Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tri Training

Back on August 20, 2010, still jet-legged and queasy during my first week in Jakarta, I made a list of goals. Goal number 6 said something  about riding a bicycle around the city and completing a triathlon. After my first contract was up, and I still hadn't even come close to entering the bike world, I'd all but given up on that goal. However, as Jakarta is one of the most populated cities in the world, there were bound to be other bicycling/triathlon-ing enthusiasts; I just had to get plugged in. And as always is the case, Miranda found them first.

Triathlon Buddies is a small but dedicated group of tri-trainees. Some come from mountain biking backgrounds, some from running, but all are eager to train for the two upcoming Indonesian triathlons: Bintan and Bali. I'm doing the first in the end of May.

My first outing with the group was to Indonesia's Thousand Islands, an amazing bit of sea spotted with sparsely populated islands an hour off the coast of Jakarta. Here I was inducted into the group. Mir and I received out t-shirts and stickers, and we took pictures; lots of pictures. On Pulau Tidung, we swam for about an hour from one island to another that was about 600 meters apart. Apart from the horrible sunburn I had to deal with later, this swim was absolutely magnificent. Most of the time I couldn't remember if I was training or snorkeling as we swam over coral loaded with fish of all colors and shapes. We finished up the day with a short run around the island and chowed down on some delicious local fare. 

The path for our run
Pristine waters
The trek from one island to the next. We just swam it instead.
Some new buddies
I cannot take the credit for this pic...but look how adorable!
With the first training out of the way, Mir and I decided to get serious. We were ready to lay down money for a road bike. Being that I had been on a road bike all of once in my entire existence, I felt completely confident in my ability to pick out, test, and purchase a suitable road bike. I was a mess. Luckily I had a secret weapon. While in the four bike stores I visited, I called Loreto to ask his opinion about each bike...listing off specs that I hadn't the foggiest clue about. I eventually picked out a lovely black Trek. Less than a week later, I was the owner of a shiny white one...they only have white in my size. Ah well, the more visible I am to oncoming traffic, the better.

I spent many an hour stressing out over what exactly to do with my new, very expensive, treasure. I read through all the manuals about how I would face certain death if I didn't do exactly as they said. It took me a good thirty minutes puzzling at diagrams just to figure out how the front wheel came off. Off to an excellent start.

With my front tire securely on again, Mir and I headed to meet the group for my first group ride. This was a serious looking bunch. Waves of anxiety passed over me as I tried to come off like I knew everything about road biking. This would later be wiped away when I would execute an excellent fall into traffic. My first time out was shaky, but I spent quality time with my death machine. We quarreled a bit about which orientation to stay in, upright or horizontal, but after a bit, I got the hang of it. I was ready for the big bad city.

The following weekend, I set off with Mir, Lanny, and Pak Wayu. Pak Wayu knows his stuff. I believe he even owns his own bike club, so I felt secure following this man through the already busy streets of Jakarta on an early Saturday morning. We departed from my apartment and headed for the northern part of the city. This involved crossing through main thoroughfares several times. Each time tempted fate, but we all arrived unscathed. At our destination, we joined up with several other bike groups (some with ojek pace motorbikes!) to do some 5k repeats at a fast clip. We practiced staying in a draft line and got some good tips on muscle training from Pak Wayu. By the time we finished our repeats, I was feeling pretty confident. So, as we weaved our way back through the snarls of traffic toward my apartment, I took some risks. At various points I ended up neck-and-neck with a bajai, taxi, and city bus. At the most harrowing moment, we rode up to a stop light. I squeezed between two vehicles just as the light turned green and they began to move again...toward each other. I had to stand on it and pedal as fast as I could to get ahead and not become a very expensive Jackie/Trek pancake.

So far my conclusions about road biking are:
1. It is very expensive.
2. It is very complicated.
3. It is very dangerous.
4. It is addicting.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mad-Mid Year

