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Old Man Merapi

29 June 2009 (Indonesia) by Kendon Glass


Photo: Approaching Old Man Merapi Volcano

Two thousand metres above sea level and there exists terraced agriculture reaching as far and as high as you can see. Progressing up the mountain side, the vivid green stairway is lost to the heavens at that same place where the mist shifts into volcanic discontent with every puff of old man Merapis pipe. Only he decides if and when to show his greatness to the common view.

There is waving from a distant rice paddy. Da, da everybody Occasionally from a shop front there will be a fleeting cry of I love you or a band of roadside labourers will parrot senseless English theyve picked up from billboards and television. A man leans on his shovel and with a cheeky grin he sucks in on a poor man's Cuban Hello Mister, no smoking. It doesnt make any sense and he knows it. What matters is that the exchange translates into smiles all round and everyone is getting their kicks.  There are no rules on the road.

Up in the clouds now I sing out a chorus of hellos as I cycle into a village. I watch with amazement as several ladies scurry up the hillside, spying my progress from the safety of their homes. I never imagined my singing was that bad. It takes a lot to make someone scurry up a hillside around here.  These steep roads are really steep.and superfluous statements like that dont make for good reading either, but Im pushing the cranks hard now and clutching for any sort of expression at all. I think as you near the point of exhaustion you are already forgetting how to speak. I stop to flush the stinging sweat out of my eyes. Ive over-clocked my CPU and am seeing black spots bloom into view everywhere I turn. I even forget how to say 'thank you' in Bahasa Indonesian (its the first word I learnt here). It would be hard to imagine cycling up anything steeper than this volcano, without the bike falling back on itself, like a big burly thoroughbred raring up only to be put down.

I sort of wished someone would take me aside and slap me, convince me that what I was doing was pointless, that my undertaking had no real purpose, made no sense. Instead the mountain people were forthcoming with plenty of encouragement. Waving hello with one hand and holding seedlings in the other, these villagers, experts in husbandry, reach out from the hillside as though they themselves are rooted to the earth. They go up and down their fertile terraces day after day for their whole life, each plant sown perfectly equidistant from the next, from top to bottom, side to side, thriving and alive with goodness. The dedication and care shown to life in the presence of Old Man Merapi is something to behold.

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Photo: Offer of a bed at the end of a big day(2000+ metres altitude)

Old Man Merapi

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