The sulphur miners stopped, accepted our cigarettes and chatted for a while. They thought they were very lucky to have this job as their pay (which sounded abysmally low to me!) was far higher than if they’d had a normal job. Aside from the demanding physical toll on their bodies -which was evident when we asked their ages and privately thought they looked at least ten years older – we were told that they had to sleep here half-way up the mountains, only returning to their families one day per week. We stopped at the ‘dormitory’ half-way up the mountain and were shocked by the cramped (= crowded, limited in space) sordid (= dirty, filthy) conditions they were expected to endure – and pits dug as toilets nearby.
Our journey ended at the top with a spectacular – if smelly – view over the crater. If you arrive after 9a.m. apparently the view tends to be obscured by mist.
However, for the miners, they still had to traverse (= cross) a steep and narrow path down into the crater to hew (= cut, hack) sulphur out of the crater. They needed to be sure-footed for no one could survive a fall into the sulphur lake.
I felt humbled by these men who not only didn’t complain about their lot (= fate; destiny) in life but even considered themselves lucky carrying out this dangerous and physically taxing (= burdensome; makes you feel tired) work. Our guides had even carried our packs for us during the climb! I was pretty sure a day of work in the crater and climbing up and down laden with sulphur would kill me!
We were starving so, as soon as we reached Banguwangi, we headed straight for a restaurant to eat. Our guide took us to a traditional restaurant and suggested that he ordered some typical dishes for us. That was fine by me. I couldn’t stop laughing however when the soup arrived - my friend’s face was a picture when she scooped up her first spoonful and found chicken feet in it! Still, she was happy enough with the simpler chicken legs and rice for the main meal.
The next morning we had an early start as we needed to get to the foot of Mount Ijen by 7:30a.m. to start the climb before it got too hot. The drive over was lovely and passed through areas that had formerly been colonial coffee plantations as well as some pretty villages.
We started the climb promptly on our arrival. Our guide had warned us that the workers would stop us and that we weren’t to give them money, but he’d stopped en route and we’d purchased cigarettes which he told us to offer them instead. I felt a little uncomfortable at the thought of handing out cigarette as a non-smoker but deferred (= yield, submit, follow) to his judgement.
The climb was a steep winding track up to the crater. En route, sure enough, we encountered (= met) the workers already making their way down. I was amazed and horrified to see their loads! They carried baskets full of sulphur weighing approximately 70kg which was about their own body weight. Most of the men were wearing flimsy flip flops and a few were proudly wearing wellington boots.
To be continued in the next blog post…
We were dejected (= depressed, low-spirited, disheartened) to hear that the only route out of remote coastal Sukamede was to retrace the journey we’d made the day before! We groaned at the thought of another ‘massage’ – we were still aching from the last one! There was nothing for it – we had to grin and bear it (= endure something in good humor)…
Once again our lodgings were supposed to be simple but clean. They were mini-log cabins on stilts surrounded by trees and adjacent to a sandy beach. There was just one man in charge of the accommodation and obviously our ideas of cleanliness were far removed from his! The cabin was ant-infested! The windows were covered in monkey excrement – it made us wonder how much sleep we’d get if they were about… Not only that but there was no food available – it was going to be a long drive to eat. Naturally we weren’t impressed by these poor facilities as our accommodation had all been organized in advance. Our guide tried his best to get things cleaned up but all the guy did was come over and rub the windows with a filthy rag. He put some different covers on the bed, but they still looked filthy. I’d already been bitten by ants and felt very itchy…
We looked at each other and said ‘No way! We’re not stopping here.’ I went out to the guide and driver to see what our options were and we decided to continue on to Banguwangi and stay in the hotel there again.
To try to get something positive from this stop we visited the Hindu temple in the forest:
We also climbed the viewing tower to see if there were any animals on the prairie/savannah. We were out of luck – it was mid afternoon and the best times for viewing were early morning or early evening.
