The places I love the most, few tourists ever see or even know about.
These are the far away places, not reached by traveling lonely, forgotten roads,
but places inhabited by a different sort of life, often fixed in tradition.
Those who know them will whisper their stories to the outside world,
but otherwise, they are often overlooked, or few go through the expected trouble to visit.
Those who do are rewarded. As a rule, if you are a foreigner, they will be kind.
Make effort to learn a bit of language, and you’ll find such travel not difficult at all.
For those who make a habit of such journeys,
I hope we can appreciate the unique beauty that each new destination has to offer,
because without the joy of discovery,
or even revisiting with a new perspective,
what joy can there be at all?
Some thirty hours by connecting flights from Washington DC,
Jakarta is a splatter of skyscrapers and malls, slums and festering canals.
Like the pungent smell of fermented fruit, it requires a particular taste to appreciate.
There is little you wouldn’t find here in the way of commerce,
and, for an expatriate,
the cost of living is startlingly cheap.
You ignore the mixture of exhaust fumes that coat everything and streets are crowded.
People from all over the islands come here searching for a richer life.
For me, the village is where I’d be happiest,
a small, seaside fishing town, lapped to sleep by the sound of the waves,
coaxing gently into the early morning waters for trolling.
There are other places too; Banda Aceh, for example,
is just another hour north by plane.
Outsiders are uncommon, excepting a few hard-core divers
and disaster relief volunteers. A tragic city, Banda Aceh,
setting on the rugged nose of Sumatra,
famous for the wave of anguish broadcast around the world.
It has been years since the city was scoured.
The shattered homes and hotels, the rusted, overturned cars, and the churned bodies
have all been swept up and carried off.
But there are still some signs of its enormity, almost forgotten,
on the outskirts of the renovated and renewed.
Past the market stalls with sinewy beef backs hanging in the open air,
and twenty minutes down a washed out road, is a rusty container ship
lying across a weedy pitch,
three miles from the coast. Its long flat bed, faded tower,
and the empty catacombs of the hull are now a playground for unwatched children
and adventurous teens. It lies quietly in the ever growing grass
as if this was always its maker’s true intention.
It seems unreal to imagine them,
tens of thousands pulled from the wreckage, half buried in mud,
their stiff bodies piled high into the backs of trucks, carried off,
laid into wide pits and buried again.
The survivors never learn who’s where,
but just come to the closest of the grassy lee's whenever they feel the tug at their hearts.
How had it been that day?
Many must have seen it from a distance, carrying their sacks of nutmeg and rice
up from the docks,
and on the horizon it can barely be discerned.
First it is a gentle hill on a plane. As it rises,
it sucks at the corners of the sea,
revealing bare sand inside the seawall,
broken coral, jagged and white. It rises,
curling its hood over the morning sun.
It must be terrible, the rushing awareness.
Some just drop their arms and stare,
but most run, maybe scrambling to the top of a coastal palm.
Some seek shelter in nearby buildings, yanking the door closed,
barring it with their bodies.
Others just dash off, not knowing where.
It comes in first with white foam, rolling up the piers,
thumping ships like thimbles in its caress, and doubling over,
It stamps the earth. Miles away,
In their homes, in their cars, they are swept off with never even a gaze.
Mad, sudden, and uncaring,
it runs through the streets,
through the doorways, rushing over the earth,
returning everything to the primordial.
It doesn’t take long to explore these sites at leisure before heading on
to the next destination. There is an off shore island
known for diving. The seabed’s nearby are rich with underwater canyons,
A volcano, and a number of wrecks.
A ferry leaves in late afternoon.
On the road to the port, on the corner where the tarmac turns onto a causeway
that leads out to sea,
is a mosque painted cloudy white, with a chocolate kiss top
and the up reaching arm of a minaret.
It is one last reminder. When everything here lay splintered from back to front,
This mosque alone remained perfectly intact, although stained
by what the sea passed through it.
I never did see a photo, but can imagine
its importance as a symbol. You can
still see its tower from the causeway’s end
where one waits to catch the boat.
Have I been lucky? It’s hard to say,
only that anything I see or touch
has an aura of mystery about it
and that I have somehow been able to pack my bag
and board whatever means I may to get here,
and when the call comes, I board again.