16 of July in Indonesia

I woke up at midnight to climb Mt Ijen to view its sulphur-fuming crater. It looked like hell painted in delf blue – the colour of the burning sulphur. In the distance, erupting Mt Ruang’s outline and column of smoke was cut black felt against a bright milky way, the column flickering red with larva ejected. From the peak, sunrise painted its saturation brush across a photoshop landscape of volcanoes – past and present. Back at the homestay a hearty nasi goreng breakfast but no time to sleep – off to catch the PELNI ferry across the short strait to Bali, the next jewel along in the necklace of Indonesia. As I asked an on-board salesman when we were leaving, they were already pulling up the ramp. A cute backpacker on the opposite seat – he was reading Oliver Sachs and I was reading his biography as well! A lucky coincidence that I decided this time I had no need to turn into conversation. The ocean was the blue of heaven not hell and I couldn’t wait to get to Pemuteran – a hidden gem in the north west, a circle of black sand and cute warungs framing amazing diving that I had discovered on an earlier circumnavigation of the island on a scooter.

As the musical bus was dropping me off, a man called me to look at his homestay – above what I had wanted to pay but it had the irresistible charm of a Balinese household. A carving of Ganesh stood at the front with a fresh garland of marigolds and I couldn’t say no. Right now, every village temple, household shrine and statue is decked with fresh clothes because it happens to be Ganungan – without doubt the most beautifully decorated festival in the world. I made some arrangements for my stay, then almost ran into the ocean, surrendering utterly to the pull of salt water and surf, amongst the other Balinese and Bule swimming together in the sunset. I was overcome with feeling, feeling that this was me. I’ve given up my job, my home, companionship even for a chance to travel, worrying that I was giving up all that makes me who I am. But instead I found I have the whole me here, satisfied and complete, because this is what I do. Pelancong – caminante – voyageur – traveller. Walking back from the ocean amongst the penjor (dangling decorations) and village animals, a local called out a regular greeting – Mau ke mana? Where are you going? – Everywhere, because I’ve only just begun.

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