“I am going to rip all of your hair out!”
When threats like this are commonplace in conversation, you have found a good friend. He met the Beneficent Belgian during his week in the jungle. Independently deciding they each wanted to travel to the Gili Islands east of Bali, they mutually decided to travel together.
They taxied to the costal town of Pandang Bai where the received awful massages that caused more pain than relief and visited the white sand beach where they ate greasy rice and noodles under the tin roof on wooden benches at a table in the sand.
The familiar ride of motion sickness based anxiety mounted the morning of the “one hour” (factually two hour) boat ride to Gili Air. There are three Gili islands that are stereotyped as the party island (Gili T), the honeymoon island (Gili Meno), and the inbetween (Gili Air). Dramamine sedated him while sitting on the back of the boat as he gazed to the horizon, allowing him to cruise the Indian Ocean with his breakfast inside his stomach.
Just before reaching the port of Gili Air, he was approached with the question, “Do you want to buy some weed?”
“No thanks,” the Californian responded.
A short pause and another question. “Crystal [meth]?”
The casual transition brought an uncontrolled “Ha” to escape his mouth, followed by an intentional, “No. Thank you, but no.” This line of questioning became popular over the next few days. Gili Air does not have a police force on the island and as such certain laws and societal norms are irrelevant.
The island offers three modes of transportation: foot, bicycle, and horse drawn carriage. There are no proper roadways or motor vehicles because the island is so small; the permitter of asphalt, hard-packed dirt, and sand can be casually walked in 70 minutes. Bamboo stands sell handcrafted bracelets, necklaces, and other touristy items made from materials on the island and the surrounding ocean. There are a small number of hotels and hostels, restaurants, mini marts, and a disproportionate amount of dive shops and bars in comparison to the mainland. Dive shops offer snorkeling adventures and scub diving outings while bars offer alcohol and other goods an unregulated police island is likely to offer.
Their hostel featured a mushroom shaped pool and bamboo structures. He stayed in a 6’x6’ bamboo hut two feet off the ground that included a twin mattress, mosquito net, and fan. The pool was surrounded by lounge chairs and a thatched roof common area featuring twenty bean bag chairs and a collection of books left behind by other travelers. The area was occupied at almost all hours of the day by people lazily lounging, napping, reading, and chatting. The times when the electricity was functioning (rolling blackouts occurred many times a day lasting anywhere from a couple of minutes to a few hours), a speaker from the reception desk blared music ranging from reggae to EDM to set the vibe. The outages at first were bothersome but soon became a welcomed reminder of the secluded paradise they were in.
The WiFi password offered a mantra society needs more than ever: “chatwitheachother.” He asked the pretty girl sitting next to him for the WiFi password which she shared in a German accent. After he chuckled at the password, he decided to embrace the message and spent the next hour doing just that. She offered pleasant conversation and travel advise as she had been on the move for a number of months. Connecting with another human bought more satisfaction than the recent LadBible.com video.
The days on the island were carefree, reminiscent of the summer mindset we all strive for and nostalgically remember. Decisions were picked from a limited set of choices, and that allowed for total satisfaction because there was no feeling of regret of making the wrong choice (FOMO).
The Belgian and the Californian spent almost every hour together. Breakfast. Snorkel. Bike. Swim. Lunch. Walk. The afternoon heat: pool, lounge. Ice creme cones. Dinner. Separated by sleep in their personal huts. Converation flowed effortlessly while silence did the same. Quinoa-potato-tempe burgers satisfied hunger cravings and words satisfied another less tangible craving. “I eat your words for dinner.”
The pizzeria they tramped to through the tropical rainfall half way across the island (12 minutes) was owned by an Italian man and hosted their first and final dinner on their island together. Plans were discussed of, “If you ever come to Belgium, we’ll…if you ever come to California we’ll…” They both knew there was no earnest plan to visit the other, but the dreamlike island encouraged a mindset of wander and exploration, based in a bond of friendship that caught them both by surprise.
From the coast, they watched the sunset dip behind the active volcano of Mount Agung on Bali and light up the entire island. The sky was more than vivid (the thesaurus dosesn’t have a powerful enough word to describe the sight and the feeling). His best sunset of 2018 occured on the best place of 2018 with one of the best people of 2018.
The docks that kindly welcomed them taunted their goodbye. As their gaze met, they both knew the reality that they would likely never see each other again. And they both knew that was okay. The Californian boarded the boat for Lombok, again alone on his treventure.
Transitioning from closeness to distance is difficult. But a reminder of the power of their interaction came to him through a text message a day after departure. It feels “as if I had a blanket on for a long time and now it’s cold.” How lucky are we to have been wrapped in that blanket.