Asia has for many years been our drug of choice as self-confirmed ‘Asiaholics’; even though many times, over many years, we’ve tried to conquer our dependency on this Temptress of the East. Unable to kick the habit, we’re once again swapping the mundane for the exotic in an effort to quench our adventurous thirst.
During a brief stop in Singapore we visit the superb zoo, Night Safari, and Botanical Gardens. Then, after some incredible edibles in ‘Little India’, we tag along with friends living here on a durian purchasing trip. These spiky football size ‘fruits’ are banned from hotels and public transport, and we now know why! Their odoriferous stench is a despicable hybrid of soiled diapers and dead fish; leaving those who choose to chomp on its flesh with a case of halitosis that smells like they’ve been French-kissing week old road kill!
After a lovely days sail out of the Singapore Yacht Club we visit Jurong Bird Park; a vast acreage dedicated to a mind boggling 7,000 birds, comprising 600 species of feathery glamour. Just for fun, while viewing the Crested Cranes, known as ‘Dancing Queens’, I try to imitate some of the moves from their mating ritual.
As I start bobbing up and down and side to side, one of the plumaged egg-layers mimics the moves. It then picks a stone up off the ground, running around in circles with it in its beak and throwing it up in the air, before coming back towards me for some more ‘foreplay’; or perhaps more correctly, ‘fowl-play’. I may be sticking my neck out here, but I find the jocularity of this likable long-neck a Singaporean highlight.
Christine and I grab a bus and border-bounce to the city of Malacca in Malaysia, where the narrow streets contain rows of shop-houses a couple of hundred years old, with buildings in the main square all painted a salmon pink. The city is a gumbo of cultures, including Chinese, Portuguese, Indian, and Malay; and the wake-up call in our hotel room is the wailing soundtrack of the Islamic call to prayer.
Beside the murky Malacca River, we stop at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with soft Western music playing, for a mango-chicken lunch. Sitting at a table beneath a massive Jackfruit tree while savoring our meal, we notice the off-putting sight on the riverbank below, of a giant monitor lizard choking down a full size cat; perhaps a case of pussy payback, for the cat snacking on his smaller gecko cousins.
During dinner across from our Baba House Hotel, we’re sitting at a table underneath a spreading frangipani tree in full fragrant bloom, adorned with little scampering geckos. Suddenly one of the lovely fragrant flowers flutters down off the tree landing perfectly on Christine’s shoulder, and we’re hoping this is an omen that bodes well of our decision to reacquaint ourselves with the alluring intrigue of Indonesia.
Our short flight rushes us towards to bewitching Bali; home of barongs and sarongs, temples by the tons, picture perfect rice fields, and of course my beloved Bintang beer! Our first mandatory stop is in the polluted and shop-infested town of Kuta, which unfortunately has a tendency to bring out the worst of the island, with the tangle of traffic spewing enough carcinogens to choke a horse, not to mention any poor sods strolling along the lumpy sidewalks. Also, unlike the beautiful surrounding countryside blessed with geckos, dappled in ducks, and sprinkled with monkeys; the bedlam of the Kuta attracts its own brands of ‘wildlife’.
Take for example the raucous species ‘surferous dudeous’ – which can be seen with porcupine-like hair and seemingly a full set of cutlery inserted in nose, ears, tongues, and eyebrows! I would argue that these puzzling pierced clowns are walking proof evolution can indeed be reversed!
Another wildlife species endemic to Kuta is ‘moneychangerus-ripoffous’ – a shady bunch of scoundrels slipperier than snail snot on a door knob; treacherously seeking to fleece unsuspecting victims with magician-like sleight of hand and cleverly re-wired calculators. Lower than a halibut’s nipple, these double dealing, dollar-duping, dishonest, despicable and deceptive degenerates are definitely to be dodged.
However, by far the worst ‘wildlife’ irritant is a feral species known as ‘hawkerus-aggressiveous’ – a rampant vermin claiming sidewalks and alleyways as their habitat. Circling like seagulls in search of lunch, they aggressively peddle anything from watches to women, massages to marijuana, and everything in between.
The problem is the profusion of these pushy, pugnacious predators; whose primary purpose is pleading poverty and producing profit by putting pressure on the passive public. People get so perturbed with their pursuit they’d probably be pleased to provide this prolific plague of pesky, persistent, petulant, parasitic perpetrators with a punch on the proboscis. But enough of the prolonged pontificating on these pitiful, pathetic pests; you get my point; one must perpetually keep the peepers propped open, in preparation for the plethora of prowling ‘wildlife’ permeating the pestiferous jungles of Kuta!
