Indelible Journey to Tambora

Great things never come from comfort zone (anonymous)

His name is Wanto, a dreamer who is willing to put aside everything he have to pursue one thing, in which he defines as a true happiness. He was graduated as one of the best students from top university in this country, then worked as an engineer in multinational oil and gas company. One day, in a bright sunny afternoon, he told me that he wants to join a teaching program, just after I gave him a book by an author who joined this program years ago. I was shocked and tried to imagine how his mother would take this news.

The program called Indonesia Mengajar. They send hundreds of young Indonesian who just graduated from university to teach elementary school across this country for a year. It is not easy to join this program as they only select the best ones, not only from grades but also physically and mentally fit. They will be assigned in area far from civilization and their comfort zone. They have to survive and be creative about how to teach students with very limited resources.

It took several months to deal with selection process and one day I was informed that he was selected and will be assigned in an elementary school in a village nearby Mount Tambora, East Nusa Tenggara. He took one year leave from work to accomplish this opportunity. Before leaving, he said something that relieved me, he got blessing from his mother. During assignment, I can only text him as cellphone signal was hard to get. If he wants to make a call, he have to go to some places higher to reach the signal. To have chicken on the plate, he needs to go to the town, about six hours by bus. His daily meals are vegetable, tempe (traditional Indonesian food made by soybean), and egg. Sometimes he told me that he just came from the river to take a bath. One year later, he came back with darker skin and skinnier than before. My first question was: are you happy? And he said: Never been this happier. A year later, he decided to pursue another dream. He resigned from work to take master degree in Germany. Before leaving for school, I gave him idea to visit his “family” in Tambora. You should come with me so I can show you another view of life, he said.

From my work place in Riau, it will take 2 days to reach the village. First, we fly from Riau to Jakarta then continue to Denpasar, Bali. We stayed overnight in a hotel nearby airport to catch first flight in the morning to Bima.

Do you know that at airports run by Angkasa Pura 2, tripod is not allowed to bring to cabin? Yes, we almost missed the flight to Denpasar as my friend’s tripod should be checked in as baggage in Riau’s airport. After waiting for the tripod, we have to deal with the taxi line. At that time, skytrain still not available in Jakarta’s airport, so we need to take taxi as our previous flight was in Terminal 1C and our next flight was in Terminal 3. Totally chaos!

Our morning flight to Bima was a scenic flight. If you are lucky, you will be able to see Mount Tambora from your window. Tips: take seat on the left side and you will see this view.

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I was so grateful that the sky was so clear that I can see one of the volcanoes which eruption impact to global climate. The ash from Tambora’s eruption in 1815 gave a significant climate change and 1816 was the year without summer in this planet.

It took 5 hours drive from Bima airport to the village. It was sunny day without wind. So dry and extremely heat. However, what mother nature offers after Dompu village, extremely amazing. You will pass Ndoro Canga, a beautiful savanna with horizon as the limit. A huge nature playground for crowd of horses, buffaloes, cows, and sheep.

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PS: I bought that traditional woven fabric in a village nearby Bima. Lovely, isn’t it?

We arrived at the village in the afternoon and they were shocked when seeing us. The kids ran into our car, tried to hug their dearest teacher. They were crying. I was crying. Everybody were crying. That was touching, sentimental and sincere moment.

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My friend Christine and I stayed at one of teacher’s house. A simple wooden house built on stilts, like any other houses in this village. The special thing is, they have toilet inside the house. Yes, toilet is a luxury thing for them. Most people in the village use public toilet or natural toilet a.k.a the river. It was unforgettable experience as there is no door in the bathroom, just a fabric as door. I need to be high alert when taking a bath as the bathroom is located in front of the area where people are gathered. We slept in the only room in this house and it was beyond from comfort. That night really opened my eyes about how grateful I am about my life.

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On the next day, we went to school where Wanto was a teacher for a year. They welcomed us with a lot of happiness. We spent all day in this school to tell story and play games. My heart is full. Wanto was right. They bring joy.

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We moved to another village in the morning. The village located at north coast of the island, in front of Satonda Island. We plan to go to Satonda lake, where the water is salty and has alkaline levels higher than sea water. We rode an ojek (motorcycle) to go that village and the journey became little bit scary as we had heavy rain. The road so slippery and we have to stop in neighborhood until the rain stop. We stay at Wanto’s friend and they have better toilet this time but located outside the house. So I need to wake up one of my friend if I want to go to toilet at night, what an experience! Since the weather was not getting better, we decide to cancel the boat trip to Satonda lake and just play around the beach.

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In the morning, Wanto hired a boat to take us to Moyo Island. Maybe you once heard about this famous island. World celebrities like to go to this island, such as Lady Diana and Mick Jagger. Well, for sure, we can’t afford to stay at luxury resort in Moyo Island, but Wanto said we can visit the island then straight back to Sumbawa Besar afterward.

The journey to Moyo island was not the best boat trip. I got sea sick and threw up at least 7 times. The waves made me feel like riding a roller coaster! We arrived at Moyo island around 11 AM and after cooking noodle in the boat, we hired an ojek to take us to the waterfall in central of the island. The ride took 1 hour, passing by the jungle and hills. I don’t want to take any ojek for a year after this. I was traumatic as hell.

To be honest, I was not impressed by the waterfall, I don’t know whether we missed something or that was not the beautiful waterfall as mentioned by those celebrities. I have seen more beautiful places in Indonesia.

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Tambora Mountain from Moyo Island

Before dark, we leave Moyo Island to go to Sumbawa Besar island where we will take flight back to Jakarta. Around 9 PM, in the middle of Saleh bay, the boat engine was stop. Pak Saleh who owns the boat (I think he named after the bay), still being calm and tried to fix the engine. Meanwhile Wanto cooked dinner and we did a stargazing class from the boat. The night was so clear that we can see milky way. After 1-2 hours waiting, Pak Saleh told us to go to sleep. He didn’t mentioned that the boat engine is broken. Maybe he did want to freak us out. So, here we are, stuck in small boat with 4 people. Thank God, the water is so calm at night. I don’t even want to have pee that night. I think God was with me that night. I kept praying to God for not let me died in this place. I want to go home.

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Around sunrise, Pak Saleh tried to fix the boat and it works. However, it can’t go faster than before. It took 3 hours to reach Sumbawa besar. Once we arrived at harbor, we directly go to hotel that we booked before (as we assumed that we will arrive at this place last night). We only have 2 hours to clean up before flying back to Jakarta. Feels like in amazing race! It surely a memorable trip!

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