Paradise Found

32: Indonesia

Clockwise from Top Left: Me, Fari, Adrian, Bianca, and Katja, at our villa in Nusa Dua.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl

I was beginning to lose faith, if I’m being honest. I’d started in the beach party town of Seminyak, then drove north to Ubud, famed for its laid back yoga vibe, its Sacred Monkey Forest, its destination rice terraces. I’d continued on to the mountains of Kintamani, with hopes of watching sunrise from atop Mount Batur. I hadn’t even planned on going to Amed, the reviews of which had been somewhat underwhelming. But there I found myself, searching for respite from the crowds, the cars, the locals starved for tourist dollars – searching for that still-elusive paradise in beautiful Bali.

“I need the biggest, baddest-ass ride you got,” I said, slapping a wad of rupiah on the counter.

“You mean scooter?” the man asked, looking a little confused.

“Potato-potato, my friend,” I replied, coolly.

“We only have scooter here.”


“Ugh, yes, fine, I would like to rent a scooter please.”


I would ride Black Lightning from Seminyak to Ubud to Kintamani to Amed to Padangbai and back to Seminyak over the course of the next three weeks.
Macaque monkeys in Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest and the nearby Sangeh Monkey Forest. Cool and fun experiences but I couldn’t shake the feeling of an impending clash – too many monkeys, too many tourists, I would feel hesitance – and later regret – for having participated in what I expect will soon be a problem that can no longer be ignored for Bali and its Macaques, the latter of which (woman with monkey firmly attached to her head aside) will surely pay the price for human encroachment. I resisted a guide’s offer to walk me around Sangeh. He followed me for some time, anyway, and I would later realize it wasn’t simply for his benefit…watch here.
At the sacred Pura Tirta Empul, where the springs are believed to have been created by the God Indra, and from which flow blessed waters that will purify those who bathe there. As you can see, I bathed there. My slate is clean. I’m as innocent as the day I was born. So the rest of you can suck it.

Photo: Wayan Tarka
Batur Lake, Northern Bali. I came here to watch the sunrise atop Mount Batur. But then I learned that even if you’re able to run the gauntlet of local guides who will insist that 1) it’s illegal to climb it alone (it’s not) and 2) if you do, you risk death (you don’t, I mean, not beyond takin’ a heart attack or going backwards over a cliff while taking a selfie), I’d be watching the sunrise in an intimate setting of 250-300 other hikers (this, unfortunately, was true). Ahhhhhhhh no thank you. I would instead enjoy an evening in my private outdoor hot-spring-fed hot tub, and then cross the mountain roads first thing in the morning on Black Lighting… bound for Amed.

Even Amed got off to a sideways start, my first room too close to the only road in this beachfront town, with locals racing by at all hours on scooters and motorbikes powered largely by loud, two-stroke engines. At my wit’s end, the next morning I would check into Lily’s Beach Bungalow, a little villa I’d noticed the night before when dodging a trio flying by on the unlit road. Lily’s, it turns out, was a little oasis between Ketut Natih Road and the Bali Sea, flowering gardens and mango trees inside its quaint walls. I would have a second floor, two-story bungalow with a private patio and sea views. At home, a place like this would cost me a grand per night. Here? Just nineteen dollars. But even without the price, Lily’s opened the door to the Indonesian paradise for which I’d been looking – and that was even before Katja walked in.

The second floor loft of my bungalow, perfect for a little writing with a coffee or glass of wine…

She was bone thin, loaded down with a pack that looked heavier than she, and she spoke with an Austrian accent – Vienna to be exact. We wouldn’t exchange hellos just then, but I already knew we’d be seeing more of one another. After so many months meeting travelers along the way, it almost becomes a sixth sense. Within twenty-four hours, and with surprisingly little fanfare, it was not only a forgone conclusion that we would be spending the next several days exploring Amed together, we would rarely be apart over the coming three weeks.

To be clear, this wasn’t a romance, despite the many people we met assuming we were a couple, husband and wife. As beautiful as she is, and as devastatingly handsome as I’m told I am by so many people who definitely aren’t also my Mom, this was about being kindred spirits. The same energy and taste for adventure, food, movies, and more. I would discover that Austrians and I have a similar temperament. But most wonderfully, she understood my humor – even when wrapped in my curmudgeonly sarcasm – and I hers. When she agreed with a laugh to see who could come up with the most absurd answer the oft-asked question of how we’d met, I knew it was kismet.

