Camping, Indonesian style

I hadn't been in charge of a camp since my time at Bali International School, 7 years ago. Because we didn't have enough applicants (or enough talent to go around), I ended up as Year 8 Manager, with my fellow Principals in charge of Years 7 and 9.

With less than a month to go, a couple of colleagues visited Coban Rondo, up from Batu, and pronounced it suitable.

Seventy-three students and nine teachers made the 3-hour trip into the hills. The site was quite good, with grass and tall trees. A large, communal tent and two teacher tents were already set up. The students set their tents up, and then we trekked them one and a half kilometres to the local attraction, the waterfall. It was impressive, even well into the dry season. We took the group photo, and trekked back, for the kids to prepare their evening meal.

After dark, we split them into groups for the night hike. Six of us teachers were strategically-placed "ghosts" on the course. I introduced the unique concept (for Indonesia) of actually turning the lights out for "lights out", at 9:30pm. (This was done by unscrewing the light bulbs.) Obviously, on a first night, few students would sleep. The boys in a tent beside me evacuated because of a spider, and I got up at 1:35am to find girls preparing a hot drink for a girl who had trouble breathing.

So far, the story reads like many other camp tales. However, like many things in Indonesia, a lot of aspects fell short of the mark. Firstly, even though the camp venue is supposed to be environmentally okay, there was rubbish around, when we got there, and no strategies for dealing with it. We separated it, but the camp people did the usual Indonesian thing of dumping it together and setting fire to it. I was made aware of this when I was sitting in the main tent, looking after the camp. A gas canister exploded, 3 metre behind the tent, which, then, alerted me to the smoke. One of the camp people helped me put it out.

On Wednesday evening, a training group appeared near us, with a large sound system, which they used liberally. On Thursday afternoon, an army group set up a small town beside them, complete with generator, which ran loudly all night.

The washing facilities defied belief. We had two squat toilets and two mandi bathrooms at our site. Until the other groups arrived, we used a similar block 150m away. We then used the four public squats. The problem with them wasn't the public, but the fact that they were so poorly built that there was always an inch of water on the floors.

Of course, up in the hills, the water was freezing - on the last evening, our security guard went running towards screams from the toilet block. It was a girl having a mandi (possibly her first for the week [and some of the kids probably didn't have one]).

The other problem, common throughout Indonesia, is that the well-meaning staff were always a step behind in anticipating our needs. They got better during the week as we "educated" them.

The "classic" was the rafting. On Tuesday  morning, I went with half  then group down the Kediri side of the mountain to go rafting. The countryside on the way was beautiful - hundreds of hectares of onions, giving way to rice paddies. (They look the same, at first glance.) We had organised two groups, but, too late, we found out that Year 9 was rafting with the same company on one of the days. The first group's rafting was okay, but we had to walk a couple of times around low water. At the end, we jumped from a 6-metre cliff into the river, and floated 200m. I was furious, however, with the management, about the transport to and from the river - an open flat-bed truck, driven by a complete idiot. He drove as though he had a few sacks of rice in the back, not 20 people, who would have been seriously hurt, or worse, in any mishap.

The next day, the second group had a teacher in the cabins of the trucks. However, because the Year 9 group were also rafting, they only did half of what we had done the day before - this is a typical Indonesian business approach, "take the money and run", rather than build custom.

Back at camp, the so-called "outbound" activities went well. I took half the group on a fairly gruelling 5km hike above the waterfall and back. It began to rain after the second group set out, but they completed the walk.

The evenings went well. The second night we played "P die", in which participants take turns to improvise a skit, but cannot use any word with a designated letter, eg: "p". If they do, they have to feign a horrible death, until only one participant remains. The next night, we had a singalong, and on the last night we had each tent perform, then cooked damper over the campfire.

Each group did some horticulture activities, and then went for a scenic walk to the village on the main road to see a "dairy farm". It was a lot of cattle in a shed. The kids and teachers had fun having turns milking a cow. On the last morning, we did some activities in a local primary school about promoting "Re-use, Reduce, Recycle".

A lot of the boys wanted to play soccer, and I played goalie for a while for the camp staff, in one match. I hurt my toe, kicking in my sandals (which I'd told the kids not to do).

The good "Indonesian" things were that people were flexible, and prepared to try something new, and that that problems could often be fixed quickly, and cheaply. The teachers, and, in particular, the students, were marvellous. Most of the students come from homes where everything is done for them, and they relished looking after themselves for a week. They were far and away the best group of students with which I have ever been on camp.