Sunday, July 31, 2011

Better incinerate that stick before a baby gets a hold of it.

“I don’t like Gili,” the Sama-Sama bartender says, naming the island we’re on, then pausing expecting me to implore as to why not. Unfortunately, I’ve already heard him use this line four times tonight, I know what comes next.

The pause, it’s getting awkward. Okay, okay, I’ll bite. “You don’t?!”

“No, I don’t like Gili, I looooove Gili!”

This is just about all the English the gentleman knows, it’s all he needs. He looks the part, his long dark hair and muscles ripple as he dances to reggae and cracks open beer bottles. Women drool.

“Hey, you want to do one of those Freaky-Friday / 17 Again deals where our minds switch bodies?”

“I loooooooooooooove Gili!”

Didn’t think so.

Better wash bleach incinerate that stick before a baby gets a hold of it.

A couple days in Pandangbai, Bali, two more in Sengiggi and Mattaram, Lombok, they’re beach destinations that would excite if you hadn’t recently been dazzled by the tropical gems of Thailand and Malaysia. Face it. When it comes to sand and surf you’ve become more critical than a wine connoisseur, you sift and swirl the salt water, inhale, sip, review, then work your way on to the next with a broomstick up your cultivated ass.

Relax. Go to the Gili Islands and don’t judge, just indulge in the string of three small isles off Lombock’s northwest coast. No cars, no asphalt, no structures over one storey, and no stick.

Broomstick abstraction comes with (1) the coral ‘drop off’ when one goes from snorkeling in water ten meters deep to, quite jarringly, deep blue sea depths where the Kraken lurks, and (2) the mountain and volcano backdrop of Lombock in the distance. When one emerges from the deep blue to stare out at this prehistoric-looking panorama it’s awing in a I-wish-I-was-made-of-marshmallow-so-I-could-float-here-forever kind of way. The sea turtles, rhinoceros fish, schools of sparkling fish, flying fish, and sea snakes interest too. Oh, and the women.

Go to these backpacker populated Southeast Asian islands and you’re going to meet stunning sun kissed women from all over the world Europe and Australia. Even if you’re as ugly and as unpleasant as I am. The best part, many of these women have priorities akin to yours. They come without suitcases, only backpacks. They’re spending their time and money on travel instead of new rims for the whip*. Some of them even read a fair amount. The tide pulls you from one infatuation to the next. You’ve never been so jealous of yourself. No job, no responsibility, you live in swim trunks that wash themselves in the ocean everyday. The same goes for your body. You end your days listening to a live reggae band that puts Ziggy Marley to shame as they cover his father’s hits. After traveling over five months you’re in a frame of mind where this is just fine, it’s finally okay not to see everything in the guidebook. When it comes to Indonesia a 30-day visa would make that impossible anyway. Hell, a 365-day visa wouldn’t suffice. The country’s comprised of over 7,500 islands. That’s just it, though. There’ll always be more. Even if the next thirty years could be dedicated solely to world travel you still wouldn’t see and do all you’d wish to.

Real-Time Travel Tip # 9: Ambition is for suckers. Seek what interests, ditch the rest. If all of it interests and you find yourself in undecided inaction--the wealth of possibility paralyzing--then embrace catatonia. Stay put and see what happens. Especially if you’re in the Gili Islands. Besides, how many Asian temples and coconut-tree-white-sand-volcano-looming-in-the-background islands can one possibly appreciate?

You’re right. It never gets old, each alluring in their own way. Maybe ambition is just for people with more energy.

I’m tired. My wardrobe personifies. Holes riddle my shoes and both shirts, my shorts torn and frayed, the zippers of my backpack no longer functional. The guidebook has been taped and patched three different times yet remains in three separate pieces. How am I going to survive Nepal and India and whatever comes next? Like tomorrow.

I’ll guess I’ll just, like, well, you know...

Keep drifting.

*Whip = what the young call their tricked-out vehicles that cost as much to modify as it would to don a backpack and travel for six months. To each his own.

Sengigi, Lombok

Gili Terawagan of the Gili Islands
A Gili T sunset I took thirty photo variations of, each worthy of a frame and your wall (because I don't have any).

Broomstick abstraction

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

If you like being the boss Bali is the place for you.

