This experiment in travel writing is in homage to the lasting impact of even the shortest and most subtle moments. My goal is to consciously choose a moment, in each day, that is worthy of memorization. Each daily section consists of a single brief moment, lasting no longer than 15 minutes. The rules are: 1) no more than two edits, 2) retrospective thought should be avoided, and 3) after a single moment is selected, you can not change your choice – no matter how interesting an event is that comes up later. I do not provide historic background, hotel information, travel advice, or even logical transitions (and also note the avoidance of future and past tenses). The purpose is to honor the power of a small instant.
This experiment in travel writing advocates a “quilted haiku” style - based on prose rather than poetry. My theory is that each moment, each daily section, is like a patch in a quilt. At first, each patch might seem detached and floating without any context or background, like a common haiku, but as the story progresses, patterns will emerge as new details and moments are added. As the story unfolds readers can piece together the quilt of moments to get a full view of the nature of travel. This time it is through Indonesia’s Bali and the Nusra Tenggara Islands, but location is not the point – this experiment is all about the writing process, and an author’s ability to chose the decisive moment to snapshot. It should still reflect the mystery, hardships, and exotica that accompanies travel. Soulhouse69@yahoo.com
3/16 (Kuta, Bali)
The street-tough Buddhist gangster is blocking sunlight as he stands menacingly in front of me. I peel the dry rough skin off a snake fruit while ignoring him. “You need woman. You need hash,” he demands, rather than questions. I negotiate, “What I need is to see the exact spot of the Bali bombings. I can give you 5,000 rupees to take me there”. He smiles at my novice bartering skills and money exchanges hands. He leads me down the street to where his friend is sleeping on some form of a reconstituted motorcycle. The gangster delivers a swift kick to his friend to awake him. Moments later we are blazing down a side alley on this forcefully borrowed motorcycle. The gangsters heavily tattooed arms glisten with sweat as he reiterates his mantra, “One woman for ten dollars, hash for twelve, smoke opium for extra”. Then we arrive. He points to the site, laughs, and shouts, “BOOM!”.
A large memorial at the site marks the deaths of nearly 200 people in the popular tourist ghetto. The enormous wall includes a plaque to acknowledge the terrorist acts on October 12th, 2002. I read the very globalized list of casualties: 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 23 English, 7 Americans, 6 German, 4 French, 2 Koreans, 2 Japanese, 2 South African, 1 Polish, and so forth. By what twisted act of fate does such a diverse group of people meet together to experience such a horrid and fragile event? One moment there might be celebration and unity; the next moment everything falls apart. Soon afterward people move on, get back in life’s natural rhythm and routines, then all is forgotten. Traffic buzzes by this memorial as if it has no more significance than a mountain tree or a shell by a sea.
“You want massage? You want bang-bang? You want me suck?”, 3-4 prostitutes shout at me from the sidewalk just outside the memorial site. Street children rush up to me and interrupt my viewing. They have dry mouths, ragged clothes, and shoeless feet. Dirt smears across their chapped skin. The children stick their hands out, palms upward, in praise of coin. They grab my notebook so I can’t write. I reach for my camera instead. The children intentionally stand in front of my camera, so I can’t take a picture of the memorial. I must pay them for that right. Averting my eyes, I make the mistake of having eye contact with one of the prostitutes. Now, she aggressively launches forward insisting, “You need massage. You need me go hotel room.” I am tugged on either arm by the prostitute and street child. Fuck it! I am out of here.
3/17 (Pendang Bai, Bali)
Ibu’s face is pressed into a plethora of wrinkles as if it is made out of fabric rather than skin. Her wrinkles spread like a tiny river tributary system. The thin gentle woman has earned these wrinkles by operating the village elementary school for over a decade. I can relate. I am growing gray hairs after only two years of teaching children in Korea. Ibu smiles at me kindly. She does not have enough change to return to me for my drink at her restaurant. The tab came to 15,000 rupees, less than $2, and I could only offer her a 50,000 bill. Leaving a seven year old guidebook as collateral, I race down three flights of stairs, all painted various shades of red, and sprint across a common square – past a Chinese graveyard, a cow, and two goats – to find a store that could make change. A series of highly decorative bamboo poles line the street. The ceremonial poles contain a tiny house-like structure where offerings of rice, flowers, and syrupy sodas are left as offerings. Objects such as coconuts, money, silk cloth, and even bags of potato chips are attached to the structure. They remind me of fishing poles because a chain of rolled leaves droop back down to the street.
Returning, I hurl myself past the Chinese graveyard – beyond the cow, two goats, and a new addition of chickens – back up three flight of red stairs to Ibu’s restaurant. I stand before Ibu with my chest heaving in lack of breath. She and her staff are busy with ceremonial offerings. Ibu is lighting candles, burning incense, and placing rice into banana leaf trays. Her staff add flower garlands and gently put the combination in highly selective areas, such as right in the center of the doorway where unobserving tourists could accidentally step on them. While I wait for them, Ibu hands me a few guestbooks to sign. Tourists have been making entries in them for over six years. By instinct, I choose to write the following statement on a blank white page although it dates back to 1999: How powerful a human life could be if we could go back in time and fill in blank spaces. I would fill this emptiness with the scent of this sunset wind, the sight of sunlight leaping from wave to wave, and the image of Ibu’s face.
3/18 (Cakranegara, Lombok)
I am dropped off a busy street late at night. A simple horse-drawn cart gallops quietly by. The only sound I hear are the tiny clopping of hoofs on pavement; and then, after the traffic light changes, a river of motorcycles, taxis, overstuffed lorries, and private vehicles launch into night. The smell of diesel and manure waft thickly in the air. There are no open hotels in sight. I realize that I have no clue where I am. The primal instinct kicks in that this is not where I want to be. I change my mind. Immediately, I am swatted by a chain of hawkers and taxi drivers. I shout out a single word – the random name of a nearby city – and a half dozen of them argue among themselves while negotiating fare with me. A large round man and two of his friends usher me across the road and an entourage of competitors follow suit. They split traffic in two as vehicles slice into pockets around us. A kind-faced old man offers me a motorcycle ride at the best rate yet. His non-aggressive sales pitch enables me to trust him. He loads me on his rusty two-wheeler, my daypack swaying to and fro, as his vehicle putts its way back into the metal river of traffic. Sweat valiantly struggles to escape from entrapment within my shirt. Wind pounds at the corner of my eyes. I look upward to avoid this discomfort. Hmmm … I have not bothered to notice yet, but the sky is heavy with stars. They drop into my sight like ancient fruit.