Balinese drivers all seem to be a few coconuts short of a palm tree, as lanes meaning nothing; nor do traffic lights, stop signs, or one-way streets! Basic road rules are a variation on rock-paper-scissors; bike beats people, car beats bike, and bus beats anything else! As for safety, any vehicle with a working horn is considered roadworthy; despite any wire, rope, or duct tape holding it all together! Adding to the motorized fray, decrepit diesel bemos belching buckets of blue sputter about trying to asphyxiate anything with lungs!
Rain ponchos are standard gear for countless motorbike drivers during downpours, which has the roads resembling rivers of motorized condoms; and it’s not unusual to see family-bearing motorbikes dangerously encumbered with ‘pa’ working the gas and horn, ‘ma’ sitting side-saddle, and 2 or 3 little ‘lawn monsters’ spilling onto handlebars, fenders, or other unclaimed space. Well then, I think that about sums up traffic!
After the chaos of Kuta we travel to the seaside sanctuary of Sanur; where our enthusiasm blooms as we trade the ceaseless din of traffic for serenity of frog snorts. At Swastika Bungalows we’re nestled under the huge canopy of a Jattie tree, surrounded by bougainvillea, hibiscus, and towering banana trees; all home to an assortment of feathery dazzlers that love to warble.
Over the years ‘Hash runs’ have become a ritual, and today we’re at it again despite the inclement weather. With no boo-hooing, our rainy run begins in the village of Pejeng, as we splash-n-dash our way through the countryside. Locals clad in unique wet-weather gear fashioned from surfboard size leaves banana tree leaves track us with bewildered stares; while chickens, ducks and other ‘sate-able’ items scramble their way to safety. We love these runs, as traveling on foot is definitely the most intense way to truly see a country.
For a change of pace today we’re traveling 18 miles across the Badung Strait via an outrigger boat, to reach a fly-speck of real estate called Lembongan Island. We’re a bit skeptical, having heard stories about the upchucking on a vessel that looks just one wave short of a shipwreck. Fortunately however, we’re blessed with a faultless day and a peaceful sea as flat as Olive Oyls chest. The deep, denim blue waters of the sea transition to turquoise as our outrigger chugs into the shallows surrounding the palm fringed island.
The economy of this dot in the ocean is generated from the seaweed aquaculture, as low rainfall and high salinity in the sea are ideal for its growth. We watch farmers harvesting at low tide, filling their dugouts to the gunwales before taking their slippery stash home to dry. This tangle of weeds from the sea is later sold to merchants from Hong Kong, to be used in the cosmetic and food industries.
The island seems idyllic, until we see our room. Lembongan is a former leper colony, with very few mod-cons. The erratic electricity lasts for only a few hours a day, there is no air-con, and only a cold, salt water shower. Making matters worse, our feeble-functioning open air hut is constantly assailed by battalions of pestiferous mozzies in search of fresh meat; oh yes, and a giant barking gecko that startles the snot out of us in the middle of the muggy night. This is a six shower a day kind of place and the consensus is to swap this tropical island from our bucket list to our ‘fucket list’. Tomorrow we’ll be off faster than a prom dress!
In the heat of Bali, drinking innumerable liquids is the medical recommendation, and loving the beauteous Bintang beer more than any man should, yours truly is indeed following said advice with staggering efficiency. In fact, I’ve morphed into ‘Sir Gulpalot’, a swift-slurping beer extremist; trying to swig, swill, swallow, guzzle, and gulp the failing Balinese economy back to health. And you know what, I think all this beer must be good for what ‘ales’ me, because frankly, I’ve never been so hoppy!
Having spent mega hours researching and studying the aforesaid golden elixir, I’m pleased to report that my ‘thirst for knowledge’ has resulted in a graduation in the field of ‘Bintangology’. Yes siree, in addition to the recent outstanding accomplishment of a PhD completion by ‘Dr. Christine’; ‘Sir Gulpalot’ is now a certified ‘Bintangologist’. Oh my, what a well-credentialed couple we have become!
There’s no shortage of strange on the island. Sitting seaside at the delightful Bonsai Café, with our chairs legs slowly sinking into the sand, we’re enjoying some lovin’ from their oven and the soothing sound of the waves disassembling themselves on the sands, when our sun-kissed bliss is suddenly interrupted by the Theatre of the Absurd.
Behind door #1 we have ‘Happy’: a woman sitting next to us loudly muttering gibberish unexpectedly leaves her meal and wades fully clothed into the sea. Flopping down where sea meets shore, she begins laughing like an incoherent hyena while flopping about on the sand like a fresh caught fish.
