Nothing frees up the mind like two wheels under you on an open road along a tropical coastline, even if those two wheels are those of a 110 cc Honda Vario Motor Scooter (sleek Purple). A small price to pay- $3 a day- for a small piece of mind, and despite the constant dodging of large gravel trucks, stray dogs, old Indonesian women on rickety bicycles and the occasional cow, the open road is conducive to a lot of reflection.
Even the daily down pours, which have been the total of the weather for the last three weeks, have a soothing effect as one carefully navigates the twisting roads. It's hard to complain about the rain when you can ride in a tank top in a full down pour and not even get a chill.
Bali is changing. Changing quick. I recently read that the last time I was hear, about three years ago, Bali was seeing 900,000 tourists a year. This year that number is jumping to 2.3 million. That is a lot of people for a pretty small island, and the signs of development are everywhere as the whole southern coast is dotted with cranes, building new elaborate hotels and shopping centers.
So I hopped on my motor scooter a lot despite the weather and went along the coasts, to the far northwest of the island and down south to Uluwatu. Hopefully they don't completely destroy the beauty of the island, but unfortunately it is already starting to look like Australia's Cancun, complete with drunk-off-their-ass, almost-naked Aussies that would give any American frat boy in Playa del Carmen a run for his money.
I worry that I might start sounding like the jaded, seen-it-all traveler. Whenever someone says "Yeah, it's pretty nice, but REALLY, you should have been there 10 years ago" you want to punch them in the face. And I almost catch myself saying that sometimes.
But it's true that novelty has lost some of its novelty. I suppose that is inevitable. There are only so many new temples, museums, churches, and landmarks that the mind can appreciate. Sightseeing is nice eye candy, but all candy loses its sweetness after awhile.
It's better to savor the little things, go a little slower, meet more local people and learn the stories. When you do this, everything you are perceiving is often turned on its head. On Ko Pangnan I had been practicing my basic Thai with all the guys who work the restaurants and bungalows on the beach. I come to find out they are from Burma. All of them. The Thai people hire the Burmese because they are cheaper labor and are harder workers. Instead of speaking Thai I might as well have been speaking Swahili. So I tried to pick up some Burmese words. I also started tipping them more. In Bali, it is the same as most of the workers here are no longer from Bali but are usually from Sumatra or Java.
The need for adventure and newness is still there, and always will be, but lately I have more of a desire to have a meaning to my travels. Traveling for the sake of traveling can be a very self-indulgent activity. Quite often I will be on that crowded bus or standing in a long airport security line and I ask myself: "Why am I doing this again?"
This is what was so incredible about my experience in Sudan, and although I'm looking for something similar in this part of the world, it is difficult to find a genuine volunteer experience that isn't the canned, packaged, for-a-fee "volunteer vacation" which I find to be, quite bluntly, horseshit. Me pay you for my services? No thank you. So instead I've been spending time trying to learn bahasa indonesyia
, the language of Indonesia, and practicing it with locals at cafes while catching up on my reading and counting rain drops.
Anyway, as I rumble around in my sporty little Honda trying to find something "meaningful" and philosophizing about traveling for the sake of traveling, I'm reminded of some quotes, such as St. Augustine's “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Funny, I couldn't remember who said that and so I googled it. The link took me to a guy's travel blog
who was listing his most inspirational traveling quotes. He prefaced it with this:
"In many ways this is an idyllic scene, but to be honest, for a while today I was feeling a bit tired and jaded about travel. When you’re on the road too long the spark of newness fades, and travel can feel like a long, pointless slog, a detour from loved ones and from life.
Then I started reading the quotes you’ll find below. Some made me laugh. Some made me wince. But all of them rang true, and reminded me of why I travel: to learn and grow, to challenge myself, stretch my limits and foster an appreciation of both the world at large and the chair waiting in front of the woodstove back home."
Wow. A serindipitous google search that hit it on the head for me. The link is worth clicking, by the way, as he does list a lot of great traveling quotes. Which got me to thinking about the traveling lessons I've learned over the years. I jot them down time to time, stuffing them into my pocket and compiling them. Here are 51 of the better ones I pulled out that I've been hanging on to:
1. When you don't have to put on your shoes all day, you've found a good place.
2. Travel without an itinerary.
3. Never underestimate people's hospitality.
4. Don't arm wrestle Arabs.
5. Never refuse a beer from men carrying guns.
6. When you feel like you are going to start missing a place, it's time to move on.
7. The closer you get to home while traveling, the further from home you are.
8. You are never more than 12,000 miles from home.
9. Taxi drivers go like hell and always get you there.
10. A cup of tea solves most problems.
11. Always wear sunscreen, unless you are over 50 and Italian.
12. The most interesting people stay at the cheapest accommodations.
13. The local beer is usually pretty damn drinkable.
14. You can't leave yourself at home.
15. Speak little, listen carefully, don't judge, smile, and people will quickly bring you into their world.
16. Always share your gelato.
17. The less English the cook speaks, the better the food.
18. Don't bet money on a chess game with an Indonesian.
19. A long journey will slowly break you down until your real journey begins.
20. Leave politics back home.
21. If you can't find it anywhere, a taxi driver will.
22. If you don't like the look of the cows on the field, don't order the steak.
23. Believe the superstitions of the boat captain.
24. A photograph may be worth 1000 words, but 900 of those are lies.
25. Know what you are smoking.
26. If you really want to do it, but think you can't afford it, do it anyway.
27. Don't panic.
28. Always carry a pen.
29. Also always carry cigarettes, even if you don't smoke.
30. Always carry a rocket launcher.
31. When you have nowhere to go you are never lost.
32. There are over 100 uses for a sarong.
33. You really only need to bring your wallet.
34. A true vagabond is at home while adrift and adrift while at home.
35. Plan on going slow. Go slower than that.
36. Wherever you go, Coca Cola has already been there.
37. There is no such thing as a bad hair day on the road.
38. Never turn down a cup of tea.
39. Eat lots of yogurt.
40. Being clueless will get you in a lot of jams.
41. Acting clueless will get you out of a lot of jams.
42. Foreign bores are more interesting than the ones back home.
43. If you find yourself haggling over a nickel, its time to rethink why you are traveling.
44. You'll eventually learn to sleep through a Muslim call to prayer.
45. You will never understand cricket.
46. Eat the street food.
47. There are no destinations.
48. Culture shock happens when you return home.
49. In the end, there is nothing you can discover traveling that you cannot discover back home.
50. The road goes on forever and the party never ends.
51. Watch out for falling coconuts.
No, really, watch out for falling coconuts. They kill more people each year than shark attacks (yet curiously receive less news coverage). This is one of the hazards of beach life. Along with sand fly bites, sunburn, jellyfish stings, spilled dacquiris, stray frisbees, sand in the eye, and sudden rainshowers. Falling coconuts are definitely the worst.
The rain doesn't look to stop soon so I'm pulling up and heading further east, off to find more "meaning," or random adventures or at least to find a spot to think about these things further. Because as the Highwaymen taught me, the road goes on forever and the party never ends. Especially when you are driving a sleek new Honda Vario.