3/19 (Sengigi, Lombok)
The shop tender motions toward my daypack. She mutters to me in a language that I am oblivious to. Already worn down from a series of hawkers, I rudely ignore her. She persists following me and pointing. What is she trying to sell me? In the United States shoppers are often required to check-in back packs before entering a store, but this is a village market and I am reluctant to remove mine. I promptly buy cashew nuts and hurry away. Outside the market a motorcycle driver jumps in with the same tactic. He points at my pack and starts shouting. However, this time the culprit can speak English. “Your pack is open,” he warns, “you better zip it up before you lose something”. I thank him and apologize for my foolish mistake.
As I fix my pack I feel two drops of water strike my cheek. I look up to learn the source. A huge torrent of late-monsoon rain bursts through its cloudy gates. The rain soaks me in seconds. I leap across the street to the nearest restaurant. It has a canopy of thatched palm leaves and bamboo that offers surprisingly good protection from the downpour. The locals could smell the rain coming in advance and find cover early. A one-inch lake forms in the center of the muddy road. I could hear Indonesians laughing and singing. A Muslim caliph recites a prayer over a distorted intercom down the street. I can’t go anywhere for a while. Maybe it is a good time to eat.
3/20 (Bima, Sumbawa)
On my right, two women pull at my shoulder trying to provoke me into buying something in plastic containers to eat. I am the only westerner on this bus, so I must stand out like a walking ATM machine. To my left, are three devout Muslim men who are sharing the same seat in the very back of the bus. They quickly ask if I am an American then proceed to ignore me. Seven other men are perched near us, sitting and sleeping in the aisle between our feet and the community bathroom. The squat toilet, pretty much a hole in the floor, looks like it has been missed a couple times due to the bumpy ride. From time to time the bathroom door swings open as the bus swerves. Trickles of dark liquid seep into the aisles. A family of large slow-moving cockroaches play on the bathroom door. They have so little fear of humans that they forget to scurry away. Baskets of rambutans and snake fruit hang in the space above my head. A trail of ants feed off the juices of exploding overripe fruit.
This is a 17 hour bus ride that we are sharing. I survive by sending myself in a meditative trance-like state. A man in front of me tries to sell me fake pearls that he claims his cousin authentically gathers direct from the sea. A new recruit pesters me into buying water during this brief flash at a rest stop. I don’t want any food because I prefer not to encourage the unfortunate possibility of hovering above the hole in the bathroom floor, while the bus rocks along an unpaved, twisty, mountain road. I don’t want water because the urge to pee would only keep me awake. I don’t want the pearls because I hate wearing jewelry – especially of the more feminine varieties. What I want is to close my eyes and awake at our destination.
This moment is a crossroad. I could follow my instinct and walk off the bus. I could find the nearest hotel and start anew in the morning. I could simply leave and start a new path. A tourist always has many options. I decide to endure. There is only three more hours to go. It couldn’t get any worse. I bury my head in the nook of my arm trying to force sleep. A woman continues to tug at my shoulder despite multiple refusals. My strategy is to play dead until she goes away. From the corner of my eye, I spy a plump brown cockroach on the window sill. To my horror it sluggishly creeps up the sleeve of my shirt. I feel it plowing its way toward my armpit.
3/21 (Waikabubak, Sumba)
Stuck in a beemo-style minivan, sweltering heat baking down on my black vinyl seat, I guzzle a bottle of cold water like a baby with a pacifier. There is only a 15 minute shelf life until this cold water turns lukewarm. I need to take advantage of these brief window periods of favorable temperature. I am stuck on this minivan until the driver decides that it has sufficient enough passengers to take off. He has my money already, so I must wait it out. I consider exploring the marketplace or walking around the neighborhood, but I worry that my ride will depart as soon as I wander off. All the seats are already full. The driver just wants to fill the aisles first, and maybe even find passengers who are willing to sit on the roof. Sweat trickles in tiny streams down my back. My armpits are sopping wet. The stubble on my face has entered the itching stages. I haven’t washed in several days. The time on this toasting bus only contributes to my process of unsociable fermentation.
Suddenly, the mini-van fires into action. I can almost hear pistons bobbing. Air conditioning kicks in – thanks to whatever deity this island worships – and the vehicle departs. It races through nearby villages where people watch us from bamboo huts. It drives past horse-riding warriors who are practicing for battle at the Pasola festival ceremonial grounds, throwing bamboo spears at human targets. It moves by giant ancestral tombs where slabs of stone rise into air like a miniature Stonehenge. These are the things that I want to see. This is what makes travel worthwhile. The mini-van continued onward, making brief stops to pick up new passengers and to lift chicken-filled cages onto the roof. Then in one quick moment of pure calculated evil our vehicle slams to a halt. We park in the exact same spot at the marketplace as before. The driver turns off the air conditioner and we continue to wait.
3/22 (Sawu Sea)
The three hour late night ferry boat has come all the way from Timor. It is the only boat that ships out each week. The cabin beds consist of one long strand of white linoleum stretched across the platform floor. Twenty people sleep in each row, and there are dozens of identical rows. My bed is a four foot slot on the linoleum strip, squared off by the #55, which a porter has written on it with a black marker pen. A string of seven cockroaches – of the fast moving type – scurry across my designated sleeping quarters. The vile insects are not at all shy of people and easily crawl over sleeping bodies while hunting food. I spot a cockroach underneath the neck of a man in the slot next to mine. I attempt to force myself into lying down. I make it to my knees before deciding that I can’t do it. I am not that humble to sleep here. Sure, a sleazy guesthouse and fluid-stained mattress are quite familiar to me, but this is the line I could not cross. My dignity has limitations.
On deck I am guaranteed a night of constant hustling. I am the only white-faced westerner on the boat. I couldn’t exactly blend in. Already passengers have been following me: plying me with hardship stories and pleas for cash, inquiring about the contents of my backpack and begging to peek inside, offering sexual propositions with the promise of a shared bed. Gangs of youth patrol the deck as I look for a place to hide my gear. In the daytime, there would be no problem. I could simply read a book or listen to music. However, night comes with the promise of theft. I am tired from my long journey and I still haven’t bathed in over three days. One night of cold air and peaceful sleep is all I need. However, even on deck the humidity and human disturbance every few minutes pesters me awake.
On the linoleum floor, I finally coax myself into sitting, but I couldn’t bring myself to lay down. I could imagine cockroaches inside my shirt, crawling up my pant legs, or racing across my face while sleeping. It is a question of mind over matter, or maybe a spiritual test to overcome my ego. I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I walked back to the third-floor deck frantically searching for a hiding place. Next to a few emergency survival rafts, in an area clearly off-limits, I could see an alternative. I find a small storage space where an individual could sit without notice. I shift my body parts into yoga-like positions until I feel comfortable. As a crowning touch, a dark-color sarong could be attached to the survival rafts forming a tiny inconspicuous roof. Nestling inside my cubby-hole I could play a CD while watching the waxing moon. Sleep was waiting nearby.
