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Rough Night in Borneo…But It’s Worth It

It’s just before six am in Borneo. At four, the morning prayers woke me up with a start, all the local mosques at once blasting out their call. Last night, my hotel neighbors banged around and talked for hours, keeping me up late. This is not a place for light sleepers. I’m a light sleeper. I got up at four, padded into the communal kitchen and got tea. Beatrice, the proprietor, came to see what I was up to.

I explained to her that while this place, the Bukit Raya Guesthouse, is lovely, if you can’t sleep, then I should move elsewhere. I am off to hike for eight hours on less than two hours of rest. I’m probably going to be exhausted. Not her fault that the other people here are loud. Not her fault that the neighborhood mosques blast you out into creation. Not her fault that the next door neighbor’s dog wails all night from being left outside in a box in six inches of rain, unable to sleep. That poor animal had it far worse than I did. Beatrice can’t do anything about that here. She’s a foreigner. How folks abuse their pets is their business. But this is Borneo. Things are very different here, and that’s the whole point.

Two of her four cats snuck into my room and tumbled about madly while I stripped the bed and repacked. I have another spot chosen, and with any luck it will allow me the pleasure of a solid night’s sleep. Or not. You deal.

The Travails of Travel

While there are few things that genuinely piss me off (and getting no sleep is first on my list) this will end up being another funny story. It’s the nature and the gift of travel to force you to accommodate other places, and their way of being. I can’t imagine staying in a five star resort( and can’t afford it anyway), but sometimes you end up in a place like this which offers a whole other experience.

Shorty after arriving here around noon yesterday, the lowering clouds opened up just as Beatrice was showing me the bathroom. Not unlike some places I’ve stayed in Africa, the noise on the plastic corrugated roof was deafening. THAT kind of noise puts me to sleep. Outside the downpour blasted the trees and caused a number of coconuts to come tumbling down into a net that was raised to protect unwary heads. Their sweet-mannered Golden wandered the deck, flopped over and presented me with her substantial belly for a good rub. I thought, great. My kind of place.

Until the noise. Blast. Oh well.

Human vs. Natural Noise

I grew up surrounded by nature. After a rainstorm in Central Florida, we’d be serenaded by untold numbers of tree frogs. Whippoorwills and Chuck Will’s Widows scanned the night sky in search of bugs, and their calls echoed throughout the evening. This was my symphony. Frogs, toads, birds, thunder, downpours. Heaven’s music…to me. Not to everyone.

Other folks can’t sleep like this. However I met one girl, another Floridian, who had moved to a girl’s college in Missouri and couldn’t sleep in the silent dorm. I can relate. We both have noise machines which allow us that nighttime comfort. I can’t afford to buy 25 acres of tropical land like my Dad did back in the 1940s. Today we make do.

I also lived for a time in the Upper East Side of New York, in Brooklyn and also in various parts of other huge cities. People born with the sound of sirens out their windows feel the same way I do about night music. We are comforted by what’s familiar: sights, sounds, smells. For me the dense, weighty odor of a gardenia bush takes me right back to my childhood bedroom. Then, for that matter, so does chicken shit, because I used to have to shovel it for my dad. That, I’d rather not have right outside my window. But the sound of a crowing cock? I’ll take that any day.

Travel shoves me into new circumstances that force me to be uncomfortable. Sometimes- when there is something I can do about it- I make changes, which is part of learning how to cope with whatever happens along the way. This is one reason I head out. While I crave the comfort and familiarity of home like everyone else, after a month I itch to explore again. Discomfort is guaranteed. That’s also why I do it. I learn to cope, sometimes I can’t change my circumstances, and you simply learn to DEAL. Sometimes that costs me sleep, or I can’t get food, or I get sick, or I miss my plane or my train or my guide or I don’t much like the people I’m with.

You learn to DEAL. And that’s the whole point.

Humor Helps

In Buenos Aires some years ago I was sharing breakfast with a young man from London and his Chinese girlfriend. He had been traveling for years and he was barely 27. He told me a story about waiting for a bus in London one day and the bus was five minutes late. The older woman beside him was having a fit.

“FIVE MINUTES LATE!!!” She was shrieking, spilling her hot tea. The young man watched her with amusement.

There had been times he’d had to wait eighteen hours. Sometimes the bus never comes at all.

I asked him if he knew how precious that perspective was. I know people who never, ever get to the level of patience, calm and mindfulness he now possessed as a result of traveling the world. He nodded, although he was still not sure what I meant.

“You will,” I said.

While I began serious travel later than he did, I find that perspective comes in pretty handy. You realize that most stuff is small stuff and the stuff that does matter is what moves you to tears in gratitude. That’s not a bus that comes on time. That’s when we see something, experience something that catapults us an order of magnitude beyond ordinary. Sometimes we have to pay for that.

Discomfort and Inconvenience

The price we pay for our ability to withstand whatever life throws at us is moving through discomfort and inconvenience. Life is full of it, but travel is chock full of it. That’s the beauty of putting yourself in the larger river of life. Heading into the hinterlands is how we expand our understanding not only of the world but far more so of ourselves. Yah, I mind not getting enough sleep. However that’s a minor inconvenience when I get treated to my very own private presentation of Dayak culture and children trained in their traditional dances, the chance to learn about their lives, and witness the exquisite grace and beauty of their physical expression of communion with nature and the spirit world. That was worth losing some sleep over.

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You could make a perfectly legitimate argument that much of life is full of discomfort and inconvenience. A wayward kid, a sick mother, a bad back. However when we are willing to push our boundaries beyond where there be dragons, these all fall into a category of “shit you can handle.” You don’t feel so overwhelmed, you are calmer, you gain access to greater stores of competence and confidence. Stuff still happens. It’s how you perceive it that changes.

So I am moving to another place tonight, which may have precisely the same issues as last night. If so, oh well. Friday night I sleep in a traditional long house, perhaps with a whole bunch of other folks. I have no clue what’s going to happen. But I will deal.

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