[This entry is past due, the blog runs rancid. But you can’t be picky in Southeast Asia, you swallow what’s served. Besides, I can still make out most of what I wrote down on paper napkins a couple weeks ago during breakfast one morning, minus a few tea stains. So into the worldwide web it goes.
Paige (a college student from the States during a description of her one month stay as the only Caucasoid in a Balinese village): “…my host family was crying. So was I. Like, I’ve never cried that much in my life. The host-mom called me her fourth daughter. I couldn’t go to sleep last night with all the emotion knowing I was going to leave in the morning. It was harder than it would be to leave any friends or even family.”

[I respond with lame sarcasm relating to her affection for her host family exceeding that for her own.

Paige: “You know, yeah, I think you’re right. My real parents don’t know how to love like they do. My mom is kind of a bitch.”

If you like being the boss Bali is the place for you. [PART ONE]

Malaysia, even peninsular Malaysia without considering Borneo, can be an incredibly diverse traveling experience. In ten days one could snorkel with sea turtles and green blue-spotted stingray in the Perhentian islands, sit awake all night in a hide hoping a herd of rhinoceros are in the salt-licking mood in Taman Negara, the world’s oldest rainforest, and finally, now a soggy-sweaty mess of your former self, escape to the Cameron Highlands for mountain trekking and tea plantation tours. Sure, to please the wife you’re going to have to exit KL’s (what hip travelers, of which I’m not included, call Kuala Lumpur) monorail in the Golden Triangle area, home to some of the planet’s fanciest shopping malls, complete with roller coasters, bowling alleys and Burberrys, but at least you’ll get to take in the Petronus Towers, formerly the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Glass and concrete caste into sophistication and class, when the twin towers illuminate in the evening one observes in awe.

Just don’t tell anyone turning on a few lights excites. Friends and family, they already find you plenty lame without the confession.

If this itinerary isn’t adventurous enough for you then, while walking through the Suria mall--it sits in the shadow of the Petronus Towers--turn the Platinum Visa card over to the wife. The one with no limit. That’ll get the heart rate up.

Unlike the metropolises of Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, KL lacks Asian-mystique. Globalization at its monotonous best, locals line up out the doors of KFCs and McDonalds’ while tourists search for authentic Malaysian cuisine. It’s a city that could be mistaken for one on the California coast if it weren’t so clean, cheap and efficient. Oh, and the population looks a little different.

Yet even a visit to a KFC holds something of interest. A dietary indiscretion, a First World reminiscence, I sit down with a bucket of chicken as a young Indian girl does the same. My knees hitting the table underneath, my slouched back stooping over the tray to shovel processed potatoes into my mouth while her body contorts into a bench seat in perfect meditation posture, legs crossed, feet on her knees, her spine erect yet relaxed. Seemingly in harmony amongst the impersonal chaos of fast food.

While traveling you’ll visit some of the world’s most beautiful, most holy, most exotic locations, but often what interests most is discovered where you’d least expect it. Like between bites of coleslaw containing chemicals more hazardous than those found in a can of paint thinner.

Asians are thin for two reasons. (That was either one of writing’s worst transitions or the oddest, maybe both) (1) It would be awfully uncomfortable using the squat toilet if overweight, impossible if severely obese, and (2) to better cram themselves into public transportation during rush hour. I know what it is to be a canned sardine. A big toe still bruised from the monorail’s sliding doors, might I suggest a few trips to the psychologist for that nagging claustrophobia before visiting the cities of Southeast Asia?

There’s only slightly more breathing room on Bali, Indonesia’s Kuta Beach. With world-renowned surfing breaks and world-renowned models it’s a hectic product of hype.

“Where you go, boss?” “Boss, give you cheap price, ‘kay boss?” “Please boss, you say yes, come on boss.” Kuta touts may be Earth’s most irritating. Vietnam’s win in sheer numbers, but Kuta’s overcome the deficit with persistence and the use of the most annoying title known to man. “Hey big boss man, what you want, taxi, beer, weed, eh, I bet you want girl, eh, boss?”

Nope. All I want is a boss-free five minutes.

“Okay, boss, uh, how much rupiah you pay for dat?”

I don’t know. What’s the going rate for sanity?

Keep drifting.

KL's Petronus Towers

Petronus Towers in early evening.

