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Climbing Merbabu, top, and on the summit, above. (Photos by Johnathan Esper)


... and Trip Reports

6 Days in a Saudi Jail
A Boy and the 46
Gannett and Granite
Mexico Volcanoes
New Zealand Journal
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6


Merbabu, a volcano in Indonesia. (Photo by Johnathan Esper)


New Zealand

Part 2: Visits to the Northland and a cultural experience in Indonesia

I have continued to travel in New Zealand and flew to Indonesia for 10 days to observe and serve there. However, I have not done as much climbing as I would like to have! I took the five days before I needed to fly out of New Zealand on Nov. 19 to go on a road trip through the lands north of Auckland, called Northland. I marveled at the green country-side and the grassy, rolling hills, always crisscrossed by the infinite number of sheep paths. In fact, while the hills appear so soft and smooth from a distance, I discovered they are actually more like terraced hills from all the sheep. I traveled from Auckland up the west side of Northland, and stopped at all the lookouts. Being the climber that I am, I eyed a large rock outcropping above the rolling hills, and decided to scramble up it. It rewarded me with great views of New Zealand's largest harbor, Kaipara Harbour, and I got to observe one
of New Zealand's geodetic markers that have much the same function as the States' benchmarks. Continuing north, I hiked on a couple trails in the Waipoua Forest, home to New Zealand's largest trees, Kauri. The roads here – as well as everywhere on the island – are extremely curvy (in the old days, road construction workers were paid by the curve), so it takes many hours to explore this rewarding area. But to get a break from the curves, I decided to drive on Ninety Mile Beach, a very straight and long beach open to the public to drive on, during low tide only. Driving on the beach was a new experience for me, and I loved it. I hit 125 kph, and I also had a blast doing donuts and racing the waves in my car. Of course, keep in mind that I am driving a two-wheel-drive Mitsubishi that I bought online my first week here, and the beach is recommended for four-wheel-drive vehicles only. The thought did cross my mind what if I got stuck in the sand and the tide came in, so I tried to go as fast as possible at all times.

From there, I drove to the extreme northern tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. This area is beautiful, but uncharacteristic in that there are large expanses of sand dunes, and dense shrubs. I took one afternoon to hike to the beautiful, but secluded beach of Te Werahi, and explored the dunes. The pink-colored chalky rocks on nearby Cape Maria Van Diemen captivated me and my camera for some time. I also drove the rough dirt road to nearby Spirits Bay, and was amazed at the perfect surfing waves, the clear waters and immaculate beach, and the fact that only two other people were on the entire beach. This part of Northland is the place to go if you want beautiful secluded beaches. On the way back south, I picked up a Maori hitchhiker whose family has owned land for generations in this area, and she expressed to me a lot of anger and despair over the loss of their lands to white people and to the government, which she said doesn't compensate them for seized land. I can feel a lot of tension still existing over native peoples' rights here in New Zealand, more than in the USA. It is something I'll pray for while I'm here. The eastern shoreline of Northland was also very beautiful as I drove through it, and the clear blue-green waters of the Bay of Islands are pristine, although it seems a lot of other people discovered the same beautiful waters and decided to build expensive homes all along the coastline.

The day after getting back to Auckland, I flew to Indonesia with Jeff Fussner, the Pacific Area Wesleyan Church director, to spend nine days at a Bible College in Magelang, on the island of Java. This trip was rather spontaneous for me, as I only met Jeff a few weeks earlier while with my friends, the Naces. God opened all the necessary doors for me to go, like having Jeff invite me to accompany him, and working out my visa details. I also felt that it was a great opportunity for me to see for the first time a predominantly Muslim country, and I wanted to help out at the Bible College.

In general, when people ask me what I thought of the country, I say the prices were cheap, the people were friendly, the food was hot and spicy and delicious, and the weather was way too hot. But more than that, my time there gave me opportunities to consider the farmers' way of life, and most peoples' struggle to get by on so little money. The people seem to work very hard, doing all kinds of manual labor, especially farming, but for so little pay, often less than $2 a day. The government has recently reduced subsidies on gasoline, and plans even further cutbacks, so the price of fuel and everything else has increased dramatically, often 50 percent or more. Jeff says he can see a noticeable increase in the amount of despair on the faces of people he sees, since the last time he was there. He says he also sees much fewer tourists around - for example, we didn't see any other Westerners the whole day we went to the city of Yogjakarta to go shopping.

