Ceci sticks her tongue out in concentration. Or maybe it’s one of those stick-your-tongue-out selfie poses? She’s trying to capture the essence of two large demonic sculpture, but the tiny little screen on our GoPro makes it hard to tell whether they are properly in frame. It seems like they are carved out of sheer stone, every single bulging muscle so incredibly detailed, the wide angry eyes, the menacing sneer… but the grit and slime covering them, the green carpet of moss—it’s hard to tell. Water beading from every pore…
‘Ya, tómala!’ I urge her, a bit impatiently, I’ll admit. But I hate posing for selfies and my cheeks hurt from so much smiling. Also, I’m worried that if we stand at this viewpoint another minute, the locals might start putting offerings at our feet.
Ceci sticks her tongue out and takes the picture.
‘Feliz?’ I ask in a conciliatory tone. I can tell she’s annoyed that I ruined the moment, so I add a quiet, ‘Perdón…’
‘No pasa nada.’ she says. She looks at the photo, then laughing, says: ‘Valió la pena!’
I lean over to have a look and shudder.
Demonic statues? Bulging muscles?
We look like a pair of wet dogs someone dressed up in cycling clothes just for a laugh. Bali is a wet place.
‘About as miserable as I feel! Vámonos!’
We hop on our bikes, and carry-on in the driving rain. This is day 4 of biking in a row which means we’ve officially reached a state of wetness supreme. There are 40kms separating us from our next destination. We’ve been following this rushing water-canal for most of the morning, marvelling at the full spectrum of uses it is put to along the way.
Locals using it to bathe, to wash their clothes, their dishes; its flow parted a dozen different ways for the irrigation of rice terraces, chili plantations, peanut cultivations, pineapple fields; the muddy flows rejoining further downstream where workers use it to wash their tools and boots; yesterday’s offerings to the gods of incense, rice, flowers wrapped in a banana leaf get swept into it, so too the outflow of washing the chicken coops, the overflow from fish farms; kids pee into it, adults spit their red bethel nut saliva into it, blow their noses; cats and rats and all manor of uncatalogued insects, get swept by the current and drown; the cement canal gets clogged at several spots along the way, where locals gather around in the rain to watch an old lady trying to break the solid plug of garbage with a bamboo stick, meanwhile the flooded streets start donating increasing amounts of burned garbage, dirty diapers and lost flip-flops to the flow…
All the way down to where it finally cascades onto the black sands of the beach where some kids play at parting its murky flow into a last few canals and castle motes, before it reaches the sea.
‘Dios mío, they’re playing in that stuff?’ I say to Ceci who looks at the whole entire families playing in the sewage overflow and makes a sour face.
Then, she looks at me and makes an even sourer face.
‘Tocado.’ I say, which is Spanish for Touché. Which, for some reason, is French for Point Taken!
We must have cycled through 100 sewage overflows ourselves, since the morning. And the thing is, we’re not having nearly as much fun as the families on the beach.
My heart warms at the sight of them, now, where moments before it knew only repugnance, because this has to mean that we’re one of the family now. Right? United by a wetness supreme. It’s a way of life.
Every day we receive a humbling lesson in wetness, from the skies above, from the streets below, the litres we ingest, the litres we sweat and cry… and somehow we never quite manage anything near the natural grace of our Indonesian brothers & sisters. But we strive. We ever strive.
The thing is, isn’t wetness what we are? As human beings, I mean. Aren’t we made of 90%+ of water? And so, sodden and raisin-skinned as we are, after a day in the monsoon rains, of endless hydration, our daily fresh coconut water, followed by a cold shower, a sweaty walk to the ocean, a swim, another walk in the rain, a final shower to rinse the salt off, wrapping things up by laying down on a humid bed… How much is there, really, separating our inner-water from outer-waters? How much constant wetness before we wholly liquify? I mean, Hindu stone statues are made of stone and they mould over!
So, if wetness is already what we are as humans, just a bunch of wetnesses going about our daily lives; here in Indonesia, we are wet wetnesses. It is no longer what we are, but who. We are not only in Indonesia, but Indonesia itself.
And so, Indonesian? Indubitably.
