Want Power?

I follow the rope down. The blue slowly suffocates the light as I keep my eyes fixed on the braided cord.  Every few metres I lower my hand to my mask to equalize the pressure building on my face. Upside down. I follow the rope still. Down into the blue.

At twenty metres I grope for the weights at the bottom of the rope, my breath running low. I feel I’ve been underwater too long already. My chest tightens as I straighten and look back up towards the surface. Its too far and I first feel my lungs start to burn. A desire to swallow filling my mind to distraction I start my ascent. My diaphragm starts to tremble. Fighting to breathe I foolishly open my mouth, it floods with water causing me to cough.

“Calm yourself Robbo” I repeat in my mind, “you’ve trained for this.” My blood is still fully enriched with Oxygen. “You don’t need to breathe” I tell myself.

I close my eyes. I feel tired. I try and concentrate on my slow kicks to the surface, searching for the power to overcome the desperation in my lungs.


“Something… want something?”  A murmur comes from a local boy as I pass. I’d have questioned whether he was even talking to me if there was anyone else remotely close. “Hey, you want something, want power?”

I continue walking down the dirt road to the centre of town, picking my way around puddles in the street and dodging a Shetland horse drawn cart. Wooden shop fronts with thatched roofs line the strip. Restaurants, bars, yoga studios, and dive shops. Purveyors of tours and Bintang and ice cream attempt to prise me from my path.

I had made it to Gili Trawangan in Indonesia to learn to free dive. The goal was to dive on one breath to a depth of 20 metres. Each day my instructor Victor refined my technique. Victor is the second best freediver in the Ukraine and he can dive to 85 metres. Mike who owns Gili Freedive is the British champion who reaches depths of 103 metres on a single breath. I am in awe of these guys. Baby steps.

After two days of exercises and training, breaking through the mental urge to breathe and the physical symptoms of CO2 build up I surfaced to the cheers of Victor and my fellow students. Mission accomplished. This evening I am out on the town ready to relax and celebrate over dinner.

Travellers pock the road. Their hair braided and skin deeply tanned. There are no cars on Gili Trawangan. Travellers walk, take a cart or ride a push bike. The horses were not well maintained and one had already bitten me on the hip as it passed, leaving a bruise and who knows what rabies type mad horse disease it might be carrying.

Another man sidles next to me on the road. “You want something, you want power?”

It is said some of the locals are on crystal meth and they will approach you trying to sell you drugs to support their habit. Some follow you into the toilets, they stand next to you while you are peeing and pull out a bag of weed. Others simply prop up next to you at a bar and pull out a little box with bags of cocaine, HDMA, crack and ice. They refer to drugs as power. “You want something?” they would ask.

I start out down the road and immediately am beckoned towards a pizza shop. I stopped to give courtesy to the tout, pointing out to him though that there was a mouse in the window walking on the toppings. He acknowledged that it was in fact a mouse. “Good eye, please come and sit.” I don’t.

I move further along to the town centre. Under a mish mash of tarps, strung across a square concrete football field, the smoke wafts from coal BBQs, the heat being fanned to cook fish, rays, crustaceans, and local chicken. Aromas swirling through the mugginess around cats on the ground, Christmas lights hanging early or really really late flashing in one corner, across seafood stalls, laden with today’s catch under melting ice blocks and the more than occasional fly.

Locals are choosing their dinner, the newer tourists with a little more care circling a couple of times before committing or moving to a more “western” restaurant.  Bintang and fresh juices adorn pink lino covered wooden bench tables. Travellers are picking through charred fish and their day’s adventures in tongues from across the world. The smoke thickens, the sweet clove smell of Gudang Guram cigarettes linger in the air, I feel totally in place.

After dinner my dive buddies and I find an outdoor bar with live music. Travellers walk past us on the street as we settle in for the evening.

A guy selling DVDs comes by intently trying to sell his wares, surely this is a diminishing business that once flourished in South East Asia.

A guy walks by intently trying to sell some portable Bintang speakers. I have seen this guy no less than 10 times in the last few days and every time he played Sultans of Swing. He must really like that song, or by now really hate it.

A guy walks by selling woven bracelets… intently.

As we talk a local man is grabbing at my arm. “Want power?” he mutters. His eyes look through me, his clothes dirty and torn, face shifty and world worn. I politely decline as he pulls up a stool directly behind us. He opens his box of drugs and puts his feet on the back of my chair. Again he grabs me with his rough hands “what you want? Again I politely fob him off.

He interrupts us again, now bragging about taking HDMA that morning. He looks left and right down the street. “The high very good, you want?”

“No mate I don’t”

His partner in crime hassling a couple nearby spun around, his pupils like saucers, pronounced aloud “I take crack. You want something?” He grabs a bag of HDMA and tosses it into my lap. I pick it up urgently and throw it back at him.

