Trippin'

Trippin' is a collection of travel stories written by a young Australian writer. They talk of the humor of living a life on the fringe, the frustration of being down and out, and the stories of all the people he met along the way. The journey speaks to anybody who has experienced life on the road, or shares a thirst for the freedom that comes with spontaniety and transient living.

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7. Death Mountain

  Occurred - May 2011, Gili Island (Indonesia).

 

Being from Australia I never really have to worry about getting stooged by locals who offer me drugs or alcohol. In comparison to Asian drug trade standards we're actually quite classy about the whole thing - if that's remotely possible. I revel in the comfort of being able to buy my booze from some old wash up at a local bottle-o, or getting drugs offered to me by some heroin addict in St Kilda. It's all just an integral component of life when you live in Melbourne. Witnessing drunken pre-teen slappers stumbling around with a sack of 'Fresh Dry White' under their arm is all too common – just as it is to see a pack of junkies or potheads chillin' on the gutter outside of a Coles supermarket. I have essentially become all too comfortable with the manner in which drugs are sought out, bought and consumed in my home city – which on a first appearance may seem slightly sad. 

 

I always tend to get a slight shock when I travel to countries within Asia because every aspect of life is intensified by 500 percent. My original comfortability with buying my alcohol from a middle aged, singlet wearing man with sweat marks is completely overridden in countries like Indonesia because of the sheer fact that the person behind the counter is literally 5 years old.

 

But the locals don't seem to see this as an issue. They are accustomed to seeing semi-deceased potheads with one leg begging for money, just as Australians are to seeing a pack of them outside of a supermarket. It's all just an integral component of life for anybody that is native to Indonesia – even if we do feel slightly disturbed when instead of seeing your average teenage drunk you see 5 year old drunks, only instead of holding a cask of goon they are holding 10 dead chickens by their feet and trying to sell them.

 

But regardless of all of these absurdities, my comfortability with any situation always has to be tested. With each new country that I enter comes a desire to live comfortably, accepting every difference and eventually trying to push the boundaries. I'm unsure whether this is the point of it all – considering that seeing a semi-deceased drug addict should probably make you reflect on your own fortune – but for myself and my close friends at the time it was definitely the way that we chose to act.                                                                                                                                                      

 

The reason why Jake and I, along with two other friends, ended up on a small Indonesian island is actually pretty logical. We were on route to London, but had purposely planned to have a 10 day lay over in Kuala Lumpur. At the time it was how we had both envisioned a perfect tropical holiday – and we both definitely knew that when we booked the tickets in Darwin we would need some quality Mojito drinkin' time in an Asian country to forget that we had ever spent 2 months of our lives working up there.

 

I drew from my prior knowledge of other Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand and came to the conclusion that everything in Malaysia would be ludicrously cheap. In my mind I imagined ourselves sat amongst a plethora of beautiful woman (not purchased of course) in a silk lined room with cheap cocktails pouring from every corner.

 

But unfortunately the dream could never become a reality. Call me ignorant but I didn't actually know that Malaysia was a Muslim country with an excellent economy. It was this fact, and this fact alone, that caused us to change our plans. The money that would have been required to spend 10 days in Kuala Lumpur definitely did not come anywhere close to our collective worth. 

 

But fortunately enough we weren't stranded. Two of our good mates were in Indonesia chilling out in one of their Dad's houses, which by the worlds standards is right around the corner from Malaysia. I had no idea how this was a reality, considering that I had known one of them very well and was never in my life aware of his house on a tropical island.

 

Alarm bells literally started ringing in my head when I added up the positives of the situation. Firstly, a personal house on an island - that basically had me down on the spot. My mate could have mentioned that the house was infested with the Indonesian Mafia and I still probably would have complied. Secondly, I was told that the island was full of Swedish babes and cheap booze. After the second point I immediately imagined our arrival to this blessed place, likening it to when Jesus rode majestically into Jerusalem on a donkey and was showered with praise and riches - only in my mind I replaced the Christian masses with hot Swedish biatches. We booked our flights to Denpasar immediately and arrived only 2 days after our friends.

 

Once we arrived in Denpasar we caught a small tourist boat out to the largest of the three islands that forms the Gili's. The scenery was immediately breathtaking. We lay shirtless on the roof of the boat and blasted hard rock music, witnessing green mountain ranges surrounded by endless ocean with local Indonesian cats fishing on their make-shift boats.

