April 22, 2010 Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Hello Denpasar: Drunk upon arrival thanks to pre-mixed Bundaberg Rum & Jim Beam & coke. Natalie, myself and an Australian named Kane who happened to be sitting next to us in the coveted window seat, began drinking at approximately 10:45 a.m., exhausting the plane’s supply of Bundy mid-flight and switching to Beam until descent. Welcome to Indonesia.
A haze of customs, on-the-spot visas and lines of tan-bodied Australian boys. Forty American dollars and 45 minutes later, the tan-bodied Australians were replaced with a swarm of dark, foreign faces whose language I didn’t speak and whose culture was unfamiliar to me. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like a stranger in a strange place. Also I was still half drunk, which was actually a good way to see Kuta for the first time. It certainly wasn’t the vast scape of quaint rice fields and quiet locals you might picture in a fit a of ignorance. Kuta’s reality is grime, grit, fun and chaos. A black hole of booze, sexy bodies, tourist traps and arrogant Australians, and the heat is a punch in the face. I’d have to say that Kuta is more like a cultural STD than a cultural asset, but I kinda loved the place.
En route: Transport
Let’s first discuss the general transportation scheme. Direction and right-of-way are irrelevant. Even the word ‘traffic’ is misleading. Transportation in Indo is a deadly mixture of intoxicated pedestrians, wobbly scooters leaning against impatient cabs, distracted mini-vans veering off the road and the occasional dump truck with the mind-set of a bicycle. There are blind corners and sudden dead ends, busy intersections without crosswalks, gaping holes in the streets where metal grates should be, torn up pavement and loose gravel begging to throw you from the back of a scooter. Roads are ambiguously defined by bricks and pavement, and the side-walks and curbs seem to be one in the same. Even if you could tell the roads from the sidewalks and the sidewalks from the curbs it wouldn’t matter because there is no operational distinction, no separation between pedestrians and motorists. Honking, fuzzy radio stations, non-descript shouting, metal scraping metal, fists pounding hoods. And yet, somehow, everyone gets where they need to go.
My destination is a place called Suka Beach Inn, located on Benesari Lane, just off of Poppies 2. Benesari is kind of like the on-ramp to the Poppies 2 highway. It’s lined with a few junk shops, but nothing in comparison to the claustrophobic nightmare of Poppies 2. Benesari is dominated by accommodation, massage parlors, tourist info stands and restaurants. By restaurants I mean designated eating areas with roofs and chairs and menus, but without seating charts, air conditioning, a visible kitchen or doors in general. More common are the places that serve Indonesian cuisine from a plate-stacked buffet comparable in size to a hot-dog stand. All kinds of red and brown mystery foods piled on to small white plates stacked on glass shelves. They also have a McDonald’s somewhere, but I only know this because I’ve seen it being delivered via scooter. So far I’ve been frequenting the places with menus and kitchens. My first meal was at a place called The Gong down an alley off of Poppies 2. I was taken there via scooter by a group of English boys I met poolside just minutes after checking in to Suka. I thought I was playing it safe by ordering a chicken platter, but there is nothing safe in Kuta. A more accurate menu name for my dinner would have been ‘chicken bone surprise’. The appearance of a chicken breast with the culinary quality of ‘bone’ and ‘surprise’. Since then, I’ve been exploring breakfast burritos and more Western-oriented eateries.
Oh, but I did finally learn how to flush the toilets here. You see, at the airport I peed in a hole in the ground, so there was nothing to flush. In my room at Suka, I peed in a seemingly regular toilet and was still unable to figure out how to flush it, but being that it was my room and I was in a rush, I figured it would be acceptable to learn the flushing technique later on and leave my pee where it was. At the Gong, I felt obligated to flush immediately, so I did the honorable thing. I cracked the door, stuck my head out and yelled to the table full of hot, English boys I’d met just hours prior, “Hey, can someone show me how to flush the toilet?” And so I learned. It’s not quite as easy as pushing down a lever, but the process is simple. You see, most Indonesian bathrooms are equipped with three things: a toilet, a bucket of water with a giant ladle, and a sink. Step one: fill the bucket with sink water. Step two: pee in the toilet. Step three: Ladle the water from the bucket into the toilet bowl, and voila, you’re flushing! Something about pressure or density or gravity or something. Sometimes it takes a few scoops to get acceptable results, but I’ll take a ladle and a bucket over a port-a-potty style hole in the ground any day.
Anyway, Benesari and Poppies 2 is a fantastic intersection because in either direction you’ll find the beach or the bars at an equal distance. You can’t lose. But when I say bars, I mean Legian Street, and when I say Legian Street I mean the black-out mega-center. You can’t win. A jungle of clubs and pubs, free drinks, karaoke, fire dancers and areal silk routines, live, loud music, open mic sessions in various languages, “cheap price for you” transport, hectic shapes and non-descript drugs in all forms. I spent my first four nights on Legian Street with the English boys I met poolside. They introduced me to a place called Sky Garden where you can drink all the Heineken you want for $5, every single night of the week. For me, Legian street equates to dancing in a giant bird cage while wearing a karate headband, Kings of Leon karaoke and a naked, jelly-bellied man from Perth gyrating across a stage.
On Location: Suka Beach Inn
So, when I’m not binge drinking, getting ripped off, or stuffing my face, I’m most likely holed up in a room at Suka sleeping off my sin. Suka has the appearance of an Asian palace: pot-bellied, stone statues and carved wooden pillars. Offerings and incense burning round the clock. Steep, red, shingled rooftops as far as you can see from your second- or third-floor personal balcony, which is most likely overflowing with flowers and greens, and overlooking the community pool. Trees and plants and flowers spilling over the stone walkways, and towels drying on the first-floor porches. Deceptively pretty.
Also, shockingly decent rooms for the whopping $5 per night per person fee. What you need and nothing more. Semi-flushing toilets, running water in the sink. Showers without pressure or hot water, but hot water is the last thing you need in Indo. A ceiling fan, two twin beds, a nightstand, an armoire and a mirror, all with a cheap, hand-crafted, Asian appeal. A balcony with two chairs and a table along with a drying rack. The floor is tiled and the door kind-of, sort-of locks.
