Cops and Robbers.........or......How to Be an Instant Superhero in Smalltime, Indonesia

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April 28th 2009
Published: June 6th 2009
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2 of the 3 ever-changing colorful lakes
After the 4 day/4 night boat trip from Lombok to Flores, I took a couple days to relax in Labuanbajo, the town on the western end of Flores and do a couple of dives a few hours from shore. The diving, officially in Komodo National Park, is world class, stunning, colorful, with lots of macro (that's the tiny stuff) and big palegics. Dived with sharks, turtles, massive Napolene Wrasse (maybe 2 meters in length -- and they're just fishies) and enjoyed the most amazing, diverse soft and hard coral I have ever seen. At $30 a pop, the diving was not too expensive, but because I am on a strict budget (well, I do deviate at times....), I could only afford two dives and then had to move eastward. Beautiful Flores awaited.

Nearly the entire length of Flores, I traveled with a friend I had met on the boat. We were going the same direction anyway, and since it helps to split room costs, have company and sometimes do things one wouldn't necessarily do if by oneself, we just naturally decided to travel together for a few days.

The highlight of Flores lies a little over halfway across the
Inside the bungalowInside the bungalowInside the bungalow

The cops and their laptop in the satellite office taking everyone's depositions
incredibly green island, outside a village called Moni, home of only a few hundred people. The phenomenon at Kelimutu, near the top of a 1639 meter (that's about 5377 feet) high volcano, is where three summit lakes can be found, all sporting a different color. These lakes are known for their ever-changing colors, the changes, according to one source, "caused by the geological and chemical processes in the bottom of the lakes. It could also result from the refraction of the sunlight, the bacteria populations and the chemicals dissolved in the water." I don't even know what that means. The changing colors of the lakes have something to do with certain levels of minerals that get dissolved in the water. I just know it was a beautiful place and I was glad to have experienced it. I must say, it was worth the early morning, pitch black nearly- hour ride straight up the hill on the back of a motorbike. A short trek to an observation point found us enjoying sunrise alone, save for one persistent local trying to sell us hot coffee or tea from his thermos, or the ubiquitous ikat (traditional weaving).

While Gabe and I were
Moni's heroineMoni's heroineMoni's heroine

Maria, of Maria guesthouse, the new local hero of Moni
enjoying the sunrise and an early morning walk on the edge of the precipice, to the other side of the crazy-colored lakes someone took advantage of us being out of town and found himself inside our room. Yup. A sneaky little burglar got in to our locked digs. We were completely unaware, of course, for hours after the incident.

We walked about 5 KM down the hill, but managed to get a ride the rest of the way on the back of two motorbikes from two French guys with whom we had met and dined the night before. We were all starving and decided on a cafe for lunch, up the hill from the village of Moni. As the stray chickens pecked food scraps at our feet in the open-air restaurant and a lone wiry-haired piglet wandered aimlessly up the road just outside our bamboo window, we waited patiently for our meals. We were starving! Kids screamed down the hill on motorbikes while the cook in the back (she was all of 20 years old, max) squatted on the floor making our simple lunches. Talk was smooth.

In walks a handsome man. He doesn't even look around the
Local Police ForceLocal Police ForceLocal Police Force

the cops assigned to the case who hopped on board this bus to have us sign the official documents the day after the break-in
room, he walks right to our table and right up to me. He stares down at me, and, without addressing himself or bothering with formalities, asks me where I am staying. I don't make it a habit to tell men (strangers) where I stay, though this is a common question -- and often one of the first -- asked by many Indonesians to westerners. More often than not it is just plain curiosity, but I still usually evade the question or lie. In this situation, I was surrounded by three big guys and felt safe, as if I could tell this man, and nothing would come of it. I did, however feel it was a bit strange that he would demand something out of me without so much as a formal introduction first. As soon as I told him, he said there had been a break-in in my room and I had better go with him -- NOW. My first thought was "My laptop!" Secondly, I thought of the passport and money I had left in my room (yup, I know, I should have had it in my money belt and around my waist), and thirdly, I thought, what if

one shot of the little village
I get on the bike with this random bloke and he takes me away from my new friends and I never come back? One of the French guys was kind enough to give my traveling partner a ride down the street to our guesthouse, following us down the hill. I felt much better when I saw the gun in its holder on the waist of the man driving me down the hill and the official uniform he was wearing. It turns out he wasre a policeman and was first on the scene of the break-in.

