Padangbai Weekly

But the dreams of Southeast Asia never faded. All through the long days at work and quiet nights at home I kept dreaming of all the alleys yet to be roamed, waterfalls yet to be jumped, villagers and fellow travelers with the same passionate will to live and explore yet to be met.
And on October 13th I finally flew back east to the island I left last, straight on a bus to the town that stole my heart; it only seemed fitting to begin again where I left off.
Initially I intended to stay for about a week. But before I knew it a month had passed.
And I was almost ready to finally move on. You can’t ever stay in one place too long or you get sucked into routine again; precisely the reason you went traveling in the first place, no?
But the lack of contact with fellow travelers made me wonder how much I wanted to go down that path again; the lonely busrides, the ever continuing goodbyes…
This is about where you lost me. And it must have been destiny this is about where it happened.
(Yes I know, destiny is one of those iffy terms. But I’m not afraid to use it here.)

Another one of those encounters where right away it feels like you’ve known each other from before, like you’re old friends who just haven’t seen each other for a long time.
“Why didn’t I meet you before?” finally met it’s context for me.

I’ve been mentioning boyfriends before. After the dark months back home I’ve been getting eager to find someone again. And the closer I got to leaving, the easier that became – long story.
Short: finally I got the commitment I wanted before, but by then I was so close to departure I didn’t want it anymore. I already knew travel and relationships don’t go together. Another long story I mean to go into later.
I’m drifting off again. (Must be because the waves in front of me keep rolling in and out different thoughts.)

He’s different from the other boys here, who all make hunting the many tourist girls that pass through their town a sport. He’s not hitting on me.
But he’s ever so friendly, and open.
On the beach, after attempting to teach me riding the boogie-board, we sit and he tells me all about his life.
And he’s so clever and funny and honest.
And every day I’m looking forward to hanging out with my new friend more and more.
And so charming too.

I don’t have to elaborate on how this turned from friendship to fling to serious. Or maybe I will, for chicklit’s sake. Another time.

This blog is not a dairy. “Today I went to the beach, again. There weren’t any waves though, so I spend most my time sitting at a warung, listening to my boyfriend talking with the other locals, trying to pick up some bahasa Bali. Thinking about how I’m going to find a job so I won’t have to leave the country in three weeks…”
There’s not a lot of new stuff happening yet, since I came back here already more than a week ago. We’re figuring out how we’re going to make our life together. But I don’t have much to tell you yet.

I should tell you about my week in fresh Singapore, the city/country unlike any other, where I received the warmest of welcomes by my awesome friend and host Fauzy.
And the complete opposite in third-world Cambodia where I visited some of my best friends from home; a blast!
But that all doesn’t go in the Padangbai Weekly. Once again I’m telling you “later” – see, I’m talking like a local already.

So I’ll devote this one to this last week, back in the town that started to feel like home since I was first here 1.5 years ago.

I came back so quickly because this guy I met in November and I just couldn’t wait till February; when I’d originally booked my flight back.
I abandoned my traveling dream for a different, no less dreamlike life.

And after a week pretty much off of everything, I’m back in the office; a warung by the ocean, my pen and booklet on the table, describing the same scene all over again.
A tourist couple in the sand, a local sits down with then to make friends and invite them to the bar tonight to get his friend some business. The sarong/massage girls and sunglasses/henna-tattoo guys on the prowl. A little further the kids are playing, throwing sand at each other, shouting at the waves. And a little farther still a group of tourists gathers to pose for a photo with the musicians. My guy’s grilling the fish he just caught to feed me the best of flavors again.

