The road drops steeply beneath you as you wind down the hill side. As you reach the valley floor bellow the landscape quickly changes from forest and bamboo huts to the first thing that looks like a regular city road since you left Bogor. The Market in Pelabuhan Ratu The road is lined with multi-story cinderblock shops; shabby looking, but active and filled with flimsy looking merchandise ranging from baby clothes to office supplies to satellite dishes. There is even a sidewalk with occasional food stalls taking up most of it. You’re in Pelabuhan Ratu. The shops stretch on a long way, broken only by the large expanse of a playing field and Islamic school building on your right. Suddenly the road is crowded with stopped bemo and the road veers to the right. The smell of fish and dust rise from the market entrance to your left where the fishermen peddle their morning catch. To your right, are the bright colors of the fruit and vegetable stands.

And then the city ends as quickly as it began and you’re view is now split between palm tree and the brownish sea lapping gently against the dirty sand of Samudra Beach. Thatched stalls hawking food, bottled drinks and fresh coconuts dot the shoulder. You’re in Citepus. You’re still too far east for the waves to be of any appreciable size, but as you reach the drab, hulking Inna Samudra with is utilitarian concrete facade, they’ve grown considerably and the hollow greenish brown waves slam all at once in a terrific plume of white water as they crash over the sandbar. From there you ascend abruptly, the Inna Samudra sinks bellow you seeming suddenly smaller as the views of Pelabuhan Ratu, the square bamboo framed fishing rigs, and the coast south of it emerge behind.

The atmosphere has gone from a dusty brown to a deep green. The sea and hazy horizon have been replaced by thick jungle foliage flashing by as you sail quickly down the gentle grade beyond the crest of the hill. Young students in uniform, the girls wearing identical head coverings, loiter outside the Islamic school as you rumble past. The pink Indah Samudra Hotel erupts surprisingly into your field of vision as you round a corner.

Finally the jungle clears and the sea comes in view again in the distance beyond empty grass fields. Several large houses appear on your right and the reassuring Ombak Tujuh stands brightly, touting “accommodations available inquire within.” Pondok Kencana (Golden Lodge) You’re in Cimaja. You stop in at the O7 pub, where the owner, Leo, plies you with outlandish stories and endless “examples” to go with the widest liquor selection for 100 miles. From there you continue on foot. Aden’s tiny surf shop stand’s on it stilts on the left, colorful boards visible through the glass (his new one in still under construction across the street). You glance down the gravel path towards Evan’s, you’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there along with the rooms, restaurant, and top notch view of the towering right-handers of the Cimaja point break.

Evan's Place A Classic Cimaja Point Wave

But you carry on, past the Desa Resort, the most expensive place in town, and across a creek, brown and swollen from a recent rain, carrying runoff and detritus to the inlet just east of the break. Across the bridge the smells of fried rice and sate waft out of the warung on your right where goat meat hangs from the rafters, and the clientele eat with their hands in the Sundanese style.


Just then the road bends to the right as you pass the Cimaja Surf Spot sign, a crew of ojek drivers crowd beneath the shady eves of a hut there playing chess while they await business. “Ke mana?” they shout as you pass. The Sign by the Path to Cimaja PointCek Ombak” you reply as you turn down the dirt road toward the break. You avoid the sloppy mud puddles as you pass under the Papaya trees lining the road. You can here the clamor of breaking waves and rolling stones as you near the shore. As you arrive on the stone strewn gravel beach you see the waves, jacking up over head high as the bend around the kink in the shoreline that creates the almost world class wave. The backdrop of steep hills in the distance with palms hanging out over the steep bank of the shore create the perfect tropical scene as a local boy pumps and weaves down a steep, curling wave. Smiling and satisfied, he turns out of the wave just before it closes out near shore. You turn and head back to the main road, continuing the way you came.

