Just before leaving Indonesia, Drew and I set out with a new travel friend we’d made to go “trekking.” Trekking is really just a fancy word for walking, I think, or trespassing really. We had been in Indonesia long enough to know a few words which we combined with hand motions to confirm that the local rice farmers didn’t mind us traipsing through their terraces, balancing along with as much agility as we could muster on the muddy ridges that divide their water gardens.
For awhile we were in the midst of the terraces, the land rising and falling around us as if the planes to our sides were falling away in layers and curtains. Eventually our meandering led us to the edge of the forest on a mountain side. We followed small dirt paths through the thick foliage. “Is this a jungle?” I thought to myself. Somehow there were still little signs that this forest land had been tamed though. Roosters called from the jungle bushes for instance and groups of young banana trees sprung about us in seemingly intentional clusters. Coconet shells appeared on the ground with machete cuts in the top and occasionally a shanty-type house filled a small clearing. The network of paths through the forest was quite impressive. These were someone’s daily routes: roads they knew like I know my paved ones back home…(ok…maybe better).
Suddenly someone in the heavens cut the strings of a beaded curtain: rain began to fall in an audible wave across the valley. We had a few seconds to realize what was happening and then: torrential rain was upon us.
We turned around and headed back to one of the raised, covered tables that the Balinese set up to use like public, king-sized beds of bamboo. I have seen people sleeping on these structures when work at their roadside stands slows, or when rain is too heavy for walking and biking. Someone had built one out in the mountain forest so we ran to it. We passed a woman who was using a banana leaf as an umbrella. I imagine we looked silly to her: drenched and unaware of the umbrellas growing all around us. We sat out the fiercest of the rain in the little shelter. There were young banana trees nearby so when the rain slowed, we collected our umbrellas, following the examples of the passers by.
We wound once again through the hidden network of forest footpaths, avoiding the now muddy terraces. It felt like a city was hiding within the jungle, escaping the push towards tourism outside of the green boundaries of the forest curtain. We passed a family of smiling farmers who emerged from their shed-like house to shake our hands. “Hello” and “Indonesia?” were the only words they knew in English, so the communication was mostly full of smiles and handshakes. By the time we found our way back to the road, I looked back upon the forested mountain a little differently, imagining a bustling world hiding within it I imagined the old woman who had cut the thick stalk of the banana leaf for me with her machete. I imagined her dripping world, harmonizing with the jungle.
You never know who lives outside the boundaries of these tourist towns, but you can be sure that they are there. Untouchable in a way. I can’t access them with my English, as I can so many others.
My tendency for lengthy conversation is reduced to just a smile and handshake within which I wrap all the kindness I can hope to show. I like that. I like knowing that I can’t reach all of the world with my Western approaches. It keeps it wild.
Like the wolf that never quite came out from its hiding place when I went to the zoo as a kid.
In other news…chocolate here in Asia is expensive…or at least feels expensive when everything else is so cheap. And an oven is just…not something you find in a hotel or home-stay. You are lucky to have toilet paper let alone a kitchen with which to make cookies. Any of you who can decide to make chocolate chip cookies whenever you want..should feel grateful for that on my behalf. 🙂