“Not even you, huh?”
“No, no,” he smiles, more gums than teeth, “never give to me.”
The trash bag full of rotten produce on my lap smells even worse than the dead pig.
I’m in Mattaram, Lombock, on my way back to Bali. I take a taxi to the public bemo (van turned bus) stop hoping to get to Lumbar where the public ferry awaits. As I exit the taxi I hand the driver a 20,000 rupiah note. I owe 11,000. Instead of giving me change the taxi speeds off. This was expected. This is Indonesia. It would have shocked me if I’d been given my change. In fact, I would have tipped the driver the difference for being one of the few to deal honestly.
It’s not just taxi drivers. Book transport--a boat, a bus ride--and if you don’t have exact change you’ll be told the excess paid will be returned before you leave, the proprietor just needs to get smaller currency. When it’s time to depart this person won’t be around. Rather than miss a ride already paid for you’ll board shortchanged.
The taxi drops me off at what’s supposed to be the public bemo stop. There aren’t any bemos in sight, only seven different dudes talking over each other at once trying to entice--nay, pull--me onto a mode of overpriced transport I’m not interested in. Not when I’ve supposedly traveled to the public bus station. Try to escape and the hawkers only get more aggressive, grabbing and yapping their gums like machine guns.
The actual bemo stop is a half kilometer away. Of course, once there it’s time to haggle for a ride to Lumbar. As the only Caucasoid on the bemo it’s expected I pay four times as much as locals. I manage to barter the driver down to only paying three times as much. This is expected. This is Indonesia. After negotiations we wait around two hours hoping to acquire more passengers. The eight-seater is crammed with seventeen people, six chickens, a pig carcass and several trash bags full of produce before leaving.
Once reaching Lumbar a ferry ticket must be purchased. Hawkers crowd the harbor wanting to sell me tickets that may or may not be legitimate. Nobody wants to tell me where I can buy an official ticket from the ferry operator. Note that the ferry is run by the government. Even government employees working at the ferry, when asked where to buy a ticket, just point off in the distance. In different directions. It takes twenty minutes to locate the ‘official’ stand to buy a ticket that will actually admit me onto the boat.
The journey starts in the early morning. After a four hour ferry ride I reach Bali in the early evening. In total I haven’t traveled more than 60 kilometers. This is expected. This is Indonesia.
When you’ve reached and temporarily reside at a particular destination hawkers are very forward. Very in your face, crossing the street to ask you if you’d please visit their shop or buy sunglasses or book transport or get a massage, wink-wink. Sometimes they grab and pull and whine. Scan an Indonesian guidebook and you’ll see the words ‘tout’ and ‘annoying’ and ’blood pressure’ a lot. In fact, the guidebook warns against trekking Bali’s volcano or visiting some of the island’s best temples because the locals can be so exasperating, even threatening.
Even when leaving the country I’m scammed in immigration. Required to pay a 150,000 rupiah departure fee, my wallet’s dry. I reach into my secret stash and find Malaysian ringgit. When the immigration officer hands me back 30,000 rupiah I give a cough-cough and a ‘That’s all?” He tells me he’s sorry, he miscounted. He gives another 20,000. He’s still shortchanging me by at least 50,000. He won’t budge. This is the guy that’s stamping my passport and he’s stealing from me with the ‘ol currency exchange shortchange. He’s not even good at it. I’ve caught him and there’s nothing I can do about it. Or at least nothing I want to do about it. While sometimes it’s fun playing see-if-you-can-go-a-day-without-being-swindled I’m not in the mood with a five a.m. departure time and a sleepless night at the airport. Others huff and puff behind me, apparently eager to get ripped off themselves.
It’s only six dollars. After a month, however, these unanticipated expenses add up. It’s never about the money anyway. It’s about the teeth-grinding-steaming-forehead feeling of being taken advantaged of. Next time just charge me a 200,000 rupiah departure tax. It’ll work out the same but I won’t be weighing the pros and cons of committing a capital crime before takeoff.
Most transport hassles can be avoided with money. Hire private transport for five times the already inflated public Caucasoid rate and you won’t notice a thing. You also won’t notice the endearing locals. On the ferry ride back to Bali a group of kids traveling from Lombok to Java to begin college sat in a half-circle around me. It was their first time off Lombok. They won’t see their families for four years until coming back home with their degrees even though it doesn’t cost more than $40 to complete the trip. Initially shy, they soon began asking all sorts of personal questions and wanted to take pictures with me. Later, children came up to play and wrinkled, toothless Indonesians stood near to simply stare and smile.
Many tourists fly into to Bali, go straight to the resort, and spend a week or two lounging by the pool bar with a cocktail in hand. They’ll enjoy a week of perfect sunsets and a tour of the island or two. Maybe go to one of those cultural dance performances revived to extract rupiah from Caucasoids. They’ll return home sun burnt and happy with a couple cool Balinese demon-boar masks. The same could be said for a trip to Hawaii and one of those ‘authentic’ luaus and coconut bras. Vacations are escapism. There’s nothing wrong with this. You’ve worked hard, you need a break. You need to vacate from reality for a while and simply not think.
Long-term travel, on the other hand, requires much in the way of mind churning, the world is infinitely complex, there’s pushing and pulling from all directions. Figuratively and literally. It isn’t glamorous, I get frustrated, sometimes my stance gets wider and my elbows flair out. Sometimes one accidentally catches a jawbone that was in my ‘American’ personal space.
Vexation is just as much or more memorable than any sea turtle snorkeling odyssey. It’s not always fun, but it is always interesting. I’ve never been more exhausted. Welcome to the real.
|Entrance to Don Antonio Blanco Art Museum in Ubud, a neurotically erotic exhibit, the entrance is his signature.|
|Bali rice field|
|Another one of those perfect Bali sunsets|