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Family Reunion

21 Apr 11
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My cousin came to visit this month.

Like lots of extended families, our history has not been marked by the best of relationships. Feuds from long before I was born kept many family members from talking to each other for years, and sometimes the silence continued until someone died. As a teenager I learned I had an Uncle Henry only after he passed away. He and my father hadn’t spoken since they were young men.

Over the last dozen or so years, as the older generation has finally passed on and we have become the tribe’s elders, the cousins have been breaking down these barriers and slowly getting to know each other, and we’re finding that we actually like each other’s company. It’s been a pleasant discovery. But I was still surprised when Cousin Carol sent an e-mail saying she would take me up on our offer for her to visit.

Carol lives in Ohio. A long-time college professor, she raised two wonderful kids and now spends her retirement well – dining with friends, golfing and visiting her grandchildren. She never struck me as the adventurous type. But not only did she want to visit; she wanted to see one site that most here seem to avoid.

Carol wanted to see Krakatoa. The island, called Krakatau by the locals, is known around the world for disappearing in a massive eruption in 1883. In 1927 undersea activity created a new island in its place, and it is called Anak Krakatau, or ‘Child of Krakatau.’ Anak Krakatau is an active volcano, still growing each year. For some, it has an irresistible pull.

By coincidence, such a trip was also on our agenda. I’d been fascinated by the story of Krakatau since I was a child. Anak Krakatau sits off the west coast of Java, and it is close enough to Bandung that we decided we couldn’t miss it. So just a few days after Carol arrived, we set off by car.

Along road to Bogor

We planned to take two days to reach Krakatau. The first day we drove to Bogor, a beautiful town in the mountains south of Jakarta. Our goal was to stay the night at the same Kampung where Elana stayed during her 5th grade field trip. What I had been told would be a three hour trip took closer to six, so by the time we reached our first stop, the Taman Safari, it was almost dusk.

Malaysian Tapir

Taman Safari is a private zoo. But rather than walk past cages, you drive, in your own car, along a winding road that takes you past animal displays. The hippos, Asian moon Bears and most of the rest of the animals are contained in enclosures surrounded by moats or walls, but a few animals, including camels and Llamas, wander openly, free to come up to your window to beg for bananas and carrots purchased from stands near the park entrance.

It was exciting to see from a distance a black leopard lounging casually on a tree stump – an animal I’ve been trying to see ever since my first visit to the rainforests of Belize. But the highlight for me was reaching the tiger and cat enclosures. The entrance reminded us of the Jurassic Park movie – huge wooden doors on rollers slid to either side as we approached, alerting us to something big and dangerous inside. Your car passes through, the gates close behind you, and suddenly Bengal Tigers begin walking toward your car. And they look hungry. While I knew we were safe in the car, these cats are large, and somehow it still felt like they could come right in if they so chose to.

Park Rangers sit in vehicles inside the enclosure, and after a few moments they began talking over a loudspeaker. I assumed they were telling people the park was closing, so we stopped the car for some pictures in the waning light before moving on to the next enclosure, which held the lions. Once we were with the lions, we again stopped for pictures, until I realized what the rangers were actually saying through the speakers was that we should keep the car moving. A stopped vehicle presented an opportunity for the cats to come right up to the car. Had we stayed still much longer, I have no doubt they might have started climbing on top of our vehicle.

By the time we left the park, it was dark. Our Kampung guest house was not far away, on the other side of Bogor. The problem was, we couldn’t find it.

My dad used to laugh at the idea of asking a local for directions. Often it seems the more familiar someone is with a place, the less likely they are to know how to get anywhere. That maxim seems to hold for Indonesia as well. I stopped several times, showing a brochure for the guest house, and could find no one who knew where we should go. I could tell we were close though, so when I spotted a police station I pulled in.

The station was an old building with open-air offices on the first of two floors. Two older men wearing uniforms were lounging on chairs around an ancient television and smoking cigarettes, while a much younger man sat behind a counter. I showed them our brochure. None of them spoke English, but with my limited Bahasa I was able to explain that we were trying to find the guest house. They first tried to explain how to drive there. Then, after a hurried discussion between the three, they indicated that we were to follow them.

After a short trip down a winding road, we finally arrived. The guest house sits on a small bluff overlooking a river. Visitors pay not only for a room and meals, but a tour of the village, or Kampung, located on the other side of the river. The next day we took our tour, and the kids planted rice just as Elana did when she visited with her classmates. It was an exciting opportunity for Elana to show us her special place. I was glad we stopped.

The next day we pushed on to Carita, a small town on the west coast of Java. This would be our jumping off site to reach Krakatau.

The day began with sunshine and blue skies. We left Bogor close to noon, and a downpour soon began. Much of our almost 7 hour trip was accompanied by a deluge of rain. The main road we were traveling was covered in potholes from the hundreds of trucks that drive the same route every day. And the closer we got to Carita, the more water we discovered on the road.

It seemed like we were in a monsoon – the rain was so intense at times that it became difficult to see the road. And when we could see clearly, we didn’t like the view. Dirt roads descending the mountain to our right were disgorging huge volumes of muddy brown water onto the road. At times we were forced to drive through water as deep as a foot or more. It seemed like we would never reach the coast.

By the time we did finally arrive, the rains had stopped and the hotel manager said it had been sunny all day. We ate at the hotel, and met with Rohman, who owned the tour company that would take us out to the island in the morning, to learn what to expect on our two-day trip.

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