5 Dangerous Habits I Picked Up in Indonesia

Indonesia Student Work
by Daniel Meeks Sep 8, 2015

1. Guerilla parking and the pre-surf motorbike stash

I have to lump these two together because they’re co-dependent. Access to some of the best surf breaks means parking on private land. Guerilla park, and the local hoods will jimmy your seat-lock faster than you can say, “Hey Mister.” After three months of getting nickel and dimed, literally, for every imaginable human necessity, I tried to subvert the parking fee at Way Jambu by concealing my motorbike in a cluster of palms. I returned Gumby-limbed and famished from hair-raising surf to find my tires slashed and the under seat compartment relieved of my polarized sunnies. The price of protection/extortion: IDR 5,000 (about 40 cents USD). Lesson learned; comply with the locals and pay for protection.

2. Marinating in the surf camp

The Mandiri Beach Club serves three giant meals a day, offers unlimited wifi and cable TV with “all movie and sports channels”, a pool table, a mini concrete skate park, and all the filtered water/Bintang you can imbibe. To further compound a potential lull into apathy, a surf check is a neck swivel from your hammock. You won’t move from your camp.

“Was Lampung a local dish? Or was it that little village we rattled through after the driver picked us up from the airport? Whatever. Crack me another Anker, dewd.”

3. Daredevil high-fiving village children at on the morning surf commute

Sumatra’s pock marked “roads” are filled with livestock, frenetic motorbikes, precariously overloaded cargo trucks, and speeding techno-dut thumping taxi-vans. At first, high-fiving villagers in transit seemed like good sport. But give one paw-flailing child a gesture of reciprocation, and every local under the age of 16 will dart into the road, risking life and limb to make contact.

4. Smoking potent kretek cigarettes that snap, crackle, and pop

It started with Marlboro Light Menthol after a couple of beers in Bali. Within a week, I had bought a pack at the local warung. By the time my travels had taken me to Sumatra, I had slipped into a habit long forgotten. A habit grossly contrasting the amount of cardiovascular exertion needed to spend the majority of my day fighting currents and dodging cleanup sets. When I asked my losmen proprietor in Lagundri Bay if I could bum one of his kreteks, he said, “Noooo. Not for you. Too strong.” Pufaw, I thought. I smoked cloves in junior high. Nevermind that a Dji Sam Soe (“234”), the proprietor’s brand, has 39mg of tar and 2.3mg of nicotine per stick. (A Marlboro Red has 12mg of tar and 1mg of nicotine.)

To make matters worse, a third of the kretek blend is made up of cloves, which has a numbing effect on the esophagus, and the tips are dipped in sugar, maple, and licorice — a combination that helps ease the chemical cocktail through the bronchi, into the expanding alveoli, and absorbed in the helpless capillaries where the nicotine is passed into the bloodstream with enough potency to make the president of Philip Morris turn green—a condition I experienced after a retired policeman at Jenny’s Right offered me a Djarum Black. Furthermore: all travelers are delegates of their country, and no popular culture is without a simulacrum of the US.

5. Sporting “minimalist” attire while ripping around on my dilapidated motorbike

When I rented my first motorbike in Thailand, I wore shoes, socks, jeans, a long sleeve shirt under a windbreaker, and a tightly fastened helmet. Fast-forward to 5 months later in Southwestern Sumatra. My motorbike attire has become reductive: a pair of boardshorts and a t-shirt (sometimes). Cepcep at Jenny’s Surf Camp didn’t offer me a helmet and I didn’t ask for one. My irresponsibility doesn’t stop there. The following items were missing from the vehicle: side view mirrors, surf-rack, horn, turn signals, head and tail lights, and a key (two wires hidden beneath the front wheel well started and killed the engine). I had to brave a three-hour commute into Krui and back four days straight in order to negotiate the replacement of the debit card I’d left in an ATM in Kuta, Bali. Imagine a scantily clad Westerner exiting the local BRI branch and hot wiring a motorbike that looks as if it has barely survived a high-speed chase. Basically, a policeman’s wet dream.

Furthermore, consider the risk of permanent injury, mind altering brain damage or death. Helmet laws are poorly enforced throughout Indonesia. The notoriously under-reported national road-related death toll for 2010 is 31,234 — at least three people an hour. The luckier ones get a $25,000 helicopter ride to Singapore strapped to a gurney, and most travel insurance is void under negligent circumstances.

Remember: zombies don’t surf.

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