I step off the ferry and find myself in a dusty port town. I’m now on Isle Y, a smaller sister island that is known for world-class diving and sand that feels like flour. I have no definite agenda; all I want to do is snorkel. People assure me I’m in the right place.
I arrange a ride for myself because I decide I want to go to the other end of the island, the one that is presumably emptier. Cruise ships arrive to this port town and demented old white people who have the “latest technology” in fanny packs decide to roam around a bit to “experience the nation”, until they decide it’s too dirty or foreign or a small blister forms on their left toe, at which point they scuttle back to the safety of their floating retirement home. Can you blame them? It’s probably lasagna night. If you think I’m mocking people who go on cruises, I am. Very much so.
My driver is six foot four, 300 pounds, has corn rows, and no front teeth. His name is Dagger. I find this out later.
I hop into the front seat and he decides to play tour guide, but does no more than jovially identify things that need the least identification – banks, bars, and random houses according to their paint job: “Oh, that’s a pink house. Nice trim detailing. There’s a blue house. I once lived in a blue house”. I’m weary of the situation, mostly because this man apparently thinks I’m color blind, but also because I’m traveling alone and I simply have to be. He’s what Americans would consider overly flirty, but I know this is just the culture. Even when he proposes to pull over for a beer. Stopping for fuel, I turn to my side to get gas money so Dagger can’t see the contents of my wallet. He says with a stupid grin, “If I was going to rob you, I would have done it already.” Fantastic.
Turns out Dagger is a pretty friendly guy, very well known on Isle Y. If he’s not talking to me about his philosophies on America, prostitutes, and the national beer, he’s honking at people he knows or on the phone with someone – he says 85 percent of the island knows each other. He’s on the phone when we hear an ominous humming noise. We get a flat. I’m still suspicious of him at this point because I really can’t afford to trust anyone. I try to decide if this is an elaborate plot to rob me or some shit. I even scan the bushes for accomplices. But the flat is as flat as it’ll ever get and he throws on the spare and we’re zooming through the winding jungle roads again.
I have no idea where I’m going to end up this night, and there comes a point when this turns from being a novelty to a nuisance. I look to the crystal blue waters to my right to remind myself where I am. The clouds are low, and so fluffy and white. Contrasted against the rich sky, they look crisp and impenetrable. The air smells like salt and barbeque. Dagger tells me that Isle X smells like factories and Isle Y smells like working kitchens. I believe him.
Dagger becomes a friend, of sorts. The combination of his jokes and his accent are too funny and my eyes brim with tears of laughter on a few occasions. He even returns some of my money for the inconvenience of the flat tire. When a second, different tire blows out, I give him this money back. He needs it more than I do. We can’t go any further because his car is going to shit, so he drops me off in a village three miles away from my intended destination. While he’s changing the second tire with a spare that he borrows from a friend, Dagger gets into a fight with a homeless man who’s called The Fruit King. The exchange is more entertaining than threatening. Apparently everyone knows The King and everyone avoids him. I wouldn’t get this memo until 5 hours later, when I would run into him again and find him licking passion fruit seeds off my open palm.
But that’s another story.
Please have a Happy New Year! I will spend mine hungry and sober, because I am stuck in a village with no money and no ATM and the one in the nearest town is being difficult and won’t spit out the cash I need. But this is no matter. I have the wind, and the music, and the view, and the air, and some unripened mangos from The Fruit King, and the fortune to be on the road. I couldn’t ask to start the new year in a better way. Drink for me!