Bali, Denpasar, Indonesia 11/14/12
Indonesia wastes no time in bombarding your senses with smells of incense, savory satay grills, and burning trash. While your nostrils brace themselves against this aromatic assault the rest of your body is taking a bath in its own sticky perspiration brought own by the all-enveloping invisible blanket of warm humid air. Your eyes, if they're foreign Western eyes, like my own, will do numerous double-takes at the small elephant statues and rock gods perched in every corner. The colorful trays of flower petals and incense sitting at the feet of these statues are lovely and fragrant and tripping hazards.
These are things that you'll experience before you leave the airport.
Once through customs, which consists of a lazy, distracted man blindly ticking the "go-ahead" box on your arrival claims form, you step outside into a sea of taxi cabs and scooters and James Bond-style driving habits that are not developed for the sake of being bad-ass, but are necessary skills acquired to survive transportation on the streets of Bali.
My friend Joy was waiting for me outside the airport to give me a lift to her and her friends' house. She was a happy shine of American gold in a crowd of brown faces. Earlier that day she had asked what kind of luggage I would be carrying along with me. I replied by saying that it'd be two large backpacks, which contain my whole life for the time being. Little did I know that this question was asked to determine what mode of transportation would be used to get me and my stuff from the airport to her house.
We walked towards the carpark and searched through a maze of scooters to find her ride. She admitted that she was a little nervous to be carrying so much weight on the back of her motorbike. "A motorbike!" I thought. To add to my shock she mentioned that she had never really driven under these circumstances before.
It's worth mentioning for the sake of this story that Joy is barely 100lbs, and though she is a real champion of a woman, it felt incredibly unnatural for me to depend on her to maneuver and balance herself, myself and my heavy luggage on a scooter, over potholes, in the evening, weaving through traffic, on the opposite side of the road, after a torrential downpour, wearing shorts and sandals, and still arrive safely and sanely at our destination. I literally put my life in her hands.
We both prayed aloud as we left the airport. I prayed for a shell of protection around us both. As she sped up to merge with traffic I added on to my prayer that I'd like for the shell to be hard and dense and preferably cushioned on the inside. I lifted my feet from solid ground and placed them on the pegs, subsequently surrendering to her riding skills. We were off.
Whenever dangerous moments like these are taking place I think of my mother. I think about how I'll not mention these moments online, or make them public so that she won't worry about my safety, but here I am sharing. Mom, I'm safe and sound. Life over here is different and it's not unusual for entire families to balance themselves onto a singe scooter. I'm just doing as the Romans do, if you know what I mean.
Joy and I joked about how, if there were to be an accident, the backpack on my back could act as a buffer between my body and the asphalt. I practiced the motion in my mind of falling directly backward off of the bike and letting my year's worth of clothing and my helmet absorb the impact of the fall. Joy decided that she would then use me as her impact absorber. The thought of crashing put a knot in my stomach, but it was an adventurous knot. Not so much a worrisome knot. We were ready for anything.
This last bit of information is going to be a bit rushed because I'm about to board another flight. I spent one night in Bali, waking in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and was smacked in the face with humidity and the sounds of geckos saying their name and dogs barking in the streets. In a half-conscience state I nearly forgot where I was and then smiled real big when I remembered.
It's absurd how fun and crazy traveling life can be.
Now I'm off to Bangkok. Stay tuned, my friends.