By the end of May, winter was fast approaching in Australia. It was time for one last hot hurrah. I booked a round-trip ticket to Indonesia: May 12, 2012 – June 10, 2012. That flight in June came and went and I wasn’t on it. In September I was finally kicked out of the country after having my passport stolen. I made a detour to Singapore for less than 24 hours and continued my mushroom rant in Bali until November 9th, when I finally said goodbye to the Bali party with one last night of chaos. Of course, I missed my morning flight, but I booked another one and got the hell out of there. Six wild months in Indonesia …
May 12, 2012 A Rough Landing in Bali
I imagined a large Bintang in each hand. A warm Kuta beach sunset. Double-doubles blanketing the marble tables at Alley Cats. Hot bodies spinning around the Eikon stage. A cannon-ball into the Suka Beach Inn pool. These weren’t fairy-tale dreams. I’d lived these things before. And yet, my very reasonable dreams were crushed.
I’m talking about every last detail going to shit, starting with forgetting to double check the itinerary and realizing that my trip to Perth would be cut short and that in fact, I would be leaving early with strep throat and a thorough shopping list of essential items unfulfilled: a can of extra-strength insect repellant, a tub of Australia-strength sunscreen, a new bottle of 2-in-1 shampoo & conditioner and a pocketful of Indonesian currency to make everything run smoothly upon arrival – forget about it. I might as well have taken an empty suitcase and closed my bank account.
In addition, any hopes of getting drunk at the airport before the flight went out the window. We were running late and so was the rest of the world. Every single passenger in line was desperate to check-in for an international flight. The staff was in a panic. Babies were screaming. Cats and dogs were running wild. Passengers were setting each other on fire. It was madness. And so, there were no traditional celebratory drinks at the airport. In the air, things still didn’t improve much. My in-flight binge-drinking dreams were shattered by the chainsaw that was gnawing at my throat. Snot poured out of my nose and went into my mouth while I bobbed uncomfortably in and out of conciousness. The pre-game Bali party was 100 percent cancelled.
When we finally landed in Denpasar, I thought things could only improve. In fact, still had a long way to fall before I reached rock-bottom. “Welcome to Indonesia! I’m drunk. Let’s keep drinking. It’s hot. I love the sun!” was replaced with, “We’re here. I might have Scarlett Fever. I need more medicine. Why is it raining?” Poolside parties, Mie Goreng, and hangover remedies were superseded by pity parties, stale crackers and throat syrup. I didn’t even have enough energy to fall asleep. When I finally did manage knock myself unconscious, a mosquito bit me on the eye-lid. Are you fucking kidding? Meanwhile, I could hear everyone in Bali having a good time.
And so, welcome to Bali, Tiffani. We hope you enjoy your Bird Flu and Dengue Fever and we look forward to giving you the West Nile virus. As if being sober when the rest of the world is drunk isn’t already like being in a vegetative state, we aim to take your stay with us to the next level by putting you into a real coma. We provide complimentary monsoons and exposure to malaria, and we even offer all-inclusive packages featuring unexpected earthquakes, so you can sit back and watch the walls falling down around you. Upon your request, a complimentary bathtub on the second floor can be arranged to fall through the ceiling and crush you in your own, moldy bed. You can also enter to win a free lung infection simply by breathing while you sleep. Please enjoy your stay in Bali, Indonesia …
May 17, 2012 The Indo Illness & The Legend of Botok Gila
So it seems that the worst is over. A few days ago I was rotting alive in my own personal dungeon, and now I’m living life on easy street in a little Eden of pleasure. However, cautions must remain high as it seems the Indo Illness is running rampant. When I say ‘Indo Illness’ I generally refer to a type of mental breakdown that occurs when you lose yourself in too much of a good thing. And there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” You see, Bali is a magical land of eye-candy, sunshine and Bintang. There are no rules. There are no limits. You are free to satisfy your every craving and to indulge yourself in your desires – mostly without consequence. But before I start to glamorize all of the bad Bali behavior (though it is quite glamorous), I want to tell you a story about the Botok Gila or ‘Crazy Baldhead’ who succumbed to the Indo Illness.
KC and I met Cosmos last September. He was a Moroccan teddy bear living in glorious Bali splendor with an entourage of his Moroccan and Brazilian friends. A frequent visitor in Bali, Cosmos was well-loved by both the locals and the tourists. He knew everyone, and I mean everyone. You couldn’t go anywhere with him without stopping to say hello to everyone on the side of the road. Whether he was just having beers at the post office or drinking down at the beach with the locals or leading crews of newbies around Bali, showing them the sights and buying them rounds of Bintang, he was always up to something, always smiling, always laughing. But then, one day, the Indo Illness got the best of him.
