14th January 2011
As a colossal bolt of lightening struck our aircraft for the second time and the pilot announced on the PA that there was nothing to worry about, the electronics were still working, I hoped that this was not setting the tone for a bumpy few weeks in Indonesia. We were one of the few lucky aircraft to depart Brisbane airport shortly before flooding brought it to a close and the turbulent flight through the destructive weather pattern was peaceful as the passengers sat in silent, terrified vigil. I of course, loved it. I found myself behaving like some obnoxious American action film character, shouting in my head at the storm ‘is that the best you can do?!!” Luckily Thor took little heed of my pathetic taunts and we landed safely at Denpasar Airport.
That moment that you take in your first breath of air of foreign lands (whether it’s when you step out of the aircraft or out of the airport), your senses spark into alertness. Of course sights and sounds bombard you but sometimes even air tastes new and peculiar and a cacophony of fragrances rush up your nasal passages and assault your brain. This was certainly how is was in Bali. The air feels as though it is composed solely of fragrance and not oxygen and hydrogen. It clings to your skin, rests on your tongue and fills your lungs. Smokey sweet incense; damp vegetation; the delicate aromas of Indonesian cooking, fried rice and rose water; thick exhaust fumes; frangipani and hibiscus floral perfumes; and all elegantly mask an undercurrent of rotting rubbish and sewage. In our travels all over Bali, the smells were ‘same same but different’. In the mountains eau de Bali was diluted by cool misty air, by the sea a sprinkle of salt was added to the mix, in touristy towns wafts of cooking and exhaust fume were stronger and in central rainy Bali the sweet odours failed to completely mask gorged drains.
Sydney smelt familiar, western, developed, but this…this was different. My eyes flashed with giddy glee as I got high on the air.
Described as ‘snore’ by some due to the sleepiness of this south-eastern beach town, it lives up to it’s name. Populated predominantly by the ‘older’ traveller, we did feel a little like we had accidentally stumbled into a retirement tour for ‘those still full of life’. But, this was not a bad thing. The target market has kept the area from becoming another Kuta or Seminyak (which would be a crime of epic proportions) and was perfect for our laid-back, prematurely aging sensibilities. The highlight of our stay was our hotel name, Swastika. Of course Chris thought this was hilarious and all the usual culturally and historically insensitive jokes filled our meal time conversations, made worse by the arrival of Germans to the hotel. I am mildly ashamed.
We learnt our first few Bali lessons here:
1.When ordering in a restaurant always expect at least one of the main ingredients to be missing from your dish
2.Never order tea with milk…it’ll be baaaad
3.Never trust a local’s perception of journey time specially if they are a driver
This small seaside town serves as a port for the ferries that go to and from the island of Lombok, which we had intended to visit after spending a night here. We arrived amidst throngs of celebrants moving like a trickling stream along the small water front street towards the Hindu temple. The three day long ceremony called all worshippers in Bali to the site to pray and present traditional Balinese offerings consisting of rice, flowers and money. They came in their droves. The sounds of slapping flip-flopped feet dragging slowly on the ground, the clack clack of badly made high heels, and the chattering of families and children’s laughter echoing through the tiny town all through the day and night. Everyone was exquisitely turned out. The women wore colourful lacy fitted tunics over delicate ceremonial sarongs, finished at the waist by a sash. Infants were clamped to their hips and sturdily balanced on their heads were large red carrier bags filled with offerings. The men wore a more masculine version of the same tunic-sarong outfit; white tunics over brown/beige patterned sarongs and a scarf tied around their heads.
Despite the relaxed ambiance of Padangbai there was a buzz in the air. It felt like a place of natural impermanence. The tidal ebb and flow of worshippers and the arrival and departure of travellers en-route to Lombok made you feel too static to stay yet too aimless to move on. None-the-less, as fate would have it the local ferries were ‘finished’ (the generic local term for ‘not working’, ‘run out’ or just ‘it ain’t gonna happen’). Thus to get to our desired destination would either take us a day and possibly a night at a cost, or 5 hours at greater cost on a charter boat with bad safety records. The whole of Bali was under a dark uninspiring grey cloud and the waters were rough so we decided that Lombok and Gilis would have to wait. So we packed our bags and headed to the art capital of Bali, Ubud.