There was an interesting parallelism between first arriving in Bangkok to start my travels, and restarting my nomadic journey in Indonesia after departing from the waking dream that was Dreamville Hostel. At first I had a strange sort of apprehension, one that you’d assume would have left me permanently after 4 months of travel. Constantly traveling, and doing so cheaply, can be taxing on the psyche and taking it easy for a month allowed my fear of change to start growing again. Our pasts shape our futures though, so this time I had my experience to lean on to make the transition far simpler than the chaos that was the start of my travels. No longer anxious going through the airport. No longer struggling to find transportation. No longer ignorant to the proper price for a taxi, or the scams they attempt.
Back on the move, I began in Medan. It was a short two hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to the largest city in Sumatra. I left behind friends, a lover, and many warm memories. I wasn’t sure what I would find in Medan. Evidently dust, noise, drug dealers, and prostitution. The city was a pain to navigate, but as my rickshaw taxi weaved about the chaotic and dirty streets of the city, the flame inside me reignited and I remembered why I do the things I do. I made friends with a local while out looking for an adapter. He was helpful and I enjoyed the conversation, but he was only talking to me in hopes that I would sign up for his jungle tour to nearby Bukit Lawang. Perhaps it would have been more merciful for me to have bluntly told him there was no way I would pay the outrageous prices he was asking. Maybe then I could see if he was interested in conversation or just my money. But this was a common occurrence by now. Getting mad at and shunning the vultures of the tourism industry would just stress me out. Just because their conversations with me are a means to an end, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them. I opted instead to travel to Ketembe where, spurred by the ideas of Brian, I hoped to find some orangutans in their natural habitat. Most people choose Bukit Lawang, but that village is known for being crowded and for purposefully feeding the orangutans to keep them around for tourists to see. Not quite the habitat I wanted. Before I left Medan, I made sure to check out some museums, parks, and local food. None of which impressed me. The most dramatic moment was an argument with my kidneys over whether we should pass a kidney stone or not. We talked it over, but we couldn’t come to an agreement. I hadn’t had a kidney stone since the previous January and was really hoping they wouldn’t be a normal occurrence. The first time, I thought I pinched a nerve or that my appendix burst. Now I decided to use meditation and positive thinking to deal with the pain, instead of tears and pleas for help. It proved to be the better option.
It was a huge pain to figure out the transport to Ketembe, since Sumatra operates primarily two kinds of public transport: tourist shuttles and local shuttles. The tourist shuttles have a bathroom, stop less often, and take you to tourist spots along the way, but are more than ten times the cost. The local options are crowded and slower, but you get to hang with locals and the price is insanely cheap. My choice was clear.
Ketembe itself was an interesting roadside village, propped up along one of the only roads connecting central Sumatra with the far north of Banda Aceh. From the nearest town of Kutacane it was thirty minutes of winding roads through river valleys and wild mountains. The villages get smaller and smaller until you finally hit Ketembe, recognizable by the sudden appearance of guesthouse signs at every building. I chose Friendship Guesthouse, pretty much only because their website had a guide on transportation I used and the price was good. Unlike in Medan, I was finally able to meet some other travelers. Ines and Christian, a Spanish couple who gave up their lives at home to live the digital nomad dream. There were also two German girls traveling together and a solo Kiwi lass, but I failed to get their Facebooks before parting ways and certainly fail to remember their names now. We were all here in Ketembe for one thing, orangutans at the nearby Gunung Leuser National Park. Of course all the guesthouses doubled as trekking agencies, each with their own family member or friend with years of experience in the jungle and spotting the wild orange apes. However, I had new camping gear from Malaysia and I planned on using it. No guide would be getting my money. This proved wise, since there was absolutely no way I could afford one since I forgot to take out enough money before leaving town. Using what little money I had left I was able to go to a nearby village market and stock up on fruits and vegetables for my trek. Best (and cheapest) produce you can get in the world! Fully stocked on supplies, I left my extra gear at the guesthouse and received well-wishes from my friends, whom also loved to act like I was about to die (I recall talk of a recent “Python eats man in Indonesia” news story). Too bad for them, I lack all sense of self-protection and common sense.
One mile of paved road and I was at the entrance to the national park. For trail directions, I had a photo of a crudely made map the guesthouse owner showed me. I struggled to find an entrance into the jungle, but then a park ranger, shirtless and overweight, called me over. I was worried he would try to get a park entrance fee out of me, but he merely wanted to show me some wildlife. High in the trees, he pointed out to me two orange blobs swaying about in the tree tops. Orangutans! Perfect, now I could go home. Psyche! I was intent on seeing them up close, and was able to find my entrance with the ranger’s assistance. Only a dozen steps in and I was already completely immersed in dense, tropical rain forest. I initially felt overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what was in front of me. But I marched forward , knowing that I could always turn around if I felt uncomfortable. There were many, many times where I had to stand still and play a game of “Find the Trail”. That wasn’t too difficult. Then there were the four way crossroads. Much funner! I learned several lessons, like when to give up and turn around, and when to un-give up and go back, that if you destroy a spider web it can be rebuilt in minutes, that sometimes the extremely important turn you have been waiting for is obscured by a fallen tree. Most importantly, I learned to trust my intuition. I used what little map info I had, and followed fresh footprints, and went upon the most trampled paths, but in the end it was trusting myself that found me finally to the beautiful open clearing that I would make my camp at. Clearly used by other trekking groups, I claimed it as my own. I had plenty of trees to set up my hammock, rushing water nearby, a cool breeze, and plenty of monkeys to yell at. I briefly contemplated continuing my hike and trying to find another spot, perhaps at a hot springs I heard about, but when I marched forward to the river crossing my mind was set. The river water was a sad grey and the smell could only bring images of riverside toilets. The water was high and fast too, and I think I had enough daring activity for one day. Sometimes you have to accept that adventure isn’t always what you want. I was able to meet up again with the Kiwi girl near the river crossing though, whom was doing a trek with herself and two guides. She apparently saw an orangutan only a couple meters away, swinging through the trees and following them as they hiked. But I was completely satisfied with my orangutan sighting and not jealous in any way. I still had plenty of time too. I went back to camp and set up mi casa, and even took the time to arrange some sitting stones into what I would call a spiritually powerful formation (doubled as an anti sea bear circle). It was an excellent spot to meditate, contemplate life, and clean some crystals I had left over from Malaysia. I had the idea that I could hand them out randomly to people I met, but that never really took off. When night came I got cozy in my hammock, read some literature, and enjoyed a meal of peanuts and produce. A tad cold, but I slept pretty well. In the morning, I relaxed and enjoyed my breakfast of peanuts and produce. In one last desperate attempt, I left camp heading in a new direction, hoping to find a closer sighting of the wild hairy ginger men. I was in an extremely secluded and dense area when I heard a sound that I could only recognize as the call of an orangutan. I scrambled silently through the jungle in its direction, and I swear I was near, but eventually the jungle proved too treacherous and I had to call my hunt off. I returned to camp in shame. I packed up and trekked out, contemplating the eternal gamble that is the hunt for wildlife. Never head into the wilderness with the sole goal of seeing a certain animal. Eventually you’ll meet disappointment. Go to enjoy nature in all her splendor, and anything else will be a treat. I had fun. On the way out, I even spent some time with a troop of Thomas Leaf Monkeys (they have sweet hair).
