If you have dry leather that you want to moisturise, you can go to a shoe shop in the US or the UK and they’ll likely have some well-established brand of leather moisturiser (like Bick-4, recommended by Eli Miller, my Amish leather worker friend in Mesopotamia, Ohio).
But if you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, can’t read the writing, and have no idea if they even place a premium on maintaining high-quality leather, it might be a bit more difficult. That was exactly the situation I found myself in yesterday, with a Pusaka leather phone slip case that needed a bit of conditioning. I figured out how to get it conditioned in just fourteen hours. I figure that if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably my friend, and if you’re my friend, you probably place a huge premium on high-quality natural materials, and travel, and you probably combine the two regularly, and it’s natural to surmise that you would travel to tropical locations with high-quality leather and find yourself needing to care for it, so here it is, my travel hack to you:
First, go to Bali, and stay in Ubud. Arrange through a tour agent to take the sunrise trek to Mount Batur, the volcano that is dormant but erupted in 2000. There are lots of places selling lots of tours; they’re all identical, as far as we could tell. After bargaining, we paid 300,000 Rupiah; when we were picked up by the minivan, the driver pulled us aside and asked us not to tell the others how much we’d paid, because we got a deep discount. There were two Belgian girls and two Chinese girls on the bus. Naturally, I asked the Belgian girls how much they paid, and they said 300,000 Rupiah. So my guess is that if you’re Chinese, you’re going to get ripped off by the locals. (I’ll update this if I hear back from the Chinese girls on how much they were charged.).
Anyways, they will pick you up at 2 a.m. from your hotel, drive you to a roadside restaurant for a breakfast of banana crepes and coffee, then drop you off at the base of the volcano. You will find a guide waiting for you; they all seem to work for the same company. You’ll start hiking, and the guide won’t talk to you. His role. instead seems to be to carry up food for your second breakfast, to be cooked when you get to the summit, and to joke with the other guides, and then to get you down, back to the car while flirting with Australian girls from a different group. It’s VERY slow going up the side of a volcano, and the trail is made of volcano dust and chunks of pumice, which chews up even the toughest of shoes, and that makes you notice the shoes of other hikers. It’s also dark, and because it’s so difficult and you know there are 300 people behind you, all waiting for your butt to move up a step so their butts can move up a step too, you keep your head down and stare at the treacherous path in the beam of your flashlight. It will be pitch black, save for a few stars above and a few street lights shining in far-off villages. There are several resting points on the way up, and when one person in your group needs to rest, the whole group has to stop. It’s then you notice how out of shape many people are, and also how many girls are wearing spaghetti strap tops and short shorts, which is fine for the beach but not for hiking up a volcano before dawn, when it’s actually cold and windy. You also notice people in wildly inappropriate shoes – canvas loafers that are getting shredded by the sharp rocks, ballet slippers (or whatever it is they are called), and even sandals. You feel bad for the people wearing sandals – not because their feet are being cut, but because they’re clearly so bad at thinking.
Get to the top. The rim is on a sharp slope, with terraces built into the sides, and the guides all have pre-set spots where they can deposit their guests, so nobody is jockeying for a position to see the sun – everyone has a great view. The guide will go off and cook the breakfast, counting on you to be too tired to remember that you were promised eggs boiled from volcanic vents shooting steam from the earth. It’s such a novelty, and you’re very excited about it, because at which New York or London restaurant can you get eggs boiled on volcanic vents? How cool would it be to take a picture of eggs being cooked on volcanic vents, steam shooting out of the earth’s core to serve your appetite? What about those poor saps at home, stuck using electricity or natural gas instead of nature’s own method of cooking: volcanic fricking vents? But if you ask to see the volcanic vents that they cook eggs on, the guide will tell you that it’s all a big lie – they cook them on cooking stoves. He won’t even apologise, because it’s not your guide who lied to you. (Pro tip: if you want to take an Instagram picture of your egg, and tell people it was boiled on a volcanic vent, it’s not likely anyone back home will dispute it. That makes you think: perhaps you could just blatantly lie about your life on social media and get away with it. Hmm.)
While you’re eating, look around. The light will be the most beautiful light you’ve ever seen. It’s clear, and pink, and red, and blue, and gold, and you can see for miles – the trees on the ridges of surrounding mountains, the cars moving through the streets below, small skiffs cutting through the lake. It will remind you of Lawrence of Arabia, when he is in the Middle East and suddenly realised he is in love with a region that is not his home, and that it is a beautiful feeling, to be able to look at everything and just see beautiful things.
After the sunrise, descend. You’ll go to a crater which erupted a while ago, and a German guy will be flying a drone around, and you’re tempted to point out how selfish and rude he’s being, breaking the tranquility of the moment for hundreds of people so he can show a video to the three guys he works with at home who will pretend to care but won’t, but instead you think it would be a better idea to offer all the guides 100,000 Rupiah to the first person who can hit it with a rock. Then you remember all the Germans you know, and like, and you think perhaps this is progress: you’re not developing a prejudice against Germans, generally, but against this German, in particular. This rude, selfish German, destroying the peace of a volcano with his idiotic drone.
Then, descend the rest of the way down to the base camp. It’ll be tough – perhaps tougher than the ascent – and very slow, as others lose their footing, slip, and crash into pumice boulders. You will probably not see blood. Look out over the horizon, and see a lake, and the ocean, and a giant burned field. Ask about the field, and find out that it was from a lava flow in 1963, which filled the valley and killed trees and has stopped things from growing there ever since.
When you get to the car, you’ll note that it is 9 a.m., and everyone has been up for seven hours already. The others will cheer with pride, and within five minutes, everyone but the driver will be fast asleep.
Finally, in Ubud, go to the Atria Spa, which beat the pants off of any massages we got in Thailand or Cambodia or America. It definitely beats America. Get an hour-long massage for 80,000 Rupiah, or about $5. Then, when you’re done, and the masseuse tells you that you can put your clothes back on, and he leaves the room, realize that there’s still a thin film of massage oil on your body, and it’s oil, and other oils – neatsfoot oil, mink oil, etc. – are also good for leather. Quickly rub the leather you want to moisturise on your arms, legs, face, and the back of your neck to soak up as much of the oil as you can before putting your clothes back on. Try to make it even; where it’s not even, rub it again on your skin, harder than the first time, to extract as much oil as possible, because if it’s good enough for your skin, it’s good enough for your wallet, belt, phone slip, or duffel bag strap.
And that, my friends, is my travel hack for today.