Thursday, December 10, 2009

SULPHUR TRAIL AT IJEN

1. From Bali, we wanted a slow drive to Surabaya, without risking driving in the dark and getting there by 10 Dec in time to process the car for shipment on 13 Dec, the ETD of the ship departing for Singapore. Leaving Bali on Dec 8, we would have 2 nights on the way there. After some research, we decided to stay the first of the two nights at Ijen Resort and Villas, at the foothills of the Gunung Ijen, and the next day to trek up to Ijen crater to see the mining of sulphur there.

2. We left Ubud on 8 Dec at 11 pm and it took us 3 hrs to get to Gilimanuk, the ferry crossing point. The many trucks on the way there slowed the traffic. By 3.30 Bali time (or 2.30 Java time) we were on the other side and on the way to Banyuwangi.

3. Ijen Resort is in Licin, some 17 km from Banyuwangi, with the last 3 km in unsealed surface which the hotel warns its guests to try only with 4 by 4 vehicle. The route was fairly well sign-posted and we reached the resort at 4 pm local time. It was amazing how someone would build a resort in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of tiered paddy fields, the last stretch there along narrow roads, passing through a couple of small villages, with final 3 kms saloon cars could not use. Construction logistics would have been a nightmare. Anyway, we were happy to check in for 800 000 Rp (US$86) a night. That night, we were the only guests there, taking up 1 of the 30+ rooms. Its low season; peak season is July/August period. It was a well furnished comfortable resort, with spectacular view of the tiered paddy fields and the volcanic mountain range of Raung/Merapi to the north.

4. We booked a jeep and a tour guide from the hotel for US$85 to bring us to see the Ijen crater and sulphur mining the next morning, departing from the hotel at 6 am. We were told the trip would take about 5 hrs; 1.5 hrs by jeep to get to the foothill, an hour climb to the crater and back. That night we slept early, as we were set to depart for Ijen at 6 am. We set our alarm for 5.15 am.

5. We promptly woke up at 5.15 the next day, washed up and got to the restaurant for breakfast at 5.30 but it was still in darkness. We started to look around and our noise brought Hassan out from the kitchen. The soft spoken and friendly Hassan got us seated and told us we were early. We were naturally surprised as we thought we were just on time. Hassan commented that we could still in Bali time. Time in Java is one hour behind Bali's. We knew but it didn't occur to us the day before when we crossed over to Java. We had a slow breakfast.

6. Our jeep and tour guide promptly arrived just before 6. The jeep was a Landrover, painted in bright yellow colour. The driver (in blue T-shirt) was Adi. Along the way, he told us he was 57, had 3 wives, 6 children and 4 grandchildren. We were impressed.

7. Our guide (in red T-shirt) told us to call him Albert. Albert's parents were from the area but he was raised in Jakarta. He had been tour guide for close to 10 years now and decided to return to Banyuwangi area and continue to freelance as tour guide. During peak season, in July and August, he would have group everyday. During low season, like now, he would have 1-2 a week. At 35, he was still not married. He spoke fairly good English but given his accent it was a strain to catch every word he said.

8. The road to the foothill of Ijen crater took about 1.5 hour. After the rough 3 km from the hotel it was good road for some way initially, sealed but narrow; but our happiness did not last, as we were soon "rafting". That's how Albert described the last stretch of the journey. We reached the start of the trail up to the Ijen crater at about 7.30. It was 3 km walk up to the crater, from 1850 m elevation at the carpark to 2380 m at the rim of the crater. Already, we could see workers carrying their basket-loads of sulphur passed the car park to the second post, which was 100 m down from the carpark.

9. Carrying a bottle of water each and a towel to cover the nose and mouth against sulphur smoke, we started the climb. It was strenuous initially but was not hard once we started walking at a nice rhythm uphill. On the way up, we passed many of the sulphur workers. They walked with a bounce, in good rhythm with the flexing of the bamboo pole across their shoulder which had a basket of sulphur blocks at both ends. They walked quietly. Also, everyone seemed to know Albert. They were friendly and would reciprocate with a hello or a selamat pagi (good morning).