I’m lucky to be at Suka because it happens to be one of the cheapest, nicest, most conveniently located places to stay, but it’s only found by word of mouth. Tour guide Wesley was nice enough to give me directions. Of course, there is a Hard Rock Cafe near the beach, not to mention other more conventional hotels with air conditioning and color TV, hot showers and key card entry, with uniformed staff. There are also other Suka-esque places that charge more and provide less: community toilets, rooms that smell like cat piss, no pool. I’m happy with my new home.
Plus Suka has given me many new friends. I know every single boy who lives on my floor, and most of the male population of Suka, and they all happen to be surfers. No one here has a cell phone, except for Natalie, so we spend a lot of time face to face, going from room to room and scheduling rendezvous at the front desk. Oh, and breakfast is included with the room every morning in special area next to the pool. So far, the pancakes have been good, but the fruit platter is kind of sketchy.
Speaking of sketchy, let me formally introduce you to my travel companion. Meet Natalie. Yes, this is the same person that was drinking Bundaberg Rum at 10:45 a.m. on an airplane with me, and yet this is in fact not the same person. Airplane Natalie was a free spirit. An open-minded, party-hardy, go-getter, life-liver. Indonesia Natalie is Australia Natalie’s twin. She comes to conclusions like, ‘all Indonesian food is likely contaminated and/or poisonous’, which has kept her from eating any real meals since we’ve been here. Indonesia Natalie believes ‘terrorists are likely to strike at any time and riots are inevitable’ which makes her paranoid at all times. Indonesia Natalie is also convinced that ‘kidnapping is a serious problem that we are likely to encounter’ which makes her hesitant to go anywhere or to talk to anyone. I’ll admit, I have entertained similar ideas, but my concerns have taken the form of open-ended questions with no real answers. How will I get through the streets without becoming roadkill? Will I make it through the trip without getting pick-pocketed or having my entire suitcase stolen? Am I going to lose my passport before the trip is over and end up in an Indonesian prison? Oh, and what’s Natalie ordering for breakfast, because I want her leftovers.
Really though, Natalie is quite the handful. After our first night out in Indonesia, I woke up to Natalie balled up on the edge of her bed, tears streaming down her cheeks as she confessed that she was ready to bail and book a ticket home immediately. My non-chalant travel approach was terrifying her, and she didn’t feel safe or sane being alone with me in Kuta. Before the trip, she’d tried to con me into booking a massive 12-day tour so that we could be chaperoned around and have a hand to hold, but I refused. I didn’t want an itinerary. I wanted spontaneous combustion and cosmic disaster. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, not what was on the schedule. The rotten selfish part of me wanted to encourage her to bail so that I could fly solo, but my selfless side knew she needed a wake-up call and it would probably be safer for me to have a travel companion. And so the discussion ended with a pep-talk, and I softened my anti-tour attitude with an open-ticket to the Gili Islands and a 3-day package trip to Komodo Island. Komodo is the reason I’m here so that wasn’t really a compromise. Even Gili isn’t actually a tour, just a place well-known for catering to tourists instead of hustling them. I met some boys on a ferry in Brisbane who said it was their favorite place in Indonesia. The only transportation on the island is via foot, donkey, or bicycle, and there’s nothing to do but enjoy good food, magical drinks, hot sand and blue ocean water. I’m excited to go somewhere, but after my chat with Butler this afternoon, I’m wary. Tom Butler is a good looking surfer whose room is right next to mine. He told me that while Gili T is a beautiful place, he couldn’t stay for more than three days because it gave him weird vibes. I suppose weird vibes is a good tradeoff for Natalie’s panic attacks.
And so ends my Kuta coma. Next stop: Gili Trawangan. I’ll leave you with a quote from a vivacious stranger who left his wisdom etched in broken English into the broken armoire in my room at Suka: “I love anyone. The life is great. We got it. Just an advice, don’t put your time. You have to do it all right now. -STAMPY” Oh, but let’s not forget the anonymous quote directly underneath this one that reads: “GET OUT OF KUTA WHILE YOU CAN. LEAVE NOW OR DIE.”
April 27, 2010 Gilis Post-card Paradise
The Gilis are located just off the northwest tip of Lombok. The fast boat gets you to Gili T in about two hours, but for a considerably cheaper price the slow boat gets you there in twelve. I had a ticket for the fast boat. In Sasak, Gili translates to “small island”, which meant I was basically going to the Small island Islands. The locals knew it was redundant, but over the years as more tourists flocked in, it just stuck. I should have recognized this as a warning sign.
Out to Sea
Friday morning greeted me with a big, white kidnapper van and a hangover. Natalie rode up front and I slept in the back seat next to a stranger for the entire hour-long ride to the docks, still drunk from the Legian Street mayhem the night before. For me it was a very confusing journey. I woke up in the back of the van with Natalie no where in sight, Indonesians swarming around outside. I stepped outside to find that they were carrying our luggage away.
“So are these guys tour guides or what?” I was talking to myself because none of the other passengers answered me and the Indonesians refused to speak English or identify themselves when I tried to inquire. I was too hungover to do anything about it so I just leaned against the van, tried not to puke and prayed to God that they were part of the travel company’s entourage. Please let this Indonesian ambush be part of the itinerary.
Unsure what I was supposed to be doing, I went across the street to get a bite to eat. Oh, and then I almost missed the boat. Wake-up call: these Indonesian ‘travel guides’ aren’t here to babysit. They’re here to collect your money and man the ships. Whether or not you even make the trip is of no consequence to them. And so my trip to Gili began with me splashing into the water, cramming half an egg and toast sanga into my mouth, and frantically chasing the departing boat. Knee dip in dirty water, I grabbed the running boat motor with one hand and an Indonesian shoulder with the other and threw myself onto the dinky boat. I watched my trail of yellow, fluffy breakfast floating in the waves. Lesson learned: Get your ass moving or get left behind. And also, Indonesian eggs are delicious.
