Back to zero

It’s like this. In a way you go back to survival mode.
It starts with the easy things like you only have those few clothes you brought with you and you live day by day, not knowing where you’ll be tomorrow, not knowing who you’ll meet tonight.
By taking everything step by step, day by day like this, you go back to basic.

Worries over money the way we know them in the west become nil. As long as you have a hot plate and a bed to sleep in for tonight, tomorrow, there’s no worries.
Everything will work out. Opportunities will present themselves. Life will unfold in that magical way it has.

And every time I talk about this it comes back to the same story.
In the western world, the ‘home life’ as I know it, we’re brought up to look out for ourselves and better our own lives, if need be over other peoples backs, therefore teaching ourselves a way of tunnel-vision life, concerned only with ourselves, all the time consumed by our smartphones and tablets to work towards a better future, failing to see what is happening around us.
We’re taught to think ahead. Think about your future. As a young kid you have to decide which profession you will pursue and put everything in your power to making that happen, and be successful in it too. Otherwise in the eyes of our society you will have failed.
Find a good job, earn a good salary, have a pretty house filled with fancy stuff. Own a bigger car then your neighbor, all that.
But is that really what brings happiness?

Here in Asia everybody lives outside, everyone is open and friendly with each other. And everyone is here to help each other out.
Here, it’s not about making money, it’s about making a living, and making it a happy one. And that friends, family, sharing laughs, food and drinks is much more important than stuff seems to go without saying.

I am straying from the traveler path, having found a true love and deciding to build a life here.
But I am still learning a more simple life. And it has much more to do with taking it one day at a time. Slowing down to a more healthy pace, living in this moment.
I’m still learning to adapt every day. About culture, how to use my hands when eating, how to use the bathroom. It’s still a long adventurous way ahead of me and I will never understand Bali ways the way my children will. But I’m learning.

Fight Club is one of my favorite stories. Because of quotes like this:
The stuff you own ends up owning you.
Why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is?
Advertising has us working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.
It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.
On a long enough timeline, the survival rate of everyone drops to zero.

So, homework assignment:
Forget about your stuff, the job you go back to next Monday, and live this weekend like it’s your last. Enjoy your coffee like it’s you’re first, scramble your eggs like there’s a gun to your head, and spend today like it’s your last. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.
Enjoy! Today, this moment; it’s the best one in you’ll ever have.
winnie pooh wisdom quote

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Day LXVII – MAI 24, 2012

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Padangbai isn’t much of a barefeet town. My flipflops, the DC’s I bought in Vientiane still covered in Greenway paint, left before I did last night. It was a crowded night, but I still don’t get it really, why you have to steal someone’s worn down footwear…

I’m falling into a new daily routine: wake up, grab my swimming gear to go to Bias Tugal (white sand) to have Pari’s banana pancake with honey and choco sprinkles for breakfast with a cup of ginger tea, have some swims, tans, games and writing. When the sun sets we walk back to town to grab a shower. I have dinner at Martini, check out the live music, enjoy the party and go to bed not before midnight.

This afternoon Koming takes me to visit another friend Fab, my sis-in-law who’s parents had a house here, told me to go see, Ketut. She was in Holland to study, which is how they met.
She lives 3 minutes walking from Sunshine bar, so Koming and I meet there at 2pm. Last night he strictly told me not to be late. I am 10 minutes late still, and almost get worried he left already when I don’t see him right away. Then I see him driving over from afar. ‘Late’ is a different concept here I suppose, even when the date is very specif. Another reason this place is perfect for me.

He still needs to have breakfast so we go to warung Sinar, where he sits me down at a table and walks into the kitchen to cook himself some.
While he’s eating we overhear a taxidriver making a date with a customer by telephone in funny Engrish, and he’s the one that starts laughing. He tells me how, when he just started working in Kuta and learning English, he saw tourists taking photos of the menu and asked them why and has been very cautious about Engrish since then.

We get on his scooter to drive ‘all the way’ to Ketuts. She’s a sweet woman with little Laura hiding behind her and even littler Theo on her arms, welcoming me with a broad smile. She tells me I don’t look Dutch at all; she’d have said Australian, and I take it as a compliment.
We talk a bit about Fab and my travels and then she and Koming chat away in Bahasa Bali for an hour or so, every now and then translating into English to explain or ask me something. I just sit there taking it all in.
Another big courtyard with many houses connected to it, with many kids and chickens running around it and playing in between the bananatrees. It’s nice to be right in the middle of the local life like this. I’d be even better if I understood the language though!
Each house has a large porch where everyone is sitting, talking, folding the little ceremonial baskets or doing other housechores. Ketut has some birdcages hanging around hers, a bench and a table standing on it, and some timber lying around.
The woodwork on her doors and windows looks new and some of it is beautifully carved. The house is mainly build up of concrete. The entrance room I’m looking into is tiled and looks pretty empty with just a table and a plastic gardenchair in it. And the roosters are still crowing. They do so 24/7 around here.