 

We soon pulled up to the dock of the island (conveniently just the beach) and saw our mate Jordy standing in amongst a coterie of hot Swedish babes in bikinis. My eyes lit up as we exited the boat and rode small mountain bikes back to his house.

 

Jordy is a classic Australian surfer. The house that we were about to live in was his international surfing halfway house. Every year he would take the $200 return flights to the island and mellow out in this paradise, allowing him to also indulge in every other area of life that he deemed important – namely woman, alcohol and writing nonsensical acoustic guitar songs in his hammock.

 

The house was owned by Jordy's Dad and was situated in amongst the local community, at the end of a dirt trail that began with tourist hotels and bars and ended with dilapidated shacks. The neighbours on our left were local Indonesian dudes who definitely had some form of illegal bicycle spray painting business. Curiously enough, they were the people given the important task of minding Jordy's house when him or the rest of his family were out of the country. Across the road lived some form of Portuguese grade Indonesian cleaner who wasn't able to speak but was still delighted to wash our booze soaked clothes. Overall, you could say that this house embodied our version of a conceivable paradise. 

 

The island itself was car free and run by solar energy. All of the panels were situated at the top of the largest mountain on the island. Although this mountain is off limits to tourists, from its peak you  were able to see over to the other islands and even to the actual coast of mainland Indonesia.

 

The only mode of transport on the island came in the form of primal mountain bikes, similar to the ones that you used to ride as a child. But on this island Malvern Star was the bicycle equivalent of a BMW - the police even rode them when they weren't sitting on their horse and carts.

 

The only thing more ludicrous than the bicycle riding was related to these horse and carts, only because there seemed to be an equal amount of them to people. This seemed ridiculous to me, considering that nobody was using them and quite frankly the island wasn't anywhere big enough for all the people anyway, let alone horses and people.

 

After a few long days of basking in the bliss of a beautiful beach, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and failing to pick up women, we wanted to test the boundaries. Jordy had mentioned on one of our first days that one of his friends could source magic mushrooms. Retrospectively, it was probably someone who was connected with our neighbours spray painting gang, but at the time I hadn't put the pieces of the puzzle together. In any case, he bought some independently of our other friend Jeremy and myself and secretly took some with Jake. On this particular day Jeremy and I were soaking up some sun, but as I returned to grab my camera I found Jordy and Jake submerged in heavy conversation and psychedelic music. Thankfully I put two and two together and ran to collect Jeremy.

 

As the afternoon began to set in we made a conscious decision to purchase some more for the night ahead. The mixture itself, even if blended with pineapple, looked like shit. It kind of resembled gravel but with the consistency of the type of diarrhoea you would get from eating heaps of spicy Indian food. We all secretly pinched our noses while we consumed it, and later sat back to enjoy the fruits of our labour.

 

To set the scene it is probably necessary to outline the very distinct personalities of the four of us. I for one am somebody who definitely can't handle his own conscious mind, let alone the warped version of it that is created through psychedelics. But I am also very curious. I always like to think that my mind is strong enough to handle any mental hurdle – even if dealing with every daily form of responsibility is already too difficult. 

 

Jake, my partner in travel, was truly the product of a man who had tripped 4 months around Australia. He sported a bright orange sarong and had grown his hair long enough to tie it up in a ponytail. He was digging every new experience that the world was throwing at us – even if he had no money to back it up.

 

Jordy on the other hand is a little more difficult to read. It's almost as if he has a dozen personalities that he uses in different situations – which is both entertaining and confusing when you are his close friend. Since I have known him he's been a wine maker. He's worked all around the world harvesting grapes and is definitely digging on it – but it's impossible to take him purely on this when he is literally the funniest redhead I have met but is still capable of any intellectual conversation.

 

Jeremy, the last remaining pillar, was a Canadian friend of ours that I had met in Vietnam a year before. He is hands down the craziest 20 year old I have ever encountered - but being from Canada it really comes as no surprise. Every Canadian I have come across has either reminded me of somebody from Jackass or has been a drop dead smoking hot chick. One of Jeremy's most award-winning performances was when he managed to pick up some lone girl in a restaurant by sitting down with her and asking 'so what are we having?'. His level of confidence and downright disregard for common social practice is amazing, and I couldn't help but think that on hallucinogenics he would become some God-like figure.

 

As the day drew on we had a spontaneous plan to climb the tallest mountain on the island. I'm unaware of why we chose such an unrealistic adventure, but I do think that the words 'unable to climb' and 'off limits to tourists' persuaded our minds as we fell into an altered state.