Next day we are going to visit the sulphur crater at Ijen…
Once again, like on my travels in Borneo, we were waiting to hear of a turtle making its way onto the beach to lay its eggs. We still remembered our awe on ‘Turtle Island’ in Borneo watching 120 eggs being laid – each looking just like tiny ping pong balls. Here in Alas Purwo it was also a ranger protected area and, once the mother had left, the eggs would be dug out and taken away to protect them from predators (rats, monitor lizards etc). After our exhausting journey we felt really tired and decided to set a deadline. As we’d already witnessed this amazing sight once before, we felt that it didn’t warrant staying up all night – perhaps in vain. Our deadline came and no turtle had arrived so we went to bed.
Next day we learned that just one turtle had arrived to lay its eggs in the middle of the night. We went to see some cute little hatchlings:
The hatchlings were only tiny but they had very strong little legs and flippers.
Even with all of the efforts of the rangers and protected areas, their chances of survival on release into the sea were still slim – with perhaps only 2 – 3% escaping predators such as gulls and crabs.
There were also some larger tanks holding some older leatherback turtles in order to give them a better chance of survival once they were released.
Next we make a visit to a Hindu temple and Sadengan prairie nature reserve…
Next came the most arduous (= steep) and grueling (= exhausting) drive of the trip. The next section of the route to Sukamade involved a tortuous climb along a steep and winding road. The road quality was questionable too! We had been told by our guide that we needed to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle and its driver for our trip and thank goodness he’d given this advice and organized it! We hadn’t gone far when we came across a family in their people carrier which had overheated and broken down. There was no way they were going to be able to make it across. Their only chance was to wait for it to cool down and turn around.
The road was so uneven and bumpy we had to hold tight onto the handles inside the ancient Jeep and, even so, we felt as if our teeth were rattling. Our guide laughed and informed us that we were getting an impromptu (= sudden, done without preparation) ‘massage’ – free gratis (= at no cost). We thought wistfully (= with longing) of hot stone massages, delicately perfumed oils and the tender ministrations (= act of taking care, looking after) of our masseuses back in the five star hotels! Still, we were on an adventure and the discomfort would soon be forgotten.
We arrived safely at our destination – the tiny, out-of-the way village of Sukamade. As we’d been promised, our accommodation was very simple and basic, but scrupulously (= extremely) clean. We needed to stretch our legs (= go for a walk after a long period of sitting) after the journey. Once again the local villagers were very friendly and welcoming:
My friend, Mary Rose, originally comes from a dairy farm in Ireland and she put all of her persuasive skills to work trying to entice (= lead on, persuade with some reward) the cow to come and say ‘hello’. It took quite a lot of time and effort, but she was eventually successful!
We arrived at our hotel ‘Ketapang Indah Hotel’ which had lovely gardens and a beautiful sea view across to Bali. We ate our evening meal at the hotel before heading out to explore Banguwangi.
There wasn’t much traffic so I suggested taking my favorite form of transport in these conditions – a becak (= pedicab). Unfortunately my use of this mode (= type) of transport was very limited in Surabaya because the roads were generally far too busy for me to consider it a safe way to travel. I only tended to use it in the little ‘kampong’ local district of quiet streets around my home. We’d already used them in Malang and my friend was quite enamored with (= loved) them. We found two becaks and set off to the Chinese temple. We had an interesting time looking at the temple and then proceeded to the night market. Our becak ‘drivers’ decided to have some fun and started to race each other and we soon encouraged them in this. They got a good tip for their extra efforts!
The night market was fantastic. As the only white people about we attracted a lot of stares and attention – particularly from the young children who rushed over to greet us and touch us. There was a huge array of vegetables, spices, fruit, material and even live animals on the market. I got particularly attached to a cute baby rabbit but, of course, I couldn’t buy it.
We started the next leg (= part) of our tour with a train ride to Banguwangi. We met our guide Teguh at the railway station. Surubaya station was a bustling station and I loved the fact that there was a group of musicians and singers to entertain you whilst you waited for your train. The first time I travelled, I waited expectantly for them to start up so that I could hear some traditional Indonesian music. I nearly cried with laughter when, instead, their first song was the Tom Jones hit ‘The green, green grass of home’! I love trains but, after my experience of a very hot and uncomfortable ride to Yogyakarta the first time I travelled by train and had to travel economy class because all of the executive/first class seats had been booked, I was always careful to book well in advance and be sure of a comfortable seat in an air-conditioned carriage.