So why, then, does Indonesia make me fly all the way to Malaysia & back for a total of 15hours of travel, just to get a new 35$ 30-day visa?
Citizenship by way of wetness. Makes sense to me, anyway.
‘You just walked on a religious offering.’
‘I did not.’ I look under my flip-flop where a few sticky grains of rice and flower petals dangle sadly. ‘Oooooops!’
How is this me, now?
When I met Ceci most (all) of the stories her friends & family would tell about her life prior to my arrival, were the stuff of myths and legends. It should tell you something that her own grandfather used to call her Ceci Danger.
See, what I think most people don’t understand about Ceci is that she is a living breathing mathematical improbability. A miracle of nature. Instead of a guardian angel she has a whole pantheon; rather than a lucky star, she has full constellations. One day I’ll write her memoir and you’ll understand why everyone that does know what her life has been, up to me, values her for the rarest of jewel that she is. A diamond in the rough, condensed by the tremendous weight of her mind-blowing adventure misadventures. A natural selection that would have eliminated anyone I know, me included.
And yet, I don’t think I ever read her this way. Or, at least, that is not the story I believe about Ceci. It always seemed to me that there was another story, hidden there. In my mind, there was simply no way to reconcile this calamitously distracted Ceci Danger with the Ceci that can ride a mountain bike through the most perilous terrains on earth with the singular focus and skill of an artist.
So, allow me to tell my myth of Ceci. And believe me, she is no less mythical in my retelling.
‘You just stepped on another one.’
‘What?’ I look under my other flipflop. ‘Woooooops!’
How is this me, now?
Bali is a primarily Hindu island, and here in Ubud, people place neatly crafted offerings on the curb in front of their homes, shops, altars, bodies of water, trees… The stupid things are everywhere.
Obviously, I didn’t mean to say stupid. They are actually quite intricately elaborated and add a certain cachet to the town, each containing a variation on the theme of little cooked rice, little flowers, little spices, little beverage offering in little glasses, some even have little moneys in them and most are accompanied by the ubiquitous smoking little sticks of incense or the odd little cigarette. Their whole religion seems based around feeding tiny little gods with tiny little mouths. All these eclectic snacks nestled in convoluted little banana leaf baskets, like divine take-out, which I-can’t-stop-stepping-on. I roll on them with my bike, I walk on them, they suck.
Obviously, I didn’t mean that. It’s what my stepping on them symbolizes that makes me nervous, that’s all.
Before leaving for Indonesia, the last thing Ceci’s mother said to me was: ‘¡No puedo creer lo relajado que te has vuelto!’ And her words have stuck with me ever since. Of course, what she meant was that she couldn’t believe how relaxed I’ve become vis-à-vis bringing all of 3 pairs of underwear on the trip.
Last time we cycled Asia, I left with exactly one pair of: socks, bicycle shorts, underwear; one jersey, one set of civilian clothes and no shoes, only flipflops.
But her remark struck a deeper chord in me. Diagnosis deep.
See, I used to pride myself on running a pretty tight ship. My Canadianity always assuring I played Knight to Ceci’s Queen.
I.e., I curb. And as the person that curbs, that moderates, it falls to me to say “No.”
But there is much more to the job than you might imagine. Because with the great power of “No” comes the greater responsibility of not saying “No”. Which always puts me in the tricky position of being the custodian of Ceci’s overflowing passion and the unique experiences it might lead to.
One of which? Indonesia. Which makes of Indonesia a symbol of a shifting dynamic. Of Ceci’s ascendency and my fall into relajado offering-stumping slackness.
Ceci planned the whole trip.
Until two days ago, I…
‘I know, I know! Hijab de su madre!’
As I was saying, until two days ago, I didn’t even know we were heading to Ubud and I have yet to discover where we’re going next. Ceci put in months of research, planning the impossibly complex logistical nightmare of traversing by bike a transcontinental country of 17,000 islands. Never asking me my opinion other than vague financial queries. Why didn’t I suspect anything?
I used to only glimpse this part of Ceci. Yes, in those moments wherein she is balancing her bike over precipices or gliding down veritable walls of stone. But also when she would hold my case-less phone. Ceci used to be that person who drops her phone 101 times a day. But somehow, she would never drop mine. Ish. But you get the point.