Less than two weeks and I’ll be back at where it says my home is. But to be honest, after three and a half years of halflife in The Hague where I studied, half a year of living in France, two months of staying with my parents and three months of living out of a backpack and on crappy matrasses in a wordly state of mind…
Well, home is where the heart is, and mine was stolen by Asia.
It’s true what that girl in A Map For Saturday says: you get used to the lack of toilet paper -though it took me 2 months- and it’s true what the guy says: your backpack becomes your home.
20.000 rupiah or 8.000 riel becomes a lot of money: it’s a good meal, half an accommodation or a large beer. Back home 2 bucks is next to nothing.
But other than that it doesn’t really mean much. Your belongings just become more crap for you to be carrying around on your back. Even the gifts I’m getting, they’re the only souvenirs I’ve got, but I’d rather just put them in a box and send them home where I’ll give them a place of honour.
The thing most important to me now are my cam and all the memories it holds on that little memorycard; the visual proofs, these written memories in my books and my phone, by way of staying in touch with people, from home and from the road; by way of memory.

I pull out my book a lot to write. And every time people comment, “You’re still writing. That’s so great! I started keeping a dairy but I couldn’t keep up. After a week I didn’t write anything at all anymore.” And still I feel like I’m leaving so much out and doing you short here.

Most people are only passing through, don’t stay long in this hrbour town. But the ones who do are instant friends and it feels like we’re a sort of family. I think that feeling becomes even stronger in this town because the locals are as much friends as the fellow travellers are.
But tonight, none of my family is here, and I’m feeling a little ditched. Again that feeling of loneliness, wondering where ‘everyone’ is…
I even get over my no-Dutch rule when I hear some elder men speaking in flamish on the other end of the table and go over to have a chat.
And then the daundest thing. Another group of Dutch are sitting at that end of the terras and one of them asks me “You’re Merel, right? Do you remember me? From artschool…” I have to think a moment, and it’s dark, but then I recognise Roy with whom I started the same year, be it in different departments. It’s funny how I used to think him handsome and felt a little teenager about him where he sort of ignored me. And now he’s the one making jokes about having stalking me all the way over here; the complete opposit.

It’s funny how long term vs short term memory is working now. ‘Home’ is a long time and far way from me now. As is the trekking near Chiang Mai, but they still feel semi close.
But the day I came to Padangbai is so much closer, yet it feels like I’ve been here forever.

Day LXVI – MAI 23, 2012

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I wake up at 9am and try sleeping in a little. But it’s no use with the sun burning out there, with just a simple roof in between, and a net to give me privacy on a floor that swings out 10 centimeters everytime someone walks by. So I get up from my 2-centimeter thick mattress, grab my beachbag and head out for some breakfast.

Some weird things I encounter on the way: a cockfight, luckily the owners pull them apart long before it gets as nasty as the one Thomas told us about last night.
Then there was the slaughter of a big marlin that was just caught, that had to be fitted on a scooter to be taken some place.
As I sit here by the side of the ocean waiting for my pancake a very old lady comes over and puts her fragile hand on my table and looks at me expectanly. A little scary, but mostly sad…

As it is such a small town and so few backpackers or tourists in general hang out here, you quickly get a sense of home and community and the feeling of ‘us’ is easily established again.
At white sand I see Kayla again. She tells me how she was hungover all day yesterday; the arak really got her bad. Though she was the one sneaking in through the rounds trying to get a little extra. Careful what you wish for, ey. There are stories though, of people loosing their sight over arak…
Also I meet Chris and Joe and we have heaps of fun with the waves and a crab that appears to be after us, and their fribee – yet another sport I suck at terribly.
At some point I tried walking into the water, but a wave no higher than my knees came in with such force it sweppd me right of my feet and threw me on beach so hard I got a big scratch on my thigh by the sand.
And then we see a school of 10 fish or so, not far out, skipping over the bay; awesome!

As I am a bit of an adolescent when it comes to drinking beer, I’m now at the stage of peeling. And I know what is said about peeling, but I don’t care, I only started drinking it a few months ago; I’m entitled to some catching up. And I’ve taken to a little project. The big table outside of Sunshine; I mean to cover it in peels entirely. Last night I got started on it, got an eight of the table done and asked the boys not to remove it and explained the project and how it means good business for them: “I won’t be leaving and will keep ordering beers until I fill this whole table.” However, when I came back tonight, all of it is gone. I have to start all over again?!

