Two hours later we were still walking down the same road.
Our flipflopped feet were black from the pollution, dust, dirt and grime. I could taste the city on my arid lips. As another fleet of motorbikes zipped past us, like bullets in a warzone, I took another breath of hot, smoky air and looked over at Michael. He was holding our sign behind him, as he plodded along, in the hope that a driver would feel some pity for a couple of reddened travellers, coughing on the exhaust fumes.
“That’s not going to work”, I said.
“Just trust me. Who’s the brains of this operation?”
Just then a car pulled over. “Rich! This could be it!” Michael gasped, nudged me.
“See, I told you it would work,” I said to him as we scampered up to the car. Michael stuck his head into the passenger window as I hummed our hitchhiking song behind him. “Hello!” he cried. “Hey, you wanna a ride to Ubung,” said a cool looking bloke, with tattooed arms, a big smile and a slightly Americanized accent. He had a Hindu Swastika hanging from his rear-view mirror, which, at first glance, could have been confused with the more modern equivalent.
“So, what’s your name?” asked Michael, sitting in the front.
“My name’s Mambo,” he replied, still smiling. Maybe the heat was getting to me, because I started chuckling and came out with “Ah like Lou Bega! Do you know ‘Mambo Number 5’?”
Lou Bega?! I thought with a cringe, why the hell did I just reference Lou bloody Bega?! I saw Michael grimace at me in the mirror. I punched myself in the arm in repentance.
Thankfully, I don’t think Mambo heard me, or perhaps he just chose to ignore my remark. Michael cleared his throat to break the awkward few seconds of silence.
“You speak fantastic English,” he said. “Have you been to England or America maybe?”
“Thank you very much. I haven’t been to England or America but I’d like to. I learned my English working on cruise ships”
“Oh really? I applied for work on the cruise ships when I was in New Zealand but I didn’t get the job. Must have been the hair!”
Michael said, grasping a clump of his mangy locks. “You look like John McEnroe!” replied Mambo, laughing with Michael.
“You cannot be serious!” I said in my best American accent, as I leaned forward, but the car fell deathly silent once more.
I sat back again, folded my arms and looked out the window for a bit.
After explaining to Mambo what we were attempting to do, and that he was our first ride, he replied, “You will find it difficult to hitchhike here. The police fine locals who pick up foreigners”
“What is Indonesian for ‘hitchhike’?”
“Urrm, we don’t have a word for it here that I know of”
Although our optimism was slightly dented by Mambo’s ominous warning, we both felt great to have been picked up and driven the 7 km to Ubung. It wasn’t much but it was a start.