by Keith Stanley
I was in Bali in late 1998, the last stop on my Asian Vacation. Basically, I kept a journal while on vacation and took pictures. After returning, I wrote this page, based on journal excerpts and the pictures.
I came into Indonesia via Jakarta (Java) on Sunday, November 29, and departed through Denpasar (Bali) on Saturday, December 5. I was hoping my time in Bali would be a relaxing finale to my vacation, a time when I could just sit back and contemplate the meaning of life in a peaceful setting. Instead, it turned out to be quite the opposite for me, such that I was looking forward to getting out of there and back home for the last few days. Here’s a chronological summary of what happened since I arrived:
When arranging my trip, I’d wanted to go from Singapore to Denpasar (Bali), but Cathay Pacific, which had issued my “All-Asia Pass,” had no direct flights. Cathay, however, did have a direct flight from Singapore to Jakarta of just over an hour. I booked this flight, planning to get a ticket on to Bali (another hour’s flight) once in Jakarta. I was given to understand that Garuda Airlines, and maybe others, offered regular shuttle flights between the two. I did not book a flight before leaving the U.S. because it seemed overly expensive ($180) to do it that way (I’d read an article in the Washington Post Travel Section indicating such flights could be had for about $100). So my plan was to go to Jakarta and, once there, at the airport, arrange a flight on to Bali. It was a bit of a gamble, but I was willing to take my chances that I could do better than the $180 I’d pay in the U.S.
I flew from Singapore to Jakarta, arriving about 10pm. It turned out the airport was essentially closed for the night. No airlines were selling tickets until morning. I had no hotel reservations for the night, as I had hoped I’d not need to “overnight.” I’d figured if I did need to stay over, I’d either find a hotel upon arrival or just doze in the terminal, if need be. Unfortunately, the latter turned out not to be an option, given that the terminal turned out to be pretty much deserted overnight.
I’d not wanted to stay in Jakarta proper, knowing it was quite a distance from the airport (maybe 25 miles) and was the center of recent disturbances (even rioting and killing) in the newly vital Indonesian democracy movement. I wanted an airport hotel, figuring it’d be safe enough in that area. I was very tired and would have liked a decent bed for the night. However, I didn’t want to stay at a major international hotel (like the Hilton, for example), believing that such hotels’ rates would be much less likely to reflect the savings I might garner at a local, domestic hotel (given the very favorable exchange rate of the Rupiah again the U.S. dollar after Indonesia’s recent economic collapse). So, I wasn’t totally unreceptive when two locals “glommed onto me” the instant I was past Customs, trying to persuade me of the virtues of the “Transit Hotel.”
One of the two, the would-be driver, spoke some English, but not well. The other took control of my luggage cart, pushing it for me. Half a dozen times they were on the verge of heading out of the terminal with my luggage in tow, but I was not pleased and insisted (repeatedly) that I was not going anywhere before checking about tickets for my onward flight to Bali. The driver told me there were only two airlines that served Bali, one departing from Terminal One and the other from Terminal Two (separate buildings, some distance apart). I agreed to let him take me between terminals so I could check on flights (before deciding on the hotel).
When we got to the car, the guy who’d been pushing my cart demanded a tip. I’d have given him a small tip (maybe the equivalent of half a dollar) just to be rid of the him, but I had only large Rupiah notes. I remembered, though, I had some U.S. coins in one of my bags and asked him to wait. I found them, only to learn he wouldn’t take them because local money changers would take only bills (not coins). So, I gave him a bill ($1), which he grudgingly took, before leaving.
It turned out the airline counters in both terminals were closed. I’d been negotiating with the driver about the room. At first it seemed he was offering me both the room, and transportation to the room, for $20. I countered with an proposal of $17 (my guidebook had said everything in Indonesia was negotiable). He then seemed to be saying I could get the room for $17, but that transport to the room was a separate charge of $10. We continued to go around on this, perhaps because of language difficulties. I was getting a little impatient with the whole process and I saw in his driver’s face that he, too, was weary, so I gave up and said “OK” to the $17 + $10.
