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As Long as We Remember...

April 14, 2010

A Volcanic Adventure…

Tom McLaughlin

Bandung, Java Island, Indonesia – “A sidewalk!” I cried. “A real sidewalk!” We were usually walking in the road next to roaring motorcycles and trucks, often able to kiss the driver or his partner on a bike with just a lean over and pucker. Getting excited over this red brick pathway may seem ridiculous until one has spent time dodging vehicles in most Indonesian cities.


Another unique feature of Bandung in central Java was the cleanliness. Nary a piece of paper, soda can or other signs of litter. The Dutch influence, gone since the late 1940’s, still shows in the form of wide boulevards with mature trees and the glorious walkways.


Along the sidewalks, in various nooks and crannies, well worn chess boards with the pieces almost raw with lack of paint because of constant play, onlookers shout encouragement as one piece captures another. Challenged, I politely declined knowing I would be trounced. As many would attest, chess is not my game despite my efforts.


The glorious climate, with heavenly low humidity and moderate temperature, reflected the altitude. Nights are comparatively cool with temperatures in the refreshing 70s. Afternoon thunderstorms rinsed away any build up of unclean air spewed from the thousands of vehicles without pollution controls.


My new bride suggested we visit the local volcano. After seeing postcards of the crater, I was not enthusiastic as it looked like a typical tourist trap, promising more than it could deliver in experiences.


Mount Tangkuban, which means upside down boat in Sudanese, the local dialect, was named after a convoluted legend. It involves a son who unwittingly marries his mother and then kicking the mountain which then turned into an upside down boat. Or something like that.


The taxi drove us up to the crater. We got out and I peered over the lookout railing. Waaaaay down, the bottom of this bowl held lime green water. Two vents spewed steam from the earth’s innards. The sides, steep and grey, supported a small line of gnarled trees bravely marching down to the water.


We elected to walk along the crater. A line of about 20 kiosks sold the usual tourist t-shirts, key chains and other trinkets. We proceeded onward and the distance between the stalls became greater. At the last one, we had a canned drink and met a 20 year old who offered to act as guide to visit a well with mystical properties and the other two craters. Other two? I queried. Of course we had to go.


Huffing and puffing and struggling to keep my balance, I climbed with my physically-fit wife and guide on an uneven, rutted, tree rooted, wide and upward bound steep sort of stairway. At the top, a well contained cold water which was supposed to cure innumerable diseases. A guy from another island, who had a dream that he should live there, monitored the various spirits inhabiting this part of the volcano.


The Dutch, for reasons still unknown to me even though I did ask, had built a tunnel through the rest of the hill. The entrance had the date 1939 carved in cement. We ducked, walking through it. A sign that said “Danger! Poisonous gas beyond this point!” greeted us upon exiting. We quickly turned around.


The hike to the two other craters had us walking in a sudden heavy rain with me singing “Rain Drops Keeping Falling on My Head,” and “Singing in the Rain” to keep my mind off the very dangerous, slippery, muddy descent. Stumbling, bumbling, slip sliding, arms flailing wildly looking for anything that would give purchase in the barren gray mud formerly powder soil, crawling upwards on hands and feet, on all fours, tush in the air. I would have liked to have thrown the guide into the damn volcano if we didn’t need him to get back. Safe indeed!


I will admit it was a spectacular view with a smaller crater in front of us and a newly forming one off in the distance spewing forth four streams of steam or poisonous gas or whatever.


At the end, giving thanks to the volcano spooks for safely guiding me back, soaking wet and purchasing t-shirts, I was proud of myself, given my disability, that I had made a journey where my doctor would probably have had an angina attack had he known. Please don’t tell him.



…life is good


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