Behind door #2 we have ‘Dopey’: a spindly, pimply-faced pony-tailer with the situational awareness of a tulip. Likely spaced out on drugs, he’s mumbling aloud to unseen entities while holding a rock against his head. He too vacates his table, to wander over and hug a coconut tree; looking as if he’s either attempting a Vulcan mind-meld with it, or about to sexually assault it. Wow, another loon as flaky as French pastry!
Behind door #3, completing the witless triplets is ‘Grumpy’: an unhinged local having himself a conniption fit. He’s so angry it looks as if somebody shoved the rough end of a pineapple up his arse, punching himself in the chest while wailing like a howler monkey in heat. This is quite comical, as Grumpy has a serious Bugs Bunny overbite, with splayed front teeth that provide shade for his chin and that have probably never met the rest of the chewing team! Yes, all Three Stooges have apparently having fallen off their pharmaceuticals, even as a group, I think they would likely be incapable of matching wits with a bar of soap.
Today we move to the village of Ubud, an embarrassment of riches when it comes to culture. It teems with temples guarded by stone carved mythical figures with eyes bulging, nostrils flaring, tongues lolling, and ferocious faces frozen in fanged sinister sneers. Our bungalow overlooks the waterlogged rice paddies, and for the first time this trip we have the luxury of a hot water shower; a real pleasure, as up till now we’ve only had lame cold showers coming out a four foot hose that didn’t provide coverage from the nipples north.
On St. Paddy’s day we put our adult on pause by again partaking in a Hash run. This time the run begins in Bongkasa which is known as the pig stud village. Yup, if you’re keen on ‘makin’ bacon’ this is your spot! From the old ceremonial village gate we bound down a mud-slickened path with more twists than a bag of pretzels, as the endorphins swiftly elevate our spirits.
After multiple crossings of the knee-deep Agung River our shoes are rather squishy, being full of water and mud. However, long ago we learned trying to stay dry on a Hash run is about as useless as glass hammer! Bare breasted women engaged in gleeful chatter beat their laundry on the rocks, while naked kids cavort about in the river. I can see their minds churning with incomprehension as we conspicuously splash on by.
Locals make themselves scarce at nighttime as they believe this is when evil spirits wander about tempting the community, and the nights are so hushed you could likely find more signs of life in an oyster bed! As stars fill up the night sky we’re serenaded by the wooing crickets and frog ragtime, while geckos chime in with a little ditty of their own; a twilight highlight and integral part of the magic of Bali.
Travelling to the stone carving village of Batubulan, we’re shoehorned, along with 14 locals, into a road-unworthy bucket of bolts called a ‘bemo’. As the driver ties the busted door with a rope, it becomes unclear to us who has more loose screws, the vehicle or driver. Folded up like a piece of origami, with arms and legs at various and absurd angles, we discover positions sure to be a hit in the next edition of the Kama Sutra!
Our last night back in Kuta is about as welcome as a hole in a lifeboat, but since we’re here, we make the best of it by luxuriating in the penthouse of the Rum Jungle Hotel. Having been born with a rum gene, I may have been induced, or perhaps seduced, by its spirited name!
On one of the flora-laden balconies, I’m penning this journal accompanied by a cold Binny (bet you already guessed that) while Christine is out power shopping (bet you already guessed that too). My plans for the end of our trip is to simply relax and do nothing, and so far I’m right on schedule. With a few beer still hiding out in the fridge, I will bravely soldier on until they too meet their ultimate demise!
As our Singapore Airlines 747 reaches cruising altitude and drones westward, we’re treated to a little levity when a stowaway suddenly shows himself! Yup, the feathered felon is a bird about the size of a robin, that obviously somehow smuggled itself onboard while in Singapore.
It looks scared shitless, at least we hope, and is frantically flying about the plane with pinions pumping, as a befuddled crew looks on. The ensuing drama is a load of laughs as the crews’ attempts to capture the elusive little bugger are failing miserably, and it’s unclear who is doing more squawking the bird or the crew.
For close to an hour, the crew is in hot pursuit while trying with blankets and plastic bags to snare it. However our frightened but formidable feathered friend, clearly in a flap, is still flying evasive missions about the plane, and by this time, most of the passengers are cheering for our avian aviator. What a hoot!
Eventually, the frazzled crew prevails and subdues our hero, and since he is considered a ‘flight risk’, they place him unceremoniously into a storage bin. However, passengers are assured that the prisoner will be taken back to Singapore and liberated. This is a sympathetic gesture, as after the 33 degree heat of Singapore, our next stop is Korea where it’s only 9 degrees, and the poor little bugger would likely freeze his tail feathers off! In fact, returning to Canada, I’m beginning to worry about the same damn thing myself!
Mark Colegrave 2002