I stayed on the beach for a few more days after the night of the fishermen. They didn’t come back to disturb me, and my sunbaked utopia stretched from aquamarine shallows to the blue midday sky. Each afternoon, cumulus clouds would bank on the western horizon, but they always vanished overnight, taking their illusion of rain with them.
The strength of the midday sun was searing, elemental. Reflecting off sea and sand, you could feel it burning your skin in realtime. As an Australian child, you are trained to fear and respect the sun in all seasons and behind clouds; but even though I buttered myself in SPF50 I could see the freckles emerging from my skin with every foray into the paradisically warm water. My back burnt lightly through the fabric of my long underlayers.
Eventually, I got hungry. I’d eaten my way through my basic travelling supplies: a small can of tuna in calorie-rich chili oil; a crushed pack of instant noodles; some slightly-weevily white rice; the dehydrated peas that I’d been carrying ever since Mount Isa. I’d eaten all the bananas, the left-over martabak, the onion and the eggplant. I still had rolled oats, salt, cooking oil, tabasco, but it was time to move on.
I dawdled. I swam. By the time I hit the main road back to Makassar, it was already mid-afternoon and breakfast was a distant, long-digested memory. The red mists of hunger settled over my vision as I caught the afternoon traffic – congested, squeezed, feisty – on the narrow little road to the edge of the city.
For a long time, I played chicken with the best of them, but eventually I backed off, relaxed a little. Makassar drivers give no mercy, and it only takes one mistake. Besides, I couldn’t see shit. My night vision is basically a complicated mosaic of darkness and blurred lights, and blinding thousands of oncoming motorists with my spotlights seemed just a little antisocial.
Instead, I contented myself by making a hilariously whiny vlog in which I blamed all frustration on other people, none upon myself, and certainly none upon my wholly imprudent failure to eat.
* * *
The gods of motorcycling are sometimes forgiving, and that night they shepherded me carefully back to my friends’ house in Makassar, despite all my poor decision making.
Aditya laughed when he saw my unwanted tan, and took me out for beers with friends. Who says you can’t get a drink in Makassar? Soon I was surrounded by empty Bintang bottles, just another sunburnt foreigner hitting the beers. Hey, someone’s got to keep up the stereotypes, after all.
* * *
It was time for my monthly pilgrimage to Immigration to extend my visa and avoid deportation, so I settled back into Makassar for a few days. Aditya showed me around town and Isti fitted me out in a crisp white shirt, so that when I went to Immigration I wouldn’t look like the homeless person I was.
Extending your tourist visa in Indonesia takes three business days and a little patience and a local friend, but once you’ve figured out the process it’s all quite straight forward. Contrary to the hysterical tidings of various expat fora, it does not require paying extravagant amounts of money to visa agents. But then again, if you expect everything to work like the Tokyo metro, then maybe you should pay a visa agent just so that you don’t annoy the hell out of the rest of us.
So Aditya and I cruised along to Imigrasi one morning, found the foreign visa section – wholly deserted – and filed the paperwork. The nice young official called me back to ask about my air ticket out of Indonesia. It’s a listed requirement for the visa extension; Indonesia has two land borders – with Timor Leste and Malaysian Borneo – but to be fair, most tourists aren’t using them. As with every other visa extension application, I explained my plans and showed the guy my carnet and a picture of my motorbike. He looked deeply troubled by the irregularity and said he thought I might still have to buy an air ticket; but then he took my documents off to see what he could do.
Half an hour later, he came back and told me that his superiors had approved an exception for me. I was pleased, but not surprised: all of my dealings with Indonesian Imigrasi have been positive. Every thirty days I go through this process, and every time the officials are professional, courteous and helpful. I always go to Imigrasi with a smile on my face, and I always leave with a smile on my face.
Downstairs, the guy from the post office was having trouble setting up his mobile payment unit. Since visa fees are paid through the Kantor Pos, Aditya and I hung around with the other people in the car park while the guy sorted things out. No worries; we weren’t in a hurry. Other local people chilled in the shade with us, waiting to pay passport application fees and the like. It was fine; the guy was clearly trying his best, and what’s half an hour here or there when you’re not being eaten by crocodiles?
But of course, there had to be that one white guy who had a problem with it. He stalked about impatiently, complaining about how long things were taking and how unreasonable it all was. For reasons about which I could make assumptions, he decided to complain to me about it – surely I, too, thought this delay was outrageous?
I just shrugged and said that I wasn’t in a hurry. I wondered if he hadn’t been in Indonesia very long, and was just not yet accustomed to the pace of things? No, he told me, he’d been living in Indonesia on and off for a decade. I wondered if perhaps he was in a hurry, but he was retired and had nowhere he needed to be.
I shrugged again. His agitation was without explanation.
“It’s fine, it’s normal,” I said. “It’s all good.”
“Thank you,” said an Indonesian lady who was waiting nearby, and who had been silently listening to the man’s complaints with mounting embarrassment.
A few moments later, the Kantor Pos guy got his system sorted, and everyone let the complaining man go first – by mutual consent, so that none of us would have to listen to him.
* * *
Perhaps I would have been more inclined to relate to the impatient man if I had not had such an excellent breakfast. But as it was, I’d filled my belly with bassang, this gorgeous white corn porridge cooked up with coconut cream. It’s just to die for, I swear.
Aditya tells me that its origins are further north in Sulawesi, but there’s a vendor lady who walks through the neighbourhood early each morning with a vat of it. The house is set back behind a big wall, so the vendors will call or sing out their wares as they go, and you need to have sharp ears to make out the sound of your favourite food passing by. Luckily for me, there are many kind and attentive ears in Aditya’s household; and so every morning I would emerge from sleep to find a delicious example of Sulawesi porridge on the chair beside my door.
On days like this, the whole world is my friend.