We were provided with little snacks and water as part of the service included in the fare (= ticket price). At the stations there were local food vendors selling their parcels of food wrapped up in palm leaves – how much better is that than a polystyrene McDonald’s container?
The views out of the windows were spectacular – undulating (= rolling), luscious (= rich, fertile) rice paddies with workers toiling away (= doing exhausting work) in the heat of the day, up to their knees in water. I’d read that there were quite a few snakes to be found in the rice paddies and they presented quite a danger to the workers who were located remotely from good medical facilities.
Join me in my next blog for a ‘becak’ (= pedicab) race, a visit to a Chinese temple, and looking around the night market.
The scenery along the coast was breathtaking. We were completely away from normal tourist routes and heading off into the raw, wild side of Indonesia. I’d warned my friend that the accommodation at Sukamade was going to be very basic – but we’d been promised that it was extremely clean, so fingers crossed! It was going to be a bit of a culture shock after the beautiful hotels we’d stayed in up to now.
Not only did we pass stretches of beautiful coast, but we also drove through plantations of rubber, cocoa, coffee and palm coconuts. Taking a short break we were enthralled watching a worker scoot up (= climb swiftly) a palm tree:
We next took a break to stroll (= walk leisurely, slowly) along a beautiful beach:
The boats were of an unusual design – almost like very primitive catamarans:
They were also very narrow and looked extremely uncomfortable. I was adamant that nothing would ever have got me out to sea in something that looked so insubstantial, flimsy and uncomfortable! However, isn’t it amazing how time changes your perspective? I’d also sworn I’d never get on the back of a motorcycle here in Indonesia! By the time I finished my assignment, however, I had several motorbike rides ‘under my belt’ (= experienced). I’d also gone out to sea in a far smaller and flimsier boat than this one because I was desperate to see the dolphins off the north coast of Bali – it was certainly worth it!
We had an early start the next morning as we were going to visit the fishing village of Muncar. We were slightly concerned because our guide had warned us that the smell could be pretty overpowering. We were relieved to find out that it was tolerable - although I’m sure that, later in the day once it really got hot, it would have been a different story.
On our arrival we admired a long fish that certainly looked like a sword fish – although, despite coming from a fishing port, I’m no expert. I originally come from the east coast of the U.K. and the fishing port I grew up in caught mainly cod, haddock, plaice and skate. That’s a very different ‘kettle of fish’ (= situation, case) if you’ll pardon the pun (= play on words)! Unfortunately, when taking the photo, our guide cut the end of its nose off:
It was amazing to see the small boats that the fishermen used.
It was heavy work unloading and bringing their catch ashore too:
We’d been told that most of the fishermen and their families who did the selling at the market originally came from the island of Madura. The people from this island have a terrible reputation in East Java for being bad-tempered and violent. I have to say that our experiences here in Muncar and, later, my own experience when I visited Madura to watch their famous bull races, certainly didn’t support this. As you can see, the ladies really made a fuss of us and they hugged and embraced us:
Next we had some fun when I pretended to be a fish vendor behind one of the stalls – can you spot me (= catch sight of, glimpse, see) in the shadows at the back of the stall?
Next we set off along the coast heading for Sukamade…
When we returned from Mount Bromo we took the chance to have an afternoon snooze (= nap, short sleep). Then, we took a reviving shower and had a relaxing massage to rid us of the aches and pains after sleeping in the car on our trip.
That evening we dined in the outside restaurant of the hotel and had a scrumptious (= delectable, delicious) meal:
The next day I’d organized a white water rafting trip. The water wasn’t as rapid as some in our experience but we still had great fun. As the water itself didn’t offer such a challenge and our guides realized we’d had previous experience of rafting, they encouraged us to stand at the prow (= front) of the boat holding onto the ropes as we skimmed over the rocks.
When we returned to Malang we tidied ourselves up and then headed off for a walk around Malang’s famous bird and flower market. The bird market was absolutely amazing, although I felt really sorry for the beautiful caged birds. Not only do you find birds and chicks there, but everything you could possibly imagine to feed them – grubs, seeds, etc – as well as a variety of other animals like gerbils and rabbits. The flower market was a riot of color and scents. I could see that my friend was wishing she could stock up on plants for her garden at home, whilst realizing that they probably wouldn’t survive an Irish winter.