And now? That’s who she is. This hidden story about Ceci, as it turns out, only needed one person to believe in it, to be lured out like a monster from under the bed.
Still Ceci Danger. Don’t get me wrong. Still very much Ceci Danger. Indonesia terrifies me. Indonesia is Ceci’s laser focus and iron dedication applied to the world at large. Unleashed, if you will. Indonesia is Ceci Danger’s bid for world domination.
Making me that almighty scientist that cowers, trembling in the corner of his destroyed lab and whispers, ‘Oh dear god, what have I done..!’ Making me that person that can’t stop stepping on those pinche ofrendas!
Sorry. I take it back. It’s a beautiful tradition and we’re immensely privileged to experience it. Every house in Ubud seems to be a little temple, every little temple hosting little Ganesh statues peering at you from every little doorway, doorways which are exquisitely carved and protected by fearsome little round-bellied guardians who…
‘Don’t even..! You know what? If they didn’t want us to step on them, they’d have the good sense not to place them on the curb where we step, por el amor de Dios!’
Yes, Indonesia terrifies me. But there’s something… more. Foul-play’s afoot. It’s in way she says it.
‘Noooo puede ser!’
Like she takes pleasure in my utter helplessness not to step on the sticky little god food. Like one of those annoying tattletales that stick to troublemakers just for the opportunity to report them.
Some little… conspiracy which I can’t wrap my mind around because all I have left at the end of the day is a quarter-brain.
Why does it have to be a zero-sum game? Can’t we both not be calamitous at the same time? When I gave my all to our relationship, how could I have known it was a complete surrendering? A sacrifice to the little gods? Or, are all marriages like this?
Ceci must make little offerings of her own. In fact, I’m almost positive she does. Whispering little prayers under her breath for little god-ears to hear.
I mean, the curb? Why are the offerings on the curb of all places? It has to be symbolic… Like she’s mocking my curbing abilities, my very role in our relationship. My knighthood. My big dumb muscles in a suit of armour. Dear god… Nope, I lost it. I was saying something about the… Nevermind. And then! There’s the fact that dogs eat them, cats, rats, ants and cockroaches. And my foot. Is there a link there? Ceci’s a biologist after all. And lover of animals. If I could only get a rest day, I’m sure I could make sense of it…
And don’t think I haven’t noticed Cecilia Campuzano Chavez Peon. Yes, I’m talking to you, now. Don’t think for one second that I haven’t noticed your not-so-subtle hints. Appealing to my sense of pride…
My muscles might be prodigious, large and devilishly strong, but there is more to me than sheer muscle! The daily little transferences of little items objects from your bags into mine. Your planned rest days that end up more brutally exhausting than days on the bike…
Chipping away, chipping away, the little hands of the little gods wielding little pick axes. How does one fight against something so tiny? A little undermining here, a little flattery there. How can I, I’m only one man, one man that can’t even avoid stepping on the little…
And it hurts, you know. While I believed in Ceci, while I sought to lure her hidden virtues to the forefront, all she sought were my charms and rugged good looks. But the pickle is, there is virtually nothing I can do about it. Cycling with 90% of our conjoined luggage in my bags, cutting the wind all day with my formidable aquiline nose, it’s all I can do to grunt and point at stuff by the end of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure I’m enjoying the trip—I mean it’s hard to tell through the fog of exhaustion—but since the trip began I’ve grunted and pointed at stuff you wouldn’t believe! And besides what if I said something and Ceci decided: You know what? Who needs all that extra laundry and gear anyway? Who needs perfectly chiseled quads & calves to carry all that weight, who needs that mane of golden hair to cut the wind? Shoot, I don’t even know where I am half the time… Better I say nothing.
You know what? No. It’s time for me to put my foot down. And if there happens to be an offering underneath, then I shall step on it with gusto and pride.
You want to see relajado? You want to see a quarter-brain in action? Hati-hati what you wish for!
