A Road Traveled

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A Road Traveled

by | Jul 8, 2015


TJANDIKESUMA, BALI, INDONESIA – I am wakened by the sound of roosters just before six in the morning. They have been crowing intermittently for about an hour or so. My brain has lost the ability to ignore it. I am now awake. As whatever dream I may have had slips from memory, I begin to open my eyes. The first thing I see, looking upwards towards the ceiling, is the mosquito net that is encapsulating me and the bed I lay in. I turn to the side and see a cat sitting in the windowsill licking its paw. It pauses as he sees me seeing him as if to say, “Good morning.” He then continues to lick his paw.

I am in a guest house of a friend of mine, Fredrick. He is a fellow film enthusiast and designer from Sweden. I met him through another friend of mine named Wekku from Finland. Together they fly drones all across the beautiful island that is Bali. They have both lived in Bali for over a decade so their knowledge from a “westerner’s” perspective is invaluable. (You can chek out some of their exploits here: Nagavisions)
Fredrick lives far away from where the vast majority of tourist that come to the island are willing to travel. His home is in close proximity to the port where you can ferry to the island west of Bali called Java. Indonesia is around 90% Muslim, however, Bali is approximately 90% Hindu. Both of these cultures still mix the old culture into their religions. In this particular area there is a smattering of both Muslim and Hindu Indonesians. 
A lot of the villages and homes are spread far apart. This leaves you with countless configurations of rice fields as far as the eye can see. Outlining the rice fields are the tallest coconut trees I had ever seen. Beyond the height of the tall coconut trees is a majestic view of volcanically formed mountains from either side. We are close enough to the neighboring island Java that its nearest volcanoes are visible as well. Every direction you look, it feels like a living art gallery.
West Bali

Roosters or not, I needed to be up to prepare for this 3 1/2 hour journey that lay ahead of me. I am doing it all on a motorcycle with two backpacks. One of them became a frontpack. From traveling and being places for only days at a time, I have developed a rather sound method of gathering all my gear in a short period of time. I rarely unpack anything that isn’t essential. Plus, packing in the morning gives me the right mindset for travel. It takes me less than 5 minutes to pack; and then I head to the shower.

The resemblance of cold weather only exists in the mountains. This allows for the construction of bathrooms that are partially and sometimes entirely outside. The bathroom is located just outside the corner of the main house. It is about 5 meters long on each side with a half wall in the middle between the shower area and toilet/sink area. The structure is on a slightly raised platform leaving only half of your upper body visible to anyone within sight. There is no roof so you are completely exposed to the sky. It makes talking to someone while in the shower or while pooping a completely different experience. This morning would be no different. 
Fredrick’s home is in the middle of the jungle. there are a few long roads that lead to it, but we are still smack dab in the middle of the jungle. Frederick has two young boys (Sunshine and Forest) with his Balinese wife, Putu. Forest is running around a bit and Putu is making coffee. Putu asks me how I like my coffee from the kitchen window. I yell out, “Black or course!” After I am dry and dressed I sit down for a moment to have a smoke with my coffee. Putu has also made a bit of breakfast for the road. I sit, slowly sip my kopi (Balinese coffee) and start to think about my brief time spent in west Bali.
I came to visit only a couple of nights before. Fredrick wanted to show me this part of Bali. The part still largely untouched by the effects of tourism. Just man, nature and a few gadgets. During my stay I got to visit his mother-n-law’s restaurant in the middle of the jungle and one of Bali’s many black sand beaches. His mother-n-law’s restaurant consisted of, seemingly, their entire immediate family. 
We road up on motorcycles through wet often tattered rocky roads during the sunniest part of the day. We are here for lunch. Most dwellings in Indonesia have what is called a bale (bah-lay) just outside the main area. It is a a little square wooden surface sitting on four legs about one and a half meters from the ground. It is covered by a roof to keep us hidden from the sun and reasonably dry from the rain. It is customary to take your shoes off and just sit on the floor of the bale. When the food is brought to us we eat from the same floor we sit on. Its a communion of sorts when you sit and eat in this fashion. It is similar to eating at the dinner table but this just feels more intimate.
We have some of the more traditional dishes in Bali. Nasi campur (nah-see chahm-purr) is the main dish. That means mixed rice. They bring out jackfruit soup for starters, an assortment of vegetables, fruits and different styles of tofu. There was also a bit of crispy chicken if memory serves me correct. There is no rhyme or reason to how the chicken is cut up. I never know if I am eating leg, thigh, wing or what. Sometimes there’s a bone and others not.
Putu’s mother began to try and have a conversation with me although she spoke not one word of English. She looked at me strangely and asked where I was from. When I said Texas she had a puzzled look on her face and said in her native tongue, “LADY – “Where are you from?” I replied, “Texas… America.” “America? Are there black people in America?” she asked. I start to smile and laugh before I reply, “Yeah. Yes there are.” To which she responded, “Yes, but you’re black sweet.” I’m still not quite sure what that means but I simply said, “Terima kasih!” (Translation: Receive Love) 
I don’t get racism out here. I don’t get the bad sentiment that often comes with being American in a foreign land. (Yes its true. A lot of folks do not like Americans. We’re thought of as Imperialists.) What I do receive, however, is warmth and wonderment. People are more interested in who I am and what I am about. They react to me in the same manner in which I do to them… with love.

MAKAN Eating in the jungle with Frederick. Makanan nasi campur pake ayam kampung sambal mata. #love #Bali

A video posted by Neiman (@muzzlewump) on

After our meal we ride through the countryside for a bit to see the sheer beauty of the island. That is short lived. The rains start to come and we have no choice but to ride back home. I managed to snap a few photos before it started pouring.