Arriving back at our guesthouse, I was surprised at the number of people who were milling about. Evidently word had spread quickly and everyone wanted to be close to the scene to find out first hand what had happened. Let the gossip of the small town begin. Maria, the proprietor of said guesthouse, was rather animated, eager to be the first one to tell me what had happened. She kept referring to the "taking man" in her story of the morning's excitement. Once allowed in our room, my friend and I were both instructed to go through our belongings that hadn't been touched since early that morning. My rucksack had clearly been rifled through and my bed was more ruffled than I had left it hours before, but no one got into my locked shoulder bag, which held my money and laptop. I breathed a sigh of relief. Gabe, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. No, nothing was missing but the perpetrator tried to make off with a.......pair of sandals. Hey, they were a nice pair of Reefs, okay?!

Here's what happened, in a nutshell.

We left the room at 4:30 am and within 10 minutes after we left, the lady who owns the guesthouse woke up hearing noises coming from our room. No one else was staying at the guesthouse and since she had arranged for the motorbike guys to pick us up in the early pre-dawn hours, she knew we had gone up to Kelimutu. She acted quickly and heroically, peeking into the window of our room. The back bathroom light was on, revealing someone, but certainly not either of the two she had rented the room to the day before. She recognized this person as "Moni's Most Wanted" and quickly and quietly grabbed a lock from the door on the neighboring room and locked the would-be thief inside my room. Yes, inside! There was no escaping for him. The window in the bathroom was too small to squeeze through and too high up and the front window was all metal bars, allowing zero escape.

This man pleaded and begged to Maria, the guesthouse owner and lifelong respected Moni resident, to let him out, he hadn't taken anything, and he promised never to do anything like this again. Maria remained calm the entire time, informing this guy she was just waiting for her husband to get there and she'd let him out. In reality, her husband had in the meantime called the police and was waiting for their arrival. It took a while for the cops to arrive to Moni, as they had to come from another town, maybe 12 KM away. We were told the perpetrator hid under Gabe's bed for the two hours he was locked in our room.

When the cops finally showed, sans handcuffs ("I forgot them," the head policeman told me later, the same one with whom I rode down the hill from the restaurant), they cornered the thief in the room, tied with string his two thumbs together, his wrists together and his big toes together and hauled him out of the room. Somehow he was taken to the police station in the nearby town. When the cops had grabbed him, Gabe's Reefs had fallen out from under his sarong, or so we were told. This became a big deal in the "proof" needed to prosecute this man.

The police on the scene proceeded to "give this man beat," a phrase used often in Bangladesh and one I subsequently have been using the past year since I left that country. They apparently got immense pleasure in whacking the hell out this man's face, eventually pulverizing it so badly he first paid a visit to the hospital before being thrown into his jail cell at the local police station. The same policeman who gathered me from the restaurant got a twinkle in his eye as he reflected on the morning's craziness, this being probably one of the most memorable days on the job. He was also able to fire his gun for this first time in ages; "just a warning shot," he assured us. I looked but couldn't find a shell casing anywhere.

It turned out this thief had been wanted by the local police for many, many years. They have a growing list of complaints filed against him. He was well known in the community for robbing not only tourists of money but locals as well. He had previously broken into guesthouse rooms, held up tourists by knifepoint, and was even caught once years ago but escaped from the policeman's grasp. He escaped from jail. He escaped from jail???? He ran away to Kalimantan for over a year and recently came back to Moni. He is 21, married to a pregnant high school girl (her parents don't approve -- go figure) and has been a misfit all his miserable life. He used to douse the village kittie cats with gasoline and throw a lighted match their way.

Once we were assured none of our belongings had been taken, and a number of random set up shots of the now-infamous Reefs placed precariously near the front door of the room were taken by a multitude of cell phone cameras (uh, real professional, eh?), Gabe and I were taken back up the hill to our waiting meals at the restaurant. Promises to return after lunch assured this nice policeman we'd be back to answer any question they might have for us. The rest of the afternoon I was in a cleared out bungalow in the front of the guesthouse, which now acted as a satellite office for the half dozen policemen assigned to the case. Maria and her husband had given their depositions in the late morning and now it was my turn. This took many hours, cause, well, this is Indonesia. I was asked a series of important questions (ie. Where was I born? Did I go to college? Why am I not Chinese if I have a Chinese-sounding name? What this all had to do with the case, I really haven't the foggiest....) and had to repeat myself numerous times every time a "superior" walked in the room. I got the feeling after a while they were just interested in hearing me talk, and not necessarily paying attention to the words that were coming out of my mouth. I was sitting on a broken plastic chair, chugging down the hot tea "gratis" the entire hot afternoon and tried not to die of cigarette smoke inhalation. All the information I submitted was immediately typed into the laptop by one of the policemen, clad in t-shirt and jeans. Cell phone ring tones of all kinds went off repeatedly throughout the afternoon, including the jingle for the ABC's.

