With our aversion to weather better suited to growing mushrooms, it’s time the sunphomaniacs break away for another ‘winteruption’; counting on a warmer, more romantic latitude to help improve our attitude.
On previous pilgrimages to Indonesia, we’ve explored the fascinating islands of Java, Sulawesi, Borneo, Lembongan, Sumatra, Lombok, and New Guinea, but our hearts remain hopelessly shackled to the culture of kindness found on the little patch of paradise known as Bali.
Branded as the ‘Island of the Gods’, Bali is a Hindu island floating in the largest Muslim nation on earth. The island has over 20,000 temples dedicated to an array of spirits infiltrating all aspects of Balinese life. Gods even get involved in dentistry with a tooth filing ceremony, as it’s imperative that incisor teeth be filed down to allow one into the afterlife. Supposedly, if the devilish ‘boar-like’ quality is not rid from humans, entrance into the holy place will be denied as they will be seen as allied with the devil or monsters.
The village of Sanur has a surprising hush, courtesy of fear from a recent deadly terrorist bombing and the bird flu which has most travelers now putting Bali on their ‘to don’t’ list. Sellers, reeking of desperation with their livelihoods at stake, urgently try to entice customers into their shops by parroting repetitious sales spiels (‘You have prrrrogram?’ ‘Trrrrransport Meester?’, ‘I geef you morning prize’, ‘U look my shop?’, ‘Looking, looking’, etc.). All are pleading with a persistence that would do credit to a bloodhound.
Although Bali’s oven-like heat is responsible for empty Bintang beer bottles multiplying at a fearful rate, I am justifying the numbers by the fact that in ‘dog beers’ I’ve had but a few! Now, you may remember that on our last visit, yours truly received a Balinese PhD (periodic heavy drinking) in the art of Bintangology, and today while passing a funky little bar, I succumb once again to a Bintanic possession by the lurking God of Guzzle known as ‘Thirstus-Throatus’. To me this situation is clearly a case of Deja Brew, and the only reasonable course of action is a barstool meld with a bottle or three of the magical golden elixir!
We travel out to the GWK Cultural Park in Jimbaran to check out the progress of the iconic Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue currently under construction. On completion, this monumental monument of the Hindu God Wisnu riding a mythical Garuda bird will be 121 meters tall; making it 28 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty, and as tall as a 21 story building!
Visiting the awesome blossoms at Bali Orchard Garden, we meet a lady named Kadeck, who teaches me how to prepare a lotus seed so I can try growing one at home. Without the aid of a dialogue coach, I say ‘thank you Kadock’, which results in a rather disturbed scowl crumpling her brow. She looks at me as if I’ve just asked her if I could fart in her purse, and stomping her foot says ‘No Kadock; Kadock frog!’
With my face taking on a crimson coloration, I sheepishly apologize for sullying her name while foraging for something to take the taste of foot out of my mouth. But thinking further on my froggy my faux-pa, I can’t resist cheekily hopping about like a frog. Luckily, her friendly ivory acquits my comic deviltry, and we all share a good laugh, with my blundering blurt adding to our growing assortment of amphibian anecdotes.
Bussing on to Candidasa and seeing what used to be a beautiful seaside village, when first we visited 20 Januarys ago, now on the brink of a ghost town leaves a hole in our soul. The sea is blemished by flagrantly artificial cement breakwaters created in an effort to stop the relentless erosion of the beach. However, this is where we have prearranged to meet our friend Mollie who has travelled all the way from Saudi Arabia.
After lunch we pass by a small lagoon where a man and little boy fish for minnows that don’t look much bigger than a guppy. As the young lad has no chance of success using his bare hook, I approach and put a grain of rice on his tiny hook. In minutes he catches his first little fish, and looking up at me giggling, he flashes me one of those trademark wide dazzling Bali smiles; the future fisherman has learned a lesson.
Off the beaten track in a 4-wheel drive, we’re up and down like a whore’s drawers, bouncing along a road with potholes deep enough to swallow sheep. Stopping to hike a path down to the beautiful Virgin Beach, we’re met by locals returning from a cremation ceremony; oddly chauffeuring a duck standing in the center of a large straw matt. I’m thinking this quacker slacker is probably meant to be dinner, but we’re informed the royal treatment of ‘Count Quackula’ is because the duck is considered a symbol of purity. Lord love a duck; it just goes to show that you never know where, or when, the indescribable magic of Bali will appear.
