It’s only after flying out of the place that I appreciate its organised chaos for what it was. Pangkalan Bun is, by Indonesian standards, not a ‘city’ but a ‘town’. In comparison to Jakarta, Bali and Kuta (which is all I have to compare it to, really), Pangkalan Bun was quiet and peaceful; it’s pace productive but slow.
Surabaya Airport is mind-blowing after five days in Borneo. It assaults the senses. Noise- not unpleasant but just so there, constantly burbling. So much colour, brightly jarring after the thousand shades of green in the jungle. Cloying smells, tangled luggage, a rush of people.
Again, I’m struck by the politeness of people. It’s efficient disorganisation. Everyone seems to know exactly where to go and what to do. Except us. Not that anyone seems bothered by that at all.
Erin and I nearly faint with happiness at the sight of a Starbucks. And we shop, in a way that only women who’ve been moored in the jungle for five days can.
Arriving back in Bali is a let-down and a God-send, both at once. Our hotel in Kuta was nice but nothing special on the first night we stayed here, before we went to Borneo. It now feels like the absolute mecca of luxury.
Even the artificial ’fresh laundry’ scent pumped into the tiny elevator is invigorating rather than gag-inducing. The beds feel like fluffy clouds. We order room service and Bintang. And I sleep, uninterrupted and with no bad dreams, for twelve hours straight.
The next day, I find enough energy to get up and dressed by midday. There’s four hours to fill between hotel check-out and leaving for Denpasar Airport to fly home. Still exhausted and slightly overwhelmed by the sheer number of people around us after days of relative quiet, Erin and I decide on doing nothing more ambitious than a shopping trip to Kuta Square.
That may have been a mistake.
Kuta Square is a temple to human consumerism. There’s a department store with a whole floor devoted to tacky ‘I Heart Bali’ souvenirs. Cultural significance is of no concern here- everything from bongo drums to dream-catchers in every lurid color of the rainbow.
Our simple, un-ambitious plans for a roti roll and a pedicure are scrapped as the rain begins to pour down. We duck into a decent looking cafe, orders burgers and more Bintang, and marvel at the fact that we are eating food without rice- every meal in Pangkalan Bun, including breakfast, was served with ‘nasi’. Bacon, chicken and beer taste like some kind of manna from heaven.
Where Borneo is a Muslim country, most of the Balinese are Hindi. The sculptures and idols, the tiny temples we drive past- they’re intricately made, whimsical and exotic (and, in all reality, probably what Erin and I should have spent our afternoon looking at).
Hindi shopkeepers prepare small baskets to their gods, filled with offerings- flowers, incense, the occasional cigarette, biscuit or packaged food. The offerings are placed them on the the ground near the entrance to their stalls and shops.
Erin and I sat in the cafe in Kuta and watched tourists- mostly Australian, men in Bintang singlets and women with their hair in tiny braids- step all over the tiny, colorful offerings perched on the sidewalks. They never looked down. They had not even the slightest idea of what they were doing.
It almost makes me want to cry, and all I want to do is go back to the hotel. We order more Bintang. And breath gaping sighs of relief between us, when the hotel driver arrives fifteen minutes early to pick us up.
I have dinner with Erin at the airport and hug her as hard as I can. I will miss Borneo. I will miss the jungle.
I will miss Erin, most of all.
My five and a half hour flight from Bali to Sydney gets diverted from Sydney airport at the very last minute. I spend fourteen hours stuck on a plane.
Returning home feels strange, boringly familiar yet reluctantly light all at once. Real life sucks me back into its vortex. Twenty-four hours after touching down in Australia, it feels as though I never really left at all.
After three days on board the klotok, we were left with the irritating sensation of ‘sea legs’. After spending all that time trapped in a plane seat, it feels as though I have the aerial equivalent. My centre of balance is continually shifting. There’s a subtle, disconcerting inertia that causes an unsteadiness within me; I don’t feel properly anchored to my surroundings.
‘Plane legs’, perhaps.
Or maybe it’s just the phenomenon of being able to feel, for a short while, the sensation of the world turning beneath your feet.