After starting the trip off by nearly missing it, the rest of the two-hour boat ride was a mental rollercoaster. To begin with, I was not on the same level as any of the other passengers, including Natalie. I didn’t want to sit down and buckle up and pretend I was on a tour. Instead, I rode in the front of the boat with the captain and the luggage, which gave me a beautiful view out of my own personal window: bright sun, green mountains, blue waves. Just when I was feeling like I was on top of the world, the sun disappeared, dark clouds filled the sky, the waves swelled, and a shipwreck was not out of the question. I was so sure we would sink that I was actually watching the captain and waiting for his signal to abandon ship. That was of course, until I saw an ankle dangling outside my window, and all of my logic was lost. After nearly flying off the back of the boat, only to be saved by a small Indonesian man, and then nearly losing my grip on the ladder several times, I found myself sitting on the roof of the boat with three Canadian boys. Everything about this situation was screaming WARNING, IMMINENT DEATH. Forget the fact that I thought I we were going to capsize and drown when I was safely tucked away inside the boat. Now I was on the roof trying to dip my feet in the water every time we listed, sitting on a pile of gaffs and making small talk. In the states, this kind of thing would never fly. I would have to sign my life away just to set foot on the boat, and then I would be confined to an assigned seat, probably buckled in and wearing a life jacket. Funny, because at the exact moment this thought was going through my head, two rusty drums of gasoline came untied and started sliding around on the roof, and suddenly America’s rules didn’t seem so silly. I took this as my cue to exit, and left the death barrels to the Canadians.
And then just like magic, the clouds were gone, the sun was shining and the waters were calm. I caught my first glimpse of Gili Trawangan.
Weird Island Vibes
My first impression of the island was brief terror and plastic serenity. Moments after the boat washed ashore, the ‘crew’ rushed us off the boat, catapulted our luggage onto the sand and left. Aside from the small, gawky group of tourists accompanying me, the only people in sight were Indonesians who did not look happy to see us. On a beautiful, remote island without the necessary language skills, and without a friendly face in sight, it was like the beginning of a horror movie. Foreigners on vacation, everything’s fantastic and then your passport is stolen, your friend goes missing, a body washes up on the beach, and you’re drunk so you think it’s all a big joke until you finally get stabbed in the chest during a raging dance party.
On the other hand, there was a plastic serenity about the place. Gili Trawangan, or simply Gili T, is the largest and most tourist driven of the three islands, but still very small and run by locals. These people didn’t want to kill me. They wanted my money, and they wanted me to spread the good word to my fellow travelers. Theft and murder wouldn’t be very good public relations for the island. On that note, I felt safe.
If you look at a map of Gili T, you’ll see a single dirt road circling the island. The East side of the island is where you’ll find the tourist life: cheap accommodation, catered food, alcoholic beverage, average music and English-speaking Indonesians. The main stretch of road, about 200 meters, is lined with internet cafes, bars, and vendors selling seaweed and crab flavored Pringles, off-brand bug spray and questionable ice cream product. Every few meters you’ll find a place renting out bicycles and scuba gear for “cheapest price on island, special price for you.” Outdoor restaurants offer everything from steak and potatoes to seafood buffets to low-calorie veggie wraps. The entertainment and eateries spill onto the beach in the form of tiki-huts, hammocks, Christmas lights, bamboo chairs and giant speakers playing Jack Johnson and Tom Petty. Not a trace of real local life. Just a carefully crafted impression of local charm.
On the West side of the island, life flourishes beyond the shoreline in Bahasa Indonesian, without the hustle and bustle of stereo music and Bintang. At any given time, you might come across a handful of tourists circling the island on rented bicycles, or an occasional loner, like myself, strolling around on foot with a camera in hand, but for the most part the path is empty and you are more likely to come across a local hauling a load of rocks or carrying fresh coconuts in a woven basket. Unfortunately, these locals want nothing to do with foreigners like myself, and so I spent most of time on the East side of the island with the rest of the post-card pretenders.
After a solid of hour of hustling and haggling and nearly being trampled by donkeys we found accommodation at a place called “Sunrise,” and plastic serenity replaced my Hollywood fears. My first meal on Gili T was at a restaurant overlooking the water with a view of the mountains: a scape of sandy shorelines and turquoise water melting into a deep blue abyss, merging with a horizon of dark, green mountains with rolling peaks reaching for a blue sky, everything blanketed in warm sunlight.
I ordered a potentially toxic salmon dish from the dinner menu even though it was lunch time and drank bottled Ades water out of a wine glass. Natalie ordered a white-bread sandwich and an orange Fanta, immediately feeling sick and suddenly not very hungry. And so went the rest of the trip.
For the next four days Gili Trawangan was my paradise prison, and for the next eight days, it was Natalie’s tourist dream. That’s right. The big split. I’ll admit I feel a little guilty for leaving Natalie on her own, but let me explain.
First I want to make it crystal clear that Gili Trawangan is a beautiful island, and I’m happy to have experienced it. I spent my mornings drinking ginger tea and eating banana pancakes on the beach while reading and watching Indonesian children playing in the water. I watched the sun set over open water and rise up from the mountains. I went to the West side of the island and communicated with the locals without words, gaining unspoken permission to take photos of families and children. I learned how to say “pretty” in Indonesian and became known around the island as “photo, photo.” I even laid out topless for the first time, having been encouraged by some half naked French girls laying a few feet away. This lasted for all of 10 minutes, which was just enough time for a tourist fishing boat to pull up to the beach and get a photo. I sat up just in time to see the flash of a camera and the tail end of a white-haired man’s “look where I am” pose. I also went scuba diving for the first time and will probably never do that again either.
Scuba diving has never been on my to-do list. I’ve always been under the impression that’s a more glorified form of snorkeling, which is something I do not do. I’m not into fish, I’m into drowning. (If you haven’t read my Moreton Island or Stradbroke Island posts, just know that snorkeling has always been a lousy experience for me, and I am of the firm opinion that in most cases it is quite possibly the gayest, most boring activity you could waste time on.) In all honesty, I had no desire to scuba dive, but I can’t say that I was forced into doing it. Peer pressure yes, annoying, incessant pleas yes, but in the end it all boils down to the fact that it was something I wanted to experience first hand before I passed judgment. I will just say that it was one of those “I told you so” occurrences. Natalie assured me that it would be nothing like snorkeling, and I would absolutely love it. Erroneous on both accounts.
We spent 2 hours with an instructor going over proper breathing techniques and practicing in the pool. The instructor was Australian and possibly stoned, which I liked. This was not your standard scuba instruction. This was Indonesian standard. A “close enough” approach. I expected the training to be difficult because I’d heard about the exercises you had to do, like filling the mask with water and purposely trying to drown yourself, and I was worried about pressurizing my ears. As it turned out, it all came easily to me. On the other hand, Anthony, a Canadian from the boat ride who loved snorkeling and was aching to get certified, struggled with everything. At this point I was hopeful. Not everyone could do it, but I was a natural. Once I realized this, I liked the idea of being able to breathe underwater and defying nature. Observing nature while defying it was another story.
