We recently visited a local hot springs here in Indonesia. When we arrived, the sky was overcast and a storm seemed imminent. Concerned about wasting my entrance fee, I asked if the hot springs would close soon – the attendant looked confused and said that it was staying open.
We got in, changed and headed to the hot springs. By now it was starting to rain and sky was very dark. We stuck our feet in just as a clap of thunder sounded in the distance. Disappointed, we waited for the inevitable closing…but the guards did nothing. People continued to swim and hang out even as the thunder became more frequent. Apparently, we were not closing for thunder.
Marten headed over to talk to the guards – a group of local guys helped translate. Across the hot spring, I could see him explaining the concept of lightning and electrical conductors to the guards and the local guys hanging out in the water. When he returned he informed us that the group of guys had never heard that swimming in a lightening storm was dangerous and the guards claimed that since the water was hot it wasn’t a problem.
We didn’t buy the “hot water” theory, but we stayed in the hot spring anyway – feeling like rebels …really nervous rebels. This would never be allowed in America (or Holland) but in Indonesia, we could swim during the Lightening Storm. For the next 10 minutes we nervously waded and eyed the sky until a particularly loud bolt sent us scurrying from the pool to the safety of the rubber mats near the changing rooms.
The group of Indonesian guys, so newly informed of our opinions on the electric storms and water eyed us suspiciously for one moment, exchanged glances and then made their own hasty retreat from the pool. As they huddled nearby, they laughed self consciously but were obviously concerned by the caution we showed.
It’s weird leaving the US and suddenly being confronted by the shocking lack of rules everywhere. I’ve grown up and lived in a constant state of “watch your steps” and “Caution” signs, guard rails and “please stay on the path,” FDA approved and safety inspections. The enforcement of safety is so predominant that I’ve started to take it for granted – I assume that if not one stops me from doing something it must be safe.
Not the best mentality in South East Asia. It’s like going to college and leaving home for the first time. Suddenly your parents are gone and your on your own to make the right decisions.
Obviously, the US falls somewhere on the hugely overbearing side of the parental spectrum – not necessarily the best method. The people of South East Asia aren’t exactly running around killing themselves on every street corner – they manage to survive fairly well without the rigid rules of the west. Some might say they’ve learned to think for themselves rather than always depending on the laws of the land to keep them safe.
Additionally, just like those children of strict parents who go wild upon arrival in the outside world, many westerners can’t handle the new found freedom.
Just check out the many deaths (27 in 2011) were attributed to over partying and utilization of dangerous rope swings and slides in Vang Vieng Loas. Maybe these kids were destined to drink themselves to death one way or another, but it seems to me that they couldn’t handle the lack of boundaries. They weren’t quite ready to be without their “parent” countries. They weren’t ready to travel.
I don’t always make the best decisions – I’ve eaten food that was well outside the temperature safety range (and paid the price), I’ve gotten into taxi’s that seemed slightly unregistered, I’ve jumped of cliffs before measuring the water depth below. I do these things knowing they are risky – but it’s all part of the adventure. We are here to push boundaries – to see the world outside the country the raised us.
The trick is figuring out where to set your own limits in this brave new world in which we find ourselves. You can rent a motorbike and set out into rush hour traffic without even having a driver’s license. Magic mushrooms are for sale no the beach. Less obviously risky but still questionable options also exists – cheap rock climbing expeditions, tuk tuk rides on rust buckets through the insane traffic. These are the harder calls to make.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself “This would never be allowed in America.” I also can’t tell you the number of times I’ve followed that statement with a deep breath and done it anyway.
Just recently, while in Myanmar Shannon and I met a Dutch girl at a restaurant. She was our age and we had a good time swapping stories of our travels. As it turns out, she was dating a local man who she had met during a previous trip. He also seemed very nice and spoke English with a impeccable Australian accent. They told us they were planning a three day trek starting the next morning – one they had done before and loved. They even showed us pictures of the beautiful waterfalls and wonderful countryside we would be seeing. It looked amazing, and when they invited us to join them for just $20 each a day we immediately agreed. What a unique experience – hiking with locals through the countryside!
Later, as the excitement wore off I started to feel unsettled. Something in the pit of my stomach told me that this hike wasn’t a great idea. I couldn’t describe what, but something felt very wrong. I thought back on the conversation – there had been a lot of pressure for us to join. The details had been a little vague…it was all just a little off. We had already committed to meet them the next morning, our bags were already packed – I felt awful even bringing up with Shannon – gosh what kind of traveler was I? However, as soon as I mentioned my misgivings, Shannon immediately agreed that she felt uncomfortable as well.
We left early the next morning without even contacting them. It very may have been the rudest thing I’ve ever done. It could also have been the decision that saved Shannon and I from being robbed or worse in the woods of Myanmar.
With so many new opportunities and options – Thats the line you have to walk – from over cautious and paranoid to reckless and stupid. Finding the balance that challenges your limits while keeping your life and limbs intact.
We’re on our own now. No Uncle Sam to watch over us and keep us safe from ourselves. Now we just have to hope America raised us right.