We set out, supposedly on the way to the Transit Hotel, which was some distance, giving me chance to reflect that my fate was now in the driver’s hands–he could be taking me anywhere . . . he could be taking me to a place where he and his compatriots would rob me, steal my luggage, abandon me or worse. In my moment of regret, I wished I’d simply gone to the Hilton, whose agent I’d passed at the airport, but now there was nothing to do but await my fate.
We’d got off the freeway and were going through a neighborhood I didn’t like the looks of, appearing rundown with lots of people out in the streets. Just then we stopped–we were at the Transit Hotel. The driver told me to wait in the car while he checked at the desk about getting me a room. When he came back, I went in, relieved I found myself going through normal check-in procedures (filling out a registration form and whatnot) reassuring me that the place really was a hotel–the letterhead said “Transit Hotel.”
My room was the first door down the hall from the check-in desk. I got into the room, locked the door, and resolved not to venture out before morning. The room was pretty dreary. There was a bed with one sheet and a very light blanket (which it didn’t seem I’d need since the A/C was pretty ineffectual). The bathroom was pretty disgusting, with its wet, dripping, discolored ceiling, its flaking, rubbery floor tiles, no tub & barely any shower (just a hose/spigot/discolored shower head and a drain in the floor, probably without hot water). There was also a wash basin, a toilet, and, in one corner, something that might have been a wash tub (about 2′ in each dimension), filled with water.
The room did have an electrical outlet (220V) where I could plug in my computer. I started to write in my journal but soon noticed an electrical charge on the metal plate on the bottom of my computer. When I ran my fingers over the plate, I got the sensation of vibration or “fuzziness” (probably due to inadequate grounding–my computer has a three pronged plug, but my adapter for the 220V 2-pronged socket in my room did not make use of the third (grounding) prong). Of more concern, where the metal plate touched my leg’s bare skin (I type with the laptop on my lap), I felt a burning sensation, as if hairs on my leg were being pulled. I first noticed all this after I’d removed my shoes and socks, resting my feet flat on the floor’s cool ceramic tiles (ground). I was enough concerned that I quit the computer and went to bed.
The rest was anti-climactic: I survived the night and, first thing in the morning, had the hotel drop me at the airport (I was pleased to find transport to the airport was included in room price). It turned out my driver the night before did quite well on the $27 I paid him–the room cost only about half that, he kept the rest. I got to the airport before 8am, found Garuda had a flight at 9am, and was in Bali a few hours later. I went “business class,” since Economy was full, but still for only $140.
Upon arriving at the Denpasar airport, I needed to find transportation to Ubud, where I was hoping to stay at one of the homestay places mentioned in my tour book. I checked out the two car rental places at the airport and decided to take Golden Bird’s chauffeured Volvo, Rp 82,000 for 2 hours. This was over $10 (7000 Rupiah per $1) and expensive by Indonesian standards, but the service also seemed to be quite reputable, and the chauffeur spoke good English (although he wasn’t very talkative). [Btw, one can rent from Golden Bird a car (Suzuki Katana) for Rp 113,000 per day or a chauffeur-driven Mazda E 2000 for Rp 315,000 (about $45) per day.]
Once we were out of the Denpasar-area lowlands, we were hit with a downpour, which slowed us, due to decreased visibility and the “raging torrent” flowing down one side of the road. Nonetheless, we continued (albeit, at a slowed pace) as did much of the other traffic, even the motorbikes.
Once in Ubud, it became apparent my driver didn’t know where any particular homestay was located, although we knew many were along Monkey Forest Road. At any rate, I wanted to find a place fast, having only about half an hour before my 2 hours expired. The driver pulled into a hotel parking lot and I inquired, finding the standard rooms going for about $40 per night, more than I was willing to pay, knowing I could find a homestay for much less.
