It’s 31 degrees, there is snow on the ground, and I sit in my house in my hooded sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers, listening to my old dog snoring, reading my first published piece on the front page of The Inertia.
A few weeks ago, after submitting a sample, I got a notice that I was accepted as a contributor to this great website. By pure fate of all of our names starting with “K”, I happen to be on the same page and RIGHT ABOVE Keala Kennelly and Kelly Slater, among many other incredibly talented contributors. That’s right. While I will never surf monster Teahupoo like Keala or win 11 World Titles like Kelly, I like to think we are all amigos, if only in cyberspace.
By consequence of being so excited, I can barely write, so it’s best to check out it out by following the link:
Or read below:
One of my very dear friends told me that for much of her life, the image that would come up when she thought of her future was eight neatly stacked, square, white, modern dinner plates. These plates somehow represented her success in life after completing college, sucking it up as an intern, then working her butt off in corporate America. They were the pinnacles of achievement, those plates, but she couldn’t care less about those plates now.
My snapshot of the future, for as long as I can remember, is an outdoor shower, and I have no idea where this came from. I grew up in a pretty average family in inland Southern California. I was an only child, with two professional working parents, good grades, off to college at age 17. My outdoor shower is a pretty functional looking shower, in a tropical setting, with a tile floor, and a bamboo screen surrounded by thick foliage. If I look closely, I see a surfboard leaning up against the wall. It turns out the shower is a side note; my dream was to be a surfer.
So, five years ago at age 34, I embarked on what I now know is the hardest learning curve in the world – surfing. I’m athletic and stubborn, two good things to have in the water, but while I was full of gumption and spunk, I thought I failed a lot. I didn’t catch enough waves, I couldn’t get my feet in the right place, I went over the falls (still do), and mostly, I deferred. I thought that because many times I was “the worst surfer in the water”, that I didn’t deserve waves, so I pulled back. I let others take waves because I thought they were better than me. Until one day, an acquaintance of mine paddled up to me, got in my face and yelled at me for being stupid, saying “You deserve waves as much as anyone else out here!”
I cried that day.
So, what did I do? After much saving and planning that involved quitting our comfortably secure jobs, I went, with my very supportive surfing husband, on a year-long world surf adventure that included Mexico, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This here is what I learned.
I stopped trying so hard. One of the most interesting compliments someone gave me was that I am so passionate in everything I do. And more often than not, I am called the “100 Pounds of Fury” among other interesting (and perhaps not so nice) descriptive phrases. Surfing has taught me that maybe, instead of jumping into things head first with no helmet on and my hair on fire, I should take a more peaceful, flowing path. Take waves, and other things in life, as they come, but stop trying so hard, stop swimming upstream.
I also now know that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. Being a female surfer at breaks that were dominated by dudes from all over the world was, so far, the hardest thing that I’ve done in my life. There were days where I felt like a small, defeated “chick” in the water. But I still paddled out and caught waves. I tried my best to hold my head high and be a surfer.
And most importantly, I can call myself a surfer.
Because, when are you really, truly allowed to call yourself a “surfer”? I’ve asked myself this question a few times. Is it when you stand up on your very first whitewater wave? Or when you can pull off floaters and aerials? Is it when you surf a certain number of days per week/month/year? It was a cold Christmas morning in Baja when I was almost surprised to discover that I had become surfer, when I paddled out into overhead waves, full of gratitude and grace in that cold morning. The path to becoming a surfer resides in your heart, it is endless, and filled with potential.
I may not have an outdoor shower, but I will always be a surfer. And you should be too.
Where to begin? Or end? Jet lag still haunts us. Chris had “minor” surgery on his hand two days ago. We are temporarily homeless and jobless. Our tanned skin is rapidly fading. But after 12 months of travel, we are home. Sure, we are frustrated with some things (like all the rules we have here), we miss surfing every day and we have complete sticker shock when purchasing anything (like a $12 salad). But, overall, we are feeling pretty good about our return. Caveats: We are still in the celebrity stage where our friends and family really want to hang out with us AND the weather is ridiculously pleasant right now. These two things are helping. We haven't had much time to reflect and think about our experiences, but we have figured out what we spent and put together a “best of” list.
