SYNOPSIS:  About a night at the beach and a morning with the stone pebblers about the stars and the sun, chewing betel nuts and about smoking.

It was a long drive from Gemri’s village to the coast.  I had a choice between spending an early night at Soe, and driving on in the morning with Gemri, or driving 2 more hours today with Gemri’s brother Hanki and a driver, to spend one night at the ocean.  Yes, you guessed it — I chose the ocean.

Oetuna Beach is a favorite among locals.  For a small fee people can drive their motorbikes and cars to a guarded beach and even spend the night there hanging out in and around a covered pavilion.  A group of about 8 cars full of people had set up camp there when I arrived shortly before sunset.  They were serious: a generator, cooking pots, loudspeakers and a microphone for the singer and his guitar for the night’s entertainment had been set up.  I would not be surprised if they had brought a pig along for slaughter.  Was it somebody’s birthday, or just a Sunday excursion?  None of them spoke English.  I will never know.

Hanki, the English teacher, struggled with every word I said from “wedding” to “tire, air, wave”, etc.  His vocabulary was simply pitiful.  His guiding abilities hardly lagged behind.  I soon gave up talking to him.  I hope that English teachers in the upper level classes are better equipped to teach or the extent of English around here will be arrested at the “Hello Mister” level, I hear everywhere from everyone.  When I am in the mood, I do a little lesson on the differences between Mrs. and Mr.  But more often, I just let it go.

The beach is looked over by Riven and his young wife.  He must be doing well for himself since on his mother’s property he built a rather tall stone house for his young family.  It felt out of proportion as it is barren, gray, and tall inside and lacks the coziness of some of the simpler huts.  With all of his money he still only built himself a traditional outhouse and the water is still not running in his kitchen.  Go figure.

With even more money, he built two bamboo cabins set back about 100 meters from the shoreline inside the beach area as a kind of “homestay”.  Equipped with a traditional bath, a porch and some furniture, they could be beautiful vacation spots were they just kept in better repair and a bit more clean…  The fancy water canister behind the cabin and the remains of a solar system that dangled from the ceiling were just for show.  Did they ever work?  You don’t exactly stay at his home, but you are driven to it for a lovely and filling home-cooked breakfast and dinner prepared by his wife. 

For the cabin, I requested a bucket and a sponge and went to work.  It’s just for one night, but at least I want to feel OK to put my bags down somewhere.

The ocean floor was sandy and shallow.  The sunset was beautiful even if not lined up with the ocean.  I swam for an hour at sunset and an hour at sunrise — one more item can finally be crossed off the Indonesian “must-do” list: I swam in the ocean; yeah!

Another worthwhile moment of this excursion was to sit beneath the southern hemisphere night-sky with many times more stars visible than ever at home, and a stunning milky way.  The beach party was far enough not to bother me.  This was a romantic moment wasted and I wish I would not have had to spend it alone.  Wonderful nonetheless.

A side-effect of the southern hemisphere is that the sun is not traveling through the south but the north during the day in this part of the world!  I don’t know enough about astronomy to explain this, but it has to do with the tilt of the axis of the earth.  Forever I was confused where we were going because the sun never seemed to line up for me.  Now I know finally know why. 

The next morning we headed towards Kolbane, another famous beach both for swimming and for its multi-colored rocks.  I was done with the tourist attraction of a lion-shaped cliff and the colored rocks in about 5 minutes.  Waves were way too high for swimming and I already began to wonder why I had come all that way, when we passed an interesting stretch of the shore:  small huts and white bags were lined up and many people were walking the shore bent over collecting…what?  I had to know and requested a stop.

Among all the smooth colored rocks that were washed ashore with every high tide, these people were making a living by collecting white pebbles.  In the beating sun, the first round of people — men, women and children alike — scooped them up into buckets by the handful.  The second round of people, hardly any better protected from the elements, dumped them onto cloths and sorted and bagged them by size and quality.

A bag of about 40 pounds of these rocks could be sold for about $3 either at the market in towns farther away, or wholesale to a Chinese trader from Surabaya who marketed the stones as garden decoration.  If I understood it right, some of these pebbles are also ground to powder and used in the betel nut chewing process which depends on a tip of a spoon full of white limestone powder. 

With all the betel-nut chewing that is done around here, I now wonder how much of a health hazard the consumption of pure lime-stone powder is over the course of a lifetime.  Is it as bad as smoking?  I mean, who would be eating stones in their right mind?!

And speaking of smoking:  I have been on the lookout for smoking ads.  They are everywhere.  As far as I know in the West we are not even allowed anymore to advertise for cigarettes on TV or in public.  Our cigarette companies seem to have found themselves a different outlet in this part of the world and a market welcoming them with open arms.  Cigarette ads constitute the majority of all ads and billboards.  Plastic banners promoting one or another kind of cigarettes hang on every street kiosk.  There are hundreds of those in every village or town.  In bigger towns, the largest billboards at all major intersections are without fail advertising cigarettes.  At first, I did not even get it.  These ads seemed to promote a modern lifestyle, parties, hip fashion, fast motorcycles and the like.  Only upon closer inspection did I notice the small obligatory cancer-scare vignettes at the left of the bottom row completely overshadowed by the sexy images above.   I thought I would share a few of those in today’s photos.

Late in the afternoon after the most hair-raising drive of all, we reached the village of Boti.  I think Gemri had left it for last as it is the most-visited tourist designation of all of Timur — that is by all the +/- 300 tourists who ever make it here.

I will see you there.