Monthly Archives: April 2014

Lombok Vacation Part 2: The One with the Big Toe(nail)

In many  ways our Easter vacation was a case of Murphy’s Law.  There were a lot of positives to our trek and Gili visit, but man, if something could go wrong, it did.  I previously wrote about our failed summit attempt, but that soon became the least of our worries.  I certainly couldn’t dwell on disappointment while panicking that I wouldn’t be able to hike out of the volcano’s crater without having to be carried. The crater lake is supposed to be beautiful.  We caught a few glimpses of it the night before our descent in the rare moments when the fog lifted.  However, the perpetual rain and fog of day two limited visibility to about 50 meters.  A nagging voice whispered in my ear, “You gave up summiting for this?”  However, we persisted and eventually made it to the lake.  It was a challenging descent, so much so that at times I actually wished we were ascending instead.  Gigantic rocks required all four limbs working together for sure footing.

Big rocks & fog
Big rocks & thick fog

A collection of hot springs awaited us a few minutes’ hike from the lake, and we both looked forward to submerging our tired legs and feet in its “healing” waters.  The area was beautiful.  A waterfall provided the picturesque background, and the springs themselves didn’t disappoint.  We were pressed for time, so after a break of a few minutes (and a few quick pictures), I got up to head back for lunch.  The rest all happened so fast, it’s hard to even recall what actually happened.

Hot springs
Hot springs

I slipped on a rock, and in catching myself managed to jam my other foot into another rock.  I felt the pain immediately, but the sight of my toe was worse.  No longer firmly attached to its bed, my toenail, now raised to a 45 degree angle, resembled the open mouth of a crocodile.  David, having watched my slip from a few meters away, couldn’t understand my somewhat reserved, “My big toenail just came off,” and mistook it for, “My wedding band just came off.”  He was a bit perplexed at my calm demeanor and lack of frantic searching, and only after I started bawling did he realize that I was in fact injured and not lacking my most prized earthly possession. It definitely hurt … big time.  What was worse for me, however, was imagining the next 24 hours.  We were at the base of a volcano crater.  There was no way out but up.  No helicopter was coming to rescue me.  I was terrified.

The toenail
The toenail

David helped me hobble back to the lake where our guide attempted to bandage the toe.  Thankfully, we were able to push the toenail back down and secure it in place with gauze and medical tape.  I was even able to put my boot back on, although that was agonizingly painful.  I took some practice steps and could make it okay as long as I kept my heel toward the back of my shoe.  It would be slow-going, but I at least didn’t have to be carried. We hiked out of the crater okay and made it to the second camp just before nightfall.  Going up wasn’t the problem, though.  Day three was all downhill, which ordinarily would be fantastic. Unfortunately my day three did not live up to the figurative use of that phrase and was simply and literally all … down … hill.

Mt. Rinjani view from the other side of the crater
Mt. Rinjani view from the other side of the crater
Campsite sunset
Campsite sunset
IMG_4090
Campsite sunrise (you can see the Gilis in the distance; we stayed on the third island out)
Foggy morning ... about to head down
Foggy morning … about to head down
Headed down (notice the troubadour in the background)
Making my way (notice the troubadour in the background)

Every so often I would unintentionally jam my toe into the toe of my boot, but as the day went on I got better at avoiding that pitfall.  We finally made it back to civilization, taking three hours longer than most.  I didn’t care, however, because I was DONE.  And no one had to carry me.  🙂

View on the way down
View on the way down
Jungle forest
Jungle forest … watch out for those roots!
IMG_4143
Almost done … and glowing, apparently

Our vacation ended with a short visit to Gili Trawangan.  A quaint and charming little island, Gili T is probably best characterized as a mix between Stars Hollow (a la Gilmore Girls) and The OC (analogy credit to David on that one).  No motorized vehicles are allowed, so transportation consists of horse & buggy (I kid you not), bicycle, and feet.  Quite charming actually, especially for the fully ambulatory.

On our way to Gili T!
On our way to Gili T!
Transport to our villa
Transport to our villa

Murphy and his ugly little law reared their heads again upon arrival.  Within the first hour at our villa, the power went out twice, the hot water ran out after about three minutes, the water completely stopped working (twice … once mid-shampoo and once mid-soap lather), and I severely bumped my toe against David’s boot.  This time my little crocodile mouth opened wider, and this time there was no closing it. The next 36 hours consisted of about four more “bumps,” each one bringing a flood of pain and fear.  Our villa had a private pool, but all I could really do was dangle my foot in the water.  Swimming was out because even the slightest movement in the water caused my toe to throb.  So there we were, on an island with the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen in real life, and I was stuck on the shore.