It was time to return to Surabaya for another night before setting off on our trip to the more remote parts of East Java.
Malang is an ideal departure point for visiting Mount Bromo - a nearby volcano. We had to set off in the middle of the night as we were to see sunrise at Mount Bromo. Over the 2 years I spent in Indonesia, I experienced a number of early morning (or late night!) starts to climb volcanoes in order to arrive in time for sunrise. I have to say that I soon became rather jaded (= wearied) by this. Firstly because I am not a ‘morning person’ (= I don’t like getting up early!) and, in particular because I wasn’t lucky enough to witness a really spectacular sunrise!
Eventually, later in my travels, I insisted on setting off a little later (it was still best to climb early to avoid climbing in the heat of the day) even though it meant missing the – overrated in my opinion - sunrise.
We’d hired a car and driver/guide to take us to Mount Bromo and I managed to sleep for most of the drive there. We arrived before sunrise. I’d never felt cold at all since my arrival in Indonesia, but it was freezing up there. We’d been warned this would be the case, so we were wearing fleeces. It still felt very cold! The sunrise was rather disappointing after such an early start and a long drive. The clouds obscured (= hid) it to a great extent. However, the view once we could see Mount Bromo itself was really breathtaking:
Mount Bromo sits in the middle of a vast plain called the Sea of Sand. We travelled as near as we could to the volcano in our 4-wheel drive vehicle. Next it was a case of walk or else ride a horse. I was keen to walk as I am nervous of horses. However, my friend is a keen horse rider so the guide said he’d ask for a calm horse for me. My friend got a frisky (= playful, lively) and fit looking steed (= horse).
I was given a horse that was so thin I could see its ribs and it looked rather weak. I was rather concerned for the poor beast because I’m rather heavy!! I was assured that it was fit and strong and off we went.
We climbed to the top and joined the other visitors looking into the crater:
It was an amazing experience, but I was happy to descend to the foot of the volcano:
In my next blog we go white water rafting and visit a bird market.
During my time living in Indonesia, one of my favourite places to visit was the beautiful hill town of Malang. It was cooler and less humid than Surabaya where I lived and so it was a pleasant place to visit. This was an ideal place to take my Irish friend who wasn’t used to the heat and humidity of South East Asia.
As I spent very little of my wages each month, I was always able to ‘push the boat out’ (= to spend a lot of money or more money than you usually do, especially when you are celebrating or doing something special) when I went travelling. I stayed in the best hotels I could find and, because I had a ‘KITAS’ (= work and residence visa) I was able to pay local prices rather than tourist prices. It was incredible – I could get fantastic deals for amazing hotels.
I had booked a room at the Hotel Tugu – the best hotel in Malan
g. This hotel too had a colonial background. It was filled with stunning antiques and we were privileged to be able to view some of the magnificent suites. One of the suites was quite incredible: it had a personal massage area; a separate dining room; its bed looked big enough for an entire football team; and its outdoor bathroom had a stone elephant whose trunk was the water tap or spout! This suite
had been recently used by the then President Megawati.
We spoiled ourselves on arrival with a relaxing massage. In the evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner in the outside garden restaurant:
One of my friends came over to visit and so I’d planned a mixture of activities.
When she first arrived, we stayed at my favourite hotel in Surabaya – the Hotel Majahapit. I used to go there every weekend to use the gym (which I hated, but knew was good for me!) and the swimming pool (which I adored!). I usually ate there at the weekend too as my maid didn’t work over the weekend. It served a great choice of food. It is a beautiful, colonial building built by the Sarkies brothers – famous for also building the Raffles hotel in Singapore. It has wonderful lush gardens and grounds, a fantastic spa (with blissful treatments) and the most attentive and charming staff. I felt very spoilt and blessed to be greeted as ‘Miss Angela’ each time I arrived. We spent 2 nights there as a treat – my small house only had one bedroom and, although I was acclimatised to the constant heat and humidity, I knew my friend wouldn’t be able to bear sleeping without air conditioning. In my cute little house I only had fans to stave off (= prevent, reduce) the heat.