On my way out of Ketembe I met again with Ines and Christian. I said my goodbyes as they both were excitedly setting up their laptops and WiFi hot spots for a morning of work. I found myself envious, of their attitude, of their lifestyle, and of their companionship together in both. I had many hours to think, the rest of the day being spent in transit.
Next stop, Berastagi. I drove by it on my way to Ketambe and one thing certainly caught my eye: Mount Sibayak. The volcano loomed over Berastagi and was certainly the most popular reason to visit. The town itself was a bit dirty and chaotic, but it had a certain charm to it and was certainly better than Medan. I was lucky in finding a lovely guesthouse, where the owner and I shared an intimate conversation on the local area and things to do. He even took me over to his friends house where they were throwing him a little birthday party. His friend was evidently a successful business man considering how large his farm in the back was, how many cars he owned, and how many angry and malnourished dogs he had. All of his friends were there eating, drinking, and singing. I believe I was brought along as a sort of novelty. I joined the other guests, sitting on a large tarp in the middle of the farm. The fruit here continued to prove that Sumatra grows the best produce in the world. To accompany the meal I was given a small plastic water cup continuously filled with whiskey. In the shade, the liveliest (and drunkest) men were playing music on a guitar. I went over and had a listen. They were excited for me to join in song, since they mostly played American music. Unfortunately, they played American country, so they sang alone. They did, however, impress me with their musical skills.
As always, I was very keen on doing my adventure to Mount Sibayak on my own. Unfortunately, if I wanted to see the sunrise I needed to join a tour, mostly just for the transportation. I awoke early after a poor night’s sleep and hopped into a jeep with three other travelers. They were a friendly, but rather quiet bunch. But we warmed up to each other. The long and arduous drive to the start of the hike made me glad I shelled out for the tour. We started an hour or two before sunrise and marched through the darkness with cheap flashlights and headlamps. The path was a tad washed out, but that just added to the fun. In the pitch black, it seemed like we were marching through deeply rocky terrain. Eventually we hit the gravel-like top of the volcano and trudged onward with a bit of slipping. Through the dark, foggy night we could see little, but we could smell the constant aroma of sulfur. Almost suddenly, we arrived at the peak and took a well earned rest. You could see farther now, but there was still only fog and darkness. Farther below you could see other flashlights, dancing about like Willow-The-Wisps on especially solemn nights. Slowly but surely, the sun began to rise. Her heavenly rays casting aside the fog and illuminating the land before us. At first it was beautiful, but it proved to intensify into what can only be called pure divinity. I watched the clouds below me roll through the valley, as the sun cast warm colors about the mountains and villages below. Behind me was the crater of Mount Sibayak, which I had been blinded to in the night, and around the pool of water in the center arose grotesque columns of bulbous sulfur vents. Far off in the distance, Mount Sinabung rose ominously, belching out a continuous stream of smoke from her depths. A volcano too active and dangerous to live near, let alone climb. Certain lucky travelers have been able to spot the glow of lava as it lightly oozed out from the distant volcanic beast. All these phenomena met together to paint one of the most beautiful pictures I had seen in all my life. And it was here that I learned that I loved volcanoes. We explored the crater and saw the sulfur vents, then marched back down the mountain the way we came. With the sunlight now joining us, we were surprised to see that the trail we took that seemed so rugged and mountainous before was actually completely surrounded by lush green vegetation and a gentle mountain stream. We even marched through tunnels of greenery that we hadn’t recognized in our sightless state earlier. After the hike, the tour even included a trip to a local hot spring, a visit to some temples, and a stop at a beautifully designed church with Batak architecture.
Back in town, I decided to check out some of the local markets. Somewhere, there was apparently a famous fruit market and I intended to find it. I strolled along the main street for a while and, after walking past an especially touristy looking market, came upon a much larger and more local venue filled with all kinds of food for sale. I weaved my way through the many isles and stalls of the market, but in the end bought nothing. On my way out through an especially deserted part of the market, a group of Indonesians waved me over. I seem to attract a certain type, as this group also had an acoustic guitar and group singalong. I wasted the rest of my daylight hours here listening to them play and drinking the local jungle juice, a strange sort of alcohol made by fermenting palm tree sap. After they wouldn’t stop trying to force their daughter on me, I decided it was best to leave. I’ll always remember our songs, and the outrageous price they charged me for drinks in the end.
Aboard the trusty public shuttle van I finally left Berastagi. And where other travelers could brag of the comfort and ease they rode in, I could brag of the money and freedom I retained. I planned to make my way to Lake Toba before nightfall, but I still had wanted to make one stop to explore. Sipiso Piso Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Indonesia, was at the halfway point of my days journey. I hopped off my transport at a crossroad and told a rickshaw taxi to take me to Sipiso Piso. He took me to what looked like an old park guard shack, pointed me down a dirt road, and road off with my money. The guard shack looked more like a hobo’s squat than a major tourist attraction. I felt like something was wrong, and when I asked some passing schoolboys for directions, it turns out I was right. The taxi only took me half way to my destination. I’d like to think he was new at his job or confused, but when a white person asks for a ride to the only tourist attraction in town I’m fairly certain you know where you should take him. Never trust your taxi drivers, folks. I got to have a nice walk to the entrance of the park instead, where I paid my entrance fee (ugh) and left my bags with the guards who were nice enough to keep an eye on things. The entrance area was pretty typical tourist garbage, filled with overpriced shops set up to prey on lazy visitors. The view on the top of this bluff was fantastic though, as you could see all of northern Lake Toba on one side, and the mighty Sipiso Piso Waterfall on the other. I don’t travel to see though, I travel to experience. Thankfully, there was a trail that lead down into the gorge from whence Sipiso Piso flows to. I followed the worn concrete path down as it wound its way into the ridge. There were small shops and restaurants along the way, but they were either quiet or abandoned. My eyes were constantly on the waterfall, borne from an underground river as it flowed forth from a cave high upon the cliffs. The sheer magnitude of water pouring forth from the earth really set an impression on me of how vast and significant groundwater really is. I may have gotten a minor in hydrogeology, but classrooms and videos can only show you so much. Someday you have to experience it for yourself, as that is where true passion for a subject comes from. And with all the volcanoes and waterfalls, I was certainly feeling the geo-fever. Once I was finally near the bottom of the gorge, a soft mist persistently fell from the sky, water meeting air as the falls hit the rocks below. I set some things aside on dry land and donned my crappy poncho from Thailand and set forth into the eternal dampness below the falls. I walked over a small stream, hopping across stones, climbing up towards a boulder very close to where the waterfall falls. I was soaked, but I needed to get as close as possible. The sound of the water was deafening, and there was a strong wind caused from the fall of the cold ground water. When I finally reached the boulder, I eagerly popped my head up to gaze upon Sipiso Piso in all her splendor. I could only hold there for a few seconds as fierce winds, tossed about by the movement of the water and thermal change, blasted at my face with hurricane speeds. Drenched, blind, deaf, and satisfied I worked my way back to my things. Along another path, I ventured to the other side of the waterfall by crossing a river with a quaintly built wood bridge. Here things were calmer and a man cooked his sup in a shack that lied closest to the falls. I was unsure if he lived there, but that would definitely be an exciting place to rest. I found somewhere quiet and dry to meditate as well. It would have been cool to meditate under the waterfall, like in a kung fu movie, but this waterfall would help me “be one with the universe” if you know what I mean. Once I was finished at the falls and climbed back up to the road, I went to the guard shack to collect my things. They said a taxi would probably come by to drop somebody off, so I could wait at the entrance with them to get a ride. We listened to Indo-pop and ate birthday cake. But no ride showed up, so one of the guys took me over to the crossroad with his motorbike. I grabbed another local shuttle van and made it all the way over to Parapat by nightfall, where I could catch the last ferry over to Pulau Samosir. Somewhere along this journey I lost my wallet. C’est la vie. On the ferry, an Indonesian that looked higher than a kite invited me to his family guesthouse, and I obliged.