Just across the street, a sign pointed the way to a homestay (Bella House) down a narrow alley walkway about 2′ wide with cinderblocklike walls about 6′ high on either side and some foliage showing, in places, above the walls. The walkway continued on for a good 100 yards. As we began down the walkway, a middle-aged guy who was hanging out on the street, asked to show us his place. We looked at both his place and at Bella House.
Both were serviceable, but I liked Bella House better. Both were priced at 50,000Rp per night (about $7). The room at Bella House was on the top (2nd) floor, well lighted, with a big ceiling fan, and a tiled roof . The room looked nice, clean and fairly new. The walls covered with woven fiber (of the type one might see used in basket making, the warp and woof running vertically and horizontally, each fiber strip a bit less than an inch wide). Finally, I was ready to settle down and relax for a while on Bali!
Later I was perturbed to discover the room had no electrical outlets (meaning I couldn’t use my laptop to make my journal entries). This pretty much amazed me–there were plenty of electric lights but no outlets, each light wired directly. The other thing that perturbed me was the sewerage smell in the alley walkway from the main street. There was drainage along the side of the walkway; I figured the heavy rain perhaps had caused an overflow. In any case, I was concerned that some of the “dirt” I’d tracked into the room might actually be raw sewerage. After that, I always removed my shoes before entering the room.
Bella House was a friendly place, just a few guests and members of the family. Guest accommodations were separate from the family home, all closely situated in the family compound. Food was included with the accommodations. I especially liked the fresh pineapple pancakes at breakfast–delicious. Here is a picture of part of the family compound, taken looking down from the balcony walkway outside my front door (at the close end of the small structure in the foreground, you can just see the table where breakfast was served) (click on image for higher resolution)
Ubud wasn’t greatly to my liking–I wanted to be a contemplative observer, but often was “accosted” on the street by those who wanted to sell me something (“transport” was most often offered but there were other goods as well, some sold out of shopfronts, others peddled on the street). This wasn’t so bad after the first day when some of the locals started to recognize me (probably as the cheap tourist who never took transport, preferring to walk).
Ubud is the center for the Arts in Bali. That’s why I wanted to stay there–especially to see some traditional Balinese/Indonesian dance. (I’d wanted to see more of it ever since the enchanting performance I saw at the Indonesian embassy in D.C. some years earlier–I loved the colorful, elaborate traditional outfits worn by the beautiful young girls, their graceful movements, hand movements, head & eye movements, and the sound and spectacle of the Gamelan orchestra). Such dance is performed in Ubud every night of the week, put on by various local troupes, costing Rp 15000.
My first night there, I saw a Legong dance and the second a Ramayana ballet. Generally the performances are held outdoors (unless it’s raining) against a realistic backdrop facade of a Balinese temple or palace. I arrived an hour early to get a good seat (seating is unreserved) .
It soon became apparent, much to my disappointment (although I was becoming more sanguine about such things in the course of my trip) that there was not enough light for me to take any pictures (I had no flash). The French woman sitting next to me said there would be much more light once the performance began, recalling beautifully how it’d been some years before, small mirrors in costumes reflecting glints of light, etc.; but I seriously doubted that the additional light would be sufficient (and I was right).
I enjoyed the Legong dance, it being as I’d expected. It took me a while to get into it, though, what with my disappointment about not being able to take pictures and my worries that dancers would trip on the loose flap of carpet flooring. In the 2nd half of the performance, I got into the dancer’s hand movements (& some head, eye movements, footwork), as they matched the music; it was the coordination of the dancer’s movements with the music that first “entranced” me. Still, I never got into it like I did that magical first time at the Indonesian embassy. The Gamelan music, though, was excellent, maybe the most lyrical music I’d ever heard. It was full, rich, mellow, pure and clear in a way no stereo could ever fully reproduce. Maybe the air’s heavy, humid thickness enhanced the sound. Whatever it was, I sometimes would look away from the dance, just to listen to the marvelous fullness of that music.
