Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Earth Moves

No, unfortunately it wasn’t that kind of an experience, but rather a frightening first for me. And this one above water, for a change. A case of terra-not-so-firma.

Indonesia sits on the western edge of the Pacific Ring Of Fire, which forms an open loop from the west cost of the Americas, over and down through Japan and Southeast Asia. These areas suffer 90% of the world’s earthquakes, the results of tectonic plates constantly shifting miles below our feet. Volcanoes pit the face of this island nation like burst blisters, where the pressure from the depths has forced itself through the earth’s crust. I’ve always been fascinated by them, and their violent displays of strength; I was pleased to see a few on my way through the Philippines and Java last year. Sumatra is particluarly susceptible to seismic activity, and this year has been unfortunate enough to suffer yet another tsunami and two volcanic eruptions.

I’d intended to be home for the World Cup Final, foolishly believing England had a chance this time. In the meantime, I’d imagined being in Thailand watching the group stages. But the beauty of travelling is that you never end up quite where you expected; I’d had no intention of visiting a tiny Indonesian island in the time I’d had left. Ley, the resort (and I use that term loosely) owner, had been a bit peeved after the tournament started; the island is so quiet that it’s always obvious where the best place to eat and drink is, as everyone is there and the other restaurants are dead. Ley’s had been busy but , as she had no satellite package, people disappeared into the village once the games started, to a makeshift café operated from a local house. Just about every man from the surrounding villages descended on this place to watch matches at ridiculous times of night. Being strictly Muslim, there was no drink on offer…just cups of tea. Not ideal, but better than nothing. I’d had The Fear in the days before the big kick-off that there were no TVs available in the village.

We were sat around at the house one night, waiting for a game to begin, when I felt a rumbling beneath me, not unlike a passing tube train in London. Only this one grew steadily louder. People sat down quickly, and moved away from the house. It stopped momentarily, then began again, stronger this time. Children looked around nervously, but the locals I made eye contact with just smiled reassuringly; it was obviously a mild one. The ground seemed to move from side to side, and any longer I’d have felt nauseous. It’s disconcerting to have the one thing we think we can take for granted in nature, that solid ground below our feet, threatening to disappear from beneath you. As quickly as it had begun, the movement ceased, to my great relief. I wouldn’t want to be around for a big one, I can tell you.

The island is quite steep, and Ibioh resorts lie inside the woods covering a hill which slopes down to the sea. We had storms so severe over a couple of nights that trees were felled, one narrowly missing a guest’s bungalow. Electricity cables were down for a day, thankfully not when a decent game was on. Not that there were many decent games. Ley bought a satellite package, cannily calculating she could make more money selling beer and food if she had football on offer. The Shariah Police arrive to check up on the place at times, but the jungle telegraph usually warns of their approach. It can mean a long prison sentence for those caught.

It wasn’t an enjoyable World Cup from our point of view, but it was amusing to see the French and Italians going out in a worse shambles than ourselves. And don’t even get me started on those bloody vuvuzuelas.

No comments: