I wrote this for a travel writing contest. Enjoy!
The engine thuds and the boat stops abruptly. I wake up from my daydream – I was envisioning a hot shower, a plate of Babi Guling (roast suckling pig), and a Balinese massage, all available back in Bali. I’m on a boat that departed from Nusa Penida, a small island south of Bali, Indonesia. My plan was to spend the night in Bali before my flight left out of Denpasar, the capital city of Bali Province. The boat I’m on is carrying about sixty passengers, chickens in cages, and a few large bundles of banana leaves. I stick out; I’m the only white American on the boat and I have no idea what the other passengers are whispering in Bahasa nervously as the engine ceases to roar. I feared that my Bali daydream may not come true after all.
Indonesia had not been on my travel bucket list. I knew very little about the world’s largest island nation when I booked my flight to Bali. So how did I end up on a broken down boat in the middle of the Badung Strait?
I had a case of wanderlust. Was it triggered from pinning inspiring travel quotes on Pinterest? Watching too many Anthony Bourdain reruns on Netflix? Or it could have been that I was working a boring desk job and seeking adventure outside my cubicle. I wanted out of my comfort zone and to do something, well, ballsy.
A brief Google search found me a volunteer opportunity of a lifetime: taking care of sea turtles at the Green Lion Sea Turtle Conservation Center on the rustic island of Nusa Penida, Indonesia. I looked at airfare and realized how relatively affordable it was to fly there from my home base in Seattle.
A week later, I told my boss I was quitting to go save some sea turtles.
Two months later I found myself on Nusa Penida. I’m completely out of my comfort zone. The closest thing to a cubicle are the tanks that the injured sea turtles inhabit. I traded filing government documents to taking care of injured sea turtles – cleaning their tanks, feeding them, and applying medication to their wounds. I traded sipping hot tea to drinking freshly squeezed juice on the beach. Warm showers are non-existent at the volunteer house. You learn on Nusa Penida to go with the flow and accept what you can’t control.
I also learned that I can’t control boat mechanics. I look around to see startled passengers turning their heads toward the stern. The crew are speaking quickly to each other working with the engine. I can’t speak Bahasa, but I could tell by their body language that this is not normal. I say to the man next to me, “good thing I have travel insurance.” He gives me a blank stare, having no idea what I said. How would I communicate to the others if boat went down? Scenes of boat crashes are flashing through my head. A local news line reads: “Seattle traveler lost in tragic Indonesian boating incident.”
But then, an older crew member pours some sort of liquid into the engine, hits it with his hands a few times, and the engine begins to roar! We continue traveling towards Bali. Like the engine, my adrenaline is roaring. Life does begin at the end of your comfort zone.