‘The courage of a sailor does not lie in taking the waves, but in facing the departures,’ says Valerio as we tell each other about the experiences we have lived in these past two weeks in Lombok. And that’s right, every departure is painful, because you leave behind many memories of life, lived intensely, in the different parts of the world we have visited. But leaving here is really difficult. The moon sets on the coast in front of the island of Gili Gede and traces a path of light on the placid sea of the lagoon, tomorrow we will set sail and we will leave the islands of Indonesia behind for the long crossing of the Indian Ocean to the island of Réunion.
I will carry with me the memories of the days I spent surfing in Selong Bay with Sandy and the local surf community; the nights spent in Kuta, the songs sung to Ratu by the light of a candle; the atmosphere of freedom that we experienced in getting to know each other and in talking with Nada, Marianne, Alan, Raymond and Michael. I will never forget Kim’s eyes that enchanted me from the very first glance at Tanjiung Aan beach; her smile so kind and open to life is a precious gift that I carry in my heart. I will remember the scooter trips along the coast and in the countryside of the interior, where I stopped to talk with peasant families, children who went to school holding hands, a boy with a gun bigger than him, an elderly couple with toothless smiles that I hugged because of how beautiful and happy they were. The poverty is bad and ugly everywhere, but the atmosphere that is experienced on this island always has the face of hope. The hope of a people that always smiles in the face of the many adversities of life and the thousand contradictions that today’s societies have brought.
One above all, is that of plastic pollution. An environmental problem of enormous proportions, the reality of which risks making you dizzy. Tourists arriving in Bali or the other Indonesian islands hardly realise the scale of this disaster. Because the beaches of the resorts are constantly cleaned of plastic that comes from the sea, but you just need to get out of the wall that separates the tourist centres from the rural villages and you enter the reality of a coast totally invaded by waste, as well as along the internal roads of the islands. Everyone is throwing plastic everywhere. In coastal bays fishermen do this, using plastic nets and traps to catch baby lobsters to sell them in the markets of Singapore; rural farmers who struggle with plows still towed by buffaloes, throw plastic bottles and broken bags; those who work in the tourism industry do it and throw cigarettes on the long, compact white sand beaches facing the turquoise sea. ‘It’s a cultural problem,’ Hak tells me, ‘most people don’t realise the problem of pollution.’ In the rural villages along the coast – those where the fishing communities live together with hens, goats and very thin cows – children are used to playing among plastic expanses brought in from the sea or thrown onto the ground. Their landscape is very different from that of the resorts that rise a few hundred metres away, where yoga and meditation are practiced and people come to regenerate from the frenetic rhythms of Western life.
Sandy has a small surf school on Selong Beach. It’s called Black Fin: four wooden poles and a tin roof, a few tables with bamboo chairs, a kitchenette at the back, two canvas umbrellas with wooden beds, and surfboards of different sizes in the rack. He lives there with his young wife and two-year-old daughter. Their smile conquers me every morning when I arrive at the beach to learn how to be on the board. We scan the ocean allowing for the set to pass to wait for the right waves. ‘This is fine,’ he says seriously, pointing to the wave in the distance. ‘Do you see it growing on the right? Ok when you are on top of the wave turn more to the left and try to stand up before you get to the shore. Ok, ready? Paddle!’ Over the days I became more and more familiar and I abandoned the beginner board to start with the rigid 6.8. ‘Be careful, surfing is a drug!’ Giovanni from Italy tells me. And I understand very well what he means, because now I dream of the waves at night and in the morning I look at the sea in the distance trying to understand when will be the right time to go to the beach with the surfboard under my arm.
Amar is 32 years old, married and has two children aged 9 and 11. He is a driver for tourists arriving in Lombok on vacation, but now that all flights from abroad are blocked, he has to find another job to support his family. He will try to go to work in the many gold mines owned by Canadians or Russians, or in those owned by the Indonesian government. He will be paid 70,000 Indonesian rupiahs (4 euros) for 8 hours of work a day in the mine, which becomes 12 hours by counting the journey to reach it from home and the time spent in the office to enter the day’s data on the mineralogical card. He will work six days a week with minimal safety equipment, leaving him free on Fridays to go to pray at the mosque and spend time with his family. He will not be awarded a pension and will have no health care. He could buy family health insurance for 140,000 rupees a month, but he cannot afford it. Retirement and health care are only available to those who work for the government up to 60 years old, for everyone else: ‘you must work until you die,’ he says smiling.
Amar is passionate about Moto GP, like everyone here in Indonesia. Next year they will race on the new circuit being built in record time on the outskirts of Kuta on the south coast of Lombok. Wherever I go, the doors open to me just because I’m Italian and my name is Lorenzo: ‘Valentino Rossi – Jorge Lorenzo!’ From Italy he knows football teams, pizza and cappuccino. He likes Pirates of the Caribbean movies and sees me a bit like one of them. One day he asks me if Jack Sparrow really existed, as if I must have known him. And he is very upset when I tell him he’s a fictional character. On that point, I’m sorry that I told him. We listen to music as we travel along the coast and he teaches me to recognise the bands of Dang Dut, a mixture of traditional Indonesian music and international pop. Then I find out that he is a fan of Rod Stewart and we start singing together the songs he has on his phone, while along the road we pass herds of buffaloes walking slowly, families of monkeys waiting to cross showing their teeth to the racing cars, 7 or 8 year old children whizzing on scooters bigger than them taking their younger sister with them, farmers carrying huge bundles of herbs on tiny scooters that become like big travelling sheaves and makeshift markets on the street where everything is sold; fish, fruit, shoe soles, tires, petrol cans and chickens.
We return to the island of Gili Gede to find Milanto moored at the Marina. Sukar, one of the many fishermen on the coast, comes to pick us up with his wooden praho, the traditional boat of these seas with side outriggers, the small outboard and the sail wrapped around the mast.
Tomorrow we will set sail for Réunion. It will take about three weeks. We will leave Asia behind to head for Africa and it has never been so difficult to leave as from this island that has stolen our hearts.