I'm writing this story sitting in the international terminal at Osaka airport in Japan, during an eleven hour lay-over between flights from Malaysia and into the United States. This mammoth journey marks the official conclusion to the 3.5 months I've spent in South-East Asia, and the start of an epic next chapter of my trip. The last couple of weeks have been crazy, hilarious, lively, high-pace yet chilled out. I traveled around Indonesia together with one of my oldest friends, and we had the best time.
Jeroen and I first met when we were just five years old, and hadn't seen each other in over ten years, except for a brief stint on Corfu last year. If that sounds like a lifetime ago, that's because it really is. I find it funny how you can be out of touch with some people for so long and still reconnect nearly instantly. Back then we played violin together, in plays, on the street and in an orchestra. This time around he brought his guitar and we jammed many nights away. It's no secret that the one thing I really miss the most on my travel is playing violin. Being able to play music again, together with someone who has all the ability to make it effortless and intuitive, was beyond fantastic.
We met up in Kuta, the party center of Bali with a reputation in debauchery and seediness to uphold. We participated briefly but with full resolve, before continuing to quieter pastures. Even during the rainy season Bali sees plenty of visitors, ranging from package holiday tourists to Eat-Pray-Love backpackers and beach- and party-hungry youth (mostly Australian). Along with Thailand it's the most heavily touristic developed area in SE Asia I've been to so far. The island is gorgeous, with all the makings of a tropical paradise. Getting around is very easy as long as you're willing to spend a decent amount of rupiah, and the locals far more laid-back than in Thailand. Beer continues to be a major drain of cash, to the extent we even started reasoning in terms of Bintangs (Indo's national beer) to calculate potential savings on activities. We went to a cheaper hostel and saved 2 Bintangs. Hitchhiked for 80km, saved 4 Bintangs. Did our own motorbike tour to the local volcano, you get the idea. We actually never made it to that volcano because of an hour-long torrential downpour, instead being stuck in a local roadside shop playing word games with our German and Dutch backpacker buddies for the day, but that's beside the point.
On to Amed in the north of Bali for the cheapest diving I have ever done, where Jeroen got certified and we stayed at a place which had, by far, the most relaxed guesthouse manager on the planet. Yogi manages the place, owns a shop out front where you can buy stuff by day and join him and his friends on their nightly guitar and double-bass jam. Arak flows, people gather, and then you notice he's just there sitting on the shop floor casually tattooing one of his friends with expert skill. Throw in a couple of ridiculous Russians and the strongest vodka in human history and you know that this is a night which you won't easily forget.
We passed through the largest of the Gili Islands and left our mark of authentic Belgian likeability. By this point, the continuing downpours were turning some of the streets into rivers, and the absence of scooters or any motorized vehicle on the island meant the only way across was through. The humidity was so ridiculous I'm surprised I didn't turn into a lizard. If there's one thing I won't miss about this region of the world it will be this feeling of continuous dampness. We survived though, and actually managed to get away from there and onto Lombok, an island of which the vibe was completely different from Bali's. Being predominantly Muslim (as opposed to Bali's Hinduism), the atmosphere there is a lot quieter and more traditional. I spent my last days in Indonesia learning to surf and biking around to beaches, with the weather finally looking up. Jeroen stayed in Lombok while I went back over to Bali to fly out to Kuala Lumpur and start the long journey I'm currently on. One super fun night in KL later and I'm suddenly halfway around the world again, completely changing my surroundings and having to adapt once more to a different reality.
After five months on the road, I'm noticing that I've become so used to the logistics of moving around it's become almost routine. There is of course always the unexpected stuff that needs to be dealt with along the way, but generally you know how to handle most of what can be thrown at you. At the same time though it's starting to become somewhat exhausting. I've been slowing down my pace already but I feel I will want to settle somewhere for an even longer time pretty soon. Really existing in a place, rather than just always passing through like some kind of traveling ghost. Perhaps Guatemala or Nicaragua, and most definitely Colombia.
But first, ‘Murrica! I'll cross the date line on my next flight and travel a full day back in time, arriving in San Francisco and continuing down through California from there into Mexico and Central America.
I hope Trump will let me in.
February 10th, 2017