The policeman who fetched me from the restaurant told me he was originally from Bali. He had lighter features, straighter hair and a more soft-spoken voice than the darker, more gruff-looking locals from East Nusa Tenggara. Typical of the Balinese. He turned out to be quite sweet and I think developed a bit of a crush on me, despite probably being 15 years younger than me. He slipped me his home address, email address, and his phone number and told me to keep in touch. If he winked, I missed it.

The Reef's became a big deal in the prosecution of this "bad man. Velly velly bad man." The cops wanted - no needed - to hold on to them as evidence in court, assuring the judge this thief was trying to leave the room with the sandals under his clothes. Whether or not this was really the case (as the police, three times in the course of the day, placed the sandals in three different locations in the room, each time taking different photos of them. Clearly these were staged shots), they insisted on keeping them until the trial was finished, much to Gabe's original protestations. As it became clear he was not getting his nice pair of sandals back any time soon, he was assured by Mr. Balinese Guy that they would be sent when the trial was complete. Ha! That's something to believe when seen. Though, we both thought how utterly amusing it could be for one day, a year from now, Gabe receives this random package in the mail from Indonesia -- and it indeed contains his long-forgotten Reef's. That certainly would make for a funny story to the shoe manufacturer.

The whole afternoon procedure took two hours, at which time I was then informed I "must take break" and we would reconvene in an hour, at which time they wanted to talk with Gabe for the first time, as well as me again. This took another two hours, but at least the lovely folks from my guesthouse cooked us all a wonderful meal and when we were finished with our statements, we sat and gabbed with the local policemen, practicing our limited Bahasa. We were assured the thief was under watchful supervision and not able to escape this time. Funny, cause it felt like the entire police force of Moni and surrounding area was hanging out at our accommodation.

We were told we were finished for the night but in order to finalize everything, we needed to sign the final paperwork. Since they didn't have a printer in the bungalow and it was too late to find a photocopy place that was open (I highly doubt Moni even has a copy shop; remember this village has maybe 30 houses, at most), we couldn't do anything more until the morning, before the early bus picked us up for Maumere, our next destination, about 5 hours away.

The next day......

The nice policeman from the day before showed up as we were eating our brekkie the following morning, just as he had promised. Only he didn't have the paperwork we were supposed to sign. "No matter," he assured us. We were both a bit confused by that statement but decided to just roll with whatever was supposed to happen. As the cop helped flag down the bus, we said goodbye to the hometown hero, Maria, and her wonderful husband. I had told the cops yesterday they should give Maria a plaque or have a parade for her or do something now that she caught the guy the police had been waiting to arrest for years. The cops finally had a reason to go to court and try and put this man behind bars for hopefully a long time. Surely, this deserves some sort of recognition?

The bus stopped unexpectedly at a random corner in the neighboring town. The passengers suddenly disembarked and Gabe and I were left to wonder what was going on. All of a sudden, my Balinese policeman friend and his t-shirt clad cronies boarded the bus, official manila envelopes in hand. The documents! They came through, after all. We sat there and signed our life away to about 20 pages of documents. Course it was all in Indonesian and we'll never know what it says (though I was assured yesterday by my new friend that he would send us via email a translated copy of the document. Yeah, I'll believe that when I see it), but that was beside the point. I was just excited and thrilled to be part of a police case as big as this (big for this small town, anyway) and knowing my statement along with the others could very well put this man behind bars (and hopefully this time he'll stay there) for many, many years.

At Mr. Balinese Guy's insistence, we took a parting shot with the policemen in front of the bus and after a round of handshakes and well-wishes, they were off. My good-looking Balinese friend positioned his helmet on his head but didn't bother to buckle the strap before he sped away on his 100 cc bike.

I got a cop's digits.

This is so Indonesia.


6th October 2009

yes cops and never any robbers
I will give my 2 rupies about Indonesia. One of the best, friendly'est countries i have been too besides Thailand. I have spent almost 18 months here now and Lombak is one of my favorite islands in the chain. I really enjoy all water sports and beach time. But i have had NO problems with any robbers anywhere in Indonesia. Period. and the policemen there R the most helpful and go out of their way to help U. I have family in Jakarta, Bogar and Jogja so i spend time with my nieces and nephews there when i go. This year it's Thailand,Vietnam,and India from Nov. 2009 to May 2010. Keep traveling Suzie and perhaps some day we will meet on the " Road Less Traveld ". circle of love, Cowboy Curtisj
18th February 2010

Moni guest house Flores Islands
Hello We are heading to Flores in June. May we please have the name of the guest house you stayed at in Moni. thanks Erika
27th April 2010

moni guesthouse name
sorry for the late response...we stayed in a place called maria inn...despite the story, it was a lovely place run by a delightful husband and wife team. do make sure to have a wonderful time if you get over there. cheers, Suzi

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