Letter from Bali – XVIII
For the first six months here we couldn’t buy a visitor. Not a friend or relative to be found. Things changed dramatically just over a month ago, we now operate a rotating door. If the staff are worn out by it, give a consideration to us. Guests are an amusement in their own right and they offer you the opportunity to re-assess the place through fresh eyes – innocent eyes. “You might want sunscreen if you’re going in the water,” says the voice of reason… the host. “No no its only for a short while and its cloudy and I’m swimming after all.” O…K…. Pale white person, fresh from Canada, and never owned a swim suit before…
Visitors are cute and funny, they like to do the oddest things… like writing on your blog! So without further adieu, please sit back and enjoy the jet lagged ramblings of another jocko who showed up recently with a suitcase and a grin…
From what was probably at first an attempt to allay the fears of various friends and relatives that the boys would sustain injury from poking and prodding Balinesian Face-Hugging spiders; to ruminations on the appropriateness of ex-pats in skirts (other than kilts); to the more informative (and invaluable) cautionary notes regarding Dutch-inspired plumbing configurations*, it’s clear that the breadth and depth of material posted to this blog has been rich and varied over the last 10 months.
* There are two things I hate in this world: people who are intolerant of others…and the DUTCH! (Sorry I just had to throw it in).
So as you sip your cup of tea at home in Scotland or order your Venti No-whip Mocha-Frappalappadingdong TM from the nearest ‘Bucks and settle down to read this blog, spare a thought for the author.
It’s tough churning out witty repartee, insightful commentary, stunning visuals and hitting a blogger’s equivalent of a home-run with every posting. Fueled on nothing but nasi goreng and buckets of Pocari Sweat (yes it does sound gross), it can be an arduous task…especially if it is your first time and you have not one, but two literary heavy-weights hanging over your shoulder, ready to slash your feeble efforts with the virtual red pen. Yes, you unlucky buggers…it’s “Guest Blogger Time” (cue cheesy gameshow music...ya ta da da dah…..). It’s time for the other grumpy Scotsman to join the Balinesian Blogosphere (hosted presumably somewhere in a data centre in the likes of North Carolina – but you get the gist!).
Most of you know that Iain and I were rather privileged to have been brought up in the 70‘s and 80‘s in the cosmopolitan, culturally rich and progressive community of the largest “new town” in Scotland, the illustrious East Kilbride. Some of you are intimately familiar with this mecca, whilst others may perhaps just have heard us refer to it with fond memory and a twinkle in our eye.
Ahem…Anyway, however you look at it, there is no denying the irony that the two of us should end up thousands of miles away in Bali, Indonesia, laughing at the same nonsense and cracking the usual sarcastic comments.
Speaking of Bali, (tenuous segway) it’s a little known fact that many urban planners in Indonesia actually originally studied and carried out their apprenticeships in Canada. To this day, some of their original work can be found in the likes of Whitespot, De Dutch and even Denny’s. To explain: if you order a Pirate Pack (or equivalent) you will undoubtedly have a sheet or two of paper with some fun pictures to colour. On the reverse of these sheets are puzzles and the ubiquitous mazes, which were in fact early proposals for the road infrastructure here in Ubud and the surrounding area. If you were never any good at tracing the route with your finger to reach the “treasure”, then best to stay in doors here in Bali for fear of getting lost; better yet, hire a driver (or in my case, get Iain to take you around on a scooter although this has turned out at times to have pushed the limits of our friendship with point-blank salvos from his arse at slow speeds to ensure that the effect can be fully appreciated as I sat pillion and helpless (there is only so long you can hold your breath).
Of course you can’t mention the road system here without mentioning all that travels along it. This as you probably know already from Iain’s previous missives, is an island of scooters. Yes there are cars and trucks, some buses (normally full of Melbourne’s finest sporting Bintang Beer muscle shirts), but the scooter is king; the jack of all trades. Four wheel drive here is when two guys are transporting some unfeasibly large object strapped to two scooters. If you aren’t on a scooter, then you aren’t from around here.