3/23 (Moni, Flores)
Tropical rain cuts through the clouds and baptizes the village. I leave my homestay – a dingy room without a fan or toilet seat, but still a bargain because of its mosquito net in the malarial zone. I am curious if rain leaks through the thatched roofs of traditional homes. It doesn’t, in this case. But, while watching the rain, I slip and fall in the mud. I walk to nearby water ditch to wash away the debris. A group of woman are busy washing and doing laundry even during the storm. One of them attempts to speak with me, but her mouth is so full of betel nut that I can’t understand. The betel nut gives her teeth a foamy red appearance. I look elsewhere only to surprise a few children. They grab my hand and excitingly exclaim, “Look what we have”. They pull me toward their home. Just outside was a fat pig ready for laughter. They chase each other with glee around a huge stack of boulders and a stone slab that are used as an ancestor memorial – like a private family tombstone in the middle of their property.
The noise brings a curly haired man out of his house. He asks me for winning lottery numbers to play. I suggest some random numerals from the top of my head, and then he invites me inside. His walls were heavily decorated with Christian memorabilia – a crucifix, a statue of Mary, a shrine to Jesus. Old green paint peeled off the walls to expose a brownish layer underneath. Smiling children laugh at my facial features, especially my big nose, until the man tells them to fetch us some coffee. These children have been adopted by him. He helps raise them and provides an education. We drink coffee and chat. For a moment life is simple and beautiful. He is a good person who is doing truly constructive things. Then the inevitable conversation comes. I am asked to buy local Ikat weavings. The handicrafts are pulled out and scattered across his home. He pressures me to donate funds to the local orphanage, pulling out a variety of forms and bank statements. No, they don’t need books because the school will only sell them for profit, no they don’t need volunteer English teachers; all that they need is cash. Just send money.
3/24 (Kelimutu, Flores)
On top the famous volcano, with its multi-colored lakes, a small group of tourists momentarily converge. They are the first westerners that I have seen since leaving Bali. New travel bonds are formed while other travelers split into different directions. I defiantly hold to my status as a solo budget traveler. I remain silent and alone. As we are descending the volcano an argument ensues when an Indonesian tour guide asks my next destination – and an Italian woman disapproves:
Me: “I am heading next to Bajawa”.
Italian: “I hate Bajawa. It’s too full of tourists”.
Tour Guide: “What is wrong with tourists? I like tourists?”.
Italian: “Tourists follow guidebooks like sheep. Their travel is unoriginal”.
Tour Guide: “But, tourists give me money, so I can feed my family”.
Italian: “Maybe. But, tourists destroy traditional culture. They greedily exploit locals (she snorts like a pig for greater effect)”.
Tour Guide: “What is so great about tradition? Tradition can be boring. I want new things. Have you ever lived in a home with a thatched roof? There are plenty of insects and it always needs to be keep fixed. I want a better life for me and my family”.
Italian: “I don’t think you can understand. I am not a tourist; I am a traveler. This is a long-term spiritual journey for me. Tourists just want to party or relax. My travel is at a deeper level”.
Me: “C’mon, a spiritual moment can’t be chosen. It just happens. Even package tourists can experience a flash of impact and learning. Even a drunkard on a binge vacation could find God while lost on an Asian beach. Spending your parent’s trust fund on an extensive backpacking trip, and daily banana pancakes, doesn’t guarantee enlightenment or privileged karmic promotions. Why the hierarchy? There is no need to set criteria to determine the tourist group with the most significant impact: spiritual pilgrims, backpackers, package tourists, sex tourists, working expatriates, local-language speaking expatriates, gone-native married expatriates. Who cares? If your honest, you would admit that that majority of your travel consists of mundane non-spiritual experiences such as waiting for buses, reading books in skuzzy hotels, and chatting with westerners”.
Italian: “I don’t take buses. I hire my own private driver to avoid the tourists. One person, one car, can you imagine that? Travel for me is a lifestyle. It is connected to a higher purpose and self-development. For you it is only time off. I am a traveler and you are a tourist. I can’t expect a tourist like you to distinguish between the two”.
At the base of Kelimutu everybody diverges. The Italian quickly races away solo with her chauffer. A German and American ride off together on a rented motorcycle. Two Dutch women climb into a taxi. I board a budget mini-van with the Indonesian tour guide, two Norwegians, and a Polish couple. I am tired of being alone and taking extreme off-routes. It is time for me to readjust my traveling goals and tight budget. The conversation still disturbs the tour guide, “What is wrong with that lady? Maybe she is a little crazy. How is she not a tourist?”
3/25 (Ende, Flores)
The bus is full. People stand in the middle of the aisles and hang out the side of the door. There is no more room. The driver reluctantly asks if I mind climbing on the roof. I don’t want to wait four hours until the next bus, so I climb the metal ladder by using a spare tire to hoist myself on top. There are already five people perched among stacks of luggage – they immediately crawl across the moving vehicle to make room. I sit on a bunch of coconuts and surprisingly find a comfortable position. The bus rapidly weaves around tight mountain turns, boulders in the road, and oversized oncoming traffic. I see enormous drop offs and sheer jagged cliffs. The road had no protective barriers other than banana trees and a variety of shrubs. The passengers on top continue to climb around the careening vehicle as it cascades onward. They swing around the sides of the bus to get a better view. I remain firmly in place, only moving to avoid tree branches and low slung electrical wires. The mountain air smells alive and fresh. Wildlife is tucked in all directions. An Indonesian taps me on the shoulder. He points to a large hawk hovering skillfully above like Archilles flying into the sun.
3/26 (Bajawa, Flores)
The hot river gracefully sleeks down in two separate waterfalls. The water dances around several crevices of smooth stone – large enough for a human body to nest in. I tuck my body into a hollow of stone. The hot volcanic spring pours its contents on me from above. To my side a river of cool water washed me from another direction. I could feel alternating currents and fluctuating temperatures. The two rivers massage away the pain of a seven hour bus ride. I scrub away at my feet with a perfectly round pumice stone. A Dutch couple flirt by the waterfall. An American – Charles – takes digital photographs to show his girlfriend. He has convinced me that I don’t need to restrict my budget so tightly; aircon and hot water are worth the extra $2. A German travel book writer – Ralf – struggles to open a beer bottle. An Indonesian volunteers for the task by snapping the cap off between his teeth. Precious dark beer sprays everywhere. In the background there is construction – a lot of new development. Tourist bungalows are hammered and woven into existence. The hint of future luxury hotels echoes in the distance. Landscapers have cleared away new footpaths. They are empty and waiting for cement to fill them in. The hot spring feels sacred, but its days of remoteness are numbered. We enjoy this moment, and this mineral spring, knowing that we can never step into either again.