Our scuba destination was just offshore from Gili T. I was hoping we’d be going further out and away from the island where the sharks would be. Strike one. Natalie and Anthony were brimming with excitement, but the only thing I felt was nervous and skeptical. When it was time to get into the water I was the first one instructed to take the backward plunge off of the boat. I did what I was told. Hoorah. Once I was in, I swam toward the designated buoy, as instructed, and bobbed up and down in the water while I waited for Natalie and Anthony.
The buoy was connected to a rope that we would use to lower ourselves to the bottom so we could easily pressurize. Natalie, having prior scuba experience, was the first one to take the plunge, and she did well. She went down and didn’t come back up. When it was my turn, I was nervous. I adjusted my buoyancy and started to sink without a problem. I lowered myself down the rope and waited. And then I panicked. Anthony was struggling and kept resurfacing, leaving Natalie and I by ourselves underwater while the instructor tried to help him. My mask started to fill with water and I resurfaced. I fixed my mask, got a few words of advice from the instructor, and lowered myself back in. My mask immediately flooded, and I resurfaced again. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through with it anymore. I was feeling claustrophobic in my space suit, and I had saltwater up my nose and in my mouth.
While the instructor took my mask and fiddled with the straps, I looked down at Natalie. She was still underwater holding onto the rope, breathing normally and relaxing. I looked at Anthony. He was breathing hard and sticking just his face underwater while flailing around with his arms and legs. If Natalie was a pro, and Anthony wasn’t giving up, I should be able to do it with no problem. Game on.
The instructor gave me back my mask, I shoved it on, gave him a thumbs up and sank back down the rope. This time my mask was clear and I was calm. I lowered myself down to Natalie and we floated around, weightless, while we waited for Anthony. In about 5 minutes he had managed to lower himself to our level and he gave the thumbs up. We were in. The lower we went, the more excited I felt. I was defying nature.
As far as observing nature, we didn’t really. There were some semi-colorful fish and some colorless coral. We did see a sea turtle, which was stunning but brief. I spent more time playing with my buoyancy and spinning in weightless circles, enjoying the wall of water separating me from the surface rather than looking at the fish the instructor was pointing to. Some were okay to look at I guess, but for me, seeing fish in the ocean isn’t much different from seeing them on TV. I was watching them through a mask and I couldn’t touch them. They floated around without direction and made no sound. Nat Geo at least has narration.
When we got back to the shore Natalie and Anthony were chattering on about getting certified and making plans to snorkel for the rest of the day. On the bright side, I can now say I’ve had the scuba experience.
And this is how I spent much of my trip: fighting to find the silver lining. In the midst of those breathtaking sunrises and tranquil sunsets, those floating sea turtles and topless moments, on this remote, beautiful island there was Indonesia Natalie. There was also Natalie’s entourage of dorky Canadians and English medical students.
I’ll start with the dorky Canadians, including Anthony the previously mentioned scuba diver. These are the same boys who were riding on the roof of the boat with me and manhandling rusty barrels of gasoline, but at the same time they aren’t the same boys. Think of Airplane Natalie and Indonesia Natalie. These clowns drove me nuts. Forget that Troy was rude and hostile toward the locals. Forget that Andy called me “Tiff” and tried to kiss me goodnight. Forget that Anthony, the only decent one of the bunch, was actually friends with these dorks. Forget all of that, and you still can’t overlook the accents, the arrogance, the bad jokes, the preference for radio jams and techno beats over live reggae, poor, immature attempts at flirting, stingy Rupiah tendencies and a boisterous passion for snorkeling. Now throw Indonesian Natalie in the mix.
This foursome passed up a cozy reggae shack with the best Bob Marley cover band I’ve ever heard in a mad dash to make it to the island’s weekly rager at an improvised dance-club with a playlist kicking off with a remix of Justin Timberland’s “Sexy Back”. They haggled over snorkeling equipment and then actually went snorkeling. Also, they never shut up. Even at sundown, during the most magical moment of the day, these fools did not stop talking. After the first day, I ditched them and went to bed early. Later that night, even Natalie ditched them. Unfortunately, she down-graded.
Meet Rory, English med-student. Natalie met Rory on our first night on the island and spent the night with him in his fancy, hot-water hotel, and I met him on accident the next day. Natalie and I were sharing a pizza and cheap arak attacks on the beach, when by chance Rory passed by and decided to join us.
After a few mixed drinks and shisha, the topic of conversation was simply Gili T. Natalie was saying how much she loved the island after only 2 days, and didn’t couldn’t stand to go back to Kuta. Rory, Natalie and his Ken Doll companion were all of the opinion that Gili T was paradise and Kuta was a shithole. To an extent, they were right, but I still preferred Kuta. I was of the opinion that Gili wasn’t so much of a paradise as it was a vacation destination. Tourists were showing up where travelers should have been thanks to good word of mouth and fresh advertising. It was my assessment that Gili was officially in the beginning stages becoming another commercial oasis disguising itself as a natural paradise, with a cookie cutter charm and stale atmosphere.
That’s where things went wrong. Rory was seriously questioning my judgment. His immediate reaction to my stance on Gili T was a barrage of questions about my education, and more specifically my career goals. Rory was on his way through med school, and I was a 4th year journalism major with no career goal in sight.
“What kind of journalist do you want to be? A political reporter or something?”
“Not sure. Traveling and writing make me happy, so as long as I can do those two things, I’ll be good to go. As far as work, I’ll work wherever I can find a job at the time.”
“So then you want to be a travel journalist?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that. If I were a travel journalist that wouldn’t really mean I could travel anywhere I wanted. I’d be assigned to certain stories and limited to certain places, so…”
He cut me off.
“Well yes, you’d have to work your way up to that, but eventually you’d be a top dog and you could probably decide what stories you wanted to write and where you wanted to travel. And anyway, you don’t know for sure that you’d be sent to places you wouldn’t like and …”
I cut him off. Ken Doll and Natalie were quiet.
“But why would I want to work my way up? I don’t want to be stuck in one job working like a dog. I don’t mind working hard, but I’m not looking to commit myself to a career path. I don’t care what work I do as long I’m able to write and travel. As long as I can pay for plane tickets and bills with free time to write for fun and freelance, I’ll be fine. Temporary incomes for temporary lifestyles, you know? I’m not looking to get rich. I could be working at Mackers, and I’d still be happy so long as it was a Mackers in a foreign country, it paid enough to live on and I had something to write about.”
