Asia has become our travel drug of choice; even though many times, over many years, we’ve tried to conquer our dependency on this Temptress of the East. As self-confirmed ‘Asiaholics’, and unable to kick the habit, we’re again swapping the mundane for the exotic, in an effort to quench our adventurous thirst.
During a brief stay in Singapore we visit the superb zoo, Night Safari, and Botanical Gardens; and then after some incredible edibles in ‘Little India’, 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 maggot-gagging 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 as if 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. Viewing the Crested Cranes, known as ‘Dancing Queens’, I try to imitate some of the moves from their mating ritual just for fun.
I begin bobbing up and down and side to side, and sure enough, one of the plumaged egg-layers mimics the moves. It then picks up a stone off the ground, runs around in circles with it and throws 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 definite Singaporean highlight.
Christine and I border-bounce over to the city of Malacca in Malaysia, where narrow streets contain rows of shop-houses a couple of hundred years old and the buildings in the main square all painted a salmon pink colour. The city is a gumbo of cultures including Chinese, Portuguese, Indian, and Malay; and the wake-up call in our hotel room turns out to be 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, and sitting beneath a massive Jackfruit tree savoring our mango-chicken lunch, we notice an off-putting sight on the riverbank below. A giant monitor lizard, apparently also on lunch break, is choking down a full size cat; perhaps a case of pussy payback for the cat snacking on its smaller gecko cousins.
Across from our Baba House Hotel, we’re having dinner seated underneath a spreading frangipani tree in a full and fragrant bloom, when suddenly one of the lovely flowers flutters down off the tree, landing perfectly on Christine’s shoulder. We are hoping this is an omen boding well for our decision to reacquaint ourselves with the alluring intrigue of Indonesia.
After a short flight we’re back in 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. The tangle of traffic is spewing enough carcinogens to choke a horse, as well as any poor sods maneuvering 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 ‘surferus dudeus’ – with hair spiked up in a Mohawk, and seemingly a full set of cutlery inserted into nose, ears, tongues, and eyebrows! I would argue that these puzzling pierced clowns are irrefutable proof that evolution can indeed be reversed!
Another wildlife species endemic to Kuta is ‘moneychangerus-ripoffus’ – a shady bunch of scoundrels slipperier than snail snot on a door knob, treacherously seeking to fleece unsuspecting victims with magician-like skulduggery and cleverly re-wired calculators. Lower than a halibut’s nipple, these double dealing, dollar-duping, dishonest, despicable and deceptive degenerates should definitely be dodged.
However, by far the worst ‘wildlife’ irritant is a feral species known as ‘hawkerus-aggressiveus’ – a rampant vermin claiming sidewalks and alleyways as their habitat. Circling like seagulls in search of lunch, they aggressively peddle wears from watches to women, massages to marijuana, and everything in between.
The pesky 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 persistent, petulant, and 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 drive like they are Stevie Wonder. Lanes meaning nothing, nor do traffic lights, stop signs, or one-way streets! The dearth of road rules is a variation of rock-paper-scissors; bike beats people, car beats bike, and bus beats anything else! And 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 are the decrepit sputtering bemos, farting out enough poisoning diesel to asphyxiate anything with lungs!
Rain ponchos are standard gear for countless motorbike drivers during downpours, which have the roads resembling rivers of motorized condoms. It is 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.
After the crescendo of chaos in Kuta, we travel to the seaside sanctuary of Sanur. Here, our enthusiasm blooms, as we trade in the ceaseless din of traffic for the serenity of frog snorts. At Swastika Bungalows we’re nestled under the huge canopy of a Jattie tree and surrounded by bougainvillea, hibiscus, and towering banana trees hosting 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 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, knowing that traveling on foot is definitely the most intense way to truly see a country.
For a change of pace today we’re boating 18 miles across the Badung Strait via an outrigger, to reach a fly-speck of real estate called Lembongan Island. We’re somewhat skeptical, having heard stories about the upchucking on a vessel looking 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. 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, and we watch farmers harvesting at low tide and filling their dugouts to the gunwales. Their slippery stash is taken home to dry, and this tangle of weeds from the sea is later sold to merchants from Hong Kong to be used in the cosmetic and food industries.
Lembongan Island 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 hellacious open air hut is continually assailed by battalions of pestiferous mosquitos with an affinity for our flesh, 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 our consensus is that we swap this pitiful isle from our bucket list to our ‘fucket list’. Tomorrow we’ll be gone, faster than a toupee in a hurricane!
Enfeebled by 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 an incredibly credentialed couple we have become!
It is quite obvious there’s no shortage of strange on this beautiful island. Sitting seaside at the delightful Bonsai Café with our chairs legs slowly sinking into the sand, we’re enjoying some lovin’ from the 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 talking gibberish unexpectedly gets up from her meal and wades fully clothed into the ocean. 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 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 and wanders over to hug a coconut tree and places his head on it, suggesting he’s either attempting a Vulcan mind-meld or about to sexually assault it. Another loon as flaky as French pastry!
Behind door #3, completing the witless triplets is ‘Grumpy’: a local lunatic having himself a conniption fit. He’s so angry it looks as if somebody shoved the rough end of a pineapple up his arse, as he’s punching himself in the chest and 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 have probably never met the rest of the chewing team! Yes, all Three Stooges have apparently having fallen off their pharmaceuticals, and even as a group, are likely incapable of matching wits with a frying pan.
Today we move to the village of Ubud, a treasure trove of cultural riches; teeming 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. This is a real pleasure as up till now we have only had lame cold water showers from a four foot hose that’s been unable to provide coverage from the nipples north.
On St. Paddy’s day we put our adult on pause by again partaking in a Hash run. The approximate ten mile run begins in Bongkasa, which we’re told 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 endorphins swiftly elevate our spirits.
After multiple crossings of the knee-deep Agung River, our squishy shoes are full of water and mud, but 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 laundry on the rocks while naked kids cavort about in the river. We can see their minds churning with incomprehension as we splash on by like spawning salmon.
Bali sleeps early, believing nighttime is when evil spirits wander about tempting the community, and 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 wooing crickets and some frog ragtime, while geckos chime in with a little ditty of their own; a twilight highlight and an 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 origami-like, with our arms and legs at absurd angles, we’re discovering 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 be guilty of having 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 last day of our holiday is to simply relax and do nothing, and so far I’m right on schedule; so with still a few more beer left to burgle from the fridge, I will bravely soldier on until they too meet their ultimate demise!
Today, as our Singapore Airlines 747 reaches cruising altitude and drones westward, we’re treated to a little levity when a stowaway suddenly shows himself! The feathered felon is a bird about the size of a robin, that somehow managed to smuggle itself onboard while we were in Singapore.
It looks scared shitless (we hope) and is frantically flying about the plane with pinions pumping as the befuddled crew look 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, trying with blankets and plastic bags to snare it. However our frightened but formidable feathered friend is still in a flap and flying evasive missions about the plane. 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’s considered a ‘flight risk’, he is unceremoniously placed 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