 

As we set out to begin the climb there were definitely a few very important factors that we hadn't taken into account. The first was that we were in no way prepared for a one hour hike, both physically and mentally. We were all shirtless for a start, but justified it with the fact that it was 40 degrees and definitely a better idea to wear less clothes. Not only that, but wearing no shoes also seemed like a logical idea at the time. I'm unsure about Jeremy and Jordy, but Jake and I have always had a dislike for wearing them – even if we had been refused jobs and entry into shopping centres countless times in the past. And this situation was no different. We didn't understand it completely at the start but being forced to step over bushes through houses and forestry was almost impossible when barefoot.

 

But there were far more important things going on in our minds to care about any of this. For me, the experience of beginning to hike up the mountain reminded me of when Frodo and Sam leave the shire in the first 'Lord of the Rings'. None of us were talking at this point, so I imagined that we had just received some wise words from Gandalf and were in search for something at the top of the mountain. In reality we were really just stepping on a whole bunch of cow turds and having to form paths on a big hill that hadn't really been touched by humans – at least not in any time that we were alive for.

 

But we did eventually reach the top – or at least the highest point that we were willing to climb to. We were sweaty and high, and all stopped for a moment to take a 360 degree look around. It was truly breathtaking – the horizon was scattered with all the small lights from other islands, leaving the green trees below us illuminated with a warm glow. The moon shined brighter than I had ever seen - even in the middle of Australia - and the weather was a perfect balance between hot and cold.

 

It was at this point that I couldn't understand why something so beautiful could be off limits. Besides all of the expensive solar panels, it was truly one of the most tranquil places I had laid eyes on – especially in Asia. But it was still only an area that I had hoped to see. Asia in my mind was full with drunken Australian tourists stumbling down the main street of Kuta, mocking Indonesian salesmen – even if the only reason they were there was to appease them and make money. Never did I realise that the 'real' Asia was only a boat-ride away and offered an entirely different experience.

 

In amongst the crevices of the mountain and the bushes and the trees we managed to find a patch of grass that was just at the right height to see everything. We all sat down on makeshift rugs and lit up some clove-flavoured cigarettes – leaving the next two hours open to conversations that, in my mind, played out in seconds.        

 

But after some time our moods began to change. The moon still shined as bright as it had done earlier, but the perfect balance between hot and cold had been replaced with chilling winds that we were in no way prepared for – especially when shirtless. The warm glow of the lights on the other islands had somehow disappeared, leaving only the light from our cigarettes. Negative vibes began to spread like a wave, and we knew at the moment that we needed to get off the mountain.

 

'Dudes,' Jeremy moaned. 'I'm just nart digging this mountain – like, it was awesome before, but now I just really wanna get outta here.'

 

Jeremy broke the silence after what seemed like a lifetime of everybody sinking into their own worlds. His strong Canadian accent brought back a certain sense of realism to the fact that we were still on a mountain and out of touch.

 

'Oh come on guys,' Jake replied. 'Let's just listen to one more song of Dead Meadow.'

'Yeah man,' I replied. 'I'm stoked either way, but it is kind of gettin' dark...'

'I agree bro,' Jordy chimed in. 'Let's get the hell off this mountain.'

 

At this point there seemed to be a divide between the four of us. Jeremy and Jordy had obviously been feeling apprehensive, but Jake on the other hand had no intention of leaving. Jake is always without fear when it comes to situations that test the boundaries of somebody else. But I felt a similar way. I had no problem with the mountain and the darkness, and usually just put large fears into the back of my mind. But clearly Jeremy and Jordy felt the opposite.  

 

'Okay, hands up,' Jordy continued. 'Hands up if you wanna leave.'

 

All of us besides Jake raised our hands. I really had no reason for it, but it seemed like as good of an idea as any. In retrospect it was even more interesting that our final decision had been made by an almost child-like procedure. At this moment we had essentially lost touch with any adult reasoning, and I now understand why reverting back to a hands up policy is a pretty good way to reach a conclusion.     

