So I was in East Java, overnighting in Jember, town of clean cheap hotels and nasi rawon. The next night I wasn’t so lucky.

I’d been on Route 3 all day, the smaller road that runs along the southern coast of Java, but by afternoon the traffic had thickened to a crawl. For much of it, not even scooters could squeeze between the trucks and the oncoming traffic, and the windows of clear sight – from corner to corner – were dangerously brief. I got through, but playing cat-and-mouse with the angel of death gets tiring after a while.

Eventually I passed a head-on collision between two trucks on a corner – nothing fatal, no-one goes that fast – but even then the traffic remained stubbornly slow. It was dark, and I was exhausted by the time I rolled into a small town.

Imagine my delight when I saw the following chalkboard sign by the road: “live music – cold beer – wifi – food – homestay!” A balm to the eyes of the weary traveler! I pulled the bike off the road – awkwardly, the slope was steep and there was hardly any space – and managed to get the side stand down at an appropriate angle. Stiffly, I levered myself off the bike. Helmet off, gloves off, keys out; unplug the phone, take it out of its holder; stagger to the welcoming light shining from an open doorway.

There were three or four people inside, sitting around on lounges while a man tuned a guitar. There was a drum kit too; it looked like there might be rock and roll later on. But for now, I just needed to wash the road grime and sweat off my face. So I asked for a room: how much?

The people smiled, but looked at me blankly. I tried again. The homestay, I said in bahasa Indonesia, gesturing to the sign out front. Where is the homestay?

I thought, perhaps, I was in the wrong building. Perhaps the sign was meant to refer to the place immediately next door?

More blank looks. And now I was confused. Sure, my Indonesian is rudimentary but by now I definitely knew how to ask for a room for the night, and to ask how much it would be.

The young man finally volunteered that he would go and look for his brother, who spoke better English. Okay, fine, thank you.

I was so tired, and hadn’t eaten for a long time. Had I had lunch? I tried to remember. No, there had been no lunch. All I wanted was a room; to be able to shut the door and pour cold water over my head and lay down for just a minute.

After a while the older brother appeared and I greeted him, then asked again: how much for a room? First I tried English, but he didn’t understand, so I asked again in Indonesian. Still nothing.

Eventually I went to the sign and put my finger on the word ‘homestay’. He frowned. Then he go out his phone and used google translate. Then he explained to the rest of the family what ‘homestay’ actually meant.

Sudden recognition flashed across everyone’s faces. That’s why the crazy bule lady keeps asking how much for a room! Hahahaha.

The sign was basically just a collection of words white people like, slung together on a sign to add a certain cachet to the local jazz cafe. A certain je ne sais quoi – and indeed, they knew not what.

I groaned a little; it was funny but I was too tired. Now I had to put all the gear on and wrestle my fully loaded bike back onto the road and start again. But, people are nice and now the younger brother was saying that he knew where there was a hotel, and that he’d show me the way.

Tiredly – and with, I’m ashamed to say, very little grace – I agreed to his proposition and followed his scooter back up the narrow congested streets to the only hotel in town. The woman at reception was unusually sour. She charged me the equivalent of about twelve Australian dollars for a room, which in Indonesia ought to get you something fairly pleasant; here, I could tell that it wasn’t going to be flash, but I was too tired to argue.

I gave her my money, and she gave me a key. I parked Beastie in the courtyard. The hotel was full of local workers from other parts of Indonesia; there was a decrepit room with a filthy gas burner and a kettle, and men were sitting out the front drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

They were friendly, and curious. They all agreed that I would have to take everything off my bike and into my room, because otherwise it would not be safe overnight.

So I unpacked everything I owned. When you’re dead on your feet, it’s an excruciating process. So you unpack all the things that you’ll use that night, but then you also unpack all the spare tools, the emergency medications, the warm winter gloves for when you get to the Himalayas, the chain lube and air pressure gauge and spare tubes and tie down straps for ferries and the spare front sprocket and the spare fuel pump and… the list goes on and on. It’s one thing to pack for a long trip, but it’s another to pack for a trip on which you can’t afford to buy new things, and from which you never expect to come back.

So I unpacked everything, all my carefully curated items in their tessellated waterproof bags. I carried them to my room. My room was underground.

Yes, underground. You went down the stairs, below ground level; a dungeon by any other name.

No windows. The air inside was unspeakably stale; the ghosts of a thousand cigarretes. The side table was not to be touched with bare flesh; nor the bed sheet. The bathroom was a squat toilet and a large bucket of water, which was fine, but I didn’t like the way the cockroaches marched out of the open maw of the drain. It was a very small space, and it was very difficult to stand and wash without accidentally putting a foot into that black, crawling void.

Usually I am quite ‘live-and-let-live’ about cockroaches and other creepy-crawlies – all I ask is that they keep a respectful distance – but later that evening the sheer magnitude of the cockroaches got the better of me. I snapped, and beat one to death with my sandal, scraping its giant mangled body parts back into the drain as a warning to its compatriots.

I felt mildly ashamed, but I was a woman on edge.

I put my groundsheet over the bed, and then my sleeping bag over that, and drank a little emergency whisky from my flask. I was too tired to go through the social process of finding food. If I was snapping at cockroaches, I shouldn’t speak to people – all of whom would undoubtedly be very nice, and not at all deserving of this evening’s miserable attitude.

So I slept.

The upside of sleeping inside a dungeon is that it’s very, very safe.

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