A Harlot and a Holiday

by Ant Stone on June 27, 2008

in Indonesia

I concluded it was time to leave the city when a gay man insisted I meet his girlfriends back at his hotel room; It quickly transpires I’m in a brothel, one of the ‘staff’ sits her four year old son on my knee to act the puppet for her inquisitive line of questioning – read sales pitch. ‘Aldy, say: where’s you girlfriend?’, Aldy’s eyes find me like blameless beacons in the seamy smog ‘where’s girlfwend?’ he recites brightly through his chubby smile, ’are you maweed?’ ‘Howold are you?’ ‘Are you my daddy?’ I answered his questions with tickles, and a smug smile toward his mother. As I sat on the foot of the bed, I listened to my whereabouts for the last week of nights retold from a room full of ten strangers. ‘You were in this bar’, they said. That bar. Early night, that night. Shop. Internet. You spoke to her, shook his hand. Aldy’s hugs and handshakes were my only escape from the tumbling reality, so I smothered him with attention. He was polite and his hand was warm with innocence, in an inescapable environment that drifted on a river of love, but respect among kith was the ragged survivor of the rivers rapids. It had a story to tell.

It wasn’t this random occurrence that saw me skipping over some of Java’s most coveted cultural offerings. I realised in those Jakarta days that I was exhausted. I’m urbaned out. The Trail is a working week away from its first year anniversary, it’s taken me through an intense cycle of emotions and terrain (I’ll sum this up in more detail in a coming post) and it was in Jakarta, while replacing my passport and starting processes to replace my credit cards and driving licence, that I caved in. I looked at the guidebook with probable plans rang in my ears. You must go here, they said. You must go there. You must do this, eat this, think this, be this, care for this, ignore this, drink this, do it like this, see this, and stay in this. It can give the softest of travellers more stress than any office they’ve ever known. A couple of years ago, I was in a pub at home with one of my best mates, Jeff while we watched Arsenal versus Newcastle. Newcastle fielded a player named Scott Parker, a dynamo, and an old school stalwart that we (Arsenal) targeted at every given chance. Late in the second half he fell with a clatter under another glorious challenge, and stayed face down in the turf. After a pregnant pause he lifted his head to look at his manager on the sideline, his eyes were screaming with defeat and with his palm faced down, Parker swayed his right hand from side to side, no more, no more, I’m done and then planted his head back in the grass and prayed his manager would heed his plea, and he did. That’s exactly how I felt in Jakarta, I sat on my pokey bed, in my pokey room and looked at my pokey bags and let the truth descend like a comforting winter blanket. No more, no more, I’m done.

The time I spent in Jakarta did enable me disprove popular belief that Jakarta is a squalid city of chaos and crime. I found it as modern, safe and clean as any developing nations capital. Travellers who find Jakarta to be defeating, should in no way go to India whose cities are perfumed with squalor, charmed by chaos and so elegantly laced in crime they make Jakarta look like a crèche. There is a certain charisma in Jakarta’s crumbing curbs, and (like Singapore) it does have a bar culture of leering expat men and the locals friendliness is somewhat gruff compared to elsewhere in the country. But. As the eleventh largest city in the world, already bursting the seams of every utility possible, in a nation frequently rocked by natural disasters and curtailed by corruption, in a world of wagging fingers – I think it has an air of nobility. I didn’t see the sprinklings of monuments, museums or other tourist ghettos due to spending the entire week ‘in the office’ but in many ways I’m glad. I grumbled and groaned, and looking back, that’s the way it should have been.

I stuffed my mind with memories of lessons learned and boarded the plane to Bali, proceeded by a three day stagger over land and sea to Lombok’s Gili Islands. A trio of tiny islets ringed by sand, inlayed with easy bars and restaurants, devoid of dogs, cars, motorbikes (and seemingly anyone over the age of fifty) and overlooking turquoise seas of coral and carefree marine life. Since I’m still credit-card-less my budget has crash landed to alarming lows, meaning most of the nightlife was off limits and my bartering skills found me in a humble home beside the racket of the mosque and a choir of cockerels. For the first two days, I found a secluded nook on a rarely visited beach and let my thoughts dissolve deep into the sand while rays of unblemished sun enfolded me like the starfish on the coral graves. The following week was pegged with new friends who I led into the sea and followed up the beach. They regaled stories of ‘shroom (magic mushroom) fuelled hilarities, drunken unions and he-said-she-said-then-he-said epics while I relayed my night in the local restaurant before chomping chapters from my book and scribing nuisance in the notebook. The days switched from snorkelling off sarong swept beaches to strolls around the island in time to watch the sun lapping at the sweet orange seawaters.

As I shuttled my way back to Bali, I watched the island of Lombok drift by and away knowing my budget couldn’t find an excuse to stop and sample its quiet lifestyle. I needed to return to Bali before the cash dries up and I became stranded. The path onwards is unknown; I left England almost a year ago, with no idea of where I’d go from the moment I arrived in Beijing a month later but The Trail was seemingly inlaid with fate, a fate I rarely will to change. The tentacles of my mind find the lure of SE Asia unflattering, though I am persuadable; the long allure of Japan is more flirtatious than ever before; the vast panache of Australia blooms, before wilting in a wisp of why; the splatter of New Zealand’s islands arch like a faraway bow, armed with arrows of desirable adventure and I have offers and urges to u-turn and lose myself in conflicts of culture in the Middle East. The Trail is descending from the blizzard of India to the foothills of my travelling ambitions, South America. From the tiny island of Bali, I’m realising just how big the world is and just how long it could take to traverse. There are doubts in my mind that I can achieve this alone, and protect my long-term sanity. But alongside the doubt, lays drive, and every step I take twists zests of opportunity, possibility and reality into my spirit and ultimately I’m prepared for each eventuality that those steps produce. They say the hardest thing in travel is to leave in the first place. I now believe the hardest thing in travel is simply knowing when to stop.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff June 27, 2008 at 1:15 pm

I remember that Scotty Parker incident as if it was yesterday mate! Ah misty water coloured memories…

ben holmes June 29, 2008 at 5:59 pm

everything sounds like fun, well all except for the lack of funds although that’s not always a bad thing. Just as an option Australia and New Zealand almost give out working visas and its easy to find work there also. Oh but you have to apply for the visa when you’re outside of those countries. But hey the unknown is always teh most attractive so just keep on keeping on.

Matt Stone (Big Brother) July 4, 2008 at 6:04 am

So you need some money bro? Your gonna have to Skype me first..lol Sounds like your having a mild, mid travel crisis. Aahh! Yes the world is huge, and huge things normally leave big piles of crap behind. There is only one cure for it. Pack your bags and head back to Boro for a month. You will be screaming to get back on the road again, or you could just get married….lol).

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