Ken Doll was smiling. His only comment was that although he would never be brave enough to live the life I wanted to live, he was happy to have met someone with the confidence to give it a shot.
Rory didn’t hear him. He was only more perplexed by my response.
“But why do you want to work at Mackers? What are you going to do when you’re 50 years old and you’re ready to settle down, but you have nothing to show for yourself? You’ll have no money, and you won’t ever be able to retire.”
“I’m not saying I want to work at Mackers, or that I’m only looking for crappy jobs. I’m just saying that it wouldn’t bother me if that’s what happened, because it would only be temporary. I like change. I like freedom. And if I make it to 50 and I want to settle down, I guess I’ll have to figure it out then. For now, this is what I want.”
He put his head in his hands and laughed.
“So you’re seriously telling me that you have no goals in life what so ever? You think you’re just going to float around the world and do whatever you want? That’s highly unrealistic.”
“Maybe for a medical student, but this how I’m going to live. I want to travel, and I want to write. Just because I’m not defining these interests with a career path doesn’t mean I don’t have goals. Whether or not it’s a lifestyle that supports me or a lifestyle I have to support, it doesn’t matter. A career title and a bank account have nothing to do with what I accomplish in life.”
“So you want to be nothing in life? You want to be a bum.”
“Just happy with what I’m doing at the moment, and …”
“That’s not how life works. You have to work and have goals to reach a point where you can live comfortably and find happiness. You can’t just …”
And so went the most absurd conversation I’ve ever had. It only ended when a drunken Anthony stumbled over to our table and stammered out an overenthusiastic greeting and I took the opportunity to bolt. The next day, Natalie and I agreed to disagree and parted ways. She forfeited her $200 deposit on the Komodo trip, and I booked my return ticket to Kuta. Sayanora suckers. Hello Kuta. Hello Komodo!
May 03, 2010 We can’t stop here. This is Komodo Country!
The only place in the world where you’ll find wild Komodo Dragons: Komodo National park, made up of three islands between Sumatra and Flores: Komodo, Rinca and Padar. One way to get to Komodo Island is to take an unreliable flight from Bali to West Flores and then a 4 hour boat road from Labuan Bajo Harbor to the one and only Komodo Island. My journey started 30 minutes late with an Indonesian hangover.
Combine a hangover with a hurry, and you’ve got yourself an inadequately packed travel bag. All I needed was a small backpack worth of clothes and basic supplies, but what I actually ended up with was the following: a bathing suit, a pair of yoga pants, a thin zip-up, and by default the front pouch of my backpack was already stocked with deodorant, a tooth brush, tampons, a wad of toilet paper, a contact case with a bottle of solution, and a small container of face wash. My life for the next three days. The underwear, shorts, tank tops, pajamas, socks, bug spray, body wash, sun screen, and towel that I’d packed into a clear plastic vacuum bag had neglected to make it into my backpack, and was instead hiding under the bed. I didn’t know this, however, until I was in flight on my way to West Flores looking for my towel to use as a pillow. Also, I was wearing flip flops, which is not your ideal shoe for hiking up a mountain and possibly trying to out run a Komodo dragon. So for the next three days I trekked around in my flip flops wearing the clothes on my back, occasionally mixing it up with the three other pieces of clothing I’d packed.
Not to worry though, because there was no need for cozy pajamas or cute tank tops, not that I had any in Indonesia to begin with. The crew didn’t speak English, and there were only two other people on the trip: A man from Germany named France who was happily married and something like 50 years old, and a 6-foot Australian named Dave, a lone-ranger who looked like a lumberjack. Solid travel companions, and neither judged me for my grimy appearance. Dave was actually in a similar situation when his bottle of whiskey broke inside of his suitcase, dooming him to sobriety and limiting his T-shirt selection.
But the good luck didn’t end with my unpacked bag and Dave’s whiskey wardrobe. Our 1 p.m. flight to West Flores was mysteriously delayed and none of the airport staff members could tell us anything.
“Excuse me. Can you tell me what the expected delay is for this flight?” I held out my ticket.
“You Gate 2. See ticket?”
“Yes, I know. I’m asking about the delay. Our flight was supposed to leave at 1 p.m. and it’s 1:30 and we haven’t heard any announcements and no one has come to our gate to tell us anything.”
“You sit Gate 2 for plane. See ticket?”
We sat and waited without knowing what for or for how long. An hour later I was sure the flight was cancelled, but I figured the staff either didn’t care to tell us, or simply didn’t speak enough English to get the point across.
“Excuse me, but how can we find out if our flight is cancelled or just delayed?”
“1 o’clock flight at Gate 2. You see ticket? Gate right here. You see ticket.”
“Yes but it’s 2:30, and,”
And so on.
Delays are very common in Indonesia by the way, especially when it comes to air travel. Sometimes flights can be cancelled half an hour before take-off simply because there aren’t enough passengers, but most of the time cancellations are the result of severe technical difficulties. Apparently it’s common here for planes to fall out of the sky or go careening off the runways without explanation. Delays are nearly inevitable. Basically, it’s a roll of the dice whether you’ll fly, die or simply be told “No.” This information comes to me from several experienced sources, better referred to as survivors. So while the delay should have been expected, and should have had me terrified and second-guessing my mode of transportation, I wasn’t giving up on Komodo. The delay lasted for two hours, during which I spent my time sleeping uncomfortably on the plastic airport chair, devouring Indonesian Cheetos and sipping a giant bottle of warm water in attempt to kill my hangover. Just after 3 p.m. we boarded.
An hour later I arrived at a self-titled airport. Step off the plane via rollie staircase, walk across the runway, cut through the grass, push the glass doors open and enter: Welcome to a giant room, completely empty. No seats, no kiosks, no help desk, no service window. A roof, a floor, two doors, a few windows and four walls all decorated with advertisements written in phonetic English. The room is divided into two separate areas by a make-shift, sheetrock wall a few feet shy of the ceiling and with just enough room for a “baggage check” on the west end. By baggage check I mean a table on wheels and a three-foot rope marking the check-in line. Put your bags on the table, get ‘em checked I believe was the idea. The same people who were flagging the plane down on the runway were unloading the baggage, delivering the baggage and then rolling the baggage check into the other room to check in departing passengers waiting on the other side of the wall.
