Thursday, December 16, 2004

Jakarta Christmas

Bali, Indonesia Tropical Sunset: Merry Christmas

Pelabuhanratu, Indonesia Quiet Cove: Happy New Year

We live in a gated community here in Jakarta. Security guards check cars in and out of the development. The other day one of the guards was wearing a full on Santa suit complete with hat and beard. It is now being enthusiastically passed among the guards so every shift has one of the guys dressed as Santa. Great outfit for the tropics.

Yesterday as I was out and about in Jakarta traffic Christmas shopping I came across one of the toll road traffic vendors selling a curious item. At times, actually most of the time, actually all the time, certain parts of the toll road come to a standstill. Vendors wander through the lines of cars hawking various products - mostly food - but every once in a while other wares are available. Perhaps it is the Christmas season but yesterday there seemed to be an inordinate number of non food items making there way through the traffic. There was globe guy and music man but it was the fellow selling blow up animals that caught my attention. He had a giant inflated penguin with the word "dolphin" emblazoned across its side. If traffic had not started up again someone would have been getting a very cool Christmas present.

I am off to Malaysia and Singapore for holiday. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

"Fun with Language"

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Somewhere in Sulawesi Menu

English sure is hard.

Like to see one of those exotic food hunter guys tackle one of these.

Anthony Bourdain - you out there??

Iron Chef - "and the secret ingredient is ...."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

"A House Warming Party"

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi "Proud Owner of a New House"
Matriarch of the Family Enjoying Tobacco and Betel Nut

“Well hello darling, so good of you to come.”

“Wonderful to see you. Such a lovely new house. And look at you! I love what you’ve done to your hair”.

“Oh you’re too kind. Thanks ever so much for the pig – she is so big and fat ...”

“That little thing ... it was the least I could do”.

“Well enough chit chat ... where are my manners. .... You must be exhausted from your trip. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable under the house and I’ll see about some refreshments”.

“Why thank you.”

“Well I do believe your pig is up” a horrific squeal reverberates around the compound. “Oh my but isn’t she a squealer. I’ll have your half brought around proper ... and just between you and me I’ll make sure they throw in the head because you are such a sweet thing!”

“You are such a dear.”

“OK then, ta, ta, enjoy!”

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi "House Warming" Party

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi "House Warming" Party

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi No More "Going to the Market" for this Gal

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Pork Rinds

When a new house is finished in Toraja the extended family all comes around for a proper house warming party. It does not have the same level of importance as a funeral so only one buffalo is typically involved. And from the looks of the severed parts we saw displayed in the central courtyard, it was a young one. House warming parties are a pig affair which makes them quite lively as pigs are a bit more ornery than the pampered, spoiled and thus rather content buffalo. Family members (of which there might be 100’s) bring pigs as gifts to the family hosting the soire`. The pig’s throats are stuck with a long knife and a bamboo flask is administered in such a way as to catch all the blood making sure the area remains relatively clean. It is then gutted and dragged off to one of the many hair removal fires where its coarse bristles are burnt off so the pork rinds aren’t all hairy. The charred carcass is returned to the killing field where guys with big really sharp knives make quick work of the pig creating spare ribs, ham hocks, pork heads and the like. The meat is then distributed among the participating guests. All this is done in the central courtyard of the family complex and definitely makes for quite a festive atmosphere.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fresh Pig (I'll keep this one small)

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Pig Head and Owner ... not me, the lucky other fellow.

Certain big fat pigs require a bit more ceremony. They are ornately decorated and carried in on one of those things they used to cart Roman Caesars around on and put on display in the central courtyard. This is as far as ceremony goes for pigs. After a while they are dumped off their Roman Caesar thing, stuck with the knife, gutted, burned, butchered and distribute. This goes on for quite some time.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fancy Pig

The tax collector sits in an honored seat on a platform extending from the new house and publicly declares the tax for each pig killed. We heard it was about 1.3 million rupiah (about 150$ US) a pig, not cheap. Again all of this plays an important role in Torajan economics.