Here on Lake Toba, I slowed down once again. The first night I met some German guys on their pre-university trip. We played tag the next day as we darted around the island on scooters, each stopping at different spots and never actually committing to joining up. The countryside on this island was beautiful, and the landscape surrounding you was breathtaking. Lake Toba is the remnants of an ancient super volcano, the crater long dormant and filled with water. Surrounding the lake, and also on the island, were sharp, grassy cliffs in all directions reminiscent of the fjords of Scandinavia. The island had one major tourist village, but due to our timing the area was practically dead. I heard talk too that the area used to be a major hippy backpacker area, but that era was now long forgotten. The roads wound around all axes, making the driving as fun as it was gorgeous. The island was quiet outside of the major two villages and peaceful farm life continued as it had for generations. The next day my German friends left and several others took their place. Nick, a Canadian traveling after a study abroad program in Thailand; Sophie and Tom, a couple from Britain; and a Canadian girl who didn’t add me on Facebook so I forgot her name. I dragged them along on hikes they weren’t prepared for and in return they put up with my musical ability. Our guest house was another of the reggae hang out spots I always seem to find, and the food was good and the owner could play some mean guitar. It was a relaxing time and the freshwater swimming was a nice change of pace. I spent a week here, mostly because I found the comfort complacent and couldn’t figure out where to go next. At times I wanted to go south and look for bull races, other times I wanted to go off to the private island that the Germans from earlier left for. In the end, I decided to leave for Medan. Not because I loved it so much, but because I was flying back to Kuala Lumpur.
I flew back to KL for two reasons. One, I wanted to reset my Indonesian visa-on-arrival, since it only lasts one month and I used about three weeks in Sumatra and still wanted to see Java and Bali. More importantly though, I needed to write. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that I constantly thought about Michaela. It’s difficult to let go after what we had and honestly I didn’t, and still don’t, want to. I was thinking about her a lot. I needed to properly digest what had happened. And I knew writing was how I would achieve that. It took me more than a week to finish writing my blog post about Malaysia, but I was motivated by something great to make it as beautiful and artistic as I could. You may ask if it was difficult to be so honest, and yes, at times I questioned it. But I knew that if I hid things I would lose not only the truth, but the beauty of the message. While writing I found a lost bracelet and claimed it as my own; a bracelet of lapis lazuli, a stone traditionally representing divine truth. Michaela was my editor as well, making sure we were both absolutely comfortable with the final product. In the end it is the greatest things I have ever made. I of course stayed at Dreamville. The memories flowed easily there. Many friends were gone, but I had Duygu to keep me company and got to meet the new volunteers: Burak and Anil. Surrounded by Turkish influence, I got to learn a lot about Turkish culture. Pros: Music was good, fun dances, good food, surprisingly charming tv shows (before they kill off a main character!), and I learned prayer beads make an excellent fidget toy. Cons: You have to live in Turkey. We also went to Malacca, one of the major cities I never visited the first time in Malaysia, and couch surfed at a beautiful apartment complex and enjoyed the quaint little city. I even got kidney stones again! This time I was drunk! Good times. Eventually I left again, this time flying to Yogyakarta, cultural capital of Indonesia at the center of Java.
