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Lessons learned in Southeast Asia

Luc Pols
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Special to the Daily/Luc Pols
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Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a series of travel stories from local resident Luc Pols, who is traveling through Southeast Asia.

I got up at 3:30 a.m. for my two-and-a-half hour ride to Ijen Plateau, a bone-rattling, pot-hole-filled ride. It was, however, still better than the two miles I had to walk up what equated to a blue run. I almost gave up a couple of times, but I am glad I persisted.

At the top was a live volcano with smoke billowing out of the side from a sulphur mine. A human mule train carries about 20 tons of sulphur out of the mine every day. These guys wear flipflops, rubber boots or have bare feet and weigh between 125 and 150 pounds. They carry out two baskets weighing between 160 and 180 pounds on their shoulders! They do this twice a day for a total of about 10 miles, up from the lake to the crater rim and then 3.5 kilometers down the “blue run.” The lake, the live volcano and the human mule train are quite an experience.

I saw three live volcanoes in two days. I left for Cemoro Lawang at the Tengger/Bromo/Semeru National Park. I got up at 3 a.m. to catch the sunrise and the views were spectacular. The weather cooperated and two of the three volcanoes spewed plumes of smoke: Bromo continuously and nearby Gunung Semeru at 12,550 feet ” Java’a highest and most active volcano ” regularly. My guide book says that these volcanoes are nature’s answer to the Borobodur temples and they are right … there are insufficient words to describe them. Breathtaking doesn’t even come close.

The weather changed, but I sat in the hotel’s restaurant gaping at Bromo. I stayed there for two nights before heading to my next destination by bus … again. Oh well.

I had a surprisingly comfortable bus ride to Malang, a pleasant University town, where I changed some money. I asked the money changer for the exchange rate and she told me 10,400/$1.

I picked up my bills, said no thank you, and got ready to leave.

“Oh Mister, what rate do you want?” she asked.

I typed in 11,000 and she immediately said OK.

I probably should have asked for 11,400, but I was happy. The lesson is always negotiate with money changers and make sure they don’t charge commission, which brings the rate right down again.

Malang is quite a beautiful city, with the nicest houses and neighborhoods I have seen in Indonesia so far.

After that it was on to Blitar by train. Unfortunately ” very unfortunately ” this train only had economy seats and while I did not spot any chickens or goats, it was rather uncomfortable.

Immediately upon arrival, I investigated the train to my next stop and there was an executive class, so I bought my ticket right there and then.

While this is a beautiful country, there are of course annoyances. I am reminded of Islam constantly and it’s extremely invasive. They blare the Koran in Arabic, over very loud loudspeakers, and it becomes exceedingly boring and offensive. It is like if the Catholic Church blared out a half-hour mass, in Latin, five times a day over loudspeakers from its steeples. The sound drowns out the rest of life. I certainly don’t hope this will get me on the death list, but if a religion has to resort to blaring, and I mean blaring out their message five times a day to keep or to get their believers, it is a pretty sad story, especially if there are five or six mosques in close proximity to each other, blaring the same thing at the same time, but all with different texts. It is insulting, especially at 3:30 in the morning. Someone even told me that, when staying at a hotel, every room, whether Muslim or not, whether requested or not, receives a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call. That’s unbelievable and very annoying.

See you next week.

P.S. My friend Kaye Ferry would feel very comfortable here; 80 percent of the people wear flipflops!

Have a travel essay you’d like to share with Vail Daily readers? E-mail High Life Editor Caramie Schnell at cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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