I always like being the only foreigner on the plane (*disclaimer - there were two of us traveling together, so I wasn’t really the only foreigner...). But, it’s an affirmation that we were getting off the well worn tourist path to hopefully find something more authentic, and uncrowded waves of course! Our landing point happened to be one of the sleaziest cities in Indonesia where the sex trade had a strong grip on the local economy, and our ride was no where to be seen. The smell of car exhaust and clove cigarettes loitered stagnantly in the thick humid air as Justin and I sat waiting outside the small airport, perched atop our bloated surfboard bags, sweating in the late afternoon heat. With camera gear and enough cash for a month of jungle living, we sweated even more profusely.
There was no lack of interest and inquisitive eyes on our situation as we were less than conspicuous on the concrete sidewalk outside the airport. We had slews of inquiries as to where we were going and offers to get us there for extortionist prices, but with no phone number for our bungalow, there was not much we could do, except wait for our ride and dismiss the offers. After an hour, and with the sun dipping behind the jungle covered hills, we needed to get out of town. I asked the most respectable looking cabbie about getting to the coast and he was quickly pushed aside by a large sweaty man with lazy puffy eyes who obviously wanted our business. An argument ensued which escalated into shoves, but was immediately extinguished by the other cabbies while the armed guards at the ATM sat watching idly.
Not knowing what to do at this point, a short, unassuming man, Wayan, approached us and mentioned the name of the town near where we were heading. We hastily loaded boards into his taxi as we were rapidly becoming encased by angry cabbies. Merging into the mass of traffic, he turned abruptly into a dusty alleyway, cutting off a dump truck and sending chickens flying in every direction. “I just have to pick up my brother, two minutes…” Wayan said.
“Hold on, what?”
“I need second driver. Very far, very late.”
Justin and I looked at each other, but there was not much we could do now. We had to put our trust in Wayan, and ideally not get robbed in the process. I touched the small leatherman in my pocket and gazed out the window, trying not to think about the possible gruesome outcomes. The setting sun painted serene red and pink hues on the rusting tin roofs and crumbling concrete walls of tightly packed houses lining the shabby narrow street. We stopped in front of a turquoise house with cracked concrete steps leading up to a small porch and screened door. Out came Wayan’s entire family - his parents, wife, three kids, and his brother. Before I knew it, I was holding his youngest daughter. We strapped the surfboards to the roof and began weaving through the narrow backstreets finally heading out of town. This was when I managed to snap a few frames of Wayan's eyes surveying the traffic in the rear view mirror.
After hours of circumspect vigilance, we started to relax and settle into the 6 hour drive ahead of us. Then it started to rain. It didn’t just start to rain, a monsoon had enveloped us obscuring the landscape as we headed up a steep winding road into the dark jungle. A trickle of water promptly turned into a steady stream, marching its way down the straps holding our boards onto the roof, through the closed window and onto the back seat, soaking us within a few short minutes. Our world was compressed into the narrow beam of headlights illuminating thick tropical foliage and streaks of water pouring down from the canopy.
The first time we unintentionally connected to the jungle was around 10:30. I was dozing off as we attempted to pass a truck around a blind corner, nothing out of the ordinary. We skidded on the mud slicked road as half the car dove into a thicket of vines, branches, and leaves striking the side of the car at high speed. I jolted back to reality as our driver managed to pull us back onto the road and continued up the mountain. Small mudslides blocked parts of the road, but were easily skirted if seen in time (they weren’t always seen in time). Many more times, the entanglement of leaves would appear much too close for comfort, grazing the foggy windows.
The second time was well past midnight and again I had half dozed off only to be jarred awake as we hurtled over a ditch onto a grassy yard, once again scattering chickens through the headlights. Unfazed, Wayan knocked on the door to ask directions to our accomodation which, as it turns out, was right around the corner. We pulled up beside a wooden sign saying “Paradise Surf Bungalows” and could finally breathe a sigh of relief. We said our goodbyes and thanked Wayan and his brother as a sleepy middle aged Indonesian woman showed us to our very basic bamboo hut. We were greeted with spiders the size of my hand, but not caring I crawled under the pink mosquito net exhausted but elated, and instantly fell a sleep to the drumming of a gentle rain on the palm thatched roof.
- September 2010