Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Trip to East Java: Part III - Surabaya, Mud City

Me and Hery waiting outside the house in Surabaya

I almost forgot to mention about travel on the country roads in east Java. In our bus on the way back to Surabaya from Madura, we lost our right rearview mirror when we got too close to someone coming in the opposite direction. The roads were generally poor in Madura, but these close encounters were something I encountered throughout the week of travel. Small two-lane roads being the norm, passing requires foraying into oncoming traffic's lane. I had public bus drivers who were positively insane when it came to passing like this. More than twice their death-is-worth-it-if-we-can-just-pass-this-guy tactics resulted in everyone on both sides of the road having to slam their brakes and come to a near-complete stop. I just laughed. Which reminds me of the hilarious encounter Adit (Nina's brother) and I had with a becak (bicycle taxi) driver on the way to a warnet (internet cafe) in Surabaya. Remember, the guy has to power the becak with his own legs. First off, he took us up the wrong side of the street directly into oncoming traffic, forcing them to yield to the smaller, slower, perilously fragile vehicle. Of course, as Adit pointed out, it's the passenger's necks the becak puts on the line in that situation - the seats are actually in front of the driver, with nothing between you and an oncoming car but your own legs. So here we are pedaling up the street on the wrong side, and unbelievably, he then gets out his cell phone! Now the guy is talking with one hand, driving with the other, furiously pumping both legs. Adit took a picture that is floating around on Facebook somewhere. Priceless - only in Indonesia.

While we're on the topic of driving, there's another Indonesian curiosity we don't have in the US - volunteer traffic directors on every corner and driveway. There are so many people who need work here that some people just step out into the street and just start directing traffic for small tips. In the states, we would react to it by thinking, who the hell is this guy in jeans and a t-shirt putting his hand up directing me to stop? But in some places these guys are actually helpful, necessary even, if you want to get where you're going in a bad intersection with no lights. Restaurants and other businesses will employ someone to direct your parking. In the states this would be hemorrhaging money for little conceivable benefit, but here labor is so cheap I guess the restaurants figure why not. Or it could be that the restaurants aren't employing these people - they're just setting up shop outside. I know this is the case for many of them, at least. They take their volunteer jobs very seriously, which ends in hilarious lunacy when you are backing out into a completely empty street and some guy is maniacally waving his arms, screaming "Go...go...go...go...stop!" and then waving you to pull forward and away into the street. Thanks, buddy! Wouldn't have known what to do without your help on that one!

Here's a shot of one of these guys hard at work:

The take:

I was due at the Consulate's house in central Surabaya at 5PM for Thanksgiving dinner. Otherwise, I had a free day. A group of us decided to head to a town called Sidoarjo. Well, actually, Herul woke me up that morning and told me "get up, we're going to the mud village." I wasn't yet awake enough to ask what on earth he was talking about, but a couple of hours later we were off. We stopped to buy some batik. I got some oleh oleh (little gifts) for my colleagues at Dwiwarna. Eyang met the coaches of the Indonesian national football team. She has a knack for finding these kinds of encounters:

We had some coffee and hung out for a few minutes before heading off to the mud town. I still hadn't learned anything else about the place:

the Eyangs

Traffic was terrible, but eventually a large dirt dike emerged to the left of our lane. Hery pointed to it and indicated that up there was the mud place. By now I had heard that it was a place where mud comes up out of the ground. That was all I knew. We drove a little further and then pulled off to the left. It was sweltering. We walked up the dike, and - voila! - look at this view:

WOOHOO!! We're here! ...what the hell is this place?

At the top of the dike, a large body of water opened up before us and a yellow sign, pictured above, warning to be careful of deadly gas and not to go in the water. By now, I was really confused as to why we came here. It's not much to look at, frankly. It kind of smells, and if you look at the water there are little bubbles coming up and a large plume of smoke from somewhere further out. I asked Herul what the story was. Apparently, three years or so ago there was a whole village here where the mud lake is now. Some oil company thought it found oil and began drilling here, except something went wrong and mud started bubbling up from the earth. Lots of it. The oil guys said, "uh-oh," wheeled out their equipment, and got out of there. The villagers weren't so lucky. The entire place sank into the emerging mud. Now it's just a hot, stinking, sunken mess. I found touristy photos in front of the horrible tragedy to be laugh-so-you-don't-cry kind of hilarious, so I embraced the irony and put on a huge smile and struck a flattering pose:

You can see the plume of smoke in the background:


After six minutes there in the scorching heat we had seen all we needed to see, so we headed back to Surabaya. Now is as good a time as any to talk more about Idul Adha, the Muslim tradition of slaughtering livestock, usually a goat, and giving it to the poor (I think to honor Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son). I was in Surabaya from Tuesday, and Idul Adha was on Friday. There were goats everywhere. If you like buying goats, this is your week. Within five minutes of anywhere in Surabaya you could find a collection of the animals waiting to die. I even saw someone carrying a goat home while riding their motorbike - twice. Here's one such group of them:

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