The Real Life Tropical Classroom

In-between our academic studies of Tropimundo’s globally travelling class room, me Olivia from England and Liam from Ireland, found ourselves in the midst of a real life tropical reality, on the island of Flores, Indonesia.

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The scooter team, complete with tropical ponchos!       Photo by Liam Lachs

This is in no way a rich country, and outside the pockets of touristy mayhem, it was incredible to discover the reality of Indonesia, its people, their infrastructure, landscapes, wildlife, and of course… the tropical rainy season’s weather!

Having just travelled from Australia, where tropical life and plants are integrated into the city’s in a controlled and landscaped manor, adjusting my mindset was necessary. Hot, dusty, mo-ped traffic mania, a new smell around every corner and discovering beaches full of litter! Perhaps these things don’t sound surprising for a developing country and to anyone who’s ever travelled these parts of the world before. But to me, I was shocked and it seems vital to me that beaches of litter do remain a shocking state, not an unfortunate, accepted reality- Too few people are exposed to these issues, leaving a lack of inspiration for change.

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Rainy season photography.               Photo by Olivia Hewitt 

So did I mention the rainy season? Our holiday’s buzz word; ‘no boats going, it’s the rainy season’, ‘No! You can’t drive there, rainy season!!’, ‘mmm well…, if it wasn’t the RAINY SEASON!’ Well, being determined and stubborn western tourists, these tropical thunderstorms took us on an unexpected journey – quite literally a 7 hour, bum numbing, scooter ride in land to the volcano region and to a small unassuming town called Ruteng.

The everyday reality for tropical rainy life; getting around is a ridiculously challenging affair. ‘How far to Ruteng?’, ‘…mmm about 5km, so 2 Jams (hours)’, unusual, yes? We thought so! But not to anyone who’s ever travelled those island roads. Every bend and uphill climb presented a new challenge, though apparently not too dissimilar from Liam’s home Irish roads- Thank goodness!!

But similarity stopped there, when a tropical phenomenon we’d learnt about from our serene classroom confines became a reality in the very path that we had to cross. Blocking the only road, was an incredibly large and dangerous mud slide. Seeing the sheer power and strength of this movement, its impact to the man constructed road, and feeling the liquid consistency of this mud as we delved through it with a scooter taught me more than I could have ever learnt from class room studies.

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The mud slide, and the road that we couldn’t turn back on.       Photo by Olivia Hewitt

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Damage to the road  from the mud slide’s impact.       Photo by Olivia Hewitt & Liam Lachs

But what was an exciting adventure for us, is an everyday reality for the people who are everyday travelling, living on and working these roads of the tropics. And their response, just take it chill! Life’s too hot for stress in the tropics! Mini food stalls pop up by the road for those waiting out the mud slide’s eventual clearing. There’s money to be made in carrying the wealthier travellers’ motorbikes across the muddy madness. And for entertainment they can watch the bewildered English girl and Irish guy attempt the impossible task of washing their legs clean in a muddy puddle of water. Yes, we were a great source of entertainment for some reason!

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Endless rice paddy fields under a dramatic, thunderous sky.         Photo by Olivia Hewitt

For me, the beauty in each of our challenges was, through frequently never actually finding our original destined tourist objects (mostly because of the weather), we instead, discovered the welcoming, friendly nature of the Indonesian people. Like sheltering from the rain in a jungle mountain home and sharing tea and pineapple with a family we could hardly communicate with. Every road we drove, the Indonesian’s smiled with absolute glee at seeing two very white, odd looking tourists in funny rain poncho’s flying down the hill. They’d shout ‘Hello Mr!!’ or ‘Bule’ (a friendly word for tourists… we were told!). Whole families came out to help us with the directions and see what all the fuss was about. I could sense a real pride in the people for their country and their excitement that we were there to experience it!

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Me and some super excited Indonesian kids hanging by the rice paddies. Photo by Liam Lachs

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On top of a volcano, near Ruteng with two Indonesian students that were great fun and guided us around. We came back loving Ruteng!!                           Photo by Olivia Hewitt 

So, in the end, the rainy season is not so bad. Despite the surface busyness of everyday life, we found a calmness through the tropical rain storms. And when the sky falls down on your head, the laid back, friendly Indonesian folk would just put a fricken good poncho on and keep driving!

Olivia Hewitt