Of course we made it to the island safely. Don’t be dumb. I wouldn’t be writing this if we hadn’t. Unless I was ghost writing. Literally, not figuratively. Like that awesome show from the 90’s.
Anyways. I slept through most of the second half of the boat ride from Hell so I didn’t revisit my Pop Mie. That was a reunion no one wanted to see.
I popped my head up at one point and saw in the far distance the shape of the island beginning to appear on the horizon. I can only imagine how welcome a site that would be if you had been at sea for weeks or months. Those old sailors get so many kudos from this girl because I was elated to see land again after only 6 or 7 hours.
Karimunjawa literally means “a stone’s throw from Jawa” in the local dialect of Javanese. It’s a small archipelago which consists of about 27 islands and it’s 80 km (50 miles) from Jepara.
Since we had hitched a ride with a supply boat we were deposited onto the local harbor, not the tourist entrance. We slowly recovered our land legs, paid the man, and began a brief exploration of the island to find another homestay. Our biggest goal is always cost, obviously, so when our original place was booked and the next asked for $20 per room, we high tailed it to the furthest homestay possible. Matt took a trip down a side street and found a kind Ibu (Vocab: female head of house) willing to let us stay in two rooms for the two nights we were in town. There was no A/C, but we’re Peace Corps volunteers. We don’t need no stinking cool air! So we thought.
Matt and Brie took us to a little cove near this massive hotel about 30 minutes’ walk away from our homestay to begin our paradise vacation. It had a stellar view, a private beach (aptly named Nirvana Beach), and an adorable vibe. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t afford it even when I had a real job, but it was nice to pretend for a minute.
On the way back from our imaginary life we came across a half abandoned shack with advertisements of snorkeling and boat rentals. After poking around for a moment a shirtless man came running out of the house to greet us. We spoke with him for a while and haggled the price until he ultimately agreed to rent us a boat for the entirety of the next day with snorkeling gear and a guide.
We finished up the night with the cutest dinner at the alun alun (Vocab: sort of like a town square) where the boys picked their own freshly caught fish and I feasted on Mie Goreng (sort of like Chow Mein, it’s a fried noodle dish) and some tempe. (don’t judge me) We grabbed our food from one of the many street vendors and sat on a tarp to watch the people gather while the cats and ducks scavenged for anything they could steal. After we ate our fill we returned to our modest accommodations and proceeded to find out none of us would sleep a wink in the heat. The boys spread out on the couches in the living room and the tile floors to try and escape the heat while Brie and I left the door open and slept facing the fan as she occasionally spritzed us with water to cool off. Needless to say, when 6a rolled around we were all ready to get out of that house. I should probably mention that Karimunjawa doesn’t have electricity during the day. That’s right, folks. This quaint and darling little island has just enough electricity to power the villages for the evening hours. So, with a half charged phone and no plans of using it we set out for the harbor!
We bought lunch to bring with us at a local warung (Vocab: small, local eatery) for ourselves as well as the guide and the guy driving the boat (Sailor? Pilot? Boat driving guy?), as is custom in these ventures, and set sail for Pulau Cendikian. (Literally translated from Javanese to mean the Island of the Wise. No idea what the story is there, I’ll have to get it next time.) Because this is the trip of ridiculous travel, as we set sail what do we see in the distance? Nothing other than pouring rain from a dark cloud. The guide asked us if we minded going through the rain. He assured us that once we got to the island it would be clear again. At this point, we were ready for anything. Onward!
While the view ahead of us was less than comforting, looking back on the island as we sailed away was one of the most peaceful and beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The mountains loomed over the bluest waters I could imagine. It was all covered in vibrant greens and lined with brilliant white sandy beaches. It couldn’t possibly get any better than this…
We passed through the storm, as promised, unharmed and barely phased. The trip to Pulau Cendikian took about 45 minutes. Our guide kept assuring us that the island would be nigh deserted because most tourists don’t like to travel that far. On our way out we passed several smaller islands, some deserted and others with small huts. They all looked cute but our guide was taking us to the prime snorkeling location.
For those of you who know me even a little well or read my blog on Bali, you’ll know I have a completely understandable fear of Lake Monsters. (Lake Monsters defined as anything remotely creepy that lives in a lake, pond, puddle, river, ocean, sea, sound, inlet, etc… It usually has tentacles and can often kill and eat you, but not always.) HOWEVER, I was determined to go snorkeling even if it killed me!
We geared up and everyone jumped off the boat. Matt had brought some waterproof pouches for our phones so we could try to take pictures underwater. We were both a little too chicken to test those out at first so I stayed onboard to take pictures of folks jumping in the water. And maybe also because I was about to get in water with living creatures. Like, ones that were close and that I could see.