The temperature was approximately 1,000 degrees, and the air conditioning inside the airport took the edge off by about one degree. While France and Dave waited for their luggage to be unloaded, I laid down on the cool tile floor like a dog and tried not to barf.
Outside, a tour guide waited for us with a homemade sign: “France, Dave, Natalie” crooked, all caps. I shook his hand. “Yes, Natalie?” It seemed the travel agent had somehow misunderstood the “Natalie is canceling her ticket. Tiffani is still going,” conversation. I was too hungover to explain the mix-up so I just nodded and smiled. For the rest of the trip I was Natalie.
We hopped into the back of a white kidnapper van and went straight to the Labuan Bajo harbor to begin our 4-hour journey to Komodo while the sun was still high in the sky. The crew: 5 Indonesian men including the captain, an old, wrinkly man with dark gray hair, and four young guys, probably my age or younger, none of whom spoke English.
Using my nearly-empty backpack as a pillow, I sprawled out on the shady deck and fell asleep on the floor. I woke up just in time for a remarkable sunset. After 7 grueling hours of traveling with the hangover shakes and an acid stomach, Komodo reality finally hit me. I’d made it. A 110-pound American girl en route to Komodo Island to track down the biggest lizard in the world, with an empty back pack, a handful of non-English speaking Indonesians and two unfamiliar tourists. Impractical, dangerous, seriously questionable. I was right on track.
Except the tour was running behind. Thanks to our delayed flight, we didn’t actually make it to Komodo Island before nightfall, which required a little itinerary adjustment. You see, when I said boat, I meant floating water craft with a roof, a cabin, a bucket to poop in and a motor the size of a basketball. And I don’t mean that we simply arrived at Komodo Island in the dark. We did not arrive. Night travel in Komodo territory is a non-negotiable impossibility. Don’t get too excited though because this has nothing to do with dragon predators swooping down from the islands and snatching tourists up for late-night snacks. It’s simply a matter of navigational limitation. No high-tech GPS or radar, but no sign of a map or compass either. Old school maritime practices. Oh, and no lights what-so-ever. No little red beacon to make other boats aware of our presence, no cabin lights for the captain to use to read the non-existent maps, no spotlights or flashlights. Traveling through Komodo country at night would be like playing a game of Titanic, only the guy on the lookout tower is wearing a blind fold and you don’t run into an iceberg and freeze to death, you run into an island and get eaten by a dragon. Nightfall here is the end of the line. You are where you are, and you better hope it’s somewhere safe. Our safe place was a detour to Rinca Island, two hours from Komodo Island and home to more Komodo dragons than any other island, including Komodo. We made it to Rinca just after the sun fell. There was a small dock on the island, where I assumed we would tie up and set up shop. I had almost forgotten: We can’t stop here. This is Komodo country! Unless we wanted to be savagely ripped apart and eaten in the middle of the night, we had to anchor up and spend the night drifting offshore. For about five minutes the boat lit up with a generator and it was almost like being on a little yacht. We had reading light! I pulled out a book and no sooner turned a single page before the generator failed and there was nothing to do but go to sleep. And so, wearing my yoga pants and my zip up jacket, I slept next to France and Dave on the boat deck with a few thin blankets and a flat magenta pillow, nothing but a roof over our heads and a two-foot wall to keep the water and the Komodo dragons at bay.
The Lizard King
The next day was a Komodo dream: my first glimpse of a wild Komodo, a moment I will remember forever. A hulking brown monster. A beautiful, majestic dragon. The prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. She was sunbathing near a watering hole, stretched out in the grass, a quiet giant. I actually didn’t even see her until the guide had a panic attack and started thrusting his stick in front of my chest. When I say stick, I mean the standard Komodo defense: a 9-foot branch, forked at the end. This was our protection in case a Komodo attacked. I was very aware of this fact when I realized that my dearest Komodo was not happy to see me. She whipped her head around to face us and stood up in one powerful motion. We backed away slowly, and my heart started to race. This was as real as it gets. If she was in the mood, she could run me down, chase me up a tree or drown me in the watering hole before biting into my thigh and rotting me from the inside out and there was nothing I could do to stop her. Welcome to Komodo Country: an island littered with water buffalo skulls and laced with deadly dragons.
So what did I do in what could have been my final moments? I just stood there smiling like an idiot thinking about how cute she was. And then, just like that, she turned around and walked away from us. The prettiest thing I have ever seen in my whole life, pounding her claws into the earth and stomping away from me like I didn’t even exist.
And then there was Komodo Island. On Rinca, we simply jumped off the boat and started stomping around in the woods with our eyes peeled, but the famed Komodo Island is the home-base of the national park, which meant you had to play by the rules: Pay an entry fee for park preservation and present a valid passport before you go stomping through the woods. Also, the building where you pay your fee tends to be surrounded by Komodo dragons each morning, which is when we arrived. In the small building, there was a kitchen where the park employees have their meals, and the dragons are lured in by the scent. When I arrived at the scene to find six giant lizards basking in the sun and shade, my jaw dropped. I have to admit though, it was nothing like seeing the dragon on Rinca. Here, I felt like the dragons had been tricked into our presence, like we had cheated in some way, lured them out of the wild. I took a few pictures, but spent most of my time cooing and whimpering over how cute they were, while France and Dave laughed and took pictures. Whether they had been lured there or not, these dragons weren’t at the zoo. They were at home, and so was I.
Anyway, after falling down and scraping my knee during the hike, I was hoping my blood would lure the Komodo dragons my way, but it didn’t. We finished our hike where we started having only seen one small dragon speeding away from us. The luck of the draw in the wild. Back at the park building the basking Komodos were gone, except for one beautiful reptile laying beneath the kitchen porch steps, an image I’ll never forget. It is my ultimate fantasy. Most of the people I know talk about their ideal pets in terms of German shepherds and malamutes. I picture walking out the front door in the morning and petting my Komodo dragon on the head. This is the last memory I have of Komodo Island.
When the Komodo dragon tour ended, the Komodo National Park tour continued. Pink Beach, also known as Pantai Merah, just so happens to be a famed snorkeling destination and was included in my Komodo trip.