What did it take for us to have a year off work and twelve months of surfing? $26,089
This figure includes: our daily expenses both in Mexico and in Asia, our travel health insurance, truck insurance for Mexico, the remainder of our mortgage that we had to cover that our renters were not paying, our flights within Asia, Dozer's expenses in Mexico (mostly kibble), things we bought on the road in Asia (new surfboard, new camera, clothes, etc), and medical expenses while traveling. Basically any money that left our hands from the day we left Oregon to the day we returned is included.
This figure DOES NOT include: our flights to and from Asia (we used Alaska Air miles to get us there and back), truck camper costs, new surfboards, other gear and clothing purchases, medical costs before the trip (vaccinations, prescriptions, etc.), and basically any costs that we incurred to prepare for the trip.
We found we could spend very little money in Mexico and the bulk of our expenses were diesel and food. Because we cooked most of our meals in the camper, daily food expenses were very cheap. Obviously since we were camping, accomodation cost very little, typically between $0 and $12 a night. Our daily expenses were roughly $36 day in Mexico, for a total of $6606 for six months. Wow! That is cheap, even for us dirtbags!
Planning for the Asia leg of the trip was harder and we didn't really know what we would spend. Daily costs such as meals and accomodation are very, very cheap in Asia, but add on extra purchases and tours and sightseeing, and the cost comes up a bit. We also purchased all of our flights within Asia, eight total, as we went, so those costs are included in the numbers. Our daily expenses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia for five months cost us $85 day, for a total of $12,750 for five months. That includes everything!
We candidly share this information because we aren't independently wealthy and we had to work really hard to do this. We did our best to plan and budget. We spent money as thoughtfully as we could while still having a trip of a lifetime. We are still amazed that we pulled it off; we now know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.
Hottest We've Ever Been In Our Entire Lives:
Top Five Medical Emergencies:
Best Wildlife Encounters
Best “Locals Only” Activities:
We are in our final days in Indonesia, and the last two weeks or so were spent in a quiet little village at an “end of the road” spot in West Java. It was a real treat that on most days, it was very peaceful with minimal traffic and not many people other than a fantastic bunch of local surfers. However, weekends quickly transformed into mayhem. One thing is for sure; Indonesians are keen on getting out of the city and enjoying some beach time on the weekends and they come in by the busloads. Rolling in the gentle surf getting covered in sand, these people know how to have good, wholesome fun… sans alcohol. Being a Muslim country, there is virtually no alcohol consumption by the locals, save for a few young locals, who might enjoy a Bintang every once in while. We feel like heathens.
We enjoyed the surf on the weekdays and embraced the weekend chaos. Last weekend, the surf conditions were not very good, so we took the motorbike out on a surf mission to find good waves. We didn’t find any waves, but we did stumble into the 2012 Indonesian Motocross Championships. Yes, we are the hipster, tree hugging surfers, but we are game for anything, and find that going to sporting events in other countries can result in some fabulous people watching and cultural experiences. From rugby tournaments in Fiji to rodeos in Mexico, we’ve seen some interesting stuff. So we arrive at the Motocross track fairly early, which is, by the way, in the middle of nowhere, over looking a beautiful stretch of coastline, and score a spot up on a rickety platform in a rubber tree. A perfect vantage point for the day.
Now in the US, professional sports usually involve a fair amount of revelry, fan antics and of course, some drinking. Not here. Indonesians, being the most quiet, polite, gentle beings, make us we feel like we are the rowdies, cheering for the riders and clapping for the winners. The place is packed, and clearly most of the spectators have come from hours away to be here, but it’s almost dead quiet, calm and orderly. Only when a rider crashes do we hear a “ohhhhh” from the crowd. From what we could tell, we were the only white people among thousands of Indonesians. When we walked through the “pit” area where the racers were set up, they all wanted to talk to us and pose with us for photos.
Our last day at the beach had small waves, so we rented inner tubes for $1 each and rolled around in the playful surf with the kids and families. Really good fun, playing with the locals in the surf even though they appear that they are indanger of sinking due to the weight of all of their clothing, including jilbabs on the girls (Muslim head scarf). West meets East with Katy in her bikini, sharing a wave with a girl in a “Burkini”. Awesome!