Henceforth I shall go one further and wear one of my many many pairs of underwear on top of my cycling shorts, that’s right, just like a superhero! And a skin-tight shirt. A skin-tight shirt that reads ED in broad Comic Sans letters. So even the tiny eyes of Ceci’s tiny gods can’t miss them. And never mind that it also stands for Erectile Disfunction, you and I will know it stands for:
Hijab, Braless, Topless, Burka
It’s a curious thread that binds these 3 wildly disparate realities together, all within the same extraordinary week.
After a full month of drifting through Sumatra & Java, both primarily Islamic islands, the sudden switch to Bali came as something of a cultural shock.
By this point we’d so thoroughly imbibed Indonesian Islamism as a culture, its fascinating traditions, its other-worldly ways, that we were no longer entirely conscious of how immersed we’d become. Bali crystallized this fact, boldly announcing itself as a hiatus.
I believe there are two major types of culture shock. Two sides of the same coin, heads or tails. Each adding to the experience of the other.
The culture shock you feel upon first arriving in a different universe within our world, is the tail side. Guttural, visceral, emotional, it is the animal brain that reacts to the new and foreign environment, awakening both fright and flight instincts, at once. Both awe and trepidation. Both the sense of adventure and homesickness. Both thrill and alert.
On the other hand, the culture shock that awaits you on your return home, is the heads side. Idyllic thoughts of home, of mother’s cooking, thoughts that we cling to against all the jarring foreignness of this new and daunting reality we are made to navigate, to provisionally call home. And then, inevitably, it is time to return home. To a home that cannot meet the romanticized version in your head. But also to a home that no longer fits, because home is not a place as much as a conjoining of elements that are so close to the heart that we no longer perceive them. And now, perspective is exactly what you have, and have the ceilings always been this low? Have people always been so obsessed with town gossip? And now that home has grown every bit as alien as the country you just left once felt, just what do you cling to?
And it is precisely this re-adaptation to home, without anything to cling to for comfort, that can yield some of the most profound insights into the world and your place in it.
Only once home does the full extent of the cultural immersion undergone during the trip, reveal itself. Or in our case… Bali?
Arriving in Canggu, a neighbourhood-ish of the capital, Denpasar, was like stepping off a boat after a month-long sea voyage and suddenly: it’s the dry-land that feels off.
Tourists zipping around on rented motorcycles, all monstrous biceps, cheese grater abs, perfectly tanned/sunburned skin, liberated breasts bouncing wild under loose shawls or skin-tight see-through yoga-wear, not to mention the ubiquitous motorcycle-exhaust calf-brand, and the general hazy mental state of being stuck in limbo between a month-long hangover and a month-long juice cleanse.
So, here’s the fix we find ourselves in.
Objectively speaking—that is to say, shelving the culture vs religion question—hijabs have a way of disarming the human body.
A smile. A beautiful personality. A unique character. These aspects of a person immediately jump to the forefront. They become the most important means of expression of a person’s identity. And in this regard there is something to be envied here. A sort of convoluted freedom from the female form as defining attribute of a woman. A freedom from which both men & women seem to draw benefit.
It’s murky, I know. But those are the waters we’re stuck navigating here.
Whether right or wrong, effective or ineffective, moral or immoral, I think there is a rational argument to be made that what is truly being warded against by the wearing of the hijab is the general difficulty that men face in controlling their animal needs and desires.
There is a tremendous power to the female form and the hijab is one historical example of the disarming spectrum. The concealing end. The one that seeks a peaceful society by the partial obfuscation of the object of desire.
Let us reserve judgment for now and leap to another spectrum entirely.
The weaponizing spectrum.
As we entered the hypertouristic neighborhoods of Canggu, the first thing that stood out after a month of hijabs was the hyperfocus on the body. The shift was so sudden that it was hard to to stare in disbelief at all the tailored and sculpted physiques accentuating extremely specific parts of the body over others. To our disaccustomed eyes, the sight triggered thoughts of dysmorphia, of obsessive/compulsive disorders and, generally, of an unhealthy health addiction. The female form especially weaponized for its ideal of sexual power or for its symbol of sexual freedom. The line between the two being blurred to the brink of extinction. The male form blown out of proportion, biceps bigger than my own legs, which mind you, can power me up Bali’s vertiginously steep roads.
