Toothless Bananas

First and foremost I am a person who likes to go left when everyone else is going right and generally I don’t like big crowds so I search out the road less traveled.  

A few years back I was living in Myanmar and traveled to Bali, Indonesia with my girlfriend at the time Pai Kotera. She was a sweetheart and is now the mother of two, happily married and living in Australia but I digress.

What you have to understand about Pai is that she is just a nice easy going laid back person but had few interactions with westerners outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand and the normal tourist.  She’d been to the elephant sanctuaries and to Thai restaurants and up to the temple but certainly not by foot.

Our first date was a mountain hike and run.  She was all smiles and literally flew down the mountain but after that day, she was more interested in doing her own thing while I did mine.

So when we went to Bali and I decided to run up Mt. Agung, she was happy to drop me off at the trailhead, see me off up the hill and hang out at a cafe until I returned an hour or two later.  That was the plan.  What could go wrong?

We had breakfast at the intended rendezvous point and then scootered to the trailhead about 10km away.  Pai would scooter back and I would run up the mountain and come out at a location closer to the cafe.

Bali and the tropics in general are warm and hot is hot but normal is temperate.  Almost all the time you can get by with shirts and a t-shirt but at altitude when it gets cold, it is cold.  

Anyway, I found the trailhead and took with me a bottle of water, usd 5, and a bar of some sort.  Certainly enough for the 10km hour run I had planned.  I was so sure of myself that I even forgoed a shirt.  I was feeling cool and strong as I set off in my ankle socks, short shorts and a hat.

Well, all good plans in my experience usually either work out with ease or go to crap in the first few minutes.  

I headed up the trail and got to my first Y intersection.  I went right.  It looked like the path more traveled.  I topped out at the first plateau only to find myself staring back at a storm cloud.  I picked up the pace and then the rain started.

For those of you who haven’t experienced a monsoon, this was that.  Sheets of water with zero visibility.  Luckily I happened upon a farm, a farmer and his son.  They gave me shelter while it passed and as I cooled down.

Then the rain cleared but the cloud cover stayed. I asked for directions to Mt Agung from the farmer.  He pointed me along in the right direction. (Hint 1:  When asking directions while traveling, it’s best to ask three people and pick the common direction.  Asking only one is 50/50 at best.)

So I went along my way.  About 90 minutes after leaving Pai, the scooter and my shirt, I came to the realization that I was lost.  Being a rather stubborn example of the male species, I kept going.  It couldn’t be much further.  Anytime anyone says that to you even if it is yourself, understand that they are lying straight up.

But I kept on trucking and trucking and trucking, 2, 3, 4 hours and not a person in sight and finally decided I would just run down to the sea and figure out how to get back up the hill from there.

Five dollars sometimes can go a long way and sometimes it’s a drop in the hat.  Depends on need and circumstance.  I ran down the mountain and at hour 4 arrived at the highway.  First things first was a 1.5 liter of water and some calories. $2  Then I hopped a bus. $1.  And another bus. $1.  And was let out on the road I was assured would take me to the cafe.  Revisit hint 1.

I was tired but kept trucking until a scooter came my way.  I offered the man my final $1 to help me to the top.  He agreed with all smiles.  Turned out his scooter didn’t like the idea as much as either of us.  Every time we got to a steep incline, the scooter would stall and I would run up to the top.  He would get it started and pick me up only to get as far as the next incline at which point we would repeat the process.  

I must have run up 15 steep sections by the time we arrived at his home, at which point he bid me adieu and I was sent on my way up.  Hour 6. I put my legs in 1st gear and started chugging. Up and up and up. I finished all my food and water. Hour 7.  Hour 8. Up and up and up.

I cooked. I had no water, no food, no energy and at that moment an old Balinese woman with a toothless smile emerged from the jungle carrying a bushel of bananas.  There I was, this shirtless exhausted white guy.  All she could do was laugh and offer me some bananas.  I politely accepted and ate them.  They were the best bananas of my life.

Hour 9 had me land pop out of a small path to a wider dirt road with houses on the horizon.  I flagged down the first vehicle, a young man on a scooter who luckily spoke enough English and for the promise of usd 20 a ride back to the village and cafe where I had begun the day.

10 hours later fully intact I arrived back at the cafe to a delighted then crying then angry then laughing then delighted again Pai who welcomed me back with open arms, the keys to the scooter to retrieve my shirt, a mango smoothie and noodle soup.


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