3/27 (Labuanbajo, Flores)
The old fishing woman smiles at the curious foreigners who are fascinated by her two-pronged spear. She proudly demonstrates how to catch fish with the contraption. She calls her family to come witness the event. In seconds a number of children and grandchildren gather in front of her house. Her home is fitted together from corrugated metal slats. The roof was covered with rust and moss. The walls are painted in a dark green that have discolored over the years into psychedelic shades. Eventually, her son is elected to translate various questions – hers and ours – into a form of localized English. Charles, an emergency ambulance driver from America, entertains the family with pictures on his digital camera. The neighbors join in to tease the woman about her pose. Charles gets her address to mail the photograph later.
We continue up the mountainside as butterflies float by. We duck into a restaurant with a brilliant sunset view. I have finally found a town where I can exchange money (still no ATM machine, though). I can afford a fish dinner once again. I also repay Charles for a small loan. I am still surprised at his trust of a stranger. I order beer. The restaurant staff already know our names although this is our first visit. They pass us a note left by Australian and American women who teach English in Japan. We know them from out time spent in Bajawa together. The note invites us to visit them at their hotel room. In my mind, I chase visions of passion, pleasure, and the deep earthy scents of a woman’s body.
3/28 (Labuanbajo, Flores)
The first raindrop strikes violently against the walking path stones. It rapidly combusts. Then raindrops explode in all directions as they hit. Tiny pools of water start to grow until they are large enough for ripples to take form. The mass of liquid gains momentum and sudden streams carry it away. A loud chorus echoes while the water rises above the walking path. The current flow of water is not exactly dangerous, but it does make travel less desirable. It is more difficult to move. Malaria is still a possibility. Many of us our confused: should we get out adventurously or stay safely at home.
On the ceiling, a half dozen gecko lizards hunt for insects. One gecko goes about its business as usual. Another rests upside down reevaluating its position in life. Many baby geckos race around playfully, obliviously to me watching them from below. Several minor-sized lizards dart and flutter around creating distractions. In the corner, a slender and strong gecko waits patiently and motionlessly. It has focused on a specific target. It bids its time waiting.
Two Muslim mosques call followers to prayer. Loud speakers across the city crackle into action, some distorted even more by the sound of heavy rain. The two mosques compete among themselves for youthful attention. Multiple caliphs call out from different places. Heads spin in both directions, listening. Songs rise and fall then go silent. They incubate in dormancy until it is prayer time once again.
A single mosquito flies to the ceiling to rest after gorging on blood from my neck. The slender and strong gecko notices the blood-filled insect (plump and unaware). It watches carefully as the parasite inches closer to the blinding light bulb. The geckos eyes roll forward. Immediately, it strikes. Boom! The mosquito is gone. However, this action was a tradeoff. At the same moment that the adult gecko lunges out of its dark corner, a distracted baby gecko falls from the ceiling. Its life ends instantly as hungry cats pounce on it.
3/29 (Labuanbajo, Flores)
The nightclub staff drains the bottle of cheap alcohol (arak) in only a few minutes. They ask for more. Another bottle is placed on the table by the manager, but it is only have full. They pour slivers of toxic liquid into small water glasses, and forgetting momentarily about the patrons, slide the alcohol across the table toward a friend. Two guitars are produced from behind the bar and a series of local and western songs spill out. The guitars are of the cheap island variety. Their necks are so warped from the blazing sun that strings could only be pushed down up to the third fret. The eclectic, self-appointed, musicians serenaded the guests. They are all young, mostly teenagers, and they all sport western-influenced style – tattooed arms, long hair, afros, brand name t-shirts. They sing mostly in English, while lacking the ability to hold a conversation in this language. Random lyrics are applied to each song, sometimes Indonesian, sometimes local dialect, and sometimes English-oriented gibberish. Singers jump into chorus prematurely, filler words are used liberally, and the sentences actually memorized are repeated regardless of what part of the song they are on. Their mistakes do not matter because their singing is heartfelt and enthusiastic.
The nightclub staff, however, are getting progressively drunk and mischievous. The quickly inebriated musicians conspire to produce a raunchy cover of a Boney-M song: / Hooray, Hooray, / it’s a holi-holiday/ It’s a world of fun for everyone / Hooray, Hooray, / it’s a holi-holiday / Gonna get a dick massage for everyone / Get a dick massage on my holiday. The manager springs forward to swipe the remaining bottle of cheap alcohol away from them. He plugs a cork back into the bottle and locks it in a kitchen cupboard. Reggae music is quickly placed back on the stereo. I could hear the manager complaining, “My staff are always getting drunk, and they can’t even pay for their booze”.
3/30 (Labuanbajo, Flores) Volunteer Teaching
The Muslim school is constructed out of fabricated wood and tin. The walls are so thin that conversations can be heard from all other classrooms. The classroom has no books. The chalkboard consists of a piece of plywood painted black. The teacher scrawls a English lesson across the board with a small sliver of chalk. There are no computers or Xerox machines. Four students share a wooden table and there are 6-8 tables per room. The Muslim students were fascinated by the stray English teacher who walked in. Most are too bashful to speak. About 75% of the students are women. They look at me with big eyes and thick eyebrows. Their heads are covered with scarves, which only draws more attention to their smiles and wide open eyes. Many students whisper to the girl nearest them and promptly avert their gaze from me. One studious girl sat in the front row. She is the first to break the ice, “Where are you from? How long have you been in Indonesia? Do you like Indonesian food? What do you think about Lubuanbajo?”. Her questions are of the safe and predictable variety, but they successfully inspired other students to talk.
I give them a tiny warm up lecture about past progressive verb tense, but they are more curious about me – the first American ever in their classroom. I ask them question so that they can practice replying. After giggles and laughter the most fluent student is pushed forward to test his English skills. The class demands that I interrogate him about Komodo dragons. He courageous delivers a speech about the reptiles – much of it feels unnatural, straight out of a textbook, but I am thankful for his effort to communicate. The original teacher resumes his role at the head of the class, thanking me profusely, as the bright student returns to his chair. Outside about fifty younger students greet me. They speak a few words of English to me and run away. The principle explains, “Today is a big test day. These students are looking for any excuse to postpone exams”.
