We gathered at 5:30 AM at our church. It seems like everything starts early here – it's one of the hardest things to get used to as Westerners who like to sleep in. We all parked our motorcycles inside the sanctuary of the church, right where the pews normally are. We boarded two big tour buses and started on our journey.
Four hours aboard a big bus is a long time for little ones, but our kiddos did great and fell fast asleep just like pretty much everyone else on the bus. First, though, the pastor stood up front and gave a sermon and we all sang some Christmas songs together. It's incredibly meaningful to worship Jesus with the minority church here while driving through beautiful Java. We were also all given little cups of water and packets of snacks – lumpia and banana bread and sticky rice with savory meat filling.
When we got to the beach it was midday and warm and the beach was absolutely packed with people. The Western individualist mentality tends to avoid places that are packed, but most Indonesians seem to enjoy the togetherness. Since we stick out like sore thumb we ducked down and headed straight for a patch of empty sand so that we could figure out what to do next. However we were immediately swarmed by people asking to take pictures with our kids, and as the minutes went by we got sweatier, less genuinely smiley, and Elly continued to eat sand. We were rescued by a church member who found us and guided us to the far corner of the beach where the rest of the church had taken refuge in the shade under some cliffs.
Here we realized our first major mistake – we hadn't brought swim clothes! I know, I know, why would we come to a beach without swim clothes? In my defense, I had heard reports of these beaches being very dangerous and since most Indonesians don't swim, I was told few people get in the water. There are also legends of a spirit queen that everyone fears who lives in the water – another reason that people don't swim. I just assumed that we'd wade in the water but there wouldn't be swimming. Most of the ladies did indeed camp out on mats on the sand while a few men and kids played in the water. I figured we'd join them and stay mostly dry. We quickly realized the reason why our nice shady spot was free. The first big wave completely swamped all of the ladies and baggage. As the tide continued to rise we all continued to compact more and more tightly in the higher ground.
In the end most of us gave in and played in the water, which then sent us all to the souvenir shacks in search of a dry change of clothes. With dry clothes in hand we paid for use of the shacks with dipper baths where you could – very gingerly – wash off and change. We also all packed lunches, which my children would drop in the sand and munch on anyways, to the great amusement and horror of all the Indonesian tourists around us.
We settled next to the bus at a little restaurant to get fruit juice and wait until the attempted meeting time back at the bus, as everyone had scattered to shop and change. Unfortunately while Asians have the reputation for never being on time, “rubber time” seems to go both ways here, and I never know if things will be late or – as in this case – early. A half hour before meet time a church friend found us and told us the bus was loaded and waiting for us!
We headed for a second beach, where Isaac and Judah joined everyone in the long walk from the parking lots to the crowded beach. I stayed behind with Elly thinking I could let her sleep on the bus, but when they shut down the AC I ventured out. This brings me to one of those moments in life where you can only shake your head in disbelief. I was walking as the only Westerner amidst thousands of Indonesians pouring to and from the beach. It was brutally hot and I was carrying a sweating sleeping baby and walking barefoot because my flip flops had been washed away or stolen at the first beach. And – just to make it perfect – I realized my newly purchased cheap tourist pants had ripped pretty extensively.
Amazing. I could just shake my head and laugh, and stop immediately to spend the last of my cash to buy a second pair of cheap tourist pants and change at another bathing shack. I'm sure I was a spectacle to behold.
After the second beach we watched as our friends all bought souvenirs (I see souvenirs as kitschy things you avoid buying, but it seems nearly mandatory here to buy souvenirs if you take a trip anywhere out of town, although they usually bring their own food rather than eat out like Westerners do) and waited sweating in the sun as the bus AC was repaired. Our ride home was long because the bus drivers tried to take side roads and got lost. No one bothered much since nearly everyone just slept away. We finally made it home at 9:30 pm.
It was indeed a rich cultural experience and a really good opportunity to get to know our church friends better, and our kids did a great job. Usually we find that if we go into situations like this with the attitude of, “anything could happen, we'll just roll with it and enjoy ourselves” it generally turns out okay (though not necessarily restful!).