Cimaja Point

Back on the man road the surfer haunt Rumah Makan Mirasa stands on your left, with it’s surfboard shaped sign, sporting menus of Sundanese food in both English and Bahasa Indonesia.  Around the bend you pass the now closed Green Room, and you pause to think what might of been, in past seasons, relaxing there with expats and surf seekers.Rumah Makan Mirasa On your left is the primly turned out Cimaja Square, with it’s new looking yellow buildings surrounding the small “Square” patio on 3 sides. A small crowd of Aussies, Germans, and Indonesians sit on the patio, eating, talking, or using the WIFI. Nora, grey haired and wearing her iconic shorts, tee, and flip flops, sits and smokes and chats with her guests. The sound of Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, and other surfer-chill tunes drift over the stereo. The harmonious music is then wash away by the wall of sound the blasts from the mosque across the street as they make the mid day call for prayer. Conversations either cease or turn to shouts for the duration.Cimaja Square

Moving on, the haunting chants fade below the pain threshold, and you pass AlphaMart, the Indonesian Wallgreens-esque small grocery chain. The new looking storefront, clean tile floors, AC, and sterile fluorescent lighting draw quite a contrast to the aged and weather worn surroundings. A Bemo Ferries Surfers Through CimajaFrom there the road is lined with homes and small shops selling drinks, snacks, SIM cards, and miscellaneous home products, with a few warungs here and there. You finally acquiesce to an ojek driver’s solicitation and catch a ride onward. You pass the large brown Daun-Daun losmen, dwarfing and juxtaposed to the quaint and colorfully painted little Café Lona. The road is now far from the coast, but as you cross another bridge, leaving Cimaja, you crest a rise and gain a new vantage point. A hillside, terraced with rice paddies, stretches before you. Beyond it the waters of the Indian Ocean are once more visible. They are a much deeper blue now than the brownish waters of Samudra, and the sun glints through the clear waves as they break hollowly along the rocky shore.

Your ojek sails down the hill, and before long your once again paralleling the coast. You’re now at Sunset Beach. Here and there are beachside squares surrounded by bamboo structures selling seafood or drinks, and renting surfboards. Karang HawuThe waves here are closed out sandbar waves like Samudra, better on a small day when the occasional consistent shoulder emerges. You pass the parking lot and empty lifeguard stand at the west end of the beach as you turn and climb another hill where the point of Karang Hawu juts sharply southward and away from you.

More rice paddies and coastline sweep past and before long you’ve turned sharply north and you’re in Cisolok. The sides of the road are thick with nondescript homes and stalls again, but eventually the way opens into a gravel square wide enough for a number of bemo and ojek to park. You stop here, browsing through the vegetable stalls. The selection here is smaller than Pelabuhan Ratu, but the mood is less rushed. You fill your tas with tomat, bawang putih, and tempe; just what you need to spice up a little nasi goreng for dinner. Indonesian Gas Station in Cisolok Returning to your ojek, it doesn’t take long to get clear of Cisolok, past the Indomart (almost identical competitor with AlphaMart), and over the bridge that marks the western edge of the town. From there you climb the steep hills, overlooking the river valley lined with rice paddies and bordered by the town. Your ojek downshifts and lurches, as you hang on desperately, your feet lifting a little off the pegs. You lean in close to your driver as you gain speed up the hill. You crest and descend. “Berhenti,” you say when you make out the sign for the Ocean Queen Resort, “Kiri.” The driver turns left and you decent the breathtakingly steep hill down to the resort. You get off outside the gate where the little trail leads to Karang Haji.

A Local Out on an Impressive Day at Karang Haji As you emerge from the trail, you see the row of fishing boats atop the steep C-shaped sandy beach. The tide is low, you can see from how much is exposed of the large rock that sits out in the middle of the bay. The waves bend in around the point beside the cliff on the right and the rock. The larger waves crest and the cliff, and send a solid shoulder rolling through the bay. The waves are smaller here than at Cimaja, and more inviting, although as you look closely you see that further inside, where the smaller waves break, there lie numerous boulders submerged just bellow the surface. As the sun sinks to the west, you go drop of your goods from the market. You grab your board and head toward the waves for an evening glass off session. A perfect end to a day in paradise.

