Stranded in the middle of a small village with no cash in hand, I finally decided to have an honest one-to-one conversation with my adventurous side.
"Alright Salazar, look at the mess you got us into this time."
"I KNOW RIGHT?! ISN'T THIS FUCKING AWESOME?"
"We need to get 6 Brunei Dollars so we can get on the boat and leave this place and make it to our hotel."
"Alright. 6 dollars? Easy. I got this."
I'm a selfish, spontaneous man, with a voracious appetite for getting lost and new experiences.
In Kuala Lumpur, I saw "stingray" on the menu—never had it before—so I immediately asked the server what drink would go best with it.
At the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, I was the only person for miles that hiked a particularly treacherous path that was no longer maintained.
And for my latest trick, I hopped off my chartered bus—with 0 Brunei Dollars on me—to go on a jungle cruise shortcut that would take me to my final destination.
One of my "Side-Quests"
It can be tiring when the stingray you ordered doesn't sit well in your stomach; or when the mountain trail is washed away by common tropical rains and you're not sure how to get back; or when you can't find the boat you need to take, let alone afford it.
But, even at their most dire, these things have a way of sorting themselves out.
Up A Creek
When our bus stopped in the tiny village of Bangar, I remembered I could skip some immigration obstacles by taking a speed boat cruise from that village to my hotel at Bandar Seri Begawan. After being cooped up in a bus for 6 hours, I figured it was time to test whether my memory of this shortcut was correct.
Road to Bangar
Bangar is near the heart of the pristine Temburong District, one of the largest sections of preserved rainforest in all of Borneo. If it were not for this distinction, the village of Bangar would be little more than three roads joined by a strip mall with a couple of shops next to a murky river. It's simply a humid, little blip.
I asked the bus aide, "Bangar?" And he responded with a nod. I hopped off the bus in search of those damn boats.
While carrying all my luggage—by the way, Mom, your baby boy has muscles now—I ambled through the town with the "aimlessness" dripping from my face. I needed a bank or money exchange to get myself some Brunei currency, but "where?"
The only money exchange shop in all 500 sq ft of Bangar was closed and everyone gave me a vacant look when I said I needed to exchange Malay Ringgits. I was like a Geek Squad salesman trying to hawk Home Wi-Fi tech support to the amish.
"Oh, mister, you look lost." cried an audibly clear, English voice from inside a mini-market.
It was a young woman. About 5 feet tall with a cheery face, Malay features, and almond milk skin.
"Yes! Do you know if there is a bank or money exchange anywhere near here?"
"Uh... no... Sorry, I don't. And I can't leave my shop." She sat back down.
Eventually, I found a bank and attempted to withdraw funds, but it was unsuccessful. My home bank said, "You're on your own, broski."
I thought maybe I could purchase my ticket using Malay Ringgits, and the ticket counter will just let it happen. But when I walked up to the counter and said "Hello" to the plump curmudgeon talking on her phone, facing away from me, I remembered that customer service is poor in this part of the world.
Make It Enough
Dejected, and infuriated, I walked back to the strip mall and began thinking of ways I could make $6 in the 45 minutes before my boat would leave the port.
Let's see... I have two kidneys, and technically I only need one. I've never sold myself, but maybe there's a demand for Mexican men out here? Um... maybe I could update their social media profiles and take a look at their SEO...
"Mister, did you find the money you needed?"
It was the young woman again. I was pacing in front of her shop without noticing it.
"No, I'm sorry I haven't. Are you sure there is no where I can exchange Malay Ringgits at?"
"I'm sorry, no. Where are you from?"
"I'm from America. And why do you speak such good English?"
"I watch alotta TV."
Come to think of it, on all the buses and planes I've been on, all movies and shows had English subtitles. I didn't even need my headphones...
"Say, do you think anyone would buy my headphones for $6?"
"Headphones?" she asked.
I dug through my backpack and pulled out the brand new headphones I purchased in Kuala Lumpur. Fabric cord, multiple ear bud sizes, and play controls. I got them for about $16 USD and now I wanted to sell them just to buy a boat ticket.
"Oh headphones! Lemme ask my sister." She turned around to the woman in the shop who had been eyeing me. After a few words, both shook their heads.
"Um... She doesn't need them, but I'll buy them off you."
"You will?" I looked surprised. Did she even need them?
"Yes, I feel really sorry for you." she admitted. I laughed.
She reached deep into her pockets and pulled out around $14 and handed them to me.
"Your headphones are very nice, they're worth much more than $6."
I took 4 bills off the top and settled for just $10. I bowed my head and said "Thank you. That was very kind of you."
"What's your name?"
Funny. We talked a little more and then I was off for the port.
I gave the plump ticket-taker her 6 Goddamn Dollars, and then I hopped on the boat. It was one of the most scenic and satisfying boat rides ever. I got the adventurous introduction to the "Venice of East Asia" I wanted.
I hope she likes the headphones and I'll never forget that kind, young woman.