So here I am, at the end of my 5-month trip, finally somewhat slowing down. Unexpectedly even for myself, the journey took a crazy spin and never settled into being peaceful and quiet, but rather very curious and discovering. Which I got to like more and more, and just couldn’t stop:) After Flores I felt pretty saturated with emotions and experiences, and just needed to start digesting the seen and the done.
I didn’t completely settle down, but decided to take it easy and do the common adventure things that are usually done in ‘paradise settings’. Finally I am not freezing, food is good and affordable, weather is nice and I am not scrambling to the top of the mountain or brushing thru the forest, or something. I am in a more or less typical vacation situation, doing lovely things:)
From my favorite island Flores, Indonesia, I took a 3-day boat trip to the small island to the East – island Lombok.
It was a pretty boat Kecana, from distance looking like a pirate vessel. On board it was pretty basic. You could stay in a private cabin for additional price, but being on a boat trip was already a ‘posh’ experience for me, so I slept on a thin mattress on the ship deck. First night, sharing the deck with like 30-40 other passengers. Then most of them got off, and we stayed 9 people + the crew.
The first day we did a lot of cool snorkeling, including the Manta point again, where we saw over 20 mantas, sometimes gracefully swimming by in bigger groups. It was majestic! I got stung by jelly fish so much and even got some bad allergic reaction. But the mantas…:) We also went on a little hike up a steep high hill to see a splendid
panorama, under a blazing midday sun. The guide said it was a difficult hike and we only had an hour for that. I told him I wanted to hike AND I want to snorkel in this hour. So I really, almost ran up that hill, no problem. Then went down, snorkeled to the ship and back, chilled and then actually swam to the ship in the sea, while some people were just coming down from the hike. Locals called me a ‘wonder woman’, and I felt all proud, thinking ‘Thank you Everest base camp for this cardio’.. But I had to pay for my silly arrogance: the next day I got a bad fever from over-doing it and couldn’t do anything, just lying around. The captain pitied me, when saw me hiding from heat and wind curled up on the floor in the storage closet and let me sleep in his cabin with a fan for few hours, so closer to the evening fever eased a little.
I must say we had a very ehmm strange company of 9 passengers. Most of them were either gay, or kinda gay, meaning in a weird way. Just a real strange combination of people. And the local crew kept mostly to themselves. But anyway, it was beautiful!
The second night the sea got unquiet and we were thrown back and forth on the waves. I was told before that these waters could be rowdy, sometimes vessels like these end up on the reefs and need to be rescued. So I definitely knew where the life vests were:)
After 3 days and 3 nights on the boat we arrived to the island of Lombok, where I was going to start my craze detox:) For a long time I’ve wanted to find a small and cozy place where my heart would want to stay and I finally found it in Kuta, Lombok.
Kuta is a small 2-street town by the sea, a perfect place to learn surfing, which I still wanted to try. I got very lucky and for $5.5 a night got a whole bungalow all to myself! Right on the sea shore, including delicious breakfast, with an awesome balcony from where I could watch the moon. Also Kuta has the best tastiest and cheapest food I’ve had on this trip! Every meal I had, I wanted to repeat. Fish curries, veggies and fruit shakes were to die for.
For a long time on this trip I’ve been both wanting and dreading to learn something as simple as to ride a scooter. I do not drive and I am paranoid and afraid of it! Exactly half a life ago I had a scooter accident, and ever since I’ve been successfully avoiding all motor vehicles. But I really wanted to learn and do it! In Flores I had a wonderful fearless teacher Darno who showed me how to drive a scooter and wasn’t afraid to be driven by me.
Here, in Kuta, however, I had to be a big girl, rent a bike all by myself and go drive. Oh what sweaty palms I had:) The roads are hilly and twisty, BUT I enjoyed it so much, that I really just couldn’t get enough of it! Finally, for the first time in my life, I didn’t depend on anyone for a ride. I could go explore all the beaches or some villages where locals seems like never seen any tourists.
I was very cautious and slow, still I managed to almost hit a cow and a dog. On a bright note though! One girl told me, when you get comfortable driving, you should go to Selong beach. Selong? Been there 3 times already, two out of which I returned in the dark. No problem!
I also really wanted to learn surfing. Well, at least to try and see what it was. Just wanted to get some good exercise and have some fun in water. I definitely needed a teacher to help me, but I didn’t have the
money to go to a surf shop and pay their fees. My strategy was: everyone here is a surfer, so I’ll just ask around and will find someone to teach me no prob! In about a week I had so many people helping me, even little kids sometimes helped me pick a wave and pushed my board, which was funny:) My main teacher, though, was Ngos, who I was introduced to by his previous student, who I had met on travels before. Later I learnt that Ngos was actually the 2nd best surfer in Kuta, which I could def tell!
What can I say, surfing is freaking hard. I have pretty strong legs I think, but it’s a lot about balance and oh my, it’s a lot of paddling paddling paddling, so my arms were so tired and sore. No wonder all the surfer guys and girls are so well built! I did see a few helluva surfer girls and that looks so hot when a girl takes a big wave (esp. on a smaller board)! I could stand up mainly with help, meaning someone was pushing the board in the moment when I had to catch the wave and get up. But anyway, my goal was just to have fun, wasn’t it? And so every time I got up and glided and didn’t fall and perhaps even made it to the beach, I was so happy and delighted. For my last class I had yet a different teacher, 18-year old crazy friend Zulu, who came hungover but taught me a new stand up style and made me believe I was taking 10-meter waves:)
I lost track of days and time. Every day I went to see the sunset to different beaches, sometimes driving like an hour away. In our every day lives it’s just the time when it gets dark. In places like Kuta, it’s a thing, it’s something people celebrate and go watch.
