Blessed with good health, a rewarding career and an understanding wife, I embarked on an Indonesian surf trip in 2013. When it comes to surfing, like many of my wave riding brethren, I tend to horde precious free time. During this foray into liquid bliss, I reached the mid-century mark. My wife didn’t accompany me on this trip. She understood that celebrating my 50th birthday surfing in a remote locale with two of my best friends was important to me. Like I said, I’m blessed.
Traveling abroad is an enriching experience, difficult to put into words, but I’m a writer, so here it goes. Venturing beyond the borders of your own country brings about the unexpected. Plan as you might, when setting foot in foreign countries you’re going to experience surprising twists and turns. Some are downright unpleasant: dysentery, voracious insects, suspect modes of transportation, to name a few, while others leave you in awe, appreciative of the simple things in life.
Our “resort” was in a Muslim-dominant province of the Indonesian archipelago. The island’s residents were nearing the end of Ramadan observance. During our first two days, we stayed in the confines of the resort, surfing an exceptional wave within sight of our bungalow. Well into our second day, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been outside the resort gate since arriving. Seeking a change of scenery, I grabbed my camera intending to take photos of the rural landscape. The lighting was ideal. Instead, I was captivated by the genuine smiles and friendly waves of locals cruising by on scooters. My travel buddies joined me as we waved hello to everyone passing by. It was an unexpected, benign exchange between strangers. Had we engaged in this same behavior back home, passersby would likely have responded with just one finger.
Towards the end of our trip, we were making plans to surf a remote break. Based on our guide’s recommendation, an epic session awaited us. Our trek included a one-hour drive and long-tail boat ride to an off-shore island. On the drive there, it was noticeably quiet. There was very little foot traffic along the one road circling the island. No kids playing outside. Empty storefronts. An explanation for the quietude eluded me, but not for long. On our drive back, people were everywhere. Dressed to the nines, folks were carrying platters of food on their way to celebrate the end of Ramadan with family and friends. The celebratory mood reminded me of our Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.
What I anticipated from this trip was good surf with great friends. We weren’t let down. What I didn’t expect was the infectious joy and gracious greetings from Muslims in a conservative region of Indonesian. Keeping a low profile and limited interaction with locals were preconceived notions that evaporated when the sun set on our second night in Simeulue. When writing, I tap these experiences to erode disparaging stereotypes. My intent in doing so is to reveal our commonalities and kindred spirit.