It wouldn’t be long before our twosome expanded. Adrian’s addition had an inauspicious beginning, we finding him somewhat lost and exhausted after navigating a treacherous “shortcut” on his scooter that both Katja and I had also just barely survived unscathed. A short time later I would lead both of them along a dark mountain road and inadvertently through the largest pothole in all of Bali at around 50 kilometers per hour. I would make it through, as would Katja. Adrian wouldn’t be so lucky, but his laugh-screaming through the pain as a doctor treated his injuries at a roadside medical clinic – while asking us if we thought Lily’s might have an available bungalow for him – pretty much sealed the deal on his addition to our duo.

The three of us would run into Fari and Keena atop Lahangan Sweet mountaintop a few days later as we watched gale-blown clouds repeatedly cover-and-reveal the sunset-silhouetted top of nearby Mount Agung. Katja and I had exchanged passing hellos with them while watching a local reggae band a few nights earlier, and she would happen upon them again in the coming days. Together, she and I would follow them to the island of Gili Air. Adrian was getting dive certified in Amed, delayed a few days to give his cuts and scrapes time to heal, but it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of the always smiling young man who’d become our “adopted son” in the ever-more-absurd stories of how we’d met.

It was in Gili Air that we would meet the bubbly, charismatic Bianca, while she and I stood watching three islanders trying to coax a white horse off of a colorfully painted boat with the Bali Sea and Mount Rinjani in the background. Ten minutes later Bianca was joining us for morning coffee, and from then on, we too were inseparable.

After Gili Air, Keena’s time in Indonesia would come to an end, and she would return to Germany ahead of Fari, who would round out our family of five. Fari’s amazing story, incredible personal strength, and hunger for life’s adventures belie her humble spirit and sparkling smile.

We would watch stunning sunrises and sunsets, and sit under the stars and “Milky Street” at night, the skies so crisp and bright at times that that it felt as if we were witness to the secrets of the universe itself. We would drive treacherous mountain roads to palaces and temples and ancient villages. We would snorkel gorgeous coral reefs and wrecks teeming with fish the shapes and color of our imaginations. We would swim alongside Hawksbill and Green turtles for as long as we cared, coming ashore to sip Radlers and lunch on freshly caught tuna. In the early evenings we would watch skies ablaze in yellows and oranges and reds and purples while sipping drinks until fires took over for the resting sun. We would meet still more new friends for dinners and watch live bands and drink espresso martinis and dance to DJs until the early morning hours, and sometimes just sit in hammocks or beanbag beach chairs and let time drift slowly by. We would witness amazing, never-ending rainbows, and hike mountain forests to stunning waterfalls, and walk rice farms where we would come upon locals who would invite us to sit, eat, smoke, drink, and sing. We would surf the waves of Padang Padang and attend a Kecak Fire Dance, share million dollar villas (for a backpackers price), swim in our private pools, cook together, and every now and then treat ourselves to dinner out under a bright moon and stars.

Throughout it all we were treated like family by locals, greeted with smiles and waves and hellos as we passed, whether on foot or two wheels. And during this far too short time, we became a family, each of us forming a bond that we hope and expect will last forever.

I had an opportunity to skip my next destination and stay a little longer in Indonesia. But Adrian had left us. Then Katja. Bianca next. The night I left for the airport and said goodbye to Fari on Seminyak Beach, we’d met another traveler, a young man from the UK. That’s how it is sometimes. Friends overlap for a bit, then some move on, and we travel along with others still. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s even welcome. But the thought of staying longer and driving along winding mountain roads and pulling over to take in some new, stunning view, without my new friends to share it with, well suddenly it didn’t seem so inviting. That hadn’t happened since Paris, the opportunity to stay on after Margot and Brooksy had returned home to the States. I decided then, as I did now, that I’d rather leave wanting more, than stay, wanting more…