I think I had this poster in high school :)
I think I had this poster in high school 🙂

But we made the best of it.  We enjoyed delicious food and gorgeous views.  We visited a turtle hatchery and got massages.  We relaxed as much as we could and even circumnavigated the island on bikes (only one toe bump there).  Our last morning there we had by far best breakfast we’ve had in Indonesia at a little cafe on the beach.  It was lovely.

Delicious food (lamb shank & garlic mashed potatoes)
Delicious food (lamb shank & garlic mashed potatoes)
IMG_4215
As close as I could get to the water
Turtle conservatory
Turtle conservatory
Gorgeous views
Gorgeous views

As the motorboat sped back to the main island on our last day, I couldn’t help feeling like I needed a vacation from our vacation.  School started back on Tuesday, however, and I showed up in flip flops with a flappy toenail.  According to Web MD, it can take up to 18 months to regrow a toenail.  Looks like I’ve got quite the vacation souvenir.

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Lombok Vacation Part 1: The One Where We Didn’t Summit Mt. Rinjani

Perhaps one of the best things about teaching internationally, and more specifically, teaching in Indonesia, is the opportunity for travel.  A teacher’s calendar coupled with relatively inexpensive hotels and airfare make living in this part of the world dreamlike in many ways.  Back in October David and I were able to travel to Bali, and this summer we plan to visit Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, and potentially Malaysia and the Philippines.  It’s a shame we haven’t kept up the blog with our day to day experiences living overseas because it’s definitely been one of the greatest (and at times most trying) experiences of our lives.  However, we aspire to be better chroniclers of our time here in the future… beginning now.

Instead of a traditional weeklong Spring Break, our school provided a few days off just before and after Easter.  A friend of ours had used her Lebaran (the Muslim holiday season celebrating the end of Ramadan) break back in July to trek Mt. Rinjani, the second highest point of elevation in Indonesia.  Cool mountain air beckoned us as we made our Easter break plans, and we opted for a three day/two night Rinjani trek followed by two nights on Gili Trawangan, a small island off the northwest coast of Lombok.

Prior to the trip, we went into “training,” which consisted of a combination of Couch to 5K, Jillian Michaels, and incline walking on the treadmill in our boots.  We also attempted to limit the amount of sugar and fried foods consumed in the weeks leading up.  While these were certainly helpful pursuits, and I am probably in the best shape I’ve been in since before we got married, nothing can fully prepare you for Rinjani.

Our first day consisted of hiking to the volcano’s crater rim (did I mention that Rinjani is a part of an active volcano?), which took us about 8 and half hours.  It was a challenging day, but we took our time and ultimately felt pretty good at the end of day one.

IMG_3990
About to begin the journey …
Savannah terrain
Savannah terrain
Our guide and porters making lunch
Our guide and porters making lunch
Foggy trail
Foggy trail … sometimes I felt like I was in Wuthering Heights
It rained quite a bit ...
It rained quite a bit …
Made it to the rim!
Made it to the rim!
View from high camp
View from high camp
Rinjani view from high camp
View of the summit from high camp
Crater lake and obscured volcano
Crater lake and volcano obscured by clouds

On day two, we got up at 2:00 AM with the goal of making the summit before sunrise.  We had been warned about the difficulty of the summit by several people, hearing that the last leg up there consisted of “one step forward, two steps back” because of rock slippage.  When the alarm went off that morning, adrenaline kicked in and the anticipation of summit views propelled us forward despite the fatigue from the day before.  I felt a little nauseous and had a hard time eating the small breakfast our porters had prepared, but I was ready to tackle the challenge ahead.

The summit ascent is broken down into three parts.  Leg one is very challenging.  Big rocks, little rocks, teeny tiny rocks … they all conspire to keep you from reaching the top.  An easier leg two follows with more of a traditional dirt path and no conspiring rocks, and leg three presents the most difficult challenge, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.  As you can see from the title of this post, we didn’t make it that far.

Each portion of the summit ascent is meant to take about an hour or so.  We made it past leg one, but it took us (okay, me, primarily me) about an hour and a half.  It was killer.  KILL-ER.  I felt even more nauseous, and the time issue began to worry me.  There was no way we were going to make the summit before sunrise.  If summit was all we had to do that day, I wouldn’t have cared, but we were also supposed to hike down to the crater lake and then back up the other side before nightfall.

