Rain on my Head 1

Walking up a hill

Small raindrops beat my head

I struggle to look up at the

Dark blue sky around me

Clear, Crisp, Cold

It is refreshing

Awakening

Alive-en-ing

Some people see rainbows

Some don’t

I don’t, but

I see this

In a car, without struggle

I certainly wouldn’t enjoy this hill

I wouldn’t get back on my bike and ride

Or take my gloves off

And let  my hands freeze

I listen to old music

And feel old feelings

Welling in my heart

Tears almost come

It feels so good

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Off to the Rice Fields

I woke at 6 am. Yes I cannot believe it either but I did go to sleep around 10 the night before so I guess it’s not too surprising. I sat with Ary and two of her friends showed up, Galle and Hastate, I think were their names. The girl did research here and I’m not sure about the guy, but he graciously said he could take me around Denpasar and help me find seeds to take home. They all, but mostly Ary told me about other local plants or fruits that have healing properties. She had had cancer and beat it, four operations she said but still beaten. I did not ask what kind of cancer but my first guess is cervix.

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They left and Ary and I took off. Down the road and then down another smaller turn off. It was basically a one lane road but bigger than the pathway of last night. She told me about different plants as we walked past them.

There was a small stream and we walked along a path next to it. I don’t remember if it was a turn off or the road just became this. On either side of the stream were rice fields. It looked like there were places where you could stick a board in the stream, damming it, and it would flood your property. I was reminded of my old irrigation on the Clay St. property of my youth.

At one of the rice fields we walked out into it. The fields here are special because they are stair-stepped one below another so that the water floods from one to the next. The fields are on the side of a mountain so this is kind of necessary. Each paddy is in a small section, maybe 10 by 30 meters, some smaller and probably some bigger. We went up to the owners little house in the middle of the property, I later learned they were just care takers, the land owner doesn’t do the work of farming. They watched us walk up with smiles on their faces. This has been my experience in most of South East Asia, no anger or suspicion at someone on their property, no idea of trespassing or claim of ownership. They don’t suspect you to steal something, or to ruin something that can’t be fixed.

They didn’t speak English so I just said “Hallo” and Ary did all the talking. She wants to make records of the culture because most of Bali is now just for tourists. There is not going to be any of the old culture left soon. It will be a new culture, a salesman culture, not traditional or living off the land.

DSCF5666 They offered us a seat and food right away. I sat but didn’t know what they were talking about so I got up to take pictures. Their home is on the side of a large mountain. Most of the mountain is trees, except for the place cleared, what looks like a long time ago, and made into a livable, workable property. It is a small house and about 2 acres of rice. When you look across the valley to the mountain next, you see from a distance dense trees of dark green, then cut outs with bright green rice fields patched across the mountain side. You can see the many different levels of the fields too and there are patches of palm trees around the fields and a house, usually centered on the property

DSCF5675The people’s house that I was at had a few papaya trees and some ponds right next to the house. In the ponds were hundreds of fish, and the furthest pond the fish were one foot to one and a half, and some orange coy, as the rest were thinner grey fish. The fish poop and fertilize the water. In the water they grow morning glory, and the water flows into the rice patties to fertilize them. I didn’t see much else growing so I guess they buy or trade for other vegetables.

Along the front of the different rice paddies is a path to walk which is higher and holds in the water. There are ½ foot cut outs here to let it drain into the next pond. On the corners there are steps cut into the soil to go up to the next level, but not at every corner so it is a bit of a maze to get to where you want to go. This style horticulture, of stair stepping the paddies and letting the water run down from one to the next is special, and one of the cultural techniques that may be lost to them in the near future.

DSCF5684 I think you could stand for hours looking out across the mountains. The sky, this bright blue. The different greens of the mountains. I think it’s all alive, other than the rare house or a road if you can spot one, which is unlikely. It’s all alive. Even the people here are more alive. They talk. And they just sit. And they work. One of the older guys had lost many of the teeth, something that I have problems with. His fronts were ok but his backs were mostly gone, he just had one good pair that looked pretty weak and dying. I stared his two usable teeth for a while. He was probably 50. And I imagine he will be out pulling rice and working hard in 3 days when the harvest comes. Like I said when we showed up, they were sitting. Resting. The oldest man – maybe 60 – started sharpening the blades of some scythes and the hoe. They were harvest yet and had no TV to watch or computer to waste their time on. Their house was a few rooms with no ceilings. They had a roof but basically there was no sound privacy and the bugs could do whatever they pleased. The house was concrete and cold. Not much on the walls. Not much color. Life is outside, the room is for sleep. Now I must say this is the rare case and these are old, poor people. Most people, especially kids have smart phones and want to be like the west. Processed foods are moving in and Facebook is king. But they still talk and laugh and have a good time in a close personal way, without alcohol most of the time.

