Krakatau

5am departure to Carita from Jakarta. Tired after a delayed flight and late arrival the night before. Air is humid and smells a little smoky, heavy with evidence of the previous night’s rain. Headache from little sleep, dehydration. We’re on the highway for a quick minute before spending a couple hours on winding, potholed seaside roads lined with children readying themselves for school and brightly colored domiciles: sapphire tile, ruby tile, sunshine yellow tile.

IMG_1312

speedboat gliding out of the canals before hitting open ocean

8am arrival in Carita. Breakfast of fried rice and fresh orange juice. Later, I see abundant orange trees lining the road. We walk to the dock through a cluster of houses with children shouting and adults openly staring. The speedboat, maybe 20ft for six of us, revs to life, filling the air with gasoline fumes. It picks up speed. I put my head over the side of the boat like an eager dog. Remember fishing trips with Grandpa; remember tubing with Uncle Jeff. But I’ve never gone so fast, and never  on the open ocean. Exhilarating. So open – no land in sight. Beautiful sunny day and I keep seeing the ocean as water in a bowl about to spill over.

Theme of the day: prehistory, primordial ooze, the beginning of time.

We’re heading into storm clouds. Boat hits waves that toss us like rag dolls. No one else seems concerned that the blue water has turned a menacing gray: direct antithesis to my worst-case planning. Kick off shoes, I tell myself on repeat, hold onto the seat cover – looks like a flotation device. Be okay with tumbling through water for a while. Trust you’ll come back up. Get as big a breath as you can. Later, past danger, I found where the life vests were stowed.

IMG_1322

Krakatau seen smoking from the boat

Weather cleared as we had our first glimpse of Krakatau, which seemed to part the clouds and tame the sea as we approached. Krakatau is an active volcano which erupts regularly, most recently in September 2012. Smoke reeking of sulfur steamed and drifted from still-cooling piles of magma. It was two mountains in one: Krakatau’s peak and crater in the distance, pouring smoke, and the magma layer.

Our guide had seen it explode. “Like fireworks, the smoke, like thunder, boom boom.”

We hiked up to the summit of the first steep dune (sand, ash, stone), somewhat hardened by the rain the night before. We struggled up, slipping back each step, shoes filling with sand. At the top of the dune  we looked down into a valley of magma and up to Krakatau’s peak. There’s a clear path where the lava gushed forth and tumbled down to the sea, boiling the waters and killing all manner of sea-life. The piles of magma spew smoke and smolder red in some places, white ash in others, like hot coal. Freshly made pumice and other volcanic rock litters the volcano’s side. I take a piece home. I don’t feel guilty.

It is unreal to stand on an active volcano. It’s like being transported back in time a couple billion years ago to the

hot magma trailing down to the sea

hot magma trailing down to the sea

Earth’s rebellious adolescent years when continents and oceans were more vehemently in flux than they are now, like witnessing my great great great grandparents meet for the first time and realizing I would somehow result from that moment.

We hike back down. Get in the boat. Speed away to a little island for lunch on a beach overrun with too many little crabs scuttling to and fro, eyes on stalks, airs of suspicion.

We snorkel, briefly. Look through crystal clear water to unbelievable depths (tall towers of coral, brightly colored fish darting here and there) and listen to my own shaky terrified gasping breaths through the snorkel. I love snorkeling but each time (three times only) there is a long period of adjustment as I get used to the fear, the new way of breathing, the vastness of the wide unexplored ocean world. It’s nearly the same fear as of heights, combined with the mind-drenching terror of imagining free-floating in space, though there’s no real way for me to fall or even drown in the calm waters.

Meanwhile, as I struggle to regain myself, tiny jellyfish sting and sting – my thumb, my arm, my legs. Sharp isolated areas of buzzing pain that last for a half hour after I’m back in the boat.

Happy Chinese New Year! Spent the holiday and some of my annual leave in Indonesia, in and around the capital, Jakarta. The first day (recounted above) was eventful – the rest, spent on a tiny island an hour off the coast of Jakarta – was less so. I finished Anna Karenina if that’s any indication.

Apologies for the long absence. Love and miss you all!

Goings-on

I AM A ROBOT. 00010101 0101010 1010101010 01010101.

What I mean is, I’m working a bunch, and that’s about it. I am very much looking forward to my mother’s visit in early March when I’ll get a few days off to show her Hong Kong and Macau. But until then, my teaching hours are increasing because students have May/June exams to prepare for, I am bearing down hard on two deadlines for the editing department, and, currently, progress reports are due.

I did have a brief break for Chinese New Year. During those three days (Jan 23-25),  the city emptied out as people hunkered in out of the cold with their families for this special holiday, and I wandered the barren streets reveling in free movement. No crowds pressed me shoulder to shoulder, and I didn’t have to watch out to keep my purse from bumping into anyone or vice versa. I miss trees, clean air, and, as the Dixie Chicks would say, “wide open spaces.”

On the last day of that long weekend, I went to Sha Tin to see the horse races. It was cold (not Northern Michigan cold, but a chilly 40F) and drizzling rain. We sipped drinks through straws and huddled into our coats and cheered as the horses from three separate races pounded past us on the green below. It was lovely: their shining coats and undulating muscles. I got a kick out of the fact that in the last race, the number 4 horse won–which meant the odds on that one must’ve been great since very few Chinese people would vote on a number 4 anything. The word “four” in Chinese sounds very similar to the word “death” and is considered very bad luck.

The weekend after that I took a ferry with a friend to Cheung Chau, one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands. We wandered around the streets and onto empty beaches (it was again chilly and a little drizzly), found a candy store, ate cheap seafood near the dock, visited a temple, and fed leftovers to the abundance of stray cats nearby before heading back.

I’d post pictures of these two events but I put my camera in the ocean because…it seemed too dry? Because it worked TOO well? Who knows. I dried it out but it still has a lens error and won’t operate correctly. This, as my mother would’ve said to me if I was much younger (and which she kindly refrained from saying on Skype when I told her), is why I can’t have anything nice.

Happy Valentine’s Day, soon! ❤

Dragon

I’m in between two new years right now: the Gregorian and the lunar, the western and eastern, the one of my past and the one of my present. It’s 2012 (the purported year of the end of the world), and the Year of the Dragon, the mightiest of the signs of the Chinese zodiac, characterized by dominance and ambition. My year, the year of the Rabbit, is on its way out.

I have a few vague new year resolutions: keep writing, read more, try harder, be healthier, be more content.

Things I’ve done in the past couple months:

Lunar eclipse on 12/10/11
Image
Watched a dragon dance
Image
Rang in the New Year
Image
Reminded myself that I live on an island
Image

Saw a sand Great Wall of China instead of a sand castle at the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visited Hong Kong park with the city rising up in the background