In computer science, recursion is the act of solving a big problem by solving smaller instances of the same problem. In the real world, think of Russian nesting dolls. Since recursion usually involves calling a function from within the same function, it can go on infinitely unless the function defines a base case that tells itself to stop at some point. It’s all kind of complicated, but it’s super useful in a lot of ways, so that it’s one of the first things any good programming course will teach you.
I know you probably aren’t here to learn how to program, but hopefully you can see from my title why I started off this way. Last week was spring break here in Melbourne, and since I sure didn’t plan on spending my time off sitting around and drinking coffee, I flew off to Bali, Indonesia for a week. It was my first time in Southeast Asia, and since it’s closer to the equator than Hawaii and Costa Rica, it was my most tropical destination. How does that relate to recursion and base cases? Well, if you look at my life, which has mainly taken place in the Bay Area and specifically the East Bay, as the first call to a function, then studying abroad in Melbourne is a recursive call, and traveling to Bali is another one. So really, it’s all about me searching recursively for my base case.
My flight arrived in Bali at 22:40 on Saturday evening, so naturally I decided it would be a good idea to do a sunrise hike up a volcano about a two hour drive away from the airport. Luckily, I convinced a friend who I was traveling with to join me, and we ended joining another group of exchange students who had already been in Bali for a couple days. Despite the absolute lack of sleep and trudging straight up the steep slopes at 4 am, seeing daylight for the first time 5600 feet above sea level on a tropical island was totally worth it. Afterwards, we got to hang out at some hot springs for a while and eat a huge buffet of authentic Indonesian food.
A bunch of us studying in Melbourne had managed to rent out an entire villa pretty close to the beach for the next three nights, so that was my next destination. One of the highlights of that time was being able to rent a two person scooter and use it to get around to beaches and places to eat. I paid about $5 a day for a tricked out moped and helmet that included stickers from Apple and GoPro among others, and was surprisingly fast and maneuverable. I don’t even have a motorcycle license or an international driver’s license, so driving around on it was totally illegal, but luckily Bali is not known for its road laws or effective police force. I was pretty sad to give her up after a couple days. Other than that, my time was spent going to the beach, some bars, a temple, and getting to know all the other people at the villa, most of whom are from Europe and all of whom are awesome to hang out with.
There are no lanes, only limitless possibilities.
After the villa, all of us had planned to head to the Gili Islands, three small islands about a two hour boat ride away from Bali itself and just off the coast of Lombok. The largest island, Gili Trawangan, is a big backpacker destination with lots of bars and restaurants, while the other two islands, Gili Meno and Gili Air, are less populated and more laid back.
Originally, my plan was to get my open water scuba diving license on Gili Trawangan with some of the other guys from the villa. However, I was stupid and didn’t even consider the fact that the partially collapsed lung I had about a year and a half ago would be an issue for scuba diving until I got to the island. Since breathing compressed air 50 feet below the surface is kind of dangerous, especially when my lungs might already be compromised, I will need to be cleared by a doctor before being allowed to go diving. I’m sure that my lung is fine, but unfortunately there are no real qualified doctors on the Gili Islands, which meant I was out of luck.
I’ll admit that for a few hours, I was really disappointed. I had been looking forward to scuba diving for a few weeks, and now I was left with the prospect of two full days by myself while my friends went diving. Luckily, since there were a lot of others from the villa also coming over to the islands, I was not going to be without people to do things with, and to be honest it’s impossible to remain disappointed in such an amazing place. And looking back, I can’t regret not getting to go scuba diving, because that means I would have missed out on everything else I did.
Like something out of a travel brochure.
The next day was Thursday, October 1, and it’s one of those few days that I know I’ll never forget. It started off well when I found a cafe that actually made good coffee and pretty amazing banana pancakes. A few people were interested in hiring a boat for the afternoon and going over to Gili Air, and so I ended up joining them. Sitting here, it’s kind of frustrating, because I want to explain how perfect that day was, but it’s almost impossible to find the right words. I’ll try, though, and for the rest, you’ll just have to trust me.
There’s the boat, stopping just off the reef and jumping and swimming in the warm water. Lunch, sitting at one of those low tables with mats instead of chairs, with a paradisal view that I’ve only ever seen in pictures. Swimming at the beach, out over the reef and holding a perfect starfish, so symmetrical that it could be fake. Walking back, cutting straight through the island and drinking from a fresh coconut. Sitting on the boat on the way back with the sun in my eyes, but not in an unpleasant way, and then sitting on the beach again and watching the sun go down behind the towering mountains on Bali. Finally, walking back to my bed, so tired and so full of everything, with the waves crashing and the moon rising.
That day, I didn’t have time to think about it because I was too busy living it, but now, writing this back in Melbourne, I realize that that was my base case. There I was, an American boy studying abroad in Australia, hanging out on a small Indonesian island with European friends, and all I can think of now is how crazy it is that I ended up in that moment. I’m sorry if this comes off as a bit cheesy, but it’s the best I can do. For those of you who were there, thanks for making it such an amazing experience, and for those who weren’t, I really wish you had been, because its one of those things that you can’t read about; you just have to go out and do it.
The beach where it all made sense.
Of course, that wasn’t my last day in Indonesia. The next day, I paid abour $8 for a five hour snorkeling trip (did I mention it’s super cheap there), and the day after, we left the Gili Islands and stayed at an amazing villa near the airport for a ridiculously cheap price. On the way back, seven of us had a 12 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but the air was super smoggy, so I spent most of the day in one of the ubiquitous super malls and even watched The Martian.
Well, that about wraps up my first time in Southeast Asia. I already know I’ll have to go back and make a proper trip sometime, maybe starting up in Laos and working my way down through Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and up towards the Philippines. The plans for New Zealand for after the semester are starting to come together too; I’ll be with my dad for ten days and then I’m planning on doing a solo bike trip around a good portion of the South Island. First, however, I’ve got to get through these last few weeks of class and the accompanying projects, which since getting back on Monday I’ve been procrastinating on doing. I’m not sure when my next post will be, but the halfway point of my time in Australia is coming up soon, so maybe I’ll write something in the next couple weeks about that. Until then!