A trip I took to a far away Indonesian island, accessible only by ferry.
|My cousin Angelo and I sat at the table with two officials at the Japanese Consulate in Bali. We were in our business shirts, Angelo in blue silk with Native Americans on horseback and me in blue and cream with scenes of ships conquering the new world.
Our business was to declare bones of Japanese soldiers found in a cave by Mei, a local copra merchant. The location of the cave was revealed to Mei by a woman in a dream. It took Mei three days to hike through the jungle and get to the cave. Now that he had kept them for several decades it was time to give the bones back to the family. He had no connection to the outside world so he asked us to tell a “Japanese friend”. We showed the consulate officials photos of Mei with skulls and a box full with apparently twelve soldiers. The officials started the long bureaucratic process to return the bones to Japan.
This box of bones was an everyday sight for me in the village I stayed at for two months. For the past two months I had been in a village accessible only by boat with no running water, electricity orphone signal. Angelo joined me a month later. It could take two to four days to get there from Bali, depending on how lucky you were with plane and ferry connections.
Angelo and I were looking for a secret spot published in a magazine. It turned out to be the wrong spot, but we were still a far way off the tourist trail. When I first arrived on a fishing canoe I expected to be out there alone. But there was one other tourist, Chris from Brazil. The locals knew him as Crix. I was the first white guy Crix had seen since he got there, one month ago.
Because the village had little exposure to tourists we were given a special social status. We were given the title of “Mister”, an association with an infinite supply of wealth. Everywhere we went crowds of children would follow. Everyone would greet us, invite us into their house, give us the best seat. Angelo started to make friends with everyone after he injured his ear and couldn’t surf for the rest of the trip. He would disappear for hours socialising with the village population.
The tourist population grew significantly after I came. After two months there were 13 tourists who had visited the village and two charter boats. Thirteen people is nothing compared to Desert Point or Uluwatu. We were still a well-respected novelty.
Yet tourism was already starting to impact the lifestyle of the village. Families snapped up tourists when they arrived on the beach, grabbing their bags and offering them a place to stay. I stayed with Bapak Apat, the same place Crix stayed at. Bapak Apat was a lazy man, typical of the village. Short, potbellied and addicted to cigarettes and beetle nut. He told anyone who would listen about the time Ben Roberts, the first tourist to visit the village, stayed at his place. Then he would list people of other nationalities he had hosted. Swedish, Japanese, Mr Win and Mr Lin from Korea, German, Australian, Brazilian and Swedish. Tourists were a status symbol as well as a better form of income. It was almost hip having one stay at your house. Other families would beg you to come stay at their place.
Angelo and I even used our influence to convince the village chief to officially name a wave. This wave was Crix’s and my favourite. It had a critical drop followed by a nice open barrel. It then ran onto an unpredictable second section that held up and gave another barrel or closed out and threw you onto shallow reef. It was this second section that broke five boards and seriously cut up an Austrian photographer’s back during the season.
Crix named it Little Killer. Crix would say, “Any time you come out of the water alive is a good session” in his Brazilian accent.
Angelo thought the name was so corny that it had to stay. And one day when we were at a village office discussing the transvestite population (the information board had a warning against them), Angelo drew up a picture of “Little Killer” to show the administrators. We put an official declaration that from now on the wave’s name was “Little Killer”. I added a map and the administrators signed the document. In the next few days we presented the document to the village chief and he signed it as well, gave it an official stamp and we hung it up where the ferry unloads passengers and goods.
Any villager’s life is dictated by tradition and what the community expects of them. Rules like treat guests, elders and people of higher rank with respect and generosity. Arranged marriage is still practiced.
Angelo and I went to a dance designed to match make teenagers with their future spouses. The boys would get drunk before. The girls wouldn’t drink because guys need alcohol for confidence. The girls sit at an allocated bench and the guys hide out of view. After a quick pep talk, the music would start and the guys would run up to the girls and “ask” one to dance with them. They would end up with the same partner every time. The dancing was an awkward shuffle, partners standing a meter away from each other. Physical contact was frowned upon.
Such puritan actions were influenced by the dominant role of religion in village society, both Islamic and Christian. The villagers liked the idea of a party, but if they were confronted with what a party was in the West, it would blow their perspectives on social norms. To meet an atheist was something that rocked their worlds. It was common to swap religions, Islam and Christianity, but it was unheard of to drop it all together.
Back in Australia the social norms seem alien compared to the village. In the village everyone lives to provide for the community, and in turn is helped by the community. My friend was going to orientation week for university. I wanted to come but he said I wasn’t allowed because I didn’t go to the uni. He said my name wasn’t on some list. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t invited. In the village I was a novelty. And back in Australia I was an average Joe under the scrutiny of social boundaries and lists.
The fascination and interest people have with you in remote villages is enough to make someone want to integrate into their community. This was Crix’s goal. He had plans to marry a girl and build a house. He said he never wanted to go back to Brazil and hadn’t been there for five years.
This is one of the appeals of traveling to final frontiers. To turn every social norm we have on its head and try something unknown. Surfers use waves as an excuse to take the trip. But waves probably made up 35 per cent of the fun I had. The trip as a whole is the experience that will bring me back, the experience that will trap travellers like Crix.