Sitting by the side of the road, there is a thin crust of sweat and dirt across my forehead. The policeman is trying to take my keys out of my scooter, his friend is insisting “300,000 Rupiah. You pay.”
My nine year old, Bodhi, sits calmly behind me, his surf shorts still damp, his flip flops dangling lazily. He stares, bored, across the street at the other westerners caught in the net of cash hungry cops, every one of them pulling their wallets out.
“No, I don’t have any money.” I say, and pull my keys back out of the cop’s hand. I’m surprised he doesn’t hold on the them tighter. He wants money, he doesn’t want a scene. What they are doing is quasi legal, they can stop us and look for our papers and give us tickets if we don’t have our shit together. And we don’t. But they aren’t stopping us to hand out tickets, they are stopping us to collect bribes.
I am supposed to have a “bluie” or a 50k note tucked in with my registration just in case this happened, but I don’t. All my money (and I just went to the ATM), is together in my wallet. If they see it, they will take it all.
Bodhi sweats quietly on the back of the motorbike, shifting. He wants to go surfing. For once in his life, he doesn’t ask a question: “What’s going on? What do they want? Are we in trouble?” He just hangs out, hands limply clasped around me.
“300,000 you pay. This is the fine, no international driver’s license, this is very bad, you pay.”
I look at him, his friend is holding on to the back of my bike. My friend Jamie is stopped just ahead of me, all his Kiwi bluster in full bloom. He’s waving his hands and barking at the cop who is hassling him. “No, bro, no way, dude. You just want money. We are not paying.”
I look at him, his Single Fin ball cap pointed right at the guy’s nose, his surfer’s chest pushed out ahead of him, defiance in his mirrored lenses. He told me this would probably happen. When I first got here, he explained that when the cops get a bug up their butt, they will take whatever they want, and I am not to pull off the road if I can help it, just keep driving.
If I do get pulled over, I’m to stay close to the road, stay on the bike, not let go of Bodhi, don’t let them take my keys or see my money. I sit on the bike wondering if I should just gun it and if they’d chase me down.
Bodhi waits, his hands clasped around my middle. The heat is thick and heavy. We are trying to get back to Kuta to catch the big South/Southwest swell. I turn the bike on. The cop behind me holds onto the back of it. I give it a little gas. Jamie looks at me. “Come on, babe, lets go.”
Part of me is worried, I know they arrest people here, I know the penalties for smoking dope in Indonesia are serious and the jails suck. And I’m here with my kid and this Kiwi dude who I barely know. We met this winter in Japan where he was guiding for Black Diamond, and I was traveling with a ski client. We’ve spent exactly nine days in each other’s company.
It has, over those nine days, become increasingly clear to me that while we share a love of Suicidal Tendencies, Tequila shots and powder skiing, just because both of our countries speak some form of English as our native language, culturally we are about as different as you can get.
Jamie is rough and raw and visceral, and sometimes, the words he says, thick with Kiwi slang in his deep, gravely voice may as well be the Balinese Indonesian that is equally incomprehensible to me.
I look the cop in the eye. I borrow some of Jamie’s Kiwi bravery. “Your friend said 100,000 Rupiah.” I skid the back tire a little trying to break free.
Eventually, Jamie pulls 20,000 out of his pocket and waves it around. “Here dude. Here’s your fuckin’ money. That’s what you want. Money, eh? Here you go, Bro!” he says. The cop smoothly pockets the 20k note and suddenly the back of my bike is free, we are back on the road to Nusa Dua, the jungle whipping by on either side, the breeze from the speed cooling my sweaty back. Bodhi squeezes me.
“How much did Jamie give him?” he asks.
In the last month, Bodhi has changed. He has learned how to sleep on the back of the motorbike, his body leans fluidly as we cruise into the corner and the last breath of breeze hits my sweaty neck and cools me. We go exactly 347 meters before we hit traffic.
Suddenly, its time to pay attention, we go up on the sidewalk, off the curb, around a taxi going the wrong way and head on toward a tour bus. We cut across the median and snake our way with the pulse of motorcycles and scooters around the air conditioned roadblocks of useless cars. Like grains of sand flowing past stuck boulders, like bloodcells squeezing through clogged arteries, we wend our way toward the beach. We have a babysitter tonight.
Everyone told me not to take my kid to Kuta. “Its a crazy party town, you don’t want your kid to be there. It’s not what you want.”
So we went. Impossibly small streets clogged with tattoo shop after tattoo shop, signs for “Yoga Magic Mushroom” and “Mushroom to the Moon: Delivery!” line the streets, which are constantly under construction. Every fourth shop is a surf shop, the locals are dark and long hair’d hard bodies. They carry their surf board tucked under one arm, flip flops and no shirt, navigating the narrow streets at high speeds as though they are un breakable.
The occasional taxi forces its way down a street barely wide enough for two scooters let alone a hoard of drunk, sunburnt Ausssies, motorbikes with surf racks, motorbikes with four and five people stacked on them and me, trying to remember to stay left, stay left stay LEFT and avoid every pothole so I don’t send my kid flying off my bike like a pogo stick sling shot.
We pull up at the Suka Beach Inn, ten bucks a night, fan room. The bathroom, to use Jamie’s words, is grotty. The roaches don’t bother to scatter, its too hot. They just sit there, fat and defiant and stare at you. “What’s up, roomie? Got any food?”
Bodhi kicks off his flip flops. “I get the bed by the window!” he declares and flops his body across it.
We spend the afternoon getting worked in the ocean, I get put through the laundry machine trying to get out, stuck in the impact zone and unable to duck dive my mini mow, I suffer and suffer and decide this can not be the sport for me. Bodhi stands up on every wave in the shore break and has a great time. Jamie rides his short board like a skateboarder and cant understand why I can’t figure out where to sit in the ocean.
I sit on the sand, drained. A full-on salt water faucet runs out of my nose. I watch as they boys pull their boards up onto the sand and run back in, body surfing in the shore break until the sun is well gone, the tips of the waves stained orange.
There is freedom here, chaos and freedom. In the midst of this Spring Break gone wrong, no boundaries, massive party town, Bodhi has found his feet, his confidence. There is something beautiful about the pulse of this place.
Sandy and worked, sinuses and tummies full of salt water, Bodhi begs for Indonesian corn off the street vendor. We walk by Mad-e every day, and he knows Bodhi now. Made smiles at me, the beautiful easy Indonesian smile of the locals. “Hi, mom!” he says, “Mom, corn? Corn mom!?”
Bodhi laughs, “Yeah, mom, corn?”
Of course. This is the best post-surfing food that there is. That and the Mojito that is waiting for me across the hot asphalt at Prosurf. The back of Made’s scooter is outfitted with a full grill and all the fixins. He grills up a few pices of fat sweet corn and brushes them with spices and butter. We munch greedily, corn is fourty cents. We can have our fill.
Barefoot across the street to Prosurf, we poach the crystal clear pool, Bodhi happily trading one kind of water for another. He goes under water and feels his body float, he’s learning who he is in this place.
Jamie takes a running leap off the balcony dive bomb platform above the bar (only in Indonesia would you be encouraged by a sign at the bar saying “Lets get drunk!” and then shown the six meter bomb platform. “Jump off, its fun!!” says the bar owner).
Bodhi follows Jamie, this, a kid who wouldn’t put his face under water a month ago, who was afraid to pedal a bicycle because speed scared him. Now, he takes a running start, 360 grab spin, and spalshes to the bottom of the deep deep pool. He comes bobbing up like a cork, huge grin on his face. He is a surfer, now. He is finding his soul.