Now, I have a confession to make, which will of course raise the ire of my family, but by point of fact that I am writing this blog without the aid of a breath-controlled keyboard or touch-talker then one can rightly assume that I am in good health; so please shoosh on the whinging even before it begins. So it goes a bit like this: I thought it would be great to hire a scooter and join Iain on adventurers to terraced rice fields, absorbing the sights, aromas and sounds of the countryside and having the freedom to explore. The deal was brokered in no time (for the princely sum of $30 for the week), my trusty ride secured and off I went with a brilliant matt black helmet left over form the cold war. Splendid. With some pointers from Iain about how to navigate some of the more interesting junctions (traffic lights are for decoration and lane markers are merely the result of local street artists with an over-abundance of white paint and a propensity to draw lines), I set off to get acquainted with my new ride and explore my surroundings.
Now, I have ridden a scooter before and everything was fine and rather enjoyable. I had however only ever done this on an island where there was only one road and the only other visible traffic was Liz on her scooter, some 50 yards behind.
To say that I was a little unprepared for the bedlam of Peliatan Road is an understatement. It all looked so easy as Iain weaved in and out of traffic, overtook, undertook and peeped at the occasional dog that stood square in the road, daring traffic to hit it.
Everything actually was going okay once I was able to unclench my arse cheeks, and I was able to get into the flow of traffic, handle junctions (by fluke more than skill) and even overtake the occasional spluttering truck. Everything was bagus (good) until the hairpin into Monkey Temple Road in Ubud. Let’s just say that the staff in Delta Dewata (the Indonesian equivalent of 7-Eleven) were a little surprised to see a boolay hurtling towards their storefront on a Yamaha Neuvo with a look of wild terror in his eyes. Thankfully for them and their earnings for the day, I fell off the scooter before I went through the plate glass storefront; it was the least I could do to avert disaster (actually it was all I could do to avert disaster). Crying out with some Balinesian of my own, “Ohyafukka” down I went, trying for the triple-salco but not quite getting the landing.
My reaction shortly after the tumble was to do what most people tend to do after they have made a complete arse of themselves in public: pretend that nothing happened and/or that none of it was painful in any way, shape or form. Unfortunately, neither of these were particularly plausible given that half the town seemed to congregate at the very spot that I decided to re-enact a failed Evil Kenevil stunt and that a small portion of my elbow left on the tarmac was currently being licked-up by a number of wee brown dogs.
I have to say in all honesty that the locals were extremely helpful and caring and sprang into action without a moment’s thought. I only had a scrape on my elbow and knee, but the way everyone was rushing around getting medical supplies, I was beginning to wonder if I was in shock and perhaps missing a limb. Thankfully it was more a matter of bruised ego than medical emergency but still the dousing in iodine was deeply appreciated given the foreboding voice of the travel doctor in Vancouver grating at the back of my mind warning me of all the tropical ailments that I would be sure to pick-up if I didn’t spend the extra $50 on the combo inoculation pack. Thankfully none of the dogs wanted to sample any more of the “other other” white meat that was on the road, so the decision to avoid the rabies shot turned out just fine.
Once patched-up I had to navigate home, gimpy arm and all, and the timing given that my travel plans were somewhat cut short was a little, well….off! Lunchtime rush hour! I don’t know what is worse: having a swarm of scooters careening towards you evoking images of the Millennium Falcon bursting through a swarm of Tie-fighters (c’mon you geeks out there, you know what I’m talking about….RoTJ final assault on the new Death Star…yeah yeah); or spluttering along with 20 scooters around you, sucking in the fumes of a Hyundai pick-up truck and feeling the heat emanating from the engine block of a bus that is about 2ft from your right shoulder blade. I was so pleased to be the laughing-stock of the house when I got home, because it confirmed the simple and grateful feeling of having made it.
All I can say is, $30 to rent a helmet for a week is a bargain and Iain’s flatulence isn’t anything new and a small price to pay for being able to visit such a brilliant place!