The View East From the Hills Above Cisolok

The Road to Pelabuhan Ratu (2010-03-31)

The view from the back seat of the Pondok Kencana van

A pair of blinding white lights barrels towards me out of a sea of blackness encircled by a ring of foliage. My heart skips a beat as the vehicle whose headlights briefly blinded me swerves back into its own lane, having avoided the obstruction that is merely a black void to our stunted vision, probably a disabled bemo (a small, under powered mini van). I am sitting in the passenger seat of a standard mini van on the roads of Indonesia. My driver, Itang, has been skillfully wending through the highways, local roads, and half gravel half pothole back roads that lead from Jakarta to Pelabuhan Ratu. We’ve been traveling nearly 3 hours.

Jakarta Skyline (From WikiMedia Commons)
Public Domain1

The roads around Jakarta are surprisingly first world, considering I’ve heard Jakarta compared to Mexico City, an image that the state of affairs at the airport tends to reinforce. As you haul along the 3 lanes of smooth blacktop, green direction and exit signs flashing past, glassy sky scrapers erupting from the mix of green palm trees and red clay tile roofs in the distance, you could almost forget you weren’t in The States; were it not for the fact that you’re driving on the left side, and the shoulder is more often than not used as a passing lane. Every third truck on the road here is carrying water (in the blue plastic Mulligan Man bottles). I’m not sure where from or where to, but the idea of water mains and pipelines seems to have no place here. These trucks, so massively overburdened, tend to have a hard time keeping the pace, so the difference between slow and fast lanes is often 50 KPH (the ratio of Kilometers to Miles is about 5:3 FYI).

It’s not until we reach Bogor, a city about half way between Jakarta and Ratu geographically but certainly not temporally, that things get really interesting. When we reach Bogor, the multilane blacktop freeway, rest stops with Mc Ds and Pizza Huts, and all other trappings of the first world end abruptly. The road is suddenly one narrow lane in each direction, with a 5 cm drop off to a gravel and mud shoulder. The narrow should is flanked by shack after bamboo shack peddling anything from fruit to cell phone SIM cards. The rest stops sporting Big Macs have been supplanted by warungs (food stalls) advertising their nasi goreng (fried rice) in big red letters. Where vehicles stop in order to frequent these establishments would be a mystery to me, except that every mile or so we have to eek our way around some car parked half on the shoulder half in the road, and that’s excepting the angkot (bemo used for public transport) receiving or discharging passengers.

A Bemo (From Wikimedia Commons)
Some Rights Reserved2

As the sun begins to set, and the traffic thicken, the organized chaos of the roads turns to full fledged anarchy. Bemo and car alike have started using the shoulder as another lane, despite its rut worn, occasionally washed out nature, as we try to pass the lumbering, oversized tour buses that look so out of place on the narrow lanes, next to the mini-mini-vans of Indonesia. The mopeds are weaving in and out of traffic with such speed and through such tight spots it puts New York bike messengers to shame. And yes, we’re still on a road lined be shacks, sometimes peddlers, sometimes homes, and not for lack of distance traveled, for the landscape remains thus, unchanged, for miles. It’s as if the city failed to ever develop outwards, but instead stretched on, for seemingly endless miles, lining the highway, like vegetation clinging to the banks of a river in the desert.

Eventually, as traffic grinds to a near halt, Itang veers off onto one of the seldom seen side roads. I’m not sure if we’re taking a detour to avoid traffic or if this is the normal route, but this road is much narrower, closer to one lane although we pass oncoming vehicles at near full speed, and frequently pocked with man sized potholes, which we rapidly decelerate for, or swerve around, depending on the size of the next oncoming vehicle. Motorcyclists and pedestrians alike seem unfazed but the 250 some odd kilos of steel hurdling towards them, and Itang drives with what seems like a willful disregard for life. But really he just doing what it takes to get somewhere in rural Indonesia. The local roads, in such disrepair that they are, are also "toll roads." But no booth or uniformed official will you find, instead local villagers stand at the entrance and exit of their village collecting a tax for your passage, like the highwaymen of old. The supporters of the local mosques just stand in the center divide accepting donations instead, much to the chagrin of the lane splitting mopeds.

