With a growing aversion to weather more suited to growing mushrooms, it’s time for the sunphomaniacs to break away for another ‘winteruption’; hoping a change in latitudes will help improve our attitudes.
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. Over 20,000 temples are dedicated to an array of spirits that infiltrate 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 to 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 village has a surprising hush, as a lingering fear from a recent deadly terrorist bombing, upcoming elections, and bird flu has most travelers now putting Bali on their ‘to don’t’ list. Shopkeepers reek of desperation with their livelihoods at stake, and urgently try to entice customers by spewing their normal dogma (‘You have prrrrogram?’ ‘Trrrrransport?’, ‘I geef you morning prize’, ‘U look my shop?’, ‘Looking, looking’, etc.); all 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 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 to the GWK Cultural Park in Jimbaran to see the progress of the iconic Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue currently under construction. On completion, this gigantic 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 the Bali Orchard Garden we meet a lady working here 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’ as we’re leaving, and with a harsh frown crumpling her brow, she looks at me like I’d asked her if I could fart in her purse. Stomping her foot, she 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 jollying her along by cheekily hopping about like a frog. Her smile forgives me, and we share a laugh at the tomfoolery; my blunderific blurt adding another amphibian anecdote to our growing collection.
Bussing north to Candidasa, we’re saddened to see what used to be a beautiful seaside village, when first we visited 20 years ago, now on the brink of a ghost town. The sea is blemished by flagrantly artificial cement breakwaters created in an effort to stop the relentless erosion of the sandy 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, flashes one of those brilliant trademark 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. 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 on the way out for dinner my Arak fueled exuberance leads to a not so nimble moment of folly when I negligently slip right beside the pool. SA-PA-LASH! With a certain panache, the ‘Maestro of the Misstep’ clearly proves he cannot walk on water by tumbling fully dressed into the deep end; submerging 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, and while sputtering out a mix of filthy words and chlorinated water, realize my pocket contents have failed their swim test! Beside the pool, the manager is showing a bungalow to potential customers, whose jaws 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 my 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 occurring years ago, when I ended up hanging upside down like a bat in the branches of a Jambu tree, howling under the cratered face of a full moon, 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!
Finally, we’re off to swap money for calories, and while chowing down with barbarian gusto; the table’s candle container abruptly catches fire. As a one man fire brigade, I naively try snuffing it out with a napkin, which not surprisingly also catches fire. Adding injury to insult, I clumsily knock over the candle 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!
We travel the bumpy, seldom used coast road to reach the Santai Bungalows in the fishing village of Amed. I know this sounds strange, but the funky bathroom here is a 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 a delight 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 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 that’s a feast for both the eyes and ears. Clearly wooed by the mood of Ubud, we sit on our bungalow porch seduced by the sweet symbiotic symphony of sounds of the beautiful birds, delightful ducks, gangs of geckos, and feisty frogs.
The only negative is a renegade rooster; a pernicious little shit with the vile trait of vociferously vocalizing in the middle of the damn night. What the cluck; with the island’s serious cull of chickens, you’d think the cocky bastard would be exercising a little more subtlety!
Cycling through the villages and countryside is great fun, with our bikes creating poultry in motion as scruffy chickens frantically flap to safety; while Banteng cattle with Hannibal Lector-ish muzzled faces are prodded through the mudded fields by wiry brown rice farmers. In the village of Peliatan, we stumble upon superb wholesale shops and once again Christine demonstrates her shopping prowess; purchasing far too many handicrafts, including a couple of lamps! Now, I’m forced to grunt my carcass back to Ubud, laden with her hefty merch strapped to my back like a camel’s hump!
Tonight we meet our friends Brooks & Sue, and at 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!
The days are quickly whooshing away, and today Christine and I decide to join a Hash Harrier run along with a mish-mash of characters assembled under the guise of ‘runners’, who claim that beer isn’t habit forming. And after all, we should know; we’ve been drinking it for years! The runs are always in some obscure location, where a day earlier a person known as the ‘hare’ sets out into the jungle with a bag of shredded paper or flour to lay a trail for other Hashers to follow; on foot, hands, and knees; or all threes!
