Monday, March 23, 2009

The last two weeks in bits and pieces

The last week-and-a-half has been reasonably eventful, but perhaps not travel-blog worthy. (Events included a Superhero party, karaoke, and the eating of imported cheese.) As I've settled into my life here, I often forget to write about things that seem normal to me, but would perhaps be strange to those of you back home. My apologies for not writing more frequently.

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I eat a lot of local food. Even at the house, I cook with Southeast Asian flavors. But sometimes I miss the variety of tastes that are available back home. To remedy this situation, my group of friends has decided to do a weekly ethnic food night, which has turned out quite well. We've done Mexican night and Italian night (I made homemade pizza for the first time since I left home), with plans for a Caribbean night in the near future.

I've also been drinking a little more than I should.Despite its distinguished-looking label, this is not good stuff.

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Two weekends ago, we met at a friend's house to try durian, a strong-smelling fruit that the locals love but is hated by foreigners. The locals often describe it as "custardy," but one of my friends described it as "cheese gone bad."Ian thought it was okay but not great, Sinead almost threw up in her mouth, and I thought it was quite alright, though this might have a lot to do with my lack of a sense of smell.

video

The fruit is extremely sweet, but has a strange squishy smooth texture, and it takes a bit of time to adjust to the way it feels in your mouth.

After our exotic fruit tasting, we went for food at a restaurant near our friend's house. Two of us ordered a dish named "Tofu Bokchoy Mushroom" from a section of the menu clearly labeled "Vegetarian." Of course, the main component of the dish was chicken.

Following our "vegetarian" meal, we walked across the street to Masjid Al Akbar, supposedly the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.
The mosque sprawls over a large area and took five years to build. It also has a tower that offers a view of Surabaya. From the top, we could see several rice fields, the city's hotels, and three cars broken down on the highway.

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This past weekend, I went river rafting for the first time. The company we went through seemed amazingly well run, and everything went smoothly. We spent a little over two hours on the river (which featured class II rapids), including a stop for fresh coconuts and a jump into the river from a bridge ten meters above the water. I took the plunge first, and then waited while the girls built up courage to do the same. All of them did eventually jump.

After the rafting, we were given an excellent buffet lunch. Here are some of the girls relaxing after out time on the river.We are planning on doing it again in about a month, but as part of a combination rafting-camping trip. I'm already excited.

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Thursday is a holiday, but school still makes us come in on Friday. Lord forbid they give us an extra day off. But I managed to schedule vacation, so I am headed west, first to the town of Semarang to visit a haunted building known as the "Thousand Doors."

Then I will carry on to Bandungan to check out the Gedong Songo temples, which are over 1200 years old. The temples sit on a natural terrace in the mountainside.

I will then swing through Yogyakarta and Solo on the route home.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Knee deep in trouble

Last night was one of the worst rains in years. My roommate and my friend all finished school early, but we had to wait an hour-and-a-half before a taxi could make it down to the school to pick us up.

The main road home was closed, so we made a large detour. However, the detour wasn't much better. We could feel water hitting the bottom of the car, and in a few spots it felt like we were floating.

The driver got us somewhat near the house, but we then had to walk five blocks through knee deep water to get home. Fortunately, our street, and our house, were not buried by the deluge.

Other friends made it, as well, and we settled into a pile of homemade Mexican food while the streets cleared.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In the jungle, the mighty jungle...

We had no indication what awaited us. We assumed the drive south to the beach at Sendang Biru would take three hours, the walk to the lagoon would be one hour, and porters would do all the heavy lifting.

We rolled out of Surabaya a little after 11am. Traffic backed up near the mud volcano; rains had caused some minor flooding. Six hours later, we arrived at the beach. We had planned to make it to the lagoon that day, but it was too late. We would have to wait until morning.

So we set up camp in a somewhat dry patch of dirt and grass near the beach's security station. And we drank. And chatted with the locals. And sang and danced. And crawled into bed shortly after three to sleep for two hours before going on our jungle trek.We awoke in the morning, packed up camp, and went on our way. We didn't know what awaited us along the path.Every step was treacherous. The rainy season had made mud. Ian, who was still drunk, kept falling down, and twice lost his shoes in the mud.

Shortly before the "bridge" made of four small logs, I had my only wipe out. I almost careened into a hole. I was fine, but Rowan started to panic slightly. She made it across the bridge, but the path continued to get worse. We walked along a narrow ridge where a misstep could tumble us into the water. We were worried but wished for the best.

Three hours after we began, we arrived at the lagoon. On the very last step of the path, Sinead slipped and landed hard on her tailbone. Fortunately, she was only bruised. We began to worry about the trip back.

Despite the struggles to get there, the lagoon was amazing. It was big and clean, and fed by water from the ocean that crashed through a hole in the rocks.The rain that had accompanied us on our journey soon subsided, and the weather was absolutely amazing. We set up base camp, a compact mass of tents.
We had packed some good food and some digestible drink, so we ate and drank and played in the surf and relaxed.The beach was busy, and had a pleasant vibe. People swam and slept and frolicked and played guitars around campfires.

The next day, we faced the reverse march back. We had come in with three porters, but had only one for the return; I am not sure why, since we had indicated we wanted three.

We were all overloaded and tired. We had decided to "luxury camp" but now regretted the amount of stuff we had brought. Ian had gotten too much sun and not enough water, and we worried that he might pass out with every step.

But we marched on and made it out of the jungle without incident, and plopped down in the inlet where our boat was waiting to take us back to the mainland.
We had gained some sore bodies, but also a little bit of knowledge of how to approach the situation. We will go back, but in the dry season when the path is friendlier.

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For more pictures from the trip, click here.

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On Facebook, EF has posted some photos from last week's volunteer teaching, so here are some shots of this guru (Indonesian for "teacher") in action.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Got my Mojokerto working

We were delayed a little while heading south to Mojokerto. Two of our party were supposed to meet us at a school in Surabaya, but got mildly confused while navigating the city's sprawl. Then, we had some difficulty finding the school we were going to, since it is set in the mountains up a small road and a ways from the nearest town.
Since we were late, the teacher in charge decided that instead of having our group of six teachers conduct activities together for the different classes (we were going to visit each class for twenty minutes), we should split up amongst the classes and do an hour-long lesson each. I ended up in a classroom with two local teachers.
"Okay, start teaching," they said.

"Ummm..." I said.

After a brief pause to think, I was able to work impromptu. I did alright, I think, and maybe I was able to teach the kids something.

The school is far different from where where we teach in Surabaya.Overall, it was a worthwhile experience, and I think I will look into doing some more volunteer work in the future, whenever the chance arises.

Afterwards, we grabbed some food at a nearby restaurant that also called itself the "Harley Davidson Club of Indonesia."I have not seen a single Harley since I've been here, though I sort of remember seeing a shop somewhere.

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Here's a food pic. This is what some people consider "cheesecake" here.Yes, that is grated mozzarella on top of a frosted cake. This dessert was brought in for someone's birthday. I tried it; it was a little strange but not too bad. Both sweet and salty.

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This coming weekend is a three-day weekend for us. So we are headed to Sempu Island (also, type the name into Google and check the images).

We are renting tents and going through the jungle for about an hour. We are carrying in all of our food, water, and alcohol. It should be an amazingly awesome rustic experience.

There are panthers on the island (according to Wikipedia, these are technically melanistic leopards, and therefore somewhat unlike the American cougar, whose existence in a black form are doubted by many biologists and zoologists), so in the morning I am going to buy a knife for protection.