Most of the instruments were percussion instruments (the metal “bell jars” or xylophone type instruments struck with a “hammer” to make their sound). One of the xylo players displayed fascinating handwork in his playing (the stylized way in which he flexed/flipped/twisted/snapped his wrist to whip that hammer down and flick it back, light as a feather, already beginning the backstroke as the hammer stuck the bar, like a boxer’s jab, beginning to pull back before the punch had even landed).
The best dancer (my favorite) was the most petite–she made an o-so-excellent bird (with her violently flapping wings). Also memorable was the proud male warrior, haughtily staring/glaring down his nose in the most exaggerated way at the audience, an evil look in my opinion, although that may not have been the intent. The costumes were, of course, “to die for.” Too bad I got no pictures.
The next night, I saw Ramayana Ballet, which, because it was raining, was held under an open aired roof just across the street from the first venue. This time I came prepared to take pictures.
Beforehand, I had gone to the large “drugstore” down the street, recommended by Made (pronounced Ma-Day), looking at their cameras, thinking I might buy a camera with a flash if not too expensive. All were more than I was willing to pay ($45-60 for some generic (unknown brand) autofocus piece of work). On the way to the dance, however, I saw another store that looked promising, and, the last camera I saw there was reasonably priced at about $22 for a Fuji fixed focus with flash, complete with batteries and a roll of film. Sold!
I shot a roll of film from the second row at the Ramayana Ballet, quite pleased to think that I just might have gotten some good pictures, despite the simplicity of the camera. I was very pleased with its operation. I hoped the camera was working, although only time would tell for sure (it was, as evidenced by the dance photos on this page). I was at the far edge of the camera’s flash range.
During the dance, when I wanted a picture, I would very briefly stand up (partially) to shoot over the first row, concerned each time that people behind might be annoyed. I never did check it out, which probably was for the best. I don’t know what I’d have done if the people behind me had objected
My second morning in Abud, I walked down Monkey Forest Road to Monkey Forest and found that there really are monkeys in Monkey Forest, and in goodly number. These were smallish, maybe 15 pounds, tame (practiced in ignoring people), and rather surprisingly aggressive within the troupe. I saw one adult drag a baby around, over the path’s pavement, by its tail, in circles, the infant all the while emitting a whimpering scream, as another adult gave chase. It reminded me of “crack the whip” the way the young one was getting flung around. The first adult may have been the mother, judging by the infant’s clinging to her after the ordeal was over.
In another incident a few minutes later, I saw a monkey running, trying to shake off another that had sunk its teeth into the first’s side. I found it rather notable that the biting monkey could keep its grasp on the side of the other, even while running. Again, the monkey in distress emitted a rather high-pitched sound of alarm, but soon enough was free of the other. This aggressive behavior suggested to me that human primate aggressive behavior may be largely predispositional (i.e., genetically determined).
There was a lot of grooming behavior–it was all over the place. I also noticed the mothers sometimes carried very young ones in a pouch. Also, I saw several monkeys scraping what appeared to be some kind of a nut over the pavement, perhaps to get at the meat inside, and one young one (in pouch) seemingly learning this behavior from his mother.
Thursday morning, two days later (written contemporaneously):
I am NOT happy here in Bali, as a matter of fact, I’m angry. I am pissed at the conditions of my confinement. I’m miserable, I’m feeling sorry for myself, light headed, achy, diarrheic (probably from that disappointingly untasty “fresh water fish” I had at the restaurant (with a terraces view) where Kadek (my driver) stopped yesterday. I stayed in bed most the day between waking and sleeping, time passing interminably slowly, having given up on doing anything here in (Tirtaganga) Bali before my flight leaves the day after tomorrow. I’m almost completely out of cash, finding to my chagrin that there does not seem to be anywhere in town (or close by) where I can get a Visa or Mastercard cash advance (or use my debit cards). Furthermore, I didn’t see any place to eat in the nearby village and continue to be pretty much in a “siege mentality,” thinking I’ve enough food and water with me to last out the rest of my time in Bali without ever leaving my room–I’ve got a gallon & a half of bottled water, 8 energy bars, a pound of rolled oats, maybe 200ml of milk and a package of peanut cookies.