Tonight I sipped, tripped, slipped, and dipped! Consuming far too many drinks leaves me with the motor skills of a drunken toddler, and going out for dinner, my Arak fueled exuberance leads to a not so nimble moment of folly when I ingloriously slip right beside our pool. SA-PA-LASH! With an ungraceful panache, the ‘Maestro of the Misstep’ clearly confirms he cannot walk on water. Tumbling fully dressed into the deep end I submerge myself; along with my passport, money belt, airline tickets, wallet, calculator, and camera!
Popping up for air, I hoist myself out of the water faster than a scalded dog, sputtering out a mix of filthy words and chlorinated water as I realize my pocket contents have failed their swim test! Beside the pool, the manager is showing a bungalow to potential customers whose jaws have now suddenly become unhinged. They stare and stare; then they stare some more! With my dignity disintegrated and extremities dripping, I slosh past them back to the room, shedding pool water with every step of my squelching walk of shame!
Trying to stifle her merriment, Christine needlessly reminds me of another Arak incident years ago, when I ended up hanging upside down like a bat in the branches of a Jambu tree, howling at a full moon while bedecked in nothing more than my undies and a goofy grin. Tonight, after taking all my gear for an evening swim, I am giving considerable consideration to a new choice of beverage!
As I ring out my soaking wet clothes, snickers and snorts are audible behind me, courtesy Christine and Molly. The three of us finally make it to the restaurant, and while chowing down on dinner with the barbarian gusto of famine survivors, the table’s candle container somehow catches fire. As a one man fire brigade, I naively try snuffing it out with a napkin, which not surprisingly also ignites. Then, adding injury to insult, I clumsily knock the candle over in the process spilling hot wax that blisters my hand and arm.
Figuring nothing else bad could happen, we return to our bungalow amid the lingering smell of burnt arm hair only to find that the air-con has conked out! Opening the door, a jumbo cockroach tumbles off the top, landing right on Christine’s head. Screeching with cosmic urgency she commences trying to dislodge the villain by flailing at her lovely long locks with such zeal I emphatically know our tenancy here is terminated!
We travel the seldom used rugged coast road to reach the fishing village of Amed and book into Santai Bungalows. Our funky bathroom is a surprising highlight. Located off the bedroom in an open garden area, we sit on the throne under the tropical suns dazzle among lush jungle greenery and flowers; entertained by flittering birds and fluttering butterflies. However, while delightful during the day, these jungle Johns can become quite the adventure in the middle of the night, with quite the change of wildlife!
Amed is a quiet fishing village brightened by colorful fish boats, and I’ve brought along several boxes of stainless steel fishing hooks from Canada to donate to the fishermen. Their weathered faces birth wide toothy grins as I distribute the hooks into the gnarly outstretched hands that pull a living from the sea. Wishing you all tight lines on your next fishin’ mission gentlemen!
After a few days of beachcombing, we leave for a familiar village offering a feast for both the eyes and ears. Sitting on our bungalow porch we’re seduced by the sweet symbiotic symphony of sounds of beautiful birds, delightful ducks, gangs of geckos, and feisty frogs; clearly wooed by the mood of Ubud.
The only negative here is a renegade rooster; a pernicious little insomniac with the vile trait of vociferously vocalizing at ungodly hours of the night. What the cluck; with the island’s serious cull of breakfast-poopers taking place, you’d think this clamorous clucker would be exercising a little more subtlety!
Cycling the countryside is awesome. Our bikes create poultry in motion with scruffy chickens frantically flapping to safety and wiry brown farmers plowing muddied rice fields using Banteng cattle with Hannibal Lector-ish muzzled faces. In Peliatan village we stumble upon superb wholesale shops, where once again Christine demonstrates her shopping prowess by purchasing far too many handicrafts, including a couple of lamps! Fulfilling my husbandly obligation, I’m now forced to grunt my carcass back to Ubud laden with her hefty merch strapped to my back like a camel’s hump! I think this is payback for the cockroach hairpin!