My friend. My travel companion. My kindred spirit. The funny and sweet and wonderful and talented and beautiful Katja Hasenöhrl, while we traveled from Lombok Island to Padangbai in a ferry in which I was sure we would sink and die. Also pictured is some guy who succeeded in a glorious photobomb. I almost want to crop us out and find him and send him a copy, because honestly, it’s a really nice picture of him. Well done, sir (slow clap).
I cannot answer any questions you might have about this photo. Honestly. I don’t know.
Our resident wavepro took us all surfing at Padang Padang, famed not just for its tasty waves and the fact that Kelly Slater now mentions my name in casual conversation, but also for its star-turn with Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love.
The endlessly joyful and energetic and hilarious and beautiful Bianca Afonso, a South Africa-born, Vietnam resident – and one of my Bali wives (Surprise, Mom!), pictured here at the cliffs of Uluwatu Temple, enjoying the sunset while we await the Kecak Fire Dance.
A little vino at our Uluwatu villa.
This. This is Bianca. 24/7.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl

Yours truly with one of the bravest and most beautiful women I’ve ever met, Fari “Butterfly” Abbasi, who became a refugee at the age of 11 when she emigrated to Germany with her parents, forced to leave everything and everyone she’d ever known and start over in a completely foreign land. All parents worry a bit when their “kids” travel the world alone, but I wonder how they’d feel knowing that this is Fari driving me around Nusa Dua on a scooter, because just three days before this she’d not only never driven a scooter, she’d never driven any motorized vehicle at all (Look Mama Abbasi, there’s video!). The last I heard from the third of my wives (Surprise, Mom!) was just today, from Phi Phi Island in Thailand, where she is still traveling alone, having dinner later with a couple she’d met only hours before, while telling me she hoped to leave her full-time job and pursue a career as a digital nomad – while at the same time saying she wished she were brave. My lord.
No caption needed, the expression says it all.

Photo: Bianca Afonso
Two minutes in and she’s already cocky.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
Our boy, the always smiling, always laughing, always kind and wonderful – and apparently very pain-tolerant – Adrian Eiberger, also from Germany, seen here feeding the Koi at Tirta Gangga Palace – because that’s exactly the kind of person Adrian is.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
This, a mere two hours after being launched from his scooter by a pothole at 50KPH and having his hand, arm, elbow, thigh, knee, and calf, painfully cleaned and patched at a roadside clinic.
Our boy just ain’t right.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
Right back on the horse.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
Terraced rice paddies on the road to Sangeh.
The day we met Adrian, Katja and I would ride out to Tenganan Pegeringsingan Village, stopping along the way, as we often would, to take in the scenery. In this instance, it was fields of rice paddies, piles of coconut shells, and women sitting beneath a tarp roof kerneling corn, that caught our eye. A single dirt path cut through the fields, so we decided to follow it as far as allowed. A short time later, we heard music coming from the far side of the fields, and soon we came upon a covered veranda with a group of men sitting in a semi-circle, an old stereo with receivers and speakers, singing traditional songs to karaoke instrumentals. Without hesitation, they asked us to join, share their food, cigarettes, homemade Arak poured from a jug we at home might use for gasoline (I deferred to Katja on this, assuming it would be the last I would see of her for several days), and to take a turn at the mic. Once again, I deferred, not wanting to make them feel bad for their comparatively lesser talents, but Katja didn’t care about their feelings as she brought down the house with her rendition of Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World. Wife, daughters, and neighbors would stop by, and Katja and I would leave with bags full of homemade snacks and an invitation to return anytime.
Solo fisherman coming in from a night at sea in front of Lily’s, as they did each morning while I typed away and enjoyed some freshly brewed coffee.
Katja, me, and Adrian enjoying a little live music in Amed. The bands here were largely made up of the same guys, just switching up a couple musicians from night to night, bar to bar. Later we would sit on the beach in front of Lily’s and stare at a sky full of stars and, as it would be known from that night onward, “Milky Street.”
Mount Agung.
Katja, Adrian, and I catching glimpses of sunset silhouetting Mount Agung atop Lahangan Sweet.
Bianca, Feng, Lisa, me, and Katja, just after snorkeling with Hawksbill turtles (yet again…yawn) in front of our lodge in Gili Air. We’d met Feng and Lisa on a snorkeling trip (they met during a free diving course), and would get together with them for dinners, drinks, dancing, and more fun under the Bali Sea.