After the initial shock of being in natural water in which I could not touch the bottom wore off, I really rather enjoyed myself. The guide was right, this was the most amazing coral I had ever seen. The colors were vibrant and it was teeming with life. I discovered my new favorite color in this deep, royal purple fish that swam by. Brie found a giant sea urchin looking creature with what looked like tentacles. When we showed our guide he immediately made it very clear if we touched it we would die. I saw more fish in more colors than I knew existed in every shape, size, and variety. We stayed in the water for an hour or more, the whole time I was buzzing around singing “A Whole New World” in my head, completely awestruck by the beauty below.
Eventually we decided to head in to shore. Jel, our guide, showed us the only safe route to the beach and we followed him in (navigating carefully through a gate made of trees planted firmly amongst the coral) while the boat made its way closer to our location. We are a perpetually nomadic group of wanderers so, of course, we began walking. Next thing I know I look up to see Brie parked in the middle of this vast expanse of sand bar peaking above crystal clear water. It’s like a scene from a movie. We all laid out in the water (which later proved to be a poor life choice for my skin) and relaxed as the waves lapped over us.
We had our lunch on the boat and continued to our next destination. We snorkeled in another spot that proved fun but not quite as amazing as the first. Although, I did get to see Sea Anemone filled with little families of clown fish right on the great abyss. No wonder Marlin was so afraid of it. The sea is filled with the bustle of life and then this drop into nothingness. It’s freaky. We got out to walk around this island too, but at this point I had come to realize my extra strength sunscreen was not invincible. In other words, I was burned to a bright red crisp. It hurt to move and every second the sun touched my skin I was in pain. I stopped about half way around the island to retreat to a shady spot and wait for the others to finish their trek.
We were promised a beautiful sunset, so Jel led us to a sandbar in the middle of the ocean. You heard me right, we parked the boat (weighed anchor? Don’t judge me. I don’t do boat terminology!) and hopped right out into the shallows. He called it “the beach with no island.” We played around there for a while, relaxing in the water and watching the sun set slowly into one of the many islands nearby.
We polished off the night with another fresh picked fish meal (and tempe) on the alun alun and returned to our sweltering establishments. Of course, most of us were also sunburned this time so the previous misery was ten fold.
We woke up early and decided to come full circle by spending our final morning on Nirvana Beach. The boys played soccer with a found ball and palm trees for a goal; Brie reclined in the water; I hid in the shade; and Matt floated here and there, hiding from sunlight and putting his chair in the water. On the way to the boat we realized we would need some sort of lunch so we stopped at a local eatery to take some food to go. It was about then we realized we were running late and the boat was about to leave without us. We shook ourselves from our paradise-induced coma of calm and rushed the poor warung women into a frenzy as Brie ran ahead to hold the boat.
T stayed behind with Alex to finish paying the bill while Matt and I hustled to catch up to Brie. We were running along with our full luggage on our backs when suddenly I remembered I have asthma. And that I had forgotten my inhaler at home. So, that put an immediate end to running for me and Matt carried my things onto the boat. We got there and remembered it’s Indonesia (rubber time!) which meant we could have strolled at a leisurely pace and been just fine. Silly Americans.
The speed boat took a mere 5 hours to get us to Semarang, to the place that sort of began it all. We bargained forever to get a reasonable rate on a taxi and finally found our way to the bus terminal to head to Surabaya (see number 7 below).
This would be known as the closest thing to beat the bus ride to Jepara. As I may have mentioned a few times, we’re a cheap bunch of volunteers. We get paid an average of $2 a day. We cut corners, skimp on necessities, and bargain like mad. This is not always the brightest of ideas. We opted out of the Air Conditioned nice bus for the jam packed alternative. It was supposed to be a direct night bus, but little did we know we had signed up for something more akin to the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. At one point I looked up from my puddle of sweat to realize we were driving on the wrong side of the road. Apparently the traffic was so bad on the left that the driver had decided to pass as many trucks as he could by driving on the shoulder of the right side of the road. In case the traffic from hell and the driver from HP wasn’t enough, some time around 2a I was awoken by a loud bang, smoke streaming from the back of the bus, and an exploded lightbulb crashing down a few seats ahead of me. It would seem that all the intense driving and the insane heat caused the bus to overheat which in turn started a small engine fire and shorted the lights. You know, no big deal. I have never seen a group of Indonesians move as quickly as they did to get off that bus. Maybe it says something about us that we were all the last off the bus, dazed, half asleep, and wide eyed. Of course as we were disembarking in pitch blackness (remember, the lights exploded), T slipped on the stairs and cut his finger open. Good ol’ momma bear me rushed back onto the bus (there was significantly less smoke now) to grab my travel first aid kit and wash his wound road side. I stood there trying my best not to be ungodly amounts of angry while telling myself that asking questions would help no one. We had to wait a mere 20 minutes or so until the driver decided it was time to make it happen. He, along with a group of passengers, pushed the bus until it started up again. Everyone rushed to climb aboard and we were back on our way. Seems legit?