Tonight we meet our friends Brooks & Sue, and during dinner I’m thinking our group is a regular little United Nations; with ourselves being Canadian, travelling with a friend from Saudi Arabia, sitting in an Italian restaurant, in Indonesia, with American friends living in Singapore who we met in Vietnam.
Hiking to Payogan village we spot an artist’s shop, and Miss Shop-A-Lot cannot resist the purchase of yet another Balinese painting. Meanwhile, Brooks and I decide that along with H1N1 Bird Flu, Bali may also have the potential for ‘Bintang flu’, and accordingly, make it our mission to perform our own Bintang cull!
With the days quickly whooshing away, Christine and I decide to join a Hash Harrier run with a mish-mash of characters assembled under the guise of ‘runners’ who claim that beer isn’t habit forming. After all, we should know as we’ve been drinking it for years! These runs are always in some obscure location, where the day before, a person known as the ‘hare’ sets out into the jungle with a bag of shredded paper or flour to lay a semi-hidden trail for other Hashers to follow; on foot, hands, and knees; or all threes!
Many do not fit the runner’s mold since they no longer run like the wind, but more like the wind-ed! Still, with more chins than a Chinese phonebook and six-pack stomachs replaced by kegs, they’re sure to shine during the beer fest at the end! In honor of today being Valentine’s Day, this is a cross-dressing run called ‘Transvestites in Paradise’, and we are surrounded by a queer looking gathering of ugly men, in ugly skirts, and smeared with enough ugly makeup to stop even a pit-bull in its tracks!
A bugle sounding like a goose with asthma is blown, and the herd pants off into the Sangeh Monkey forest sending the startled Macaque monkeys into jungle gymnastics as we bushwhack along a muddy soufflé of trails more like putty than path! Multiple river crossings later the group eventually reconvenes at the beer truck and wolfishly attacks its contents with the subtlety of malnourished refugees!
OK, perhaps this not the most romantic Valentine’s Day, but irrefutably it is one of the more memorable. The following is a Hasher’s somewhat salacious write-up about the run that made its way into a local paper: A huge gathering of fags, whores, sluts, tarts, and lesbians filled the big car park. The sounds of beating hearts echoed throughout the forest. The cross dressers were in heaven. Pretty boys in cute skirts raced through the gorgeous forest, crossed raging rivers, and climbed steep mountains and stairways in recognition of Valentine’s Day.
Mount and Groan’s pretty frock got sopping wet so he or she wrapped it around his or her head to dry it off. Other explorers of their feminine side gently raised their skirts to avoid ripping them on the razor sharp forest flora, and muddy fingers were carefully placed at arm’s length to protect cross dressers from smudging their carefully applied lippie.
Not a monkey was seen, which indicates the presence of pretty boys had terrified them into fleeing the forest. A big bad gaggle of slags hovered around the Bintang barrel. The pack of poof transvestites was truly in force and totally dominated the surrealistic scene.
The Valentine’s Day run was an extremely bizarre event that we’ll all attempt to erase from our memories. It scored 9.5 for the run, 9.5 for the paper, 4.5 for the Susu (breasts), and 10.5 for the area!
Today, under a sky freckled in clouds, we plan to probe the islands lesser known areas to see what treasures await. Our driver Ketut asks where he is to go, and we ask him to try and get lost on roads that he’s never been on before. He cannot grasp the concept, and instead takes us to Goa Gaja, the elephant cave.
To enter the temple, Brooks and I have to don a sarong. Seeing us draped in the frumpish, pocket less tablecloths the girls are a-smirk, with Christine suggesting I just need earrings and a purse to complete the ensemble! Brooks and I are absolutely not sharing their opinion that Something Sarong Could Be So Right!
Again, we ask Ketut to abandon the beaten track and find an area away from the tourist fray; but it’s like trying to pick a lock with an earthworm! I have the urge to grab him by the ears to see if I can shake out the blockage, but in frustration, yell ‘turn here’! With a start, he quickly veers onto a scruffy dirt road and says ‘I drive here?’ ‘Yes’, I tell him, ‘And I’ll tell you where to turn, and when to stop.’ After a few miles with a zig here and a zag there, we’re shocked to stumble upon Bali Begawan Giri; the most exorbitant lodging in the whole caboodle of resorts in Bali, with suites going for $4,000 US a night! Armed guards stop us at the gate and perform a sweep of the car in a bomb check. OK, we give up; Home James; oops I mean Ketut.