10. From Albert, we learned a little about the sulphur mining business here. We were told the mining company paid 600 Rp (US $0.064) per kg of sulphur delivered to the 2nd post (near the carpark). To do this, its harvesting the sulphur at the crater, wearing googles to protect their eyes and covering their noses against the sulphur fume (not all do, according to Albert). After this, its 200 m to the rim of the crater. This was really the tortuous part of the journey, as the workers carried the loads up 200 m of almost vertical narrow paths. Its then 3 km down to the 2nd post near the carpark while stopping at the 1st post for weighing the loads of sulphur. Its real hard work.

11. The workers mostly worked in groups, with each worker covering a particular stretch before handing the basket-loads to the next fellow worker. Typical load carried by the worker was between 6o kg to 100 kg. On a typical day, they would do 2-3 cycles. Not all get to work everyday, as there were 300 available workers and only 60-70 workers were required each day. Assuming each worker has on the average of 7 days of work a month, their monthly income is roughly 1.5 mil Rp, i.e. about US$160. Albert said that they would supplement their income in their ways, e.g working in the paddy fields. Permitted age for the workers is between 17-50, though some would appeal to work beyond 50.

12. On th way up, scenery was stunning. On one side was Gunung Merapi (2968m), and on the other was Gunung Raung (3312 m) with its signature blown top. At the rim of the Ijen crater, the view was just as spectacular. We could just sit there for a longest time admiring the sheer beauty created by nature. The wall of the crater slopes inward like a bowl, with erosion lines that looked like the slopes have been scratched. Fume emanated from the bottom of the crater, periodically revealing the green lake that lies at the bottom. From the rim, we could see workers, the size of a match stick, harvesting the blocks of sulphur.

13. At about 9 am, we began our descent down Gunung Ijen. Getting down was tougher than going up, as the slopes were slippery with the many small pebbles. It was easy to lose balance, as had happened to Li Hoon. The workers, on the other hand, bounced down the slopes effortlessly, at speed much faster than ours.

14. We were happy to return to the car park by 10 am. We had learned something from this climb and was awed by the wonderful scenery. Naturally, a thought crossed our minds: couldn't we mechanise the process, reduce the labour and make the transportation more efficient. Albert replied was, "what about the workers, its their means of livelihood; the social problems". I suppose each society has its own set of challenges.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NORTH BALI

1. Dec 4 (Day 58), we took a drive to north Bali to see dolphins at Lovina Beach and Lake Batur on the way back to Ubud, after we met David and Jeev (hope I got the spelling right) from UK. Like us, they were hotel guests at Garden View Cottages at Ubud and they had a wonderful time watching the dolphins at Lovina Beach. We struck up a conversation as they were curious about what a Singapore car was doing in Bali. David was obviously a competent photographer as some pictures and videos taken of the dolphins at Lovina Beach were really good. David and Jeev had been on the road on holiday for 4 months, including a trip to Tibet and Nepal and sharing with us their interesting experiences.

2. Yeow Pheng had earlier suggested making a trip to Lovina Beach to see dolphins but given my rather uneventful boat trip in Laos to watch the Irrawaddy dolphins I was not enthusiastic and was too quick to pour cold water over the idea. We did see quite a few dolphins at Lovina Beach.

3. Traveling north for about 2 hours from Ubud and turning west at the north coastal road, and after checking a few hotels, we booked into Aditya Beach Resort for 600 000 Rp (about US$ 65) at about 4 pm. Certainly one of the better hotels on the strip, there was also more buzz. We booked ourselves a boat to see dolphins the next morning for 66 000 Rp each (US$7), with boat leaving at 6 am.

4. The beach next to the hotel was so-so, with fine black sand, broken coral bits, fairly clear water and we can see small fishes scattering in different directions as we waded through the shallow water. The hotel had a nice pool and we took a dip before dinner at the hotel.