Yogyakarta (pronounced ‘jogjakarta’) is the cultural, historical, and artistic center of Java. You could try the the capital, Jakarta, but everyone I’ve met had regarded Jakarta as another dirty, chaotic Asian city with nothing to actually do. Indonesia is an extremely diverse country, in geography, culture, and religion. And the sights in Jogja reflected that. The area is littered with beautiful natural sites and hordes of temples of Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu origin. The temples, I suppose, were the reason for my arrival. I needed some spiritual rebalancing. Landing in Yogyakarta’s amusingly tiny airport, I ambled my way past the hordes upon hordes of relentless taxi drivers until I found the infinitely cheaper public bus. The directions were down right mysterious, but I trusted in the help I was given from the locals and eventually found my way to the hidden little home stay I had booked for the night. The staff struggled with English, but the rooms and back yard were beautiful, especially for being cramped into the dense and dirty city of Jogja. I didn’t get much time to enjoy this home stay, since starting at six I began experiencing the worst kidney stone pain I’ve ever had. The moon kept me company, but she left before it subsided. When I finally recovered, I had to find new accommodation since things had been fully booked in my retirement. Oh well. The swap would prove beneficial, a new bed apparently granting new friends as well. This was a very new home stay, and the English speaking staff would bend over backwards to help you in any way they could. There were some nice guests as well, but the one that stuck out was Ron. Around my dad’s age, he was here in Yogyakarta for a month to try to secure a business partner for a bit of import/export work. He still had plenty of time to vacation though. We had some pleasant conversations, and he got my mind jogging on some easy ways you could make money with the right international connections. I came here for temples though, and temples I went to see. A day trip by scooter, I hit both major temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, and then some. Outside the city, where the stoplights lasted disgustingly long, the ride was fairly serene. Borobudur is a Buddhist temple turned major tourist theme park. Horse rides, traditional archery lessons, trolley train. All could be done at Borobudur! Oh you could also visit the temple too. And for only 20 dollars! I, being the international hobo that I am, decided it best to find alternative means of entry. So I went to the exit and claimed I just left, but the friend I was waiting for hasn’t showed up. The guards let me in to go find him. Nice guys! The large temple compound was crawling with tourists (mostly Indonesian), there by removing any guilt I had of dodging the hefty entrance fee. I wound my way around until I finally found the actual temple. It was gorgeous, a memory of the distant past, and seemed to exude an almost divine energy in the midday sun. Tourists rolled up and down her many steps in all directions, but I knew what to expect at a site like this and was very proud of how much I still enjoyed it. I meandered through every level of the temple, deciphering what I could from the many engravings all over the walls. A story of Gautama Buddha on his path of enlightenment. Of note to me, was a story of his deep fasting in search of wisdom. You may recognize the image of the skin-and-bone Buddha as he reaches enlightenment, but in this story he recognizes that if he continues to fast, he will surely die. He chooses to live, so he may learn more and teach his wisdom, than to die in a blind struggle to find it. A story of balance between the extremes of hedonism and asceticism. An important lesson for me. Most visitors went straight to the top of the temple, leaving the many other floors largely empty and perfect for contemplation and meditation. When I arrived at the top I took my picture and admired the view and then turn to leave, but was quickly ambushed by some cute Indonesian children wanting to take pictures with me. Of course I obliged, but apparently this gave the signal that I was open for business and I was swarmed with a constant stream of selfies. I was polite, but eventually I had to scuttle away as fast as I could to avoid any more fanatical fans. Woe is the white man! After Borobudur I rode my scooter on over the Prambanan. This famous Hindu temple also had a steep entry fee. They also had a much more secure exit. As I looked about for a way to scale the fence without being caught, I spotted several white tents and pretty lights being set up inside the compound. Clearly, a wedding! How romantic. Near me, I also noticed a friendly guard watching a side exit. The truly insidious criminal uses all information as the need arises. Thus, I approached the guard and asked if this was the entrance to the wedding. I had, of course, been invited to join by somebody in town. He gladly let me in. I’m just glad he didn’t wonder why I was wearing filthy backpacker clothes to a wedding. Finally inside, I marched right through the wedding preparations and entered the main temple grounds. The difference between architecture was striking compared to the last temple. There was a somewhat darker and more ominous feeling to it. The Hindu engravings tended to have a more monstrous quality to it, a reflection of their mystical beliefs. It was also decidedly more difficult to find a quiet spot. But away from the main temple was plenty of smaller ruins that one could enjoy some peace and quiet at. I explored many of the nearby temples here too until finally the sun set and I made my way through the darkened compound to my scooter. I got back to the city in time to even catch a traditional shadow puppet show. I was impressed with the puppetry, at the fine movements of the paper puppets as they leapt about the stage and gave battle to one another. The story itself was in Indonesian, so it lacked the depth that comes with understanding. I was far more impressed with the music though. An entire gamelan ensemble accompanied the puppet show, adding a level of enchantment that made this rather simple puppet show into an intensely moving experience. At the end of one scene, a melody played that was so hypnotic and mesmerizing that I would put it as one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
The morning after my little adventure, I was relaxing on the guest house’s balcony when a friendly stranger appeared. A very common occurrence (the relaxing and the friendly stranger). He introduced himself as Charlie and was apparently a friend of the owners. Indonesian, about my age, and an avid environmentalist, we got along great. So great, he quickly invited me on a tour around southern Jogja. First we stopped for lunch and he bought me my soon-to-be favorite Indonesian meal, ‘lotek’. Afterwards, we escaped the hustle and bustle of the city and began to explore the countryside. It seemed to shift over in an instant from busy and crowded streets to quiet farmland. We drove through countless rice fields as we discussed environmentalism, sustainability, and our cultures in general. It seemed so quiet and peaceful for what would essentially be a suburb of Yogyakarta. We even stopped for some fresh coconut. I paid this time, much to the dismay of my host. Afterwards we went through a sort of art’s district, populated by locals and foreign students alike, and visited another of his friends’ guesthouses. This one was all about sustainability. Just about everything was constructed out of either local bamboo or recycled and reused materials. The table was a bathtub with glass over it and fish inside. Every decoration was some sort of recycled plastic. They were even working on a hydroponic garden. They were having some trouble with it, so I gave them what tips I could. Apparently, even the plot of land is recycled, since it used to be an impromptu garbage dump by the locals that the owner and his friends cleaned up and made into their base of operations. Now they rent out a couple of rooms and promote environmentalism throughout the area, and it really seems to be catching on. It was nice to see Indonesian streets that were clean for once. We stayed for a while, had tea, mingled with some of the guests there, but eventually left and had another local meal and then parted ways. He gave me some great tips about the area before he left though!
While I was having fun in Jogja, I was also getting antsy again. Thus, the only reasonable thing to do was to climb the most active volcano in Indonesia. So I rented a scooter and made my way to Mount Merapi, a couple hours north of Yogyakarta. The story goes that when the gods were making Java, they placed the mountain on the west end, but it made things too unbalanced. So it was moved to the center, but there were two blacksmith gods that refused to move from the area. So the gods said deal with it and dropped in on their heads. Now they live in the volcano and do god things. Near Merapi, I eventually found the guide that a friend recommended me and signed up for that night’s trek. Normally, I would be more inclined to hike it solo, but the internet kept saying how tough of a climb it was and, you know, the most active volcano thing. At least they let me nap on their couch until we started our hike at 1 in the morning. Our group was small, which was nice. Just me, two girls from Michigan, and a guy from Singapore. We started our hike from the village, but by the time we made it to the actual trail we were already feeling the burn. The, rather chubby, Singapore lad especially. By the time we got to the first checkpoint, about 1/6th of the way to the top, Singapore had already chosen to give up. The guide and the other hikers were worried about him slowing us down and missing sunrise, so I guess it was for the best. His struggle just made me think of my first mountain, Mount Elbert in Colorado, and how I made it halfway and wanted to give up. But I pushed through, for some unknown reason, and made it to the top for one of my greatest accomplishments. I didn’t want to give up on him, but he seemed fine with it. A cheery man, as all Singaporeans are. With one man down, we pushed onward and upward through the thick darkness of the night. Eventually the steep slopes leveled off for a bit and we reached a sort of base camp for some of the guides. Here, the vegetation ended and we moved from dirt to pure volcanic rubble. All about us was a dense fog granting only a few meters of visibility. After a snack break, we continued. When the incline began to increase again, we began the slippery struggle through the small volcanic rocks. Many of your steps would be met with so much rocks sliding that you’d simply end up where you started. It was a bit annoying, but also fun in a way. The mountain was putting up a good fight. It also gave me a strange melancholy as I realized that these falling rocks will never again reach the heights they once knew. At least not for billions of years, when new tectonic shifts or eruptions uplift old rocks. For my purposes, every step I took slowly flattened and destroyed the mountain. I can understand why she’d fight back. Eventually, we began to near the peak and our movements began to mimic bouldering more than hiking. Here, apparently, somebody had once died from a misplaced step. We thankfully survived, and finally reached the coveted peak we had been eying our whole trek. The crater was rugged, chaotic, menacing. Far deeper than my previous volcano. Sharp spires tore out from the earth giving the rim a monstrous energy. When I finally peeled my eyes off the volcano, I gazed about the sky for miles in every direction. The clouds laid thick, but were so far below we seemed to be towering over the heavens themselves. We were the first ones on the peak, well ahead of schedule, so I took some time before the sun rose to meditate on a precipice, perched 20 meters over the crater. A terrifying and powerful moment. Thankfully I finished before the dozen other hikers finally made their way to the top. The phones were unleashed, and we all took our many pictures as the sun finally rose out from the distant, cloud shadowed horizon. When all had their fill, we began our hike back down. This went much quicker, especially when we started slide-skiing down the gravel at INSANE VELOCITIES. We were lucky nobody was injured. We got back to town and found out Singaporean friend, and then all other left in a tour van and I hopped on my scooter to return to Jogja. I hadn’t actually slept much and it was a hell of a hike (not as hard as the internet made me think, though), so I craved nap time. On my way out of town, I saw a girl that I recognized from the peak walking along the road. I startled her when I asked if she needed a ride. She thanked me, but she needed to get all the way to Yogyakarta. I told her she better hop on, because that’s exactly where I’m headed! Hitchhiker karma. She actually hiked the mountain solo and said it was pretty easy to figure out, which made me regretful for my purchase. It was a long ride back, so I enjoyed the company. She was extremely impressed with my scooting abilities. She should be though, because I am a scoot veteran. I dropped her off at her hostel and retired to mine for a much needed snooze.