Yesterday as we began our multi-day overland travels to get to the Jakarta International Airport we had a layover at quite unattractive bus station along a typical busy roadway. We loaded our stuff into the bus and walked out to the highway looking for something that might help entertain us for the next two hours. After a short stroll down a motorbike path, we ended up in a little village of sorts with everyone gathered around a friendly neighborhood bout of badminton. Badminton is THE national sport here (the only athletes they send to the Olympics) and we quickly found ourselves in a heated doubles match with the owner of the badminton court and his son. Thankfully for all, they (and we) were laughing too hard to keep score. After making many new friends and working up a good sweat, we had to say goodbye and catch our bus for our next journey.
We’ve also perhaps aligned our priorities a bit better for three more months of travel. Actually, its more like we found another surfboard we just HAD to have. Katy is the proud new owner of an Indo-made 5′ 4″ surfboard that she affectionately calls “The Peanut”. She claims it called her name as she walked by. The board is tiny, suits her perfectly and she is looking forward to her getting a lot of fun waves on it in Sri Lanka. In light of this extra luggage we were able to downsize the rest of our belongings into one travel bag. With only three months left, guess we don’t really need those few extra t-shirts.
Indo has been a blast! The people really are nothing short of amazing and are some of the nicest we’ve ever met, thankfully because there sure are a ton of them. The beaches and waves lived up to our expectations and then some. When we do get back to the US, we will never take for granted our bike lanes, our parks and our quiet places, but we will surely miss the Indonesian hospitality, the “hello misters”, and the smiling faces everywhere.
We’re off to Sri Lanka to surf with the elephants!
As is often the case, we have a rough plan of what we want to do, then at the last minute, we divert to something else. This is the beauty of long term travel, and this is teaching us self described “master planners” how to better go with the flow. After flying into Jakarta, we were going to head straight to the beach, but decided instead to take the longer route through the high country. Of course, the “longer route” was partially due to some transit shenanigans (see last post), but we truly did want to see some different countryside, so we spent two nights in the Puncak Pass area, home to Gede Pangrango National Park and the volcanically active Gunung Gede.
After eating breakfast at our hotel, we grab a bemo to take us up to the park so we can go for a jungle hike. Stop. If you know Chris Kratsch, you probably thought I meant to write “bike”, not “hike”. But, clearly the tropical air must be getting to him because we head out on foot with a few goals: a waterfall, wildlife (a leopard would be cool, but monkeys will suffice), and no leeches. I am not real terrified of most critters, but I am deathly afraid of leeches, and the leeches here are sneaky leeches. They stand on end on the ground, and as you walk by, they sneak on to you, into your socks and attach on to you and suck your blood. This is something I am just not cool with.
Although we were at over 5,000 feet of elevation, it was still a jungle hike, so it was hot and sticky. But quiet, eerily quiet for Indonesia. Even the school groups of 30 students that pass us were quiet. The trail leads us straight up and soon enough, we hear a bunch of rustling above. Our dreams have come true and we are in the middle of a bunch of monkeys. What do you call a bunch of monkeys anyway? A herd? Flock? Troupe sounds best. As we stand and try to get fleeting pictures, the Indonesians walk by us and laugh. Clearly, the monkeys are entertainment for us, we are entertainment for the Indonesians. When an older woman walked by us, whispering a cryptic “careful mister, careful mister”, we decided to heed her warnings and move along. The rest of the hike was lovely, ending at a waterfall on the flanks of a large volcano. I guess we have both volcanoes and waterfalls in our backyard in Oregon… But we certainly don’t have monkeys.
