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{On Being a Tourist Attraction}

We are home in Portland now... but there are parts of our journey I haven't shared.... so here's another installment of "The Great Escape"

After our 12 hour car/ferry/car butt numbing journey from Bali to East Java in a vehicle that had no shocks and lost several parts en route, we arrived at our hotel on Mt Bromo. In the last hour of the drive we left the sweaty lowlands for the misty cloud forest. Although we had left Bali because Mt Agung had erupted and spewed ash miles into the sky which closed the airport, we thought we might as well explore another volcano, and give ourselves a travel break.

Mt Bromo is part of a string of volcanos in East Java, as is know for stunning vistas and an active caldera. Although we were exhausted to the bone, and it was already 9pm, we began to contemplate getting up for a 3am jeep trip to see the sunrise. We had "dinner"-- which consisted of pancakes for Amy and really bad "cheesy toast" for me (eating vegetarian is very limiting here), while shivering in the lobby and watching World of Dance in Indonesian, we met 2 women from Holland who invited us to join them in their jeep. We jumped (ok, more like a pathetic "sounds great! see you at 3am"), and immediately went to bed, grateful for clean sheets and the ability to stretch out horizontal.

3am we jumped in the back of the jeep, entrusting ourselves to the driver who looked to be 14 years old, yet clearly knew how to drive. For the first mile or so, it was just us on the road, then as we got closer, jeeps seemed to come out from nowhere, passing each other on the narrow mountain road. At one point, in the pitch black fog, our driver veered off the road as the other jeeps headed left and I thought he'd lost his mind, only to discover he knew shortcuts, which minimized some of the potholes. And, on our way down, when it was light out, we discovered that we were driving inside the flat sandy crater, rather than along the ridge of the
volcano as I had thought. We arrived at the summit around 4:30, in the rain, along with at least 100 other jeeps. So much for a private sunrise experience!

We pulled on every stitch of clothing we had, then a poncho, and huddled in one of the many food stalls with instant coffee in hand. Most of the tourists were Indonesian, and they all asked "Where are you from?", followed by, "Photo?", meaning they wanted a photo taken with us. So we passed the time with our new friends, then made our way up the stairs to an observation area, crowded with tourists shivering in the fog, waiting for the non-existent sunrise. No worries! As the only foreigners there, the 4 of us became the attraction, with young, old, families, corporate groups-- all wanting us in their photos. We laughed a lot and started to get bold enough to photo bomb their group shots-- which they loved! The sun never made an appearance, and eventually everyone clamored down, returned to their jeeps, and moved on, only to discover that just below the summit the sun was shining, the vista was incredible, and the Dutch have a great expression (see attached video) that very roughly translates as "Look! I have boobies!"

We explored other viewpoints (now that we could actually see the volcano!), then went into the crater and parked at the base of the caldera. Then walked 3km up to the rim to experience the roaring, sulphuric caldron. The photos and videos will give you a rough idea of just how incredible it was. We Facetimed our families from there-- nothing like talking from the top of the world!

We were back at our hotel by 9:30, showered, packed and on to the next adventure: Madakaripura Waterfalls. Several people at the hotel tried to dissuade us from going because of the recent rainfall, but I wasn't having it. We drove about an hour on potholed roads, through hillside villages and into the park, where we were instructed to get on motorbikes with young men. It seemed dicey, and language was a barrier-- I wondered if leaving our worldly possessions in the car with this driver we'd only known for 60 minutes was wise.. let alone going on the back of a motorbike with a kid at the helm. But, we decided to go for it, hopped on, and roared off as they skillfully navigated puddles and potholes until we came to the official park entrance, and began our hike up the lush valley. Our guide took photos at every opportunity, and shared a few things about the area with limited English, gestures and a big smile. When we arrived at the falls, we put on our ponchos and stepped into the warm river, walking under and through a series of falls coming from the rim of the canyon over 200-300 feet above. Exhilarating. Stunning. Magical. I hope someday you will visit here!

These two experiences filled me up, which was a good thing, because the drive from the falls to Surabaya through torrential rain and severe traffic jams was tedious and mind numbing. A two hour drive lasted four hours, and the hotel was an oasis of relief.

My one last adventure for the day was that I had to find a suitcase for the bags of stuff we'd been carrying since Bali. I took a taxi to the mall and was in culture shock. Bali, though Indonesian, is Hindu, while the rest of the country (over 3000 islands) is Muslim. This mall was about 60% clothing stores for Muslim women-- head coverings, long dresses, shawls. Store after store, with mannequins dressed in full garb-- no shorts, tank tops, skirts. Luckily I needed luggage not clothing! I found a huge suitcase, went outside and discovered there were no taxis. A young man wanting to practice English came to my rescue... and arranged for me to take a motorcycle Uber-- with me on one and my suitcase on the other! Again I had to step into complete trust as I handed over my suitcase and watched as the driver squished it between the seat and steering column, then straddled it-- hilarious! I got a back road tour of Surabaya, kept my eye on the other motorbike and would have said Hail Marys if I were Catholic! I was dropped off at the closest intersection (crazy traffic in this city), and proudly arrived at our room to find Amy sound asleep. All that and no one to share my story with! Damn! colored wedding wears look unique

Let's just say that I slept well that night! And you all know what happened the next day on the way to Singapore!

I'll post photos later today!

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