At the Bible college, I was supposed to help out at the library, but that didn't work out, so instead, I spent my time with the students at the small college, who are always eager to practice their English with someone from America. The highlight of my time there, though, was me formally teaching English for three 1 ½-hour sessions. The students didn't know much English at all, but I started from the basics such as greetings and numbers, and progressed through a series of topics, where I would introduce vocabulary words and help the students put together sentences with their new words. The idea of teaching English as a second language scared me at first, but I consciously gave my fears to God, and he bountifully pulled me though. I was able to get good advice from a friend from Messiah College, who is currently teaching English in Hungary, and one of the students in my class spoke good-enough English so she helped me out when I couldn't convey the meaning of a word in English (because I knew no Indonesian). I discovered that I really enjoy teaching, while my biggest frustration related to Indonesian “rubber time.” Often the students would show up 20-30 minutes late, in no hurry, and once they didn't show up at all for class. Indonesian culture is relational, and people avoid offending others. So instead of offending me by saying they can't make the class, they told me OK, but then didn't show up. Through these experiences, with the language and culture, I discovered that I really have a strong desire to continue learning Spanish language and culture, and that if at some point I am called to start a business in another country, I would prefer it to be Spanish or Latin-American.

While in Magelang, Jeff and I were driven around by Roni, an employee of the college, and on some of the afternoons, Roni and I went places, including to the famous Buddhist Temple of Borobudur, one of the wonders of the ancient world. We also climbed a nearby volcanic peak for a day, along with one other friend. There are several large, impressive volcanoes in the area, and the one we climbed (Merbabu) involved an elevation gain of about 5,000-6,000 feet. There was a trail up the forested mountain, but it was mostly used by the local villagers from below, who climbed up the trail an hour or more in order to cut wood or grass for their livestock, and carry it back down. Up higher, I suppose the trail was mostly used by hikers. It was discouraging to see all the litter along the trail left by others, such as empty water bottles and powdered drink packets, and there seems to be very little environmental ethic, on the mountain or in the cities. I was privileged to hike with Roni, a fellow Christian, on his first mountain he has ever climbed, but I could tell he did get very tired. He claims that he will never climb another mountain again; so I decided it best not to ask him to join Climbing For Christ. (photos of this climb are on http://community.webshots.com/user/j_esper).

I spent my 23rd birthday, on the 23rd, there at the Bible college, where that day I was able to give my testimony during chapel service, and speak of how the Lord is working in my life currently. That day I also was able to visit a group a women who receive micro-credit from World Hope. I rode out to the mountain village on the back of a motorbike, and while I couldn't understand a word what went on at the meeting I attended with the women, I was able to ask questions later. After returning from this outing, my motorbike driver and I stopped at a restaurant to eat lunch. As my first bite, I picked up a small (one-inch long and narrow) bright red pepper, popped it in my mouth, and swallowed the whole thing quickly. (I have allergies so my tolerance for hot and spicy foods is quite high. In fact, I had done remarkably well eating all hot stuff in sight so far up until now, and was proud of myself). But this little pepper was too much. I got lightheaded, had trouble breathing, and then passed out. They say I fell off my chair, and was out five minutes, right there in the middle of the restaurant. When I woke up, all the restaurant workers were around me, and I had my arm around a guy I didn't know. After I got up, I felt great, so I finished my lunch (without the chili sauce). However, this episode reminds me of another eventful birthday I had
back when I was 15 and nearly drowned off the coast of the Dominican Republic. So I better be careful whenever my birthday rolls around!

In summary, I am glad I went to Indonesia, because I learned firsthand about the culture there and the struggles to survive, and was able to develop relationships with the students and teach them a little English. But the culture and the heat exhausted me, so I am glad to be back in New Zealand!

My plans are now to head south, and attempt climbs of Ruapehu, the North Island's highest mountain, and Taranaki, where I was turned around on my last attempt.

For Christ,
Johnathan Esper
Dec. 6, 2005

View from Mageland

Merbabu, center, from Mageland. (Photo by Johnathan Esper)

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