The Husband: We were zooming up the coast of Lombok, Indonesia when we saw a crowd of villagers rallying around a pole.
It was early February, but the blazing sun seemed stuck on July. Earlier that day, my wife and I had rented a motorbike to visit the lush northern hills of Bali’s sister island. We were flying. Up and down the swells of a two-lane road, we shot past palm trees around rice fields and desolate coves dotted with colorful perahus (“fishing boats”). The wind howled in our ears and wiped our eyes. We felt on top of the world.
But then we came to the gathering of about 100 eyewitnesses in a small village.
“We have to stop,” I said to my wife.
We pulled over to get a closer look. The pole was at least 30-feet tall. A boy was climbing to the top, where T-shirts hung from a metal ring. As my wife and I looked on, a villager explained that this pole-climbing game was a centuries-old tradition in Indonesia.
Then with a big smile, he looked at me and said, “You want to try?”
The Wife: It took my husband and I some time to establish what freedom looked like in our marriage.
A week after the honeymoon came the debates–okay, full-blown brawls–over things like space, personal property and autonomy. We sat through homeownership courses, jotting notes and collecting realtor business cards. But scrambling for the “white picket fence” dream did us no good. Then one day, we asked ourselves the big question: What the hell do we really want? We both had the same answer: Adventure.
We decided to travel for one year around the world. Before our departure to Southeast Asia, we gave up everything. We invited people to our apartment to snatch whatever they wanted: clothes, chairs, a flatscreen TV. No price tags. Russ and I were just ready to leave. Out with it all. No more stuff!
And yet, four months into our marriage adventure, there I was, staring as my sweaty, half-naked husband went to climb a nut tree. And for what? More stuff.
The Husband: Adrenaline surged as I followed the local man to where a dozen or so bare-chested boys–no older than 16–huddled around the pole. The man told them I wanted to try. They got super-excited because they’d never seen a foreigner attempt the climb before. The pole was covered in a sticky mixture of sand and glue.
I took off my shirt and sandals and put one foot in a rope fastened to the bottom. I reached up to a second rope and wrapped my legs around the pole. I couldn’t even get five feet off the ground. It was too slippery. I jumped down to start over. My second time was even worse and the villagers couldn’t stop laughing.
The Wife: The game is called Panjat Pinang (“Mounting Nut”). It was introduced by the Dutch in the colonial period. They shaved off the top of nut trees, leaving a bare trunk slathered with lubricants, making it harder for climbers. Climbing is usually done in teams. At the top of the slick tree is a ringed fixture full of prizes like TVs, bikes and, in this case, T-shirts. To win, a team has to reach the top and pull down prizes, while an uproarious audience watches in merriment. To this day, many Indonesians play Panjat Pinang to celebrate their independence.
I stood among the spirited crowd, gazing up at my husband. What would he do with the prizes if he reached them? I wondered. But I knew he’d give the shirts to the young climbers. Because we didn’t get rid of our stuff to cumulate more stuff. We gave up everything so we could be free to race down coastal roads and clamber up slippery poles in random villages. Or not.
The Husband: I gave the pole one last go. But it didn’t work out. I was back on solid ground before I knew it, my arms and chest slathered in sticky sand.
“You did good, baby,” said my wife, holding my clothes, smiling, or trying not to laugh. I tried to rinse off the residue. It wasn’t washing off. But it was all good. We said our goodbyes, got back on the bike and let the wind wipe away the tears.
About the Authors: We are Russ and Asia (aka Russia), a husband and wife writing duo from Northern California. We’ve been vagabonding around the world since 2011 and write bizarre marriage stories. Read the novel: Our First 100 Days as Newlyweds.