One of the great, great joys of living in a foreign country is unexpected holidays.
When I studied abroad in Argentina, I went to a Catholic university, and it seemed like just about every other week we had a day off for some holiday or another. And while I live in a protestant area now, we still have surprise holidays that spice up the week from time to time. Tanggal Merah means “red date” – literally the date is in red on the calendar – and that means a day off here in Indonesia. Back in March, I was looking at a calendar in my office and planning out some travel dates. I saw that April 4th was labeled “Paskah I” and April 5th was “Paskah II.” I turned to my friend and said, in English, “wait, you have two Easters?” She thought to herself for a moment, and said, “Yeah, I guess we do.” A short while later, I realized we also have Easter Monday on our calendars in the US, although we don’t usually get the day off work for it.
This week was Pentakosta II (Pentecost Monday? Do we have that?) And I thought to myself, today is a day for some serious exploration. Fortunately, I’d recently learned that my friend Yohana is really into jalan-jalan on her motorbike, as am I. There’s this single-lane, paved road that goes along the lake for a long way, then sort of veers off and goes to a small city/big village called Arso out nearish to the border, and from there there’s a highway back to my town. We decided to just go as far as we felt like going, then turn around.
I’ve driven on this road many times. It is beautiful and relaxing, with hardly anyone else on it, and a few villages scattered here and there, but I hadn’t ever gone terribly far. The best part was discovering what lay beyond the point I’d been to before (sort of like life, ya?). The first part is along Lake Sentani, then the road goes into the forest and curves around a lot, up and down a lot of hills. Then all of a sudden, it comes out into a huge field of tall grass, up a hill and you can see the lake again. From then on, we kept finding these open expanses that just shocked me – here I think we’re in the jungle, and there’s this big meadow. Sometimes with goal posts set up in the tall grass.
Eventually we got to a place where the road was just in really bad shape more and more often, and our motorbikes, in all honesty, aren’t that hardcore. So we decided to turn around, rather than get stuck in the jungle overnight. On the way back we stopped for some pinang in a village and asked how far Arso was from there. They looked at our motos and said, “well, with a moto like that, maybe with a man driving, an hour.” To which my response was, “So for us, like 30 or 40 minutes?” No, that’s not really what I said. I didn’t think of that till after we’d driven away.
It was an incredibly beautiful, sunny day and every time we stopped to soak in the view, Yohana kept saying, “Cool! THIS IS SO COOL!” I couldn’t help but agree. What a great way to celebrate life than to frolic around outside with a friend, truly overwhelmed by the beauty of nature. I could have kept driving forever.