We head to the black sands beach after the rain has stopped. If you’ve never seen black sand, it looks something like black gun powder with sparkling specs of glass. The sand and view were beautiful but the litter was not. It seems that Indonesia has not yet grasped the concept of how harmful pollution can be to our environment and themselves. There is a large part of the populous that simply discards whatever trash they create; and if they don’t throw it to the ground or gutter they burn it at dusk. This leaves large clouds of smoke in the streets for motorists to ride through and inhale. 
The view was amazing as we drove through the countryside to get to the beach. When we got there, Fredrick looked at what the fisherman caught that day and asked them to prepare it for us. The sambal that Indonesians make to put on their fish is rather good and spicy. Litter withstanding, the beach had its charms and there was a serene sunset we were able to catch that day. Fredrick just bought a new Sony a7s along with a mono-pod and he wanted to try it out. I started shooting video as well. There were many families on the beach this day. They were running around and thrashing in the water. There wasn’t this need for laying out on the beach to get a tan. I didn’t see one person doing that. Some were playing in the water while others were bringing in their catch and casting nets. There was also the occasional motorbike in transit. Dogs were running about and chickens were pecking for food. All of this was happening around a mini fleet of small colorful traditional Balinese boats.
 By the time the fish are done cooking it is dark. We ride back through the dark back-roads of Bali. Apparently so dark to where Fredrick makes a wrong turn at some point. Once we arrive Fredrick’s two dogs meet us at the road. Everyone is happy to see us because we have dinner. We all eat together and have a nice relaxing meal. Afterwards Fredrick and I had a couple of Bintangs (Indonesian pilsner beer.


The morning traffic is clear and parts of the road have sufficient straightaways long enough to stretch my motorcycle’s legs. That’s exactly what I proceed to do. While grooving to a carefully constructed travel playlist I made on Spotify, I zip down the coast of the island like I was in the chase portion of my favorite action film. There is this one opening where I stop that reveals the bluest waves you could ever hope to see crashing into the beach of this cove. It kept happening over and over and over. The relentless force and energy that was generated awed me. 
I am overcome with emotion as I start back down the road. The sudden thought of how fortuitous  I am to be able to experience such beauty all around just hits me. “I am alone riding down a coast on a motorcycle on the other side of the world.” I thought to myself. On an island no less; but I’ve never felt freer. How many people where I’m from will ever go down this road or know what its like to be free in this way? 
It reminds me of being in my backyard wondering where those people were coming from. What stories did they have to tell? I was right in the middle of my very own. Tears started rolling down my face while thinking of how beautiful of a memory this is going to be. 
Once I get halfway down the island I start rolling into familiar territory. There was a time three years prior that I got lost in this more industrious part of the island. This is the part of the island where the roads are big enough to handle large semis. This causes massive traffic jams in some parts where the roads get narrower. I’m pretty adept to driving my motorcycle in Bali. One of my favorite things to do is to race through traffic. Dipping in and out on both sides of the road seems dangerous; but its the way the locals drive. Since most times I have the bigger faster bike, I lead the charge. The few who are brave enough to follow me as I simulate my favorite motorcycle video game try to keep up or either pass me up. Its a fun way to get through the traffic. It feels like a dance rather than a race. Especially since I have my headphones in. I love riding my motorcycle around the island.
Most of the 3 1/2 hour long trip I don’t need to use the GPS to find my way. It is amazing to me that I know the island this well. I am about 2 1/2 hours in when I reached the capital city, Denpasar. I ride through the city streets on the way to one of the southern beaches. At some point I notice I am going the wrong way. I must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. I quickly take out my phone to look on Google Maps. I am slightly off course. I could either go further up and make a turn that would put me behind 10 minutes or I can go the wrong way down this road on the side for about 45 seconds. I choose the shorter route. 
Traveling the wrong way down the road I am hoping I will not see a police officer. I am almost there and in the clear until I see him sitting at the front of traffic waiting at the red light. I knew he would see me so I preemptively pull myself over. I quickly hop off my motorcycle and begin to look around with a bewildered look on my face. I’m wearing my dark sunglasses so he can not see my eyes; but I see him driving over with his lights on with my peripheral vision. As I begin to get into my clueless traveler character to avoid paying a fine I hear him mumbling something. “Hey! Do you remember me?” I give him my best impersonation of the Rock’s People’s Eyebrow, surprised that he would say that. I look closer… oh shit, it was the cop that stopped me a month prior almost to the day. “You still in Bali?” he asks. 
The first time he stopped me I evaded getting a ticket because I was shooting video with a GoPro attached to my motorcycle. He was so enthused with me showing him how it connected to my phone via app he ended up letting me go. Once the cops find out I’m an American black guy they usually just ease up and try to be cool. It is a rare thing to be able to have a conversation with a black person from America. They either talk to me about Obama or Mr. T. This time was no different. 
He asks me where I am going because I seem lost. I almost forget I gave him my dumb tourist routine to start. Now he feels the urge to help me out to the best of his ability. He points to his office on the corner and said if I ever need anything to come see him. He proceeds to walk into the middle of this very busy intersection, pull out his whistle, stop traffic with one hand and call me forward the wrong way down the street with the other. All four intersections are stopped as I ride close enough to give him a high-five as I ride past. “Terima kasih!” 

Now I’m on my way… on the right path. A perfect metaphor for life when it comes to reaching your destiny. The road may or may not be familiar, loaded with twists and turns. You may get lost or sometimes do things the wrong way; but there is often a way out and at times help provided along the way. The most important thing is to just keep going. This is why I travel. Its for the experiences, the eye openers and the knowledge gained. The adventures that come about are the byproduct of my journey.


Thank you for reading!

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