We finally arrived at the bus terminal in Surabaya at 4a, awoke some poor taxi driver from his slumber, and found our way to our hotel. Lest something be easy, we arrived to find all of our rooms had been changed and that Brie wasn’t even on the list. After 10 minutes or so of trying to communicate with the front desk guy, who started calling around to our friends to ask them questions… at 4a… I was ready to flip a table. Instead of doing so (It’s culturally inappropriate to lose your temper here. Also, there were no free tables around.) I told Brie to grab her stuff and sleep in my bed that night. Luckily, I had been texting my roomie all night and knew which room I was in. Upon arriving to this conclusion we left to the boys to their own devices and promptly passed out sharing a twin bed.
The next week is a blur of training sessions and amazing food. The first night I was there for dinner I passed on the provided Indonesian food in favor of a local Indian place. It was followed by Italian, American, and junk food over the subsequent nights. There was a Starbucks at the nearby mall that I make no pretenses about being unabashedly happy to see. I walked in, got a Vanilla Latte and a piece of chocolate mousse cake! That may sound like your average American morning, but it’s such a rare treat here. I was aghast at paying 60.000 Rupiah ($6) for the package. I could feed my whole family for a week for that much money in the desa! Matt, T, and I even led a successful quest for McDonald’s breakfast one day. I’m not ashamed to say I loved every greasy bite of it.
It was absolutely amazing to see everyone in one place again after three months without them. Our group is so big, it’s hard to get everyone together; even in Bali there were people missing. It’s amazing how sometimes it’s enough just to be surrounded by like-minded people who love you. We didn’t even need to go out every night, we were content to gather in someone’s hotel room and play games, watch movies, or just talk.
We threw a Halloween party that included most of the ID7s and some of our predecessors, the ID6s. I don’t think I’ve ever explained the numbers before. See, each group in country gets a number. We are the 7th group to be in Indonesia. This is a little misleading, however, since the first three groups were in 1963-5. The new program started up again in 2010 with ID4. ID7 is, therefore, the fourth group in country since PC Indonesia was reopened. You get to be wicked close to your group but it’s always fun to intermingle. I love any opportunity to see the 6’s! So, we had a blast at our Halloween mixer. I made my very own Batman costume (obviously), the inspiration for which is a costume an elementary school kid would make. I think I was successful. The only downside to this lovely shindig is when I pulled one of my epic Margaux Moments. I was B-lining toward the door on a mission when I tripped on a tiny, camouflaged stair and went sprawling. I landed on another stair that decided my kneecap should really be more acquainted with my shin bone. I spent much of the rest of the party sitting with my leg elevated. Those of us who live in West Java were supposed to be on a train to Purwakarta (see number 8 on the map) the next morning at 6a. I called the doctor who very much insisted this would not be happening for me. Needless to say, I was more than a little unhappy about this turn of events.
The doctor demanded I have X-Rays after examining my baseball sized knee. She was worried about a possible fracture to the kneecap, which would quite unfortunate. I agreed to head in, I let her wrap up the knee, and I even kept it elevated with an ice pack. Much more than I’ve done for a wound in a long time! Usually I’m of the opinion that you should be able to walk everything off, damn the consequences, but a busted knee gives even me pause.
I spent the next three days relegated to my hotel room, occasionally crutching my way around for food or Starbucks but otherwise enjoying some relaxing time in my A/C filled hotel room. As far as consequences go, this wasn’t half bad.
Finally, the doctor read the X-Rays and cleared me to head home saying there was no fracture and that I should heal just fine. There might be some straining of the ligaments but nothing too bad or too permanent. Peace Corps then booked me a plane (A PLANE!) to Bandung (which reduced my travel time from 12 hours to 1.5) where a driver picked me up and drove me to Purwakarta.
I spent a mere two days there finishing up my training with my Indonesian teacher counterpart (CP) after which a group of us headed back to Bandung. Four volunteers needed to go to the hospital for varying reasons. It seems IST (In Service Training) was hard on all of us. I followed along with a few others to have a nice last few meals and as a sort of cool-down from all the fun.
Returning to site was not the easiest thing I’ve done since coming to Indonesia. While I do love it here, it can be hard to be plunged back into village life after coming from three weeks of being, well, normal. It’s like living in the desa is living in a dream. You’re different and it always shows. People always look at you as an outsider, an ‘other’. Then you come to the big cities and you see a bunch of your close friends and the PC staff. No one points or yells or calls to you. You don’t have to eat rice with every meal. You wake up to what feels like real life from the dream of the desa and then you fall asleep again. You drift back into this other world.
As hard as that may be, when I walked into my first class to a chorus of excited shouts from my students I was so happy to be back. Every class has told me how much they missed me while I was gone. Every student squeals and comes to greet me. They’re such a wonderful group of kids and they make every second here worthwhile.
And so I leave you with this excerpt from a song from Mulan (which I may have changed a word for…):
For a long time we’ve been
Marching off to battle
In our thundering herd
We feel a lot like cattle
Like the pounding beat
Our aching feet aren’t
easy to ignore
Hey, think of instead
A vacation worth fighting for!!!!!!!!