Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Day in the Life of an Extreme Beach Bum

Amidst all this beach bumming and joy not much happens. To be a professional beach bum, you must be committed to living a life that requires very little of you. And when you live in a world where so very little happens, there will inevitably be bursts of utter insanity because, you know, balance.

The last thing you want to hear after handing over your passport to the Indonesian immigration office in order to extend your visa is: I'm sorry, but there appears to be a problem with your passport. What kind of problem? According to our system, you have overstayed your visa by 45 days. Obviously I didn't. I've only been here 3 weeks, I told the lady. It must be a glitch, she said. Bring me proof you're leaving the country, and I'll see what I can do about it. This is not comforting information coming from an official office of a country that does things by less than official standards.

She gave me directions to an internet cafe where I could print out my flight itinerary. I did not find the internet cafe. Instead, I found myself down a sketchy looking alleyway full of hole-in-the-wall businesses that make you guess at what exactly their business might be. I eventually found a computer shop with a printer (a rarity in this Mataram neighborhood), and stood by watching a guy tinker with two different laptops, attempting to make the printer work with one of them. It did, eventually.

After handing over my proof of leaving, the lady smiled at me in a warm-hearted way and said, Call next week to see if the glitch has cleared. Then tossed my passport into a drawer.

Sometimes the Universe thinks I need to have certain experiences and sets about to make sure these experiences happen because I'm typically not one to seek out danger and crazy at my own will. In this case, the Universe decided to prove to me that I indeed would not survive an underwater life and death situation or the apocalypse. 

I learned this by way of a crash course in scuba diving that was set up for me by a very kind angel I had met two days before. The crash course took place in a swimming pool where you learn underwater communication (I'm okay! I need to surface now! There's a big shark heading right toward us!) as well as how to handle emergencies such as losing your oxygen supply and/or having your mask completely fill with water--perhaps by being kicked in the face by a fellow diver. Apparently these things happen.

I failed miserably at this. I failed so miserably at this I'm shocked they let me go on the actual dive--which, by the way, went well enough even though I couldn't properly hear out of my right ear for a week afterwards. Once we surfaced and were back on the boat, the instructor gave me a high-five. For what, I'm not sure. Surviving? For someone who panics so easily you hardly used any oxygen at all, he told me. Thanks...? I'll take it as a compliment. Jedi skills.

Turns out the phone number to the immigration office is perpetually busy. After two days of trying to get through, I took my chances and headed back to Lombok hoping to push things along in person. I was leaving Gili Air in less than a week. I needed my passport back.

It was a very long day--waiting for the glitch to clear, visa fees, finger prints, and finally getting my passport back about fifteen minutes before the office closed. A friend back in Santa Cruz once told me I had the patience of a monk. Perhaps. My driver on the other hand, turns out, did not have the patience of a monk--though he kind of looked like one. 

Perhaps he was concerned about me catching a boat back to my island--the last public boat headed to the gilis left at 5pm. Perhaps he was in a mad dash to get back home for personal reasons. Whatever his reason, he drove like a madman in ways I have not experienced in my 8 months of travel. He ran a motorbike off the road.

It didn't take long before we were surrounded by several cars and motorbikes forcing us to pull over. These other drivers were yelling at my driver frantically, and he was yelling back. I expected the stone throwing to commence any moment. The shouting match continued until my driver turned the car around and went back to the motorbike he sideswiped, apologized, and handed over a wad of cash. Because this is how accidents are handled in Indonesia. 

This incident did not slow down his game. It only made him chain smoke. You guys, I was seriously scared for my life. We finally made it back to the harbor alive, and I paid him the amount we agreed on at the start of the day. This agitated him. Turns out, he wanted me to pay for the accident--reimburse him for the cash he gave the motorbike driver! I kindly reminded him that I was not the one driving. He cursed me as I got out of the car. You! He shouted. No good! Right.

It was late. I ended up hitching a ride on a supply boat back to Gili Air--our bright yellow star crossing over the edge of the blue horizon as we crossed the sea over to safety--back to my tiny island, back to my hammock and my books and my manuscript, back to my beach bumming ways--where the world is worlds away.

This post does not lend itself to philosophical musings. This post likes its status as a rip in the space-time continuum of extreme beach bumming. Discuss.

I cannot believe my time is up here on Gili Air! I've been here for 5 (mostly) blissful weeks. Tomorrow morning I will hop on a boat for the tiny fishing village of Amed on the east coast of Bali for my last 3 weeks in Indonesia. Let's hope all the bliss and joy crosses over as well. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Ripples of Joy

Late afternoon sun through the palms and red hibiscus flowered plants that wall my palo santo scented bungalow. Wet laundry flapping in the light breeze--sundresses and sarongs, my 'I Love Goa' beach towel, like I need reminded. Sun-kissed skin, coral cut feet, hammock folds. Banana pancakes and coconut everything. Yoga sunrises, salty, sandy skin, reading books and writing for hours. Ocean, jungle, volcanoes. Indonesia. Home.