To throw an hijab on these weaponized bodies would, I am certain, have the same effect as getting rid of smartphones. Generating an immediate awareness of the extremes to which we obsess over pointless pursuits. The extremes to which our animal brain can be manipulated.
This is the revealing end of the weaponizing spectrum.
Now, onwards. If this is getting confusing, then I’m doing my job right.
Remember the disarming spectrum? The concealing end being the hijab? As we cycled towards the rolling hillside of Bali, the other end of the disarming spectrum revealed itself to us. Literally.
In Sidemen, on one of our exploratory hikes through the rice terraces, we found ourselves following a cement irrigation canal, where we stumbled upon a group of women and children bathing naked. Instantly, I turned around and asked Ceci what she thought we should do. As it turned out the topless women were the ones who answered my question.
‘Hello Mister!’ they yelled in unison. And not as a taunt or even as a joke. The same gleeful ‘Hello Mister’ we get all day everyday. So cautiously, Ceci leading the way, we kept following the canal towards them, and after a few wherefroms and wheregoings we carried on our way. Nothing in the world was more normal to them than their waist-up nakedness.
There are in fact many different tribes throughout Indonesia in which women went about life naked from the waist up. This is the other end of the disarming spectrum, the revealing end. The making of the object of desire commonplace.
Now, onwards a few days to the island of
The weaponizing spectrum, whose revealing end was the physioculturist of Canggu, finds its opposite extreme in the streets of Sembalun. Having suffered the cold and rain all day, we decided to make the most of a short respite in the downpour to go for a walk. Little pockets of more orthodox islamism spring up here and there in odd places all across Indonesia, and Sembalun seemed to be one such pocket. And in fact before walking its streets, we’d seen very few Burkas thus far in our journey—
Ceci & I turn around. Look at each other. The Burkas covering all but the eyes of the women around us, there was suddenly no way for us to know who had greeted to us.
‘Hello Mister!’ the voice came again.
No clue. And in that moment it felt like something essential, some natural process of humanity was broken. Never mind not knowing who to greet back, or the fear of being rude. The absolute number one highlight of our trip, and I’m sure Ceci agrees—more than any natural landscape, any cultural experience or relationships we’ve formed along the way—the number one highlight is the Indonesian smile and the formidable array of human warmth and sentiment it has the power to convey. From day one, we’ve been floating on a cloud of heart-breakingly beautiful smiles.
And to steal from a person their utmost form of expression, their simplest, most quintessential humanity, seems to me the cruelest of castigation. And believe me when I say that the loss of a smile is shared by all parties.
Repression. The concealing extreme of the weaponizing spectrum.
A four-pointed star. The vertical axis, disarming, with concealing (hijab) and revealing (topless women) at opposite extremes. The horizontal axis, weaponizing, with revealing (braless Instagram models) and concealing (burka) at opposite extremes.
Hijab, braless, topless, burka.
I believe the essence of Indonesia exists somewhere in people’s smiles. It’s hard to exactly put a finger on it. But it’s there. Which makes the burka such a powerful weapon. Which makes submitting Indonesians to tourists’ rancid fantasies such a cruel trick.
The essence of Indonesia gets lost along the weaponizing axis. Both extremes, tourism and religion, exert unnatural forces on a country that effortlessly effervesces authenticity.
So, there. Not perfect, but as good as I can make it, for now. The opportunity to witness these 4 realities existing in such close proximity is something I very much wanted to share. And if, after reading this, you end up with more questions than answers, great! That’s as good an argument as I can make to explain why we travel.
Travel Log #51 20/02/23
On our last day in Bali, the extra weight I’ve been made to carry finally took its toll. Not on me, ha! Don’t be ridiculous. On my bike, of course. More specifically, my front chainring. But, at the time, we though it was the crank axel. So today, we had a very cyclocross morning, 30kms of running the uphills, maximizing the downhills, cycling the flats like I’m Funny the clown on a tricycle pedalling at 1000rpm, trying to put as little weight on my pedals as possible to keep my drivetrain from crickycracking like a million bowls of Rice Krispies amped to Woodstock levels at the precise moment when the milk hits the bowl. Indonesian ferries being, by their very nature, Indonesian, they leave on their own time, defying any attempts at forward planning. We reached the ferry with 30minutes to spare which became 1 ½ hours, so we gulped down some sloppy neon-green pancakes (“chlorophyll”, if you’re colour-blind and gullible) with chocolate confetti and grated cheese on top; only to then wait out our indigestion at the dock. The 4hour ferry became 5½ hours thanks to this widespread belief that it makes sense to pair a 10-ferry port in Bali with a port in Lombok equipped to offload 1 ferry at a time. At least we got to spot some pretty colourful plastic swaying in the sea as we waited out the ferry traffic-jam.
Hopping off the ferry, I put on my red nose and goofy clown shoes again and 1000rpm-ed for another 30kms to Mataram. We’d never planned to visit Lombok’s capital, but here we are touring every shop on the map with the word Sepeda or bicycle in it. After 6 unsuccessful attempts in shops spread-eagled across town, we decided: enough clowning around. We checked-in at a crummy motel, showered and decided to check one last point on the map on the way to eat dinner.
Dede & Kenthunk, a shop specializing in intricately carved wooden doors and also bicycles. And the moment we saw Kenthunk, we knew we were in business. The man had that, I-don’t-howgoing-or-wherefrom-but-you’re-stepping-out-of-here-with-a-functional-bike look. You know the one. His lovely wife acting as a translator between parties, we set to work. Kenthunk took a bunch of obscure measurements, tightened/loosened stuffs I’m pretty sure have names. And when, at last he started dismantling twistyturny thingamajigs, it wasn’t even on my bike. Nope. He chose a bike amongst his clients’ bikes waiting to be repaired, chose it seemingly at random, took it apart, swapped bits and voilà. What? Yes. Good to go. But the..? Yep. Good to go. Ceci & I walked out of the shop with tears in our eyes. You mean, you mean the trip is back on? With no discernible interruption? Gee whiz…
A perfect fix? Weeelll aaalmost. See, now I have a bunch of extra little teeth on my chainring which essentially means that for the rest of the trip I’ll have to charge up every hill like it’s Gallipoli, which means that, every day, I’ll end up even more exhausted, so even dumber—if you can wrap your mind around the concept—which can only really mean one thing, yes, you’ve guessed it…
Ceci’s little gods are at work in Lombok too. Chipping away at my energy with their shiny little extra teeth.
Why did the Indonesian chicken cross the street?
It boggles the mind to think that only 4 days ago, we were cycling up and over the lip of the Batur Volcano crater. Okay, maybe cycling is an overstatement. More accurately, we were pushing our fully-loaded bikes up a 40% slope, our feet slipping as we tried to find cracks in the wet pavement for purchase, schoolchildren on motorcycles nearly driving off the cliff as they gape at whatever you would call this thing we’re doing at 6 in the morning. Rock cyclimbing? The day only just started and we’re already Roti. As in toast. But look around! A sweeping 360° view that encompasses a 7.5km wide crater lake nestled within a larger 13km wide crater, a towering volcano, rice fields sowed in the very fertile soil of the sheer cliff of the crater’s skirt and beyond, the sandy coast and a blue-blue ocean that stretches until it merges with the blue of the sky.
We take it in, discovering that unbeknownst to us, we still have space for this breathtaking experience, after all the ones that have come to pass. Full to bursting, we negotiate our descent. Cycling volcanoes is about as epic a sport as it sounds. Okay, maybe cycling is an overstatement. For me leastways. I’m running. Next to my bike. Watching as Ceci speeds off like the downhill genius that she is. Me? Well, tomorrow is a rest day, and being the official dirty laundry boy—dirty(hyphen)laundry boy—my bags are heavy with both mine and Ceci’s wet cycling clothes. Break levers squeezed all the way to the handlebar tape, one foot dragging on the ground, I only barely manage to stop myself by turning into someone’s driveway.
So, I’m running. In cycling shoes. Next to my bike. Down a volcano. Still epic? Hells yeah, I think. Plus, I’m wearing my lucky pink socks with the lightning bolts and the word “Yeah!” printed across the toes. A handmedown from Ceci, who got them from her sister. So: Hi Mom! I’m cool, alright?