Unfortunately, it seems they just sprayed my patio with an insecticide that smells like melted asphalt. I have no convenient way to prevent the smell from coming into my room because portions of the windows (including those facing the porch) are screened, but without any glass (there is no need for glass because it never gets cold here and there is no air-conditioning). I’d told them they didn’t have to spray, that the ants were no longer bothering me; but they sprayed anyway. (Btw, I’d been able, on my own, pretty well to stop the ants from coming in under my door (by wiping the tile floor near the door with a dampened tissue to erase the scent path they’d been following.)
Friday afternoon (contemporaneous):
For the first time since I’ve been on Bali, I feel some regret (just now) about the prospect of leaving. I’ve just had my first decent meal (other than breakfasts) since I’ve coming to Bali. It was prepared in the homestay’s kitchen (by Wayan, I think) off their menu and served on their patio (as are all meals). My meal consisted of tofu or soybean cakes, served with peanut sauce (tasty), rice and vegetables. The vegetables were in salad form, raw, which I was hesitant to eat, thinking the lettuce, etc., might have been washed in the local tap water. I felt reassured when Wayan told me the lettuce was washed (or rinsed) with local spring water that had first been boiled. I’m having a Coke for desert. This is the first time since before my illness that I’ve actually felt full.
After the meal, Wayan tried to answer my many questions about cock-fighting (some is done for gambling, some in the temple for blood sacrifice; the cocks may be raised for 2 years before ready to fight; their combs are cut off when they are young (to make them grow stronger?); their natural spurs are cut off, to be replaced by metal ones at the time of the fight). The two cocks I saw were only 3 or 4 months old, but quite large and very beautiful birds with predominantly brownish, variegated, silky feathers. Wayan took one out of its basket cage, grabbing it by a leg as it flapped around. Once out and held by Wayan, it calmed right down; I stroked it a bit and felt its neck and toenails (claws?). Wayan also showed me how the ants (tree ants) made a home (or slept) in the protective confines of the concave petals making up the elongated bright red flowers of a certain plant (he couldn’t tell me the the name in English). He also showed me young, growing bamboo plants (with leaves sort of like those on a willow (if I remember right)) and a mango tree.
Wayan is a young guy, of very pleasant disposition and friendly, with a nice smile. He been working here 2 years, since having had to drop out of school to recuperate from a broken leg/kneecap from getting hit by a car. The man who hit him had little money and a large family, so Wayan asked his father for help in paying the Rp 2,000,000 hospital bill. He no longer has money for school and is now looking to get into a business of his own in the tourist industry.
Friday evening (contemporaneous):
Much of this “journal” is weird, in that it is not written contemporaneously (because I’ve not had access to electrical current for much of my trip–i.e., in Ubud, on the road (or train), in airports, etc.). I’ve taken notes and written recollections, after the fact. I’ve missed writing about how I’m feeling in the moment. The non-contemporaneous writing may be more polished (written as to be viewed by others) but less “real.”
I’ve been feeling pretty forlorn the last number of days, lacking purpose. It’s a feeling of lethargy and lack of energy (although the latter may well be symptoms of my physical illness). My frame of mind associated with Bali, especially Tirtaganga, is “what’s the use.” I’ve been resigned to mostly staying in my room without plans to go anywhere, just waiting until it’s time to leave. I don’t like the feeling of futility.
