I have been alone overseas only twice in my life. The first time I was 22 and left friends in Bali to see the coloured lakes of Kelimutu on the island of Flores, Indonesia. A tour guide called Dino Lopez approached me at the airport and I followed him for whatever dumb reason you follow a stranger in a strange land.
He dropped me at a hostel and I sat in my room smoking cigarettes, crying and staring at myself in the mirror.
In the streets, children called me ‘mister’ and pimped out 4WD’s full of young men beeped and jeered on dirt roads and stall holders laughed at my limited Bahasa.
That night I went to Dino Lopez’s mother’s house for dinner. She lived in a bamboo hut and served dog meat. We got drunk on palm wine, ate rice cooked in banana leaf, and watched lady boy sketch comedy on a tiny tele. His mother threw up after dinner. Dino said it was just old age. My head swam with drunkenness. He must’ve been too, but he drove us back to town with confidence.
Back at the hostel, I crashed a room that wasn’t mine. Three men, all old, sat cross-legged on the floor drinking something brown. I drank it too and sat cross-legged on the floor and smoked their cigarettes. There were two impossibly young girls on the bed. I asked them how old they were in Indonesian.
I can remember standing up to leave in a twistedly drunken form of disgust. I don’t remember getting into my room. Morning circumstances confirmed that I had entered, locked the door, stripped naked and boffed wine, dog meat, rice and some brown substance in a location that was not the toilet bowl.
The staff served green bread and jam for breakfast. Dino arrived behind sunglasses and a sweaty hangover and we rode his scooter into the hills of Flores to visit an animalistic tribe.
The villagers buried their dead in above ground square stone coffins sealed with lime. Clothes and nuts were left out to dry on their surfaces. Children bounced and leaned all over them. I thought of the grown men and women cradling their own decaying bodies inside.
The children followed me in and around the village and onto the mountain trails. Lush, green, tropical mountain paradise with all these brown faces on me. I emptied the contents of my bag as if each article was a scary surprise and they obediently reacted with screams and laughs of excitement.
Dino was disappointed they had not found enough pigs to sacrifice for a pending burial ceremony. I was, too. Not because I wanted to see an animal suffer, but because I wanted to see all the in between bits in life. The minor deaths. The weird stitchings.
Many years later I would slaughter a sheep halal style in a suburban backyard of Victoria, Australia. I would sever the throat in a sawing motion and hold the shivering wool as it died on my thighs and I would feel very at peace with it. That, however, is another story.
We stood overlooking the ocean from a great height and Dino asked if I liked him. I said he was a nice person and refused to look at his face.
Dino put me in a local taxi. It was one of those decked out 4WD’s full of young fellas. The eight seats were mostly occupied by friends of the driver and the rest were Chinese tourists travelling five hours to the coloured lakes. The dashboard was thick with trinkets and the bass walloped out of the stereo like globs of oil cloud. We listened to Nelly and Akon loud and on repeat. One of the friends sat next to me in the back and we communicated by laughing and pointing at the sweaty necks of Chinese men.
From the nearby village, tourists were taken at 4 A.M. by motorbike to the base of the mountain. From there, you walked through jungle tracks alone and in the dark. At the top was a stone monument surrounded by three coloured lakes deep in their volcanic basins. Blue, green, black; like wells of paint. The sun rose over their spiky lips, illuminating the creamy colours in slow motion. When the small crowd cleared I jumped the fence and trailed the crater ledge through cloud and scrub. I sat there and read Chopper 5. It was the worst book I had ever read.
I considered that this was the most remote I had ever been. My parents had no idea where I was. That was frightening and exciting.