You see, Cosmos spent a lot of time in Bali. Months on end. If he spent one month in Morocco, he spent 11 in Indonesia. This seems like an ideal schedule, but it’s dangerous. In the beginning, things were good. Because Cosmos devoted so much time to his life in Bali and people adored him and enjoyed his company so much, it seemed normal that he stopped paying for things outright and started tabs. Why pay for 20 separate Bintangs in a day when you can just can pay for all 140 at the end of the week. Easier for everyone, right? And so, he established a running line of credit for accommodation, transportation and bar tabs. Money seemed to be no object for Cosmos. Everyone trusted him, and he had the freedom to party with no end in sight, sharing his happiness with everyone around him.
And then one day by the pool, Cosmos began to cry. This giant, bald teddy bear with a heart of gold and sunshine began to cry. Everyone was worried about him, asking him what was wrong. He disappeared into his room. Only a few hours later, he appeared back at the pool with a Bintang and a bucket-load of funny new stories for whoever wanted to listen. He told us about the night he did mushrooms and locked himself in his room, praying to the gods it would end, crying and begging the heavens for mercy. It was the funniest story. It happens to the best of us here in Bali, and nobody was concerned. And so, Cosmos went on with his wild night as if nothing had happened. Over the next few days Cosmos stopped sleeping and would disappear for hours on end, finally turning up somewhere on Kuta beach, unable to remember where he had been or what had happened. But still, it wasn’t anything major. This was actually quite typical in Bali. Everyone blacks out, everyone gets a little bit weird. But Cosmos was getting more than a little bit weird.
Finally, on a sunny afternoon during a Suka Beach BBQ, Cosmos looked downright terrified. He was mumbling and sweating. He was on the verge of tears again. He was sipping his Bintang and laughing at the jokes being told, but then he would pace around the pool with his bugging out of his head. What he told us was that something had happened to his visa, and his wire transfer from Morocco hadn’t gone through. He didn’t have the money to fix the issue, and he was afraid he would go to jail.
A group effort was made to get Cosmos some extra cash, and the next morning he went on his marry way to the immigration office to sort out his visa. But then, he never came back. KC and I went to his room the next day. The door was ajar. Inside, his clothes and belongings were strewn around the room. The lights were on. The balcony door was swinging on its hinges in the breeze.
As it turns out, by the time we had discovered Cosmos’s empty room, he had left the country. He had taken the money, skipped out on his bills, left his motorbike at the airport and disappeared. He didn’t answer any phone calls or messages. His friends were bewildered. Some of them were angry, whether out of worry or some behind-the-scenes drama I can’t say. The locals were even more upset. Cosmos racked up months worth of bills on good faith and then essentially spit in their faces. It was a weird time in Bali when Cosmos lost plot. It took a few days for the word to spread, and even when it was confirmed that he had gone back to Morocco people still believed he was coming back, if not to continue the Bali party then at least to settle his debts. Weeks went by and he never came back.
Shortly after Cosmos went crazy, KC and I decided that it would be in our best interest to escape the vortex and hold onto our sanity. And so, we made arrangements to leave Kuta for the greater Bali beyond …
May 27, 2012 Escape the Vortex
In a desperate attempt to prevent going absolutely bat-shit crazy in Kuta, KC and I hit the road with a one-way itinerary. We vowed to stay out of Kuta for at least one whole week if not longer in an attempt to see a more cultural side of the Balinese island.
July 05, 2012 Nusa Cenida
Looking for a little adventure in Nusa Ceningan: 13 meters above a turquoise abyss we found it! Music with permission from my Tassie friends in The Scientists of Modern Music
July 15, 2012 Lost in Paradise
Here I am in beautiful Bali. Big sun, hot bodies, happy faces, cold Bintang. And in the middle of it all, in the heart of paradise, I am inexplicably lost. I’ve been skipping around the world like a drunken ballerina for 10 months, and now I’m finally losing the plot.
You see, the problem with Bali, if you can call it that, is excess. Excess fun, excess freedom, excess indulgence. For a little while, it’s all you could ever dream of, everything your rotten heart desires. When you do all of these excess things in excess, however, your mind starts to melt. While my mind is melting, my bank account is shrinking and my visa is getting closer to expiring. I’m all about living in the moment, but sometimes in order to do that, you have to sort out a few things ahead of time, and this is where I’ve gotten lost. What am I going to do next, and when is ‘next’ going to happen? Am I leaving Bali or am I staying here until I run out of money? Am I ever going to back to Australia? What about Europe? Should I just go home?
The reason these questions are such a struggle is because of the ultimate excessive resource: freedom. I have so much freedom I don’t know what to do with it anymore. Right now, all I do is exist. I just exist in Bali without direction or purpose. My days blur together, one hilarious, drunken story after another, one hot day on the beach followed by sunset after sunset after sunset. I guess for all of the nine-to-fivers out there, these troubles are comical.