It’s going to be a rocky road. Indonesia is not eager letting Westerners taking their jobs, so getting my long-term visa is going to be a hassle.
My love is four years younger, a surfer, an raised in a completely different culture where ‘hurry’ and ‘now’ don’t have much meaning anyway.
But as long as I can turn off my Western brainwashed “what if’s” and just relax, I truly do live in paradise.
Like I would joke to my friends back home. Most of them haven’t backpacked solo so would ask me “What is your plan, when are you coming back?” Questions that don’t exist on the road.
So I would joke “Maybe one day I’ll meet a hot surfer and we’ll fall madly in love and spend the rest of our days in a shack by the ocean.”
I can’t help it happened this soon. But I’m sure it will bring me plenty more stories to tell.
For now I’m going to put my pen down and just enjoy it some more though.

Day LXXVII – JUNE 3, 2012

Every day a new adventure.

That this should just happen to be my last doesn’t even start to break that rule.

I’m woken by a knock on the door at 9am. And then again at 11 am, and at 12pm –check out- I awnser it.
Last nights there was a little incident where one of the employes knocked on my door with broken English and pretty much forced himself in, sat down and asked if I had beer and if he could stay. I got him out again easily enough, but still he scared me and I kept my door locked and closed for the rest of the night.

Now it’s just the minivan service to the airport. And while waiting the guys make some more (rude?) comments, and one of them wants to take his picture with ‘the blond girl’.
But finally we load up and leave this place. I share the backseat bench with 4 other customers and we pick up 2 more who get the passenger seat. Not too crowded.

At the airport again I have to pose as ‘the white girl’ a few times. I’m sure they were saying in amazement “and she was smoking too.”

I was hoping to stash my bag in the Emirates office, but after trying to arrange that for 2 hours with a lot of asking, walking back and forth, and no success I give up. Not a lot of English is spoken or understood around here on Soekarno Hatta International Airport. I’m glad the signs at least have translations on them in small writing.

I sit down with starfucks and order a ‘coffee’ to get on their wifi.
A nice young man from Bandung asks if that other chair is taken. His Ingris is very good and we have a nice chat.
Yeah. Airport days aren’t that bad.

And that’s what you get for talking to strangers.

A look into the airport backstage and a free local meal. And of course the company and insight of life of a local.

Sjaf, who works here in logistics –but not today; so what was he doing here? – took me.
He just starts talking to me, not in the annoying way the ignorant-to-buleh guys at the hotel did. He’d actually seen and learned something of the world, has a French girlfriend now living in Bali and aspires a trip to New Zealand to visit a friend and work in the kiwi business. Good English too.
I ask him for a tip on good, cheap, local food and he tells me there is a place he can get that. “You want to go now?” So I follow him into a staff only area where a woman sits behind a table filled with local goods. He gets a fish pindang and fried potato and nasi goring. Enak sekali!
He insists on paying, and makes sure I put down his contact info for when I come back. “You can stay with my girlfriend maybe, she lives in a big villa. No charge of course. Call me when you get back ya?”

It’s funny: back there in the staff area I expected more funny faces like “Who the hell is this?” but I didn’t get any at all.

Sjef walks me outside and tells me “Thank you for your time.” For real? All of that, you just get, all it takes is an open mind, or maye some would call it naivity. I’m still just a little blond girl travelling alone with my big backpack. But you’ve got to be able to let go of those things and just roll with it.

At 9pm check-in starts, my visa gets that big ‘used’ stamp on it and in line the number of none-asians suddenly grows fast.
The only smoking area on this side is a café where I wasn’t allowed a table without consumption, but another guest invites me to sit at his. However, he continues down the tunnelvision of his smartphone. Welcome back into ‘the real world’…

An other airport employe has seen me walking around this gate the past 3 hours, and comes to sit with me while I steal some power to make sure my music won’t die on the 16 hour-flight ahead of me. He hands me a can of coke and tries to strike up a conversation, but is something like a deaf mute. At least it’s not the language that’s the barier, and he’s such a sweetheart for noticing and sharing this with me!
I cannot bare to leave this place! But he signs for me I should probably precede to bording. I give him a peck on the cheek, swing on my small backpack, and walk out of Indonesia and on to Emirates.
About 6 hours later I find myself on Dubai International Airport again. With a new free for use smoking lounge sponsored by Winston. So I walk past the Irish pub I once envisioned running into one of my on-the-road-crushes. As all of those have faded, so will eventually do my feelings for Padangbai and becoming a Balinese, I suppose…

And thus I get on another airbus, back to Amsterdam.

