Last time I wrote, I took a $29 flight, including all taxes, from Surabaya to Bali. I discovered that the alternative, a bus/ferry/bus combination, was $19 and takes 15 hours, usually as an overnight journey. I mentioned this to three travelers I met who were in their early 20s and expected them to say what I would say: I’d take the flight 9 times out of 10, maybe 10 out of 10. Instead, the most gregarious of the three, a Chinese-American girl from rural Pennsylvania(!), wasn’t even considering it, and in fact, threw it back in my face: “What would you have done when you were our age?” It was a good question. What is a no-brainer for me today is different from their mentality, which is simply, “I can do it cheaper.”
That nameless girl made an impression on me as being very clued-in because she is taking advantage of every opportunity she has, particularly with working holiday visas. I thought Americans couldn’t utilize them, but she said there are plenty of countries where Americans can work legally. Usually the age limit is 26 or 30. If I had half a brain back then and the visas were available to me, I would have worked in every country that would let me. I can’t think of a better way to go.
She also made an impression because she spoke in quick bursts to parry anything I said, and then would suck on a small hose that led from a water pouch in her backpack as if it were a pacifier, making her look very young indeed. The encounter made me realize that I see less and less true backpackers these days. Travelers yes; backpackers, no. I am thinking of writing an emotional opus called, “Death of the Backpacker, 2012.”
I hitchhiked from Bedugul over the mountains the long way via Munduk and Seririt to the northern beach enclave of Lovina. The first ride was from a guy named Made, which is what the second child born in the family is almost always called, whether male or female. He said if I visited his village I should ask for him. Sensing that this might prove difficult, he added I should ask for “Made #14.” The only thing more confusing than Indonesian first names is a phonebook in Punjabi India where everyone’s last name is Singh.
I was expecting Lovina to be a complete hellhole, but it’s not bad at all. I was there a zillion years ago and few people have ever had a kind word to say about it, but I’ve been surprised. That said, the beach isn’t very pretty, the water not very clean, and there are lots of tiny jellyfish that nip at your body—not a place to skinny dip. These nagging, biting jellyfish are also Thailand’s dirty little secret I don’t hear people mention enough. Maybe I’m always there in the wrong season, but the problem is endemic to large parts of southeast Asia.
The hostility to Lovina got me thinking of the worst beach towns in the world. The first thing that came to mind was Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, though even in the best of times I don’t know if you can classify it as having a beach. It would be fun to hear everyone’s worst beach. Maybe a subject for another time—unless you feel strongly about a foul beach, then by all means, vent!
I left Lovina yesterday, a Sunday, the best day to hitchhike. Leisure drivers are on the roads. It’s a mellower experience. Still, with less cars, it took a bit of time to get going. Even in the slower moments of hitchhiking, I would rather stand on the side of the road for 30 minutes and try to get rides while admiring lush green rice terraces than sit in a claustrophobic, fume-filled bus for 30 minutes while the flunky who tells you the bus is leaving “now” keeps trying to get more passengers.
I managed a ride into the big town of Singaraja, saw a barber shop, got a haircut for $1.10, went back on the road, and kept hitchhiking.
On the hardest stretch of the day, going from the coast up and over the mountain, I had to wait 20-30 minutes, but then a white girl pulled over. The passenger window was already down and she leaned over to say, “You look like you speak English!” I was taken aback and said, “I speak English very good!”
I have to say, I’m pretty clever with accents. I can quickly tell where people come from by the way they speak. When she said the word “no”, I had her pegged as an Australian immediately. Only Aussies make “no” a three-syllable word. I smugly indulged her. “Where are you from?”
She was from the race car capital of Talladega and drove like it, but of all the close calls, the worst that materialized was merely when we clipped our side view mirror on a bus.