Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Goodbye....only See you Later!

Its been a while and where did I leave you on Amanda & Dominiks THRILLING Bali adventure. That’s right, we were about to climb Bali’s highest Peak. Mt Agung.

I was very certain I didn’t want to climb the mountain but Dominik was very certain he wanted to climb it. So because I pretty much say yes to any challenge put my way I basically agreed. Dominik mentioned the following day how great I was as I didn’t complain at all. Lucky for me & perhaps extremely lucky for him the possibility of reading minds is still in the distant future and the internal curses I had focused on him for pretty much the entire eight hour trek remained unheard.

Reaching the top was met with sighs of relief and then almost instant fucking discomfort. It was fucking cold. I had long pants and socks and two jackets but I was still cold. We had about an hour before the sun rose so I resigned myself to further misery. Don’t I make this whole thing sound appealing?
I found a little groove in the rock and settled down snuggling into myself. Dominik kindly shared his body warmth and I managed to find some sense of strength to get through the next hour curled up against him trying to keep warm. I think for several minutes I even fell asleep but a shift of the wind as the breeze ripped through me was enough to snap me up awake.

And then the sun rose.

I can easily tell you that as I watched the sun come over the mountains all the pain, the frustration & the discomfort melted away and I was once again awed by the power of mother nature. I sat there and thought about the guys back in Wickham Point and how much I wished they could have joined me in that moment. But I was happy to have Dominik there beside me and I won’t lie I was even happy that he had coerced me into the hike in the first place. It was something special to share with someone as awesome as him. Kind of a nice way to say goodbye to a close friend. We had conquered the lows of Bali 30m under sea level and now the highs of 4,500 metres above sea level.

Then we had to descend. Descend slippery slopes with crappy sandals that had no tread. Combined with my inability to stay vertical in normal circumstances I fell over, a lot. Despite my guide looking at me concerned I kept going. I tried to explain to him that I was pretty good at falling over but he didn’t understand English anyway. Amusingly enough Dominik fell once and twisted his ankle, tearing a ligament. He suddenly became a cripple and since I had proven my ability to fall over repeatedly not complaining once I was shown to look awesome and him a fragile little man.

Reaching the bottom was probably the best feeling in the world. I almost had one of those moments where you literally kiss the ground. Until I remembered I was in Bali and therefore kissing the ground could possibly end up with a lip amputation. We said goodbye to our guide and left.
After returning to Wayans house we retrieved our goods and went on our way to Ubud where Dominik was to drop off the scooter. At first we travelled through the busy cities before Dominik decided to head towards the beach. So more detours through the backside of Bali, children staring at us from the rice paddies as I threw them the old rock & roll sign we ended up on a freeway. I distinctly remember Dominik saying there were no freeways in Bali. If that was the case had our detours removed us from the Island to another world?
No. It turns out there were freeways in Bali. Because freeways are a relatively new instalment in Indonesian lifestyles the common etiquette that generally comes with them are lost to the wind. Balinese are left side drivers, like Australia, which would make sense that the slowest vehicles stick to the left. Not in Bali, in Bali the huge slow trucks stick on the right lane and the cars take up the left lane. Since freeways in Bali are only two lanes where does that leave the motorbikes? Honestly? Where ever the fuck they want. Overtaking seemed to happen anywhere anytime although more often the bikes would over-take on the left in the bicycle lane. But sometimes you would have three vehicles abreast in a two lane highway. And yet still I saw no accidents.
And then after two days, no sleep, several third world villages we reached Ubud. I love to travel and I can deal with not having normal amenities. No internet or air conditioning even no coffee. But I am first world child and not only that I am a complete nerd so too many days without my luxuries and I start tearing my hair from the roots.

Ubud was western civilisation. We crawled off the scooter our entire bodies aching from the 8 hour hike that morning & eyes bleary in the sunlight running off only a few hours of sleep. We found a bar that offered Wifi by the beach and ordered a Large beer. Reality once again.
Not going to deny it but our adventure through the back roads of Bali & then the impossible hike on two hours of sleep and uncomfortable conditions had left me frazzled. I needed that beer and wifi more than I had ever needed beer and wifi before. It was worth it though. I mean the discomfort (the beer was also worth it) but I love the fact that despite all the hardship there is always a place of comfort to return to. And yes that place is beer.
After the scooter was returned and lunch finished we made our way down to Kuta for our last night in Bali together. Time to get some serious partying on.

Dominiks ankle was a hindrance so I left him in a bar whilst I searched for a hotel, he looked very reluctant with that bingtang and laptop.

