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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 2, June 2015


Doris Lynch
Bloomington, Indiana, USA

On the Backs of Small Beasts

At the losmen, a small Javanese inn, a cadre of young Indonesians who work the front desk, tell us that someone will wake us at 4 am. The bemos will arrive an hour later and bring us to road’s end. There we’ll mount horses and ride to the volcano, Gunung Bromo.

We wake in deep blackness. After the heat and humidity of Yogyakarta, the mountain air feels bracing. I take a bak mandi, a kind of shower, where you dip a giant pitcher into a standing tub and pour water over yourself while shivering on the tiled floor. Fully awake, I join my sister, brother-in-law, and teenage daughter, whose coffee steams the air.

In the bemo, we hear a polyglot of languages: Malay, German, Bahasa Indonesian, Japanese, English, and Dutch. After we arrive at the small ranch at road’s end, the guides scan torches over the animals. Everyone utters a disconsolate “Oh” or “Ach.” The horses are much smaller and thinner than the “trail ride” ponies back home.

When my brother-in-law mounts one, it’s less a climb, more of a lift on his toes. Fearing the animal will break, we hold our breath. Gingerly, I swing one leg around mine and gently hold my bum a half-inch above the creature’s small back. They have no saddles, bridles or reins. A guide leads us into the darkness where the steep descent surprises us.

On a curvy path, the ponies stumble over rocks; occasionally, they slide a few feet before catching themselves. Pressing my knees into my pony’s flank, I wrap his mane around my fingers and repeat over and over: don’t stumble, cling to the cliff. Red bands of color appear on the horizon as the light changes from charcoal to beige to lavender and, finally, morning turquoise.

grinding spices
on the lava mortar—
the scent of fire

Author's Notes:
bemo—van used to transport people
bak mandi—Indonesian shower



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