3/31 (Labuanbajo, Flores) Volunteer Teaching
I carry a bag full of donations for the school. It isn’t much, really, just whatever resources I could put together at the last second – English books, pencils, erasers, blank paper sheets, marking pens, foreign coins. Most of the material costs nothing at all. In a weaker instinctive moment, I use money that Charles has lent me, to reroute it to the school (instead of repaying him in full). I basically sacrifice the money that I would have spent on beer to purchase classroom material. The material was inexpensive, but crucial and valuable to an impoverished school. Students study English without a textbook, they learn about computers without access to one, and geography without updated maps. They are better equipped for religious studies because that material can come directly from the soul. The teacher offers me a copy of his thesis about Komodo dragons. Beside him are tests that he has copied by rolling blank pages through a machine with carbon paper. He is very surprised that I return two days in a row, “The students are waiting for you. I have four classes ready for your visit”.
I grab a broken shard of chalk to write a quick phonics lesson on the spray-painted chalkboard. This time the students are full of questions. However, the one question that they should bring into discussion is absent. I am an American volunteer at a Muslim school in one of the most Islamic countries in the world. Nobody asks me about the Iraq War, or about conflicts in Afghanistan and Israel. They are too polite to initiate this dialogue. I wouldn’t know what to tell them. The U.S. government is willing to spend over one billion dollars every week in Iraq. But, they recoil in moral shock about the proposal to donate supplies and computers to Muslim schools such as this one. We could be sending teachers instead of bombs; English books instead of loans with interest. I would teach at this school for the smallest salary if it could only reduce my student loans back home. One can always dream. Fantasies cost nothing at all. My brief moment of political anger vanishes as I enter the next classroom.
4/1 (Rinca Island)
Giant dragons strut down a trail leading to guesthouses. Some raise their heads to stick their tongue out in our direction. Other dragons slouch unimpressively by the public bathroom and garbage cans. The seven foot long, very fat, man-eating beasts look like extras in a dinosaur movie. A fearless dragon waddles toward us menacingly, then lays down promptly to fall asleep. They have skin like a checker board – colored green yellow, and white. We continue our walk past wild boar, fetid monkeys, and a variety of colorful birds. Two French men, Serge and Krist, and an adventurous Polish couple, have hooked up with us for the boat ride. The French tourists give out a muffled shout of delight. I suspect a hidden Komodo dragon or another mysterious breed of beast. The source of excitement is a mound of buffalo dung – or, more precisely, the dozens of hallucinogenic mushrooms that are growing from the bovine excrement. Our entire group immediately pick them like delicate flowers.
In no time at all an overflowing plastic bag is gathered. We inquire if the French men plan to do a spore check to determine if the fungus is non-poisonous. They laugh with a surge of energy, “We know already, We know. Believe us we know”. I continue to pick the plentiful mushrooms. They are wet from recent rain. I follow a vein of hallucinogenic mushrooms toward a large muddy patch. I hear a distinct animalistic sound and slowly look up. A water buffalo with an enormous set of horns gazes directly at me. Confidently, it shits. I want to thank it.
4/2 (On Route from Komodo Island)
What intensely colorful fish. They shine with such bright blue-yellow-green-red that they form entirely new colors – ones that crayon and paint factories have yet to discover. We float gently in the sea. Snorkeling feels more like flying than it does like swimming. I am flying underwater, that is what I am doing. The coral are like clouds and the fish are like little birds. I want them to swim into my hands, as if I am holding a protective nest. I am like a shrunken man in the middle of a fish aquarium. I am super small like a molecule. I could transform myself into a cartoon fish, like in the movies, if I want. Maybe I can find myself a mermaid and live happily ever after, at least this is a pleasant thought to float by.
Charles, the ambulance driver, shouts at me in slow motion, “Come here and see this highly poisonous rock fish. It’s venom is so painful that doctors pour boiling hot water on your skin just to ease the pain”. I have to check it out. Krist, the calmer of the two French tourists, lends me his fins to swim further into the sea, far away from the boat. The fins allow me to swim past the currents. In a quick moment I was there. The rock fish is so well disguised that I would have never noticed it. It blends in well with the coral stone. Charles dives in for a better look. He waves his arms frantically trying to get it to move. Toxic splinters slowly rise out from the fish’s spine like sharp needles. That is enough for me. I swim through clouds of intensely colorful fish toward our boat. A kaleidoscope of colors float brightly by.
4/3 (The Middle of Nowhere)
Gigantic bats flutter above. They woke with the fall of the sun. I play chess with Krist. It is a particularly intense game that we have been playing for over three hours. The players are well matched. We anticipate each other’s moves exactly. Nobody makes a mistake. Not even one chess piece leaves the board, even after two hours into the game. The chess match has hit the level where the game itself no longer matters. We are playing against the mind and style of our opponent. We try to break the will of our foe; blocking his endurance to sustain enough intellectual energy to even think about winning. We are so preoccupied, alert, and focused that we don’t notice it is raining. Soon it becomes a downpour. The boat’s crew starts rolling up carpets and throwing gear inside. Our friends hurry to the shelter of their beds. We can not quit, even after nightfall, especially after a three hours game.
The boat crew pleads with us to seek shelter above, at least in the security of a tightly stretched tarp. However, Krist and I can’t risk accidentally reshuffling the pieces on our chess board. These final moments of our game could go either way. Rain splatters our chess board, Pools of water start to form. The king, queen, and knights go wading for awhile. We slide the chess board slightly away to block the more ferocious rain, but continue playing. We are both soaking wet. Hints of thunder and electricity loom on the horizon. The flashes of light only enable us to better see the game. We design new attack strategies as we shuffle the board to different parts of the deck depending on the direction of the rain. Heavy wind knocks some of the larger pieces over as we strike. We both offer to concede victory to our opponent, but both of our overtures are refused because the game can still go any direction. We persists as rain hits our faces like tiny pebbles. In the end it is a tie. The best chess game I have ever played was a stalemate due to rain. We might have defeated each other, but we could never claim victory over nature.