“Why you scared?” he demands.

“Im not scared, I’m tired and you are annoying me” I replied curtly

“Tired huh? You just need some power!”

The Road to Cunca Rami

Brick houses next to concrete houses next to wooden shacks, women bathing and washing clothes in roadside drains or some flowing water source. Water buffalo straddle the road demanding you go around, people sitting seemingly in the middle of nowhere and someone is always “fixing” something roadside.

I pass cars with names. Titanic, ATOYOT, Naughty Kiss, Predator, God Bless. Through fields, some of indistinguishable crop, some flooded, others tiered with rice. Clothes drying on bushes in front of houses, seeds drying on tarps. Children all wave, some try and slap your hand as you pass as if knowing the trepidation with which I was riding my scooter. Every child sings out “”mister mister” as I ride by.

15000 rupiah gains me a coconut a guy in an army uniform (who was not in the army – he was a barber) had to cut down fresh from the tree. It was massive. There must have been a litre of coconut water in there.

Houses disconnected, no running water, no electricity. Pride in home displayed by bamboo picket fences. Patios immaculately swept. Rubbish everywhere else disappearing to only jungle for miles, occasionally a guy is on the side of the road…. that’s it.

I sit here blessed, looking upon the pool with Cunca Rami’s tiered waterfalling adding a natural soundtrack behind giggles of Sanka and Ardus as they sat here with me on a large rock above the water. I had met a Dutch guy who spoke the language and deftly negotiated the price with my two experienced guide chaperones, Sanka and Ardus, 10 year old twin brothers who happened upon me at the start of the trail.

The trail down was harsh on my knee, but stripping down and diving beneath the cool fresh waters, surfacing under the falls provided an indescribable sense of freedom. A Spanish traveller joined me under the falls. His name was Santiago and he was from Catalan. I couldn’t remember much Spanish anymore and found myself in any company repeating my mantra “Estoy apprendiendo Espanole por seis or siete sumanas.” Which I think means “I have been learning Spanish for 6 or 7 weeks.” I haven’t. We share experiences of similar waterfalls, particularly one we had both visited towards the Burmese border out of Chiang Mai. His friend nuded up and lay by the waterside on a rock.

Cunca Rami is 75m high and located almost 50km from Labuanbajo. The hike there takes about 30 minutes from the road where there is no discernable markings to indicate the trail, leaving you to make a couple of passes before deciding, with consensus of other travellers and some locals to incur the forest there. The hike through the mountainous vegetation can be a little tough at times, very humid. The emerald green pool at the bottom though a satisfying reward.

The hike back up takes 45 minutes and there is no reward. Ardus took my daypack for the last leg out. Both boys found it hilarious when I finally succumbed and sat down to rest, only to find when I started again I was 20 metres from the road. Both boys watched me with the cheesiest of grins for that last 20 metres.

Back at my bike I bumped into Santiago and “the nude” again. They invited me to come with them to Sano Nggoang. It is a lot further into remoteness and they are continuing so I woiuld have to find my own way back alone. I decide Ill find some lunch then meet them there. After all, what could go wrong?

About 12 km past the last village I ran out of petrol. My bike lost power coming down an “offroad experience” and seized. Someone didn’t check the petrol and ran out at the most inopportune time. The bike gained power momentarily at the bottom of the hill, just in time to throw me over the handle bars as I fought to slow down and straighten.

Bleeding from the shoulder, knee, feet and hand I picked myself up. It was a long hilly walk back to the last village and just then a dark storm cloud eclipsed the sun. I poured the last of my water over my wounds and scrubbed to clean them .

The locals this far from Labuanbajo spoke no English, and anyone driving past me with space on their bike tickled at my catastrophe. Well, you wanted adventure.

I was left with no choice but to start pushing my bike through the mountainous heat. For hours I pushed. Pushing and bleeding. Bleeding and pushing.

Eventually I met a guy who I gave 50,000Rp for two water bottles of petrol, but mostly for helping me push the last 500 metres to his friend’s roadside stall. For this payment, him and his mates all but hailed me the greatest man alive from their response . I know I paid over but to be fair it was only $5.00.

Back at Labuan Bajo, crimsons, purples, oranges, reds, yellows and blues of all different hues filled the sky and reflected from the rippling waters. Boats returning and setting out added intrigue to beauty. The sounds of competing mosques filled the air. The boys have stopped playing soccer on the foreshore. The bay looking a little like Ha Long. As the water illuminates around the islands in view in one final show before the sun sets, I can honestly say I don’t believe I have seen anything more beautiful. I reach for my Anker from my balcony table, briefly tend to my leg wound and breathe in what a photo could never capture and mere words could never describe.