Ever the clotheshorse, Christine is persistently on the prowl, and as days pass I look at the shopping bags strewn over the floor and swear the bloody things are breeding like the ‘tribbles’ in an old Star Trek episode. I’m seriously concerned we’re going to have to rent a forklift to transport all her acquisitions to the airport!
On a drive to Kerbokan village, our daft taxi driver puts us in harm’s way with his state-of-the-art version of the old game of chicken! He seems devoted to the belief that speed limits are for sissies, and we have about as much confidence in him as in Noriega’s dermatologist. Sadly, this foolishness is typical in Asia, and for us, a case of ‘deja glue’ – having being stuck in this kind of vehicular stupidity so many times before.
Yelling at him to slow down, he nods assent like a woodpecker working a tree, but my plea is as useless as trying to scuba dive in the desert. Luckily traffic gods are kind and we reach what we believe to be our terminus. We pay the driver and he buggers off before we realize he has dropped us at the wrong location.
We set off on foot looking for our intended store and soon start noticing one Bali’s endearing traits; signage funnier than rubber crutch. First we spot a shop signed ‘Antiques – Made to Order’, and on another street come to a tattoo shop with a sign reading ‘Tattoos While You Wait’; which I suppose means you can’t just drop off your arm and come back later to pick it up?
We stumble into a shop selling stone carvings from Java, and the fact we can barely budge them doesn’t stop us from purchasing three. A few blocks later we find a place selling stone lanterns, so what else can we do but buy eight! Finally locating the store we want, we purchase a table before searching out a cargo shipping company. How unfortunate that retail therapy is not covered under our health insurance!
Female motorbike passengers perch on the back side-saddle, facing perpendicular to the direction of travel, with their petite feet dangling freely and supported only by fresh air. Casually holding on to nothing more substantial than their handbags, their bewildering balancing act remarkably defies the laws of physics as the motorbikes swerve furiously through traffic in an unchoreographed Bali ballet on wheels!
As befitting in Bali, in a bold bid to beat being burnt by the blistering bright heat, this bad boy has been boozing in a bewitching bar beside the beach; building biceps and badgering my bladder, by banging back a bevy of big bottles of my beloved Bintang beer. The background behind my bamboo barstool is beautiful bougainvillea bushes, banana boughs bristling in the balmy breeze, and boats bobbing about in the bay, with bountiful breakers bursting beyond. As a bonus, a bunch of bodacious babes bound in bum-floss lys with buxom bronzed bodies bravely bounce by! Beauteous, but I’d best beware, all is becoming a blissful blur because of the bubbly brew beneath my belt. Bugger, before my behavior and balance become more befuddled, I better buck up, and get my butt back where it belongs! I am now going to be a ‘b-leaver’, hoping that slamming on the brakes on this brutal babbling bull doesn’t burden me with grammatical whiplash. Well then, enough of this verbosity; I think it’s time to check myself into alliteration rehab!
Christine wants a picture of us wearing traditional Balinese wedding costumes. I want to run and hide, but grudgingly agree to keep her happy. Entering the costume compound, we are taken to a room and told to disrobe. Out comes the makeup and I shockingly have rouge, lipstick, and eye shadow applied. What the …?
Adding to my misery, I’m trussed up in a fancy-shmancy ceremonial dress, leaving me deeply worried about whether these overly keen Balinese beauticians can be trusted not to shave my hairy legs or garnish me with a strand of pearls and a pair of provocative pumps! Christine, meanwhile, is being attended to in a similar fashion, and I can see she is just full of perk and totally unable to restrain her snickering while thoroughly enjoying my obvious dismay.
Finally, the four doting make-up women have finished all the gussying up, and declare their clients ready. As we emerge outside, the staff energetically applauds the ‘newly married’ couple! I’m feeling totally preposterous, yet Christine is clearly filled with rapturous joy and running amok with the camera. I sense entrapment, and have a nagging suspicion that this catastrophic caper is riddled with the DNA of blackmail!
So, with another travel verse added to the song of our lives, and my bride by my side, it’s time for us to divorce ourselves from Bali and head back home to the land of ‘He shoots; He scores’; where we’ll shiver in the penalty box until the spring thaw.
Mark Colegrave 2004