Luxury hotels with feather mattresses softer than a baby’s bottom, languorous sightseeing in open-air buses and shopping extravaganzas—pretty much the standard for my vacations.
I traded that in for treks on an active volcano, 16 metre-deep dives, magic mushroom sightings, 5 km-long treks to get up close with Komodo dragons and living off a boat with questionable plumbing and lizard-sized cockroaches. The only constant? The copious amounts of alcohol consumed.
The heat is on
Touchdown Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, where a one-night stay at a colourful airport hotel, ‘Pop’, had us ready to dive in. A three-hour-long drive and a boat ride delivered us to Krakatoa, a volcanic island in the Sunda strait between Java and Sumatra and Anak Krakatoa. Jumping off the boat into choppy waters of the bluest blue, we lost ourselves in pretty fish and successfully escaped from, oh yes, jellyfish. Boxes of Nasi Goreng and Malibu fortified us for our sunset walk up the volcano. Trudging, trembling and tottering—a misstep could mean serious injury. We made it up, and were spectacularly rewarded. (Feather-light souvenir pumice stones were slyly pocketed).
And then we were left to the night, on a desolate island where light came from the moon and the waves lashing against the shore made live music. From behind our sparse tents, we watched the sunrise, feeling like there was nothing more spectacular, yet knowing that the next one would be.
The island of Bali lived up to its ‘party central’ reputation and lasciviously urged us to abandon our fabulous villa the first night to hit the party spots of Seminyak. After a day of over-consuming the local brew, Bintang and getting sorely sun-burnt at Padang Padang beach, it was time to scuba dive.
The human brain is astounding, and attempting to emulate fish and breathing underwater is overwhelming—but leaping off a boat and giving yourself to the depths of the ocean, takes your everything. And it did. And though I had my heart in my mouth the whole time, I’m glad I did it.
Corals, water snakes at Padang Bai, eels, a US shipwreck at Tulamben and the serenity that comes with focusing on the rhythm of your own breath. Like photographs stamped on the inside of my brain, I took home everlasting lessons. Including, when in doubt, close your eyes and imagine yourself floating—picture buoyant and you will be, even on solid ground.
After frenzied dashes to stick to our hectic itinerary, we spent three days at Gili Trawangan—an island a boat ride away from Bali. One main street, just large enough for horse carriages and bicycles, littered with sea-food restaurants, bars and not-so-conspicuous drug peddlers and a hotel where lounging beached whale-esque was the order of the day.
Long stretches of wilderness, full-moon nights and the clip-clip of hooves—in my head, I was back in the past, at a time when the world wasn’t hampered by technology and all the constraints that come with being connected 24/7. I was an island princess, spending days under the raw sun, being carried to and fro, in my own private carriage, with nothing to do but smell the salty breeze and enjoy the sand between my toes.
The claw crawl
Flying to Labuan Bajo, we lived on a boat for two nights and three days. No technological connectivity, just endless blue water, snorkeling stopovers and discovering islands. Here, we went Komodo dragon hunting and marvelled, as we walked on the same land that the imposing lizard inhabited—our Shah Rukh Khan-obsessed guide delivering the most perfect rendition of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai I’ve heard in a long time.
And then, the end
A land, where tourism is embraced, a land of cultivated, natural and preserved beauty, of carefree chain-smokers, a land where thirty-minute sunsets seemed ceaseless, unhurried highs made the world seem a calmer, kinder place and wandering boat rides placed stars an arm’s length away. There are some things that bind you for good, and finding secluded places to change at, making sure you stay close in the murky waters of the ocean and ensuring komodo dragons don’t eat you, are a few. We came back with happy hearts, forever friendships—and learning the true meaning of minute-long infinities.