Through Strange Islands

I vowed not to move in a chronological order when I began this venture, but this post will have to come sooner or later — if it did not, I would be doing my multitude of family whom I miss very much a disservice at worst. At best I would be denying them some amusement.

So here it is - the cumulative ravings of two months in the (is)lands:

I could tell you about my decision to leave for Asia. But it is probably better summed up with the question: Why not? No good reasons could be thought of.

I first stepped off the plane in an upside-down time zone, and looked at an upside-down moon and thought: "what is this?" In the moonlight strange dark-skinned boys with soft features ferried suitcases away from the plane.

I could tell you about Kuta, Bali - a smelly, loud, port-of-entry full of sand, dirt, garbage, and knock-off tee-shirt vendors. Fat white tourists lounged in gigantic hotels that overlooked decaying backpacker slums with cracked yellow walls. The travel guide had said "exciting,” “thriving,” and “great food." The food was greasy and overpriced. The con artists and hawkers followed me into my dreams.

I could tell you about the escape: driving a motorbike to rural Indonesia on the coast. The surfing village where I spent two weeks and surfed only once; stuck instead on a wave of the desires of old friends and whims of new ones.

In Ubud I found the paradise that isn't. The guidebook showed photographs of sprawling rice paddies and craft art, I saw an urban sprawl in the jungle. Monkeys stole garbage from tourists. Stubbornly, I stayed, and after two weeks found a beating heart underneath cheap trinkets and broken pavement. I buried the guidebook and tried to make my own art.

In excitement I travelled to Mount Batur, and like a disappointed child I reached the bottom of an active volcano to see hundreds of other tourists, all promised the same solitary fairytale. For an extra $40 you got fried rice and coffee for lunch at the top. I ate a boiled egg and a slice of bread.

I could tell you about the time I chartered a boat and tracked an incidental thief across two islands to a dusty village to retrieve my lost iPhone. I could not speak the language, chickens pecked at straw of the huts. In the end, my hired driver got off his gas-powered scooter and became a broken english translator. After much gesturing, a $60 tribute to the village elder changed hands and we were all victors.

I began the climb up the second volcano with tempered expectations and cautious optimism, and after three days of straining every muscle in my body I awoke freezing in the early morning to the news that thousands of kilometres above the ground we were running out of food.

I could tell you about leaving white Indonesia for lands that tourists only see from the air and from ships. Sharing broken-down busses with goats in Sumbawa and arriving in poor cities where children played with burning tires on the streets. Not even broken english here.

I got stuck in the bush outside a remote village with two lost guides at twilight, and in Flores I discovered another world underneath the ocean surface on its own terms with fifty pounds strapped to my back. Swimming with sea creatures by day and enjoying their flavour by night in dingy beachside markets with crusty charcoal grills. I wanted to stay forever but pushed on anyway.

I could tell you about the pilgrimage to Rutang, finding coffee berries in the mountains and learning the story of a people who can't even afford their own single-origin coffee. Away from the coast the mountain air was chilly.

On Kenawa sickness visited; stranded on a small, romantic island with no cell reception, no medication, no electricity and only a canvas tent. I was dizzy and delusional and my memories confused, but I know I could barely move and it took an entire week to heal.

I would be remiss not to mention the hunger, the exhaustion, the fear, the stress and the sore muscles and the frustration that punctuated all the joy and freedom and off-roading. It is easy to forget to mention how hard good adventures are.

Finally, I could tell you about moving to Vietnam. Living in a modern city. Learning to butcher the syllables of a new language. New food. New culture.

Becoming an unwilling expat - having a job and waking up and going to sleep and some days everything feels the same as it did in another time-zone.

Sitting at a desk in front of thirty screaming children wearing a striped button-down and thinking lot about time spent living uncomfortably and viscerally on the edge of something - maybe reason. Wishing I could figure out how to live like that always.

But in the end, I will simply reflect that the commitments of life off the road simply pose a creative limitation; the paradigm is different, but the goal is the same. The challenge is not to find ways to change things that cannot be changed, but to accept them and find ways to thrive and enjoy the good days and blaze new trails until you can discard your reason once more.