After a week, I could say I had thoroughly enjoyed Yogyakarta. It was definitely one of my favorite cities. I saw some other sights in town, but most of the interesting things were a bit outside from the center. You could easily spend a month here and still have plenty to do though! My time was through though, and I hopped on the local buses and made my way East. My story was bringing me to another volcano, fabled Mount Bromo.
Once upon a time, there was a boy lost in a distant land. He sought knowledge, but knowledge of what, he did not know. So he set out to ask the elements for help. He went to the valley of the jungle, where the wind blows strongest, and sought Air for help. “Greetings, Keeper of the Sky,” the boy exclaimed, “I seek wisdom!” A great gust blew down from the mountain and Air appeared before him. “Son of man,” the mighty wind said, “The wisdom you seek can only be found in balance”. With that, Air left as quickly as he came, as the wind is prone to do. Beneath the cloudy sky, the boy sat and pondered the balance of his world. Next he went to the great lake, where all rivers start, in search of council with Water. “Greetings, Master of the Depths,” the boy announced. “I seek wisdom!” A mighty wave flowed forth from the deep and Water appeared before him. “Son of man,” the crashing wave said, “The wisdom you seek can only be found in experience”. Finished, Water slowly crept back into her pool as the tide contracted. Beneath the moon, the boy sat and pondered the experiences of his world. Now he went to the high mountains, where the rocks watch the world, and searched for Earth’s advice. “Greetings, Lord of the Hills,” the boy stated. “I seek wisdom!” A deep rumble came from beneath his feet and Earth appeared before him. “Son of man,” the heavy quake said, “The wisdom you seek can only be found in study”. Ending, the rumble silenced and all was still. Beside the rocks, the boy sat and pondered the studies of the world. Finally, he went to the mighty volcano, where smoke is born, to beg Fire’s help.
In the Land of Ash, the boy asked the native people how to reach the mighty volcano. They told the boy “First, you must enter the Sea of Sands in secret, for the realm of man guards entrance. Then you must wander the Sea until you find a grande stone temple, with many treasures inside. Resist the temptation of the temple and you will find yourself at the foot of the volcano, where the steps of those before you have made a path. This volcano is Bromo, and on her breast is an ancient stairway that will lead you to whom you seek.” The boy rested and prepared himself for the journey. As he thought of ways to enter the Sea of Sands, a rooster appeared before him covered in ash. “Greetings fair fowl, how goes your morning?” asked the boy. The rooster, a lively creature, was delighted to be spoken to. “Superb, now that I’m finally out of that detestable ash!” exclaimed the rooster. Eagerly, the boy asked how he gained entrance to such a place. “Down the cliff, of course!” said the rooster as he flew towards a pass hidden along the cliff’s edge. The boy thanked the rooster and, grabbing his supplies, began his journey into the Sea of Sands. Down the cliff, he climbed until he was stopped by a large boulder blocking the path. Before the boulder were three dragons, wrought with despair. “We hunt for Bromo,” the dragons said. “But we have no wings. All is for naught,” they moped. Resilient, the boy studied the situation. An epiphany occurred! The boy trailed the cliff and collected stones, which he placed before the boulder. Eventually, so many were collected that he could climb over and resume his journey. The dragons followed slowly after him, thanking him for his clever eye. Rushing ahead, he finally made it through the hidden pass and into the Sea of Sands.
Before him all was grey, a land of ash and death. In the far distance, a cloud of smoke bellowed out from Bromo and drew his gaze. Towards her he marched through endless dark sands as the wind kissed away every footprint he tried to leave. The sun bore down from directly above, yet all about him was the frigid chill of death. At no point could he stop, lest he freeze and be claimed by the Sea around him. After some time, the boy came upon many great rifts and gullies in the ground, formed by storms over countless millennia. The boy feared these great tears in the land, and knew not what injury he will incur from traversing them. However, long ago the boy met a badger who spoke of such rifts in his own experiences. He had claimed that the only way past was to jump, and trust the Sea to carry you. Thus, the boy leapt, trusting in his friend’s words. He fell with incredible speed, but upon his landing the sand gently bore his weight and caught him. Climbing the dunes of ash he continued towards the volcano.