Hindu cave-temple outside of KL, the name of which I forgot.

Bali's Kuta Beach

“Just keeping it real in second-person.”

-My answer to a Danish blog-reader’s question, ‘Why do you write this way?’

If you like being the boss Bali is the place for you. [PART TWO]

Bali’s Kuta Beach makes you crazy. Unbelievably, even more than you already are. The locals never leave you alone. They want to sell you sunglasses and sarongs and ‘authentic hand-crafted Balinese power necklaces’ and wooden beer bottle openers carved into penises. They want you to buy ice cream and alcohol as you try to enjoy a sunrise you are no longer able to because of constant pestering. And if you do exchange rupiah for any of these things--a beer bottle opener for mom, a hops-and-barley-ice-cream float for breakfast--they want you to buy another one. Did they mention they have a family to feed, that they have to pay to put their six year-olds through school? Oh, they did? Twenty-seven times in four minutes? Did they mention you were the boss? What’s that, you lost count after a hundred and forty-two.

This is the point where that vein on your forehead turns into a python. It coils around your cerebellum. It constricts. All the sudden that 7 a.m. beer sounds inviting. So does amnesia. So it’s no wonder you walk a couple miles up the beach to less frenzied sands. In your defense, when you sat down the only people in the area included a single sunbathing female and a family of four building sand castles.

The Balinese gentlemen, he was so friendly and informative. Better yet, he wasn’t trying to sell you anything. You were getting a free education on the island’s history and cultural traditions when he put a hand on your knee, when he brushed sand off your stomach. No problem, while in Southeast Asia public intimacy between couples is frowned upon it’s common to be touched by the same sex. Male friends are often seen holding hands, females will massage each other.

His hand brushes your crotch. Must have been an accident.

“Ah, you must be surfer, yes, nice body,” he tells you, winking. “You like this beach?”

You look around. Now the only people you see are Caucasoid and Balinese males slathering each other with tanning oil.

An East-Euro accent informs you that you have “nice balls” as a man-thong walks past. You close your splayed legs. You get up. You decide to go for that beer after all. You buy an ‘authentic hand-crafted Balinese power necklace’ to refocus your chi. Yes, yes, the boss will take two.

Ubud, Bali is a setting for the book-turned-movie Eat, Pray, Love. You’re not a Julia Roberts fan, she’s not disheveled enough for you, so the only thing you now know about the plot is that, for whatever reason, it brings a lot of single women to Ubud. They’re looking for love. Yes, there are plenty of women that hopelessly quixotic. You do your best James Franco impression. You find out acting like you’re an actor who’s not acting is exacting.

Come again?

Where Kuta is for surf, sun and I-thought-they-only-looked-like-that-in-magazines models, Ubud is the cultural half of Bali’s Caucasoid-run-amok duopoly. Full of temples, art museums, rural community handicrafts, and Balinese dance traditions revived to extract rupiah from tourists, it’s fun and engaging. The monkeys of the Monkey Forest Sanctuary embody both adjectives and add one. Cunning. They run around you, climb up you and, as you’re giggling, pickpocket your peanuts. You’re just glad they’re not interested in passports and debit cards.

As you examine the artistry of Balinese sculpture--it’s the first time you’ve ever seen a demon-boar holding a terrified pregnant woman up by her hair--a monkey tugs on your shoelaces. Another ascends all the way up to your shoulders. Somehow you just lost the water bottle that was in your hand. Train a couple of the furry dudes to a covet cash, let them loose in a First World subway station for a few hours, and there’ll be enough dough in the cookie jar to retire early, to send all three kids to an ivy league graduate school, and to make a Bali transition to Ubud where you can perfect that James Franco impression.

You’re pretty sure he played the love interest in Eat, Pray, Love. Then again, you were pretty sure humans evolved from monkeys. As they eat your peanuts and drink your bottled water it’s clear it was a regression.

Keep drifting.

At Udud's Monkey Forest Sanctuary

A monkey of the Monkey Forest Sanctuary.


Go ahead. Let out an, 'aww.'

Walking around Ubud and this is the sort of stuff you run into.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Don't worry mom, I'm not dead. Yet.

