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Wednesday 8 May 2013
Pangandaran, Indonesia

A day of discoveries

In 2006, Pangandaran was hit by a tsunami which destroyed much of the town, killing several hundred people and leaving thousands homeless.  The rebuilding happened rapidly and there is almost no evidence of it now, save the frequent tsunami warning signs indicating the need to head for high ground.  As a result, the beach has been replaced by a strong sea wall and rocks with a number of long precarious looking bamboo piers.  

It was along this sea wall that Jim discovered an unexpected sight.  A group of fishermen were hauling in their catch - not unusual as such, except that they were hauling ropes all the way across the main road.  Jim had watched for 15 mins and they still hadn't found the net, which must have been a kilometre out at least.  As Ailsa and I arrived, they had just reached the netting and were making ready with a large shallow woven tray.  The net itself was a sock shape tied off at the end.  They finally emptied a catch that would fill an average garden wheelbarrow. By this time there was quite a crowd gathered to see what they had caught, but imagine our suprise and sadness to see their catch contained more rubbish than actual fish.  It was mostly plastic bags, wrappers and bottles.  They sorted through it on the tray, throwing out great handfuls of plastic onto the rocks and putting what fish they had caught into a bucket.  An enormous blue spotted jellyfish was unceremoniously dumped out onto the rocks too.  Looking around at all the rubbish strewn around, we realised that most of it had probably come in this way, been dumped out and in all likelihood been washed back out to sea to repeat the cycle.  So much effort invested by the 10 or 12 people hauling in the net, only to end up with one bucket of small fish.

Aed, our guide, showed us around Pangandaran.  We started off at the market and then on to a one-room factory by the river.  Outside were rows of trestles with bamboo mats covered in small spirally rosettes of pale coloured paste drying in the sun.  Inside, tiny prawns are boiled and the mixture blended with rice flour to make a runny paste.  This is fed into a machine with a plate of 20 nozzles underneath, which spirals around to create a sheet of these little rosettes on a square of mesh.  The conveyor belt moves on and another 20 are created.  At the end of the belt, a young lad lifts and stacks the mesh trays before the whole lot is steamed in one go to seal them.  They are then dried in the sun until hard.  These are either packaged up and sold as they are, or dropped in hot fat to bubble up and grow into ready-to-eat crackers (which we did, and they were delicious!)

Aed then took us to meet a local puppet master.  He gave us an impromptu performance in his showroom and let us try out the puppets ourselves.  The tradition has been passed down from his grandfather and he's training his nephew to take over.  The puppets were all handcarved and painted in beautiful detail.

We drove up to Green Canyon, which was not too far in distance, but the road quality was terrible - huge potholes to be avoided on both sides so traffic had to find whichever route it could.  Overtaking is commonplace regardless of how far ahead the road is clear, or even visible.  Bikes weave in and out on both sides of the road (and the traffic), but as speeds rarely get much above 30mph things just seem to work.  We saw no hint of road rage. People being overtaken just drop back to let the other person in, and to pull out of a side street you simply creep out slowly but steadily. Those on the main road keep driving until they have to physically stop to avoid you, then everyone just carries on.

At Green Canyon, we divided ourselves into two long boats and were taken upstream for 30 mins. Our guide suddenly cried out and backed us up.  He had spotted a snake coiled up on the end of a branch, hidden in the foliage. The river water is green from the mineral deposits that run through it.  The most spectacular part of the trip was the cavern at the top of the river.  A huge arch had been worn out of the rock  creating a small lagoon above a waterfall.  We climbed up onto the rocks by the waterfall, getting rained on from where the water runs off the cliffs above.  It was a very beautiful place, but none of us chose to swim in the lagoon.  On our way back down the river we saw another huge monitor lizard having a drink on the bank. 

Next we headed for Batu Karas, the one beach where it was safe to swim.  After some delicious crispy prawns, Lynda, Chris and I hired boogie boards for 10,000 Rp (about US$1) and had a great time.  Unfortunately we didn't have rash vests so I ended up with a very sore tummy.  Lesson learned there!

Our last stop was to cross a long bamboo suspension bridge.  The whole thing looked like it ought to give way at any moment, but the locals were driving their scooters across quite happily.  The base was made from woven bamboo strips making it very springy underfoot.  On the other side we followed the path until Aed found what he had been looking for - a HUGE spider.  Now I am not a fan of spiders, everyone knows that, but when I say this was huge I mean it.  It had a leg span the size of my hand and a thick black body with bright yellow markings.  By the time Ailsa and I had caught up with the group, I looked around to see it climbing up Walter's shoulder and onto his neck! It made me feel physically sick to see it! Jim then picked it up and let it walk around on his arms and shoulder.  My flight reflex was held by a very fine thread when Aed touched the back of my neck with a blade of grass... I can only apologise for the language I used and the volume at which I screamed.  Ailsa wanted to hold the spider too but wasn't convinced I was going to get close enough to take a photo of her.  I obliged, but not without considerable adrenaline pumping through me.  I just love the fact that she is smiling, but it is definitely a rictus barely-holding-it-together-myself grin while the spider walks up her arm!  It will surprise nobody that I declined to take a turn myself.

For dinner we walked through the resort to the Bamboo Bar.  It started to rain as we arrived, but the big tables down by the beach were under cover.  Unfortunately the poor waitresses had to bring our dinners down under golfing umbrellas. None of us wanted to walk back in the rain.  We decided to hire one of the pedal-powered golf carts we'd seen around town.  Each one is powered by four sets of pedals with one steering wheel at the front, covered in flashing rope lights and pumping out loud and awful dance music from the speakers on the back.  Utterly trashy, but SO MUCH FUN!!  We let Chris steer, Aimee, Lynda and I pedalled with Ailsa squashed in the middle, and off we went laughing like loonies, waving to everyone we passed and only realising halfway down the road that we had no idea where we were going.  We got soaked from the rain and the puddles that we cycled through but somehow found our way back to the hotel intact, despite taking one corner so fast I thought we were going to go round on two wheels. Jim and Klaas had booked massages so hadn't joined us for dinner.  We decided to cycle round to the front of the hotel - meeting several startled deer on the roundabout at the end of the road - to wake them up and show them our brilliant pedalcart, but they didn't come out when we called them.  In hindsight, I am not sure I would have done either!




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