After countless steps, the boy saw the signs of man, a temple on the fore of a mountain. As he approached, the splendor of the dusty, wind ravaged temple began to cast its spell. The boy walked to the entrance of the temple where two hyenas sat watch. “Enter,” they beckoned. He obliged their request and opened the ancient rusted gate before him. Inside, the rooms were filled with furniture, food, toys, and statues of splendid make. All the signs of life were present except for life itself. As he trailed through the abandoned grounds he came upon another gate, far older than the first. On its crest was the unmistakable symbol of a skull. He opened this barrier too, and entered the heart of the temple. All about him were flowers and offerings, all caught halfway between decomposition as if trapped in a stasis of never ending decay. At the very center was a crumbling statue of a forgotten time, headed by a pit of never ending black. Before the statue’s feet was a large gem of insurmountable extravagance. An item of innumerable wealth. The boy gazed toward the gem, imagining a life of carefree luxury. As his mind wandered, the pit about the statue began to open, claiming the floor around it as dust and stone peeled off into the darkness below. Slowly, the hole began to consume the area about the statue. The boy ran forward, craving for the gem, an instinct he didn’t know he had. With all his will, he forced his feet to slow and halt before the hungry pit. Slowly the statue crumbled and the gem rocked about its hold. The gem teetering on the edge, the boy made one last desperate command to his body and turned about, racing to the skull borne gate he entered by. Behind him he could only hear the noise of ruin and desolation as the pit consumed the center chamber. He raced through the temple grounds, now covered in cobwebs and decayed objects of a life long gone. With each step, he lifted his foot only to be met with the unmistakable feeling of falling ground just behind him. With the wind at his back he placed each step in balance with the other, keeping his back foot from falling to the dark. Finally nearing the salvation of the entrance, he bolted out of the gate and leapt for the cold grey sand, passing two skeletons as he flew. He finally turned around to meet his pursuer and watched as the sinkhole consuming the temple claimed the entrance gate. The pit ceased its advance, a strange calm washing over the Sea about him. With the temple gone, he could see behind it towards Bromo and the beaten path he must now take.
Finally the boy reached the slopes of mighty Bromo, house of Fire. Before him was the trodden path the villagers had told him about. Up the slopes he marched, past ancient relics and centuries old refuse. Eventually he beheld before him a staircase, made of stone far older than the rocks it perched on. Looking skyward, it would seem he was almost towards the top. Slowly, he began his final ascent. His journey was nearly over. His legs began to ache from the strain, and he turned to enjoy the view and take a breather. As far as he could see he beheld the Sea of Sand that he had toiled so tremulously through. When he turned back to continue his final steps, he was surprised to find himself with the same amount of stairs left as he had started with. Confused, the boy continued up the stairs until his heart began to strain and he rest upon a step. After catching his breath, he began his ascent again only to once more be confronted with the fact that he had made no distance compared to when he started. To test the stairs the boy marched up only a couple of steps, stopped, and made a mark upon the top of the step. He immediately turned up towards the peak again, only to find the same dizzying effect to unfold. Looking down, he saw the mark at his feet, now upon the top of the very first step. Angered, the boy ran as fast as he could, desperate to reach the top. Over and over he tried, but would always be forced to stop and rest, sinking back to where he started. Exhausted, he collapsed at the bottom of the stairs, where he would rest. Once he rose again, his mind clear, he knew there was only one route to the top. As slow and gentle as possible, the boy began to climb the staircase. Each step a trial in underexertion. As he continued the long and slow journey his muscles began to tighten, his joints began to ache, his lungs struggled, but still he continued He was unsure how long it took, but as he gazed down at his feet steadily making progress, eventually they stopped marching on stairs and began to march upon flat rock. Eagerly he gazed up, finally at the mouth of Bromo. The boy stared at the mouth of the crater, a deep and sharply inclined pit that stretched far into the planet’s crust. About the mouth were many rotten yellow teeth, belching forth the subtle yet distinct stench of rotten eggs. Excitedly, the boy stood up and shouted “Greeti-” before quickly being cut off by the volcano before him. A deep roar sounded from beneath the world, and the boy became frightened by the ancient noise and the putrid wind that spewed forth, burning his eyes. Within the roar, however, was the word “Hello”.
On the far end of the rim, upwind from his host, the boy sat to speak with Bromo. About him, a gentle mountain sparrow flew in circles. He asked the volcano what his story was. “My story,” Bromo said, “Is far too long to tell a son of man. Suffice to say, I was here before you and will be here after you. All around me you leave your mark, but someday I will wash it all away. Whether I wash you away with it, we shall see. Now, tell me what brings you to my peaks.” The boy recited to the mighty volcano his story. Of meeting with Air, Water, and Earth and his desire for wisdom and his long journey to meet with Bromo. “Ahh,” the mountain bellowed, “So you must be seeking the final element in your grande adventure? Yes, I will say it is true, Fire is inside. But before you can see him, you must find the meaning. The meaning of life. To find it, you must go where magic is born. To get there, you must follow the ridge.” And behind the boy a mighty spine of rock rose forth. “You will march beside my father, but speak to him not, for he dwells above no longer. As for where to go and what to do, look for the signs. Do not return without an answer. Good luck.” And with that the rumble of Bromo stopped.
And so the boy set out to complete this task. Along the steep smoky ridge he departed from the rim of Bromo. On and on he marched along the dangerous precipice until he finally came upon another crater. Massive and vast, this volcano went to rest long ago. The boy thought about the secrets that such an ancient must know as he continued his trek. As he continued, the grey lifeless ground he walked upon slowly started to show the distinct green of life. Eventually, the grasses and shrubs of life had completely overtaken the formerly dead landscape. Sparse trees clawed out from the mountainous ecosystem, grasping for the heavy sun above. Through the underbrush the boy hiked until he came upon a crossroad. Left or right, he did not know. So he looked for a sign, perhaps hidden by the overgrowth about him. As he searched, a familiar mountain sparrow darted about him. “I have no time to play, dear sparrow. I’m lost!” he said. As he finished, the bird darted towards him, causing the boy to duck, and then turned to fly towards the rightmost path. The boy chased after him in anger. All along the ridge the boy would run, and at each crossroad the bird would again play its game and fly along one path or the other. At first the boy was mad, but it didn’t take long for him to wisen up. When he had finally escaped the maze of the overgrowth and emerged into a valley within the mountains, he knew he only had the sparrow to thank.
Immediately, the boy was overwhelmed with the magic permeating this hidden valley. The ground was greyed with ash, but held a healthy darkness signifying the life it bore. The land was green, but the vegetation was dispersed lightly. Travel here was easy, besides the small hills that made up the landscape and the shallow stream that ran through it. He set out into the mystical dale, unsure of where to go, but too distracted by the enchantment of the place to care. The boy figured that this must be where elves and faeries and all their like come from. As he marched through the mythical valley, he suddenly became aware of how tired his journey had made him. Heading to a hill nearby, he laid upon the thick grass between two trees and laid down. Cradled by the loving embrace of nature, he rested. When he arose, all around him a magnificent fruit had blossomed. Nourishing from one, he felt completely full and invigorated to continue his journey. Taking some of the fruit for later, he continued his wanderings of the valley. In the sky above, the mountain birds sang and played in the sky. All at once the birds flew to the north of the valley, seemingly called homeward by an unknown force. The boy followed them, creeping across the soft ground, moistened from the alpine mists. Through the hills and over the river he strolled until finally he came upon a glen, thick with vegetation. Into it, all the birds of the valley flew. At the entrance, the helpful mountain sparrow sang “Your answers lie within!”. And so he entered the glen, stumbling through the tall bushes and dense grasses. Eventually, he came upon two paths and looked to the birds for help. Immediately, a bird flew down one of the options. A second later, another bird flew down the other. “So I should take the first chosen path?” the boy asked. “Or was that a mistake and the second path is right?” Two birds flew down the first path. Down the second, an especially large bird flew. “Do I choose by count, or size?!” the boy said, sounding increasingly confused. Down the first path flew two red birds, in a zigzag fashion, singing a happy song, low to the ground. Down the second path flew three blue birds, in an up down fashion, singing a cheery song, high to the trees. “Ah, the choice is clear now,” said the boy. And so he turned around, with barely any of the glen explored. Back at the entrance, he sat upon the ground and pondered his journey. With deep breaths, he took in the magic and the energy of the land, to keep within him for whenever he need it. He now knew there was something to be taken from in every moment of his life. Satisfied, the boy sat up and said goodbye to the many birds of the hidden valley. Leaving the glen, he followed the steam back to the entrance from when he came. Along the way, he swore he could almost make out the footprints of others. Reaching his exit, the boy took one last look at the secret and magical land before returning to the normal world. He knew he would not be back, at least not here. He marched all the way back to the mighty volcano, passing once again the primordial father of Bromo, and entering back into the grey lifeless land he started in.
