seemingly reachable lightning bolts and thunderclaps that felt like the train was shaking. Within minutes, rivulets had gathered silt and were forming gushing streams, desperately seeking the gravitational force needed to join rivers. Small town single vehicle bridges were awash making them impassable. Waterfalls of silted rain hammered on the rocks and land below them. Umbrellas were useless against the wind and rain now at injury pace. No drainage system would be of comfort to these mountain communities. I saw the beginnings of a mudslide. Only small but who could estimate the eventual force or damage. The train passed a car that had impacted on a tree, the water already above the tyres. Just an overwhelming force of nature, delivered with such aggression, that the only way to cope would have been to shelter, then assess after its passing. Selfishly, I pondered the battle that any ferry I took, would have in the squally sea ahead. Then as though we were going into a brave new world, the storm passed, leaving communities to assess and repair in its wake. The blackened mountain scape had given way to a bright, dripping, lush rainforest backdrop.
Rain over Bali.
My arrival in Ketapang was surprisingly slightly early, which allowed me the time to commandeer the services of a pedalling rickshaw rider. A few pence and a timesaver of probably twenty minutes’ walk, saw me ticketed and boarded on one of the ferries that were aplenty. Many, probably twenty plus were constantly back and forth across the two mile stretch of water, between Java and Bali. They apparently never stopped, twenty four hour service, other than impassable seas. The journey time only expanded by the in out line of boats waiting to berth. The one that transported me also carried several, buses, trucks, cars and a multitude of mopeds. Ten past five or should I say six with the extra hour on, saw me back on Tierra Firma, having to negotiate transport. Taxi four hours, Bus eight! Simple albeit more costly. (£23 maybe $30 US)
Position: 08°42'06” N 115°10'42”E – Miles completed: 13969
Location: Kuta, Bali, Indonesia 22:49 - 13th February 2020 - Journey 49 days 22 hours