We’ve all had that friend.
You know the one.
The trouble maker. The instigator. The one with whom you launched the most outrageous plans. Schemed beyond reason. Dreamed with no ration. That friend with whom you dug through the dirt and wallowed in the mud and turned discarded bits of trash into treasure. Broken plates were really pieces of an archaeological dig. Tin cans were telephones. Jump ropes were lassos for wild beasts.
I was lucky enough to have a few of those friends. We spent more time digging dirt out of our fingernails than putting paint on them. One of those friends was particularly, wonderfully, outlandishly out there. We schemed the biggest. Plotted the best. Daydreamed the wildest.
When we were 14 years olds, 2 years before either of us could drive, we planned a road trip. And I don’t just mean we talked about how fun it would be to drive a few states away. No, no, no. With the limited reaches of the internet in 2001, we mapped, in every bit of detail possible, a cross country road trip from Boston to California and back.
We planned out the miles per day. We researched overnight destinations. We reviewed event schedules to set an ideal timeline. We plotted alternate routes to see out of the way national parks. We assessed gas prices per region. We estimated total costs. And finally, we forecasted cost comparisons for my mom’s minivan and her mom’s sedan. Because obviously it didn’t occur to us that our parents might say no to a daughter’s request to drive their car across the country unchaperoned one summer. What could go wrong with that?
Like I said, we were big dreamers.
A few years ago, when I was purging my childhood bedroom of old clothes, notes, and school reports, I found the map we had spent hours and hours pouring over. More planning went into the trip that never was than my entire time living abroad. The map, which was annotated with notes highlighting top destinations and key events, was accompanied by a written pitch to our parents explaining why it would be just ridiculous for them to say no. Explaining how valuable such independence, such adventure, such free spirit would appear on our college application essays.
Oddly enough neither of us ended up in sales.
So, it should come as no surprise that when this such friend messaged me while I was sitting in an internet cafe in Thailand, something deep in the recesses of my brain stirred. Like Pavlov and his dogs, the moment I saw her name flashing across my internet tab with a new message my adventure salivation kicked in.
An unexpected 3 weeks of summer break from your Masters program? Airline miles that you just have to use? An unbridled desire to make up for our missed opportunity to be reckless and road tripping at 16?
So, with her sitting at her computer on the other side of the international date line we hurried through internet searches, Kayak price comparisons, and off the beaten path destinations. And when all that failed, we essentially dropped a pin over a map of Southeast Asia.
And off to Bali we went.
I didn’t have a phone. She didn’t have a phone. So our last email exchanged before we both embarked on 3 days of transit was to agree on a hostel near the airport in Bali to meet back on the other side. All that stood between me and the ultimate adventure was an overnight ferry, a bus, a plane, a layover, another plane, and a shuttle.
After some delays and a few false starts, she walked into the hostel room around 1 am, greeting me with a new haircut and an old smile.
Full disclosure, we didn’t actually plan on road tripping through Bali. In fact, we didn’t actually plan on anything. I didn’t have a guide book and she didn’t have time to plan. All we had were flights and our first night of accommodation.
The next morning as we wandered through the lazy seaside town of Sanur debating between a morning massage and a nasi campur breakfast, we saw a small sign with a little arrow directing us towards a local car rental shop. I don’t think we even paused to debate. We nodded and went off for the keys to our new adventure.
We named him Herman. Hermie for short. Covered in inappropriate bumper stickers with a window that didn’t quite roll down, he was a great car. We were finally living that dream. Or, rather, a slightly modified version of that dream. On backpacker budgets we opted to forgo a map. Bali is an island. How hard is it to keep the ocean on your right and just drive?
As it turns out, pretty easy.
We drove until we wanted to stop. We stopped when we saw somewhere we wanted to stay. We stayed for as long as we wanted and then we kept driving. All we knew was that we had to be back to the airport in 2 weeks. Unlike our 14 year old selves, we planned not a lick.
The nice thing about not planning or reading guide books of hot tourist spots, we encountered very few other Westerners and managed to find our way through a relatively quiet but quite unique tour around Bali. There were a few spots we had heard about. I just had to dive the USAT Liberty, a United States cargo ship that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in WWII and beached in Bali. A volcanic eruption in 1963 shifted the boat into the nearby water and created a spectacular new dive site resting in engulfing black sands.
Looking back, we skipped out on most of the tourist sites. We didn’t see Ubud or Kuta or the Gili islands, we didn’t climb Mount Batur at sunrise to see the views from this active volcano, and we didn’t flock to crowded temples.
Instead we wandered through smaller villages in the early mornings, wondering at the daily offerings left on every doorstep. We learned phrases to ask for no meat, no fish, more beer. We stayed in small havens of quiet and privacy. We drove and drove until most days we didn’t know where we were. We bought our fruit from local stands and managed to find the largest bag of peanuts I have ever seen at a wonderfully understocked grocery store. We bought those peanuts, shells and all, and ate and ate and ate. And two weeks later, we were still eating.
When Herman overheated, which he so often did without air conditioning, we pulled over at the nearest beach and darted across the scorching hot black sand beaches to the cooling torquoise expanse. Most days I didn’t bother with shoes.
Two weeks later, my dear friend left me at the little hostel where we first began our adventure. She left behind provisions I had requested, a few clothing items I would eventually wear to pieces, a bottomless bag of peanuts, and a heart so full I feared it might burst.
I spent another two weeks in Bali, alone in a small bungalow on a beach by a seaweed farm on Nusa Lembongan. When I wasn’t diving, I was walking and writing and thinking about what luck I have found in this thing I call life.
This journey through Bali is just a taste of one of the amazing, adventurous, independent women I traveled with. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016, we will focus on all the wonderful one woman wanderers, same time next week…