“Welcome back,” Bromo blared, “What is the answer to the meaning of life?” The boy was silent for a time, but then walked calmly to the edge of the ridge and said, “There is no answer”. From the volcano came a violent crescendo as the ground shook below the boy. Launching forth from the pit of the crater came a thick black smoke with an inferno at its heart. “Greetings, King of Destruction,” the boy announced. “I beg for wisdom.” The mighty cloud before him cracked with thunder. “Son of man,” Fire said, “The wisdom you seek can only be found in creation”. Atop the world, the boy rejoiced, ecstatic for his life to come.
After my spiritual experience at Mount Bromo, all that was left to do was leave Java. I briefly contemplated climbing another volcano, Mount Ijen, but kidney stones and a general lack of enthusiasm squashed that idea. Aboard a ferry, I sailed off to Bali to see what all the fuss was about.
On my third major landmass of Indonesia I set out to spoil myself a bit. All I had heard about Bali was that it was overflowing with tourists, things were expensive, and that Australians ruin everything. My goal for coming here was to enjoy some beach life and learn to scuba dive. Thus, I tried my damnedest to ignore the high prices and to just enjoy it. Right when I got to the island, I was crowded with the typical lout of taxi scammers, but a local friend I had made on the ferry told me to head to the local bus and to not pay over 10,000 rupiah. So I followed his advice and hopped on board. It filled up with a couple other tourists and locals and then he set out along the main road. After a couple minutes, the driver pulled off in the middle of nowhere and asked everybody to pay. Some confused tourists simply asked how much to pay. Others, like the two girls sitting across from me, knew the local prices. From me he desired 30,000 rupiah and from the girls he wanted 80,000. The girls were open to haggling, but apparently he was not. As for myself, I knew what the price was and I wasn’t budging. The driver tried his best to make a scene, dramatically flailing his arms about as if we were wounding this poor, deprived peasant of his few grains of rice a day. His body screamed anguish but his face remained the same cold, apathetic blank state it had always been. Perhaps he needed the extra money for acting lessons. He stormed off the bus to continue the performance. I asked the girls where they were trying to go. “Permuteran” they replied. Me too. I guess he charges women more. He came back on and continued his show and I was getting sick of his antics. He lowered to 25,000, but I refused. So he told me to get off his bus. Now you might ask yourself, “Shane, is saving one dollar really worth the extra hassle?” The answer is no. But is keeping my self respect worth the extra hassle? The answer is yes. So I smiled, said “Fine, I’ll hitchhike!” and tromped off the bus. The bus sped off, and I followed soon after it, in a nice car, talking with a nice local man about Northern Bali and his business. The ride was short.
In Permuteran I set out to relax on the beach and eat good food, as I was tired from all the hiking and speedy travel of Java. Here is where I learned that guest houses in Bali might be a little more expensive, but they look absolutely gorgeous. Outdoor pebble garden shower anybody? I don’t believe I had a single conversation during my stay. I felt a tad disconnected to most people, who seemed to be on short expensive vacations, and didn’t really know where my fellow grimy backpackers were. But that was okay, because I got the beach time I needed. In preparation for scuba, I even did some snorkeling at the ‘Biorock’, a man made coral reef nearby. There was also a lovely little turtle conservation center, where I got to see some turtles up close, both babe and grown. If I’m lucky I might see one in the wild someday.
When I left Permuteran, I did so with my thumb stretched out. It worked well earlier, why not continue? I got a ride from one family, who took me to some temples outside of town. When I was done getting attacked by monkeys, I did it again. I ended up sitting with a local who helped me get a really cheap bus. He added me on Facebook, and would point at girls I was friends with and would ask if they were single. I laughed. Then he kept asking, and wouldn’t stop talking about wanting a white wife and if I can help him out. Thankfully, then the bus came. Then I got a scooter taxi to Munduk Village in the mountains, and argued with the driver because he didn’t know that when I pointed at a guest house on the map that I wanted to go there, not the middle of town, and he of course wanted extra to finish the trip. And so I hitched the rest instead. If you really want to anger a scummy driver, flick them your thumb, not your middle finger.
Up in the mountains, I felt like doing a little bit of hiking, since clearly I don’t do enough of that already. The day I arrived, I went down into the nearby lake area, a strange sort of alpine rain forest, and continually got lost along the many dead ends and unfinished trails. There were sunken, abandoned boat shacks and old forgotten Hindu shrines. As the sun began to get low in the sky, a voice in my head told me that now would maybe be a good time to head back. But that voice is a filthy coward, he can have his boring life, I’M going to hike around the entire lake! And so I did. I ran to save time. I even found a nice key. Eventually I got to the far end of the lake, where I discovered two beautiful Hindu temples perched right on the lake. One had poisonous plants and a dog guarding it, but I only managed to get bit by one. Local Hindu’s, dressed in white ceremonial outfits, came upon old carved boats to worship. I asked them if I could have a ride back when they were done, and they were happy to approve. Unfortunately, they left while I was messing around at a different temple. So, as the last bit of light fell, I set out on the muddy jungle road back to town. In the pitch darkness I crept along, until from behind me the lights of a truck came. It was a tow truck, dragging a van that had gotten stuck in the mud. The truck was struggling to, so we would continually pass each other along the way. Eventually the truck got to a point where the mud dried out, and they freed the van to head back to town. Thankfully, the people in the van asked if I needed a ride, and happily gave me snacks and water as they took me back to my guest house. They were a friendly bunch of Hindus and dressed in the same garb of the group I saw earlier. Through broken English we found ways to learn about each other. They even left me a meal they had made themselves! Later that night, I made a friend while playing ukulele on the balcony. Note: I definitely do not play in public spots when I’m lonely and hope people talk to me. Sophie was from the Netherlands and killing time before graduate school. We were both heading the same direction the next day, so we agreed to meet up some other time. The next day, she left early and I went on another hike. This time I hiked into the countryside. I hiked through the quiet little farms on the outskirts of the village, past fields of flowers and different animals rummaging through their pens. Eventually I found what I was looking for, The Spirit Tree. It definitely seemed like a name to capitalize on the “Eat, Pray, Love” phenomena that attracts so many soul searchers to Bali, but it was still a tree of importance to the locals. I wasn’t told not to, so I climbed up the massive tree and found a nice spot to meditate some 10 meters up. At my vantage point, I could watch the dogs patrol their domains, see the chickens scavenge for food, and view the ants covering the tree go about their business. When I was done I returned to my guest house, got my things, and (you guessed it) stuck out my thumb on the side of the road. Once again, I got a quick ride. We talked a lot about religion and business, and even stopped for some tea and snacks. He took me most of the way, but when he had to depart he was even kind enough to get me an Uber. And so to Ubud I went.
