The minibus crept out of the city limits in an early morning mist. I was wistfully composing shots in my head. No time to stop for photos, but I saw so many in that first half hour; the best being a fez-wearing local man in a colourful tank-top and prisitine white shirt. He sat on a small stool, one leg crossed over the other, smoking a cigarette and lost in his own thoughts. The crumbling mustard wall behind him lent the perfect backdrop. Never mind a photograph, he would have made a beautiful painting.
The ubiquitous poor passed by in slow motion. Lean-to dwellings and corrugated shacks; a rat-like man on his haunches, dressed in rags, frantically nodding his head and twitching. All manner of life here. Cyclo drivers stood around chatting, hawkers mingled with the traffic plying their wares. Clearing the city, I looked across at the red rooftops below the mist, the volcanoes seemingly rising from nothingness above them. No photograph to show; just a mental one to keep.
Pangandaran town was asleep when I arrived. Ika had given me the number of her cousin, Lilly...and he was due to collect me. I jumped on the back of his scooter, and we set off for a stunning 30km ride to Batu Karas (the strong coral of the title). I´ve rarely been happier than on a scooter on this trip, and BK is a gorgeous little village; tiny, and accessed by a rope and bamboo bridge. I loved the place immediately.
We arrived at Ika´s place. She wandered out to meet me; a funky surf chick with tattoos. We shared a beer and talked a while. I laughed when she told me she´d been worried I´d be straight and boring company. But we clicked. A tour of the village and beach followed, and we met her Dutch friends at the local cafe. They were easy company too, particularly Renato: we shared the same sense of humour and hit it off immediately. I was going to have a good time here, I just knew it. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach; the waves crash in to this bay at a 45° angle...driving you towards the rocks if you´re not careful. Excellent surf. Dripping dry, we sat on the beach and swapped stories.
Everyone knows Ika. Some of the locals stare at her disapprovingly, she´s certainly the black sheep of BK. Bleached hair, tattoos and a wild streak...a real character. Apparently she´s the only person to have left the area. All her friends have had kids and settled down, and live vicariously through her, it seems. We met one of them who had just had a cute baby boy. As we rode off Ika told me her story; she´d had the bay in prison, locked up for storing her boyfriend´s marijuana. Did 9 years in total. So they have mixed prisons, rife with weed and they even manage to have sex in there? I was shocked. I´m currently writing a list of my past crimes for the Indonesian authorities, just to get an idea of how long they´ll let me stay in one.
The rest of the evening went by in a delightful blur. Papa cooked a huge fish, Mama served up a delicious chili sauce for it. Then it was off to the local mushroom shack, a few beers, dancing and swimming in the lightning storm. I biked it back to the house with Ika´s younger brother, who´d done mushrooms for the first time that night. It was a revelation for him. We parked on the track leading to the house, and just enjoyed watching the wind whistle through the palm trees and rice fields, listening to the surf breaking on the shore in the pitch darkness. Simple pleasures.
Rarely have I had such an amazing week. Fully clothed, wet through and dancing on a beach with great company...it´s a hard life, alright.