The day arrived for him to set out on his first true two wheeled adventure. The Californian entered the line at the petrol station and filled up for his 76km journey from Bengassi to Kuta, Lombok. He soon climbed into the mountain pass through the Monkey Forest where monkeys stay on the side of the road, playing and rummaging through garbage, watching traffic pass by.
Two and a half hours of highways and small roads, one busy city, and a number of villages later, he found himself on a beach in Kuta. After parking in a vacant area, a boy no older than ten and his mother emerged from a bamboo shack, approached him and tried to hustle the Californian to buy a parking pass (a common scam) and a coconut. They stood around after the Californian declined their offer multiple times, hoping that he would change his mind. He began researching the internet for a hotel to stay in that night having chosen to decide upon arriving after seeing the town with his own eyes. He scootered towards the address listed online only to be met by a collapsed bridge. He recalculated his directions and found the Kuta Bay Hotel after scanning up and down the street as the address listed led him to a vacant lot.
The process of driving with all his gear across an island to a city he knew very little about had exhilarated and exhausted him. After paying $16 for a private hotel room with a view of the bay and taking a nap, he crossed the dirt road to an unnamed restaurant and filled himself with a mushroom eggplant aioli sandwich on homemade sourdough and a juice consisting of fresh mandarin, pineapple, turmeric, and carrot for 80,000 rupiah ($5.80). The restaurant had a shabby-chic decor of exposed brick and cement and was owned by men/boys in their young 20s, all with shirts on that echoed the vibe of the restaurant saying, “we are chill.”
Earlier that day on his way to Kuta, he pulled over to the side of the road for a drink of water. A man approached him offering a place to stay for a “good price,” which the Californian declined. He did take the opportunity to ask him what his favorite beach in Kuta was, as he had found speaking with locals provides better insights than the Internet. He learned of Tanjung Aan* beach, which he set off for after lunch.
*It is tricky to understand accents, especially when words of the native language are used.
The sand was the softest, as the stranger had said, and the Californian was so thrilled to have arrived he purchased a beer for his stroll. Small bamboo huts lined parts of the bay and men on scooters drove up and down the sand selling ice cream while playing an Indonesian version of the classic ice cream truck tune. The Californian dance-walked with headphones due to his good mood as he traversed the beach until entering the water to cool down.
Upon exiting, he felt a sting on his arm. He poured water onto the place of burning and pondered what could have happened as his anxiety mounted. “I should have researched what lives in the water here. I have no idea what it could be, what if is poisonous? What if I need to a doctor?” As his fears grew, a local store owner approached him with a small bottle in hand. He asked the Californian if it burned and lent ointment to stop the uncomfortable physical sensation. He said it was from a small animal and the pain would only last an hour, but no more information could be exchanged due to a language barrier. The man qualmed the Californians worries and allowed for a continued stroll with mental relief, the kind hardest to ascertain in a foreign setting. This kindness and thoughtfulness offered by a stranger warmed his soul after headlines like “build the wall” have become commonplace in America. The warmth of the Indonesian culture to foreigners is respectable, admirable, and should be replicated more often in the US.
He climbed a boulder outcropping to where a tourist group stood taking pictures. The Californian was asked by a man if his wife could take a picture with the Californian. Of course he obliged, it was his first, “you are a white person can I take a picture with you” photo. I flashed a thumbs up to match my backwards hat and bathing suit, and she warily joined in. The trio then took a selfie together with the husband and then asked him where he was from. “California” drew a face of shock unparalleled to anyone he had told his origins to before. The Californian then introduced himself formally to the couple with a handshake and a smile and bid them good day.
He was an outsider passing through small villages with more structures of wood than cement. Zipping through he smiled and waved (and was greeted with the same in return) as some way of saying, ‘Thank you for letting me be a tourist in a place where you are simply living.’ He drove broken dirt roads and paths that would call for moderate hiking, eventually reaching a bay of pearl farming.
Some paths were the incorrect way to his destinations and once he was met with locals looking perplexed by his arrival as he stared deftly to his phone trying to recoordinate. He later passed dozens of schoolchildren walking home, extending their hands for high fives. As he approached one child, he saw a familiar look in his eyes he could not place. The child attempted to grab onto his arm to pull him off the scooter as he passed at 30 KPH. The familiarity thee came to the Californian of the “little shit” that he had come across a few times before in his summer camp employments. No matter what country you are in, the look of a child wanting to cause mayhem does not change.
The great and terrible part of traveling alone is that all decisions are made by one person: you. After debating encircling the island, he decided against a full day of scootering and remained in the southern part of Lombok. Before departing to venture to a new beach, he had to withdraw money from the ATM, only to learn he had misplaced his ATM card. Confusion. Worry. Anger. The next hours consisted of him retracing his steps of the day before and cursing to himself at his stupidity at losing what felt like his lifeline to safety- money. There was no one to blame but himself.
After failing to retrieve his card and realizing he could use his credit card to retrieve cash, he visited a nearby beach to cool his body temperature and his temper. The same day that was filled with self guided anger lead him to one of his greatest joys and mini dreams—walking to an island.
As the sun began to lower, he quickly made his way back to town as a hotel manager had warned him of the dangers of being on the roads outside of the city from sunset onward. “Men with machetes may very well rob you, especially if you are riding alone.” When he entered the city he heard the familiar blaring of songs and hymns from loudspeakers denoting the holy times of the day for the Muslim dominated island. This differs from his previous weeks in Bali as it is a Hindu dominated island. This difference can also be observed in the beautiful mosques around the island.
A longing for Mexican food had grown within him during his month of travel. He chose to ignore his philosophy of Mexican food should only be eaten within a days drive of Mexico and visited the restaurant “The Mexican in Town.” To his surprise, they offered the best vegetarian burrito he had ever tired as the meat was subsisted with jackfruit saturated with chipotle sauce. After filling his stomach and grabbing an Oreo ice cream cone from a nearby minimart, he was reminded that even when things go wrong, there is nothing a burrito and ice cream can’t fix.