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"I left the vehicle to give Bazuki a better chance of making it across without my weight to deal with. At least that was the reason I told him. It was actually because I feared for my life."
- Sam Bowen

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Indonesia

Letter to home from Indonesia
by Sam Bowen, Australian in Jakarta, Indonesia
Mar 5, 2000

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He showed us how they harvest coconut from the hundreds of trees which line the shore. He was particularly concerned by the fact that a company bought the coconuts from the local people at a cheap price, and then sold it to a factory at a greater price. Then, he told us in conspiratorial tones, the factory would process it and on-sell it to a wholesaler for even more. The wholesaler in turn would sell it to a distributor who would sell the coconut to a retailer, each one marking the price up. The retailer would then sell the coconut to the end consumer at prices a great deal higher than the village people had originally sold the coconut to the company. This, he told us, was scandalous.

Having come across similar supply-chain patterns before, I gently explained that this sort of thing really formed some of the fundamental tenets of capitalism, and capitalism being so popular these days, such activity was not therefore all that uncommon. I tried to liken it to his earlier attempts to sell me the hand-carved rhino for 30,000 rupiah when it had cost him about 100th of that, but he remained unconvinced.

That afternoon we hired a boat to take us to an island, Pilau Handeleneum. After spending an hour being gassed by the carbon monoxide seeping into the cabins (or how else do you explain everyone falling asleep in minutes during a 3 metre swell?) we took a hollowed-out log canoe over to the mainland and up a jungle river. We were promised an array of wildlife including monkeys, crocodiles, deer, and were given the usual "if you are lucky" line about the park's star attraction. We emerged a few hours later having seen a butterfly and a few mosquitoes. At one stage I thought I saw a lizard but it turned out to be a log. In fact, quite a few things turned out to be logs. Except for the rhino, which turned out to be a boulder.

We spent the evening being beaten at chess by a local schoolteacher and warding off mosquitoes, both of whom seemed to have a defined attack strategy beyond our capabilities. We were awoken at 6:00 the next morning for a "special" trek to see the hot mountain springs. The village head would charge us a “special” price of 30,000 rupiah, he said. After a 90 minute hike through rice paddies and knee deep mud, we came to the springs, which turned out to be a damp trickle seeping out of the side of a hill. The village head stood by smiling proudly as we wondered if anyone would notice if we strung him up on a vine and left him there. As it was starting to rain, we also wondered if perhaps we should be going home.

The rain had had a somewhat detrimental effect on the road, which had deteriorated to the point where it made the Somme look like centre court at Roland Garros. We got bogged a few times and were bailed out by amused locals for the price of a packet of Gudang Gurams and a few cheap laughs at our expense.

Eventually we met our match in the form of a gaping, water-filled rut which could have housed an elephant. I left the vehicle to give Bazuki a better chance of making it across without my weight to deal with (at least that was the reason I told him. It was actually because I feared for my life). As I was walking away I heard Bazuki rev the engine. I heard him approach the trench at speed in a vain attempt to clear it. This was followed by a crunch, the sound of body-work bending, axles straining and the mournful hiss of water hitting the engine which then cut out with an air of complete capitulation. These were precisely the sort of sounds I had thought I would have every possibility of hearing, but had really hoped I wouldn't.

It turned out that in addition to an elephant, the rut could also house a Toyota Kijang. I looked around to see the car perched precariously over a ridge in the middle of the trench, wedged into its sides at very difficult looking angle. Its front wheels were deep in the thick mud, its back wheels were spinning in the air and a wide-eyed Bazuki was sprawled across the dashboard.

"Will we get through this all right Bazuki?" I asked "Maybe", he replied

And this time I knew what he meant.

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