Lately, I've been spending a good chunk of time lounging in my hammock listening to the new season of Magic Lessons (amazing timing) as well as bunches of Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler recordings (random, yet awesome rediscovery).

On low tide afternoons, I find a sunny spot on the beach and read Anthony Doerr and Margaret Atwood--books I'd never even considered before now. And like the magic lessons and music, they mysteriously presented themselves to me in such a way I had no choice but to indulge in them.

Every morning, I follow the sandy path from my cottage down to the ocean side cafe where I drink coffee and write. I stare off beyond the cafe at the boats bobbing along the edge of the beach, at people fumbling around in the coral filled waters, at the mountainous terrain of Lombok across the strait, at the erupting Mt. Rinjani--looking for any sign that it is indeed erupting.

I island hop to the other gilis with no other reason than to walk their perimeters and take pictures. On my first hop over to Gili Meno, I realized that these islands that look so close together, close enough to swim between are, in fact, much further apart when you're out on the open ocean traveling between them.


As random as each of these things are, I've been doing them simply because they bring me joy in this time and place. And when you are filled with joy it tends to have a ripple effect on the world around you. Like skipping stones of joy into the Universe. It has the power to change everything.

Do you pay attention to the things in your life that bring you joy? Do you notice if your joy causes a ripple effect on your world and the people around you? Tell me about your joy and what it does!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tiny Island Life

My mind likes to connect dots and read between the lines. This is why I love logic problems and literary fiction and creative non-fiction--because you can safely do those things within the realm of books. It doesn't always work like this in real life--though I tend to do it anyway. It's a lot like looking into space and making up your own stories about the stars and constellations.

For example, there is no such thing as security (of any kind) no matter how much life has proven to you that it exists. It can be ripped out from under you at any given moment for reasons that exceed all logic. But when you begin to try to make sense of the illogical, connect the dots, and grasp for answers, they will present themselves no matter how illogical or strange because that may be all that's left to grasp onto.

And depending on how you choose to connect those dots and those answers you grasp for, you can put together limitless stories from the same material. Life is complex and contradictory in all kinds of ways, and we can build our own puzzle from it.

I left Santa Cruz with very little faith in most anything except my own ability to connect dots and read between the lines because that was all I had left to grasp onto--strings of miracles, shooting stars, glowing bugs, rogue spaceships, looking for serenity, anything. Grasping.

India and Nepal filled my life with all kinds of bliss--so much bliss that I didn't think there could possibly be room for much more. Bali (and specifically Ubud) brought a lot of residual ickiness to the surface that began to overshadow all the bliss. In Cambodia I released all the residual mess that came up leaving nothing but an inner bliss and peace that I sat with for weeks. And as my days in Cambodia wound down, I couldn't help but wonder what was waiting for me on Gili Air--the possibilities as limitless as the Universe is vast.

Gili Air is a tiny island. In fact, that is exactly what the word gili means--tiny island. It is so tiny you can walk around the perimeter in under 2 hours. There are no cars here or any kind of motorized vehicle. Aside from the scattering of dive shops, provision shops, food shacks, and beach huts, there really isn't much of anything here at all. But, oddly enough, there are enough paths that cut through the center of the island that you can still actually get lost here--even with a map.

I spent my first week exploring and getting lost--looking for something, maybe. I just had kind of a vague sense that's what I was doing anyway. I wasn't really sure. I did a lot of exploring and getting lost in India and Nepal, and bliss was all I found. Here...I wasn't finding anything except a kind of strange void and lonely you can only feel when surrounded by lots of people walking on all those paths. This is peak season after all and this is all there is. People and paths.

One of my favorite travel bloggers recently presented this question: "What makes you feel alive?" And within this question is exactly where I found what I was looking for here. I made a list of everything that makes me feel alive--all those things that kept me alive those last years in Santa Cruz and all those things that have brought me bliss since I've been traveling. And of course, taking my own advice from my Bending Reality post.

Here's how the dots connect: I found a lot of external and inner bliss in India and Nepal--when I needed it most. I learned to embrace it, and I learned to let it go. When I was ready the Universe unleashed all that ickiness I hadn't yet processed, and I learned how to process it in a healthy way while in Ubud. Then in Cambodia I was able to release it. Now, I'm in a place that is very quirky and unique and pretty indeed, but lacks a lot of those things I find external bliss in and faced with the question: "What makes you feel alive?"

That is my purpose here on Gili Air, that is my goal, that is my new challenge--to live in a void and fill the void from the inside out.

And I pass on the question: What make you feel alive? How do you connect the dots to make sense out of the illogical? When faced with a void, how do you fill it--from the inside out or from the outside in? Tell me your stories!