It’s now the evening of my last full day in Bali, and I’ve not seen that much of it. Yet, all things considered, I don’t expect I’ll ever return (which is sort of sad). My memories of Bali will not be all that happy, yet it was well worth the experience–the traditional dance, the Monkey Forest monkeys, the homestay experience, the trip with Kadek from Ubud to Tirtaganga, and the tales of misfortune about my experience in Tirtaganga (my fall on the stone stairs; Wayan’s disinfecting my wound, followed by the local medicine woman’s treatment, and later, by the pharmacist’s (doctor’s?) treatment in Amlapura, the depletion of my funds with my finding no cash machines or Visa/Master cash advances available anywhere near by, the damage to my beloved Minolta camera when I knocked the tripod over). As a matter of fact, it seems amazing that so much has happened in just 5 days, especially considering I’ve been ill in bed or convalescing almost half the time.
It seems I’ve been timid since my fall, unable to walk down stone stairs without imagining myself slipping, imagining myself falling off ledges, balconies, or other heights (which abound here at the homestay). But it’s been worse than just imagining–it’s as if a part of me is tempted to go over, to not resist, having given up. This mindset troubles me. At one point, lying ill in bed, I was truly in anguish, dejected, seeing no peace in the remainder of life, only waiting for the end, much as I’ve been waiting for the end of my Bali experience.
Later Friday evening (still contemporaneous):
OK, I’ve taken off the bandage I so carefully applied 2 days ago and seen that my wound appears to be clean and not bleeding (although a little sticky). I then got a shower (I hate those cold showers–no hot water here), a much needed washing, it being 48 hours since my last, washing my wound, washing away my “rankness.” The cold water wasn’t so bad, once I got used to it, but it’d never be my preference right off. After showering/drying, I blotted the wound with white toilet tissue, satisfying myself that there was no blood, then put on a long sleeve shirt. Tomorrow on the plane, I may well be ready for short sleeves (despite my wound’s ugly appearance).
Saturday morning (contemporaneous)
Today I leave. I’m waiting for Wayan’s friend to stop by so we can negotiate re his taking me to the airport. I’d like to get this settled. As matter of fact, I’d like to be at the airport, safe in my assurance that I am indeed there. My flight is not until 4:40pm and it takes 2 hours (3 on a bad day) to get to the airport. I’m thinking I’d like to leave around 11am (and, if there’s enough time, maybe get a look at the beach resort towns of Sanur and Kuta, which are quite near Denpasar).
This time of day is the worst (hottest) in this room with its eastern facing windows taking the early morning sun full force.
This morning I watched the sun rise over a cumulus cloud on the mountain’s flank. It’s not that I really “watched,” in the sense of intently looking to see detail. Instead it was getting into a sort of trance state, hearing comforting words from within, self-hypnosis, “everything is OK” mindset–“all that there is, you can let go the distractions (such as the motorbike passing on the road below), it’s OK.” There was only me and the light, no detail, the light becoming brighter . . . and brighter . . . and brighter. I remembered how many people believe that when one is dying one comes to the light and wondered if this was how it’d be for me. I took comfort in the light, in its growing brighter; peace; brighter, it’s OK to let go, brighter, it’s over, you can relax, nothing more to be done, brighter . . .
That’s where I stopped, that’s as far as I got before coming back. My time here is not yet over. Yet, I took some comfort that, when I go, it might be just that peaceful.
But now I’m back (and capable of worry that the wound on my arm will come open on the chair).
Wayan just stopped by, relaying his friend’s offer of Rp130K to airport. I’d wanted 100K (80K even), although I was already prepared (by Wayan) to think his friend might be going for 120K. If that were offered, I wanted Sanur and Kuta (both very close to airport) thrown in. The 130K proposal may have included a trip through Ubud; I made it clear that I was going (essentially) straight to airport (with stops at cash machine and a Sanur/Kuta quick look around). When he said his friend might go for 120 or 115K, I said I could go for 115K. Wayan then was back to 120, to I had to make clear 115 was my highest. I asked Wayan to act as middle man (being neither for me or his friend), suggesting he counter-propose 110 to his friend, so there’d be room to go higher to 115 (top price) if need be. I also noted that I could call Golden Bird for alternative transportation if his friend didn’t work out (further noting that if I did go with Golden Bird, I’d mail the guesthouse their money once I got it at the airport cash machine). I’m expecting they will take 115 (and think they will likely be quite satisfied with that). If not, I will call Golden Bird.
