Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day

We woke early today, to hear the waves crashing on the beach and the wind blowing. We were still optimistic that it would be a fine day and we could take a boat to the islands, but our hopes were misplaced; the sky stayed overcast and threatened rain.

Originally we had planned to stay in Belitung until the 28th, but with not much to do here, and our friends departing on the 27th, we changed our flights to return a day earlier. Then we got into the minivan we'd hired, and were driven to the beach.

Those four words hardly convey the odyssey of this morning. Our driver, a man apparently unhindered by imagination, drove as fast as he could, over humpback bridges, round blind corners and bouncing over dips in the road, never slowing down when a more reasonable person might have tried to embrace some margin for safety. Perhaps I was just annoyed after he'd bounced my head against the ceiling of the van, but we seemed to spend a very long time going very fast without actually getting anywhere, until after a couple of hours we fell out of the van at a beach.

On holiday it's nice if a beach is equipped with ice cream and fizzy drinks. The beach we got to was a narrow strand of sand, scrubby forest full of litter on one side, rows of outrigger fishing boats up on the shore. There were a few fishermen there who stared at us, unsure what we were doing there, and there was a crab, and that was about that. Down the road a mile were three or four restaurants, but we didn't go there; we just piled back in the van and careered off again.

It began to rain, hard. Our driver seemed to accelerate slightly, and I began to suspect that his idea of a holiday was different to mine. From what I could make out of the conversation, he wanted to take us to the kaolin lake, a large, poisonous after-effect of the tin-mining hereabouts. We persuaded him not to, but as we zoomed past picturesque Hindu village compounds and along the side of a pleasant, non-bright blue lake, I grew despondent, losing hope that we'd do anything today apart from be driven around. Even busloads of tourists are allowed off the bus occasionally, if only for a five minute photo opportunity; we were just being given a high-speed tour of nothing much at all.

We ploughed on. All my hope had dissipated, washed away by the rain, shaken out of me by the road. Just as I was ready to cry out in misery, the van came to a halt; we'd circumnavigated the whole island, and returned to the beach half a mile from our hotel. Now at last I could relax and have something to eat.

Some white rice to eat. It turns out that Indonesia is not a brilliant place to be vegetarian; fine if you eat fish, or meat, less so if you don't. Ah well.

It's a little odd to be in the company of five women on holiday. If I was with five blokes, we'd drink four bottles of beer each and then jeer at one another. Instead, we drank no beer and then they debated the attractiveness of a very muscular lifeguard, who had no shirt on, and also (as I was the first the point out) had a very small head. I don't know why I'm observing that difference in the sexes. Is it because my all-male holidays have not led me to environments where small headed men flex their pectorals? Do all women talk about this all of the time? Should I be making sweeping generalisations on the basis of one conversation?

Such thoughts are too much for Christmas Day. Better to sit with my feet cooling in the swimming pool, watching the sky slowly dim, feeling lucky to be warm at this time of year.


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