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 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.

Padangbai Weekly

sunset padi
(One week ago) At the first day of the fifth week I take a day off.
I’ve taken plenty days off already, or however you call it when you’re still in the holiday-phase of your indefinite travel, so basically my honeymoon with me. However, most of those were due to hangover. Or it was a day off from writing to spend the entire day at the beach, playing in the waves, playing cards, guitar; generally kicking it in an active manner.
I made a new friend who’s taken it upon himself to improve my surf skills. So all I really suffer today is the muscle aches from my first day on the board in over a year.
All in all, a good moment to reward myself by taking the time to finish The Hundred-year-old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared -a hilarious read!- with a fresh pressed mango in the comfort of my fan, on my bed; as I’m starting to notice the lack of sofa again.

Careful what you wish for

I was telling my friend the bar owner/big boss about the idea that was gathering in my mind about my leg-sleeve. I know he’s always promoting his cousin who is tattooer, so should have known better than to bring it up. I mentioned before that once you ask for a price, you open negotiations and there is no way back. Apparently it can happen even sooner.
“Ok ya we can see abouts that tomorrow, I call my cousin to come here.”
“Oh, but I’m really not sure yet! I’ve only just started toying with the idea…”
“Ya no problem, he make the design first, then you can see if you like. If not is no problem. You have reference you like? Just prints it out and then we see.”
Calling the cousin. And though it’s been a month now that I’ve heard mainly Bahasa Bali, and I’m doing my best to learn, it’s such a quicksilver tongue, I never catch what they’re saying really.
“Ok already he comes. Tomorrow afternoon.”
“Oh, eh, okay. But no decisions yet, right. So can you give me a price estimate?”
“No that depends. First he make the design, then we decide.”

When I see my buddy the next day I tell him again I’m not sure. And I’m just getting such good friends with the surfboard; I don’t want to leave it for a week while the tattoo heals.
“No, four days is fine! My cousin already on his way now.”

A few hours later I’m explaining what I want to Wayan, the tattooer who drove all the way from Kuta. His english isn’t very good so my friend acts as interpreter. Wayan sees the lifelike image I found and says he can do that. The work I’ve seen of him implies he could, even though that’s on dark skin in black shades instead of full colour.
The price discussion comes up again, and it’s much more than I expected, but I feel bad about the guy driving all this way for nothing. After some discussion it drops one-third, and for european standards it’s still many cheap.
But halfway it shows he has no experience with light skin, there’s no shading and it’s obvious it’s going to be nothing like what I wanted. Too far in now, so I’m just lying back – on my own bed; my room’s been turned into a studio for the evening.
I’ll just have to find a qualified artist to fix it up.

Second of the clichés I had to go through just to find out, in the name of journalism of course.

The other was loaning a (local; all my friends are locals really) friend money, because his sister had had an accident and needed to pay for the damage and would otherwise have gone to jail.
You hear these stories of westerners being ripped off loaning money to help out family members, so I was cautious.
But I want to help out a friend where I can, and I want to believe in the good of people. So against better judgement I decided to gamble the 3 million rupiah.
I know you would have all called me crazy for doing so, so I didn’t go public with this until I had it all back.
But this one went all right!

(This week) I finally find the time to finish this post, sitting in the fast-boat shop of my friend’s uncle, where I get wifi from the next-door restaurant while the boys are playing football on a PS2, shouting at the screen in their adorable accent, trying to impress me with their english. More and more am I blending in with local life, sharing some arak and a pack of kretek cigarettes.
After this we’re grilling the fish a friend just caught, at another fiends grandpa’s place.
Good times ahead.
I was going to leave this town finally today, but the friend I was going to take this trip with couldn’t go today because his cousin is in the hospital. Instead I got a place to stay with a friend for a few days, before I go hop some of the neighbouring islands with another friend.
Good times ahead!
And last night another girl who’d gotten stuck in Padangbai had to leave for home. A sad thought, I feel for her. And I’m very happy with the visa extension I got to spend another month in this country (read: this town) As much as I am curious to see what comes of another friends invite to start a restaurant here together.
Again I say: good times ahead!