Ary finished talking with them. Took a picture of the woman and man. The woman looked away from the camera and tried to act natural and to laugh and be beautiful, but she was very self-conscious. I think the man was similar but I didn’t watch him while his picture was being taken. Then we left and made our way through the maze, climbing up from level to level. I had forgotten my notebook and they yelled for me. I would have been very sad if I had lost it, or had to go far back to get it. We got to the next property, very close by, and I sat and looked out at the valley and imagined a life here. So boring but so much more fulfilling. My heart and soul nourished, but maybe my brain bored, wanting videogames or something stupid like keep my brain active but my heart numb. I thought of marrying an Indonesian woman and having a farm. My mind jumped ahead to how much happier I would be when I died, though it would not be an easy life. The farmers I met did not own the property, there was someone else who had many places and they got about  50% of the money earned from the harvest. Maybe I could be that guy. Or start an English school on the side. Or even have a hostel or farm-stay to bring in more money. And also…my mind went quiet. And I just sat. So quiet out there. So much to take in, but all of it simple. So peaceful.

We walked back to the stream and saw a mother and her son collecting coconuts. We went to their shop and drank one. They had two dogs, a cat and some chickens. I think the family was a husband, wife, two sons and a daughter. The boys played football, the man talked with a friend and the wife cut open our coconut and did dishes. The little girl picked up a pole and walked down the mountain out of my view. When we left I asked how much and she said “up to you.” I was very confused as was Ary, but up to me. I gave her 10,000, about one dollar. I guessed it would normally be 5,000 but she was nice and if up to me better to be generous that cheap I guess. I think she was smart and figured I’d over pay this way, and she didn’t have the guilt of charging me more than normal.

We walked back to the house. It had been about three hours. I wrote and was ready to sleep, but I didn’t think it was a good idea so I walked to a waterfall Ary had told me about. She told me the back way. I got lost for a second but then a little kid told me the way and then a woman with a baby whose dog wanted to eat me did the same. The waterfall was very nice. The way back was all uphill and my legs were very tired from 4 days of intense workout. I was actually getting overwhelmed by all the great things I had been seeing and experiencing. I think some of them had far less of an impact because I had been amazed so much already. So the waterfall was really special but I have few details recollect, it was just peaceful.

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Ijen and the Blue Fire

From start to finish this was my favorite part of the tour. We stayed in a guest house in some coffee plantations, didn’t see much coffee though, but below the guest house were big gardens with mountains around them, there were mostly strawberries in the gardens. The people here were very friendly, with big smiles and happy to talk to me. I went off looking for the seeds of a plant called Kelor to take home for my mom to grow. I’m told it grows all over Indonesia and seems like a miracle plant. It is good for your garden, adding fertilizer, nitrates or something, and is a natural pesticide. It is rich in vitamins and a source of yen cooling energy, and fights black magic. It is used medically to treat loss of appetite, epilepsy, ulcers, jaundice, muscle pains, herpes and other skin wounds. You can eat it in soups and the seeds can purify drinking water from germs and other impurities. The people there, fishing or going on walks or heading to mosque, said it didn’t grow in that area, but they were very amused by my looking for it and asking in Bahasa Indonesian. I had gotten a nice gay Indonesian guy on our tour to teach me how to ask to buy it and I think what he wrote translated into: “Can you give me a gift of some Kelor seeds?”

The guest house was worth a few days stay but we went to bed after just a few hours, at 7pm and tried to get some sleep, then woke up at midnight and didn’t return. Luckily I was tired from getting lost on Mt. Bromo the day before and did get some rest.  Off to the mountain.

The climb up was steep and about three kilometers. I barely stopped and let my heart rate climb high and level out. It is different to climb in the middle of the night. I talked with a cute Indonesian girl on the way up and some of her friends. It’s weird to talk with girls who have saris over their head and are clearly Muslim. I don’t know the rules. Another time I had been told not to touch a girl, not even to shake her hand. I don’t know the way to tell the level of each girl’s strictness in her religion.