But everything is relative, and life in Bali can be hard sometimes. Every now and then I get drunk and do something stupid, like sleep in the dirt or fall off of my motorbike, and that can be embarrassing. Sometimes I find myself homeless, checked into Suka Beach Inn and looking for a new villa or monthly room rental, and that’s always a little bit inconvenient. Every so often I find myself in the company of the same faces several nights in a row and I get wild ideas about leaving the country immediately in search of something new. And then when I think of it like that, I think I’d be an idiot to leave because I guess my troubles really are just a joke.
On the other hand, there are some other legitimate aspects of Bali that can really do a number on a person once you’ve crossed the line from ‘holiday’ to ‘extended holiday.’ One month in Bali is a whole different ballgame than three months in Bali. It can be a very bittersweet thing.
For example, one of the best things about Bali are the people, locals and tourists alike. The bitter part of this sweet thing is that you meet some of the best people you’ve ever met and then they’re gone. They fly away home for holidays, they travel onward, they simply disappear forever because you didn’t get their last name and nobody has a phone number. It’s not only about the lost connection though, because you’re always happy just to have met someone whose fucking rad. The problem is that you’re sitting still and everyone else is leaving. When you’re in Bali for a month, you’re temporary, but if you stick around long enough you start to grow roots, and it can be tricky watching everyone else leave. Of course, it’s your choice to stay, it’s just the nature of the beast, but it can make you feel lonely for a quick minute. And lonely is a very gross word that I rarely stoop to, but it’s legit. While your friends back home are posting photos from a night out at your favorite bar, everybody crowded at the usual table, smiling and laughing and hanging out together, you’re hoping to run into a familiar face at Alley Cats, but your usual crew is gone. If you’re not careful, you can be tricked into thinking you should go home and give Bali a rest. One hundred percent of the time, that is the wrong answer. All you have to do is suck it up and find a new crew, read a book in the mean time. It’s just easier on the tongue than the mind.
And then there’s the other legitimately bittersweet thing about Bali: a day-to-day routine of nothing, an empty schedule. Everyday you can wake up and decide what you want to do. Bintang by the pool? Sunset at the beach? Day trip to Padang Padang? Sleep, eat, read? Doing nothing can be a real luxury if you’re here on a one month holiday, but stick around for a couple of months and doing nothing will start to lose it’s charm. The nothingness eats you alive. You get tired of eating your favorite foods at your favorite restaurants. You get bored with the beach and the sun and the unyielding heat. And sure there’s always a trip to the Gilis or a few nights on Lembongan, but once you’ve been-there-done-that, it’s not as exciting. And so every now and then you find yourself struggling to occupy your time. You have entered: The Bali Doldrums. I think this is the thing that makes most people go crazy in Bali. But just like finding a new crew, all you have to do is suck it up and keep looking for new things to do, read a book in the mean time.
And then of course there’s malaria, Bali belly, rampant pink-eye infections and rabies. Not to mention you’re almost always sweating, almost always coated in a thin layer of dirt and engine fumes and almost always on the verge of a near death experience. But that’s where the list ends. Those are the worst bits of Bali. Unfortunately, this is the web I’m in at the moment, and I’m restless. I’m drunk, and I’m restless, and I need to do something soon.
Flights are easy to book, but they’re even easier to miss, which only makes it that much harder for me to take the next step. I don’t know what will happen to me in the next couple of weeks. What I do know though, is that I would rather be lonely in Bali, sweating and puking, out of my mind drunk, dirty and homeless with an expired visa than to be back at home with my favorite TV shows recording while I’m at work twiddling my thumbs and wondering what the rest of the world is doing. Maybe I’ll book myself a ticket to Australia and finish my work visa? Maybe I’ll take a quick trip to Norway? Visit Mom & Dad back home? Or maybe, I’ll find work in Bali. At the end of the day though, there is no where else I’d rather be than On The Road, and nothing else I would rather be doing than traveling. I’m lost in paradise, but I’m still in paradise.
Aug 03, 2012 Order From Chaos
So just the other day, I was skyscanning flights around the globe: USA, Norway, Australia, Thailand. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. Keep traveling, take advantage of my Australian work visa and make some money, go home and take a break, extend my visa and go berserk in Bali for another month. And then I picked up the Bali Advertiser to read the lousy horoscopes to Tess and Casey. Flipped to the Employment section for fun, as we always do and went through the job listings.
Let’s shovel shit at the Bali Equestrian Center! Let’s be surf instructors in G-land! Full-time nanny – that’d be perfect for me! Writers and editors needed for travel & lifestyle magazine! Master chef for new wave sushi restaurant wanted! Wait, writers and editors? And so I sent my resume to the e-mail provided. It was Friday. I went about my weekend as normal: Kuta coma. Monday rolled around and I figured I’d give the magazine a call, but then I got distracted. Tuesday came along and I thought about calling, but then I got distracted. Finally, Wednesday arrived and I picked up the phone. “Yes, we’d love to meet you, Tiffani. Please come to the office.”
