FRESH YARN presents:

Fear and Loathing in Lovina
By Eric Friedman

"Where are you from?" my new acquaintance asks as he plops down next to me on the black sand beach in Lovina, a tiny town on the north coast of Bali.

"America" I say

"America! Where in America?"


"California?! Californication! I love the Red Hot Chili Feppers!"

I laugh. For many reasons. His enthusiasm. His air guitaring. The fact that he can pronounce the middle "p's" in "Peppers" but not the first one. He tells me his name -- Giday -- and I'm reminded of the four Australian girls I began my trip with, and how glad I am that I decided to leave them behind and travel alone.

Look, it all sounded good on paper. In June, my friend Selina, who lives in Sydney, told me she was planning a trip to Bali. Perfect! I love traveling. Then she said she was going with three of her girlfriends. Perfect! I love fucking.

A little backstory on Selina. We met at a party two years ago in L.A. She was crying. And it wasn't even an industry function. Turns out the friend she was visiting ditched her -- classy -- so she was alone and miserable and wanted to go home. My friend Scott and I convinced her to stay, and the rest of that week, we showed her all sorts of cool L.A. sites. Actually, we ran out of cool stuff on day one, so after that we just hung out at Smart n' Final. Hey, this was pre-L.A.'s Grove, people! Selina is kind and funny, and wonderful. And ridiculously hot. Which brings me back to the fucking. Not that I'd ever hook up with Selina -- she's like a sister to me. But her three Aussie mates -- well, they're more like step sisters -- or third cousins. Fair game. And I am a firm believer in the "hot girls have hot friends" theory -- first put forth by Socrates, and later confirmed by every guy who logs onto Friendster.

Unfortunately, when I get to Bali, I quickly discover another, equally powerful theory: Cool girls do not necessarily have cool friends.

Shelly, Louise, and Peta. Ahh, just the sound of their names brings the vomit to the back of my throat. To be fair, only one of them is really worthy of such loathing: Peta -- spelled like the animal welfare group, not the Falafel bread -- and pronounced incidentally, the same way she says "Peter" which I learn is the name of her verbally abusive boyfriend. "Pet-a and Pet-a." Could be a sitcom. Except it sounds really not funny. So it could be a sitcom.

Peta is the second most horrible person I've ever met. And I only say "second most" because I used to work for Larry King. Think Veruca Salt in the Willie Wonka movie, except way more condescending to Balinese people. Plus she complains. About everything. "I don't want to go the Balinese market -- it smells!" "My fried rice is awwwwful. It's too fried."

Peta's the worst, but the other girls aren't much better, and cool Selina turns very not cool in their presence. As a foursome, they are intolerable. "Oh my God, you're really brown. You're so much browner than yesterday, you're so brown" is a conversation I hear way too many times. "Maybe we should skip the Uluwatu Temple -- we might not get back before the fake Prada store closes" is another I hear only once, but that's plenty. One night, they drag me to a super cheesy club. I sit alone at the bar. They make out with random guys and haggle with a drug dealer over the price of his Ecstasy.

I quickly realize that we're in Bali for different reasons. For me, this trip is about exploring. About connecting with locals, and having unique, cultural, once in a lifetime experiences. For them it's an episode of Wild On. Except even less informative.

So I start to freak out. This is a big trip for me -- the biggest I've ever taken -- and I need it. Need to get away from L.A. and the business. I never plan trips like this. How can I? What if I miss a job? Or a meeting? Or an installment of The Daily Candy? But for once in my life, I say "fuck it," and I book the trip, and now I'm here, and everywhere I look, there's culture and foreignness, and adventure just waiting for me to reach out and grab it by the Balinese balls. Instead I spend my days listening to Peta yell at cab drivers because their "air con isn't cold enough."

I need to escape.

Only one problem. I've never traveled alone before. And the thought of it makes me nervous. It's not like I'm any stranger to loneliness -- I live by myself. I'm a writer. I'm on J-date. I know from loneliness. But this is different. This is… Bali. There are no friends here to call, no Amoeba Records to escape to, no soothing voice of Garth Trinidad to lull me to sleep at night. It'll be just me, by myself, 24-7.

On top of that, you have to understand a little about my childhood. I was raised in a house of fear. Local news and prime time tabloids convinced my mom that once you set foot outside, you were sending out an open invitation to people who wanted to kill you or rob you or kidnap you or tie you up and stick things in your ass. Nobody in my family traveled alone. We weren't even allowed to go to the mall alone. Up until I graduated from high school I had to call my mom whenever I was out to let her know where I was. One night some friends and I wanted to grab a bite to eat, so I called my mom and told her I'd be at Denny's.

"What's his number?" she asked. "And are his parents home?"

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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