Now, I just talked about the whole “Eat, Pray, Love” thing, and if you aren’t familiar with the book, most of it took place in Ubud. The city of Ubud has fully embraced the spiritual hippy persona, showcasing a ridiculous amount of yoga studios, vegan restaurants, and various spiritual themed stores. A lot of these feel very inauthentic, simply a means to capitalize on a new species of tourist. But I certainly found no fault in eating delicious vegetarian food, taking a yoga class on any street I wanted, and scrounging through piles of books for any good reads. And that’s pretty much all I did. There are some rice paddies right in town that make for a good walk, there are some pretty good museums, and there’s plenty of shopping if your interested, but besides the food nothing really stood out to me. Thankfully I spent some time with some really good people. I had dinner with Sophie and later moved hostels into a cozy little place where I met an exceedingly entertaining old Australian couple, some nice folks from Germany, and two girls from France that proved good company but a tad mysterious. Things were going well, but I had my worries.
Throughout my time in Bali, I kept having issues with ATM’s. The only place I’ve ever had problems, might I add. I’m smart and bring two cards with me when I travel, but when multiple ATM’s start charging me money and not spitting any out, I start to get stressed. I don’t know if you can tell from all the excessive frugality, but money really stresses me out. So I was in a rough state, because this kind of stuff is really hard to sort out on the other side of the world. In the end, I was worrying over nothing, but fear clouds even the clearest views. As I sort these things out, I also get a distressing message from home. That kind of text that you can tell they are trying not to say anything before they speak with you directly. A quick call with my father, and I learn that he has throat cancer. He sounds good, no worry or sadness as he speaks, but the way he pulls away the phone as he talks about how long I’ve been away nearly breaks my heart. It’s all rather shocking, and I just kind of sit around feeling like a beaten dog. My family encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing and we’ll talk more later.
A couple of days later I’m in Nusa Lembongan, a part of a small series of islands south-east of Bali. Of the countless places to choose to learn scuba diving, this is where I chose. Mostly because it was highly recommended from Duygu back at Dreamville and it marks a good endpoint for Indonesia. After a couple of days, I had fully accepted that I was going to be ending my trip early to go home and support my dad. So really, this little island was the last stop on this journey. The activity was certainly a good finale though. I showed up to Blue Corner Dive eager to learn, but not sure what to expect. The Open Water Diver course would take four days, about 8 hours each. The area was famous for two things: manta rays and mola-mola. Mola-Mola are a giant sunfish that look kind of like a big flat tuna, but they are pretty rare, especially since it wasn’t their season yet. I was definitely expecting some rays though. The first day was mostly confined water training, where we learn and practice different techniques in the pool. But at the very end they took us out to a nearby dive site to give us a taste of the ocean. It was mostly sandy, with a bit of fish and coral here and there, but the mere fact that we were in the ocean made it an amazing experience. There really is nothing like floating along below the ocean, breathing underwater, and just being able to experience a world that you could never really explore. Even just moving in along every axis made it an exciting experience. I even saw a moray eel! The next couple days were a mix of confined water exercises, videos, book work, and thankfully, diving. My class was small, just three others, and our teacher Jo was a spunky woman from California who left behind a job to live the dream of teaching scuba on a tropical island. She was an excellent teacher, probably the best I could ask for. With me were Robert and Kristi, a married couple from down under, and Britney from Canada, who was lucky enough to be my dive buddy. When we finally got to hit the real dive sites, we were in for quite the treat. Most of them were drift dives, so we got pushed around by the ocean currents and got to spend our time navigating obstacles more than swimming to new locations. When you see how vast and full of life a healthy coral reef is you completely understand why it is compared with tropical rain forests for biodiversity. You dip down into the water and enter a completely different world. We saw so many kinds of fish I couldn’t begin to name them all, so just look at a “Types of Tropical Fish” book and circle all of them. I saw an Eagle Ray, several turtles, eels, scorpion fish, and even found some time to try and clean up some trash. We all graduated successfully, and I figured I’m leaving soon and I had fun, so why not do some more? So I became an Advanced Open Water Diver too and got to go twice as deep, swim with dozens of HUGE manta rays, enjoy the reefs some more, and even play some egg volleyball at 30 meters. It’s not cheap, but if you want to do something absolutely amazing, learn to dive. Besides all the scuba fun, I got to explore the island a bit and see some beautiful cliffs and beaches.
On the very last day, before I had to begin my long journey home, I sat at the beach by myself and thought about how strange it was to be leaving. Of course everyone says how much fun they have while traveling, that they don’t want that to end. But what I liked most wasn’t traveling, it was myself while traveling. Every single day I proved to myself that I can do anything. That I don’t need to be afraid. That I can be who I want. That my life is my own to live. I can climb mountains and sleep in jungles. I can dance like I don’t care. I can brave the bottom of the ocean. I can not only survive, but prosper anywhere on this planet. That I’m deserving of friends and of love. As a teenager, I often felt depressed and hopeless. I dreaded the advancing future and the miserable adult life waiting for me. We all find different ways to cope, to calm ourselves. One of mine was a random dream of traveling the world. Dreams of climbing mountains in China and scaling cliffs in Iceland. Dreams of making friends from all across the globe. Dreams of becoming who I wanted to be. I never knew how important that dream was to me until I was about to finish college, and I could do anything I wanted. And I made the decision to travel, and it felt more like an inevitability than a choice. It cost me a relationship. It brought my mother to tears. I missed Christmas. I couldn’t say goodbye to my dog Jack before he died. I can’t put into words how difficult it has been sometimes. But the amount of joy and beauty I have experienced, the passion I’ve gained, the stupid fucking smile I wear now, lets me know it wasn’t all for nothing. The teenager that I was, never truly believed in his dream. He might travel, but he’ll never get what he wants. He’ll never find what he’s looking for. Through all the trials, the joy and the sorrow, at least I know I proved him wrong.