On arrival in Bali the airport terminus was not much more than a farm shed. As I walked across the tarmac a small bright green snake crossed in front of me. “Welcome to Bali”. I thought…….I hate snakes! On arrival it was hot and humid and at the accommodation while we were waiting for room allocation we were offered an enticing looking tropical drink. My brain said yes, but I had been told to not even clean your teeth in the tap water, so reluctantly declined. I knew from a previous trip to Asia that wine was not readily available so had taken a cellar pack with me. They had not long been available at home. I looked around for a fridge to cool it in, but none was available. There was an air-con on the wall above the wardrobe, so that was where I positioned the cask.
Next morning I went to breakfast and was feeling down, wondering what the heck I was doing there on my own. Sitting alone I gave myself a good talking too and decided to venture out. I cashed a traveller’s cheque to the local Rupiah and stepped outside to do some exploring.
As I stood there, a long line of mostly women Balinese in local costume walked past in a single line toward the beach. On their heads they bore a tray on which an elaborate decoration of fruits, coloured rice cakes in the shape of a cone was balanced.. A splayed cooked chicken artistically trimmed with bamboo shoots was the centrepiece. I fell in behind and followed them to the beach where they all sat on the sand. A woman dressed in white chanted, tinkled a tiny brass bell and sprinkled water about. I was fascinated, and wanted to take a photo. I knew from reading about their customs that one should not have your head higher than that of the head man of the village. As the Balinese are not a tall race I moved about on my knees. I later discovered that I had just attended a funeral!!
I wandered around Denpasar exploring. Every where I went the Balinese said a cheery "Hello" and were friendly. It was pretty grotty though, with mangy dogs, chooks and the occasional pig roaming around. I was feeling a bit jaded and thought I would make my way to the Bali Beach Hilton Hotel, which at the time was the only hotel on the island and was right on the waterfront.. While eating lunch an Aussie couple who had been on the same flight at me the day before came over to chat. They told me that they had walked from Kuta, so I decided that I would walk back to the Beach Club where I was staying,
I gathered my things and headed off along the beach. I walked for about half an hour and came to a small creek which emanated from a group of mangroves. I hitched my dress above the water. line and waded across. I could hear the thonk, thonk from my thongs as they moved in the mud. The thought went through my mind, “I hope they do not have crocodiles in Bali”. Continuing on for a short while, it finally dawned on me that I had not seen anyone for some time and that following along the beach was a no go. What to do now? The penny dropped that the Aussies at the hotel had not walked there along the beach, I had just presumed that was the case!
I thought I would just have to retrace my steps, but in the meanwhile would sit and have a cigarette. As I was enjoying my nicotine fix, I watched an out rigger canoe and was musing how quaint it was, till it started to head straight for me. That set me wondering again, this time do they have pirates in Bali?? Two men got out of the canoe and came up to me. I could see a palm fringed small island with huts not far off and seeing it was the nearest thing to civilisation I had seen for a while I asked them to take me there. They agreed. I sat in the middle of the canoe with a Balinese in front and one in the rear. It was narrow and near the water line, so I dangled a foot over each side and ducked each time they tacked to miss the oscillating boom as it moved across. The Balinese thought that was a great joke and eventually so did I.
We had arrived at a small island village where they hunted turtles for a living. It was known as Serengan or “Turtle Island”. A group of youngsters, many of whom spoke English, took me to the village to show me the turtles. There was a fairly large muddy pool seething with fairly large turtles. A tiny boy waded in, stood behind a large turtle and grabbed the front of the turtle’s shell, which he pulled upward. The poor thing was belly up with legs flailing. They were trying to encourage me to hold it while they took a photo, but I gently declined while I took a photo of them.
I began to realise I needed to make it back to the mainland, but how? I asked the children to find me someone who could take me there. After a short while they came back with two girls and one boy who were willing make the trip after asking “How much you pay”? I said, “You take me, then I show how much I pay”? Thankfully they agreed and off we went. As we made it to the beach it was amid a mangrove swamp and the wind had dropped. The children then punted me the rest of the way along the inlet till we came to a dead end. I alighted and gave the kids enough money to satisfy them and off they went.
It had been a very interesting day.
On arrival safely at my accommodation I questioned the amount of Rupees to the dollar and was embarrassed to find I had bartered quite a bit of to and fro over the amount equivalent to 20 cents!!
I came to love Bali and it’s gentle people. I've returned several times and seen it grow from the small fishing village I first encountered to a holiday island with large hotels and lots of traffic. Although it is now very “touristy” in many places, the people are still wonderful and the real Bali is still there if you look for it.