When we wake to leave Ubud, Tony does not feel well: he has an encroaching fever which, in the middle of the jungle in south Asia, is certainly worrisome. It could be anything: the food or the mosquitoes or the temperature. Perhaps the angered spirit of the departed King decided to start doling out Balinese curses willy nilly. But, he maintains, we should just brave on. Some time on the tiny, isolated Gili Meno would uplift his spirits!
The route, we thought, would be a pleasant boatride to the Gili islands, off the coast of Bali. Each of us pictured a gentle ferry: an enormous, weighty monstrosity, practically a small island, that would barely sway as it was rocked by the ocean. Boats so big the ocean was rocked by them.
This was not the kind of boat we got on.
We were placed on the top of the boat as the insides filled quickly with other passengers, and we thought the cool sea breeze would do us, and especially Tony, some good. We pictured each of us taking turns Leoing up at the bow, throwing open our arms to the open sea and to the universe. This was true about until we got into open water and became regularly, thoroughly doused with cold ocean water, drying and salting us under the baking south Pacific sun. We were burning and freezing, and I felt like my eyes were maybe shrivelling up, becoming prunes to be plucked out by ancient, withered ravens as we rode this barge, surely and direly, down the Styx.
A day of rest made Tony feel just well enough to ride the boat back to Bali. We thought, certainly, that our experience up top, shivering and tired and scorched, could not be surpassed, but in the cramped passenger bay, surrounded by sweating Europeans and heaving waves forcing the windows closed, the world got even darker. The boat rocked and swayed violently, and the air in this closed space was putrid, as much perspiration and B.O. as oxygen. The crew began to hand out barf bags, which made me incredibly nervous. Everyone was just barely keeping it together. Should one of these people suddenly make use of their projectile catcher, I was certain a domino effect would occur, that suddenly we would be in a graphic Monty Python re-enactment. My journal from that day reports, with its typical zesty hyperbole, “It was some real Amistad shit in there.”
The only way I kept myself from yakking was to turn up my music to the highest it could go, to play the loudest music I possessed, and to begin jamming. I bounced in my seat. I tapped my toes and my fingers. I mouthed the words, to the point that I might actually have begun singing. If the beat dropped, so did my stomach, and so I kept rocking until we were safely on shore.
Gili Meno is an island of only 300 people. There are probably 50 mules. There are two mosques.
One of the mosques was the major landmark we used to navigate back to our guesthouse, featuring what our proprietess referred to as a very “natural” bathroom. (She meant that it had no roof.)
After a beautiful day of lounging about in the sand, raking my arms bloody over some coral, and walking the coast of the island, we toured inland, passing horses, cows, some few smiling strangers on bikes. The trees were enormously tall and we felt lost, but the island being so small, we were certain that we couldn’t be too far off from our goal.
The sun began to creep beyond the horizon, and the woods grew dark. We heard the evening call to prayer, and began to follow its tinny echo between the trees and across beaten paths, seeing only mules and cattle. We soon came to discover the second mosque on the island, which was also playing the same call.
We eventually found our guest house, and walked to the restaurant they also owned, which was approximately three minutes away, directly on the beach, which we missed. We watch the last of the light fade behind the next island over, orange and red swallowed whole by the night’s blue, as boats swayed on the water.
When we sleep that night, music plays from the mosque. It is someone singing. Tired as we are, we cannot decipher if it is just an old recording, voices frozen from years before, or if someone is standing there, looking across this tiny island, singing into the dark.
Indonesian food has proven remarkably tasty.
It is a blend of Indian and south Asian flavours, familiar and new in its combinations. We eat like kings and queens for roughly 4 dollars a meal, and that is when we are being overcharged as tourists.
The best thing we find is Padang. Here you get a scoop of rice, and begin rifling through an enormous buffet with a personal attendant. You point at something tasty, they scoop it onto your plate. Each mountain we assembled had new flavours, new textures, new methods of cooking. Curried tunas and stewed goats, all kinds of vegetables in all kinds of sauces.
The last serving of Padang I had, I accidentally picked a landmine. Not knowing the journey into spiciness I was about to embark upon, when the lady holding my plate inquired as to whether I would also like some chili sauce, I scoffed. My nose could not have been higher in the air. I know I am white, madam, I snooted, but of course I want some chilis.
When the meal was done, I didn’t speak for roughly ten minutes, instead alternating between wiping sweat from my forehead and rubbing ice across my lips.
While he never said, “You are boned, and please sign this official document acknowledging your being boned,” it was pretty heavily implied.
There was a typhoon over Taipei, and thus our connecting flight through Hong Kong to Taipei was suddenly thrown off. With no one from Hong Kong airlines actually working in the Denpasar airport, we instead dealt with brusque goon who really did not want to be dealing with us.
He had called Hong Kong, the place. They reported that it was impossible to find a hotel there. None. At all. The entire city was booked, and in fact all of the good places to sleep on the curb were already full of vagrants. Thus, the airline could do nothing for us. We should really just abandon our tickets. Call our travel agent. Spend another night in Bali!
All of these ideas sounded dumb, but when we suggested flying to Hong Kong, under the logical assumption that there might be someone who worked for Hong Kong airlines there, the man reacted with contempt. What a foolish idea. Couldn’t we just stay here and pay some more money? That was the superior choice.
We eventually argued our way onto the Hong Kong flight, but only after signing an ominous paper from HK Airlines. It was legalese, so much so that it barely even qualified as English. We had no idea what it meant, beyond the word “indemnify,” but were confident based on its incomprehensibility that it was bad. “Hahah, we have your money now, suckers!” kind of bad. We imagined several Hong Konger flight attendants with burlap sacks covered in large, clear printed dollar signs, tying damsels on railroad tracks, and each of these villains outfitted with a tophat and handlebar moustache. But we brushed our teeth in the airport bathroom, checked our bags, and flew off to the unknown. As travel sometimes demands.