I'm working my way through a few Indonesian isles. Internet connectivity is sparse and quite slow, yet expensive. Something about supply and demand and all that jazz. For instance, the wait time to load the Blogger website was about an inch and a half worth of back hair growth and cost me a few dollars. I know, right? Who has that kind of dough at their disposal.

You may not see a post for a week or two. It doesn't mean I was abducted by Indonesia's Islamic extremists or that I was swept away in a tsunami. Although it could. But there's a slightly higher liklihood it's due to something more benign, like the lack of a decent wi-fi connection. So don't worry mom, I'm not dead. Yet.

Keep drifting.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sure, Rambo eradicated an entire Burmese rogue army single handedly, but did you see the way he handled the tropical climate?

“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am… Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”

-Michael Crichton, Travels

Sure, Rambo eradicated an entire Burmese rogue army single handedly, but did you see the way he handled the tropical climate?

Long-term travel, it’s just as much about discovering other countries and cultures as it is about discovering yourself. In Taman Negara, Malaysia, home of the world’s oldest rainforest, I discover that I am a wus, a sissy, a walk’n talk’n yell’r bellied chick’n that’s a’ lost both it’s marbles. The evidence is overwhelming.

I went in with grand ambition. I’ll rent a tent, I’ll sleep in a cave, I’ll hire a guide and go on a five-day four-night trek up Gunung Talan. I’ll track a family of tigers and play ole’ with rhinoceros. Rambo doesn’t have s**t on me.

Being that I sweat more than anyone I’ve ever encountered perhaps the world’s most humid region isn’t something I ought seek out. My water supply was gone within two hours on the first day test run up Bukit Teresik, a hill. Let me emphasize that with repetition. A hill. Even my shorts were dude-I-think-he-pissed-himself-silly saturated. I stumbled back to Kuala Tahan, the village bordering the national park, licking perspiration off my forearms. Then squeezing my shirt over my mouth.
The thing about sweat is that it’s similar in consistency to urine, only more diluted. I now possess an appreciation for the difference.

I never go on a hike lasting longer than five hours. I simply can’t carry enough water. Boiling river water wouldn’t extend the kilometer count. Willpower exits the pores in pace with perspiration. A couple hours in and one begins to feel this-is-as-good-a-spot-to-die-as-any sluggish. I’d trudge along for a couple more hours only out of some sadistic sense of obligation--I came here to hike, to engage the natural world, and damn it, that’s what I’m going to do.

Instead of tracking tigers I dart back with each rustle in the foliage. Each grunt, every snort, they’re worth twenty meters of backpedaling, then twenty minutes of creeping up to the location where the commotion originated. Despite my flight, or because of it, I see nothing more than primates, large birds and that-spider/ant/beetle/fly-must-have-sat-foot-in-Godzilla-nuclear-sludge. Who would have thought elephants and rhinos were so good at hiding?

Who would have thought leeches were so good at seeking? They don’t have eyes, but sure as hell know when I’m in the area, inching towards me from all directions and, occasionally, dropping from above. In leech-prone areas I don’t see much of the rainforest, instead busy scanning the body for bloodsuckers. The more dehydrated I get the more delirious, the more masochistic. Instead of pulling the leeches off I pull a lighter from my pocket. Let me make an admission. I bought it for the very purpose. In my delirium I’m wishing the parasites had vocal chords so I could hear them squeal.

Even without leeches howling while aflame the rainforest is plenty loud, the decibel count somewhere between why’d-I-go-to-a-punk-rock-concert-when-I-could-be-at-home-doing-laundry and a retirement home fire alarm (loud enough to alert ninety-eight year-olds sans hearing aids). Five minutes after entering you’re ‘in it’, the forest’s 250 bird species all seem to be calling at once. Insects buzz, frogs croak, monkeys chatter above. It’s even better than Planet Earth in full Dolby surround sound.

It’s almost, like, as if you were on planet Earth, or something.

Even muddy and leech-covered, or because of it, I had a great time. It’s just a shame I’m such a sissy. How about a little less in the way of self-discovery?

Mr. Rambo, sir, I kneel before thee.

Keep drifting.

[[It’s July 4th, I’m in Bali, Indonesia. Nobody knows when and where the fireworks start. What gives?]]

Pictures not uploading, this is me walking away before frustration turns into violent spasms.