Day LXI – MAI 18, 2012

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A little more on beautiful Bali

Religion is a huge thing here, and aside from the daily rituals like the precious little offerings you see appearing every morning in the form of little baskets of woven banana leaf filled with flowers, rice, incense and other things certain gods might like, on each doorstep, driveway, altar and random places with holy meaning, there are big ceremonies nearly every day.
It’s all so delightful and they all look so vibrantly colourful and beautifully bright.

Another thing I find very fascinating are the kites, I think they’re supposed to work like scarecrows. I see so many of them! Really high up in the sky, like birds of prey.
I still wonder how they stay up that high.

I mentioned those sweet little houses you see here everywhere. In between them are tiny patches of bright green fields, sided with swaying palm trees. As you drive by they seem like llittle ricepadies in between.
But when you take a closer look behind the houses you’ll find they’re actually huge, and they’re all connected back there. So it’s actually more like the narrow road and little houses are cutting tiny lines and holes in the field stretched out over the entire island rather than the other way around.

A more peculiar thing is the contrast between rich and poor here. Many Australians and other western people moved here and own huge houses with several locals for staff, are being driven around in SUVs, have their little surfcourse or are just sipping their little coktail on their beach loungers.
And all the locals seem to do is serve.
And all those white folks might have something to do with the amount of pets.

I mentioned how it takes us an hour to get from our villa to Legian, maybe 15 kilometres away; Kuta traffic is just crazy!
And I mentioned those narrow windy roads. Motors and scooters rush down them like it’s nothing; looks like fun!
So this afternoon Emma and I take the scooter she’s rented but hasn’t dared to use yet; and she’s having me drive it now, to find ourselves a hostel in Kuta for Sunday night.
We leave at 3pm, well aware that it’s a long way; might take us an hour to get there. And we want to be back before dark at 6pm.
The first challenge is that traffic I mentioned. And other than windy, roads go up and down. Pretty soon we’re at a traffic light going uphill and with a long line of cars and many scooters in between waiting. I’m having trouble keeping the bike up straight and not sliding back down!
More even than in Vietnam I feel tailgated and pressured by the other drivers
Second challenge is to find our way. The windy roads make it impossible to keep track of direction. The ripcurl drivers take a different road everyday, because they have to pick up someone else or just to avoid traffic. And it’s hard to say which was supposed to be the way there or which is supposed to be the way back, or which turn to take how. We take wrong turns thrice going in and every time we’d both feel like “Yes, we must be on the right one now! No, wait. I don’t recognise this at all…” We almost give up when we finally find Kuta’s main road.
The hostel I found in Lonely Planet is a hard find, hidden in a backalley. And when we finally do find it in that charming neighbourhood, the lady of the house explains to us in very practiced English that she’s fully booked. “There’s a big ceremony, you see.”
We try another one, that’s more expensive and where we feel less welcome, so we tell the landlord we’ll think about it.
So we give up and start back home.
Another challenge. Traffic grew even busier, it’s getting dark and it’s now even harder to find our way. We seem to be going in circles and don’t recognise anything we see anymore. When we finally do get home it’s well past 6pm. We’ve made these scenarios where they’ve gone out searching for us, but no one seems to have noticed we were lost and we join the dinner table without questions asked.

The excitement of the day has worn us out. After dinner we try to revive ourselves with a little yoga on the grass in the backyard; doesn’t help. We then try a dive in the pool; even that doesn’t help. A chickflick from the couch it is then.

Surf, ink and Kuta clubs

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Day LVIII – MAI 15

Another early morning at the surf. Today we learn more about the conditions out there: on-, off- and sideshore, gutters, banks, the rip and the lull, the eskimo etc.
We stay out much longer and go back in after an early lunch at Warung Garung; amazing good food by the way!
The waves and current are a lot stronger today and it’s gotten pretty crowded, so I didn’t get a lot more action than yesterday. But I’m finding my groove, and I’m learning to steer.
When we get back to the villa I feel my legs and shoulders object.

The Bahase Scandinavia is still all around, so I finally started that Bahasa Indonesia podcast I downloaded back home. Another week to learn, before I set out on my own again.

I thought I should get a job to get me by, the 150€ budget I have left isn’t going to do. So when we’re at tattoo Tuesday in Deus Ex Machina where one of the girls is getting some of that free ink done I ask the owner if he’s hiring. He tells me he can’t though. He’s an American, so the government is already watching his every move, and I don’t have a working visa, so that’s that.
I’m thinking of having ink as well, but decide against a spur of the moment thing for now.

Tonight we go out, to Kuta. A cab is ordered and picks us up at 9pm. Just 20 minutes later we’re downtown. And that includes the one-for-the-road pitstop we made at Circle Mart.
It’s early but the streets are already crowded, as is the club we first enter: Bounty.
Camille [Denmark] and I hide from it while sipping some needed cocktails in order to get us in the mood for this crazy crazy party party. Some boys find our hide-out and we’re forced to go back to our group and hide amongst them.
The place is packed with big muscly, drunken Aussies behaving like bavoons. And when one of the locals does a dance-off with one of our girls that’s loving the attention, security comes over to tell him off. What’s that about?!*

We decide to try a different place, the famous Skygarden, but loose part of the group on the way so end up going back and forth and getting a little drunk ourselves.

In the end I share a cab with just James at 3am, or I think it was. The rest is still out there, somewhere, or might have gone home, who knows…
Our driver says he knows the way but stops, according to our (poor) counting 7 times to ask.
Finally I recognise things and tell him how to get there. Successfully somehow; we end up by the right pool. I feel very much like a swim, but it’s probably rude: the house rules state no more using the pool after 11pm. So we crash.

* So it’s normal for the (local) security to take sides with those obscene tourists who bring in the money, instead of standing with their mainly innocent brothers…

From a balcony in Hue

A few observations

On couples on the road, on traffic and baggage, on my own traffic progress, and on how Vietnam is a bit like what I imagine China to be like.

I’m meeting less of them now that I seem to have sort of broken loose from the beaten and organized path at last, though I did meet one of them on the Halong Bay trip; couples. I hadn’t imagined meeting so many of them.
Often out on the road together for about half a year. Pretty cool! I can only hope that by the time I’m ‘we’ again, we will be doing this sort of thing.
I don’t even think it’s that different. You’re not going to be in dorms so you wouldn’t be meeting as many people as you do there. Maybe that has something to do with why you meet so many of them in the arranged tours. But you probably will be left with more budget as you share your beds, meals, bikerents, taxies and all sorts of things. So you can afford these more expensive activities like hiking and rock climbing tours etc.
And they might go out a little less than the single serving traveler does. Though none of them I met were boring, or annoyingly cute and clingy. In fact they were all very nice to hang out with.
And hold on; the Welsch were a couple since before they set out together, and they did dorms.

The most common thing I’ve seen transported on a bike in between 2 people has to be: a baby. And then I’m not talking about a 4 year old; they’re put on there already at 4 month or younger even. No helmets of course; they wouldn’t fit…
Other curious objects I’ve seen crossing traffic were: refrigerators, LCD screens, cupboards, trees, (varying in size between bonsai and a regular 12 footer) and huge piles of boxes… Anything!
Dogs usually stand in the front, paws hanging over the steering wheel. And often it’s more than three people, just to be practical and stuff.
Down the highway near Chiang Mai I saw the biggest thing being transported, on the back of a pick-up; an elephant. Just daily business, I guess?

When we came in to Hanoi in that minivan and I first saw that insane traffic I was in fact a little scared about going in on foot. Just that same night though I found the confidence to throw myself in and cross with the greatest of eaze.
The day after I went on the back of that mototaxi and loved being right in the middle of it.
Then came the day for me to do it on my own, on a bicycle. I went in at a rather quiet hour, but did end up in quite a jam later on, yet still felt very relaxed.
And tomorrow I plan to try again, on a real bike.

It’s the language; phonetically, the way different use of syllables gives different meaning to the same word. And their harsch and hurried pronunciation.
They shout a lot more too; Buddhists don’t do that.
And they know the concept of being in a rush; also a big difference from the rest of Southeast Asia.
More than elsewhere the streets are hung with adds and are they trying to make a hard sell.

But I’m loving Vietnam, it’s all so beautiful! I guess it really is a new phase and needs a new while to get used to. Can’t wait to give that to them properly!