It’s a while before the grade eases and I can hop onto my bike again, which in turn grants me insight on one of philosophy’s most enduring enigma: why did the chicken cross the street? And seeing as chicken originate in South-East Asia, you know I’m getting my wild-goose extrapolation straight from the horse’s hooves.
See, because even though the hill I’m careening down is no longer a 40% grade, it’s still steeper than any stage of the Tour de France. So I can slow, but stop? Well, allow Indonesia to answer that for you.
In close succession the following takes place. First, a dog walking down the middle of the street. I’m whistling and making kissy sounds and yelling so that it gets a warning and besides there’s enough space for me to squeeze by. I’m still a dozen meters away when it finally hears me coming, but last second, it gets startled, jumps sideways, scampers and runs smack into a tree trunk and start barking at it.
Then, we go through a village, I slow down considerably, the best I can, in fact, and so my brakes are squealing like piglets on speed, but even so people leap into the street from alleyways without warning, without ever looking back. And somehow I manage to avoid them all. Until a man on a motorcycle looks left, then right, thereby looking me dead in the face, and still decides to go for it, because in his mind, I don’t make sense. So, I grind to a stop and let him pass. Next, and at last, a hen. Flying from behind a sheet-metal fence deciding last minute to make the stupidest decision, as is always a hen prerogative and indeed, specialty. It flies right across my face and into a the leaves of a Cashew tree.
So, why did Indonesia cross the street? Because the national language is Bahasa Motor. Because nothing moves without a motor involved. Because nobody walks. Because bicycles are silent and everyone only listens before crossing the street. Because, between the constant honking, the roaring motors and the constant screaming of the mosques; Indonesians, humans & animals alike, suffer from both hearing loss and a complete over-reliance on hearing. Which, all and all, is a dangerous proposition for a cyclist.
Humans, dogs, cats, hens, goats, monkeys… But it’s only when you get to cows that the game gets taken up a notch. Any other quadruped you can narrowly avoid. Cows, oxen and water buffaloes? Not so much.
Only 4 days after Batur, Bali, we’re in Selong Belanak, watching the sun rise, cycling more of the world’s steepest roads, when we turn a corner and cross a farmer leading four cows by a measly piece of string, and it’s off to the races! One of the cows runs plum across the road, heedless of oncoming traffic. The youngest calf just can’t stop doing that goat-thing whereby a whole bunch of jumping and kicking happens way too much and way too fast. Two of the bigger cows bolt straight into the woods bending full grown trees into the ground. Mayhem.
And meanwhile we’re trembling in our shorts, trying to apologize to the poor farmer who just looks on scratching his head, but either he doesn’t hear us or doesn’t speak Bahasa Motor-less, because he chooses that moment to cross the street.
Last hill of the day. We’re being poached alive. And not the egg version either, the tomato one, all charred and fire-red and cracked and sweaty and leathery and salty and with insides looking like they’re going to burst out. For some reason we decided to traverse the whole of Lombok island, South to North today. Barely 130km with 1,465m and we were cruising too. But the thing is, you never know when you start riding, let alone when you plan your route, what kind of day you’ll get.
What it broils down to is this: Humidity, Heat and Sun. Which, of course sounds trite, but I assure you, each of these 3 distinct factors hold the power to change a simple scenic cycling day into a day in the crotch of Satan.
Roll the dice.
If you are lucky, you only get one element. Say, humidity. Air about as rich in oxygen as a glass of hot tea, so that your throat gets confused whether to open your oesophagus or your trachea. One droplet of sweat pearling from every pore with nowhere to go, no air to evaporate into. So, no transfer of heat.
Roll the dice again.
Twice lucky. This time you only get… heat. On most days it’s 35°c and the wind that normally is your salvation on a bike, is too blazing hot to cool you down. The air you exhale, shedding with it excess body heat, is the same temperature as the one you inhale and burns your sunburned lips in both directions.
Roll the dice.