My friend loves shopping and Surabaya is a shopping paradise with a number of huge shopping malls and great markets. The choice of goods was great and the prices very cheap compared to European prices. We went to Galaxy Mall - a small shopping mall which was my preferred mall (I actually hate shopping!) and then to Plaza Tunjungan, which was practically opposite our hotel. . My friend was in heaven as this is a huge shopping complex. I soon lost the will to live as I find shopping centres like this absolutely draining!
Within Red Square there are three churches and cathedrals. Firstly there is Kazan Cathedral:
This is a Russian Orthodox church that is a reconstruction of the original church, which was destroyed on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1936. The reconstruction was finished in 1993 – just three years before my visit.
Next there is the Cathedral of the Dormition and in the photo we can see the Royal Procession Door:
This cathedral was built in 1475 – 1479 and the coronation of the first Russian Tsar, Ivan the Terrible, took place here in 1547.
Finally there is the Cathedral of the Annunciation:
This church was also used by the Muscovite Tsars and its abbot was a personal confessor to the royal family until the early 20th century.
The final evening of our tour was approaching. Once again we enjoyed typical Russian refreshments and snacks such as blinis and caviar on board our ship. I dined for the last time together with the friends I’d made on this waterways cruise. That evening we attended a folklore concert:
The performers wore amazing, decorated, and colourful costumes. They were a real joy to listen to and behold (= look at, observe). The evening whizzed passed by in a blaze of colour and melody. We listened to typical Russian folk songs played on their traditional instruments.
It had been a fascinating and memorable tour. I’d also managed on my travels here in Russia to purchase some beautiful keepsakes and crafts to remind me of the trip.
In Red Square itself people were walking and milling around (= moving around):
This seemed rather out of place as, on TV, I always remembered it being shown when it was used for military parades.
I strolled (= walked slowly/casually) over to take a look at Lenin’s tomb or mausoleum (burial place) in the square.
His embalmed body has been on public display there since shortly after his death in 1924. Interestingly, the body was evacuated in 1941 when it was feared Moscow might fall to invading Nazi troops, but it was returned after the war. Considerable effort is required to preserve the body. Until 1991 the costs of preservation were paid for by the Russian government, but they are now funded by private donations. Debate continues about what to do with him and there is serious talk of burying him.
That evening we went to the Moscow State Circus. This is one of the most famous circuses in the world. As a child I had loved going to the circus. However, circuses had fallen more and more out of favour (= unpopular), lost their popularity and come to be thought of as cruel and unnatural for the animals trained for and paraded in their shows. Call me ‘lily-livered’ (= weak), if you will, but I couldn’t help but agree with modern-day views and so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the evening. However, I have to admit that the performance, splendour, colour and magic of the show provided an entrancing spectacle. There were still some animals included in the show, but far fewer than I’d expected. The circus had adapted and developed instead the talents of its human contingency!
Everywhere around Moscow there were political posters for the election:
Naturally, no visit would be complete without a visit to Red Square. The entrance was quite spectacular:
I was told that the name ‘Red Square’ was nothing to do with Communism, but that the old Russian word for ‘beautiful’ was the same as the word ‘red’ – so the square was supposed to be called ‘Beautiful Square’. Nowadays the Square is home to the Kremlin, the GUM Department Store or shopping centre:
I didn’t have time to do any shopping, but this department store seemed attractive and well-stocked. It presented a picture that was a far cry (= a long way, very different) from the descriptions of years before depicting Russia’s shops and stores as having meagre stock and long queues of customers.
Stunning Saint Basil’s Cathedral also forms part of Red Square’s boundary:.
For me Saint Basil’s is the epitome (= something typical) of Russia and Red Square. I always picture this magnificent building when I think of Moscow. No doubt I have been greatly influenced by numerous news reports that have been filmed adjacent (= next) to it.
We spent some considerable time visiting the State Historical Museum. Despite the hours spent here, we barely scratched the surface (= only saw a small part of it; covered it superficially) as the collection numbers its objects in millions!.
The next day we arrived in Uglich. This was a particularly interesting visit because here we were invited into the home of a family. It was a very traditional house and the family dressed traditionally too. The father and son played music using an impressive contraption with an array of bells on it whilst the mother read to us:
Next we visited the Church of St Dmitry. It had beautiful blue domes with golden stars and crescents sparkling on them:
Inside the icons and decoration were breathtaking:
When we returned to the ship, we were welcomed to a buffet of traditional Russian fare such as blinis and caviar. It was a glorious spread and belied (= contradicted, showed to be false) all previous impressions of bland and boring food that one imagined as being standard Russian fare.
