When living a simple life in North America, one takes for granted what is around the next corner or beyond the next mountain range. While on a four-week trip to Indonesia where we spent time in Bali, Lombok and Gili Air, my wife and I learned a few things along the way. We could be on beautiful roadway, but beside a forest that could be primeval Jungle that has not changed in 10,000 years. The ways of nature have not changed as well. The only changes are the paved roads, the clothing that humans wear, and the way that they survive in that jungle environment.
While spending time in a Ubud, we did some hiking through the jungle trails. A particular hike up the Campuhan Ridge was stunning in its beauty. The trail was between two rivers. On one side of the one river, the landscape was an untouched jungle with incredibly dense foliage. On the opposite side of the ridge were beautiful homes and restaurants. and beautifully manicured and terraced rice fields that have been there for hundreds of years. The sound of the insects and birds during the midday heat deafened the noise of the river itself. The landscape was a dichotomy of time and space.
We had decided that we were going to explore the Ubud monkey forest and the four hundred-year-old monkey temple. It was a short walk down Bisma Street and then an nice path across the river to the main entrance to the Monkey Forest Temple. One image that really captures me still to this day is a stone carving encrusted by the trunk of a large tropical tree with vines hanging off of it. The jungle, if left on its own, will take over and engulf anything in its way. The temple and the jungle around it appears as it must have looked four hundred years ago. While we were there, we saw a beautiful newly married Balinese couple walking through the temple paths. They were dressed in traditional customary Hindu clothing and having their wedding photos taken. Again, it was truly like stepping back in another cultural time amidst a rain-forest.
A thirty-minute flight or one and a half hour boat ride across the Balinese Strait is the beautiful island of Lombok. The island is predominately a Muslim society. The minarets dominate the skyline in every city, town and village. Customs and traditions are much different on this island than the one we had just left. The local people still operate on the barter/haggle system for almost everything. Most shops did not have price tags on anything. Fortunately for us our last trip was in Marrakesh where we had spent lots of time in the Souks and had honed our bartering abilities.
The island itself is much the same as Bali in geography and foliage. We found that Lombok was not as developed as Bali. The mountain sides were covered in terraced fields where the inhabitants had toiled for hundreds of years. One thing that I have learned over the last few years of travel is that people are all very similar regardless of location country or religion. We all want the same basic things. People want a safe secure place to live and raise their families no matter where we are in history.
From Lombok, our travels took us to Gili Air. The second of three in a chain of islands between Bali and Lombok. This island is a tropical Paradise surrounded by pristine coral reefs where I was able to snorkel. All the beaches are comprised of crushed coral brought to shore by the monsoon season. The islanders do not allow any powered transportation and as a result, it is quite a peaceful Island . On this island one can see the smaller cousin of the Komodo dragon. It can grow up to six feet in length. It caused a bit of a stir from Shelley when one of them walked past our breakfast table.
The way things are can change drastically in the span of several miles of water. For example, I live in a coastal community and work on an island several miles away. That stretch of water keeps the predators away. As a result the Black Tail Deer have become so thickly populated that they have become almost a dwarf species of deer. Given enough space and time things can remain the same or change dramatically.
The way we live and perceive things around us truly is affected by distance. I was also conscious of the fact that while we were in second world countries in Indonesia, Borneo is 500 miles away where just in the last 50 years some of those jungle tribes have just stepped out of the Stone Age. It is reported that the practice of head hunting was still happening into the 1940’s. The jungles of Borneo are the oldest in the world, claiming to be 130 million years old. Humans have inhabited Borneo for at least 35,000 years. Isolation from the world means things change slowly. A hunter-gatherer society will continue to do what it does if they are successful in doing so, living off of the blooming plants for the fruit and killing the other animals that are doing the same. This insures security of food source and safety to raise a family.
We travel for the perspective it gives us in our own lives. It reminds me of how regardless of time and place, we are all very similar in our desire to survive and thrive. I am also learning that the more that I travel, the less I really need. My worldly possessions are simply baggage that I need to leave behind. When I need to travel into another world, all I need is my backpack, my wife, and off we are ready to go to the next adventure.