Travel’s Three Gifts: Notes from an Indonesian Island

Nusa Penida Rai
Candace Rose Rarton

The first time I meet Rai is at the morning market in Sampalan, the largest town on the Indonesian island of Nusa Penida.

She says hello to me from behind mounds of mangos and bright green chilies at the stall she runs with her mother. Despite the heat, she wears a purple hoodie zipped to the neck. We chat for a while, her brown eyes glowing, her dark hair pulled back from her face.

I see her again the next night, at a dance lesson in her village. After the lesson finishes, she asks, “You come to my home?”
And because I have no other plans on this Saturday night, I say, “Why not?”

Rai sits behind me on my motorbike and directs me down an unlit gravel lane. The farther we go, the more the road disintegrates beneath my wheels. I apologize each time we hit a bump.

“Candace,” she chides, “every day I am taking these roads.”

When we reach her house, her family is seated on their concrete front porch. I’m told to call her fisherman father Bapa, and her mother Meme. Her brother Putu and sister-in-law Kadek are also there. Putu is 21, his wife 20; already, Rai tells me, they have lost two children. One died “in belly,” another at 13 days old.

When I try to find the words to say I’m sorry, Kadek smiles an impossible smile and says, “No problem. It’s okay.”

“Tomorrow you can help me selling in the market?” Rai asks.

Again I say, “Why not?”

“And tonight, you sleep at my home?”

Nusa Penida market offerings
Candace Rose Rarton

For a moment, I mumble something about my homestay at a modified hostel in Sampalan. And then it hits me – I’ve just been offered an actual homestay.

Rai goes to take a shower, and afterwards asks if I’d like to take one, too. Bapa warns me — it’s only a “manual shower,” and the bathroom is outdoors, open for all to see, its walls barely reaching up to my chest.

Still, it’s far enough from the house – and lit only by the glow of Rai’s flashlight – that I soon let go of modesty and strip down, dipping a plastic tumbler into a bucket and feeling the water cool my sticky skin. I tilt my head back, take in the incandescent sky above me, and thank the universe for this moment.

Because that’s the first gift travel gives me – the gift of discovery, and the thrill of encountering a world so completely different from my own.

We set our alarms for 4 a.m., and I lie beside Rai on a foam mat on the floor. Her parents will sleep in the living room. After they turn off the TV, the only sounds are the occasional calls of a gecko and the ticking of a heart-shaped clock on the cinderblock wall – and Rai’s quiet breathing next to me.

I glance to my side and see that the frangipani blossom she’d picked earlier is still tucked behind her ear. I am slow to fall asleep, kept awake by gratitude and wonder at finding myself so at home here.

Because that’s the second gift that travel gives me – the gift of belonging, and the thrill of journeying so far from home only to find a home in such a new place.

The following morning, we arrive at the market when the chickens are still asleep in the trees. Yet we’re far from the first ones here. Women are setting up their stalls with flashlights held between their ears and shoulders like telephones. They roll back the sheets of blue plastic that covered their tables overnight. Rai complains of moths eating her tomatoes.

Like a pot coming to boil, the market slowly heats up. Sandals begin to slap against the dusty paths, plastic bags rustling as they’re filled with corn and cassava and grapes the size of golf balls. While Rai sells produce – carrots and chilies, garlic and red pearl onions – I stand next to her, helping where and when I can.

For the next three days, I return each morning, until the day comes for me to say goodbye and depart from Nusa Penida.

Nusa Penida street
Candace Rose Rarton

I’m still in touch with Rai – through Facebook, of course – and every now and then I’ll get a message from her, asking how I am. I smile each time, remembering the market and the manual shower and how it felt to fall asleep in the damp darkness of her home.

Because that’s the third gift that travel gives me, and it’s the reason I’ll never stop traveling – the gift of connection, and the thrill of weaving an invisible web around us as we move through the world, and the world moves through us.

The connections that keep each journey alive forever.

Photo Of The Day: Climbing Active Volcano Mount Bromo

Lauren Irons, Flickr

Ever set foot on an active volcano? There are about 1500 known active volcanoes around the world, and if you’re up for it, you are able to climb many of them.

Mount Bromo in East Java is one of those active volcanoes, and in this photo by Lauren Irons we get a good feel for what it’s like to be standing atop a volcano and looking into the center. The still puffing volcano shrouds the group in a cloud of smoke. The photo is made even more intense by the use of black and white photography; you really get the feel that the top of this mountain is grim and destitute.

Have an excellent shot from your travels? Submit it to the Gadling Flickr pool for a chance to be featured on Photo of the Day.

