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INDONESIA FOUR – VULCAN…

ANTS ON A SLIGHT SLOPE…


I had not gotten more than some vague notion that his program included an excursion to the “Vulcan”  [the volcano, Merkaba by name] which involved another long drive through the snarling traffic of which I was becoming weary. I continued to be less & less interested, but Stephen seemed excited enough I made my peace. We got to the place where we were to take a jeep, at another expense, finding all the places fully booked. I was momentarily relieved as we started back down, but the driver’s determination invented one final attempt with success.
Soon enough we found ourselves perched in an old, open US army vehicle with a sticker on the dashboard right in front of me stating “No road, No problem!” with a young slight driver who stated he had almost no English & seemed a bit cocky rocking & rolling on what once might have been a road, but was now only a jagged slough of boulders & dust between the occasional short broken patch of maybe half a lane of pavement. They had given us dusk masks for good reason! 
He proved to be a good enough driver & cute enough under his skull printed scarf pulled rakishly over his face for me to find some attraction dangereuse as I watched his almost dainty feet in soft canvas shoes dance on the clutch & brake pedals, but that was hardly enough to make up for what promised & delivered bone jarring whacks on the broken down seat cushion & sharpish, un-cushioned hand-holds.
Stephen was in back on a bench seat with only the roll-bars to hang onto… having a great time, he said. I had to believe him because I gave him ample opportunities to renege on the affair…
Ours was one of a seeming thousand such, although most were better vehicles filled with families, many of the women in blowing headscarves or burkas… all seemly enjoying their rides. I can be tough, I can pretend… 
We stopped at the “museum” which was simply the remains of a house which had mostly survived the last big eruption, during which many people were killed. Parts were quite open, all was filled with dusty ash & on display were the half melted carcasses of a television & computer… with a collection of CDs fused in their case. Two sewing machines looked in slightly better shape but that ash would clog any mechanism. Many household objects were lined up in various states of melt & char… some, perhaps stored in drawers, were in surprisingly recognizable shape. Nothing of much interest beyond the imagined memories of an unimaginable event. Several macabre horse skeletons hung from the porch, along with what seemed to be a wooden gong… perhaps it was to be used as a warning device… I wonder the story it might tell of such hell..
Back in our stalwart chariot of Hades we lurched upward… often being passed by spiffier rigs… to a site with a huge boulder 10-12 feet tall telling another story of natural force, plus a viewpoint looking over into an open pit being mined with heavy equipment & big trucks going down & climbing out onto the same road. One of those was mired, tires screaming into smoke, barely making it off the rad which would have blocked us, for how long?!? Stephen observed that by then it had a flat tire [if any tire at all?!?]… whew !!!
The next destination, was a bunker, labeled as such with big  steel letters, with a lively souvenir market & food stands to entice the hundreds of passengers from the near hundred jeeps parking within some curious system of rotation known only to the drivers. I’d been observing parts of that system as we had been stopped at numerous”toll” points by guys giving him a paper ticket while in the same gesture he passed off a small note of currency… all as graceful as his dancing feet.  
We went down the steps into a chamber perhaps 20X40 feet in size, with a big pile of rocks filling most of the curiously tiled floor for some reason. Numerous other folk found photographic moments for posing in groups, but I remained puzzled until I learned later from our car driver that it was built as an emergency shelter for those who lived or worked on the volcano. However, he explained, it had instead actually baked some of those people in the inferno…
My notion of this operation was that we thousands of humans in hundreds of jeeps were like ants on an anthill… a very unimpressive version of hell…
We [thankfully!] never got anywhere close to the “top” as was advertised & I was pleased that only a short ride brought us happily down to our beginning… leaving me with the sense that we’d been taken on a circuitously local “joy ride”, The return trip to the Hotel Phoenix was still a version of the original ride through heavy holiday traffic. We headed straight to the bar for a drink! 
One night we went, at Joel’s recommendation, for dinner at ViaVia, which turned out to be a for student venue with much better simple & inexpensive food than the slightly ragged & worn demeanor would suggest… this is the everyday Asia which one comes to love once one lets-go of American  expectations for antiseptic tidiness. To love… or not… often one is brought to contemplate larger realities than the views through the hole of a television screen. 
There are so many humans crowded into very active street-life: pop-up markets on evening sidewalks, for example; many casual shops with rolling metal doors up for business, or down for closure; “construction sites” with stacks of brick & collections  of litter; all interspersed with much classier glass fronted shops: restaurant entrances leading back or up into varying degrees of finish & finesse… it is all so fascinatingly varied! Anyone with a sense of adventure is thus rarely bored with the predictability of mall parking lots. Yet, there are the occasional Circle K’s, Micky D’s & Starbucks…
After dinner we shopped in an attached store to find the knock-off Teva like sandals Joel mentioned for about ten dollars. Walking toward another market street Stephen wanted to visit he impulsively engaged one of the bike rickshaw-like carriages, not realizing it was human powered rather than motorized as are most. Adventure! not predicament! But, within a few minutes of our driver’s slow but stalwart efforts on the pedals [including enough conversation to know he had grand-children!] it began to rain. 
Stopping, he folded up the baby-carriage type roof & secured a plastic sheet in front of our exposed legs so we stayed mostly dry in spite that this became no light Seattle rain. Getting out at the night-market we huddled with the crowds under make-shift awnings, watching the vendors securing their wares away in tubs & bins… shopping mood soggy… quite drowned. We worriedly wondered how to get back to the hotel.
At a next flooded street corner a young man with a big umbrella rescued us, hailing & helping us into a taxi… but having only too-large banknotes & thus nothing to offer as thanks… he gave us a genuinely generous smile on top of his kindness! to strangers! We’ve discovered such blessings are not