Only five minutes into my search I found a reasonable room with AC, Wifi, Breakfast & pool centrally located for about $40 a night. I returned to get Dominik but my XX chromosomes thwarted me again and I got lost. So a slight back-track and I rediscovered the bar and Dominik. Together we trudged back to the room for a well deserved shower. I may have forgotten to mention neither of us had showered in a few days. In our defense there was a serious lack of running water!!!
After we were cleansed and I sent Dominik out to get beers we chilled on the bed just surfing the internet and chatting about random shit. At some point I guess we had dinner which was not bad. I think I had the jellyfish or something, already I’ve forgotten. There is a serious amount of westerners in Kuta. We went back to the room and drank more beer. We were tired and unmotivated. But I was determined that we would go out in Kuta so I dragged him out of bed about 10pmish.
Sadly we made it out the door and down one alley before a guy offers us a delicious vegetable shake. We obliged. It was to be our downfall. We walked onto the main street in a hunt for a bar and found the beach. We sat down and talked about how weird it was the beach was so close and we never noticed before. I began to get overwhelmed by the beach and decided to head back to the room, Dominik in tow. Once we were in the room things got a little nuts. I put on some soft trance and lay back on the bed closing my eyes. We sort of talked but conversation was broken and I was going on many adventures in my head. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. It depended on what music played at what time. When I did literally make it into the bathroom the tiles were magical. I probably could have just sat in the bathroom for the next five hours and had an awesome time.
We spent an hour trying to turn the display off the laptop without turning off the whole laptop. Well maybe I spent an hour Dominik was not much help. I couldn’t remember what the word was for display. And I call myself a computer guru. I tried to explain to Dominik what I wanted but he was replying to a conversation I had had with him many hours prior. Eventually the word came to my twisted brain and relief spread as the darkness filled the room
2am came and I turned the music off. We slept.
The morning had an air of melancholy as we knew it was our last few hours together. So we had breakfast, real brewed coffee for the first time in days. Then we went back and chilled in the room talking and drinking beer. On check-out we ventured onto the streets of Kuta for some shopping – Dominik had to get a bintang shirt and we brought a matching bracelet to remember the good times.

Then it was over, Dominik & I hugged and our goodbyes were said
I watched him get into the blue taxi and drive off into distance. I knew that we would meet again.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Besikah & Beyond!!

Since my last post about Bali was written whilst I was drunk I don’t blame you for thinking it doesn’t make sense. I have a great habit of rambling when I drink. Well actually I can ramble anyway but when I drink I’m the worst.

So where was I? Seven dives in three days our coastal adventure was coming to an end. Dominik had gotten it into his head he wanted to climb a volcano and not any volcano but Mt Agung the highest peak in Bali. Am I a mountain climber? No not really. In Canada I tended to conquer a few peaks but settling back down in my flat city of Darwin my hiking has been minimal. Still I’m easily influenced so I begrudgingly agreed. Once again we set off on the scooter of death for what was to be a longer journey of around 2.5 hours to the mountain town of Besikah.

We aimed for the city of Abang as we needed ATMs & a helmet. Only 15km from the city and safety we ran straight into a police check point. Instantly pulled over our papers and ID cards were handed over. It was then the police officer got on the subject of my lack of helmet.

“Where is your helmet this is no good your wife has no helmet”
“It was stolen” we said after decided explaining that we weren’t married was too complicated.
“You come to the station and pay 1 Million rupiah” well that wasn’t going to happen since we had less than 100,000 between us.
“We don’t have that” Dominik reached into his pocket and pulled out 10,000. “This is all we have” The cop pushed his hand away
“No no put that away, you come to the station”
“We need an ATM we don’t have any money”
“No dollars or euros? 250,000 rupiah you come now we process you” well we did have some US but we weren’t going to admit that I pulled out another 20,000. “No this is all we have we need an ATM”

Again he pushes the money away. There were about 10 police men so possibly not the best place to try and bribe them.

“Ok you go to the city and you buy helmet and get rupiah and come back” he handed us back the papers & ID. “You promise you come back or I call my friend” he walks over and looks at our registration number “I remember your number I call my friend and he pick you up”
So we jumped on the bike sans helmet and rode towards Abang.

As we entered the city we found an ATM that accepted VISA & A helmet shop. Pulling over for lunch we discussed options.
“So you think we should go back?” Dominik grins “I can’t believe he gave me back my ID”
I shrugged “I have no idea, don’t we have to go that way anyway to Besikah?”
“No I think we can go another way”
“Ok” I nodded “lets just go the other way”
So lack of money and blind judgement got us out of a $30 fine. just an info update I am back in Australia again and we never got pulled over by any extra police.

