My fourth first misadventure occurred on the day I began my Nusa Penida adventure. Many more misadventures occurred thereafter, but let’s take things one at time. So there I was, eating a delightful veggie bowl on mainland Bali, reading up on places to visit in Nusa Penida (go eat at Square One in Sanur by the way, it’s delish). One awesome girl’s blog mentioned that, like most semi-remote places, there is only one ATM on the island of Nusa Lembongan, where I would be staying. Aha!, I thought, I must get money before I set sail into the great beyond! Great foresight Caitlin, way to go, gold star for you!
Using the cash I had leftover from my last trip to Indonesia, I paid in rupiah for breakfast then bounced over to the ATM only for my transaction to be solidly denied. I tried a new machine and was denied yet again. And again. Then I remembered that I committed Rookie Mistake #1: Neglecting to inform your bank you are leaving the country. Did I mention that it was a Sunday? Normally this situation wouldn’t be a big deal; I’d wait it out, get approved the next day and be on my merry way. Unfortunately, I had a hotel booked that night on an island I’d not yet reached via a boat I needed to take in an hour that only accepts cash.
**Initiate panic mode**
I immediately e-mailed my bank but knew that nothing would come of it for at least 12 hours. As a side note, always re-read your messages to avoid potentially awkward correspondence with strangers. Apparently “ATM” autocorrects to “arm” and instead of saying you need money you will send a dire note to your bank representative saying, “this is an urgent matter because I am on a small island with only one arm.” Like I said, awkward.
Luckily I travel with $20 just in case, and this just happened to be the perfect “just in case” type of case. I exchanged money at an “authentic money change” which was more like “some dude giving you crumpled rupiah out of his wallet” money exchange. I only lost $1 in the process so that was a win. With my newly acquired 250,000 rupiah plus the 17,000 I had left, I set off to find a boat! (For those not well versed in rupiah, that’s roughly $21.)
I headed to the beach and of course was accosted with cruise offers and fast boats… for 400,000 rupiah one way. “Good deal! Good deal,” I am assured by 15 disturbingly enthusiastic Indonesian men. No sir, not a good deal for this poor bule.* I ask around for the public boats, which turn out to be an hour walk down the beach. A man named Romano then offered to take me there via motorbike for 400,000, including a one-way boat ticket. Now I’m no math wiz, but I believe I was a wee bit shy of that amount and to my knowledge random men at the beach named Romano don’t take MasterCard. Fortunately I speak enough Indonesian and bargain-jargon and got it down to 220,000 and we were off! Well, we had to stop to let a massive funeral parade pass, but we were making progress in the forward direction.
We finally made it to the docks, and by “docks” I mean boats in the water that you have to climb down rocks and swim to. I paid the slow boat fee, which ended up only being 100k (thank you, Universe, for small miracles). After joyfully acquiring a ticket to Nusa Lembongan for half the price, I scadaddled away from Romano, rambled down the rocks, waded out to the boat and hopped on board with my fellow passengers: a half dozen Westerners, a few locals, and cargo galore. The only real difference between the “fast” and “slow” boat is that instead of being smooshed between a Swedish backpacker on a yoga escape and an Aussie sporting a Bingtang shirt, I’m squeezed between 100 water jugs and 50 pound bags of watermelon. The arrangement is actually pretty sweet (pun intended); the watermelon doesn’t give me the annoyed side eye when I put my feet up and doze off.
2 days later: The great money fiasco continues…
My bank says I’m good to go but each time I use the ATM I am declined. I resolve to contact the bank again and until I hear back I continue eating at semi-fancy, expensive places with wholesome ingredients that accept credit cards. It’s like I’m totally being forced to enjoy banana-cocoa smoothies, organic bread and feta cheese against my will.
The next day…
My bank says they aren’t sitting on a throne of lies and that I really can take money out now. So they say. I make my way to the ATM and wait for the girl inside to finish. As she walks out she starts to say something to me then shakes the thought away and immediately takes off running down the road. Odd, but my previous experiences in this cramped money box of doom (which are many at this point) tells me she was unable to get money either, considered telling me but chose to leave me to my own devices, felt bad then ran away in absolute shame.
Satisfied that the ATM is likely out of money and it’s not a total me-problem I go to the secret ATM across the island that I learned about. Oh yes, you heard right. There’s not just one, but two (two!) ATMs hiding in the jungles of the island. Okay, they aren’t that secret and not really in the jungle because it’s not like money comes from trees or anything.
Moment of truth…
I put in my card at the secret ATM and so far so good. The moment is so intense that I’m wiping the sweat off my brow. Suddenly the buttons aren’t working and I begin to see the world crumbling around me but I refuse to give in so easily, I will not be deterred! After pushing each number very, very hard, looking eerily similar to a toddler punching buttons on a new toy, I finally get the evil machine to work. Hallelujah! I choose my amount and hold my breath, then my card is suddenly spit out at me without any indication if I have completed a successful mission or not.
A few people who had been waiting in line looked up at me expectantly, a mix of hope and doubt on their faces, as I walked out of the ATM box. I had a grave responsibility as the bearer of news and a lot was weighing on my shoulders; Was there money? Will we all be stranded on this spit of land forever? Will we all have to eat meals sprinkled with delicious feta cheese for the rest of our days!? Knowing how important of a moment this was, I looked at each of them deep in the eyes ready to deliver the news… So I smiled excitedly, threw my hands up and exclaimed, “It works!” I’m pretty sure I remember robust applause and confetti being thrown in my direction.
Moral of the story: Don’t be me. Re-read your e-mails before pressing send, take out your millions of rupiah on the big island then scoot over to the tiny one, and always, always keep confetti on hand because you never know when the occasion will arise that demands a triumphant celebration to be extra colorful.
* Bule: /boo-lay/ | (n.) 1. term of endearment used by Indonesians to consistently remind you that you are in fact a white person. Often used by children in a manner of great succession, ex: “HIIIII! BULE, BULE, BULE! HELLO MISTER! BULE!” 2. the bane of my existence