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Fear and Loathing in Lovina
By Eric Friedman

I don't know what was more disturbing, the fact that my mom didn't recognize the name of a national restaurant chain with over 25,000 locations coast to coast, or that despite meeting everybody I ever hung out with, she still didn't know that I had no friends named Denny.

But I'm a big boy now -- kind of -- and even though the thought of traveling alone in Bali scares me, spending eight more days in Australian purgatory, and wasting a trip half way around the globe scares me infinitely more.

I tell Selina I need to go off on my own. She's bummed, but she understands.

The next day, the girls and I check out of the hotel. They head north, I head west.

I'm free.

Later that afternoon, I walk along a road in Ubud. I'm totally lost. "Great idea -- Traveling alone in a strange place. Real smart. Have fun getting stuff shoved in your ass!" I walk past a disheveled man sitting on the curb and I'm startled when he stops me and asks where I'm going. I tell him the name of the hotel I'm looking for. He says, "Yes, okay. But road very busy. Not so pretty. Come with me, I take you on trek by the river." Okay, in L.A. if a strange dude on the street asked me to go on a hike down by the river, I'd have two thoughts: "Holy shit I'm gonna die," and "Holy shit, we have a river?" But this isn't some strange dude. This is Nyoman, and despite all the fear my mother tried to instill in me, I decide to trust him instantly. Forty-five minutes later, I'm in a deep gorge, surrounded by lush, unending, green-ness. The Ayung River gushes over my neck and shoulders as I lounge on a rock throne that I'm convinced nature has carved solely in anticipation of my visit.

I don't stop smiling for the rest of the day.

It's just one experience, but it opens up the door. And then I spend the rest of the week kicking that door off its hinges. My fears of traveling alone fade and then completely disappear. I see Bali for the amazing place that it is -- not just because the scenery is beautiful, but because the people are too. I've never met anyone like them. They're …nice. All the time. Like Scientologists, but without that bowl you talk into and tell all your secrets. Not a day goes by where I don't get invited to someone's house for dinner. Or out with their friends for drinks. I climb a volcano with Bagong. I ride on a moped with Made. Nyoman shows me his village. Kadek teaches me how to say "pussy" in Balinese. Bu-tu.

I like the person I become in Bali. I smile constantly. I'm carefree. I wave out car windows to pedestrians, and they always smile and wave back. I tried waving to people when I got back to L.A. A Hasidic kid on Fairfax gave me the finger.

But that's at home, and I'm not there yet. I'm on that beach in Lovina, with Giday -- remember him? Air guitar? Chili Feppers? Anyway, we're chilling, when suddenly he jumps up. "Hey Eric. Do you want to go pishing?" Do I wanna go pishing? Puck yeah!

An hour later we're in a dugout canoe in the middle of the Indian Ocean catching Snapper with rods made of bamboo. Two hours after that, I'm at a table on the beach, two freshly caught snapper sizzling on my plate. Around me sit Giday and four Balinese dudes. They're my new crew. I don't know exactly how my fishing trip turned into a party. All I know is I'm in no rush to get back to L.A.

After a few beers, Giday pulls out a guitar and starts to sing "Under the Bridge."

"Sometimes I feel like I don't have a fartner…"

(QUICKLY TO MYSELF) Don't laugh. Don't laugh. Don't laugh. Don't laugh.

I laugh.

The rest of the guys join in loudly, and without a flicker of self-consciousness. They know every single word, although I doubt they know what most of them mean. We sing, and we laugh, and it's the happiest I've been in a long time. I can't believe that a week ago I was afraid of traveling alone. And now, here I am, surrounded by fartners.

Then, for the first time in a while, I think about the Australian girls, and what they're doing at that very moment. I picture them at some giant Foam party at an outdoor club, dick-teasing a bunch of guys and arguing over who got browner that day.

And then I look at the incredible people around me, and I smile, knowing that besides the five of them, not a single soul in the world knows where I am right now.

I think about calling my mom to let her know I'm at Giday's. But she'd probably just want to know if his parents were home.

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