in International Travel

Volcanoes and Jeeps

imageI briefly remember waking up at 4am to the first prayers of the day, but was able to get back to sleep with the provided earplugs. There’s no sleeping in too late, though, because it gets muggy very early. After removing myself from the mosquito netting, I got my first glimpse of our surroundings. Stunning. The villa overlooks the valley and much of Central Java, though you couldn’t see too far because it was overcast and hazy. I could just make out the outlines of the smaller volcanoes in the distance. Also, I finally had a chance to explore the villa in the daylight. It seems the frog I heard all night had deposited an egg sack in the pool.

I skipped breakfast, but ordered a latte from the kitchen because our coffee machine was broken. The four of us decided to do a Jeep safari of Mt. Marapi, a large volcano that had last erupted in 2010. Housekeeping had opened the shades of my room and dismantled my sanctuary, and I braved the bug-filled environment for a shower under the spewing dragon head inside the dungeon of a bathroom.

We enjoyed a lazy morning on the top floor and later, a lunch of rice, chicken, green beans, tofu, and boiled eggs in tomato curry sauce was served, with a coconut dish for dessert. Then the van arrived to take us to the Jeeps, an hour’s ride away. It rained en route and we hoped the inclement weather was behind us.

Indonesian-style architecture

Indonesian-style architecture

While driving up the mountain, I noticed how the cultures of all the countries we had visited seemed to overlap with each other. There were mostly Muslims in Java, which is different from Thailand, Myanmar, and China. The architecture resembles mid-century architecture in Southern California, so I assume CA went through a phase of Indonesian influence. I was getting glimpses of Hawaiian/Polynesian culture. The landscape was very green and lush, though at 7deg south of equator, I suppose that’s what your could expect. Unlike Japan, China, Myanmar, and Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia use their own languages, but with Latin letters instead of Indian-like sans-script characters.

When the van finally pulled into the parking lot, we saw an extensive collection of heavily-worn Jeeps from the 60s through the 80s. Once assigned to a vehicle, our tour of Mt. Marapi began. Dan and I rode in a bright yellow 1970s 4-speed manual transmission model with a driver and an English-speaking tour guide. It had been imported by Mitsubishi with permission from Chrysler(?); it even had the Mitsubishi logo on the front. Adam and Chris were perched in a beaten, red Willy’s Jeep.

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Interesting museum pieces

We cruised around what remained of the lava flows. Unlike the cooled, porous, black lava flows I had seen in Hawaii, the flows were very rocky. Many of the roads needed repair, and we passed several backhoes working on it. We stopped at museum, which housed relics from the last eruption. Entire villages were lost and 21 people died, including two in a bunker. Unfortunatley because of the overcast skies, we couldn’t see top of volcano. The tour lasted a couple of hours and we concluded that it was goofy. The surrounding towns seemed to completely cater to lava tours now.

On our descent, we could see the thunder clouds rolling in, and as we got back onto pavement, it began to downpour. The guides put up the canvas roofs and we barreled on through the puddles, trying to stay dry despite not having doors or windows. I wondered if my bedroom at the villa would get wet. Soaked, we got back in van for the hour-long ride.

On our arrival, we were greeted again with cool towels, but also with a now-clear view of the volcano and likely two others. It soon rained again and we relaxed on the deck as the sun set. The staff cooked up another fantastic dinner and we marveled at the massive bugs attracted to the large light above the dinner table while listening to evening prayers in the valley below. Despite being in a foreign environment, it was a pretty great evening. We all went to bed early so we could get up for sunset in the morning.

The steaming volcano we had just visited as viewed from the villa

The steaming volcano we had just visited as viewed from the villa