With the ground painted white with winters frost and the last hardy leaves clinging desperately to the trees, it’s time to tread some turf with a warmer postal code. This year our plan is another Asian invasion, back to the balmy latitudes and tropical nirvana of Bali; where tomorrow’s sun is already shining.
During a brief stopover in Singapore, we’re surprised to find the city/country experiencing health concerns due to an invasive smoke from fires burning out of control on the Indonesia islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The thick smoky haze looks very much like an attempt of a mass fumigation of the city.
Christine’s sister Brenda has arrived today, and the siblings instantly have their shopping mojo going on. Obviously it’s a genetics thing, but I try and convince Chris and ‘Sis’ that we’re in Singapore, not ‘Spending-more’. My plea however, is like trying to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time, and annoys the pig. I opt for a solo cycle alongside the Singapore River before we travel on to Bali tomorrow morning.
In Denpasar, Christine and I robotically line up in the sluggish queue for our visas. Producing our passports at immigration, we’re confronted by an officious oaf with a pock-marked face, wearing a weaned-on-lemons look. After a sneaky glance over his shameless shoulders, the morally bankrupt, bribe seeking bastard turns back to us with a ghoulish sneer and hisses, ‘So, you from Canada; you have some money for me?’
With a counterfeit smile I reply; “No cash – only travel checks”. Locking eyes, we throw icy silence at each other, until finally, scowling as if he just stepped in canine fecal matter, the larcenous scammer tosses my passport back at me and we’re in. Welcome aboard the good ship Ass-Kisser; nice day for a sail!
Outside the airport the luscious warm air embraces us like a long lost friend while we sort out transport to the village of Ubud. Arriving at the bungalows, the driver claims he is associated them and wants payment for the room before we even have a chance to see it. His cold crocodilian smile doesn’t reach his eyes, and I don’t trust his mouth. As the vile smile slides off his face a mouth fight ensues before his disgruntled exit; minus the cash! Savvy to the trickery of Bali, we’re well aware this is a scam often tried by taxi drivers.
We unpack our bags and head out for a romantic candlelit dinner at Murni’s Warung, sculpted into fern-covered rocks high above the Ayung River. I’m quite enjoying a varied sampling of beer, letting Christine know that if the barman isn’t kept busy he may be laid off, and I just couldn’t have that on my conscience. Therefore, fulfilling my moral obligation I sit here swilling and sacrificing myself for the greater good.
All is bloody marvelous until the bill arrives, and I notice they are ripping us off for fifty thousand rupiah; probably presuming I’ve gone too goofy on grog to notice the error. Obviously these lightweights are unaware that they are not dealing with a rookie slurpitator here! ‘Oh sorry boss, we make mistake’, says one with an apology dressed in insincerity. Yeh right sister; and I am Humpty Dumpty! Having now avoided three scams on our very first day, we trudge on back to our bungalow to call it a night!
We have planned a prearranged cycling trip through the countryside, and our guide Wayan drops by with his little daughter Devi and an American couple who will be joining us. We launch the day in the mountains at Kintamani with breakfast overlooking Mt. Batur’s active volcano.
Collecting our bikes off the truck, we notice the four bikes for the four guests, but Wayan’s bike with the kiddie’s bike seat is too big for him, meaning his lovely five year old daughter Devi won’t be able to come along. Heartbroken, she sits on the ground sobbing because she obviously wants to go riding with her dad.
As a solution, I offer to give up my bike to Wayan and take the bigger one with the kid seat on the back. All is agreed to, and I’m now the hero of the hour. Unaccustomed to my new chauffeur status and its extra responsibilities, I cautiously pedal away; fortunately adjusting quickly to my new ‘backseat bundle’.
The little cutie is a real sparkplug, and after some mischievous games in the van, she has decided to be my tormentress for the day. In her girlishly wild glee at being on the bike, the rambunctious rapscallion takes to poking me in the butt when she wants to go faster, while giggling and babbling at me in unrecognizable Indonesian. She seems as happy as a flea at a dog show, and the others seem to enjoy her devious antics!
Christine and I have brought along some little stuffed animals from home, to randomly distribute along the way. Little kids just love the gifts, and giving them away brings an equal amount of joy to us. So she doesn’t feel left out, we also give little Devi a small stuffed owl that she just adores, and when we stop for a snack the first thing she does is try and feed it a banana, making an already fun day even better!
Cycling through Bali’s divine rice fields, I stop to take a photo of a gaunt and greying farmer lumbering past carrying a humongous bundle of elephant grass. Using Wayan as an interpreter, the elderly fellow wants to know where we are from. He scratches his chin, and after some contemplation, his Indonesian reply is translated back to us as: ‘Canada, US, Bali; we all same, all brothers’. A lovely thought from this toothless but cheery country gent.
After the ride we drive to Wayans family home where his wife Ketut, who teaches cooking classes, has prepared a scrumptious ten course Balinese feast. Sitting Buddha-like on the floor and feeding as greedily as tics, we finish off every last morsel, blissfully replenishing our caloric expenditure during the cycling.
As part of her daily therapy Ms. Shopalot is again going out to enjoy a thrill at the till; so I decide to lotion up and head poolside to get my ‘brown on’. While attempting a little yoga I look up and see a little four or five year old brown girl standing there with a big purple duck blow-up water floater around her waist.
