There he was, waiting at the doors of arrival hall of Kupang’s El Tari airport, his porter’s uniform neat and tidy. Good old Nathaniel. He’d been porting my surfboard bags and gear for nearly thirty years now, ever since I started flying to Kupang to get on the surf tramper Hati Murnih. Never pre-arranged, never phoned ahead, but he was always there, as reliable as the January monsoons, the August trade winds. We greeted each other, I gave him our baggage claim stubs.
Mike said, “Take care of things for me, I’m going to hassle the Susi Air manager about getting our stuff on board tomorrow morning.” He blasted through the throng.
The poor manager had no idea about what was to descend upon him. Mike in his hassling mode kind of reminds me of that Biblical story about the poor widow who kept harassing the judge until the judge finally says, “Okay, okay, you win, just leave me alone.”
Nathaniel collected our gear. Thirty years at this job, always there, his once black hair having turned gray, his handsome face wrinkled. Remember that novel and then television series “Roots”, about a black American searching for his African heritage? Nathaniel doesn’t have to do any searching. His roots are all around him, ancestors and family and land and his steady employment as porter at El Tari airport.
And what about us, the Toast Trip crew—Robert and Steve and Michael and Clayton and Tim and Murray and me? All of us having wandered far from the places we once called home, settled down in places that have become home, even myself in a way for all that I, as the son of missionaries (and my mother having been born and raised in Tibet as daughter of missionaries) have lived my whole life in Bali apart from university years. What are my roots? I think I might have to write a novel about this, but a blog post is not the place.
Also waiting for us was Noven, ever reliable taxi driver, although for him I’d called ahead for the pickup. We loaded up and waited for Mike, who reported that the Susi Air manager was a very nice fellow who said he’d do what he could. What couldn’t get on the flight would be handled by Steve, Tim and Murray, who were arriving the following day and still weren’t certain how they’d get to Savu as there were no Susi Air flights and the harbormaster was not allowing any vessels to leave ports in this high wind (which was why, you recall, the Bajo Baji was stuck in Savu).
In fact, there were a number of surfers on the same Garuda flight headed for Rote who were hoping to catch the next day’s ferry. (One woman had checked in an stand-up paddle board double-taped clear round nose to tail with cardboard — but that wasn’t the sturdiest surfboard bag I’d ever seen — in the early 80’s Mike had a Balinese carpenter make a three surfboard shipping container out of plywood, and the thing literally did look like a coffin and weighed a ton but in those days outer island spot were unknown and few surfers were hopping on Merpati so there was always plenty of cargo space). Anyways these surfers were going to be stuck in Kupang for a few days, which is not a good way to spend a surfing holiday, this below being a typical Kupang beach front property:
“So where’s a good hotel?” I asked Noven, as we hadn’t booked one.
He took us to the newly built Aston, and fortunately there were rooms. I sent Noven off to sniff around a fishing village just down the coast for a boat that would be willing to sail under the radar, so to speak, for some of that Magic That Must Not Be Named.
Mike hassled the receptionist for a superior deluxe with the stunning panoramic view of Kupang Bay, and then went about hassling the hotel staff to get the three boxes of food, including Steve’s soy burgers, into a hotel restaurant fridge.
Clayton and I waited on the lobby sofa as Clayton doodled pictures and I read my Kindle.
Mike reappeared to re-hassle the receptionist into changing his rooms from the deluxe superior to the standard. The stunning panoramic view of Kupang Bay was through a glass plate window that didn’t open, bathing the room with light and tropical heat. His cell phone rang—Steve, asking if his soy burgers were in the fridge. Mike rushed off to check again.
Finally we all settled in, decent rooms, meaning the sheets were clean, the air-con worked, toilets flushed, and the room fridge with its beers was cold.
Noven phoned me, said he’d found a skipper willing to run dark, so to speak. Tim Watts, old Indo hand experienced in the Magic, would be settle the details when he and Steve and Murray arrived the next day.
Later that afternoon my room phone rang, Mike asking me if I wanted a happy hour beer at the hotel bar. I wandered down to the second floor, where the bar was just opening up. Mike was on the cell phone, talking logistics of gear and boards with Steve still in Bali, and with Steve, it’s risky to talk logistics because that’s not how his n-dimensional tesseract mind works.
“All right,” I heard him drawl, “will do. And how are the soy burgers? Keeping them nice and cold?”
Mike assured him, hung up, sat back and sipped his chilled Guinness stout. He got that pensive-slash-irritated look he gets when he’s fretting.
“How many beers did you order for the boat for yourself?” he asked me.
I told him. His frowned deepened. “That’s not going to be enough. You’re going to be dipping into my stash. You’re always dipping into my stash.”
I assured him I had ordered enough and would not be dipping into his stash, but Mike had beer on the brain and he fretted and calculated and fretted some more and so it was that the Beer Crisis raised its head again.
He got on the phone again to Steve. “We’re going to buy four more cases of tall Bintangs,” he said. “We’ll leave them at the hotel lobby with the other gear. You’re going to have carry that as well.”
“Okey-doke,” Steve drawled. He’s as unflappable as a manhole cover.
Mike finishes his Guinness, orders another, frets some more. He gives Steve another call. “We’re going to make that five cases.”
“Okey-doke. No problemo.” And this from a tee-totaler. Gotta love the guy.
That evening, Mike and Clayton and I used a hotel taxi to take us to the Restoran Nelayan down the road, a beachfront establishment which isn’t quite La Lucciola, and certainly not the Potato Head, but which serves a terrific barbecued prawn dish. There’s also a small mini-market attached, so after dinner we bought five cases of Bintang and Mike some of his chocolate nibbles (“and stay out of this stash,” he barked at me) and loaded them into the taxi. Many Kupang locals are Christians, and the driver had a cross sticker on his dash with the words “Jesus Christ.”
“Ah,” I said in Indonesian, “Yesus Kristus, Juruslamat Dunia.” Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.
The driver gave me a startled look and then a smile and when we disembarked and unloaded the extra cases, gave me a thirty percent discount on the fare.
Sometimes, it pays to drop a name.