Day lXXVI – JUNE 2, 2012

After a hasty wake up, final packing and race to the airport, I’m waiting to board flight QZ7521 to Jakarta.
So I put up my hair Balinese stye like Nyoman taught me and draw in the happiest memories melancholicly while I try to stay focussed on the boardingscreen.
My liver and brain are doing their best to process the many satu lagi’s I shouldn’t have had last night. To feed my sentimental mood I check the footage I recorded. Man I’m going to miss these guys!
Welcome to hotel Padangbai. I checket out but I never want to leave.
Oh stop being such a baby; in a few weeks all experiences of the last months will just be warm and fuzzy, distant memories.

On the plane I’m sieated next to this elderly couple, the man in traditional muslim outfit, the lady wears a headscarf. They keep smiling at me very friendly but I can’t keep from wondering: what must they thing of me, a girl all alone on a plane…
And then suddenly you’re a young woman travelling alone in a Mulsim country.

From beautiful fresh happy Bali to the dusty Jakarta area.
I land at 2 o’clock and had forgotten to look up a hostel or a town; I don’t want to go into Jarakta city since I only have 30 hours or so to kill till my flight home leaves from this same airport 30 kilometers out of the city.
So I try asking at the infostand, but they can only tell me of hotelrooms starting at 200.000 rupiah a night or don’t speak English at all.
I meet a guy named Finman, a 28 year old banker that works at the airport, who offers me a ride into a closeby town. “There is transit hotel.” He gets off work at 7pm but goes to have a chat with his boss, who is eager to meet me and practise his English, and throws some names of apparently famous football players my way that don’t ring a bell, but are supposedly Dutch, “Ya, bagus!”
Finman gets some time off to bring me to a hotel. I’d spoken with him for a while and he seems like an honest young man so I take him up on his offer.

We drive for 10 minutes and get into a dusty town of little shacks shattered around the side of the road. It all looks so different from Bali, even from th rest of Southeast Asia.
The first hotel stinks, literally, and they charge 170 for a muffled room. 20 meters further is the next. They’re full.
But there is a somewhat persistant mister of the place two doors down, and that place looks clean. 175 a night sounds fair enough, so close by the airport, plus they include a taxi to the airport. Transit Hotel Serasi it is.

The room is still a concrete cage without windows. But with tv… no wifi though. I guess I’ll finally get to catch up on the many hours of sleep I’ve been missing.
The place is ran by men only and, well, it feels like a world apart.

Finman asks to use my bathroom; least I can do. He asks if he can sit down for a moment; sure. “A few more?” Ok. “You want me to pick you up for dinner tonight?” No thank you, you’ve been very kind, but I’m tired. “You want a massage? No charge, because we friends ya.” Ehm, no, no thanks…
It might be a culture or language issue, so I always try to stay openminded about these things, but is getting a little weird right here.
He points to my belly and says “You big, ya? I think you like the food.” and smiles. I think that’s another culture thing. In the west you just don’t tell a woman she looks more than thin. But Koming also had made this remark, very frank and forward, on how I’m a little chubby, but therefore no less gorgeous. So how do you respond to such a thing?

I leave the hotel for a little stroll to get to know my suroundings, as I always like to do.
I walk along the main road and pass a few empty warung-like stalls that seem uninhabited. There’s a lot of traffic and honking at me and people shouting things I don’t understand. Everybody looks at me like “What the hell are you doing here?” I guess they don’t see a lot of tiny blondes wandering the streets alone…
I see plenty of alleys leadig out to what looks like the place where people actually live and the action is. But because of all the funny faces and that I have no idea of the way things work around here I don’t dare explore them.
I go into a bigger lane or what looks like a square and find a warung where I even see some girls sitting without chaperones.
The lovely bosslady helps me with the manu, but still we can’t figure it out too well with hands and feet and the slightest bit of bahasa Indonesia and bahasa Ingris we share, so I follow her to the counter and point at some things that look tasty. An elder man comes to warn me “bery spicy”, but I love my last meal out on the streets!
I’m going to miss you so much Indonesia!

