One of the things about living out of a backpack is that it’s so easy to forget things. I’ve probably got about one hundred items with me, ranging from my glasses to my malaria pills to the charger for my electric razor, and first thing in the morning is the worst time for having your brain in gear. When I think of all the things I’ve lost on this trip (my South America Lonely Planet, my little diaries, my hat) – it’s even more remarkable the things I haven’t lost.
Having said that, I do sometimes suffer from lapses in concentration that are, quite frankly, embarrassing. One such lapse occurred today as the bus charged towards the port town of Aimere (pronounced Eye-Mere-Ay) – I left my infernal Yellow Bible in the little eatery we stopped at to get the usual BLURGH of steamed white rice and fish heads (sometime you can get chicken bones instead w00t! – just as inedible). Maybe I was riling at the blandness (and coldness) of Indonesian cuisine. Seriously – I was given better grub in jail – at least it was hot!
Here in Indonesia, it’s like Monty Python’s Spam sketch, only with rice. Rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, rice for dinner…
We’ve got rice, rice, rice, egg, beans and rice; that’s not got much rice in it…
It wouldn’t be so bad if they had the same selection of sauces they have in Chinese cuisine, but no – here any garnish will usually consist of a few green beans if you’re lucky or some cold curry powder slop if you’re not. Weird when you consider these were the spice islands – the lands that made mad European adventurers froth at the mouth for hundreds of years. Never underestimate the power of condiments. Wars have been fought over condiments.
Anyway, we were too far away by the time I noticed I had lost my book for us to go back. We had been cruising around the utterly incredible series of bends that constitute the main road of Flores (this place would make an ace episode for Top Gear) for a good couple of hours since the rest stop.
Luckily, the driver got in touch with a mate of his who was taking the afternoon minibus to Ruteng (halfway to Aimere). If I was happy to wait in Ruteng, he could pick my book up and give it to me later. But, by then, heaven knows how I’m going to get to Aimere: the last bus of the day would have already gone.
Was it worth hanging on for? After my experience of trying to get through South America without a guidebook, the answer to that question was a resounding YES. I don’t stand a chance of chance of getting to East Timor or West Papua without it. So I hung around the town of Ruteng for a couple of hours. Loads of schoolkids had an assignment which required them to bug Bules (pronounced boo-lays and meaning Johnny Foreigners in Indonesian) like myself to write in their exercise book that the kids speak good English.
Fighting the urge to demand payment for such duplicitous services (their English was as bad as my French) I happily signed about ten books during the afternoon, and each one I recommended for a gold star and a jellybaby. Oh and don’t worry about halal: Flores is a Christian island. Not that that stops the Muslim call to prayer being pumped out at some ridiculous hour of the morning. Lucky I spent so much time in the Middle East my body has learnt to sleep right through it.
By 5pm I had my book back (hoorah!), but now a bigger problem arose like a grumpy levitation from the depths: how the hell was I going to get to Aimere? But then, literally as my book was handed over, a people carrier sped past with a guy hanging out the window shouting ‘Aimere! Aimere!’.
A-ha! A shared taxi? How much? $11?
It’s amazing what outrageous fortune these gods of the Bronze Age keep on bestowing upon me, especially considering I don’t believe in any of the buggers.
As I clambered onboard I mused about the fact that here I was, crossing the fabled island of the human hobbits: homo floresiensis, At just one meter tall and with brains the same size of that of a chimpanzee (tellingly our closest surviving relative), the hobbit’s remains have been dated to just 18,000 years ago – a mere blip on the evolutionary timescale of us homo sapiens.
It’s sad that Flores and Neanderthal man died out, the world could be a very different place if more people understood that homo sapiens are not quite as special or unique as they seem to think (the vast majority of people on this planet seriously believe that we, alone amongst living things, are going to magically survive their own death! Ha! Good luck with that!).
Sharing the planet with two other species of human might have given us the lesson in humility that we so desperately need (if we’re ever going to stop destroying this fine planet of ours). But given the numerous purges, genocides, pogroms and ethnic violence perpetrated by humans against their own species, I guess our fellow hominids didn’t stand a chance.
There has been a bit of debate as to whether the ‘hobbit’ skeleton found in the Manggarai Region of Flores constituted a brand new species or whether it was just a normal human with a rare (but not unheard of) genetic deformity. The discovery of several similar skeletons nearby has all but chucked the ‘deformity’ theory out of the window (oh, Young Earth Creationists – if only Evolution was as easy to disprove eh?), and the brain size alone signifies that these guys were most definitely not sapiens.
It’s interesting that the first homo erectus fossils were found in Java – a completely separate branch of the hominid family to the hobbits.
While I was musing such matters, would you believe what I saw…?
Yes, I believe that to be a living hobbit. I may be wrong, maybe she’s just a tiny old lady, or maybe the hobbits ‘died out’ due to interbreeding with us sapiens. But I’m fairly sure people on this island (on average) are shorter than the folks on Bali…
Nah, they’re just kids. It’s cool that they all wave when the see a Bule like me drive past, reminds me of the good bits of West Africa.
Anyways, as night fell I was invited by the driver of my ‘travel’ (shared taxi) to play DJ.
Thank the maker! If there is one thing that may just put you off Indonesia for life, it’s the crimes against music perpetrated by the bus and ‘bemo’ drivers here. With sound systems set to ‘Krakatau’, they pump out the worst of the worst music you could possibly imagine: Indonesian music seemingly ripped from Japanese advertising jingles from the 70s, what I can only describe as ‘Oompah-pah Electronica’, desperately poor Indonesian hip-hop (think GLC taking themselves seriously), 80s mom rock that would make Elton John look heterosexual and the insipid drone of Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, Scorpions, and, worst of all, Akon. How a guy who sounds like the goat-diddling lovespawn of Crazy Frog and Stephen Hawking has sold a single album blows my mind.
The biggest joke is that most of the buses here are covered in punk rock stickers – it’s pretty funny to see a bus plastered with pictures of Sid Vicious blasting out Celine Dion at ear-splitting volume. Seriously. Seriously. Gay.
And who the hell sings that infernal cock-rock song about wanting to lie down in a bed of roses? Christ when I get hold of him I’m going to pull a Mel Gibson on the nonce and bury him under a bed of roses.
As I selected Blitzkrieg Bop from my iPod, I explained that for the next two hours I would be giving these guys a crash course in the sort of music that ridiculously over-amped sound systems were invented for…
A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.