There were no tall, white, sweaty people around other than our crew and we were made to feel very welcome. I was more often than not met with a curious look, a smile and simple chit chat. We probably just added a bit more to the event – “Visitors from wherever – right on! – Kill another pig!”

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi House Party with Matriarch Family and Friends

After getting an eye, ear and camera full we hunkered down with one of the matriarchs, had a chew of betel nut, chatted, gave our thanks for the festivities and said our goodbyes.

So if you are ever invited to a Torajan house warming party forget about tea and scones – think back yard barbecue on steroids .... Wonder what a Torajan baby shower is like?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"Pigs, Buffalo, and Banjos”

I have heard of “smellovision” referenced by various TV travel show jocks as a technology necessary to truly appreciate certain experiences such as the tasting of a ripe durian fruit or the assault on the olfactory system when shrimp paste hits a hot wok. But at the livestock mart in Toraja sound is the requisite stimuli. There is not much in nature that can match the squeal of an upset pig as far as having an unpleasant effect on the intricately wired human aural system – other than of course the scream of a three month old baby on a 13 hour trans Pacific airline flight when you are stuck in the middle seat between the baby and a really big guy asleep – on your shoulder. Mozart would have been puking his brains out. His aural system was super acute so bad sounds made him hurl. As the pigs howled and screamed I could not stop my mind from conjuring up the surreal image of a mustached, pre-toupee, furry chested Burt Reynolds mucking about the woods of some forgotten, Appalachian, hillbilly, hellhole accompanied by the ever so disturbing “Dueling Banjos” played really, really fast – shudder. If you have no idea what I am talking about, consider yourself fortunate that you did not grow up in the US and like many other unsuspecting bored high school boys, venture out on a random Saturday night in the 1980’s and make the fateful decision to rent the seemingly innocuous guy flick called “Deliverance” – shudder.

It is definitely better to be a kerbau (water buffalo) than a babi (squealing pig) here in Toraja land. Both eventually meet the same fate but arrive there – quite literally – in a very different manner. Large numbers of pigs are trussed up with twine to bamboo poles and carried, squealing madly, to various festivals where they are rather quickly dispatched, butchered and distributed to the attending guests. Buffalo on the other hand live a rather carefree existence, tended to by a doting keeper and reserved for the most important of Torajan ceremonies, the funeral. For a funeral, buffalo are elaborately dressed and paraded around the grounds with much pomp and circumstance until eventually they too are dispatched, butchered and distributed to the attending guests.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Albino Buffalo - Market

House with decorative albino buff

Torajan economy is traditionally based on the buffalo. Its worth is determined by typical standards such as size, health, strength and also the Torajan fondness for huge horns and bovine albinism. Buffalo are a traditional investment option for Torajans. They are the primary commodity in a very interesting futures market. Here's how it works. You go to the buffalo market and purchases a cute little buffalo with good potential for lets say 3 million rupiah. The buffalo becomes yours but you do not ride home with the buffalo in tow. Your buffalo is left with a hired keeper who will tend to your investment. After lets say three years, you decide to make due on your investment. The keeper brings your buffalo to the market and you sell it for 11 million. You split the 6 million profits with the keeper and walk home with a cool 3 mill burning a hole in your sarong.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Little Kid Little Buffalo

But there exists a bit of a cultural twist concerning when you sell a buffalo. Mature buffs are primarily only bought and sold for funeral services which, much like weddings in the States, can be quite a debilitating factor in Torajan family economics. Some families extend their credit to the max in order to acquire lots of mature buffs with big horns and bovine albinism to put on a good funeral show for their extended family (which often number in the 100’s) and friends. An average funeral typically consists of a couple buffs and heaps of trussed up squealing pigs and a wealthy family might have as many as 50 - 100 bedazzled buffs lumbering around the funeral grounds for several days. In addition to the animals, a funeral, which typically lasts for four days, includes singers, dancers, lots of treats, tuac (local palm wine), and an actual set built specifically for the funeral ceremony consisting of several buildings for the guests to lounge about in during the festivities. After several years of tender love and care, including daily mud baths and hand washings, the buffs are adorned in colorful outfits, paraded to the funeral grounds and sacrificed amidst plenty of ceremony and celebrations.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fancy Big Buffalo, Big Horns off to Funeral

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi House With Buffalo Horns

While the festivities progress over the days, trussed up swine at random times are carried into the funeral set and plopped down in the makeshift courtyard where they remain squealing wildly among the guests. Remarkably, the guests seem oblivious to the pigs desperate squeals – all except those few unfortunate visitors from afar with visions of slack jawed yocals playing “Dueling Banjos” wedged in their heads.

"The Day of a Thousand Pictures II" Sulawesi Travels #5

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Buffalo Market

Albino buffalo - less common, highly prized, more expensive.

Posing with a buffalo

Kid with "kids" - buffalo calves.

It is day three of the photo orgy and it shows no signs of slowing down. The buffalo market was wonderful. All sorts of buffalos proudly displayed by their keepers filled several acres. Trucks hustled here and there to drop off or pick up their quarry. Across the road things were not quite as genteel. The sound emanating from the area indicated that things were not all that nice over in pig land. Pigs are not laid back, content and regal like the water buffaloes but do make for a good barbecue. Due to their rather roguish personality and tastiness they were trussed up by the hundreds waiting to be bought and carried off to become dinner at a funeral feast. They did not like being trussed up or carried or haggled over and communicated this fact by making one of the more horrific sounds existing in the natural world. It was fascinating.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Trussed Up Pigs

Finally I dragged myself away from the market and was whisked off to a funeral. Interestingly enough foreigners are welcome guests at Torajan funerals and are typically made to feel quite welcome by the host. In turn we bought a carton of smokes, a typical foreign person gift for the host. Several hours and huge amounts of photos later we left the funeral and one of the more interesting events I have ever experience.

Tana Toraja: Funeral Procession - the deceased is in the casket fashioned after the Toraja style of house. 

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Funeral Procession: They had to take off the decorative top of the casket to get it under the electric wires.

The following day we took a walk from the hillside hotel where we spent the night through several villages with houses built in the traditional Torajan architectural style. Our walk ended at another funeral celebration. This one was not in and around the family compound of the deceased like the previous days’ but was in a place set apart specifically for funerals. The seating pavilions surrounded a central area where a bunch of monoliths had been erected representing the dead who had funerals at this place. In the midst of the monoliths was a raised platform/tree house like structure. From its four corners were hanging the legs of a recently slaughtered buffalo. In the middle of the platform was the buffalo head. A guy with an axe went at it for several minutes hacking away the horns which would be added to the others displayed at the family house of the deceased. We hung out and were brought tea and treats and were given a bamboo container full of tuac or palm wine to pass around. Then the daughter of the deceased who was hosting the shindig came and hung out with us for a bit. We gave her the box of smokes and made small talk for a while until the guests of honor were ushered in. This part was premised by four guys lugging in an enormous pig all trussed up and squealing away.

The next day we ventured out to see the rock cliffs where the people are buried. Effigies in the likeness of the deceased are placed outside the tombs on little balconies high up on the cliffs. Many of the effigies were stolen and sold to Dutch tourists long ago. But some originals do remain. A bunch of pictures later we went to an old cave which once served as a burial chamber. It was chok - a - blok full of skulls and really old coffins. My vacation has so far revolved around people in Toraja who have died. That’s rather odd.

Anthropologists say that the Torajan houses are built in their unique shape because they originally came from across the sea. Thus they built their houses in the shape of boats. The Torajans say they have always been in Toraja land and that their houses resemble buffalo horns because they are cool. My Intro to Anthropology teacher in college gave me a B- on a project I worked my butt off on(and actually froze my butt off on - begging in the dead of winter in a commuter burb of Chicago). I'm going with the "because its cool" explanation.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

“The Day of a Thousand Pictures” Sulawesi Travel's #4

Modeling sarong at dawn overlooking terraced rice fields.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Terraced Rice Fields

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fancy Buffalo

Not quite a thousand and actually two days worth of digital capturing ended yesterday evening. We are in Toraja land and have experienced a variety of things that are truly remarkable. I started snapping with the water buffalo, entered “the zone” when we joined in the funeral festivities and stayed there for the remainder of the day and into the next morning and afternoon and evening... thus the “thousand” pictures. Everywhere you look in Toraja Land another “got to get a picture of that” is staring you in the face.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Custom Trimming a Cows Head

We began our day at the pasar which was rather typical, if such a word can ever be used to adequately characterize a third world market. Old women with red stained mouths and sun wizened, life in the fields faces munch down the profit margin from their stash of betel nuts for sale. A mom and child casually watch as the butcher “chops to order” the recently peeled cow’s head to the specifications requested by the woman for some evening culinary concoction. All this among the more mundane sales of Cleveland Indian World Champion t- shirts, Levii jean jackets, eels writhing about in buckets, hockey puck shaped disks of tobacco, pungent fish oil balls ... Whatever you want (or don’t want or don’t even want to imagine someone else wanting) is available for a price. But the real action was going on across the street at the “live” market where stately water buffalo lazed about and trussed up, stressed out pigs squealed away while cool talking, clove smoking Torajan men negotiated their eventual fate.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Trussed Up Pigs

"Tana Toraja" Sulawesi Travels #3

We left Makasar for the area of Tana Toraja which is a relatively famous cultural area on the island of Sulawesi ... for those who pay attention to world cultural places. We piled into a van, stopped along the way at a well known outdoor recreation area, the main attraction being a waterfall and river flowing through vertical limestone cliffs replete with stalactites and mites dangling ominously overhead. The best thing about this place was the giant concrete monkey guarding the entrance way. It was about 50 feet tall, frozen in a garish dance pose and grimacing menacingly at all the people entering below.

Sweating on the stopover at the limestone cliff river recreation area on the drive from Makassar to Tana Toraja

I am presently sitting at breakfast in a town where we spent the night about half way to Toraja, drinking coffee and wondering if I can wear shorts today. We are in a particularly Muslim area and showing my sexy legs might cause a bit of a to do. The town we’re in has the largest mosque in east Indonesia ... it is small town and a super big mosque ... might just cover my arms as well ... and wrap Alicia up in a blanket.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

“Blissfully Ignorant Dive Guy” Sulawesi Travels #2

Image: Diving In Sulawesi; Volcanic Island "Manado Tua" - Old Manado

Andrew geared up and ready to dive.
I went diving yesterday which was an interesting venture on a variety of levels. The reef wall was not far off shore winding its way between the fresh water challenged island of Bunaken and Manado Tua, a perfectly cone shaped volcanic island. All the dives I have done in the past have been on the cautious side as far as mandatory gear checks, safety rules and regulations, certification documentation and the like. And rightly so as the risks of diving, most notably drowning in a wide array of interesting ways, are quite extreme. Our dive guy said he would check our certification later – and this was only after we asked if he needed them for insurance purposes or whatever. He said he would check them when we returned – which he never did. As we were pulling away from shore to go to the reef we noticed that the dive guy had not included a tank for himself. We had to do our own pre-dive checks – unprompted. And it was a good thing we bothered because when I went to inflate my BCD the air flow valve was stuck open and the vest inflated obscenely. I felt like I was a character in some ultra violent kids cartoon show about to explode only to rematerialize in some other even more grizzly scene involving our Key Stone Copesque dive crew. One of the characters came over and fiddled about with the valve and “fixed” the problem. No big deal except that I had lost a good bit of the air in my tank. A simple backward flop over the side and I was in the bath like waters of the Celebes Sea.

My descent was not without a bit of drama. I was attempting to adjust the pressure in my head while trying to remember all the things I was supposed to remember and trying to keep up with the instructor who was speeding off towards the reef like Tom Hanks in hot pursuit of Daryl Hannah in a mermaid suit. All this while trying to staunch the steady flow of water that was seeping into my mask - I always seem to select a faulty mask, or maybe my face is the problem. Eventually things began to settle down and we began to casually drift with the current along the brilliantly vibrant corral wall ... peace and tranquility ... until part of my mouthpiece broke and I desperately tried to reposition the respirator so I could continue to breath without holding the thing in my mouth. This happened just as our dive guy began gesticulating wildly the symbol for what I vaguely remembered was to indicate a shark. I peered in the direction he gestured towards and caught a glimpse of its silver body slinking along the sand at the bottom of the reef thinking bad ass shark stuff. Then the show really began as I managed to clear my mask, get a good grip on the mouthpiece with my teeth and relaxed a bit more. Rico the dive guy made the turtle sign as a giant cruised by only meters off the reef. I had only seen a few turtles on dives in the passed and none this large or this close so was quite excited. After the turtle siting, I took a peek at my depth and air supply gauges; 30 meters and already half of my air gone after about ten minutes due to the BCD inflating cartoon episode. I did not gesticulate this fact to Rico and he never did gesticulate to inquire.

Things settled down again and we began to peruse the reef wall. Again, Rico began clanging his tank and shaking his attention getting shaker device (usually a dive guy or girl will bang their tank with some sort of metal object – a SCUBA knife usually makes a good clanker and looks cool – some opt for a large heavy duty rubber band that has a plastic ball in the middle of it placed around their tank – when they “poing” the rubber band the plastic ball makes a very audible sound as it bangs against the tank. But I have noticed that many dive people come up with their own signature attention getting method, and it’s cool if you can come up with a good one. Rico’s shaker thing was pretty cool). He did the turtle sign as another giant cruised by. I kicked towards the turtle to get a close up look. She turned and came in my direction, veered off just a few feet from me and cruised on down the wall. We saw six turtles in all, hawksbill turtles. I touched one who was hanging out in a particularly vibrant patch of corral – something about coming in close contact with a wild creature in its own environment that is neat. Sounds rather Ranger Rickish or perhaps Jacque Cousteauish is more appropriate. She was just hanging out and did not skitter away as I approached. I reached out and touched her fin which she flapped. As she began to move away I ran my hand down the back of her shell – a nice diving memory. They were big, maybe 5 or 6 feet around. We saw lots of other things but the turtles definitely stole the show.

My air gauge was deep into the red zone by the end of the dive but Rico didn’t seem too concerned. He probably realized I had lost a lot of air in the BCD debacle and he did make sure we spent the last 10 minutes of our dive at about 10 ft. A remarkable time.

"Blissfully Ignorant in Sulawesi" Sulawesi Travels #1

Began the trip in Manado, the northern most big city on the K shaped island of Sulawesi.

Posing in Manado with a volcano for a back drop.

Image: Sulawesi, Manado - at the ground of our Soviet style hotel

Several hour drive (about 9 with a stop here and there) from Monado down to Tana Toraja (Land of the Torajans) where the buffalo is king ... and its hilly so lots of terraced fields.

Posing, yes purposely posing,  in Tana Toraja overlooking the rice fields. Not quite sure what the posing was all about - but certainly was a reality.

Image: Sulawesi, Tana Toraja Terraced Rice Fields

Sulawesi Travel Journal #1

I had my first A & W root beer float about an hour ago at the Jakarta airport “Everything All American” A & W restaurant. My “its vacation time and I can eat whatever I want” clause has officially kicked in. The All American curly fries were a nice accompaniment to the float. Presently I have a McChicken Meal in a bag at my feet under the plane seat in front of me. I would normally never subject people to the smell of a Mc anything meal to be recycled through the air conditioning unit on the plane BUT we are going to Manado ..... so I’m doing it. Not sure why going to Manado justifies an assault on the olfactory system of my fellow plane people but such are certain things in life.

Image: Sulawesi, Tana Toraja Houses - supposedly to represent the style of a boat, as the Torajan people were originally from the coast. But this being buffalo country, I think the buffalo horn theory is more relevant.

I’m going into this trip blind. My traveling companions have prepared everything ahead of time. I have a vague idea of where we are going but no details. It should be a new experience and I’m actually looking forward to it. I have been rather busy lately and thus not involved in the preliminary planning. But as the days passed and it got closer to our embarkation date I purposely ignored investigating the details of the trip. I thought it would be fun to venture into the unknown unknowing.

Image: Sulawesi, Tana Toraja Buffalo Mud Bath

Now I am on the plane. It is that very unpleasant time when they shut off all the air before the plane gets its engines fired up and begins its pre take off taxi. My face is glistening.

Pool side at the Santika hotel. The hotel is advertised as “the” resort hotel in Manado and it is quite nice. But it is a tad bit rough around the edges – but interestingly not in a third world way – more in a Soviet bloc country sort of way. Perhaps it is in deference to the Soekarno era when the Indonesian government dabbled with the option of becoming communist until the Western powers offered up Papua at the bargaining table to ensure that the largest archipelago in the world and all the good stuff that comes along with such a geographic feature, was safely in the hands of the “good guys”.... the guys who really know how to make money off of a countries resources. A children’s playground rusting away, paint chipping here and there, a bit too much mold and moss in various nooks and crannies, overgrown patches of grass popping up in random places – just looks like it needs a god scrub down and white wash to bring it up to its top resort billing – rather amusing that I am making such observations considering the fact that I once lived in an apartment with no working shower, a pistol target range in the bedroom closet and impressed my friend visiting from Japan so much by its starkness and dilapidation that he said it was the most interesting thing he saw while he was on holiday in the states, a trip which included several days in Chicago and NYC. Anyway I am simply recording my observations and subsequent thoughts as they come and trying not to drip sweat on this page, which is becoming near impossible as I am wet now from sweat as I was ten minutes ago after just emerging from the pool.

It is hot. Blue sky, blazing sun, tropical hot. So I am going diving and taking my giant poofy head of hair with me.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Golf In Jakarta

Golf in Jakarta is great. There are plenty of courses, they are relatively cheap and the caddies are usually pretty helpful. It is also fun to read about golf while living in Jakarta.

Recently I have been following the controversy surrounding comments made by English golfer Paul Casey about golf fans in the US and "Americans" (I am pretty certain he meant people living in the US and not Hondurans, Canadians, Argentineans and all the other Americans living in the Americas) in general. This entire situation and the unsavory behavior of the USA fans Casey referred to pales in comparison to recent events involving some of Casey's compatriots’ behavior this past weekend at a Premiership match between Blackburn and Birmingham City. Casey recently remarked that "Americans" were insular and naive and generally "have a tendency to wind people up". He even managed to involve his "American" girlfriend stating that she considers many of her compatriots to be "uncivilized idiots". Very thoughtful of him to drag her into this mess. I am sure she is enjoying the damage control. This coming from a guy who considers Scottsdale, Arizona an oasis in the otherwise culturally barren wasteland of the US. Casey, a resident of the primarily white, upper middle class, scrubbed, coifed and manicured residential suburb says this about his adopted home: "In Scottsdale, it's not so bad, because the people there have traveled and you can have civilized conversations with them, but the vast majority of Americans simply don't know what is going on." Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Scottsdale.... right on.

This weekend a Mr. David Ashcroft and a Mr. Jason Perryman, both sporting fans from Casey's homeland of apparent civility, were recently arrested for making racial gestures towards Dwight Yorke of the Birmingham City football club. Apparently they directed monkey gestures toward him from the front row of seats in direct view of several very visible TV cameras. Bloody brilliant! Well done lads! Perhaps we can borrow a few words from Casey's "most likely not very popular in Scottsdale right now" girlfriend and deem these fellows "uncivilized idiots". And isn't England known for some other bit of spectator behavior..... Oh yes, the football hooligans, the most infamous fans in the world of sports.

But all this bickering is wearisome. It is time to mend. I encourage Americans wherever you are to find an English person, or anyone who speaks English, or knows someone English, or even knows someone who speaks English - or just grab anyone - take them to a professional basketball game, buy a super size American beer and a jumbo hotdog and fries - make that cheese fries - combo option, eat the giant dog and pile of fries and then throw the beer at the player of your choice. Enjoy the show as lots of people join in and begin behaving like "uncivilized idiots".

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"Melon!" "Pasta Bowl!" and Stuff

"What doz dese 'mel-on’! ‘mel-on’! wordz mean? I do not understand dis 'mel-on'" (it helps if you imagine you favorite stereotypical French guy speaking these words). This question was posed by Frederique (I am pretty certain it is spelled Frederick but Frederique looks a bit more “French” – no?) after our soccer game on Saturday.

Frederique is from France via Reunion. Reunion is a small island off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean that still has the abbreviation “Fr” in parenthesis under its name on a map. This indicates that Reunion is part of France (check out “Gibraltar” in the south of Spain – a curious one). It is pretty amazing how thoroughly Europe (and by extension the Neo-Europes) gobbled up the world back in the “hay days” (hey days?) of European exploration and expansion. Most of the world has been returned to their “rightful” owners in the last 50 years or so. The majority of these new countries now face the daunting task of stuffing a variety of people groups, representing a myriad of languages, traditions, economic lifestyles, body modification techniques, cosmetic preferences, fashion do’s and don’ts, shave or not to shave, McDonalds or Kentucky Fried, rice or noodles, Coke? Pepsi? and such, into the boundaries of a modern “nation state” of European design. Not an easy task, which explains why various people sharing a common culture and tradition (nations) are beating the hell out of other people who share a different common culture and tradition in the name of Life, Liberty and the right to pursue what makes them happy as a distinct group. But for some reason – the Europeans (and Neo Europeans) did not relinquish their hold on the islands littering the world’s oceans – especially those between about 23*N and 23*S of the equator – the ones with balmy breezes and white sandy beaches, coconut trees and lazy lagoons, surreal sunsets and bayside bungalows, Club Meds and Hiltons, golf resorts and spa retreats - reasons most likely involving holidays and vacation time shares.

French via Reunion Frederique could not wrap his brain around the implications of the word “mel-on” in context of his situation on the soccer pitch. He realized that “mel-on” was yelled when he was approached by a member of the opposing team who had the intent of dispossessing his control of the ball. But what baffled Frederique, and rightly so, was why we used the name of a fruit to indicate such a situation. We were yelling “man on”. Frederique was hearing “melon” as in cantaloupe and honeydew. So the next time an Italian asks you to “pasta bowl” during a match you’ll know where they’re coming from.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Jakarta Surfing - Pelabuhan Ratu, South Java

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach

Surfing in Indonesia is fun although getting there can be quite an adventure – getting to the surf that is ... getting here, to Indonesia is easy, relatively, depending on the airline, and “the port of embarkation/disembarkation” (I never know which is which on those airline departure/arrival/custom cards) and whether or not you get an aisle, middle or window seat. I prefer the aisle seat for the long haul as it allows for easy roaming access – something that becomes very significant in hour 6 of a 12 hour flight. For shorter journeys I enjoy the privacy, view and headrest option that a window seat provides. Middle seats are stupid. And then of course if you end up sitting next to a screaming child forget about it. Crack open the tranquilizers or whatever other mind numbing devices are immediately available.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach and Board on the lawn of the place we stay

