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.

Why Is Marriott Sponsoring A Jackie Robinson Movie?

“Does Marriott have a minority problem?”

There’s an interesting story over at Marketplace.org about a new movie coming out about Jackie Robinson and its corporate sponsor. Marriott, the worldwide hotel chain, is partnering up with Warner Brothers, the producers of “42,” to be the official hotel sponsor for the film.

But why? In a film about baseball that took place far before Marriott was a household name, why would a hotel need to sponsor a movie? Marketplace’s host, Kai Ryssdal and Wesley Morris, a film critic at Grantland.com lob a few theories back and forth during this interview, but the only conclusion they can resolve is that the move targets attention from minorities. If that’s the case, it’ll be interesting to see what they sponsor next.

Los Angeles traffic artery 405 shuts down. What to do?

Back when I used to live in Los Angeles, the 405 was part of my daily commute, that 74 lane wide river of agony flowing across the backbone of urban sprawl. I hated every second of it, the loud, jaunty pickup trucks ambling through the dusty desert, the obnoxious Mercedes Benz with dealer plates. The 405 is a what makes visitors hate the city of angels, and though I wont blame my departure on it, it’s not a stretch to say that it was part of the problem.

From July 15-18th this weekend, the state of California is doing its part to alleviate some of that pressure, closing the thoroughfare to make some long needed repairs. But the travelers are going to suffer. In a city that’s already choked with nonstop traffic, taking one of the main arteries out of the network is going to mean chaos throughout the city, with supporting streets and surrounding highways falling into madness.

Over at Marketplace.org, commentator Kristina Wong has some insight into the whole looming disaster as well as some excellent advice for dealing with the confusion. Take a listen below:


When in Philly, do as everyone does: eat your way through the Terminal Market

terminal market

The sights and sounds of Pennsylvania’s largest city are also some of this country’s oldest and most revered: the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Franklin Institute, and America’s very first zoo. It is also a city of 1.5 million people, with an old and overburdened roadway system and legendary rush hour traffic.

In order to escape the cacophony that is the streets of midtown Philadelphia, you can step into the cacophony that is the Reading Terminal Market.

The Reading Terminal Market is everything under one roof, but it’s not like anything you’ve ever experienced. There are great markets across the country: Seattle’s Pike Place, Cleveland’s West Side Market, D.C.’s Eastern Market and Union Square in New York City. But Reading is a food hall/shopping experience with the feel of a small village. It has straight-line aisles that accommodate more than one person at a time, places to sit and enjoy your food, and as for the choices of food: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Greek, mezze, cheesesteaks, salumeria, baked goods, fresh produce, ice cream, beer, wine, deli and vegetarian, Plus prime meats, poultry, seafood, flowers, chocolates, books, crafts and groceries to take home. It is possible to shop only here for all your food needs, and never go inside a supermarket. A dedicated food lover may want to consider living here.

It is amazing to realize that the Market almost died several years ago. Down on its luck throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, thanks to suburban growth and the decline of the railroads that supplied its goods, the market nearly went out of business. Now every space is rented out, and the market is not merely a tourist attraction, it is a place where office workers order pizza next to construction crews feasting on roast pork sandwiches, and an Amish farmer deals in dairy alongside a stall known for its specialty of Peking duck. It’s a United Nations of food and diners, except that everyone gets along and no one leaves dissatisfied.

[Photo: Flickr/Uberzombie]

Photo of the Day 4.27.09


Man, if there was *ever* a study in colour and texture, this fabulous photograph is it. Shot and shared by Adal-Honduras, you can almost hear the sounds and smell the smells of this Guatemalan market. Beautiful capture!

If you’ve got some great travel shots you’d love to share, be sure to upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr. We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day.