I woke up this morning from a dream of Flores, Indonesia. Bena, a small stone-age village, perched on the side of a volcano, that has stayed with me since the day I saw it, and has been the setting for many of my dreams.
Getting there was the usual trial of endurance that travel in some parts of the world can be. It had been about seven hours the previous day on one of the short buses that ply the narrow roads of Flores. One of the old Indonesia hands that we’d met in the days previous had told us to watch out for long bus trips in Flores – he’d said that the unhappy result of the winding ride through the incredibly rugged terrain, the road only having been in existence for a few years, and the fact that many of the locals were unaccustomed to long rides in motor vehicles was that on the longer trips, there was a tendency for a great deal of vomiting to occur.
‘Bah’, said I, ‘it can’t be that bad’.
About 3 hours into the trip, I’d managed to reach a detente of sorts with the chicken that had been pecking and pulling at my shoelaces. I’d noted to myself that chickens do not seem to be as clever as some other animals, in the sense that if you kick them, they forget about it rather quickly, and come back for more. Not that I have a long and noble history of animal-kicking experimentation : one just makes assumptions about being-kicked response systems. At some point, though, it had sunk into the chicken’s little birdy brain that my shoelaces were not edible, so I felt I had achieved a minor victory.
There was still the horrible, pathetic bleating of the live goat that was tied to the roof of the bus, unfortunately. This had been getting to me, until the bus driver popped in a cassette of the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks, which did drown out the poor bastard’s lamentation to a degree. In the fashion of all Flores bus drivers, the treble and volume on the cassette player had been turned all the way up, and what bass or midrange there might be had been silenced. After a few hours, I began to loathe that album. Ruby Tuesday still makes me break out in a sweat. But it was better, perhaps, than the goat-cries. Still, when the bus stopped for any length of time, the bleats of goaty anguish would start up again, and me and my vegetarian companion would glance at each other and make ‘yikes!’ sort of eyes.
Auditory assaults were soon to be the least of my worries. About halfway through the journey to Bajawa from Ende, a few more people managed to squeeze their way onto the bus and find places to stand or sit on the floor. Before getting aboard, two men, with the assistance of the driver and some of their friends, strapped a dead manta ray to the back of the bus, like a gigantic grey meaty parasol. The wingspan on this creature must have been close to three metres. Unfortunately, every time the bus stopped, a fragrance began to emanate from the corpse that managed to cut through the clove cigarette smoke like, well, like dead fish through pretty much anything. This olfactory extravaganza was actually preferable, though, to the next hundred or so kilometres. One of the manta-ray guys was standing in the narrow aisle beside where I was sitting, and once he’d made himself comfortable between sacks of rice and hunkered-down bodies, he more or less perched his right buttock on my left shoulder. There wasn’t much space to manoeuvre in this bus. Once he’d established to his satisfaction that I wasn’t really going to object to the crowding, he proceeded to fart in my left ear, non-stop, for the next two hours. Quietly, surreptitiously, but with a reek that overpowered even the dead manta ray. This, combined with the tinny shriek of Mick Jagger, the bleating of the dehydrated goat on the roof, the unique scent of the mantaray and the redoubled efforts of my chicken nemesis, was beginning to make me a little antsy.
Then the vomiting started…
That wise backpacker had been right. One of the young women in the seat ahead of us stuck her head out the window and regurgitated with a furious, gut-churning intensity. Her seatmate soon joined her, but, sitting as she was on the aisle seat, she didn’t have access to a window. Yes, I know. This began a chain-reaction which propagated, in a matter of minutes, to heaving and spewing up and down the length of the bus. Some of it even made it out the windows. The bus driver ignored the symphony of spew, the manta-guy kept farting on my shoulder, I chain-smoked to try and ignore the stench, and we carried on through the mountains.
We eventually did arrive in Bajawa, and I have rarely been as happy to get out of a motor vehicle.
Perhaps I’ll save the story of the stone-age village for later….

‘Hey, point that thing somewhere else!’ comments.

Reminiscences, Uncrappy