 

Jordy decided to lead the pack, using all his existing knowledge about the island to guide us down, even if none of it was related to the mountain itself. This was an illogical idea for two reasons. The first is that getting anybody to guide you down a mountain with at least a 1.5 kilometre descent on mushrooms is moronic. The second is that it was pitch black and easy to lose anybody – especially as Jordy hurtled down    

 

He tried to numb our fears with a little music, holding his phone high in the air and pumping 'Out of Touch' like some sort of Christopher Columbus wannabe. I discovered later that Jordy was actually petrified. He couldn't fathom any way of emerging into reality – or at least our warped view of it. The mountain experience was just pushing him further anyway from any ideas of normality that he had. I had absolutely no idea at the time, and am still thinking that his music stunt was just another joke on his part.

 

The initial decline wasn't actually too bad. We stepped on a few more cow turds and gazed heavily on the landscape which was taking on various forms. I looked to my right and saw a really large hole in the ground, similar to that a giant animal would make with its foot. I thought it looked like a grave; Jake thought it looked more like a Chinese garden. I'm not sure about Jake, but the mountain was definitely starting to give off potentially deadly vibes for me.

 

The remainder of our trip existed within our own minds. As fate would have it, I fell deep into thought as we walked. I thought of all the women that I had seen on the island throughout the few days that I had been there. After travelling around Australia my ideas about woman had been truly altered. I cared no more for utter beauty, because in my mind it generally resulted in a lack of personality and individualism. This thought was exacerbated by the fact that I was surrounded by thousands of them, with a new bunch arriving by boat every day. For any other male, it was heaven - boats unloading goods faster than one could process. But my thoughts had stretched further.

 

I thought of a Swedish girl that I had met and dated in Darwin and remembered that, at the time, I had felt like a king walking among men when I was with her. Granted I was only 2 months younger, but it was strange that my ideas had progressed in such a fashion. My mind was truly set on the belief that these Swedish women must be somehow mass produced. They had no substance besides their smooth, tanned skin and voluptuous curves.

 

This is definitely not a blanket statement, but my current mindset had led me to believe it was. I was certain that they were all the same and definitely produced in a factory hidden in the depths of the Swedish forest, with the operation being run by some lumberjack called Sven. It was Sven's aim to create these women and then let them loose like animals, programmed to win the hearts of men all around the world.

 

The dial in my mind at this moment was definitely set to paranoid. But luckily, in amongst a few random foot movements, screams on behalf of Jake, and a few run-in's with difficult fences, I was brought out of it.

 

'Blindy!' Jordy yelled from afar. His words increased in volume as I was brought back to the apparent reality that we were still on the mountain, and it was still pitch black. 'Blindy, over here man - there's a way out.'

 

'Dude, that's some ladies house,' I replied slowly. 'Is that her?'

 

My words were powerless. I strutted over to Jordy, still very much in a euphoric state, and joined him after what had seemed like an eternity. We pushed through another makeshift fence and emerged from the bushes and into this ladies front yard. There was only 3 of us at this stage, with Jake lagging behind and stepping on an array of spiked objects that the rest of us had somehow dodged. From this ladies perspective we must have seemed only sub-human, with dirt and leaves and branches covering our bodies. It was as if we had just exited a portal that transports people into another time, with the three of us getting catapulted into this ladies world, and physically, her front yard.

 

After 5 or so minutes Jake emerged. We all brushed ourselves off after a half-day long ordeal, and strutted through a couple of dirt roads and finally onto the main tourist road. But this was definitely not the end of our trip. The main tourist road was lit with thousands of lights and people. The mountain and all its darkness just seemed like a mild nightmare, and I believed at the time that if I had told the story to anybody they wouldn't have believed me.

 

But the four of us walked the streets like it was a film premier and we were the stars. I imagined that all of our fans were admiring us with star-struck eyes, but in retrospect they were probably just regular eyes or even eyes of disgust. 

 

'Ohhh, that was hilarious!' Jeremy scream. 'Hilarious, but fucking scary!'

'That was so messed up,' I replied, still panting from the walk.

'Dude, it kind of was like a movie - I mean, four guys, on shrooms, in a mountain, total darkness. Help!'

 

We all fell deep into laughter as we walked back to the house. Somehow, the overall intensity of the experience had dissipated in seconds. 

 

As we opened Jordy's gate we walked to the front porch and pushed open the front door. Standing inside, completely oblivious, were our two other Canadian friends. This just acted as another portal that we were required to enter on the road back to normality. We regaled them with stories from our journey, even if they had absolutely no idea what they were being told. I'm still unsure whether or not they believed us.

 

We spent the rest of the night sitting contently in the hammocks and sofas on Jordy's balcony, and laughed at the idea that only the four of us would ever know what truly happened on "Death Mountain."

 

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