At some point during this ride, I’m struck by the similitude between the periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror I experience in the passenger seat of this van, and the larger experience of reaching our destination. Before we even left, I ground out several months at a job that I found little joy in, before feeling the excitement of actually embarking on our three month journey. There was the typical blasé air travel, contrasted with stress and worry over how we would get my surf boards from the cargo warehouse at 8pm on a Sunday, where they had arrived several days before. Some of the bungalows at Pondok Kencana taken as we waited for word about our boards Then there was the first ride Jakarta to Ratu which I was only half conscious for followed by a day of waiting and uncertainty, contrasted with the terror of not being able to tell if the "shipping agent" was actually working on my behalf or trying to con me out of the ridiculous sum quoted as "import tax" without getting me any closer to having surfboards. Not to mention the stress of being in a place where few people speak the same language as you, theft from and abuse of visitors is reported as common, and the water just might give you dysentery (although I doubt it since most of it is brought in on trucks). But despite the emotional rollercoaster ride, we’re here now, we got our boards, the surf is good, most of the locals we meet are friendly and helpful, and it all comes with a sense of accomplishment at making it to a place, completely on one’s own initiative, that most others wouldn’t think of visiting, much less overcome all the fear
s that might dissuade them.

The sun sets, boards in hand, the stress melts away

  1. Jakarta Skyline: Public Domain This file has been released to the public domain. See for more Information.
  2. A Bemo: This file is licensed by under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. See,_Gianyar_200507.jpg for more information.

Third World Oven (2010-03-28)

“Jeremy, you may not sit in the fridge,” Paul’s sister instructed her son.

IMG_1174 We were spending the week in Yangon, Myanmar visiting my in-laws. Paul’s sister and her husband taught English locally. Their 2 year old daughter Rebecca had joined her older brother in his attempt to beat the sweltering heat in front of the fridge. It was the dry season, which also meant the hot season. I normally enjoy warm weather, but this was extreme – sit in the fridge extreme, to be exact.

Jeremy complied readily to his mother’s request, and accepted a drink as an alternative means to cool off, but it was clear that he was disappointed to move from his chosen spot. He was five years old (a fact he reminded us of several times a day) and had spent most of his life in Myanmar or neighboring Thailand. Yet throughout the week, he and Rebecca could be found at times sitting or standing in front of the open fridge door. They never remained there long, as some adult usually discovered them quickly and helped them with whatever they were looking for. But I don’t blame them for wanting that refreshing cold air.

Over the week, I got used to the heat, as much as was possible. It was still incredibly unbearable in the midday sun, which we avoided as much as possible. We spent most of our time relaxing around the apartment and playing with the kids. We read to them, played games, and tried our best to move around as little as possible. In the evenings the heat started to fade, and I began to enjoy waking up to cool mornings, which clocked in at a refreshing 83°F/30°C.

IMG_1333 A trip down the alleyways outside was quite an experience. Dust drifted past our ankles. Beads of sweet dripped down the small of our backs and brow. The street was narrow and the people and stalls around made the place feel close. Men walked swiftly past in long longyi (lone-gee) and loose flip flops. The streets were lined with carts of fruits and vegetables, or food that was cooked too long ago. Their purveyors hovered over them, listlessly shooing away flies with long brushes. The stalls sold dried goods or car parts, or they housed workers bent over sewing machines or offering haircuts. In one a man couched over some hulking car part with an arc welder. The bright point of light burnt a spot into your vision, and I didn’t envy the man wearing his heavy mask in the heat. We stepped aside as rickshaws rattled past over the mix of rutted gravel and pavement. Further down was a square with a cafe, the clients sitting outside on overturned buckets taking their lunch. The sun beat down overhead, as we sidestepped the raw sewage puddles blocking our path and stifling our breath.