We basically had two choices.  We could continue on with the summit attempt and then return the way we had come the day before, missing out on the lake and jungle portion of the trip.  Or, we could turn back and continue on with the trek as planned and not make the summit.  Quite the dilemma.  On the one hand, the summit was what we came for.  I would live with regret for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least try.  On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I would even be able to make it if I did try, and then we would miss out on the whole second part of the trek.  By this point we had begun the easy(ish) leg 2 of the ascent, and both my mental and physical anguish had brought me to tears.  I felt bad for David because I knew I was slowing us down.  He could have made the summit easily (okay, maybe not easily, but definitely more easily than I) and been okay to hike the rest of the day.  I lamented my feeble attempts at training, realizing that no two months of aerobics could undo the effects of the undisciplined lifestyle that has characterized my life in recent years.  My pride was hurting because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it.  And David could.  I felt sick that I was holding him back, keeping him from an incredible once in a lifetime experience all because of the sum of a plethora of unhealthy choices I had made over the course of the past few years.  The physical pain was nothing compared to the mental dissonance I felt.

But David was incredible.  I knew he was disappointed (how could he not be?), but there was no trace of it in his voice or on his face.  He supported me wholeheartedly and ultimately made the decision for us to turn back.  It was a bittersweet moment.  I too was disappointed, tremendously so.  But I was also thankful for a partner whose commitment to me transcended his own desires and disappointments.  We would either make up the mountain together, or we wouldn’t make it at all.

Bittersweet moment of decision ...
Bittersweet moment of decision …

So we didn’t make it at all.  We turned back and headed down to where we had camped the night before to pack up and begin the next stage of the trek.

Now you might think a failed summit attempt would be the worst thing to happen on a trip like this, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  Stay tuned for Lombok Vacation Part 2: The One with the Big Toe(nail) …

The Titanic

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Never has a shipwreck gripped the imagination and historical consciousness of a people in the way this ship has. The cultural weight of this historical tragedy is greater than the tonnage of the ship herself. I have the faintest memories of a children’s history book with a large full color spread of the magnificent ship, its smokestacks black and red towering over a sea of treacherous icebergs. This spring I finally read a fuller treatment of the story of this famous ship. For those interested, Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember at 208 pages is a quick read but the history of the event is fascinating and well worth your time. Here I only want to comment on three aspects of the event that I found compelling.

 

First, the Titanic is a tragedy that can never be repeated, but not for the reasons you may think. The Titanic took hold of the north Atlantic world because its passenger list was a veritable who’s who of the rich and famous. In the early 20th century world the celebrities of the day were the wealthy members of high society. What the Titanic carried was a disproportionately large collection of the rich and famous. Today, no transportation tragedy could ever manage to assemble so great a collection of the rich and famous. The tragic loss of flight MH 370 has grabbed headlines for longer than most transportation tragedies in recent memory, but I find it unlikely that it will manage to leave the sort of cultural and historical footprint that the Titanic has left, in part because its passengers are not wealthy enough.

 

Second, the Titanic is a reminder that we tend to think of ourselves in a more flattering light than we may deserve. The Titanic sank in what was supposed to be an age of chivalry. The cultural value of the day demanded a low number of men saved and a high number of women saved and the estimates offered by survivors reflect just that. However, the actual numbers reveal that, while chivalry was certainly evidenced during the sinking of the Titanic, it was not as chivalrous an event as people of the day made it out to be. Lord provides the following table to illustrate this point (Locations 2094-2096).

 

  Lowered in the boats according to the minimum estimates of survivors Lowered in the boats according to actual figures on those saved
Crew 107 139
Men 43 119
Women & Children 704 393
Total 854 651

 

Lord goes on to say, “In short, about 70 percent more men and 45 percent fewer women went in the boats than even the most conservative survivors estimated. Plus the fact that the boats pulled away with 25 percent fewer people than estimated” (Locations 2098-2100).

 

Finally, the tragedy of the Titanic is a haunting reminder that as a society we value some lives more than others, and that too often the value we attach to a life is in direct proportion to the dollar value of that person’s goods. And this point is proved not simply through the cultural and historical footprint of the event, although that provides some support. Rather this point is proved in the numbers of the event itself. Lord suggests that the number of people lost in the sinking of the Titanic is 1,503, this number being that of the British Board of Trade (Locations 2086). But what is telling is when you start culling the passenger list and examine the percentage of losses from various classes. For example Lord notes that only 4 of the 143 women in First Class perished and that three of them did so voluntarily by choosing to stay with their husbands. In Second Class 15 of the 93 women perished, a significant increase in percentage, if not raw numbers. But in Third Class 81 of the 179 women died. Even worse is the children. 53 of the 76 children in steerage, or Third Class, perished in the sinking of the Titanic (see Locations 1243-1244 for information on the women and children saved). In fact Lord writes, “The night was a magnificent confirmation of ‘women and children first,’ yet somehow the loss rate was higher for Third Class children than First Class men” (Locations 1259-1260). The incredible loss of life experienced by those in Third Class was not explored by the press, nor did it concern Congress in official investigations. From the filling of the lifeboats to the investigations of Congress captains and congressmen communicated to all that the lives that mattered were the lives of the wealthy. It appears that over the course of the last 102 years, some things haven’t really changed at all.