Better Know A Holiday: Buddha’s Birthday

Laughing Buddha, Singapore
xcode, Flickr

AKA: Vesakha, Vesak, Wesak, Visak, Vixakha and many more derivatives.

When? The second Sunday in May OR the day of the full moon in May OR the Sunday nearest to the day of the full moon in May OR the eighth day of the fourth lunar month OR if you’ve decided all that calendric work is too much hassle, like the Japanese, April 8.

Public holiday in: Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan, Laos.

Who died? Nobody.

Reason for celebration, then? The birth of the Buddha, of course. Though for many, the Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment are lumped together in one big holiday. So …

Who died? The Buddha.

Origins: Some 2,500 years ago, Queen Mahamaya of the Shakya Kingdom in modern-day Nepal gave birth in a grove of blossoming trees. As the blossoms fell around mother and child, they were cleansed by two streams of water from the sky. Then the baby stood up and walked seven steps, pointed up with one hand and down with the other – not unlike a Disco Fever John Travolta – and declared that he alone was “the World-Honored One.”

The rest is Buddhist history. The toddler, named Siddhartha Gautama, grew up to become the Buddha and the founder of one of the world’s major religions. He attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in what is now Bodhgaya, India. Later, after amassing many followers, he died, either of food poisoning or mesenteric infarction, depending who you ask, and reached Parinirvana, the final deathless state of Buddhism.

How is it celebrated now? Bathing little statues of the baby Buddha with tea or water, hanging lanterns, extended temple services.

Bathing Baby Buddha
Joint Base Lewis McChord, Flickr

Other ways to celebrate: Freeing caged birds, parades with dancers and illuminated lantern floats, temple offerings.

Concurrent festivals: The Flower Festival in Japan, the Bun Festival in Hong Kong.

Associated food: In many places, varieties of porridge, which commemorate the dish that Buddha received that ended his asceticism phase.

Associated commercialism: Certain companies like McDonald’s will even offer solely vegetarian options on Buddha’s birthday to stick with the spirit of the festival. Precious little, in fact. Though sales of lotus lanterns and baby Buddha statues rocket during this time, the celebrations are remarkably uncommercial.

Associated confusion: There is no reliable record for when the Buddha was actually born, thus the wide range of celebratory dates. This in no way puts a damper on festivities, but does result in a bit of awkwardness when there are two full moons in May, which happens regularly enough. Most recently it occurred in 2007, and Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia decided to celebrate during the first full moon of the month, while Singapore and Thailand celebrated at the end of May.

Best place to enjoy the festivities: Seoul really takes it up a notch, planning a week of events and celebrations in the lead-up. It kicks off with the Lotus Lantern Festival the weekend prior to Buddha’s birthday, when tens of thousands of Korean Buddhists parade through Seoul’s main roads under colorful lanterns, bringing the city to a standstill. The municipal government really pulls out all the stops, offering music, dance and theater performances in public places that are jammed with revelers. Take a look at the celebrations in Seoul and elsewhere around the world in this gallery:

%Gallery-188546%

Photo Of The Day: Javanese Graffiti

Barcelona and Berlin might be known for their guerilla street art, but graffiti isn’t reserved for these cosmopolitan capitals alone. Instagram user laurenirons snapped this shot while in Jogja, Indonesia. Also known as Yogakarta, Jogja is a city known for its classical Javanese fine art and culture, and it’s a place to discover the iconic local art forms of batik, poetry and puppet shows. But it’s also known for its street art. On this wall, we see old meeting modern, in a graffiti version of the Ramayana story.

Do you have a photo that captures the spirit of travel? Submit it to our Gadling Flickr pool, or by mentioning @gadlingtravel on Instagram and tagging your photo with #gadling.

[Photo Credit: laurenirons]

Photo Of The Day: Runway Traffic

Photo of the day - Jakarta runway traffic
We here at Gadling are airplane nerds. We take pictures of the view from the gate, our inflight meals, and even take portraits in the bathroom. Even my daughter has become an airplane nerd before the age of 2, stopping in her tracks and pointing to the sky at the sight of a plane flying over. Naturally, this Instagram shot caught my eye, for the view from the wing of runway traffic at Jakarta airport and variety of planes in the queue. An airplane nerd might look at this and start daydreaming about where the other planes are going, how spacious their seats are, and what they might be having for lunch.

Share your best travel photos in the Gadling Flickr pool or with us on Instagram mentioning @gadlingtravel and adding hashtag #gadling to be featured as a Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: LaurenIrons]