Day LXIV – MAI 21, 2012

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My very first day in Padangbai

In luck again: I can hitch a ride into town with RipCurl, otherwise the taxi would’ve cost another 100.000rph. Pick-up leaves at 7am, so there’s hardly any time to say goodbye.
I’m in for a surprise before I leave though, when I’m getting my bill. It turns out to be more than twice as much as expected.
I’m sorry, I’m talking money and budget a lot, like I’m constantly cracking numbers. But I’ve gotten to this point where I really have to start watching out, I’m running tight!

So here I go again on my own.
From Ripcurl it’s a 15 minute walk to the Perama busstop. All the while taxi’s and bikes keep slowing down to offer transport.
Bemo should be the cheapest option, Lonely Planet says it’s 22.000rph and across the street from Perama.
But I don’t see an office. There’s an elder man asking, the way drivers always keep doing “Where you go?” I almost dismiss him like I did with every transport offer, but then he says “Bemo?” So he’s got my attention. “I give you good price, 200.000rph, we can leave now.” So basically he’s just offering me a cab ride there. It’s faster, but a lot more expensive too.

So I book a busticket with Perama for 60.000rph from Kuta to Padangbai. It’ll be another 2 hours and I’m welcomed in the waiting area where I can grab some complementary instant coffee, and we’re back to Thai/Laos/Combodian quality.

This girl, Putu Dia [17, Sanur, Bali] who’s a trainee with Perama comes to sit with me for a while. She’s so darling.
She tells me she wants to visit Holland, but I tell her she’s so much better off here in this beautiful country with it’s friendly people, than to go to a flat, grey, cold country where nobody has time to sit down for a chat like she’s now doing, because they have to be some place else to make more money.
She tells me a little more about their country and culture. Like the Bali names. The first child is always named Putu, the second always Made, the third always Komang and the fourth always Ketut. For the fifth and so on it starts over again. And after that comes a given name, in her case Dia. She’s an only child, so the oldest, therefore Putu Dia. That would make me Ketut Merel. *

Dia comes to wave me off when the bus leaves. And finally it’s the really shabby one, no AC, sliding windows and wobbly chairs like I wanted to be on since I first saw them in Bangkok. Too bad there are hardly any locals on, and behind me sits an American who can’t stop talking about the awesome things he’s done and going to do and seems to really have to prove himself with his big talk.

There’s a stop and swich at Ubud, in a little courtyard of gravel and concrete. That’s all I see of Ubud now, but I guess I’ll be back. It looked like a charming town and I’ve heard it’s a must.

The road takes us through tropical forests with limestonelike hills and along the shore to the end of the road, right up to a harbour.
So this is Padangbai.
At the Perama info desk I get a map, but I don’t really get to study it as I’m tugged on from all end to come to their guesthouse or take their fastboat to Gilies.

Such a shame they’re trying so hard to sell; makes it incredibly hard to tell who wants to just have an honest conversation. And the few of those you do have are awkward because you seem to have to be on your guard with what you say.

Walking in to town I’m asked over a dozen times if I need a room. I tell them I need to find a bed for no more than 60.000 rph, and most of them let me go. Until an older man says he can do. “Walk with me, I live closeby.” It’s a 10-minute walk still, over the parking area and through another maze of gangs. We walk into a garden that belongs to many houses wih many plants and flowers and little altars and family busslte going on.
A few steps up is a simple and slightly dirty room with 2 double beds, a fan and a shabby bathroom, but it will do for tonight. So we shake hands, I ask him to draw me a map and fill out his little book of guests.
After I dropped my bag and take a look around I ask him who’s supposed to take the dead rat out of the alley, and go back in for a shower.

All freshened up I take my cam and go to find Bloo Lagoon beach.
On the way there I walk past Topi Inn, a Dutch set up, now run by Australians, guesthouse with an eco diner and in the upstairs loungeroom they have a few beds laid out by way of dorm. Those beds are 40 a night, so I book it for the next night.
When I get to the beautiful Bloo Lagoon tide is just moving out. The waves look like they could eat you up and the water is the bluest of blue, here in this little bay surrounded by tropical greens and black lava rivers of stone. Too bad that I can only enjoy its peace for 20 minutes before the bar starts pumping up the volume with more of those hits. Time to discover the rest of this town and find a warung.