4/4 (Lumbuan, Lombok)
The small passenger boat finally docks after four days. We all stood there dumbly making no attempts to leave the boat. Land has become unfamiliar to us. Maybe earth has become spongy and might suck us in. It feels strange to stand without the swaying and shifting of sea waves. Reality hits that we have to start making plans. We swap e-mails, trade books, discard unwanted dirty clothing, and readjust our backpacks. Tourists form new links and travel groups. Promises are made for unlikely future gatherings in third countries. Several people hint of visiting me in Thailand. We might or might not ever see each other again. The Polish couple, who I know from Kelimutu, join the two French men on route to Senggigi. Ralf, the German travel writer, gets sucked into the vortex of taxi drivers and travel agents. We never see him again, but rumor has it he is somewhere on a beach in Lombok chasing dangerously sexy Indonesian women. I sell a copy of my book, ROAD RASH, to him so that I can have enough money to get to Bali. Charles decides to continue with me for a bit longer – even if I no longer owed him any money. Some go east, some go west, and others fly toward their next nest.
4/5 (Pendang Bai, Bali)
The stray dog stood proudly at the top of the temple staircase. It has gotten slightly fatter that evening by eating all the offerings of rice and sweets leftover by devotees. The dog, a tiger-striped mutt with patches of baldness, gradually descended down to the earth where us less worthy humans walked. Charles and I both photographed the apparition as it scampered past us looking for new religious offerings to consume. On our way back from the temple we search for old vices to partake in – namely alcohol and cigarettes. While Charles buys a pack o’ smokes the latest ferry boat passengers filter by.
We hear two voices call out to us from the dark corners of a espresso café. It is the two French tourists that shared a boat with us. Their primary instinct upon hitting land is to find the nearest coffee shop. We save them from an overly aggressive taxi driver who wants to take them to Kuta. Our tourist loops overlap once again. They have altered their original plans to tour Lombok. After four days on the water land is too awkward for them, so they continue moving by ferry all the way to Bali. The French tourists have severe hangovers. It has not been an easy ride. They still escape showering even after five days. “We are French. We don’t care,” one of them proudly states. He decides to buy a new t-shirt rather than do laundry or have a bath. We soon head to a nearby restaurant to meet up with three French tourist (including two females) that Chares and I have been spending our time with. Soon there is a French continuant dining at a beach restaurant. I am the only one who requires English.
4/6 (Pendang Bai, Bali)
Serge asks the man in the laundry shop if he has any marijuana to sell. “Probably not,” the attendant replies, “because I am a policeman”. Serge who is drunk by afternoon, probably overlapping with his excess of arak from the night before, covered his faux pas by quickly requesting to buy and share a round of beer. The French tourist spin doctors his mistake into a positive event. Before long, a group of us find ourselves drinking a significant number of beers at the laundry shop. Groups of children peek at us, say something like “Hello Mister” or “Where you from”, then sprint away before we can answer. We catch their attention with bad magic tricks. We make thumbs levitate and fingers disappear. I wad up balls of paper, tear them up, and transform them into a whole piece once again (actually an identical piece is hidden in the palm of my hand).
The children amuse themselves by figuring out the secret behind our magic tricks. Then they find it more entertaining to shoot rubber bands at us instead. In the water saturated alley way, that offers no rain drainage, I chase the children away. This activity became a new game. I snatch the rubber band away from them and threaten them with it. When this game becomes boring we invent a new one. I fire the elastic band as high in the air as possible. The children jump and dive in attempt to catch it for one point. They wrestle and trip each other in strategic maneuvers to achieve the object. Then their attention spans finally runs its course. They hop on their bicycles to energetically tease and torment inebriated Serge some more.
4/7 (Ubud, Bali)
The tropical rain is hitting the bottle once again, throwing angry fits, punishing us with its staggering assault, and making life more difficult. The night is too young to sleep off the storm. I pull myself down an alley, past the sounds of growing river, and move toward a music performance. The artistic sounds are chaotic – odd scales and mysterious instruments. Metal percussion pulsates and bamboo xylophones reverberate. These are ancient instruments speaking to me. This Balinese music feels spooky. It pulls you into its web and all surrounding noise muffles in unworthy silence. I paw my way past stone walls of volcanic ash. Shortly ahead a few lights spin and ignite. Florescent light creeps into the narrow alley. Frogs leap out of my way. Traffic flashes by. I arrive at the end of the alley to reveal the musical source, which is a small outdoor meeting place.
Balinese women sensuously and slowly dance. They take a few firmly planted steps and squat self-consciously low. Their hands twist in oddly beautiful shapes. The only sudden movements are index fingers, which vibrate so rapidly that is like they are attached to a string leading directly to their clit. The remaining fingers tap out a sporadic rhythm like Morse code. Their eyes twitch in their sockets, rolling into the far corners, as if the dancers are trying to look inside their own skulls, or scanning for spirits hovering above. If there are any deities or ghosts in the audience they would surely be enjoying the show.
My body temperature is soaring. The weather is cold and I am wet, but a fever makes me sweat more profusely than the raindrops. My sense of internal temperature is confused. I feel cold spells in the hottest afternoon sun and hot snaps even in windy rain. My joints are starting to ache as if bone is scraping bone. Fuck it! The symptoms sound just like malaria. I am far from a hypochondriac. In fact, I haven’t seen a doctor in over a decade. However, I can tell that some microscopic battle is being waged inside my body. Something feels very out of place. Where could I have chanced my meeting with the malarial mosquito: Waikabubak, Bima, Moni, Kelimutu, or Lubuanbajo? Malaria survives in all these villages. In a fraction of a second I could of slapped that mosquito to death on my skin. I can’t foresee a disease lurking within the smashed bug. Yeah, I may have contracted malaria. I need to get medicine immediately.
4/8 (Ubud, Bali)
Jazz music syncopates between the walls, floors, and ears. The Indonesian guitarist has computer programmed his instrument to sound like a sitar, violin, drums, or trumpet. These modern sounds are a mystery that I prefer not to dispel. The magic would be gone once the trick is revealed. Drums and bass macheted a clear pathway for the guitarist to follow. It was a language of sound. This Jazz was a live conversation. The guitar delivers a monologue, the drums ask the keyboard for answers, and the bass splinters in side talk with the bongo. The music moves in a cacophony of party talk, then all return to hear the sole advice of the guitar. Then the instruments harmonize once again. Jazz is a language, but I lack the phonetics to understand its sounds. At least my fever is going away.
Female tourists, from the west, dance solo on the outskirts of the nightclub floor. They rock sarong-clad hips back and forth, waving their hands in the air as if they are swimming. The women’s eyes twist to the back of the room – they are searching for the mirror to see how they look. Legs pound the floor quickly like they are trying to spin the earth. And, maybe they do. Their movements rotate the globe all the way to their African sisters, who keep it perpetually spinning back to Indonesia with the momentum of dance. This energy, women spinning in the nightclub, the talk between Jazz instruments, and the outside noise of traffic – it makes me feel oddly, and somehow important. Two women watch me from either side. A Swiss woman sits to my left. A French woman, who sings with the band, is on my right. This is a decision the demands commitment to a single choice. I turn in one direction and break the ice.
