Monday, April 20, 2009

The Staffroom

A staffroom is a useful place for picking up information.

"Where’s the very best place for a weekend break?" I asked John, a tall and adventurous young teacher who had been all over Indonesia.

"My favourite place is Pelabuhan Ratu," said John, placing his coffee mug on top of a pile of exercise books. "On the south coast, four hours from Jakarta; a fishing village in a large horseshoe bay."

"What do you think Alan?" I asked our sensitive and friendly lover of gamelan music and Indonesians. He was on his second clove cigarette of the break.

"Pelabuhan Ratu gives me bad vibes," he said. "I get a haunted feeling down there. Lots of people get drowned on that bit of coast and the locals believe the drownings are caused by Ratu Kidul, the goddess of the South Sea. She recruits drowned victims to her underwater kingdom."

"A goddess? Is that Islamic?" I asked.

"Nothing to do with Islam," said Alan, looking serious. "Ratu Kidul is queen of the spirits and there’s a very strong belief in her, particularly by the Sultans of Yogyakarta. The goddess is believed to marry each of the sultans in turn, down through the ages. Presumably the marriage is in a spiritual sense."

"Do they really take this stuff seriously?" I asked Alan.

"There’s only one big hotel in Pelabuhan Ratu, the Samudra Beach. The hotel keeps a locked room on the top floor for the goddess. They all take it seriously," he said. "I tell you Pelabuhan Ratu gives me bad vibes."

"My driver has a story about this," said John with a wide grin. "Near the Samudra Beach hotel there’s a small lava flow, called the Karang Hawu cliff. This is where the lady flung herself into the sea and became transformed into the goddess. What my driver says is that in the Karang Hawu area there are some very friendly ladies who will invite you into their homes, in return for a small fee."

The school bell rang to mark the end of break. I turned to Joanne, a kindly and mature lady from New Zealand, who was just finishing her mint tea.

"What do you think of Pelabuhan Ratu, Jane?"

"It’s lovely. You should go," she said. "It’s very unspoilt; you probably won’t see any other white men. There’s a lovely fish restaurant, a handful of shops and even a small hospital. "

"What’s the road like?"

"Good until you get to Ciawi and then it gradually gets worse and worse and worse."


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