Midyear has come and gone, and now I am looking at a stretch of 4 months left. But, before I can look forward too far, I want to take a glance back at midyear. As Fellows, we look forward the halfway point so we can reunite with each other and basically get a recharge. I'm fortunate to have just about the best team of English teachers and all-around-swell-folks that exist. This year, we met up in Madura, an island off of East Java, to do a outreach with Dr. Jonnie Hill's university. She organized an outreach for pre and inservice teachers in Madura based around the topic of using traditional songs and games in the English classroom. Our welcome dance - Madurese style:
Jonnie asked us to come up with our favorite traditional American games and show how they can be adapted for the classroom. Being that I could only think of games like hopscotch and SPUD (played this a lot with my cousins), and given the fact that I teach police officers - an environment that doesn't immediately lend itself to silly games - I left my presentation to the last minute to come up with something. Luckily, I have some friends who are far more creative than I, and from them I was able to take away the American road game favorite - Madlibs. With that and some funny ice breakers - thank goodness for summer camp counseling - I was set. Two days before, I wrote up madlibs for some traditional American (this part is debatable) fairy tales. I was thwarted in the beginning when my first group of participants had never heard of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and their language proficiency was pretty low. On the spot, I decided to act out the simple story.
It was a smash hit!
Not only did I win their affections for wild hand gesturing and character voices, they got it. They made some really hilarious madlibs, and it was wonderful for me to just sit back and watch them giggle in their groups as they reinvented Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. We talked about the educational value of reviewing and reenforcing the parts of speech and the possibilities of making their own madlibs out of traditional Indonesian stories.

We were only on Madura island for one night, but apart from the conference, we were  able to sample some of the local jamu - a traditional herbal drink. I wrote about Jamu before when I took a jamu tour in Jogja, but Madura is famous for being the source of it all. It is also famous for having 'sexy' jamus. We had to investigate. We found a little road-side jamu shop within walking distance from our hotel, and we bellied up to the bar. I decided to go with the milder 'muscle' healing jamu, while my more adventurous counterparts took half muscle healing and half sexy jamus (with raw egg!). We waited and decided to all shoot it down at once. The problem with this was that they stuff was so awful that gag-reflexes required more of a sipping in-take. I was the most disappointing, taking a good ten minutes to finish off the nasty stuff. It may have been my skeptical mind, but my foot didn't feel any better for it.

After Madura, we traveled to the small, mountain town of Batu. We had rented a villa overlooking the village below and some pretty spectacular cloud-ringed mountains. For two days, we bules did what we do best, equal parts goofing around (see exhibit A - Dr. Jonnie Hill utilizing our pulley system) and sharing our projects from the first half of the year. For two and a half days I was encouraged my my colleagues, their commitment to their students, and all they are making happen in their corner of the world.

After returning to Jakarta, I had a renewed spirit. I even took some time to meet up with my young friends at the Access classrooms (the groups Loreto and taught swing dancing to before), and do the madlibs with them. They were even funnier. Taking enormous crocodiles to grandma's house...hee hee.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

East Java Jalan-Jalan

January was a busy month with some hard work book-ended by two pretty awesome trips. Mom and I got to explore the forests of West Borneo at the beginning of the month, and then Tabitha (another Fellow) and I got to round things out with a tour of East Java. We had a few disappointments when Mother Nature just didn't want to play ball, but mostly the trip was a great way to see the inhabitants, flora, and fauna of East Java and get the heck out of Jakarta. 

Tabitha, another native Ohioan, and I started things off here, at Mt. Bromo. Bromo is short and seemingly unimpressive as far as volcanoes go. It only takes 20 minutes or so to climb to the crater's ridge, but it is known throughout Indonesia as playing a major role in the Hindu religion. Legend has it that a childless King and Queen begged the god of the volcano to allow them to bear children. He did, and the couple had 25, but not without a price. The god demanded the youngest boy as a sacrifice. When the queen refused to give her son up, the brave young boy threw himself into the crater to appease the god and save the kingdom from ruin.
Tabitha and I woke up at 1 am to start a four hour drive to the park where Bromo and three other volcanoes reside. We had to stop halfway up a neighboring mountain to switch to a jeep that would take up up through the bumpy switchbacks to our sunrise look-out spot.We waited with about 40 or 50 other tourists (mostly native) for the sun to come up and reveal Bromo and its neighbors. It was supposed to look like this (Bromo is the shortest smoking one):
In an ideal world...
This is what we saw instead. Mother Nature 1, Fellows 0
Instead, we sat shivering in a dense cloud with no signs of anything. When light did break, and Tabitha and I could no longer hide our whiteness, we became the main photo attraction. We took pictures, allowed people to practice their English, and generally made the best of it until we began loosing circulation in our limbs and moved on to the next part of our trip: Actually climbing Bromo.
As we pulled into the base area of Bromo, about half a dozen men with horses rushed to our jeep. The local Hindu people of the area try to make a living by selling pony-rides to the top of the crater. Since Tabitha and I were hoping to get a little trekking in, we decided to take on the miniature (but powerful) volcano on foot. 

