Tattoos, Travel and Truth

There I was, on the dusty balcony of a diving store in Bali with my foot perched on an empty Coca-Cola crate ready to get another tattoo.  I’ve had brighter moments.

Like the time I got one in South Korea and had to gesture my way around needles and ink with an interpreter on the phone while being at the mercy of a buzzing machine. I’ve had brighter moments, but it’s Bali! You have to do something impulsively crazy in Bali and thanks to Eat, Pray, Love the whole “love” part was a bit overrated so I opted for a tattoo in the middle of my two month Indonesian bicycle adventure. I just had to make the moment last forever.

Well, forever was the idea.

The balcony of the diving store was not a tattoo parlour, it was a storage room. The tattoo guy worked on a rent-an-artist basis and the whole process had five easy steps.

Step one, make the call.
Step two, explain what you want.
Step three, find a location.
Step four, put your limb on a table, chair or crate.
Step five, get a tattoo.

Getting the number to complete step one was as easy as going up a petrol station and asking for petrol. Once you mention the word “tattoo” to a Balinese, they’ll get a tattoo artist on a phone immediately because when you get a tattoo, they get commission (which is understandable because you know, making a call nowadays is really a difficult job, bless their island souls).

The majority of my tattoo consisted of letters and I imagined a guy, a laptop and a portable printer. Instead, I got a guy, a notebook and a pen who arrived on a scooter spewing smoke. I stayed put, and told the guy what I wanted; a tiny bicycle with the words: Life is not about the destination, but the journey.

Freehand he wrote in pencil on a sketchpad. Every letter the same size as the next, every ‘e’ matching the curve of the other ‘e’; the height, the width, the spaces, all spot on in cursive on a piece of paper.

Talented, but every now and then I had to help him.

“No, we are not talking about live now, it is life.”

Eraser. It is okay, it is a common mistake.

“Destination only has one s”.

Eraser. Please don’t spell but with more than one t.

“Journey, starts with a j and ends with a y, just turn the two letters around”.

Eraser.  Is this a good idea?

As each letter hit my skin in black ink blotches I had to make sure it was the right letter; 9 words, 40 letters, 48 spaces and 96 checks. The Bali traffic raged in hooters and laughter below as scooters whizzed by. Every now and then a voice from downstairs tried to make sale to a foreigner.

“Snorkeling? Diving? Good price! Excuse me madam, do you want to go diving? We have the best price in Bali!”

I held my breath at the halfway mark of the tattoo. Sure, it is painful, sure those little bones in my foot are not fond of the tickle, but I was more concerned about the word, “but”.

“Remember, but has one t”, I told the guy as his machine buzzed away.

Across the street another voice shouted at someone, “Lady, you want Sarong? Good price for you lady!”.

I could have opted for a sarong or a pair of flip flops but no, I chose a tattoo.

With a bicycle in a box, a tiny one on my foot and a few new words to my skin I arrived back in South Africa.

“Look mom, look dad, another tattoo!”, I said and pointed to the one on my foot.

They enjoy art; on walls, on canvases or sculptures.  Not on skin. And especially not on my skin.

“And that one on your wrist?”, they asked simultaneously.

I haven’t seen them in two years. I forgot about the dream-explore-discover-bird-out-of-a-birdcage one I got via an interpreter in South Korea pre-Indonesia-journey.

“Look mom, look dad, two tattoos!”

I wanted the moment to last forever; instead I got a tattoo on a dry part of my foot that started to make disappearing acts after the first few months and now it reads: “destination, but the journey”. The journey also got in on that disappearing act and faded to a light grey; 50 shades to be exact, with Pantone 402 C taking the lead.

Tattoos don’t last forever.

Stupidity does.

Anje Rautenbach is the writer behind the blog Going Somewhere Slowly, find her Facebook,Twitter  or on Instagram!

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