The thing is: it’s all awesome once you’ve made your friends, even if they’re just there for a day.
But when you’re alone, you have too much time and get inside your head. And you need that, from time to time. But zoning out with other people around, by choice, is so different from that whole sense of extreme loneliness you get when you’re just in a new place.
You are really alone. And people may be friendly, but they’re all ‘them’ and there’s no ‘us’, just ‘me’.

Time to meet some new people, time to meet Koming at Sunshine bar. He’s not in yet, but since I’m the only customer his staff comes to sit and chat with me, a younger boy that introduces himself as Tude. I don’t know him either, but suddenly is doesn’t feel as alone anymore.
Just like a wave it turns and tosses me around.
Then a man on a tough scooter with long hair, tattoos and tunnels in his ears comes over and greets me in a slightly Australian accent “Hi Merryl, how a’ yoo? Yoo ge’ he’ weal?” and I meet a great friend.
We talk a while, about our mutual friend, about her boyfriend; my brother, me, him, and get to know each other.
We find a shared passion in playing guitar and singing so start live-night early with a little acoustic set on the terras. He reminds me of this great at fitting song by Alanis Morisette – Hand In My Pocket and I can’t even imagine how lonely I was feeling two hours ago.

Some drunken Aussies come by, a father and son looking for pussy; they’re the rudest. Koming is still a proper host and gives them the beer they ask for. He’s as happy as I am when they leave though.

Later in the evening a band comes in and plays the night away with more hits from memory lane, while at the long table outside I meet Kayla [Aus] Josh and brothers Chris and Joe [USA] and some more formidable people like the Aussie granddad.
Koming feels it’s his duty to properly introduce us all to arak after the band’s gone home.
Arak is the local spirit made of coconut, that sort of reminds of petrol. He fills an empty beer bottle with it, takes out a saucer with salt and limes and keeps pouring and handing a shotglass around the table, again and again.
All the while we’re discussing al kinds of silly and serious matters; the word ‘fuck’ and the locals misunderstanding it for a swearword instead of an adjective, religion and marriage on Bali and in Indonesia and how they go together in a generally Muslim country with Hindu and Christian islands – when they marry both can keep their own belief, but for the sake of the children one will be chosen over the other. Often it will be the man’s as the woman always moves in with him and his family.

At around 3am Koming sends Tude to go get a midnight snack. A little later he’s back with a few paper cones filled with rice, noodle and spicy chunks of meat. I try to be tough but five bites in and I have to give up crying. Enak sekali though! The rest of it goes to the streetdogs – they’re between stray and pet, though these mainly live on the street.
We continue with the beers and talk until a lighter shade of blue comes up.
Koming and I finish ours after the others leave, and he dares me to one more arak. I never not accept a challenge; he’s got me figured there. We spend what feels like at least another hour talking and it feels like I met another soulmate.

* And still I’m surprised how important this numbering is. When asked about my family it’s how many are you? The howmaniest are you? When asked about my boyfriend, when I’m telling about my brothers.
Also I’ve found out in the mean time there are a few more options:
1 Putu, Gede, Wayan, Tude
2 Made, Kadek
3 Komang, Nyoman
4 Ketut
But still it can get very confusing. And most have either tweaked their Bali name into something personal or, more common, invented themselves or their friends nicknames. Plenty I know only by their alias, which they sometimes change to play a trick on the one-night tourists.

Of here and home

Yesterday I was talking to my dear friend Mies on facebook, about how I feel over coming home pretty soon. On one hand I’d really love to see everyone there again and finish my studies there and have steady things. But on the other I’ve adapted to the backpacker life and mindset so well; I love not knowing what’s coming next week, when I leave this camp. I love not knowing what’s happening tomorrow.
I am slowly getting tired of gaining and loosing new friends all the time. Sometimes I don’t even want to go through the trouble of learning names and making those pleasantries.
Remember how stoked I would get about going back home in those first weeks? Well, that’s gone completely. And I seem to have stopped missing back home and even the people pretty much. Not to say I wouldn’t like to see them again, for a night or so. But I’d rather have more time here.
So let’s conclude that 2 months is the time you need to acquire that backpacker state of mind.