I suppose I should be home before dark.
It’s going to be a long night. Ah well, gives me some time to reflect on everything I’ve been through, to put it dramatically.
And with that realization of how I only have a few hours left on Asian time I suddenly wish there was someone bisa berbicara Bahasa Ingris, to get to know the local life here as this is such a different place again.

I’m back in my room at 5.30 and for the first time this whole trip I feel so very very alone and overpowered by it all I cry.
A refreshing shower later and I’m ready to face this lonely night. My body should be exhausted enough, and I’ve got plenty left to write about, photo’s to sort, things to read, thoughts to wander…
And if I should need the distraction: I have an artschool admission in a few days I still have to get started on. However, those are the serious kind of things I’d rather postpone as long as I can.

Home, or all the awesome beautiful people I met on the road for that matter; they feel so far away at this moment. I know I love them with all the passion my heart beats with, but I will only feel it again when I’d see them… no that’s not exactly how I mean to say it. Or maybe it is… I just can’t tell right now.
I’m convinced tomorrow, another Java day, will be less of a culture shock than the day after, back in the Netherlands, where I’ll possibly feel more lonely, having discovered this new world and now leaving it much, much too soon.

To get used to the cold I turn on the AC tonight and sleep with an actual blanket pulled over me.

Day LXXV – JUNE 01, 2012

I’m waiting for Koming. We’d go to Tirta Gangga, he’d pick me up at 11.30. But we both overslept. When I called him half an hour ago –well after 1pm- I woke him up with the same shock I’d just woken up with.
I realize we’re never going to make it; he would have to be back at Sunshine to open at 5pm.
But I am completely fine with just doing another day of the exact same I have these past weeks here: going to whitesands, hang out at the warung, playing cards or frisbee, jump in the waves. It still brings enough excitement and diversity every day not to ‘like’ to come back but to WANT to. I could easily do this for a month or so more.

I’m still a little wobbly when I see Koming turning up next door at Ozone Cafe. I fear the wobbly feeling might have something to do with bad arak last night… He calls me over to have a beer first. “Good breakfast, haha!” Doesn’t sit too well with me though.
It’s already 3pm when we get on his bike, but 40 minutes later he parks his bike at Tirta Gangga.
You know I like to get a little crazy in traffic myself, but he’s got me clenching a few times; out of excitement of course! And he laughs at me as I do. He promised he’ll be extra safe with me on the back, but still it must’ve been the fasted I’d gone in all of Asia.
ttgg rice
It‘s quite cloudy and cool up here, and the temple complex is much smaller than I expected it to be. There are 4 ponds filled with huge koi-fish that Koming feeds and I take pictures of, and a lot of beautiful statues and fountains. Agains the side of the hill some increadibly magestic ancient trees climb up that would take over 10 men to encircle them. They must have been here since the dawn of time.
We sit down at the farthest temple where it’s quiet to get some peace looking out over the temple and the valley. A good way to spend the last day with a very good friend.
Check Flickr for more pictures.

It’s funny how walking up there and back again the retailers keep throwing “You need cool drink, massage, guide, transport?” at us. Jokingly I reply: “Terima kasih, tidak, saya suda punya transportasi.” – No thanks, I already have a ride.

