Deep Travel

A Chilean friend rescued me from my crumbling romance in Canggu. Good fortune brought Jorge and I together at the Solscape hostel in Raglan, New Zealand. Serendipity reunited us in Bali, Indonesia.

Jorge looks like the suave Don Juan of any daytime soap opera. He’s handsome and fit, with thick, short, inky-black hair. His white smile is boyish and playful. His chestnut eyes are mischievous and enticing. An accomplished chef and strong surfer, he and I rented scooters and made our way to Lembongan, a tiny island off the southern coast of Bali.

We found cheap accommodation, dumped our stuff, and cruised around the entire island in that first day.

When I think about how many perfect travel moments happen astride a motorbike, I cannot but dearly recommend renting them whenever possible. Their light versatility enables one to navigate into the narrowest circumstances where the stubby fingers of trite experience cannot reach. They can slip down dark, flooded alleyways. They can carry you to pristine, secluded waterfalls. They’ll cross the borders of your comfort zone when they work. And stretch the horizon of your fortitude when they break. Either way, they’ll plunge you into unexpected, unforgettable adventure.
I’ve never stepped off a bus and marveled, with satisfied awe, at my surroundings. But I have many times with a bike. All this along with an unbeatable panoramic view.

Jorge and I rented a hunk of junk scooter that cost $3.75 a day. An indolent lemon, it would sporadically stop running. But to its credit, it would always start up again. One of my favorite moments with Jorge was on Ceningan, a minuscule island off the coast of the tiny island of Lembongan, off the coast of the small island of Bali, in the island nation of Indonesia. We rode down a shattered trail in a tunnel of dry, thorny brush. Coasting along, the engine sputtered to a halt. But we just kept rolling forward.

So we bounced along by our graceless momentum. For a few perfect seconds, the global relevance of the situation sparked intense joy in me. Here I was on an overgrown sandbar, next to a tiny spit of land, next to a tropical island, half the world from home, with a fellow international traveler, on a broken bike, bouncing along a broken trail, going nowhere in particular, equipped with nothing but flip flops, shorts, a t-shirt and a crumple of cash.

There were molting chickens scratching in the dust beside us, and scrawny cattle giving us their indifferent stare. I laughed aloud. I felt a perfect happiness. I was swept by how deep and distant I was, how ridiculous and ineffective my situation, yet how supremely safe and comfortable I was. I was assured that everything, everything was just fine. Eventually we slowed to a stop. We restarted the bike. We drove it to a secluded bar to drink lager on the ocean-side.

Go out, dear readers, and capture that. Please.

It was with Jorge that I caught the biggest, meanest waves I’ve ever surfed. Imitating his adept courage, I took dips on mountains of water with the conviction that I’d not be thrown headlong into the drink. I broke the ceiling of my skill with the jackhammer of fearlessness. I spared the ceiling of my skull with unpunished recklessness.

The last day I surfed in Indonesia was windy. The sea was choppy. The swells massive. Jorge and I paddled out amongst a throng of fishing boats, ferries, and large platoons filled with drunken tourists.

I remember the guttural fear staring down the unbroken swells. I remember swallowing that fear, pushing down to pop up, and plummeting down the face of those giants. And I remember the elated thrill, the accomplished high, the sublime joy, of success. The crash of foam atop my shoulders was thunder. The board vibrated under my feet on the choppy water. A visceral rush of excitement coursed through me.

Between surf sessions, Jorge and I would eat Nasi Campur, and drink Bintangs, the local lager of Indonesia. We played pool with tattooed Irishmen in sultry bars. We slept at a guesthouse named ‘Johnny Lossman.’

Johnny, it turned out, was an old timer with the cheapest accommodation on the island. No internet, no air-conditioning. Just two twin beds, a wobbly ceiling fan, and a bathroom with a sink, a broken pipe by which to shower, and a big cockroach tenant. We named him Jerry. We respected his seniority.

Our stay on Lembongan coincided with the full moon. Throughout South East Asia a full moon is an unneeded, but fully heeded, excuse to party. There was one bar celebrating on Lembongan. Jorge and I hitched a ride on the back of a local we’d met the night before. I recommend that everyone experience the funny awkwardness of a three person scooter ride in Asia. The three of us cruised up, cheers-ed beers, and that’s the last I saw of them.

High on the atmosphere, devoid of inhibition, I danced. I danced and danced and danced. I channeled all the excitement, and all the happiness, that I felt in that place. People responded. Women responded.

Sweat-drenched and exhausted, I shimmied to the beach and cooled off in the ocean. Women approached and requested dance lessons. They mimicked my movements. They engaged me in conversation. Their initiative was an unfamiliar pleasure.

I’ve struggled with confidence for more of my life than not. My looks haven’t automatically opened any doors. That night the music was too loud to convey any vocal charm. I was dripping sweat and ruddy cheeked. Yet these groups of women were, evidently, attracted to me. I was too excited that night, too entranced by the music, to realize what was happening.

It was only later that I sussed it. In a word, confidence. Not a confidence conveyed through words, stature, status, or experience. It was confidence conveyed through uninhibited fun. And its charm was not limited to the women.

After sloshing out of the salty broth, I returned to an empty dance floor. And like a one man defibrillator I restarted the party’s heartbeat! Just getting loose and dancing, flailing wildly, pumping the beat through my bones, gave everyone tacit permission to do the same. I remember the first follower, a short dude with wild frizzy hair. He was keen to dance and stoked to have someone get after it. Then a few more people trickled in, joining us. Then more and more. Before long a mob of people were bouncing into the night. It felt glorious, tasted like victory.

At last call I hopped aboard a free shuttle (a rickety, canvas-covered pickup) with a group of French women I’d dance with earlier. I let the truck pass my guesthouse. I charmed my way into the shower, and into the bed, of one of those ladies, capping a perfect night.

I woke at sunrise, and walked home on a stomache full of Nasi Ikan (rice fish). Jorge and I caught a ferry that day back to Bali, and returned that night to the Eco Hostel.

Lembongan and Ceningan hold special places in my heart. On those arid patches of land, with the company of Jorge, I captured unforgettable moments. I stepped up out of myself to reach them, stretching the boundaries of my own imagined qualities. Then I used the rewards of formative success to fuel a perfect night.

For a night, I played the role of someone I’ve always wanted to be. I was enabled by the separation from friends and family that know me to be a certain way. I was enabled to experiment with my persona.

Every once in a while the elements of a perfect night coalesce. Bolstered esteem meets undiluted joy meets dissolved inhibitions in the cauldron of a full moon party. And from the frothy, fertile stew of an amazing week grows lasting confidence and self-esteem. Fun and formation. For these I travel.

Thank you for reading.


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