I’m having my morning coffee when I notice the landlady trying to surreptitiously photograph me from the shadows. Sprung! I laugh and tell her we should take selfies instead. Hey, if I’m going to be appearing on the local Whatsapp group we might as well do it properly.
More beautiful riding along cliffs and beaches but I’m feeling a bit delicate. I stop at a shack on a hillside for coffee; there are even shortbread-like biscuits and this fills me with unreasonable joy. This should perk me up.
But as I go to remove my helmet, the neck and cheek pads press against me ears and the pain is… electric blue coloured. My eyes water a little.
I have to wake up the warung lady to get my coffee and biscuit. She goes back to sleep on her bamboo mat and there’s no-one else around, so I decide to follow suit. I lie down on one of the wooden benches and close my eyes. It’s good, it’s what I need.
I nap for a little while then open my eyes and rest a little longer, just contemplating the rust patterns on the rusted iron roof.
There’s a soft breeze coming up the hill and I can see the sun drenched road below. It’s a good spot.
* * *
My stop doesn’t perk me up. I feel a little feverish. I press my eyebrows, then the cheekbones under my eyes, and feel the ache go through my head. Sinus infection.
I’m not looking forward to the next main town. There’s only one road and it goes straight through town, but this is where old mate was apparently waiting for me last night. My attitude about receiving 52 phone calls from a stranger at 2am has not shifted – I’m keen to just keep riding. But I know how these things go.
So I ride on. And honestly, it’s still delightful, sinus infection or not. Then I get to town. It’s all going well for the first couple of intersections until a guy on a motorbike sees me. His girlfriend’s on the back, they’re both waving me for me to follow them. I wave back, all friendly and gormless, and keep riding. As soon as I see a fuel station, I pull in. I need petrol. I hope they will keep going and forget about me. I fuel up on the far side bowser, everything is good and fine, I think I might have gotten away with it.
I’m turning the key in the ignition when a guy appears from the other side of the fuel pump and hands me a mobile phone, and says the call is for me.
Oh, my lawd. Pls no. There’s no getting away from it.
I take the call. ‘Hello?’
It’s guy who was calling me from last night. I tell him that I’m not stopping here, I’m going to keep riding. Thank you for the invitations, but it’s still early, etc. He says that some of them will rider with me. No, thank you, I assure them, I am fine…
I hand back the phone, give the guys some smiles, but really I’m not feeling it. Anyway long story short eventually some bloke on a motorbike decides he’s going to escort me to… wherever. I don’t know where. Nobody’s listening to me anyway. The afternoon sun is hot and my ear hurts.
Gotta go! I tell them, and get back on my bike, and pull out. Old mate, the nominated escort, scrambles to get on his bike. He catches up with me as I ride through town, overtakes, tucks in front of me… and slows down. He’s going about 15km/h slower than I want to ride. I’m not trying to ride fast, I was just riding slightly faster than that. I think I’m starting to lose my shit a little.
I try sitting on his fender. He doesn’t go any faster. Maybe he thinks I’m being sociable. I try overtaking, but he’s always blocking me. I overtake once, he overtakes me again.
Ten, fifteen kilometres. By the time he pulls over I am practically frothing at the mouth. But he’s nice, he means well, so I give him a smile and a wave and peel off again. I ride off much too fast, finally liberated.
But hell, my ears hurt. I ride and ride and ride and eventually – as always – I have to pee. Everywhere beside the road is a cliff. In the end I get desperate. I pull off on a wide exposed clearing on the outside of a corner, and pee quickly behind the cover of my motorbike. I hear the next truck coming soon enough that they don’t get to see my bare arse. Winning.
But oh, the pain in my head. And I’m tired, so tired.
I take myself in hand: Grace, I say, you’ve been riding for hours. You’re clearly dehydrated. Shut up and drink some water.
So I get my water bottle and shuffle to the edge of the cliff and drink some water and look out across the sea.
There’s the sea and a perfect curve of white beach, and it’s beautiful, and then I look down and – goddamn. There, at my feet, is a slather of garbage spilling down the cliffside into the jungle. Into this picture of goddamn perfection.
Some of it’s trash that’s been tossed over the edge by picnickers, by people stopping to rest by the roadside just as I am now. Some of it has been dumped en masse, it’s bagged household waste, dumped illegally over the side by tilt tray.
There’s no proper waste management system here. The ‘cleanest’ waste disposal is burning, and every afternoon you can smell the sweet toxic smell of industrious householders buring their plastic waste. But the other part of the equation is simply awareness, attitude. I always think back to when I was a child in Australia, and all the public education campaigns aimed at teaching people not to throw their rubbish everywhere. And I remind myself, that was necessary. I remind myself that, back in the 70s and 80s, it was normal for Australians to throw their rubbish out the car window as they drove down the highway. These days, littering is considered antisocial and frankly shocking: the social norm has changed. But I remind myself, it took education and work to shift that social norm. And maybe even a whole generation.
* * *
Somehow I get to the next town and I’m looking for somewhere to stay and it’s dark and my ears hurt OH MY EARS HURT and I pull over and I’m in the parking lot of the Indomaret and there are some local bikers. One woman, two men, they are just lovely to me. BUT MY EARS HURT SO MUCH. I just need to lie down. I tell them please, help me find a cheap hotel, somewhere really cheap, I am tired and and I need to lie down. They suggest that I should ride with them back to their own town, which is very nice, but 50km away. It’s dark and my ears hurt and I want to lie down and I don’t want to dodge goats and potholes for another 50km in the dark. No, no, no, thank you but hard no. Please if you want to help me, please just assist me to find a cheap hotel.
The conversation continues. After ten minutes I don’t want to stand and talk anymore. I don’t feel well. I tell them I’m going to find a hotel with or without them. A nice young man says okay, he’ll show me to a place, and he takes me to a place, and I ask how much, and the receptionist is sour-faced, one of the sourest faces I’ve seen yet in Indonesia. Why so sour? Does she think I’m a hooker? It’s too expensive anyway and I go to leave but the guys won’t let me leave – there’s two of them now – they even say that they’ll pay, but I don’t want them to do that. I just want to go and find somewhere cheaper. I know it’s possible, I’ve been trawling Indonesia for cheap guesthouse rooms for sometime now and I know what they should cost.
But they won’t let me go and my EARS HURT. I’m trying to be polite but it’s not working, eventually I just take the key and say okay and stagger into the room. The overcharging is outrageous, the sheets are not clean, there’s someone else’s toothbrush in the bathroom, like what the fuck. Whatever. I’m toast.
It takes me 45 minutes to get my gear off and have a cold water wash. I’m not firing on all cylinders.
When I open the door again – oh, there’s one of the guys still sitting there! Waiting for me! I had no idea. When he sees me, he immediately rings his mate who comes to take me out for food – there’s an ayam penyet stand very close by – we eat and he won’t let me pay. I want to be good company but I’m just destroyed, I can barely sit up. I’m sorry, I tell him, I’m so tired and I think I’m also sick. I need to go to bed.
He asks me if I need anything. Antibiotics, I tell him. I need antibiotics for a sinus infection. If you can get them, that’s what I need.