I was trying to capture the landscape. Notice the woman behind Tabitha who didn't quite the hang of horseback.

Bromo's crater!

Bromo's big brother

Tabitha and I made it to the crater and surveyed mostly the people around us taking pictures and trying not to fall into the huge crater. This actually took some skill considering the only thing keeping you from being the next sacrifice was an old, falling apart concrete barrier that reached halfway up my shins. Some local men camped out up there trying to sell nicely arranged flowers for tourists to throw into the crater and offer up their own treaty to the god. Bromo is still active and erupted at the beginning of 2011. Near the base, you can see volcanic rock from that eruption, which the Hindu locals fenced in as they consider anything that comes out of the crater as sacred.
This kept us from certain doom

A local man selling flower sacrifices

Sacred volcanic rock from the 2011 eruption

Hindu temple at the base of Bromo for the annual sacrifice (usually flowers, small animals, and money)

Tabitha bargaining for some bananas
Next up, we had headed back down the hills and toward the East Java coast. We met along the way another EL Fellow, Megan, and her visiting friend, Elizabeth. Our two tours hooked up and headed to yet another volcano: Mt. Ijen. Ijen is famous for it's sulfur deposits, which local workers spend all day climbing up, chiseling out, and carrying back down on their backs. Here we are all four of us posed in front of the "Yellow Waterfall," named so for the yellow-sulfur tint in the water. As we got closer to Ijen, we could plainly see it smoking. The white puffs billowing out of the mountain threatened to cancel our hike to the crater's edge. Indeed, as we pulled into the base parking lot, we were met by large signs (in three different languages) announcing the mountain was closed due to poisonous gases. Not wanting to tempt fate, we decided to heed to warnings and just take silly pictures at the base. Mother Nature 2, Fellows 0.
Mt. Ijen's ominous smoke
Tabitha, our guide, and myself - thwarted by poisonous gas
With Ijen in our rearview mirror, we split ways with our friends and headed onto Alas Purwo National Park at the eastern most tip of Java. Along the way, we made some stops to check out life in the local villages.
Gasoline for sale by the road side.

We stopped one place and tried out fresh coffee beans, clove, and cinnamon - straight from the plant/tree!

Plowing the rice fields with some ox

Road side fruit stand, where we tried our first dragon fruit. Delicious!

Our favorite lunch stop was this little road side diner (or warung). We ate ourselves silly for about $2 total!
At Alas Purwo, we trekked through some rain forest, and saw some wild bulls (which was less impressive to Tabitha and I coming from the Heartland of It All and way more impressive to our tour guide, who took countless pictures while we looked for suitable squatting areas). We did get to spend a few minutes soaking up the beautiful scenery of a relatively untouched beach and the oldest Hindu temple in East Java. We were supposed to stay in cabins near these calming highlights but were told by our tour guide that the cabins were closed because of a recent ship wreck that killed dozens of refugees trying to get to Indonesia and whose bodies were ending up on the shore. Mother Nature 3, Fellows 0, Refugees, -100.

On our final day, our tour guide tried to make up for some of our disappointments by taking a trip to local rubber/cocoa/Java sugar factories. I did like this part of the trip as it reminded me of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, when old Mr. Rogers would walk us over to the magic picture on the wall and invite us to see how straws are made. Won't you join me to see how rubber is made?
The sap is collected from these rubber trees

The sap is cleaned and divided into thin sheets

The sheets are hung up to dry

The drying turns into hardening

The hardened rubber is checked for quality, cut, folded, weighed, and packaged

Cocoa, it turns out, comes from these large red pods that look like something out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Our tour guide plucked one and shared with us the raw product. How did people think to turn this slimy, sour, white goop into delicious chocolate?
Our last stop, to the sugar plantation, showed us the secret to making Java's famous brown sugar. I didn't quite get the entire idea of how the sugar is made because our tour guide insisted that we use only bahasa Indonesia to talk to the women cooking up the sugar. The idea, though, is that the sugar comes from coconut trees and gets slow cooked for five hours in these giant vats.
Whew. It was a long trip, with plenty of driving, but Tabitha and I had fun learning about the traditions and livelihood of the East Javanese. What Mother Nature didn't allow for, we made up for with side trips to talk to folks and see their impressive handy work. Which, once we got passed the novelty of being white, tall, blond, Americans (with the occasional mother telling her children we were there to take them away forever - this happened), we were able to use our growing language skills to learn about the actual people. Mother Nature 3, Fellows - well, enough to feel good about.