And ta-da! A few weeks later and I’ve officially been offered a position. I won’t start until the beginning of September, and my salary is small, but if this job works out I will be living and breathing in Bali for another year. So for all of you faithless friends and family members out there who thought I was just galavanting around the globe, you were right, but I’ve also accomplished exactly what I set out to do – make money doing what I love: writing and traveling. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to celebrate for the next several days in a row!
Aug 15, 2012 Important Documents
Today a very important document has escaped me: MY PASSPORT IS M.I.A. Awe shit! This is gonna be a funny story later, right? Well actually, it’s kind of funny now. Everything is funny when you’re drunk. Kind of … I’m really trying to make lemonade here …
Aug 23, 2012 Passport Peasant Party
What is the single most important possession a person needs while traveling abroad? The correct answer is ‘Passport’, and I have officially lost mine. One minute it was safely locked in my motorbike, and the next minute it was gone. Oh, and my visa has expired. Today’s travel lesson: Travel Insurance.
Now, I’m not the first person in the history of the world to have a passport stolen. It happens. This is what travel insurance is for, and thankfully I finally got some a few months ago, otherwise I might be bending over right now. The problem with my current situation is Ramadan. Ramadan is a big holiday here in Indonesia, and it requires a lot of celebrating. And so, the American embassy is closed, the Indonesian immigration office is closed, and the entire Indonesian government is essentially shut down, which means that I am completely off the grid for a solid week – no passport, no visa, just an illegal nobody. An employee at the American embassy said to me, “You have a big problem. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time. The consulate has gone home early for the holiday, and you can’t do anything at all until the holiday finishes.” So while everyone in Indonesia is celebrating, I’m paying USD$25 per day for overstaying my visa and rocking around the country illegally.
In the mean time, while I’m creeping around Indonesia without a passport or a visa, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my actions, all of the things I’ve been doing that have been far more dangerous than having a passport stolen.
First things first, I guess I have to admit that I’ve been a bit of a peasant lately. I am not necessarily proud of the things I have done, but it’s been, to say the least, very fun.
At one point, I managed to spend 7 consecutive nights at Suka Beach Inn without actually having a room there. I’ve woken up twice at Eikon, which is a bit of a task considering it’s a full-on nightclub. I’ve scaled a few balconies here and there and I may or may not have stumbled forcefully into a room that was not mine on more than one occasion in search of a hot water shower. I’ve watched the sun rise while buried up to my neck in sand, watched the sunset while ankle-deep in Bintang, found myself sleepless for days at a time, slept days completely away.
But don’t blame me for living in the gutter – it takes a village to raise a peasant. For all those times I’ve run out of money and should have gone home, someone has stepped in to prevent that from happening. People have pooled their coins to buy me phone credit and food from the Minimart. I’ve been given handfuls of rupiah in order to pay for meals and bottles of water. I’ve been treated to breakfast and lunch by friends and strangers alike, offered places to sleep and even been able to borrow motorbikes to get around when needed. I’ve been pardoned from cab fares and transported via motorbike several times at no charge. And you wonder, why all of the peasantry? Because that’s what happens when you’re perpetually having fun. And you wonder, why does anyone put up with it? Because that’s the way the Bali Party operates. On my end, I think it has something to do with a genuinely frantic appearance, a lack of shoes and a big, dumb, “I’m-sorry” smile. But really, it’s just how things happen here. And believe you me, I’ve done my part and loaned out a few bucks here and there to friends and strangers in need. Sometimes they pay you back, sometimes they don’t, but at the end of the day, it’s really just a Pay It Forward kind of thing, and it’s part of what makes Bali so endlessly fun.
But don’t think I don’t have a head on my shoulders, because I do, and I was actually starting to get a bit rattled about all of the shithead things I’ve been doing. That is until the other day when my friend Colin said to me in the most casual way, “Imagine that – a writer with a drinking problem, a writer with a questionable lifestyle.” And so now my actions are excused. In two to three weeks, I’ll get a new passport & sort out a visa & I’ll continue on my merry way … hopefully. Losing a passport is certainly a serious thing, but I’ve done everything I can, everything I’ve been advised to do, and in the mean time, life goes on, right? Bali party – well, at least until I start my new job! That’s right, job. And you thought I was just a rotten peasant!
Sept 12, 2012 Visa Run to Singapore
After having my passport stolen and overstaying my visa by 26 days, immigration finally kicked me out of the country … for approximately 10 hours.
Oct 17, 2012 Cruisin Lombok