Finally, finally, after three nights in Pontianak, one useless fastboat ticket, many tears, and inadvertently smoked cigarettes later…I made it to Sukadana. My hopes had been high, I’ll admit it. After all, any place that was so hard to get to should be well worth the trip. But from the get go, I could see that the waters were unswimmable, the beaches littered with garbage, and the town itself, not quite the quaint jungle village I had imagined.
Fuck it, I thought to myself as I trudged along the dusty road through town, smiling wanly at the agape locals, trying my best to look like I knew where I was going. All I wanted was a cold beer and a colder shower. At this point I didn’t care how pretty, or not, the town was. So I headed to a homestay listed in my guidebook. Actually it was the homestay because Sukadana wasn’t exactly a tourist destination.
Before I get any further, I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining. Getting off the beaten path to a place like Sukadana was just what I wanted. I simply had no idea what to expect so I made up an idea of my own. An ethnocentric, uninformed, romanticized idea, yes, which was cause for a great deal of reflection on my own ignorance and stereotypes later on.
Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, heading to the single homestay in town, owned by the Pangilapan Family, or something. Once I got there I was greeted by a large group of fresh-faced youngsters in uniform, all preparing to go out for a run in the 30 degree weather. They all smiled and shouted hello but were immediately brought to task by their unsmiling captain. I couldn’t tell if they were police in training, army recruits, or what. In any case, they were incredibly sweet and well-mannered.
A young woman approached where I stood sweating, faded, and unsteady in the blasting furnace-like heat. “”Can I help you? she spoke in soft, uncertain, but clear English.
"I’d like a room, please?" I replied, trying my best to look like someone she’d want in her place of business.
"Only economy room available" she said, almost smirking. I wasn’t sure why.
"Fifty thousand rupiah"
"I’ll take it!" I yelped, excited at the price tag. Fifty thousand rupiah is about four dollars.
She led me up rickety wooden stairs, through a dismal hallway lit by a single bulb, and towards a stained and battered door. After wrestling a bit with the key, she managed to open the room and let me in. Then she vanished back down the stairs, leaving me to soak in the ambiance.
I felt like I had been thrust into a William S Burroughs novel, all I was missing was some good heroin and a typewriter. I set my pack down reluctantly in the corner. Opened a window. Closed it again after seeing the piles of refuse outside. Tried the ceiling fan which lethargically pushed the air around. Looked for the toilet. No toilet. What?!
I went back downstairs to find the young woman and her somewhat dour mother(?). “Toilet?” I asked hopefully.
The young woman led me back upstairs and showed me a concrete closet with a squat toilet and a bucket shower inside. I felt the city-girl inside me cringe and maybe even squeal a little, but I refused to let my disappointment show since I was sure this young girl was waiting to see my expression.
"So…no toilet in room?" I asked again, as if by repeating my question enough times, I could make a toilet magically appear.
The young girl smiled again but this time with a very faint edge, Spoiled brat of a Western woman, I could almost hear her thinking. And then she turned and went back downstairs. Discussion over.
Well, well. I contemplated my room. Then I contemplated the bucket shower, squat toilet. Then back to my room. Fuck it, I thought to myself. It’s all part of the adventure, right? Really, I felt disappointed in my inner Indiana Jones for caring so much.
Pursing my lips and squaring my shoulders. I resolved to use the bucket shower. My clothes were sticky with sweat and my hair frizzy with dark, briny river/ocean water. I really had no choice. It was bucket shower, or bust.
After my bucket shower (which wasn’t that bad, actually, just took kind of a long time) I went out for some food, then came back to lay, sweating (again) on my much misused mattress and stare at the ceiling fan. Exhaustion overcame me and I fell into a deep, yet troubled sleep.
Loud clapping and singing. Boisterous feet clattering through the hall. Sounds of running water and splashing. I groggily fought to regain consciousness as these terrible sounds intruded on the nightmares I had so peaceably been having.
I recognized the gang of youths I had seen downstairs yesterday. They were an excitable lot, I thought as I listened to them yelling in the hallways and having what sounded like bucket-shower parties in the bathroom. They’ll be done soon, I mumbled to myself sleepily, and sure enough after twenty minutes or so, the noise subsided.
But not for long. An hour (or less?) later, the clapping, singing, running in the hall, and bucket-shower parties ensued again. I growled and pulled the bed-buggy pillow over my head, silently cursing them. It will be over soon, I told myself again. And it was.
But not for long. For the rest of the night, I was woken up at strange intervals to the sounds of these young men cavorting in the hall and in the bathroom. It really took everything I had to not run out into the hall and curse them all soundly. In the end I could only laugh at the absurdity of the situation.