More new connections to be made, more new friends to say goodbye to. Traveling is the best, though I do believe it can stomp you down too.
Everything is so much more intense. Time goes by so much slower than back home. Everything is exciting and new, and no day is the same as the last, even if you get some sort of routine in them like I have here at the surfcamp. It only last for this certain amount of days. And they’re still very different and it’s too short to really find routine anyway.
And everyone is more reckless. You only have this chance, this day, this experience, this place, these circomstances once, so you owe it to yourself to make the most of it.
Of course that is always the case, but in day to day life back home you fail to realize this. The intense way you experience life out here makes you that much more aware of it.
There is no time to stop, no time to look back; or you’ll miss this moment. No time to catch your breath. And at times that gets exhausting.
The only moments you have for that are those lost hours on the bus or while waiting to board. And those are exactly the moments you’re already so tired, and where it’s key to be alert, on watch for your luggage and yourself.
Now don’t get me wrong or all negative. It’s extremely rewarding and you’re in a constant state of extacy, a high on life, a thrill of it all, that only seems to diminish little in those little dips of exhaustion. And then you board the plain, strap in, sit back, put on your headphones and zone out to a view of nothingness in the sky and think back on all the awesome once in a lifetimes you’ve had with your last set of single serving friends.

I like to make a metaphor with surf I was feeling today: you’re out in the water, and even though there are tons of others lying on their boards just the same, it’s only you and the ocean. Her as a big roaring momma and you as the teeny bit, waiting for what she’s going to feed you next. Most of it too big for you to even grasp. So it will just wash you down as you try to catch enough air to make it to surface again.
But every now and then you’re in perfect harmony, and she lifts you up three times your bodyheight and pushes you along as you ride from left to right. By the time she puts you down there isn’t a moment rest, for a next wash will be right there to plunge over you and the struggle starts all over again, demanding from you to keep watch and stay alert at all times.

Boring bus days part I don’t know

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Day LV – Mai 12

My alarm wakes me much too early and I try to hide in Amir’s arms. But my boat will leave in an hour so we kiss and hug goodbye.
Before I get on that boat I already regret not exchanging any contact details. At least I have my sore lips to remember him by.

Goodbye Turtle Island. Now I’m going to say a few mean things about you to make the people at home feel better or just for the hack of sarcasm, but I really did have a great time with you and you are truly beautiful!
It’s just that other than diving there really is nothing to do here. It’s pretty small so you can easily walk the distance of the main beach where you find nearly all the establishments. But the other beaches and viewpoints are too far, and it’s too hot to bike there. I heard some nasty scamming stories on bike rental too, people having to pay 9.000b to mobsters for scratches they didn’t inflict etc. The taxies are too expensive for those little rides. It’s an island so everything is pretty expensive anyway. The seawater is too warm. And then there is the reef that shall not be crossed.
I found out too late about Nan Yang, a little island out there that might offer some good swimming and has a ferry service at 200b for return 10am – 4pm.
But in hindsight I think I’d been better off trying Koh Phagnan. Ah well, next time!

I sit on the front deck again, where it’s nice and windy. And I do apply a lot of sun block. But when we transfer at Koh Phangan I have to admit I’m pretty burned and sit inside the rest of the way.

At the harbour we’re ushered onto a bus that takes us to a strange back-alley bus station in Surat Thani.
“Phuket?!” We have to wait at a little restroom where the manager sitting behind his desk with his big book asks each of us to come by one by one. When I tell him I need to go to the airport he offers me a service: for 200b extra they’ll drop me off there, though it’s on the way. I tell him I’ll think about it, which pisses him off.
I sit back down and it turns out 2 others are on the exact same flight as me. The big man tries to convince us, but one of my fellow travellers is certain we could get a tuktuk from town for no more than 40b each, so we keep refusing him and he keeps being unfriendly to us. This peninsula just might have seen too many tourists.

Eventually we’re picked up by a minivan. The driver has a few arrants to run. Which is fine by me, and as I’m the one sitting next to him we joke a bit.
The passengers in the back are not amused though, and ask our driver when he stops for a second time and gets up, lights a cigarette “Can we just go please?” Our driver gets very agitated by this. He does get in and drives off, but speeds so much that after a dangerous curve, makes a little prayer and calms down.
He becomes friendly to me again and offers me a strange fruit he’s got lying on his dashboard.
I carefully try negotiating a stop over at the airport, but he still wants money and starts at the same 200b that unfriendly man did.

When we stop for dinner me and the others that are on the flight look at the map with him and try again, but only get him down to 100b each. Tired from fighting we agree, and we’re dropped at the airport by 10pm.
Our flight leaves at 6.45am, so we’ve got a considerable amount of time to kill. Luckily one of them has a laptop with many movies.

By now my burns hurt so bad I quickly run into the pharmacy before it closes to get me some of that wonderful aloë vera aftersun.

We get our boarding passes at the self-check-in and find a comfortable place with a power socket, and settle in for Beauty And The Beast. One of the security guys –we sort of stole their post- sits down to watch with us.
By 4am we make our way to check-in. We grab another quick nap while waiting for boarding. And as we’re seated on different sides of the plane, that’s goodbye.