Normally, I would have flat-out refused to participate, but this was Komodo. This was the home of my favorite creatures on earth. If anything, I figured I’d just swim up to the beach and lay in the sand while Dave and France enjoyed the fish. The boat idled about 30 meters from the shoreline, and we all jumped in. France and Dave had come prepared with snorkeling gear, and I had come prepared with a bathing suit. That’s when an Indonesian boy appeared at the side of the boat. “Nat-a-lie, Nat-a-lie.” He tossed me a snorkeling mask. How could I say no?
So I put the mask on and starting swimming. At first all I could see was dark blue water with rays of light all converging into a single, dark point. And then, something amazing happened. A bright coral reef exploded in front of me, and I was surrounded with color, life, light. Schools of metallic, shiny fish closed in all around me, darting away with the wave of my hand. Below me was the most stellar eruption of tropical bliss I have ever seen. I’m talking the most vibrant turquoise and magenta coral that exists. Flowering yellow anemones, orange tubes billowing in the current, whites and deep navy blues. Lion fish and fish that could have been from another planet, all with wild patterns and polka dots, half striped and tie dyed in florescent greens and blues, with hot red lips and big black eyes. Giant, metallic eels slithering sideways in a hurry. I could even hear the fish biting away pieces of coral, nibbling on the hard sponges. I must have floated around on the reef for half an hour. I was snorkeling, and I liked it. For the first time ever, the fish in front of me were more interesting than the fish on Nat Geo. This was Nat Geo in real life. On steroids.
Pink Beach was our last Komodo adventure. From there we started the journey home, in the middle of the day. Sun-soaked and dripping with salt water, I spent the rest of the trip laying on the cabin roof with two sleeping Indonesian boys. I spread out the pink towel the tour guide had given me and stretched out on my stomach. A few minutes later the captain poked his head up beside me with a hot pink, floral pillow in hand. “Terima Kasih” I said. “Sama Sama Nat-a-lie.” A few minutes later Dave popped his head up. “Snack.” He handed me a mushy, sticky lump. I bit into it without asking. Couldn’t be worse than the chicken-bones I ate at the Gong. Turns out it was way better: warm, fried banana. A few minutes later two more Indonesian boys climbed onto the roof with me, handing me two more banana treats. We smiled at each other while we ate the sticky globs, dropping warm pieces into our laps and onto the roof. Then we all stretched out, and the boys fell asleep while I drank it all in.
The sun was warm and starting to sink, the water glassy, the mountains radiant and laced with Komodo dragons. And there I was, in the middle of it all.
A few hours later we were back at the harbor, spending our last night on West Flores in a little motel, which was not quite as luxurious as the boat deck or the Komodo laced islands. Let me just tell you, I was set-up for disappointment. After sleeping on the deck, I could have cared less where I spent the night, but the Indonesian tour guide had severely misinformed us and put all kinds of ideas in our heads. Jokingly, we had asked if our motel had a hot tub and private pool.
“Hot. Yes, yes. Shower for you.” We had hot water showers?
“So do we have air-conditioning too?” Another joke, but to our surprise, “Yes, yes. Air-con-dishen.”
What he really meant by hot water shower was the pressureless pipe next to the toilet, which was blocked off by a crumbling brick wall you could see thru and covered by the overhang of the motel roof. You know, outside with the malaria mosquitos. It was everything I was expecting, until Mr. Bahasa Indonesia upped the ante. This sly fox also ordered a nice big meal from the motel kitchen and left without saying goodbye or paying, leaving the bill with us, and leaving without giving us a rundown of our travel plans for the morning.
Speaking of dinner though, I had fish. A whole one. You know, luke warm carcass on a plate. Dave showed me how to tear the spine out and dig behind the eyes to get the good stuff. Mostly I choked on the bones and went to bed hungry.
Falling asleep wasn’t easy on a nearly empty stomach with a touch of motion-sickness. On the other hand, I saw my first wild Tokay gecko. He was outside my room screaming, a big, fat, footlong angel. I went outside prepared to capture him, empty pillowcase ready for my captive, except as soon as I got close, he flung himself into a tree screaming.
The next morning Dave and I were up early, same time, same idea: Explore Labuan Bajo Harbor’s local life.
I was prepared to go alone, but after only a few minutes of prowling around the local streets I was feeling ever grateful for Australian Dave’s lumberjack build. The main road on the edge of the harbor was where I first realized that it would have been a huge mistake for me to explore alone: a swarm of rabid chickens. This deadly pack of chickens literally ran Dave and I into a dead-end alley, corning us and actually forcing us to climb a wall in order to escape. These dirty things came out of the woodwork like a mob of hungry zombies and surrounded us. At first we were both laughing. “Ha ha. It’s like they’re following us. Like they’re ganging up on us or something.” A few minutes later when the mangy birds started to peck at our feet and grow in numbers it wasn’t so funny. There weren’t any other people around either. Just hot, rotting fish laid out on big black tarps as far as the eye could see, clutters of garbage and decaying wooden buildings. And these chickens were pretty big too, like little moldy, rotting watermelons with dirty, sticky feathers, bald spots, missing eyes and red stains on their little zombie beaks. All of this accompanied by the sweet stench of baking fish carcasses. Very gross.
After climbing a wall we ended up in the presence of human life, which was bittersweet. Most of the locals weren’t much more inviting than the zombie chickens. The children were either terrified of me or scowling, twisting their bodies away from me and furrowing their brows. There weren’t many women around, and the men all mumbled things in Indonesian and that I’m sure weren’t very friendly words, blatantly staring, not blinking, eyes narrowed, heads turning.
So naturally, I whipped out my camera and started waving. “Apa kabar! Photo? Please?” I got mixed reactions, but I managed to get a few pictures. The women were very interested in having the children’s photos taken, but adamant about not being in the shots. The children weren’t happy about it at all and most of them resisted or made rotten faces, and the young men swarmed in and asked to have their photos taken with me, settling for kissy faces and group shots when I refused. After generally feeling like a nuisance, I stopped and Dave and I went back to the motel. It was a very weird experience. It was clear that I was an outsider and for the first time, I genuinely felt unwelcome.
No hard feelings though. I’ll be back again. Next time I’ll bring a smaller camera, a bigger body guard and hopefully a little more Bahasa Indonesian.
Komodo “Nat-a-lie” Amo
May 06, 2010 Bali Bloodbath
Returning to Kuta after my three day Komodo vacation was like drinking a cold beer on a hot summer day: feels good, tastes great. First of all, I was alone this time around: sans Natalie. Kuta had a whole new sparkle and shine. Nothing to worry about but boys and Bintang. Second of all, I really wasn’t alone. Before I’d even taken my bag out of the taxi, I was picking up right where’d I’d left off.