Then we sit at a warung where the food is bad, the view is good, we laugh at the menu and he tells me his war-stories of Kuta.

ttggHe didn’t know the places there, had only been just once himself. We look at one, but he doesn’t like it so we cross the street. It’s a cute place, but when the food comes it’s so disappointing he sends it back to the kitchen. Still he’s not satisfied with the result, so we hardly eat a thing. ‘Grilled fish’ ment fried fish ans ‘springrolls’ ment vegtable-envelopes, both soaking with grease.
We’d been talking about Engrish before and have some laughs aver this menu, not only at the spelling but also at getting the translations wrong.
I had to ask him about the one on the wall in Sunshine Bar ‘Do you keen for a nice drink?’ “Yeah I know, I still have to change that.” His English is as good as anyones, with a few grammar errors here and there, but no none-native is perfect.
He tells me of his adventures in Kuta where security protects tourists, aka annoying drunken Aussies who are always looking to pick a fight, instead of being fair towards locals. But other local have each others backs. There are some heavy stories there.

When we get on the bike to drive back we pass the other place, the one he dismissed before, and we see them grilling a fish over an honest fire. “Well, shit!”

There is so much more for me to learn about the this island and the local lifestyle and it’s religion and traditions. And there’s so much more I want to see of this tiny town Padangbai.
Last night I sat with one of the guys for a while, and asked him to sing to my phone so I could record their genius version of Land Down Under to get me through the time I’ll be away from here:

I come from Padangbai
don’t forget drink jus avocado
tomorrow go to Gili Meno
in Lombok many mosquito

I expressed being sad to leave and wanting to come back soon, for longer, and he replied “You say that now, but in a few weeks you’re going to be stuck in your job again back home and you’re going to forget all about us. Believe me. You’re tourist #10.039 to say this.” And I believe him at that.
But I am decided to prove him wrong. I told him I will be back to find a job and stay.
Wawa of course, I realize that too.
But plenty of expats have landed here in this lovely little town and run successful businesses or are happy freelancing for a few months or years.

And then it’s here; time to say goodbye for the last time. The longest goodbye, it’s ridiculous. And somehow we made it again sampai pagi.

Day LXXIV – MAI 31, 2012

120531 dogpile 2
For the first time ever do I go out snorkelling. And my god, what have I missed?! I can’t believe how ignorant I was about everything down there. Finding Nemo is so accurate! All the colours, shapes, in coral as well as fish. Wow!
My friend even saw a shark. Good thing I think I didn’t know that was what he was signing, as I don’t understand underwater language and only found out after we were back on shore. I would have been shit scared and it would surely have come after me.

My last days are here and I’m at the point where I can start my lists, and when it comes to town and locals this place is by far #1, leaving all the others far behind!

I’m trying not to focus on the going home, and even though I’d love to see my friends, the whole concept of it; stepping back into a daily life of school and living in a house and all that slur, I can’t quite grasp it, even after just being away for so short a period.
Damn, now I’m getting sentimental. I don’t want to leave!

One of my friends has her last night tonight, so we invent a little event to make it special. We call it sampai pagi: we’ll watch the sun set on black sand beach – we don’t actually make it out that far, but the idea was there. Then there’s the bar for some live music, good fun and drinks all night, until we go to the dock to see the sun rise again.
It got to a saying and yell and all. People would be asking what we were talking about and I’d like to explain “You know fullmoon parties, blackmoon, halfmoon, all that crazy shit in Thailand? Well, this is the Padangbai version, from dusk till dawn!”
When at 2am we’re all sort of dozing, I suggest we head over to the bay early and have a wake-up dive. They respond with more enthousiasm I embarked on. So I quickly go to pick up my bikini and say goodbye to Koming who was already asleep on the chairs in the café.
We pay our bill with the boys and clear out their supply of bir.
Wayan, a friend of Tude, who really wants to practice his English, comes with us. He and Carmel decide to guard the shore while Chris, Joe and I go in the shallow bay. I have my bikini, Chris strips to his shorts, but Joe thought it more appropriate to go skinnydipping. The water is so nice and cool at night. But there’s a lot more creeping the dark waters here. I get caught by some evil plants or whatever it was that was trying to take me down to depths, but break loose and get out. I win, bitch!
We move over to the dock for the rest of the night and Chris pulls out Otis Redding to complete the feeling.
Two thousand miles I’ve roamed, just to make this dock my home.