It’s arranged for Rp115K.
Description of my room in Tirtaganga at Prima Bamboo, where I’ve stayed the past few days: All white/light, spacious, uncluttered, large, windows overlooking terraced rice paddies below, mountain in distance, stream cutting through paddies, paddies very very green (I love that lush green), porch facing north with ledge extending around side under windows. There’s a ridge between rice paddies and mountain–Is it the side of a crater? Wayan says there used to be lake (but I don’t know that he really knows). My room is about 50 steep steps above the road, higher still above the paddies on the road’s far side. The rooms have no hot water or A/C. I can hear (all too well) (and sometimes smell) the traffic below.
Description of immediate environs: Many ants everywhere, dragonflies in the humid air, fireflies at night, women walk by on the road below carrying things on their heads (men never carry on head–they carry on shoulders or otherwise) .
The cocks were bathed this morning. a process involving dipping the entire cage, bird and all, in the garden pond.
The trip to the airport
The car arranged by Wayan through his friend was less than I expected, most particularly in the lack of working air-conditioning. This is not totally inconsequential–have I mentioned that it is hot and very humid here? Anyway, I took it pretty well in stride . . . nothing to be done . . . I needed to get to the airport . . . no reasonable alternative transportation at that point . . . I did joke that I should get a discount from the 115K for the lack of A/C but nothing more.
Actually, the lack of A/C wasn’t totally bad. We had all the windows open and you feel closer to the country that way . . . and also to the fumes from other vehicles. Generally the fumes didn’t bother me at all, I’ve seen much worse in Bangkok and Jakarta, but it did bother me a bit when I saw others out in traffic (on motorbikes) wearing “gas masks.”
The road was two lanes, not very wide, and there was all sorts of traffic–big trucks, smaller four-wheeled vehicles (like the one I was in) and a good many motorbikes. I was relaxed about getting to the airport (we left at 11am for a 4:40 flight). The driver’s driving I was less certain about.
There were four of us in the car, Wayan and I in the back, and the driver & a friend in front. As with the other countries in S.E. Asia I’ve visited on this trip, driving is on the left. I was sitting directly behind the driver, close to the traffic whizzing by on the right. There didn’t seem to be a lot of leeway.
It very often was necessary to pass, if one was not to be stuck behind the slowest vehicle on the road (likely some large truck in need of a new exhaust system). Furthermore, drivers going in the opposite direction also often found it necessary to pass. The fact that the road (did I mention it was narrow?) was often hilly and twisting didn’t help.
In this driving culture, the bigger vehicle the more respect it gets. In our van, we could bully the motorbikes, but the big trucks (the multi-ton monsters) had it all over us. I was surprised to see our driver passing a slower motorbike while in the oncoming lane another bike approached. It worked, although I wouldn’t have liked being the oncoming biker with the small leeway at the edge. In another instance, we cut in front of a vehicle we’d just barely passed in order to avoid an oncoming monster truck.
My mood was not very mellow, and I imagining our taking motorbikers out or our van catching the edge of an oncoming (large) truck on the right front and getting crunched and spun around amidst flying debris.
We were a medium sized vehicle of medium speed. Actually, I was pleased to see our driver was not one of the fast ones. This seemed to say something for his maturity. He seemed to know his vehicle pretty well, to know when we had the power to pass, although he cut it close.
About 1/3 of the way, Wayan asked if I wanted to stop at a beach. I did. It was a relief just to stand up, to get my sweating ass off the plastic seat covers.