“Tiffo! You’re back from the lizard hunt. Beer Garden tonight. Be at your room around six hey?” A half naked English boy strolling out of Suka with a surf board under his arm.
I showed up at Wes’s room where he kindly armed me with my very own Indonesian cell phone. You know, in case I needed to communicate with anyone. Up until now, I’d been safe in the company of Natalie’s Indonesian pre-paid phone. With her out of the picture, Wes thought it might be a good idea for me to have my own phone. Turns out he was right for once.
Leaving Wes’s room, I was greeted with a couple more half naked English boys dangling from the balcony.
“Tiffani! How was Komodo? Legian street tonight. Meet us at six?”
“Feed at the Gong? Shout you a Bintang.”
And so it was. The next few days melted into Bintang chaos. And then I saved Wes’s life. No, really.
Death by Achilles
Somewhere in the sweaty mess of Legian Street, double-double Arak Attacks and hot-bodied surfers, Wesley fell down the stairs, sliced open his Achilles tendon and almost bled to death.
But let’s start from the beginning. Wes’s friend Mattie had just flown in from Norway and we’d headed to the Alley Cat to celebrate. The Alley Cat is just a few minutes walk from Suka, right off Benesari and Poppies II. I blacked out here, and as far as I know I never made it to the next bar.
I woke up to Wes’s voice. “It fucking hurts. Where’s the bloody band aids?”
I rolled over. I was in Wes’s room. Technically I had my own room on the third floor, but it was empty. All of my stuff was scattered in piles around Wes’s room, which is basically the way things work in Suka. The third floor can be quite a hike when you’re out of your head, and it’s not uncommon to wake up in someone else’s room with a handful of other people.
“Fuck. Ouch. I can’t bloody walk.”
I rolled back over. “What’ve you done now?” It was dark and all I could see was his shadow at the end of the bed, hunched over.
“I fell down the stairs. Ah, fuck. And now my ankle is bloody killing me. I cut it on the edge of a step. Ah, found the band aids though. That’ll do me.”
He got up and went to the bathroom and turned on the light: Murder. A thick, red blood bath of footprints and toe marks in a sea of gruesome splatters and streaks. At the same time that I sat up and called to Wes, he was yelling to me.
“Wes you might want to take another look at that little cut.”
“Yeah, righto. I think … it might be a bit … deep.”
He limped out of the bathroom, blood spraying from his heel, foul language flowing. I sat up and watched dark red jets shooting out of the back of his ankle with every step.
“Wes what the fuck have you done?”
He laid down next to me on his stomach with his ankle dangling off the edge of the bed.
“I don’t know exactly, but fuck, it hurts.”
I crawled to the end of the bed to have a look. If I hadn’t been drunk and half asleep, I might have thrown up and started to cry.
Where Wesley’s ankle should have been, there was a deep, gushing hole. A chunk of bloody flesh where an achilles tendon should be, with a mess of mangled skin surrounding it. Oh, and a bandaid jammed inside of it.
“Wesley are you fucking kidding me? You put a bandaid on this? No, you put a bandaid in this?”
“It’s deep hey? I couldn’t really see. It was dark. It’s bad is it?”
I spent the next few minutes wrapping his ankle with gauze from a first aid kit I found under the bed. He moaned and cursed and carried on the like a grizzly bear, but I managed to wrap him up without getting kicked in the face. Then I propped his leg up on a pillow and tied my sarong around his thigh, just like they always do with a belt strap in the movies. Dr. Amo, drunken medicine woman.
The next morning I woke up to Mattie’s voice.
“What the fuck have you two been doing in here? It looks like you murdered something. Holy shit man.”
I sat up and looked around. Wes’s hands and legs were smeared with dried, crusty blood, and so were mine. The bottom half the bed sheets were stained bright red, still damp. The floor was like an abstract painting. Little footprints, bigger footprints, long thin smears and thick, fat bursts. Coagulating pools here and there where Wes had stood still for moment, leaking his life away onto the tile floor. My little hand prints covered the pillow propping up Wes’s foot from when I’d pulled the bandaid out of his ankle and bandaged him up. The band aid itself was stuck to the floor at the end of the bed. And then of course the culprit: Wes’s mangled foot wrapped in wet, red gauze.
“You tiprats disappeared last night. What the hell happened?”
Between the three of us, it was hard to say, but the bottom line was that Wes’s trip was ending early because of it. This wasn’t the kind of cut that was going to heal up with a little Chinese medicine. This was the kind of thing would probably require an operation or amputation or something, stitches at the very least.
As the word spread and Wes’s friends stopped by with food and Bintang, I was cruising around on the back of a scooter with an Indonesian man living across the street who claimed to be a doctor, in search of a hospital or a drug store where I could buy Wes a pair of crutches, pain meds and fresh gauze. For some reason, Dr. Indo was equipped with little more than your standard emergency kit and his office was literally a closet. You might wonder why Wes wasn’t on the back of that scooter himself, driving around with the shady doctor fellow and going to the hospital to get checked out. That’s because the last thing you want to do is bring an open wound into an Indonesian hospital. An Indonesian hospital can turn a surfer with a little reef rash into an amputee with a 50-50 shot at survival. Holes are sewn up without being cleaned out, leaving little pieces of broken bone or coral floating around inside, stewing and festering. If a simple stitch-up can nearly kill you, an open wound in need of surgery is a blatant death sentence. Not to mention the treatment must be paid for in cash, and it sure ain’t as cheap as the beer and rice.
And so, a few hours later Wes booked a flight home to Australia. My bag was already packed for a trip to Uluwatu with Mattie and a few of his friends, and I’d thrown the rest of my stuff in Suka’s storage closet so I wouldn’t have to pay for a room while I was gone.
The next day I got a text message from Wes on the phone he had just given me. Something along the lines of, “Thank you for saving my life. I owe you little one.” Turns out Wes had sliced his Achilles tendon almost in half, leaving nothing but a thread holding his ankle together. The doctor told him that if it weren’t for a thorough bandaging job, he could very well have bled to death in his sleep.
You’re welcome. Oh, but please don’t think that just because you aren’t bleeding all over the place you’re safe in Indonesia. Two days later, I thought I was going to die in my sleep: Hello Malaria. But we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s just take things one step at a time …. ahem, Wesley.