Afterwards we attended one of the lectures available as part of the cruise and learned a little Russian in readiness for our time in Moscow. The lecturer was an amazing lady who had managed to do well and survive a number of political regime changes. She had been writing her autobiography and was hoping one of the passengers would smuggle it out to the USA for her. I had been surprised to discover when I arrived for the cruise that the majority of passengers were American.
I perused (= read carefully) the program of ship’s events and stayed up to watch the showing of the film ‘Amadeus’. The program informed me that over the next few days we’d attend a concert on board the ship and also go to the Moscow Circus.
Goritsy is a small settlement on the White Lake. It is close to the Saint Cyril Monastery and also to a nunnery and has a number of further monasteries nearby. It was a quaint and picturesque place:
As we sailed over the lakes and reservoirs we were told that a number of villages had been evacuated and flooded and, if you looked down from the side of the ship you’d be able to catch sight of the spires of some of the churches. It was an eery (= strange) thought, imagining those deserted villages beneath the hull of the boat.
Next we moved onto the much larger town of Yaroslavl. First of all we visited a puppet theatre. The puppets were nearly life-sized and we enjoyed an entertaining show there.
We visited a red brick church which is typical of the oldest churches in Yaroslavl:
We moved on to visit the St Saviour Monastery. Outside we listened to a demonstration of bell ringing and inside we discovered stunning icons and paintings:
I found it amazing how beautifully preserved the churches, their paintings and icons were. After all we were in a country that had been under Communist rule for 60 years and had actively discouraged religious beliefs during that period.
In the evening we attended a traditional concert. It was a lively affair with a lot of vigorous dancing – naturally including some demonstrations of Cossack dancing:
The costumes were vibrant and the performers really looked as if they enjoyed themselves as much as we did in the audience!
After the beauty of Saint Petersburg it was quite a shock to disembark in Vitegra (also called Vytegra, I believe) and visit what could only be described as quite a primitive, basic town. Its industry seemed to be predominantly linked to foresting and wood preparation. The tiny wooden chapel and many other wooden buildings testified to the importance of wood here:
We didn’t even find any real shops. Wanting to ask directions to the local market, we stopped off at this small kiosk:
Unfortunately, the market was so disappointing and had nothing to tempt us to buy that I didn’t even bother taking a photograph!
I have to admit I found the whole town rather depressing and uninspiring. Even the little school looked neglected and soulless.
Next we sailed on to visit the Kirill Belosersky Monastery (also known as the Monastery of Saint Cyril of the White Lake). This was an impressive set of buildings teetering on the edge of the Lake.
It is one of the largest and best preserved medieval Abbeys in Russia. It is no longer an active monastery – it was forced to close in 1924 and turned into a museum.
Although it is named after the White Lake (Lake Beloye) and the city of Belozersk it actually is located on the smaller lake Siverskoye, near the present day town of Kirillov, a few miles inland from the village of Goritsy on the Sheksna River.
The next day we had the opportunity to visit the Hermitage Museum. It is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world and only a small proportion of its collections is on permanent display. That’s probably just as well, as it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed if there is too much to view. An astounding fact is that its collections comprise nearly three million items! Not surprisingly the number of buildings required to house the collections has had to keep expanding. I spent most of my visit in the impressive ‘Winter Palace’ – the former residence of the Russian Tsars.
I think my favourite room was the Peter the Great Room or The Small Throne room:
This was a recreation of the original room, as most of the Winter Palace was destroyed by fire in 1837.
Next we travelled just outside of Saint Petersburg to see the Catherine Palace in Pushkin:
It is certainly worth viewing. This palace too was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War, but an extensive restoration program has revived it. Next door is the Lyceum, a 19th century school for the elite, where the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin studied.
Finally, what better way could there be to end the day but by attending a ballet? We were truly fortunate to be able to attend a performance of ‘The Firebird’. It was a spectacular and colourful performance. It brought back memories of listening to the music of the Firebird and choreographing our own little dance routines to it as schoolchildren - encouraged by an enthusiastic drama teacher.