People there are so connected to nature. They love the ocean. All they talk about is ombak (waves). Are they big today, are they long, what kind of waves are there on this and that beach. They watch sunsets together. They surf during sunsets (I tried that too!) They make bonfires on the beach at night and play music. And again, lots and lots of reggae was played under coconut trees! Bob Marley made it real big in certain parts of Indonesia:)
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where mindsets are more relaxed and embracing than that, at least that was my impression. Everyone is family to one another. Friends call you ‘sister’, you talk to ladies in the store and you’re ‘sister’, friends are ‘family’. And they really treat you like fam. As I was leaving and saying goodbyes to my beach family, I really liked one simple phrase they said “I choose friends, family, love…. I CHOOSE HAPPY”
I’ve been observing the local kiddos a lot. So much carelessness! Doing some leisurely hustling during the day, then inevitably getting together and making party. They could be on the beach drinking by the bonfire, then suddenly jump up, hey let’s go surfing, grab a board and run and catch waves in complete darkness. Younger generation of surfer kids hangs out with the older ones. Also longish hair, cool hats and certain swag:) One time I remember we were hanging out with a 14-year old ‘Jonny Mushroom’ or ‘Jonny Awesome’, who seemed to mingle with the rest no problem.
First week I didn’t go out at night, just enjoying my balcony. But then the inevitable happened – the full moon! Again, of course its a whole big thing which is celebrated:) We had two nights of full moon actually, one time even with an eclipse! My favorite part was awesome live music, dancing on the sand and just being on the beach, I even fell asleep there one time!
Just a few thoughts on ‘love’ in thereabouts. Before coming to Indonesia I watched a documentary called ‘Cowboys in Paradise’. It’s about professional Bali beach boys, who pick up tourist women and well, live off them. I stayed in the notorious and crazy touristic party Kuta beach Bali before for two days, as I was waiting for my flight to Flores and got to observe some of these beach boys in action. Oh what smooth talkers they are. And how leisurely they move around their ‘objects’, brushing back their long hair with swag. Motorbikes, guitars and surfer boards are part of the entourage. I was very happy to see that Kuta Lombok was definitely not like that. The setting is very similar, while the atmosphere is not. Of course, there’re beach boys there, but compared to Bali their pick up lines are pretty harmless. People are relaxed and are just having fun with their friends, not ‘working’ the beach.
Anyway, I had too much reggae in me and had to move on. So that was the end of my #FuckBali tour around Indonesia. With little time left, I was heading to Bali!
I went to a tiny town of Tulamben on the North-East coast to do some more diving and take a diving open-water certified course. That is one of the cheapest places in the world to get your certificate, because you dive off-shore and don’t need to hire a boat. The highlight of that place is the amazing shipwreck. It was an American transport ship USAT Liberty that sank there in the Second World War. It was later brought on shore, but in 1963 a local volcano erupted and lava pushed the ship back into the ocean! Pretty amazing story. And the sight! It’s a big ship (wreck), all covered in beautiful corals and with lots of fishes living there.
I took a course together with a couple from Latin America, Paloma from Chile and Eder from Mexico. My biggest concern was whether I’d be able to equalize ears, but all went well. We dived in the shipwreck twice and a coral garden, etc. Saw a shark, eels, crabs, stars and a bunch of gorgeous huge and tiny fishes. Besides the sights, the really coolest thing is learning to keep neutral buoyancy, which is a condition when you are suspended in water, you neither sink nor go up, you control where you go. It felt like flying, almost unreal!
After completing the course, Paloma and I also did an adventure dive – we went diving to the ship wreck at night! It was five of us diving in total and it was definitely a more ‘intimate’ experience with the ocean. We went after the sunset, with torches. It’s so quiet and dark, with noone around. Sometimes we would turn the lights off and our instructor Yann would flash a UV light and we see luminous plants or the innumerable tiny plankton all around us. We saw fish that we never saw during the day, like giant parrot fish. Everybody was their own Jacque Cousteau that night, exploring and examining every coral, looking for something interesting. When we came to surface, the whole sky was sprinkled with stars. I almost couldn’t believe what just had happened.
After Tulamben I went to my last stop on the trip – Ubud, Bali. And I saw, I confirmed why I was so reluctant to come to Bali in first place… No, Ubud is an amazing place, very vibrant, just beautiful, with lots of flowers and amazing Hindu temples and architecture in general. Our little homestay (just 3 rooms) had its own garden and a temple! But it’s very touristic and it loses its charm among the flood of tourists. All streets are just filled with fancy restaurants, taxi drivers, shops, spas and souvenirs. I was trying to figure out what upset me so much and I realized that there’s such a huge gap between the locals and the tourists here. Tourists live their own lives, doing yoga, detoxing and drinking fancy veg juices. And locals have their own lives. I feel like my ‘life vest’ is always inflated here, I can’t plunge into the local life, really meet the locals and have meaningful and heart-opening conversations. Always staying safely on the surface.
The little bits of the real local life I saw really enticed me, Balinese people are sweet and have beautiful traditions and dances, but these are either commercialized or done in privacy.
Anyway, I was enjoying yoga, meditation and massages no problem:) And well, it’s time to regroup and reflect and go home. Can’t meet all the people in the world and have all the adventures. It’s been a wonderful slowing down month, full of sun and laughs, as well as little Buddha moments:)