4/9 (Ubud, Bali)
Temple caves are carved out of the stone mountainside. Black, orange, green, and brown moss have reclaimed them. A gurgle of water slides down a stone roof of these ancient homes and splashes in a pool on the ground. The afternoon sun lights this temple grounds beautifully. Well-pronounced shadows outline sculptured windows and doors like black ink. A few of the cave homes take the human form of a skull – roof for a hairline, windows for eyes, door for mouth, staircase for teeth. There are several stone archways to pass through into a different stone neighborhood. One has a modern offering left: garlands of flowers, sweets wrapped in banana leaves, strands of silk. The archway doubles as an alter. Incense is still burning, but the pilgrim has stopped lingering around. There is no one in sight. I have the place to myself.
Tourists are conspicuously absent. Indonesia has been whittled down to only 5.1 foreign visitors per year. People are still too afraid. There has been riots, bombs, and attacks on embassies. There are even news reports today about threats to blow up shopping malls or sink ferry boats. Bird flu also keeps tourists hiding in their homes. In nearly one month I have only seen two Americans in this Muslim dominated country. There is a war going on in Iraq. Americans are no longer beloved visitors. When Americans travel nowadays they often claim to be Canadian, sometimes going so far as buying t-shirts and artifacts with the Canadian maple leaf emblazoned on them. Ask questions about hockey if you want to out any of these temporary imposters. I mostly see tourists from Germany, France, and Holland. East Europeans and Russians are making solid contributions to Asia’s tourism industry nowadays, and the majority of visitors to Indonesia aren’t even westerners. Perhaps American tourists won’t have as much impact overseas anymore. We might become less important if we stop traveling.
Vendors and hotel managers tell me about it being difficult to fill buses and hotel rooms. Dropping prices and cut throat competition make profits dangerously low. They promise me, with jaded optimism, that tourists will come back to enjoy the bargain rates. How long will that take? It has already been three years since the Bali bombings. In a selfish way I am content. There are few tourists around, therefore I have uninterrupted access to this temple. I sit on the tooth of a stone staircase, drinking from a coconut slowly. I know that nobody else is coming for the next 15 minutes. There is peace and quiet. The only sound at this tourist site is the flutter of bird wings over a rice terrace and a waterfall in the distance.
4/10 (Ubud, Bali)
She pours me another glass of whiskey. This time she is buying. I want to take advantage of this rare situation. I hike up my sarong, so that she can see my naked calves. I twist my ankles to flash colorful tattoos. I want her to notice my body, to get ideas about it, and to maybe act on her instincts. I slide back in my chair so that wrinkles in my lap fold just right. I don’t care if I get lucky or not. I am just enjoying this process of seduction. In the orange light of our secluded bungalow, I appreciate her high Germanic cheek bones and the thickness of her lips. She radiates curiosity. I want her to direct that energy toward me. She lights a smoke, leans forward to me, and holds a stare directly into my eyes. She smiles while thinking to herself. She opens her lips; a bead of sweat drips from them into my glass.
“I disagree with you,” she says, “location counts”.
“What I am saying,” defending myself, “is that it doesn’t matter if we are in Bali or in Indonesia. The place is irrelevant. The most crucial moments happen while in transition, during the process rather than the main event.”
“But, you can not say that Austerwietz or Birkau do not matter as tourist destinations”
“No, my claim is that the site, in itself, isn’t as important as the individual process of experiencing it”.
“ Millions of people lost their lives in those concentration camps. It is a catharsis to visit the place”.
“But what I remember – that which has lasting impact – are not the ovens, the death trains, human bars of soap, or the beds where people were rolled up like a rucksack on the last day of vacation. No, what I remember was a solitary moment in a room full of empty shoes. The most significant event is when I saw a single braid of golden hair. I viewed the other stuff without difficulty, but I practically cried over that fucking hair”.
“That hair would not exist without a place to store it in”.
“True, but it is the baggage that we carry, the raw response of witness, the details along the way, in which lasting meaning is created for the individual”.
I am losing her. When I drink I get too cognitive and philosophical. If I want to seduce her I need to tap into her senses. I need to spark emotional response. If she cries I can hold her. If she gets pissed off I can tap into all that passion. If I can trigger bliss than she is mine. She has been very attentive to my needs all night. This graceful woman, who is Swiss, pours me another healthy shot of whiskey. She enjoys that I am turned on by her. She dances around my seduction. She know she can have me on a single affirmative word, plus I know she desires me, too. I just need to get from point A to point B.
“May I give you a massage,” I blurt out, “I have fresh sandalwood oil”.
“But, that is how it starts,” she ponders, “You give me a moment that feels real good”.
“Yes, and that moment counts. It could have impact”.
“But that moment is connected to others. It is part of continumn”.
“If you present the gift of a single word to me now, specifically, ‘yes’, than our lives would both be altered. That is real power”.
“However, that moment, no matter how intense we both know it could be, can shake up our lives after the event. There is a cause and an effect. It is the chain reaction that I fear. I care about you dearly, so let me just pour you another glass of whiskey”.
4/11 (Ubud, Bali)
9:00-9:05 AM – Walking down a side street I meet a German woman. Her fire-red hair is like a trademark. I know her from my first day in Indonesia. I could have stuck with my plan to flee Kuta for Ubud, but, having shared a mini-van with her along the way, I went to Penang Bai instead. I have not seen her since. Her room is now near mine, but she is leaving in the morning. I am invited to meet her a 6:45 PM for a session of meditation.
7:00-7:03 PM – I am late and she is gone. However, in the room next door I meet the Polish couple from my 4-day boat ride. They are staying in the same hotel as the red-haired German woman. What a coincidence! We reconnect to go for dinner.
7:10-712 PM – I decide to invite the Swiss woman to join us for dinner. She is already out for the evening, but near a hotel in the same alley I meet Krist. He is drinking a beer at a souvenir shop, while Serge bargains energetically with a vender for another clean ,throwaway, T-shirt.
7:15-7:17 PM – The five of us migrate to a budget restaurant. Along the way we spot Charles at an Internet café. He is drinking a beer while E-mailing his girlfriend. He has been riding motorcycles in Bali since we last met.
7:18-7:19 PM – The Swiss woman is eating dinner in a restaurant on the same street. I run in and invite her to join us.
7:20 PM – A large global group of us have swarmed into a budget restaurant to break bread together. We squeeze in with a Dutch couple, who happen to be staying in the room next to mine. We spark a tiny global village together.