The Beach: The sand was black and coarse, the pitch of the beach quite steep, the surf pretty decent. I inched closer to the waves, closer, pretty well onto the smoothed, damp sand that previous waves had recently reached. Then came a bigger wave, one that, as I had let it get pretty close and it was coming on fast, I feared would wet my shoes (I could just imagine sitting in the car all the rest of the way with soaking wet shoes). I began to backpeddle furiously. But the pitch was steep, and, in my sudden hurry to get back, I lost my footing, falling backward holding my camera case, landing flat on my back (whump!) on the damp sand. After a couple seconds of initial shock, assessing the situation and seeing I was OK, and feeling embarrassed that Wayan may have seen all this, I began laughing. It was a good laugh, it was natural, and I felt good about it. I’d landed flat on my back, but there was no pain–it’d been a very cushioned landing. The sand was damp and it was warm from the hot sun, n/w water’s recent passage. I found, when I got up, I hadn’t gotten wet and little sand had stuck to me. I left an imprint in the sand, a sand “angel.”
An old, shortish woman with bad teeth approached me with many necklaces of strung beads (strung with little pieces of wood, watermelon type seeds, and tiny cockle shells). She offered to sell me a handful for 5000 Rp; I was unsure, knowing (& saying outloud) I’d never use them, but also in a mood to help the woman out (plus her price wasn’t high and she was pretty persistent). I bought them, unsure what to do with them, then had an inspiration–I put them on!
After about half an hour on the beach, we were back in the car. We finally made it to Denpasar, then new problems arose. The first bank we stopped at was closed–there’d be no getting cash there. Why? We learned the banks (or at least this one) were closed on Saturdays. That it was Saturday, that the banks might not be open, was something that’d never entered my mind (or Wayan’s). We were both dismayed.
Wayan still had hopes another bank would be open, but I wasn’t very hopeful about that possibility. However, on the way back to the car, I had a thought–If we could stop at one of the major hotels, I might be able to get a cash advance (on one of my credit cards) there. A bit later, we walked into the lobby of one of the major hotels (I was surprised at Wayan’s seeming uneasiness about going in; he let me lead the way and walked behind me, apparently not feeling comfortable in that environment). Inquiring at the desk, I was told where to find the hotel’s credit cash advance machines. It looked like we were in luck! However, once I’d inserted my credit card, I realized, to my chagrin and embarrassment, that I didn’t know my PIN. In fact, I so seldom use my credit cards for cash advance, I’d forgotten I needed a PIN. I didn’t know the PIN for any of my credit cards!
Now Wayan clearly was unhappy, maybe a little agitated; things were a bit awkward. He didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t know what a PIN was and probably had never used any type of cash machine. He may have thought I was planning to “rip him off,” that I wasn’t going to have the cash to pay him. I realized I could probably get my PIN if I could get to a phone to call the credit card company. I tried explaining this to Wayan, but he wasn’t understanding.
By this time, back in the car, we had only about an hour, at most, left to get to the airport (if I was to get there 2 hours in advance of departure, as recommended for international flights), and I was getting anxious. I told Wayan we needed to go directly to the airport and he acceded. A bit later, it became apparent, however, that Wayan had instructed the driver (in Balinese) otherwise (to continue looking for an open bank). With this, for the first time, I really got angry, raising my voice, “Take me to the airport now! You said we were going directly to the airport . . . if I miss my flight, I won’t pay you anything.”
The rest is anti-climactic: We got to the airport in 15 minutes, I found a cash machine and got cash, I gave Wayan the money for the trip and to pay my bill at the guest stay, and also a generous tip. I gave a generous tip, despite the misunderstanding on the way to the airport, because I had warm feelings for Wayan. He was maybe the only person at the homestay who knew enough English that we could talk, and we did talk. He’d shared with me some things of the local life and his life, and he was the one who helped my bind up my wound when I showed up at the homestay after falling on the stairs next door–for that, I was very grateful. He’s a good person. If there’s anything I regret, it’s that we the misunderstanding at the end kept us from parting on such warm terms as I’d have liked.
I welcome any questions or comments.
To contact me (Keith Stanley), please email me at email@example.com.
Here are some links to others of my pages: