Thursday, 9 July 2009

Indo blog 2: Karimunjawa: 22nd-25th June

Monday 22nd - First night:

We have a quiet first night in Karimun. All food is laid on, and the family-run hotel feeds us whole spicy crab, dried fish, soya-bean bread and rice. Messy eating but yummy. We take a wander down to the harbour and take a few photos of the sunset and the fishing boats and just generally chill.

Karimun is an as-yet undeveloped island for tourists. There are a couple of resort-like hotels but for the most part Karimun is what Bali must have been like thirty years ago; unspoilt and unused to Bules (foreigners). The kids who sit by the dusty road outside our hotel use their one word in English (Helloooooo) every time we pass, giggling to each other and gawping at our weird clothes. It's a Muslim community and I hear for the first time the chorus of muezzin calling folks to prayer. This happens about five times a day; first call at 4am, the final about 9pm. It's quite haunting to sit on the flat roof of our hotel looking out over dense palm trees at sunset and listening to four different loudhailers broadcast prayers sung in arabic to the community.

Such quiet contemplation is often followed by the strong desire to get pissed. So we set about locating some Bintangs. This is not actually very straightforward. A reliable power supply is not something you'll find in many places in Indo and Karimun is certainly no exception. Regular power cuts mean refrigeration is pretty pointless and street lights non-existent. We are attempting to locate cold beers in the middle of one such power cut; traipsing up a dirt track illuminated only by the headlights of passing motor bikes, none of whom see pedestrians (bule or not) until they're almost upon them. But I would quite happily die for beer so we soldier on.

As it turns out we locate Bintangs in a roadside grocery shop, they ain't cold but we figure we can find a way to chill them back at the hotel. We stick the bulk of the bottles in the hotel freezer (which works - hoorah!) to quick chill, but in our impatience we decide to pour one over ice. Only we don't have ice cubes; we have a single, large solid block of ice we have to break into bits. Without an ice pick. Cue total slapstick that culminates in Riz and Antok trying to break an ice block into bits on a water pipe in Antok's bathroom (????) which singularly fails to make a dent in the ice, but succeeds in busting the pipe and flooding Antok's bathroom for the rest of our stay. Eh.. oh dear.

However, all vandalism is totally valid in the pursuit of cold beer so we have no regrets yer honour.

Tues 23rd - First full day in Karimun:

Earlyish start this morn. Antok is our guide and has sorted out a motorboat to take us island hopping along the archipelago and snorkelling in Karimunjawa national park; a protected coral reef environment where the boatmen aren't even allowed to drop anchor, they have to jump into the water and tie the boat off manually. Quite right too.

Our boat is basically a floating four poster bed; a longboat topped with a flat platform open on all sides, and covered by a ramshackle roof made of tarpaulin. We sit on reed mats with our legs dangling over the side until we reach our first snorkelling point.

Now I think the last time I used a snorkle I was nine and on holiday in france and I made the schoolgirl error of trying to snorkle close to shore which meant every wave ended up near drowning me, and i didn't see very much of anything.

This was pretty much the opposite of that.

Even in shallow waters the Karimun reef is STUNNING. Bioluminescent coral, huge spiky black sea anemones, bright blue and yellow parrot fish, HUGE blue starfish, sea cucumbery things, Nemos and massive coral formations that looked like church organ pipes, housing more spiky anemones and wee fishes. Got frustrated with paddling about on the surface and tried ditching the snorkle and free diving down a few metres to see things closer up. There were a couple of spots where the reef dropped off into blackness and I wished I was proper diving instead of snorkelling so I could go see what was further down. But I wasn't too hot at getting my ears to equalize and so free diving was limited to about five metres before my head felt like it was gonna pop. But I did manage to get down pretty deep to grab a pretty mother of pearl shell that I saw catching the light. A trophy!

Back on the boat, we had time to dry off in the sun before our next island stop.

Now, you know that cliched bit in The Beach where they walk out onto the beach in question and that Moby song kicks in? This felt just like that. Shaped like an elongated apostrophe, it was a wee paradise island of palms with a tail: the most perfect crescent of totally white sand, surrounded by neon blue water. Carls and I had a wee moment of just sorta looking at one another and laughing. Like, WTF?? These places aren't supposed to actually exist. It felt like Penny Crayon had drawn paradise just for us. Unreal.

We all got a bit giddy - doing headstands and Baywatch running and guddling in the water until the boatmen chivvied us onto paradise island number 2. Now this one was a total bounty ad. Much bigger than the last, with huge palms leaning drunkenly out over the beach, and again, perfect white sand and neon sea but with rocks to climb and large lumps of washed up coral. Carls found some cool shells and I found a spotty pink bit of coral to take home. Purty.

We headed back in towards the harbour, but stopped at one of the wee houses on stilts that dot about the shore. This house came with a couple of enclosed sea pools homing, in one, wild baby sharks that would eat you if you so much as dipped a toe in the water, and another that housed tame baby sharks that you could swim with and pat on the head and feed chocolate buttons (ok not really). The key thing here being not to get the two pools mixed up.

So snorkels on again and first in the water was Riz. Who must have broken some sort of record for fastest vertical exit from a pool by proper shitting it the instant one of the sharks came anywhere near him. Which was most amusing.

The sharks were awesome though. The biggest was probably about two metres long, and they liked to lurk in the cooler shaded waters near the bottom of the pool. That is until some besnorkelled ginger bird appeared and chased them about. Arf.

The pools other more lethargic resident was a giant turtle I shall name Barnaby. He was a right grumpy old bastard who didn't take too kindly to having his shell patted. But he was MASSIVE, about 70kilos. And surprisingly spry for an old fella.

Had a snack on the pier of fresh coconut straight out the shell. Freshly prepared by one of the boatmen and his machete. Mine was a young coconut, you can tell cos the 'milk' tastes fizzy. Its awesome.

Ah, now you may ask. All this pleasure? Where's the pain? I shall tell you my friends. It was on my back. At some point (probably bounty ad beach number 2) I had been so distracted by the bonkers gorgeousness of the place, I had forgotten to reapply my SPF 3million, scottish-edition sun lotion. And had FRIED my back. Oweeee. I'd also stood on something at some point that was making my left foot sting like Billy-o. But more on that later...

Back at the hotel, dinner was dried fish, whole squid (with baby squid still inside - bleee), rice and veg, with more Bintang beer for afters. We also discovered some sort of Chinese Buckfast which we used to toast every on and off of the power. Which is a LOT of toasting. We talked religion, school days and hometowns before meandering off the bed about 1ish. Um... I think.

Wed 24th - Second full day in Karimun:

Early start again this morn (no hangover either - ah the magic of chinese bucky). Our motorboat headed out from the harbour in the opposite direction this time, out to open sea and rougher waters. A leetle alarming at times sitting on a flat platform with no barriers between you and the waves on a boat that carries a car tyre as a life belt. Errrrr...

Anyway. We all made it to the snorkelling point, which was, like the previous day, stunning. It also got pretty deep, pretty quickly. One of the boatmen came out snorkelling with us and pointed us in the direction of the cool bits. Seemed to be more fish traffic in this reef. All good. Tried chasing parrot fish but those little buggers are FAST.

Our next stop off the coast of another large island was cut short by the presence of a machete wielding janny who took exception to us parking in the waters of his boss' island. There followed angry exchanges in indonesian between our boatmen and the machete janny, before we thought it wise to hightail it somewhere else for lunch, giving the Vs like a bunch of school kids as we left. Arf.

Island number 3 was another wee bit of paradise. We sat in the shade and ate Nasi Goreng, egg, tofu and prawn crackers, with fresh coconut for afters. Nom. Got my new facebook photo taken in the sea, drinking coconut milk out the shell. We found a family of Nemos hiding in an anemone in the shallows. Aggressive little buggers so they are. Didn't like us popping by to say hiya AT ALL. Pixar won't tell you the truth but I WILL. Nemo is a THUG. Oh yes.

We carry on around the island to calmer waters and the boatmen circle for a bit before finding us the 50 year old wreck site of a container ship. Now THIS was cool as F***. Like a documentary I'd seen once about the wreck of the titanic. Obviously not as big but was very very creepy to see the prow and guardrail of this massive container ship looming out of dark. It was covered in coral and shells and barnacles and hid all sorts of fishes. Riz and Antok tried to convince me that a giant squid lived in it but I ain't no gullible bule. Didn't stop me pooing myself when Riz sneaked up behind me in the water and grabbed my flipper though. Bastard. :)

I stuck the flippers on and tried the free diving again, getting down deep enough to see more of the ship; part of the control tower, looked through a porthole and grabbed the guardrail. Was very very cool.

Headed back to Karimun harbour and tipped the boat guys for not killing us and headed back towards the hotel. On the way we started to hear loud music. Turning a corner we came across a street party, the whole neighbourhood was out. They had huge crepe paper 'fireworks' on sticks and guys dressed up in stripy dungarees with weird paper-mache heads and fake boobs(?). Everyone was dancing to the tunes coming from an improvised sound system playing off the back of a truck. Turns out this was a celebration for one of the local boys who was being circumcised! The young lad in question was eventually paraded, in full golden batik traditional dress and post-circumsion, through the streets (looking a leetle uncomfortable I have to say) on a gold sedan chair, decked out with gold cymbals and petals, with a band also in traditional dress playing drums, cymbals and maracas. All gloriously bonkers. Got our photo taken with the paper mache head guys (copped a feel of the fake boobs, just to check. Had to be done).

Back in hotel and my stingy foot was demanding inspection. Had been getting difficult to walk on but hadn't noticed it while on the boat cos we'd been in and out the water. Now it was too painful to put any weight on. Had a squiff at it and it was very red and inflamed around this little puncture wound. Also, worryingly, a wee red line was creeping up from the puncture onto the top of my foot. Infected then. On a bloody remote island with no hospital and twelve hours from civilisation. AWESOME. Got the iodine antiseptic out and tried to clean it as best I could and hoped for the best. That bloody foot was to become the bane of the holiday. Small price to pay for paradise though.

Our last Karimun dinner was pretty awesome. Chicken Satay (Sate in Bahasa), prawns, squid rings in batter, spicy green beans and rice, watermelon for afters. NOM NOM. Drank vast quantities of Bintang and Chinese Buckfast (for medicinal purposes you understand) and talked languages, weddings, hen parties and misspent youth. Great banter. Oh, and I got pooed on by a gecko. Which I like to think is good luck. But maybe only for the Gecko.

Thursday 25th - Journey back to Surabaya from Karimun:

Up early doors to catch the 8am ferry back to Japarra port. Had Pop Mie (Indo Pot Noodle) for the first time on this crossing. Was to become something of a staple food for the holiday. Riz loves em. In Japarra we grabbed lunch at a Padang place. Padang food is kinda like a buffet, all the food is already made and laid out. You get rice, sauce and veg and then a choice of one other side and a meat dish. I had Beef Rendang which was kinda like Ghoulash, and a spicy egg in breadcrumbs, with Sembla and spinach. All washed down with full fat Coke out a glass bottle (standard issue here - why does coke taste better out a glass bottle?).

Nom and, indeed, double nom.

The 8 hour drive back to Surabaya on the Road to Hell was much the same as the journey out. I closed my eyes and pretended it wasn't happening. To cap it all I used a squat toilet for the first time at a petrol station. Prob not the best place to have one's first experience of such a convenience. I shall spare you the details. One word: Eeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwww.

Finally back in Surabaya and despite the iodine antiseptic my foot was KILLING me. So decided to channel Chuck Norris; drink a few beers and then get at it with some dettol and sewing needle. Whatever the hell was in there wasn't staying. Much swearing and rooting around in what turned out to be a pretty deep hole in my foot failed to eject anything , so I poured Dettol into it, stuck a plaster over it to keep it clean, and crossed fingers and toes on right foot. Hmmmmm.

Riz and Carl tell me the plan tomorrow is to do Rizqy's Great Surabaya Food Tour. Riz likes his food. So do I. I can't think of a better guide. Bring it.

Photos: Rizqy Renan


queengilda said...

those pictures are unreal!!!

and nasi goreng!!! OMG!!! i would pay SO much to eat some authentic and good nasi goreng right now!! those they sell in asian restaurants here in nyc are fakes! i'm originally from singapore and food from that region makes me go weak in the knees.


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