Trying to find your way around Bali without a road map is actually more difficult than it sounds. Luckily for me I had Dominik who it turns out has this innate ability to pick the right roads. Perhaps it has something to do with my double X chromosomes but everything looks the same to me and I have to take a road more than three times before I can remember it. Dominik has a quick look at his GPS and then swings down a random side road only to be going the exact direction that we want. So we headed out of the city and onto Besikah which turned out to be entertaining enough. Riding a scooter through small towns, rice fields, mountains is like a scenic roller coaster ride where you have to dodge potholes and road blocks weaving in and out of traffic. There are no speed limits or road signs overtaking happens any time anywhere no matter if it’s a blind corner or not. But it works. No matter that to my westernized eye it looked like chaos its organised chaos which somehow works possibly better than the over strict road rules of Australia. Just think in Bali your mind has to be constantly paying attention to the roads & surrounding traffic otherwise results could be catastrophic. In Darwin the roads are so empty, the rules so blatant that you don’t have to worry so much about the traffic. So people get complacent which leads to human error. Its an interesting concept that with fewer road rules there are less accidents.

As we scootered through the mountains the weather got cooler and clouds began to form. Before long thick raindrops fell on our unprotected bodies. Rain on a scooter is irritating so we decided to pull in to a little shop. It was dark in the shop I don’t know if the lights had gone out or it was closed but a little old man walked over. We were stuck for a few minutes until the rain slowed down so what better to do but have a beer! That is if there was any beer. The old man had nothing. I went over to the fridge and somehow found a premium lager but just one. How were we supposed to survive waiting out the rain with just one beer? Despite our hand signals the man failed to produce a second beer so Dominik grabbed an ice-cream, responsible driver an all that. As we sat on the little stools the man wandered over with our change and four random mints. As delicious as mints and beer sounded ?!?!!!! I gave them all to Dominik. Nice aren’t I? The rain slowed down a little after a short time and we got back on the bike.

As we neared Besikah the traffic increased. There was a huge ceremony on at the Temple of Agung which meant tourists couldn’t enter the temple as normal and we were told there were 4000-5000 locals visiting every day for the ceremonies. We weaved in and out before getting stopped at the gate to pay our tourist fee.

It was then we met Wayan. He walked over to us and immediately tried to sell us a temple tour despite that we couldn’t access the temple. Then he started talking about finding a guide for the hike to the top of Mt Agung. Now that is what we were “apparently” interested in. The dilemma of course was that we had all our gear and were hardly going to lug it all up the mountain with us. Wayan offered us to homestay in his house until midnight and we could leave everything there in the interim. The price was a hefty 1,000,000RP. Yea, no. I had done my research via couchsurfing and knew we were looking at around 450,000. We bartered unconvincingly for a few minutes to get him down to 500,000 but we decided to head back down to Selat and find another guide not quite trusting the sneaky man.

1 hour later we were back as the trip down to the tiny little non touristic town of selat proved to be fruitless. Excluding of course the venture into a small localised internet café where you sat on the ground and speeds barely got above 56k. Wayan must have been waiting in a dark corner he appeared out of nowhere on his bike, the price had now gone up to 600,000RP but we were tired and it was still cheaper than $100 so we nodded and accepted our fates. I was at this point completely uninterested in visiting the temple or climbing the mountain but Dominik was adamant so I reluctantly conceded without a fight.

Wayan took us down the streets to his house where we met his son & daughter. We were then introduced to our room promptly hitting our heads on the doorway. I’m not a tall person about 168cm but I had to stoop to get through the door. He apologised profusely about the size but we were just happy to have somewhere to keep our stuff after our hectic scooter ride. After getting settled he took us down to the temple entrance to take a gander, dressing ourselves in beautiful sarongs we walked around the areas we could visit. I am so sure I visited the temple with my father years ago and I don’t even really like temples. Especially temples where the people seem to show their respect by throwing all their garbage on the ground. Dominik was impressed and snapped plenty of photos.

Once again Dominik being a vegetarian thwarted us as we tried to get him dinner. Trying to explain he didn’t eat meat was almost impossible but in the end I think he ended up with rice & tofu. Of which he kindly informed me tasted disgusting. Meanwhile my spicy chicken which had probably been sitting out amongst the flies for several days was delicious! This is why I don’t understand vegetarians :D Wayan tried to get me to buy some weird shaped stuff he said was from a pig but wouldn’t tell me what part…anyway over inflated tourist price put me off… judging by the grin on his face as he pushed it upon me there is a good chance I didn’t want to know what part of the pig they were. Would that have stopped me eating them? No…probably not but the price however did.

