My final stop is Nusa Lembongan, a tiny island reachable by a 30-minute speedboat ride from Bali. If I came here at the start of the trip, it might have seemed like paradise on earth: My hotel, the 12-bungalow Nusa Lembongan Resort, overlooks a bay with water so clear that its schools of Technicolor fish seem suspended in space. But after Sumba, the place feels like an upscale Club Med, the pool empty except for a few Australian couples slathering each other with SPF 60. Fortunately the surf is pumping at an offshore break called Shipwrecks, where a friendly mix of Indonesians and Japanese jockey for position. And the resort facilities are clustered on a small stretch of coastline, so anyone craving an unspoiled island vibe has only to get on a mountain bike and ride a few hundred yards inland, as I do in late afternoon. While pedaling toward a sublime deserted cove called Dream Beach, I pass the front yard of a tiny wooden house, where a girl, five or six years old, greets me with the only two English phrases she seems to know, heartbreakingly juxtaposed: “I love you!” and “Bye-bye!”
The next morning, my last, the boatmen on the beach say the surf is best at a reef off nearby Senggigi Island. Before heading back to Bali for my evening flight to Los Angeles, I hire an outrigger for the 20-minute ride. At the reef there are a handful of young locals bobbing in the water, and, in a very un-California gesture that still stuns me, they all smile when I jump off the boat and paddle into their midst. After I ride one gorgeous, head-high wave and a few raindrops begin to fall, my mind fills with the thoughts that inevitably arise when a fantasy trip comes to an end. The inner monologue is interrupted by a sudden downpour—another ostensibly ordinary event that here, somehow, registers as a paranormal phenomenon. The raindrops are as heavy as marbles, and the water has turned an opaque gray; with each drop leaving its own giant splash, the ocean looks like an undulating field of shimmering crystals.
As the shower passes, one of the other surfers, a teenager who is wearing a wide-brim cloth hat, gives me a thumbs-up and says an Indonesian word that I've heard again and again on this trip but haven't fully comprehended: bagus. Literally, the word translates to “good,” but it's one of those catchall terms used to convey everything from “beautiful” to “exciting.”
The kid, it turns out, speaks English, so he offers me a loose translation of his own: “Great, happy, having fun.”
Stoked, you might say.