A Wayward Journey into Indonesian Rock Climbing { 3/4 }

Apr 19, 2012Brooklyn Boulders

Just in the nick of time. Always. Just in the nick of time.
One evening on the ride home after closing the gym in Surabaya, Eman projects his voice to the two “young” travelers in the back seat.
“Rosid’s going to Bandung tomorrow. There’s probably going to be outdoor climbing involved. ”
I was meant to be leaving Surabaya and flying to Jakarta in a week or so, but this……….this……had adventure written alll over it. Where the hell was Bandung? I lemented the idea of having to leave my hosts and newly made friends so abruptly, but this seemed a rare and fleeting opportunity, a chance to go and see places that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. By the time we arrived at Eman’s house I had made up my mind. There was no way I could pass this up………….the only problem being that my passport was at the immigration office and Rosid was leaving for the train station in the afternoon. I’d have to be quick. The next day found me waiting in a hot room with a million sweat pounds of impatient people. Finally, my number was called, the fee was paid, and I began to walk out of the office with a freshly stamped passport, valid for another 30 days. BUT WAIT! What the hell was this?!? I glanced down to beam over my new passport bling and noticed that the “new” expiration date on my visa (the one that he just stamped)expired TWO WEEKS AGO. This guy’s trying to get me locked up in prison.
I return to the desk with the erroneously stamped book. “Oh, sorry,” the man says. And then proceeds to just use white out to change the date and sign his signature next to the white out. Really? Why didn’t I just do that in the first place? There was barely enough time to catch Rosid before he left the gym, and barely enough time to catch the train before it left town. Barely, but enough. We pulled out of the station two men and four ginormous bags jammed into two tiny seats, my skinny knees almost rubbing the wall in front. But we were on our way. Only 16 hours from God knows where.
When I awoke another world unfurled before my eyes, a shifty haze of far off mountain vignettes full of kelly green blobs of life. Rice patties reflecting the vision of the sun. Rural homes built only from the materials of their surroundings, sulked heavily in the wetness of early dawn. I am surprised. This is not the urban metropolis to which I closed my eyes. Be still my heart. The beauty. These are the mountains of my mind. Grab camera. Shoot til full.

On a foggy morning, Demas, Rosid’s contact from Indonesia Climbing Expeddition comes to pick us up in the rescue jeep. The air is different here in Bandung. It’s cool, and moist, the way mountain air should be. We stop at a place for breakfast on our way back to the Indonesia Climbing Expeditions headquarters.
“Bubur Ayam?” Demas asks.
“I’m sorry what?” I say. Trying to recall my tiny lexicon of Indonesian phrases.
“Have you had Bubur Ayam?” He says. “It’s like a rice porridge with chicken, the specialty of Bandung.”
I hadn’t and was stoked at the prospect of trying something new, something I had never heard of. We sat and mowed down the steamy bowls of rice porridge, chopped chicken, and sweet sauce while Rosid and Demas got down to business. We were here to sell gear. Well………….., Rosid was here to sell gear. I was just kind of along for the ride.
“Have you had this one?” Demas asks. Pulling a pack out of his pocket. “Local cigarettes.”
Clove cigarettes. Fragrant and spicy, like smoking something out of your grannies spice rack. We stayed lingering in the morning calm. Coffee and cigarettes. Until the end of early dawn.
Base Camp

When we rolled into the home of Tedi Ixdiana (a.k.a. Base Camp) that morning, I felt like Peter Pan happening upon the hide out of the lost boys. Some kids clambered up the 12 foot climbing wall to gain access to the second floor, no stairs. Climbing posters, magazine articles, and yellowed photographs tatted the walls. A group of young men sat around a concrete table smoking clove cigarettes, some using military ammo boxes as seats. There were bowling ball sized rocks on the floor full of drilled holes and rusting bolts. A glass display case housed shiny odds and ends. Some familiar. Others, a complete mystery.
Demas introduced me to everyone and we sat around for a while staring at each other trying to figure out how to bridge the language gap. Heaps of Indonesian treats were accumulating on the table as more and more people showed up. “Tomorrow,” Demas said. “We’re going to climb with the Indonesian Special Forces.”
We passed the day cruising aroung Bandung glad handing store owners and showing off Rosid’s climbing gear. Finally back at Base Camp, the hot day simmered down into cool evening. The sound of hot diesel now churning outside the gate. Must be Special Forces group 328. We were a tired listless bunch before they arrived, tuckered out from the day’s tasks. But even in normal everyday life SF328 takes no prisoners. Second wind.
The group of ten or so soldiers rolled in and lit the place up with their good humour and warm energy. All of a sudden everyone was laughing and moving about, strapping on shoes and lacing up, like our bouldering wall had just been flash mobbed.  I sat back and watched these Army boys, I was curious. Could they really climb?
“Mister! Mister! Come climb!” They called.


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