At Bira Beach I snorkeled amongst the boats, over the seaweed and clean white sand. Small fish flitted. The ankles of the other swimmers moved about in the shallows, distorted by tiny lapping waves; there were plenty of visitors to the beach, but few would really swim in the sea, lift their feet off the bottom and give themselves up the ocean. Perhaps visitors from the city; this wasn’t their natural habitat.
It was, perhaps, not a bad thing, as several of the women bathed in full length dresses and hijabs, and I imagined the weight of the water in the sodden fabric. Others splashed around in t-shirts and leggings, like me. On one hand I felt bad for the ladies who looked like they were drowning in bedspreads, but on the other hand, I was glad that they didn’t let it stop them from swimming at the damn beach and having a good time.
I forewent the beachside coconut drinks and the offers of boat trips to snorkel the nearby islands; the temptation was strong but the budget was thin. I thought back with gratitude to Itchan at Cafe Del Mar on Flores, who’d gifted me my first ever experience of snorkelling in the paradise of the 17 Islands Marine Park; and of Georgina and Wayan and Josh at Bali Dive Cove who had charitably introduced my broke ass to the magic of scuba. Just – wow. I might not be able to do those things every day, but I tend to recollect past events with all senses – experientially, like stepping back in time through a door in my mind. This is wonderful for moments like floating alone above a coral reef off the coast of Flores; it’s not so good for traumatic memories though. Then we just call them flashbacks.
I sluiced off the seawater and grabbed the bike, riding up the coast to find some beautiful cliffs that I’d been told about. The road wound through sparse woodland until I burst out in front of the unbelievably blue sea.
Boardwalks wound down from clifftop to rocky outcrop and the sea ran from aquamarine to deep blue.
Groups of teenage girls and boys wanted selfies, so we took a thousand and then I asked the boys to take a photo of me: look, I was actually here. I am a real person, not merely a silhouetted motorcycle, despite what the photographic record would have you believe.
Then I climbed down to a platform where the waves crashed, deep water on the cliff base. I took off my riding boots and looked at the sky.
I’ve been on the run for a long time, but peace always seems just beyond the next horizon. I lay still until my fingertips tingled.
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