‘What do?’ the toddler utters, looking up at me. My reply is ‘S-T-R-E-T-C-H’. I’m not sure what the little explosion of cuteness thinks that means, but with a startled look she wobbles away looking for mum as fast as her pudgy legs will go, surrounded by the purple duck bouncing along around her. I can’t help but chuckle at the comical encounter with the tiny tyke!
Out for a day of exploring we stop at the Bali Bird Park in Singapadu. The rainforest-like gardens host over a thousand exotic birds, with a repertoire of catchy trills exploding out of the tropical lushness. After a lovely visit with the garrulous gang of feathers, we reach the temple island of Tanah Lot and somehow end up wearing a couple of massive live pythons as neckties for a photo. Next stop is the iconic and impossible-to-be-unimpressed-with 1633 built Pura Ulun Danu Temple snuggled on the shores of Lake Bratan.
We continue north through Singaraja and on to Lovina, for a swim with a dolphin. On arrival we meet an orangutan living on the premises, and the former jungle swinger holds out his long hairy hand through the cage bars like he wants to shake; but it’s a ruse. His dexterous digits close on mine like a vice as the sneaky incarcerated ape pulls me towards him; resulting in a quite a tug-of-war before I can break free. OK, enough of my ‘fast and furryest’ encounter with the rambunctious fuzzy-faced ape; I’m here to swim with the fishes!
Jumping into the pool to swim with a dolphin named ‘Jon’, I stroke his slippery smooth skin. Shockingly, young Jon is over amorous and only interested in doing the ‘Wild Thang’. Looking for love in all the wrong places, Jon repeatedly rubs his sizeable appendage against leg, creating a most uncomfortable situation. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m hugely fond of Flipper and all, but having this lewd and crude dude trying to impregnate my leg in a watery porn flick is a whole different matter! What the Hell; first I’m yanked, and then nearly wanked! OK, enough naughty nature for today, I’m definitely over this frisky fin and fur fiasco!
For the next ten days we’re staying in Sanur at the beachside Sativa Hotel. Sunshine spills across a lovely pool surrounded by palm trees and magenta bougainvillea, and when privacy permits we engage in a slow dance in the shallow end. Sipping rum and mango cocktails on our balcony we watch cute little geckos scampering about while listening to the squirrel chat emanating from the fragrant frangipani trees.
Early mornings we either walk or run along a new seawall stretching for miles along the aquamarine Timor Sea. Happily, my aching hip is feeling much better, and I’m crediting the improvement to the serious liquid engineering of Bali’s beauteous Bintang beer! The only negative is that in the tropical sun the beer warms up sooner and requires faster swilling; but not to worry, I’m persevering through the hardship!
For travelling longer distances we use the antediluvian mangled metal mounds known as ’bemos’; more often than not held together with wire and rope. Highway driving is the worst, as the motorized mayhem is like some kind of machismo Asian stock car racing. In this vehicular lunacy passengers are quickly acquainted with symptoms of feverish prayer, piercing screams, loose bowels, and cardiac arrest; from being constantly on the brink of catastrophe with the tangle of traffic flashing past mere inches away!
Another adventurous Bali Hash Harriers run is taking place about an hour’s drive outside of town, at Pasar Pongung. To get there, our group has rented the ‘Magic Bus’, and playing silly bugger we pop a few beers for some last minute carbo loading. Then, like a bunch of ridiculous retards, the raw, rabid, rough and ready, raucous and raunchy, rebel rogues who revel in causing a ruckus, rapidly race off into the boonies!
As usual, the route has been planned to be a challenging run through forests and rivers. The course often requires desperately clinging to roots and vines the size of our wrists to hoist ourselves up the steep slippery gorges. After the run, the bar opens, the circle closes, and the usual Hell breaks loose with gallons of carbohydrates migrating from kegs to stomachs. The camaraderie is terrific and we have come to love these unusual adventure runs; because for “Hashers”, the only thing ‘normal’ is a setting on a washing machine!
The final stop of our trip is a foray into the conundrum of Kuta; a less than stellar example of beautiful Bali. The only redeeming quality of the town, other than shopping, is miles of sandy beach where we stroll hand in hand, ankle deep where the sea kisses sand. Experience tells me holding hands with Christine here is an absolute must, because if I dare her go she’ll go shopping. It looks romantic but actually it’s economic!
While she is off shopping, I usually head out for a run to exercise my legs and eyeballs, as my astute running observations often reveal mocha-colored maidens sprinkled along the beach, with the lithesome lovelies displaying voluptuous torsos while downward dogging it in barely-there-bikinis with almost enough material for a pirate’s eye patch! Happy to embrace my inner shallow, I can’t help butt appreciate the sights, because like most males, the ‘bottom line’ is that I have an inordinate affection for these flimsy ‘brassieres for the rears’!
After a few last days scattering around our last spare cash, ‘Team Canada’s’ rather tame Balinese escapades are done for this year. Upon returning to Canuckistan, I turn on the TV, and what should appear? Why, none other than Don Cherry and Hockey Night in Canada of course. Good to be back home eh?
Mark Colegrave 2006