Our ragtag group is a real stew of slothful sinners. Many clearly do not fit the mold of runners with more chins than a Chinese phonebook, but are likely to be superstars during the beer fest at the end! What we didn’t realize is that in honor of Valentine’s Day, this is a cross-dressing run called ‘Transvestites in Paradise’! We find ourselves surrounded by a queer looking gathering of ugly men, in uglier skirts, smeared with the ugliest of makeup that would no doubt stop even a pit-bull in its tracks!
Sounding like a goose with asthma, a bugle is blown and the herd goes panting down the paths of the Sangeh Monkey forest sending startled monkeys into jungle gymnastics in the trees. We bushwhack along a muddy soufflé of jungle trails more like putty than path! After a few river crossings, the group eventually reconvenes at the beer truck, attacking it with fiendish delight as the par-tay begins in earnest.
OK, perhaps this not the most romantic Valentine’s Day, but definitely one of the more memorable. The following is a write-up in the local paper about the run. I’ve had to do some editing, but will share with you the parts I can:
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 were 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 get off the beaten track and find an area with no tourists; 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, and 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, we’re shocked to spot a small sign for 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 for a bomb check. OK, we give up, home James; or in this case, home Ketut.
Ever the clotheshorse, Christine is persistently on the prowl, and as days pass I look at our floor strewn with shopping bags 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!
Driving to Kerbokan, our daft taxi driver is putting us in harm’s way with his state-of-the-art version of the old game of chicken! Breakneck is the only speed he seems to understand, 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 five-star vehicular stupidity so many times before.
Yelling at him to slow down, he rapidly nods assent like a woodpecker working a tree, but my plea is as useless as trying to teach a rhinoceros to sing opera. Luckily the traffic gods are kind, and we reach what we think is our terminus. Releasing our death grip on the seats, we pay off the little butt-hole, and he’s gone before we realize he’s dropped us at the wrong location. We set off on foot, unsure of our surroundings.
Female passengers ride on the back of motorbikes side-saddle, facing perpendicular to the direction of travel, with their petite feet dangling freely from their perch and supported only by fresh air. Casually holding on to nothing more substantial than their handbags, their supreme balancing act defies the laws of physics as the motorbikes swerve furiously through traffic in an unchoreographed Bali ballet on wheels!
Another of Bali’s endearing traits is the signage that’s funnier than rubber crutch. Craning our necks looking for our store we pass a shop signed ‘Antiques – made to order’, then on a tattoo shop a sign ‘tattoos while you wait’; which I suppose means you can’t just drop off your arm and come back later to pick it up!
Walking for miles, 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 with stone lanterns; so what else can we do, but buy eight! Finally locating our intended store, we purchase a table before heading off to find a cargo shipping company. Unfortunately retail therapy is not covered under our health insurance!
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 bikinis 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 grog blog, I think it’s time to check myself into alliteration rehab!
Today, Christine wants to get our pictures done in Balinese wedding costumes. I want to run and hide, but I reluctantly agree to keep her happy. We enter the costume compound and are taken to a room where we’re told to disrobe. Out comes the makeup, and I shockingly get rouge, lipstick, and eye shadow. 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; totally unable to restrain her snickering and thoroughly enjoying my dismay.
Finally, the four doting make-up women have finished gussying us up, and declare their clients ready. As we emerge outside the plentiful staff energetically applaud the ‘newly married’ couple! I’m feeling totally preposterous, while Christine, clearly filled with rapturous joy, is running amok with the camera. I sense entrapment, and have a nagging suspicion this catastrophic caper is riddled with the DNA of blackmail!
And so, with another travel verse added to our song of our lives, the wonderful trip comes to an end. It’s now time for my Bride and I 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