Out on the large roads, crossing each street was a game of Frogger. Vehicles bear down on you with no intention of stopping as you hurry across busy lanes in one direction, pause on the middle line while traffic on both sides zooms past at full speed, then make the final dash to the far side. It’s all part of regular life in Myanmar – there are practically no tourists and no infrastructure for tourism. Twice during the week we saw other westerners in the stores, but overall our pale faces were unique among the city full of locals.

IMG_6567Despite the lack of official tourist destinations or activities, there were a few interesting things to see around the city, such as the Buddhist temple not far from the apartment. It was a massive city of white tiles and real gold decorations, with hundreds of large gold plated Buddha statues sitting or lying under high pagodas. Some of the statues even had fans above them to keep them cool. All visitors checked their shoes at the front, though luckily they were watched over so no “slumdogs” made off with them. We walked barefoot, avoiding the dark tiles that soaked up the rays of the sun, and savoring the cool shade of the pagodas. As we went Paul’s brother in-law explained to us some of the tenants and history of Buddhism, and its establishment in Myanmar. Still, we couldn’t help but be taken in by the sights and sounds that surrounded us. The air was filled with the sound of gongs being rung for good luck by the faithful or by mirthful children. Women and scarlet robed monks avoided physical contact as it could hinder the latter in reaching Nirvana.


We also visited a local park near the man-made Inya Lake. IMG_1182The park consisted of a small restaurant, play area, and garden, situated peacefully along the still lake, stirred neither by wind nor vessel.  Signs marked fallen trees that remained as evidence of the 2008 cyclone. It was a pleasant place to spend the hot part of the day, the water and vegetation caused a significant drop in temperature compared to the dusty, barren sidewalks around the rest of the city. We spent the late morning hours admiring the shrubberies and sculptures, or wandering amongst brightly colored dragonflies.


Brilliant colors were also the theme at the large restaurant we visited on a subsequent day. It was shaped like a huge gold temple pagoda and a boat, poised as if floating on another of Yangon’s lakes. The dinner buffet featured a generous and delicious sample of regional cuisine, along with a few foreign imports. Paul enjoyed the local liquor, a clear gin-like spirit, which was a fraction of the price of the imports. The entertainment went on over the noise of dinner. It included traditional instrumental music, Burmese dance, and very talented puppeteers. It went on for hours, starting before we arrived and was still going after most people left for the evening.

Everywhere there were signs of poverty. Cars and buildings suffered the wear and tear of the tropics with little attention to upkeep beyond maintaining basic functionality. Some places looked great inside, like the apartment we stayed in and some fancier stores, but all still suffered the daily afternoon power outages. No electricity IMG_1264meant no elevator and flashlights for the dark trip down the stairwell. Luckily, the power was always back whenever we were coming back up. The water pressure also dropped to nothing since the usual pulsing flow from the tap required electricity from both a main building pump and another in the apartment. Even at the somewhat fancy dinner show the power went out several times during the evening.

We embraced a bit the Burmese culture as much as possible during our short stay. We purchased and wore our own longyi, which helped us follow the sweltering style of dressing modestly. Our hosts introduced us to many delicious local dishes.

Between spending time with family and the vast differences in culture and weather, it was an interesting and enjoyable week.


Photos From Australia (2010-03-21)

So we haven’t been posting much lately, not because things haven’t been happening, but because our ability to connect to the internet in Indonesia was so limited. Not to mention we’ve been a little busy traveling, surfing, meeting new friends, and partying. But we’re back in San Francisco now, and I’ve finally been able to upload a bunch of our photos from Australia. So here they are:

Keep an eye out for more back dated posts & photos from our trip to Myanmar and Indonesia.