At the top there was just about nothing, only a sign saying “Danger, it is not allowed to go any further”. I did not notice this sign till after I had come back up from going further. It was dangerous too, we went down into a valley or something, very steep, walking on rocks that could slip away. Of course there was no railing, like most outdoor tourist sites in SE Asia, but also it winded on itself often so if you fell it could be down multiple sections at once, meaning, it was a damn far fall, maybe death. The sulfur wasn’t too bad till I was at the blue fire. There, when the wind changed and blew it in my direction, it burned into my lungs. As it attacked my chest I did not get enough oxygen so I wanted to breathe even deeper. Even with my sweatshirt over my face, it didn’t filter much of the sulfur smoke, and it burned my eyes so I couldn’t see. The only good move was to stay still, breath slowly, and get lower to the ground.

The blue fire. It is the sulfur on fire. It does not stop, 24 hours a day, until all the resource has been used up which I guess will not be for a long time. It’s supposedly only present in two places in the world, here and in Iceland. In the night not much is visible, blackness and smoke, but when the smoke shifts you catch a glimpse of it, blue flames on the side of the mountain. It is like they are hovering, dangling in the air because you can see nothing but blackness around them. Multiple different patches of them but the smoke blocks your view so when they appear you stare in amazement. Something about it being the side of the mountain that is burning, or that it is rock that’s burning, or that you just climbed up here in the middle of the night. It’s like no fire you have ever seen before, it is like it’s not fire at all. Everyone is in awe, trying to get pictures though the picture are just blue flames in a field of nothingness, they just can’t do it justice as most pictures usually cannot for scenes of natural beauty. You must see it with your own eyes.

DSCF5625They have set up little tubes to collect the melted sulfur as it runs off. It goes down the tubes and onto the ground below, where it hardens and the workers, local men, break off pieces with a metal pole and carry them one kilometer up the steep rocky path that I came down, and then down the mountain another three kilometers, all in two baskets connected by a piece of wood that they then carry on their shoulder muscles on one side of their bodies or the other. Fifty to seventy kilograms we are talking about here. They do it two times per day, every one of them. Most of the men I talked to have been doing this for upwards of twenty years or were sons of men who have been doing it for longer. One older man had a torch made of a soda bottle full of fuel with a rag sticking out. He stood, torch in hand, amid the sulfur smoke posing for pictures, breathing it in for extra tips. None of the men wore face masks.

I stayed up there till 7am. There were different places to stand with different views, avoiding the smoke was always at the top of my list of priorities. There was also a lake that I didn’t see till the sun was coming up. It was very acidic, I put my hand in to see if it was hot, it was hot, a little more than lukewarm, but it also burned the cuts on my hand, and even my skin but only slightly. I didn’t notice it at first but within a few second the acidic water started biting into the exposed flesh. It hurt pretty bad for about 15 minutes.

There were people collecting the molten sulfur and pouring it into water slowly to make pretty (stupid) looking souvenirs to sell to us. They looked like hand dripped beeswax candles.  In the daylight I also found the toilet amid some rocks off the path, where the early morning dump is taken when needed.

Really the fire was beautiful, incredible, alien, but it was the whole experience that made it great. I was one of the first up as I walked fast and past most of the Indonesian tourists who had started a little earlier, and I was one of the last ten to leave. One the way out I had had enough sulfur. It came hard at us while we walked out up the rocky path. I didn’t think I could take anymore. My hacking lungs started to sound bad and I kept gaging. But I made it out and looked down at the smoke and flames from above, less impressive in the daylight.

I gave one of the guys carrying sulfur rock a shoulder massage, he said it was the first time anyone had done that. He had been carrying those heavy loads for 24 years. I said he must have a great wife to work so hard for her, he laughed and said yes of course he did.

On the way down I passed tourists going up. They were tired and didn’t really look at me, whereas all the workers smiled big at me and said hello enthusiastically. I don’t know how they keep their spirits up while working so damn hard but I guess they have to or day after day it would be unbearable. I gave a few of them snacks from my bag and bought some silly turtles molded out of the sulfur for a buck. I forget the figures of how much they made for a trip of seventy kilos but it was small, 10 or 20 cents on the kilo, but I was told they make double what a normal worker in Indonesia makes.  I would put it on my list of hardest working jobs, maybe hardest, but definitely not worst jobs, just hardest.