Bamboo bungalows by the sea. Just a bed, a mosquito net; a roofless bathroom at the back where cold water cascades from a pipe over a floor of loose rocks and pebbles. At night, hermit crabs scuttle shyly among those rocks and I am careful not to tread on them when I go to pee. There is electricity three hours a night, then silence and dark.
If you want to go to the main house, or access the road, you wait for the owners to show up in their little wooden boat. Breakfast is included, so each morning I walk down to the beach and catch a boatride across the bay for my omlette and coffee.
For dinner, I walk up along the road and buy fresh eggplant and kangkung which I fry with oil and salt on my dual fuel stove near the steps of the bungalow. The owners look surprised, and not a little worried that I’m going to burn down the bungalow. Over the petrol-fueled howl of my little stove, I promise them I won’t.
I can’t find any fruit for sale, so I ask some old men lounging in the shade beside the road. They direct me to a house tucked away behind some other houses; there I find a family, also lounging in the shade; it is siesta hour, after all. They have a mango tree. I explain what I’m looking for – in my terrible Indonesian – and they invite me to sit with them while they send the little boys to climb the giant tree and pull down mangoes for me.
* * *
I’m tired, and for a couple of days I rest. Foreign tourists come and go – almost all French speaking. From never seeing any foreigners at all, I’m suddenly surrounded by Francophones. Curious, I befriend a young Belgian woman – Natacha – traveling solo and wringing the last few days of tropical glory from her months abroad. She explains to me that there’s basically only one French language travel blog that deals with Flores, and the writers of that blog say to come to this place, Lena House. So again and again, the French speakers do come. One blog post, and the family who run this place have an occupancy rate of which five star hotels can only dream.
I enjoy Natacha’s company. My French – once functional and amusingly academic – has faded in the years since I studied in Paris, so we speak in English. Natacha tells me that she finds it much easier to speak English with other non-native English speakers, which makes sense – they use less idiom and rely more on the same shared, basic vocabulary. Native English speakers talk too fast, are too colloquial, use unnecessarily complex language. Natasha also says she can’t understand the accents of some Australians at all, but my accent is okay; I think she’s trying to say that she doesn’t speak Queenslander.
Speaking of Queenslanders, Natacha and I walk off the beach one day – we have made a lunch date at the little restaurant – and find two Queenslanders chilling in the shade. David and Beau; they’ve ridden their DR650s from Queensland. They ran into another French girl in front of a hotel somewhere in a different town, who told them that there was a crazy overlander with a KTM 690 staying at Lena House. So they headed up the road to check it out.
What total legends.
* * *
I am hardly conscious of it at first, but my mental state is on the downswing. I am tired from always being vigilant, hyperalert; and some personal angst is following me via the lines of communication from Australia. I am on edge, and little dark tendrils of despair have started to creep up on the bottom corners of my mind. So to have a couple of strangers go out of their way to cross paths with me – that is incredibly nice.
I splash out on a beer and some dinner at the little restaurant that night, for the pleasure of their company. They stay a couple of days, then are gone, riding up volcanos like wonderful, crazy people on DR650s tend to do.
I am feeling too fractured to ride with them; to have the space to cradle my anxieties, I need to ride alone.