Our next surf destination was the Cimaja area in West Java, so we took yet another series of busses (we are getting very good at this) for a few hours and found ourselves at the beach again. Cimaja was a fun, mellow wave (by Indo standards, meaning it only barrels occasionally, breaks on a cobble rock point instead of razor sharp reef, and is less than double overhead in size), so we enjoyed surfing at the local point in town as well as a nearby beach break. The “local” surf scene was strong there, but these Indonesians are so damn nice and when they snake a wave from you, it’s always with a big smile! Sometimes if I was in the right position, they would yell, “go missus, go!”, then cheer me on as I was surfing. Since surfboards are a luxury here, there aren’t that many of them and the ones that they do have are completely beat up. So, they share. A bunch of guys sit at the beach and heckle their buddies while they are surfing. Then a guy comes in, gives the board to another guy, and off he goes and proceeds to shred out there. The peanut gallery continues to laugh and heckle while watching their friends. Oh, to be a 17 year old Indonesian boy! This is how they appear to spend the majority of their time. Surfing and laughing.
We found a great place to stay with air conditioning (deluxe!) which turned out to be very critical maneuver since we both, after eight months of international travel, had our first real bout with stomach illness. We knew this day would come, but you are never truly prepared to be sick in a foreign country. I (Katy) had the worst of it. Sparing the details, it was long, arduous and ugly and definitely had that “I wish I was dead, rather than be this sick” element. I call it the “Hello Mister, Special Indo Weight Loss Program”. It only cost us several thousand dollars, but at least it’s in a tropical locale!
I could write a book about ground transportation in Indo. I swear we’ve had our most challenging, yet amusing times moving around these relatively small islands. We are learning new things. Such as, when you ask an Indonesian, “Is there room in that ________(insert car/bemo/bus) for us and our stuff?” they will always answer, with a smile, “Yes, yes, of course”. DO NOT believe these very nice people. We have been crammed into the most ridiculous positions in vehicles, and it’s one thing for me, at five feet tall, to sit in a car with my knees wedged up to my chin for 10 hours. It’s another thing for six foot tall Chris. Add in the completely chaotic driving, and it makes for a wild ride. Nonetheless, it’s all good and we always manage to get where we want to be.
We hustled a 10 hour car ride with three Austrian women and are now in Batu Karas, which is thus far, very lovely. It is a small cove with a rocky headland, literally at “the end of the road”. It’s the most mellow place we’ve been so far, with a few nice accommodations, some tiny restaurants, two tiny surf shops, a little store, and a low motorbike count. We love our homestay here, a little room above a restaurant on the beach with a small balcony, including breakfast and coffee, for a mere $15 a night. However, this is a big weekend spot for city people, so we will likely see bus loads of locals over the weekend. We are hoping to score some surf here in our last two weeks in Indonesia!
Some surf shots from Cimaja:
So whats it really like, traveling around Asia on a budget? We are not planning to much of this trip and doing much of it on the fly and this takes an incredible amount of time, flexibility and patience. Along with a very strong sense of humor. We are definitley on a budget so we are always trying to find a balance between being cheap and being stupid, and this is quite difficult at times. So, we thought we might give you a humorous, yet realistic run down of a typical “travel day”.
Note to readers: Somewhere in this past 26 hours of this post, we picked up some souvenirs, of the stomach bug variety… Never a dull moment!
5pm, Sunday. Although we really loved southern Sumatra, we knew it was time to see some new scenery, so we do our research and decide to go to Java, specifically West Java, for the next portion of our stay in Indonesia. We need to get to Bandarlampung (very southern Sumatra) so we can get a flight to Jakarta. We arrange to share a car and driver with two French guys that we have been staying with. Since we took the bus to the area, we are ready to splurge on a car for the way back and splitting it with two other guys saves us some money. We load up, three large board bags strapped to the top and head out for a six hour drive to Bandarlampung.
6:20pm, Sunday. Our driver neglected to fill up on petrol for the drive, so we stop at a gas station. We wait in line for 20 minutes to get gas.
9pm, Sunday. Our driver is hungry, so we stop at a warung that serves Padang style food. We (me, Chris and the two Frenchies) order four orders of chicken and rice. When we pay, they try to totally take us and charge us three times the amount posted on the menu. Thankfully, we have French men with us and they argue to the end while we sit on the sidelines and watch. Somehow we end up paying nothing. For some reason the driver ends up paying our bill, despite the fact we repeatedly offered to pay the correct amount. The true cost of our dinner was an hour of continuous road-rage inflicted on us by our driver. Seriously scary stuff as his already marginal driving skills quickly deteriorated. We hang on and repeatedly ask him to slow down.
11pm, Sunday. We arrive at one of two hotels near the Bandarlampung airport to crash for the night. FULL. Next hotel. FULL. We learn that it is a big Indonesian holiday weekend and we will have a hard time finding a hotel. Okay, so it looks we are sleeping in the airport tonight. We start figuring out how that will pan out. Who gets to lay on the surfboard bag? Do we need to sleep in shifts? This is looking to be a long night. We go to the airport. CLOSED. Plan C. We convince our now very cranky driver that for an additional $20, he needs to drive us another half hour into the city to find a hotel.
Mindnight, Sunday. We get into the heart of Bandarlampung and check with four different hotels before we find one with available rooms. Completely wired from our stressful evening, we try to get some shut eye in our $20 hotel room, complete with deluxe air conditioning, which struggles to beat the heat as we do.
5:30am, Monday. We need to get to the airport early so the Frenchies can make their 8am flight and so we’ll have a prayer of purchasing tickets for that day as well. We strap everything to the top of the cab. The taxi ride to the airport is fairly uneventful, but it starts raining cats and dogs.
6am, Monday. We buy plane tickets to Jakarta for a 9:30am flight for $120 bucks. Imagine doing this in the US. First, it would be at least $1000. Second, they would be sure that your are a terrorist. We arrange with Germain (French dude) to share a car when we leave the Jakarta airport for West Java. This means he will have to hang out in the Jakarta airport for two hours, but he is game, so we plan on meeting him then.
8am, Monday. Winner breakfast at the airport cafe. Two candy bars and a cup of coffee.
10:30am, Monday. Our flight is delayed 1 hour. It also begins to rain buckets. Torrential rain like we’ve never seen before. We wonder, can planes even get off the ground in this?
11:30am Monday. We touch down in Jakarta. As we leave the airport, we are jumped on by taxi drivers, like white on rice. Germain is nowhere to be found and we suspect he ditched us after our flight was delayed for so long. Plan B. Chris’s luggage is completely soaked and is already starting to grow mildew from being left out in the rain.
12:30pm, Monday. We hang out, get money, eat some very delicious A&W chicken sandwiches (yeah, we are hungry) and assess our options for getting to West Java. A taxi is too expensive ($75), so bus it is. Here we go again.
1:30pm, Monday. We sit and sweat outside of the airport. The bus is an hour late, but it is nice, air conditioned and devoid of thumping Indo techno music.
3:00pm, Monday. A cacophony of “Hello mister, hello mister, where you going? Taxi, taxi, taxi!” assaults us as we get off the bus in Bogor. Complete feeding frenzy of people wanting to take us somewhere. We opt for a break and tour the nearby botanical gardens. But… We need to stash our stuff.
3:30pm Monday. We find a police station to leave our luggage and board bag for an hour while we tour the botanical garden. Of course, the Indonesian police are ecstatic about taking care of our belongings, so we leave our things and walk to the garden.
4:30pm Monday. We walk a portion of the very lovely gardens and, minus a few “hello misters”, we find some peace and quiet for a few minutes. We take a horse buggy ride back to the police station to retrieve our stuff for $5. We try to negotiate the price, but the kid driving the buggy doesn’t budge. It’s a total rip off, but indeed a novelty, weaving through crazy traffic in a rickety buggy.
6:30pm, Monday. Our taxi gets lost trying to find the guesthouse that we requested. It is dark, we are up in the hills, and we have no idea where we are. We check out one place to stay, and it’s no good, so we convince the taxi to take us to another hotel. Taxi driver, not happy. We will clearly pay the price.
7:30pm, Monday. Starving and delirious, we find another hotel for $27. Definitely over our budget, but at this point we are broken. We fork out extra for the taxi driver since he is not too happy that we made him go so far.
8:00pm, Monday. 26 hours later. Bintangs and $5 dinner. Things are looking up.
9:00pm Monday. We think to ourselves… Aren’t we lucky to be doing what we are doing. Wow, another great day in Indonesia!