We returned back to the house and crashed out, the bed was actually really comfortable. It was only 8pm but since we had an all-nighter from midnight we attempted to sleep. There was singing outside so I had to wear my ear plugs but I actually slept really well until Wayan banged on the door. Outside it was cold & I was packed only with tropical clothing. I borrowed a jacket from Dominik Wayan takes one look at my sandals and bare legs and asked me if I had any long pants. I shrugged there was a pair in my backpack just in case. But I was tough… I think. So 1am we are riding through the dark streets of Bali on the scooter following Wayan to our guides place. Our guide didn’t speak English except for where are you from and hello my name is but I believe he didn’t even understand our answers. The scooter had gone from a half tank to almost empty. It was the little engine that barely could struggling like crazy to reach the end. But we made it to the base of the temple where we would hike up Mt Agung. The adventure would soon begin.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

how can you describe this feeling?

I cry less than 10 times a year but right now I am crying. Its not really a sad cry, its a happy cry its this overwhelming impossible to even comprehend the emotions I am feeling right now cry.

Its a good kind of crying.

Today I said goodbye to some of the aslyum seekers/ refugees I have been visiting @ Wickham Point, they got their bridging visas and have been released into the wild of Australia. Its not going to be an easy ride for them but the hardest parts are over. They have left their homes, been seperated from loved ones, crossed oceans and lived in Australian made prisons with no answers about their futures, no certainty with their lives. They are not criminals but have been through much worse as if they were. They are some of the strongest people I know and today at the airport seeing the smiles on their faces it brought a smile to my own.

Now they have a chance.

Ahmed is 21 years old from Iraq he has been there every week I visit since the beginning quietly sitting in the corner. Smiling when you say hi to him with a sleepy look on his face. His english is limited, he barely interacts. But every day he comes. One day he didn't come to a visit and I asked his brother where he was. He told me he was sleeping. I know that in the detention centres day in day out they are left with no answers as to why they are treated like criminal when they have not done anything wrong. I know the fact that every day is the same spirals them into depression and they sleep through the only good things. So that day I didn't see Ahmed I was sad because for someone so young to go through so much didn't deserve to finally reach the safe shores of Australia and be treated like he was. He deserved more. I wanted to be there for him and let him know how I respected & cared for him but in the two hours of the week we were in the same room it can be difficult to express that. Especially when the language barrier hindered us.

Now he was free.

At the airport when I saw him the smile on his face was undescribable in how it moved me. He walked towards me and we hugged. And we were outside in public without the walls of the serco prison. Now this time I hugged him I would be saying goodbye as he started the rest of his life as any normal 21 year old should be allowed to do. I asked him what he wanted to do when he got to Sydney, he wanted to have whisky and to go to the disco. I smiled, inside the centre its easy to forget sometimes how normal they are.

Later I sat and chatted with his brother on a chair & he knelt in front of me, he grabbed Hussin to interpret him and began to speak quickly in Arabic. Despite not understanding him I could feel and see that what he was saying was so emotional for him.
Hussin told me
"He says you are his sister that you are part of his family"
"He says thank you for everything because you helped him so much and he will never forget you"
His eyes were red, mine almost were too. The moment was so hallmark I felt like I was in a mid day movie. Queue bad music now.

I could only do one thing and hug him again.

"Thank-you Ahmed" I whispered to him.

The feeling I felt when I left the airport, when I cried at my computer desk at work, the feeling I feel when I write this down it can't be described. I want to express everything. I want people to realise that you can make this difference in somebodies life. That what I do helps me as much as it helps them. That its hard for me to remember a time I felt this kind of happy. I know I am involved with many charities but they never made me feel like anything I did really changed anything. They made me happy that I was involved and doing something good with my life but they didn't impact me like Ahmeds speech did today. When I think about that I have been visiting less than two months and already my entire world has been turned upside down I can't imagine my life before meeting these guys, hearing their stories. As my friend mentioned to me earlier today I've never been ignorant or racist in my past I'm one of the most accepting people he knows but never have I been more aware.
The guys began as people I just wanted to help and they ended as my family. I will stay in contact with them and visit them when I can. I pray to everything I can that their lives are good now. I underestimated the power they would have over me but I thankful that I was offered this chance.

I will never forget today and how I felt with Ahmed beside me. There will be more refugees & I will be there with them. I will get attached, make friends, cry when they leave but I will always remember this day  above all others. Strong words spoken from the heart of someone so young that really found its place inside me.

I can't describe this feeling, but know that it blows awesome to a new galaxy.