Friday, September 29, 2017

Volcanoes, dead bodies and a dug-out canoe

If there's anyone out there, besides me, who has read more than a post or two of this blog, they will know that one of the many things I've come to disbelieve as the years pass by is the concept of coincidence. That is, as something amazing and rare and to be accompanied always by multiple exclamation marks. Because it's really pretty much a daily event, if you're paying attention - in my world, anyway.

Of course it helps to have a world with wide boundaries, which mine is thanks to the travel writing thing (despite its currently apparently grinding to a stuttering halt). All of which is by way of introduction to volcanoes, which are in the news at the moment as the Pacific's dramatically-named Ring of Fire is sparking in multiple countries. A couple of them look likely to eclipse the theatrical overtures of Cotopaxi in Ecuador (top) when I was there in 2015 and possibly even Kilauea from last year.
Vanuatu's Manaro, on the island of Ambae which is being evacuated Dunkirk-style as I write, is not a volcano I've been to; nor Popocatepetl in Mexico (though I have been able to spell that name since I was about 12); but Mt Agung I have. Or thought I had, back in 1977 when I was on my Great OE - but it turns out I just got near it, and went up to the crater lake in neighbouring Mt Batur instead. That I remember not so much for the dramatic scenery, as for the chastening experience of bartering hard for a boat trip across the lake to the village of Trunyan. Uniquely in Bali it's the custom there to leave dead bodies out in the open to decay, just protected by a cloth and a bamboo cage to keep opportunistic birds/animals away. As tourist attractions go, it's clearly at the more macabre end, and also these days a pretty un-PC thing to go and gawp at - but, hey, 1977.
So, having been in Indonesia for a week or so by then, we were getting pretty confident with the bartering thing - overconfident, it turned out. Because having beaten the poor guy down to a third of what he'd originally asked for, he got his own back by taking us not to the boat we were expecting, but a literal dug-out canoe - which, moreover, we were expected to take part in paddling. Yes, served us right. We got halfway across the lake before it became far too much effort in that heat, over that distance, and we admitted defeat and turned back to shore. At least we got our own back, and didn't give the canoe guy the tip he asked for. 
(I did, though, get my dead-body tourist exploitation three years later, when I returned to Bali and saw a funeral procession in Belayu, and followed it right through to the cremation. Just, you know, so you don't worry about my missing out.)
And if that's not enough volcano connections for you to consider worthy of even being, let alone disproving, coincidence - well, how about the fact that it's only two weeks since I was standing in the crater of a steaming, roaring, active marine volcano?

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