5. It was still dark when we boarded one of the traditional wooden boats with an outrigger on each side. There were already boats ahead of us. As we traveled out, sun was just arising above the gunungs behind us, and I could count 32 boats (or dots) racing out to the more open sea, presumably to see dolphins too.

6. We did not get to see dolphins until about 7 am and nearly all the sightings were between 7 to 7.30 am, when we headed back to the shore. We were all very excited when we saw the dolphins leaping out of the water, as if they were playing in the morning, leaping out in pairs at times. I was only able to catch the dolphins in videos and here is one of them.

video

7. What I was not certain about was the impact that we, observers in fast boats, were causing to the dolphin habitat. Each time, when dolphins were observed, the boats would speed towards to the dolphins to get a closer look and to take pictures and videos; at times almost going over them. There were about 30 boats and this was low season. Can't imagine how the scrambling would be like during peak season. This is no better than paparazzi stalking celebrities. And we get unhappy when peddlers become aggressive pushing their wares and services at tourist sites. I left feeling great sympathy for the beautiful and graceful creatures.

8. After breakfast, Fangping and I decided to take a dip in the sea.

9. After checking out of Aditya at 12, we traveled eastwards along the north coastal road, turning south at Singaraja up the mountain towards Kintamani for Gunung Batur (1717 m), an active volcano. Gunung Batur and Danau Batur are located in a 18 km wide spectacular caldera northwest of Gunung Agung. The rim of the caldera has a number of favorite spots near Kintamani where tourists would stop to take pictures of the spectacular views. And there were many tour coaches and vans there when we passed them.

10. We decided not to stop and took the road down to the lake and turned left towards Toya Bungkah which was at the end of the west route. The narrow road was flanked by dark volcanic rock formations, probably solidified from lava flow down the slopes from various eruptions, the last 2 eruptions about 100 years ago, in 1916 and 1927. At the end of the road was Toya Devasya Resort & Spa, where the water for the 3 pools was from natural hot spring. We decided to pay 150 000 Rp (US$16) each for lunch and for the use of the pool. From the resort, we had a great view of Lake Batur and the rim of the crater. When Fangping saw this picture, she exclaimed, "I never thought I looked so much like pa".


Monday, December 7, 2009

GETTING THE CAR BACK TO SINGAPORE

1. For quite a while, I had been working with Toll Global Logistics (TGL) to transport the Pajero back to Singapore after the self-drive holiday. TGL handled the transport of my car to Brunei to begin the journey.

2. For exit port, Bali will be the most convenient, as I was already planning to end the holiday here in Bali. As it turned out, it costs considerably more to ship the car from Bali, as from Surabaya, like 3 times more, since the container has still to transit Surabaya. It naturally followed that Surabaya was selected as the exit port. With this, I have to drive the car to Surabaya in time for the shipment.

3. As I already had the Carnet properly endorsed by the Customs (i.e. approved for entry) at Entikong, under normal circumstances, it would just suffice to have the Carnet similarly endorsed for exit. However, to comply with Indonesian requirements, we were advised to do the following:

(a) For IMI to issue a new recommendation letter indicating Surabaya as the exit port. Dirya of IMI had been most helpful. I had received the hard copy of this letter, with a back up letter showing Bali as the exit port.

(b) With advice from Toll Global Forwarders (TGF, part of the TGL group) to apply for re-export permit for the Pajero, with a recommendation letter from the Indonesia Police Force, the Carnet and copy of my passport. The application will take at least 7 days, with the prospect that the Police may take even longer.

4. If all goes right, and matching that against the shipping schedules, we are working towards arriving Surabaya with the car before 11 Dec, with ship arriving at Surabaya on 11 Dec, departing Surabaya on 13 Dec and arriving Singapore 15 Dec. We should be back in Singapore on 12/13 Dec, subject to changes to ship movement and timely approval of the re-export application.