Have you ever looked back at certain items you always travel with and thought about just how far that object had been with you? Don’t worry, I don’t usually do that either… That is, until, I had to replace my flip-flops while I was in Indonesia…
You’re probably thinking I’m crazy right about now, aren’t you. It’s ok, go ahead and judge… I’ll wait right here till you’re done.
(CUE: Jeopardy music)
See, normally I wouldn’t care so much, but those flips flops are the oldest item I had been traveling with, dating back all the way to 2006. There I was, a lonely intern in Chicago when I realized that I had no proper footwear to wear to the beach! What was the fun in being in Chicago in during the summer and living 3 blocks from Lake Michigan if I couldn’t walk on the beach??
In I walked to H&M, which, back then, was a novelty in the U.S., when this black pair of flip-flops with a little hint of the colors of the Brazilian flag caught my eye. I purchased them and, while I don’t wear flip-flops very often, they quickly became one of my most trusty travel items.
What if I’m somewhere and I want to go to the beach? Bam! I have flip-flops at the ready (which, conveniently, take up almost no room in my already tight 32L backpack). What if I’m staying at a hostel? Flip-flops to the ready, for I don’t really trust standing in those showers while barefoot… In those flip-flops, I had ready-made slippers, shoes that could get wet and something I could wear when I had no clean socks!
Exploring Surabaya, by Flip-Flop…
It was the last of these situations where my flip-flops finally bit the dust. Flash forward to August 2013. I found myself in Surabaya, a bustling city in East Java, Indonesia (which, fun fact, has the largest Red Light district in Southeast Asia, called “Dolly”). I was taking advantage of the fact that I was CouchSurfing with someone who had a washing machine to wash nearly every article of clothing I had. (Quick side note, Indonesian-style washing machines are rather odd, where the machine spins the clothes but you add manually the water at various times to rinse the clothes, or something like that.)
I wasn’t about to sit at home all day, so I set off, walking a fair distance in my flip-flops to find a cab to downtown. I was off to see the city’s primo sight, Ampel Mosque, though perhaps the coolest part wasn’t the mosque itself, but the intricate network of side streets that surrounded the mosque!
Looking at the map, I figured I could walk to the next major thing to see in town, The House of Sampoerna, a cigarette factory (yes, you heard that right) housed in a gorgeous former colonial building. Here, women roll the cigarettes by hand, a rather impressive sight, assuming you can stomach the corporate history museum first.
RIP, My Flip-Flops
It was some ways from the main road though, so I had to walk a ways to find a taxi back to where I was staying that wasn’t trying to gouge me. And it was on this walk that I felt my flip-flop snap. I looked down and the side of my right sandal had completely ripped out from the bottom, which made walking awfully difficult! Suddenly, without injuring myself at all, I was limping with this sandal half on my foot. And it was a looooooong way to go before I successfully found a cab….
At home, I looked down at my foot, which was black at after having limped all that way, not from swelling or anything but just from the dirt and grime of the city. I immediately cleaned it off and looked down at my broken flip-flops, heartbroken. This was a pair of sandals that went almost everywhere with me. In their 7-year life, they went around the world 5 times with me, making an appearance in 19 countries (USA, Canada, Austria, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, plus Hong Kong and the Palestinian Territories). Always there when I needed them, those resilient little guys waded into the Dead Sea, Mekong River and Canada’s Georgian Bay. And there isn’t a single item in my backpack that I have traveled with longer than those sandals!
The next day, I wandered into an Indomart (a convenience store chain found around Indonesia that’s similar to 7-Eleven) to shop for a replacement pair. Now a gray, Indomart-branded pair travels with me, but it’s not the same, you know? I almost feel like I’ve lost a friend.
Good old H&M flip-flops…you will be missed!