In less than thirty minutes our entire group crosses paths spontaneously once again. None of this has been planned in advance. Tourists/travelers just move within the same loops and circles. We split apart and come together. We propel and collide. Somehow we find each other. I might have never met the red-haired German at all, and none of this would have ever happened. The catalyst of this evening is the appointment that I missed with her. I could have also stayed with her in Pendang Bai for one extra day, and the delay in timing might have led to entirely different people and experiences. She has had impact on me twice and I have only known her for less than 15 minutes. This night is connected by random events, chance encounter, dumb luck, and well-timed moments of coincidence. One moment we are minding out own business, sitting alone, thinking about life, and then …. Boom! Cold beers are placed on the table and we are preparing to peacefully order. We are all sharing a meal with new and old friends in a foreign country. These small coincidental incidents are worthy of memory and celebration.
4/12 (Ubud, Bali)
I walk down Monkey Street Road wearing absolutely nothing but my sarong. It is pass midnight and this busy tourist street is totally empty. All the shops have pulled metal doors down over their entrances. Nothing is open except for a 24-hour corner market five blocks away. All venders and taxi drivers are asleep, and whatever tourists that remain awake have retired for the evening at their hotel rooms. There is only me and a series of stray dogs – feral packs roaming for human scraps of litter. They surround me and growl from time to time. I immediately assume the role of alpha wolf. I shout or run directly at them so they back down. If that doesn’t work I have three rocks in the palm of my hand. I can throw them like missiles if one of these hounds gets too aggressive. In my other hand dangles a leftover bottle of whiskey. There is plenty liquid left in it for the evening. I am heading home to drink it.
There is a environmental park on Monkey Street Road. Over three hundred monkeys live in this protected zone. They are very accustomed to human beings. They love to steal from tourists and demand food. At the gateway to this park a nocturnal primate watches me. It must have insomnia or something because it, too, is awake. It casually follows me, gazing silently from the dark branches of its hiding place. The monkey becomes more bold and creeps forward. It spies an object it my hand that it mistakes for food. It rolls on all fours preparing to strike.
At that same split second, a tourist on a motorcycle spins around the corner. He is tiredly looking for a place to sleep in this shut down city. His headlight flashes squarely on my whiskey bottle. The glass container catches the light, and the liquid inside glows bright red. In shines like candy to this monkey. It decides on action. The monkey lunges forward and strikes.
The motorcycle slides over the monkey. The driver does not have enough time to react to the monkey that has ran into the middle of the street. The steering tire of the motorcycle grinds the monkey underneath. The primate rolls three times before hitting the curb. It lies motionless. I think it is dead. The driver and I huddle around its settled body. We don’t know what to say. I am intoxicated and he is tired. It’s not like we can provide medical aid to a feral monkey. We stare, dumbly too close, waiting for it to move.
Life is never any more powerful than 15 minutes. All the security that we can ever have, is the 15 minutes that exist before we turn a corner. We can get struck by a swerving vehicle, we can bump into a wayward priest, we can stumble across old girlfriends, step into a terrorist’s trap, or accidently run into our niece. There can be earthquakes in the next 15 minutes, as there can also be attempts at making love. We are all pregnant with the next 15 minutes that could alter our lives. Andy Warhol got it all wrong. It is not our 15 minutes of fame that matters. This dangerous sense of entitlement to fame only serve our ego and pleases our memory. Fame is irrelevant to the non-famous. For us more subtle human beings, both fame and future are always out of reach. We have the next 15 minutes to experience full existence, afterward it is all past tense.
The monkey rolls its eyes open. It is pissed off, confused, and alive. It’s so stunned it forgets my glass bottle of whiskey. It still shines in the headlight. What is familiar to this monkey is its forest. It’s instinct is to retreat back. It wobbly climbs to its feet. It still has life, but it is altered. The monkey looks at us trying to piece together the previous events. It wants to retaliate. It leans forward to us and howls. It screams with shock and incoherence, as well as its sheer will to live. Then it becomes silent. It leaps into the shadows of some bushes and is gone.
4/13 (Kuta, Bali)
I am standing in front of the Kuta monument once again. This is an intentional act, since completion is sometimes easier to understand if it moves in a full circle – rather than something interconnected and perpetually ongoing. Same as before, the prostitutes beckon to me from the outskirts of the Bali bombings monument. The same street children beg for coin. The tattooed gangster works the street on a motorcycle as always, because this is his job. It is me that is moving. What am I carrying with me? On this journey, I have traveled with many tourists: 5 French, 4 Dutch, 2 Polish, 2 Germans, 2 Norwegians, 2 Americans, and 1 Australian. It is a spontaneous community of international travelers. We could have met up in Kuta in 2002, but luckily this wasn’t our fate. We stumble on accidental moments together, and these chance meetings alter our path. Maybe we turn left, maybe it is right, but the fact is that we are in motion. We have made conscious choices. We are traveler as well as tourists.
I am here, now. Charles is with his girlfriend in Bali. My Swiss flirting partner is back with her boyfriend in her homeland. Serge and Krist are racing motorcycles somewhere across Java, the Polish couple are probably at the full moon festival in Ko Pgan Nan in Thailand. The Dutch continue with volunteer work in Bali. Ralf is probably still in Lombuk trying to get to know as many dangerous Indonesian women as he can before his visa expires. Who know where everybody else is? Our paths diverge. All we have is the memory of the moments spent together. But, these will also slip through our fingers with time. As memory fades, all that exists is the impact. The raw fact is that something we have subtly experienced, or small characters that we have met along the way, have somehow altered our lives. Cheers!
4/14 (Ayutthaya, Thailand)
It is New Year’s Day. I step out of the airport and immediately get splashed by a volley of water. The streets are thick with pink mud and gentle pools of water. I have entered into the baptismal holiday of Songkhran once again. I start this new stage of travel in Thailand soaking wet. I know water fights will continue for the next few days. It is futile to attempt to stay dry. I shuffle into a taxi going to the ancient city of Ayutthaya. Children are splashing water at passing vehicles as I pass by. My plan is to jump out of the taxi while throwing water – to surprise neighborhood children where I used to live in Ayutthaya. I taught some of them English. Maybe I had impact as a teacher. I know they are much taller than when I saw them last in 2002. I hear that one is a novice monk. Things change, and I have stepped into a different river. I am armed with a small supply of water to douse the children with (excluding the novice monk, who I must now wai in respect despite my seniority). Won’t they be surprised to meet an old friend? My excitement builds as the taxi heads northward. Pent up tension and stale thoughts release like captured butterflies. I am so happy to be back in Thailand. It feels like home.