Join me for a bike ride through town.
Kecak Fire Dance at Uluwatu Temple. Video.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
During the celebration of Galungan, locals erect Penjor – tall decorative bamboo poles – in front of their homes and businesses as an expression of thanks for the Earth’s bounties.
Waeni’s Sunset View in Amed.
A view of Mount Agung from the beach in front of Lily’s as the sun rises behind me. If you can see the head above water, that guy swam each morning as the sun rose over the horizon. What a wonderful way to start your day…
…but my lord, there were so many beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
A woman working the Tegallalang Rice Terrace, north of Ubud.
Along the coastal road to Batu Manak Lighthouse. Katja and I drove this road several times, to snorkel the “Japanese Wreck,” visit the lighthouse, watch sunsets, and people watch in the villages through which we passed.
Along the road in Amed.
In a culvert leading to the sea in Amed, these kids played all morning putting together pieces of broken tile like a mosaic, then were all arranged in a row by the girl in pink, and they proceeded to pretend those white pieces of tile were smartphones, making calls, sending texts, playing games…
Making Fruit Bat friends outside of Tirta Gangga Palace.
Katja and I would find thousands of Nectar Bats at Goa Lawah Temple just south of Padangbai.
Video.
I found this guy in my sleeping bag. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was to find a box big enough to ship him home to Mom.
Making friends at Saifana Organic Farmstay on the island of Lombok.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
Horses on Gili Air are used for riding as well as pulling taxi carts. This beauty arrived just moments before by boat, and was a little reluctant to disembark. Video.
Hiking to Sendang Gile Waterfall on the island of Lombok.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
I couldn’t decide which photo to include – like one fewer makes any difference at this point – so you get both.

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
Homemade dinner at our villa in Uluwatu. And yes, of course I helped…I’m pretty sure I chopped a vegetable. Or was it fruit? Nope nope nope it was the bread, I cut the bread and made some toast. Which reminds me, sorry for burning the toast...

Photo: Katja Hasenöhrl
I didn’t help with any of these…

Not a foodie by nature, it’s hard to pass on Indonesia’s amazingly delicious offerings.
Feng, Fari, Bianca, Katja, and me, on our last night together in Nusa Dua in Bali, under the light of a full moon. Feng would return to Seminyak after dinner. Katja would head to the airport shortly after we returned to the villa. Bianca would head for the airport the next day, and I later that evening, saying goodbye to Fari on Seminyak Beach, leaving her to enjoy Bali for another week or so with new travelers she’d meet in coming days.

I’d only just recently discovered an answer to the question of what my favorite country was so far on this adventure, and Thailand had set the bar very high – stunning landscapes and sunsets, mountains and seas, forests and coral reefs. But just a few short weeks later and I had a very clear new favorite. Part of that answer is most certainly due to the unexplored Indonesian islands I left behind. So many more places to drive and hike and swim. So many volcanoes to climb. So much wildlife still to see. I never even saw the orangutans.

But time and time again the thing that has made the most incredible places even more indelible, has been the people with whom I’ve spent time while there, the once-in-a-lifetime experiences we’ve shared together. When you find the right people along your journey, something magical happens. Julia in The Faroe Islands. Margot and Brooksy in Paris. Eric in Prague. Sophie and Peter in Kenya. Lisa and Elliott in Malawi. Poppy in Thailand. My own, truly amazing family in America, who have been present in every step I’ve taken, and for whom I am blessed so many times over. And in Indonesia, my new friends, dear friends I consider to be family.

I’ll return one day. We’ve all promised to return. Some of us are planning to get together this coming Christmas in New York, hopefully to talk about how we’ll all be back there, together again. I can only hope, because I finally found paradise, and I’m not ready to give them up just yet.

I’m fine, just a little salt water in my eyes…
Sampai kita bertemu lagi, my friends.

2 Comments

  1. Yetismith says:

    Glad to read about your great experience in Indonesia. It is a very special part of our planet. Maybe it’s to do with the Ring of Fire but also the wonderful and diverse people who are sweet and fun. To be able to enjoy such a journey with fellow travellers who became good friends, that is a lifetime experience, one you will always remember. Your smiles and your photographs life my heart. And I have a soft spot for guys who tickle kitty tummies!

    Like

    1. peteredodd says:

      Well thank you for the wonderful comments. It was such an amazing year (I’m nearly home but still two more blogs to post). Soft spot for the cats as I have two at home (thus my title) and will see them soon. They were able to stay with my renters so they didn’t need to be relocated. Why you have a soft spot for cats (and more) is quite obvious from your bio and your blog, which is quote wonderful. Keep it up, and thank you again.

      Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s