After an hour or so we see a light coming our way, and worry for a second someone might be coming over to tell us we can’t be there. It’s just Tude, who tells us he’s been all up and down the shore looking for us, that little partyanimal.

As I lay back to do some stargazing we somehow end up in a violently playfull doggy pile, and eventually we all fall asleep.
I wake up with Joe tugging my arm again. “It’s here! Come on, get up.” I look up and see an already blue sky turning yellow just over the hill near Blue Lagoon. I look around me and see a few fisher men readying their boates. Many are already out there. It’s 6am and the new day is breaking. We’ve made it, sampai pagi!
After sitting there widnessing it for a while, Joe already chatting away in Bahasa with the fishermen, Tude and Wayan gone and Chris and Carmel still asleep under my sarong, I figure I’d best turn in for a few hours. Koming will be picking me up to go to Tirta Gangga in less than 5 hours. Suddenly the boys turn up and tell us we should get going with the ferries coming over soon.
Tude insist on driving me home, even though it’s light out now, and still no 5 minutes by feet. These silly asians are worse with their bikes than the Dutch are taking our bicycles out for every little distance.

As soon as I see my bed I pass out.
To be awoken again by 10, it’s Wayan with a little hard-to-follow story, but what he’s trying to say is “Come have breakfast with us.” “I’m so sorry but I really need to sleep some more…”

Day LXXIII – MAI 30, 2012

DSC_0824
Bali is a very religious place. Almost every day there is a ceremony going on in one of the town’s temples.
This time it’s a big one though, lasting for 3 days. The town is flooded with people from all over the island. The warungs are all packed and there’s more happy chatter and music even then normal.
They all come to bring offerings to this temple, dressed up in their finest attire. The temple’s been dressed up with brightly coloured cloths and decorations and flags and bells.
My American brothers have been attending since 7am this morning. The show starts much earlier, around 4am.
But I relax at the beach before going. In the afternoon I go home to change in a long sleeve and putting a sarong around my waist. It’s make do, wrapping a simple scarf around my middle and putting a flower I found in the street in my hair that miss Pari showed me to tie. Nowhere near as pretty as the locals, but the all nod at me approvingly.
In the courtyard I meet Nyoman who ushers me in to the temple. She tries to explain when to take which flower and what to do when a priest comes handing out rice or splash water. But I don’t understand what’s being said in the prayers, so still feel much the outsider. Very cool to see it from the inside though!
Later there’s a danceperformance by the cutest little girls, covered in a thick layer of make-up and golder sarongs. And then the Baron dance; a big hairy creature and something about keeping bad spirits out.
In our (semi) traditional clothing with the rice still stuck to our foreheads where the priest put it, we go for dinner in a small warung on the big road out of the town center. From the counter we pick out some nasi, chicken and tempeh and sit by the single table in the little dinning area between the many figurines and masks hanging on the walls and stalled out.
DSC_0845
So on the road, parked in one town, your group of friends, you ‘everybody’ is changing daily. Every day someone leaves for a new destination or home, sometimes with goodbyes, sometimes they’re just gone. And every day someone new shows up, joins for a drink and instantly becomes part of ‘everybody’. So I’m not sure if ‘group’ is the right word.
There are no criteria, even uncool people who wouldn’t be accepted nack home because they’re too loud or make bad jokes all the time can join for a few days, as long as they stay in line.
I’ve made friends with here, for example, who I wouldn’t have hung out with back home. This one girl: she’s sweet but very big on the party party, unlike me. I wouldn’t have bothered to befriend her, she just wouldn’t be my type. But here she’s my friend.
And in this particular town it’s much of the locals aswell. They like to befriend travelers who can tell them more about the world; just like anybody.