Unlucky. This time, you get all three. To the suffocating humidity and the sweltering heat, you now add the sun. A sun that, from 7am, presses its hot iron into the creases and wrinkles of your skin at an angle that renders hats useless. By 10am, your iPhone overheats. By noon your dry bags, your clothes, your handle bar tape, smell like burnt plastic and hurt to touch. And by 2pm after 129 of 130kms, as you ride up 25% hills, pulling mightily at your handlebars because your legs are cramping up, while you desperately eye not the kilometres, not even the 100meter, but the 10metre decimals on your salt-encrusted watch, as they inch by like hungover snails on a Sunday stroll through a gravel pit; that’s when the cold sweats hit you.
By then, neither I or Ceci have uttered a word because we can’t even breathe to start with. We’re walking, pushing the bikes, now. And we think we can just make out the sign for the hotel shimmering in distance like a mirage. A mirage that never seems to get any closer for all our efforts. And that’s when, through the sulphuric vapour of my melting brain, a thought erupts: Mirage, Oasis, Oasis Pool, Pool, Pool Shower!
My mind clings to this new vision of hope with all the prodigious might of my stubbornness, like I’m seeing the Virgin Mary herself, extending the ice-cold baby feet of baby-Jesus for me to press against my cheek and neck.
Next thing we know, Ceci & I are running, we ditched our bikes at the entrance of the hotel like it’s a triathlon transition zone, bypassed our baffled host and are now headed straight for the ice-cold outdoor shower next to the pool. Where we bathe ourselves fully clothed like two maniacs, laughing, crying—if we’d only a teardrop of bodily fluids left to our names. And yet, somehow, still noble enough in our depravity not to have cannonballed into the pool. That’s got to count for something in the final analysis, right?
The very next day, we roll the dice again and what we get is triple zeros. We rode the 35km with 1,344m of up, to Senaru in the driving rain. Driving rain that fell sideways all day like god put his thumb inside the lip of the hose. After a classic Indonesian bucket shower, we put on everything we own and huddled under the blankets so as not to die a most ironic death from hypothermia, merely 12hours after nearly spilling our poached insides on the simmering tarmac of Lombok.
So, now, to those who say there is no bad weather only bad clothing choices, I say this: Indonesian Monsoon ‘24. Go for it, I look forward to reading your blog.
Indonesia is Ceci and me finally becoming more than the sum of our parts.
In a relationship there is usually a varying ratio of playing the roles of mother, of father, auntie, uncle, brother, sister, daughter, son, soulmate, lover, best friend… for one another. Our roles are ever shifting, much thanks to life changing experiences such as this trip. We tried something new, here, on this trip, and the new emerging configuration of roles suits us, I think. We are freer to be who we are, in a way, by being a tiny bit less Ceci & Etienne and tiny bit more us.
Ceci being a woman with a little boy inside, while I am a man with a little girl inside; we match in this odd way. Like two puzzle pieces, there are hollows in each of us for the convexities of the other. And vice versa. Indonesia is us discovering new ways to interlock.
It’s easy to forget (especially for me) that there is no substance to a puzzle of perfectly square pieces. No resilience. There needs to be something there for others to latch onto: some honest need, some endearing vice. Just as there needs to be some openness to receive, some humility, some vulnerability. And over the years, we’ve been so fortunate to witness this little puzzle of ours grow to include so many new and unique pieces whose story is now interlinked with ours.
This ever shifting dynamic is how relationships become family.
How family becomes a home.
Tongue in groove. Over time.
That’s it folks! Thanks for reading. I hope some of it made sense. The trip is flying by at tremendous speeds and we’re really starting to build up some exhaustion! Staying up to write until midnight on days when we wake up at 5:30am, certainly doesn’t help!
Anywho! See you in Sumbawa!
Java Ferry -> Medewi 56km 100m (vertical gain)
Medewi -> Canggu 70km 784m
Canggu -> Ubud 33km 328m
Ubud -> Munduk 63km 1,648m
Munduk -> Batur 80km 2,405
Batur -> Amed 50km 551m
Amed -> Sidemen 41km 819m
Sidemen -> Mataram (Lombok) 58km 212m
Mataram -> Selong Belanak 70km 953m
Selong Belanak -> Senaru 131km 1,462m
Senaru -> Sembalun 35km 1,345m
Sembalun -> Sumbawa Ferry 40km 491m