On my last surf weekend to the Indian Oceanside town of Pelabuhanratu, my friends and I tried a few new spots that some locals told us about. It was suggested that we pay one of the scooter taxi guys to drive ahead of us and show us the turn off to the beach access “road”. He led us up some ridiculously steep hills and around some equally ridiculous curves until we reached the beach entrance “road”. We dealt with the guys who control access to the road, which involved a transaction of a few thousand rupiah and then peered over the ledge of the entrance way into the steepest incline of a “road” I have ever seen. I felt like an extreme skier on the edge of a lip peering down an almost vertical drop into oblivion. But the surf beckoned and Brandon and Scott encouraged so we dropped in. My brakes did well and we made it to the bottom only to come face to face with what made the hill I had just descended the second steepest road hill I had ever seen in my life. It began with a bridge upon which was a broken down four wheel drive Jeep with 4 guys lounging about and 2 more guys under the hood working on what we found out later was a “steep hill induced blown transmission”. So up we went hoping we would not tip over backwards – it actually had the look and feel like that was a definite possibility.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach Sunset

Isn’t there some physical law that determines the limits of the steepness of a road? Some “angle of repose” or something where stuff collapses upon itself – like when you try and dig a whole in the sand at the beach and eventually it is so steep that the sand begins to slip into the whole faster than you can excavate it out? I know they had this difficulty when building the Panama Canal. The more they dug the faster the hole filled. It was one of the greatest challenges engineers faced when cutting through the highlands of the continental divide during the canal construction. Fascinating engineering fete is the Panama Canal. It took ten years to build, from 1904 to 1914. Actually it was begun about 20 years before by the French, a venture organized by the same guy who was the inspiration for the Suez Canal, but they did not yet have the technology to deal with the geography of Panama. During the creation of the canal, mosquitoes were recognized as the carriers of various tropical diseases and eradicated on the Isthmus. The water flow for the lock system operates entirely on gravity. Water from the huge man made Lake Gatun at the top of the lock system provides for the water elevators. Lake Gatun has its own “perpetual” source of water. The incredibly dense tropical rainforest surrounding the Canal Zone and evaporation from the lake itself are responsible for about 80 feet of rain annually which falls throughout the year consistently replenishing Gatun.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Kids

The country of Panama was created for the purpose of the canal construction. The US realized the importance of naval superiority for world domination via the history lesson of an Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. This explains the existence of the letters “US” in parenthesis under the names of various tiny islands sprinkled throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They were used as supply depots and bases for the US naval and mercantile fleets. The Panama Canal was essential to the quick movement of goods and troops from one coast of the US to the other and beyond. The US approached Colombia and asked for a zone in the Isthmus of Panama to build a canal. The Isthmus was part of Colombia. The government of Colombia had no interest in giving the US such a privileged position on their land. So the US took the Isthmus, by means of a US backed revolution carried out by wealthy Panamanians. Panama broke away from Colombia, became its own country and the US had its Canal Zone. The canal takes about 8000 miles off the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of rounding South America. Ships pay a hefty toll, up to 142,000 dollars for cruise ships. But it is worth the huge fee demonstrated by the fact that builders construct ships specific to the size constraints of the canal itself. Such ships are referred to as Panammax size. They still have to deal with that angle of repose thing as the land surrounding the canal continuously makes its way downhill but other than that the canal has seen very few modifications in its 90 years of operation.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - at the Ocean Queen - Pool Surfer Girl

Like the Canal Zone workers we dealt with the angles of incline and made it to the beach. It was strikingly beautiful; vibrant green hills, rocky cliffs cascading into aquamarine water, local fishermen baiting hooks in technicolor boats prepping for the all night shift, the sand burning the hell out of our soft, pink bule` feet ... The surf was mediocre but as is the case with many adventures, the journey was as remarkable as the final destination.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Ocean Queen Beach

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Ocean Queen Surf