December 4th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Balinese statue

Needless to say, once back on the bus + on the road again, sleep had entirely deserted us.  But it was still quite enjoyable, watching the night fly past the windows, + listening to Pink Floyd on the Walkman.  That was enough for Val – by the end of the tape she was asleep again.  For myself tho’, I was now wide awake again, so followed up with Peter Gabriel.  That was still playing when the bus pulled on to the ferry connecting Java with Bali, so, carrying my music with me, I got off the  us + went upstairs to the passenger deck, + watched all the other night buses manoeuvre their way across the narrow ramp, while my mind was framing dramatic accompaniment to the music I was hearing.

Returned to the bus before we arrived in Bali – there was nothing to see – + was soon asleep.  And in next to no time, at about 4.30, we were in Denpasar – Bali is such a tiny island that distances are negligible.  It had been a fine, comfortable journey, but now a combination of circumstances contrived to spoil it.  Immediately we arrived, the usual touts climbed onto the bus to find out where we were going.  However, it seemed to us we had now arrived at the destination, + were determined not to be rushed.  So I strolled off the bus + wandered around the station, looking for somewhere we could have some coffee.  When I returned, the bus had disappeared, and there was Val, having been bundled somewhat unceremoniously off the bus, standing with our bags.  With the 2 major ones, anyway – in the panic, another bag had been left on the bus, a plastic bag containing the 2 presents I had received from the school in Rantepao, plus, a greater loss, the books we had bought in Surubaya, not because of their cost, but because of their irreplaceability (as far as the Philosophers’ book, anyway.)  In addition, there was the Time magazine + a tin of cough sweets, both sitting in the pockets of the seats.  We were determined to make at least some attempt to find them tho’, + Val located the driver of another bus who thought he knew the company, + who would give us a lift out there.  Which, once he’d finished his breakfast, he did.  It didn’t look promising tho’ – he dropped us off at a closed-up office, with certainly no sign of any bus.  We took it in turns to go off + have a look at the town while the other one looked after the bags, so that was our introduction to Bali.

Quite a few differences.  They have a unique style of statue, gargoyle-like figures, with great bulging eyes, like little soldier figures ranging from a couple of feet high to vast centrepieces of roundabouts etc.  A lot of these would be decorated with cloth, often black + white checked cloth, draped round the bottom half.  I thought at first it might be for reasons of decorum, but that didn’t seem to be the case, since the same cloth was draped around their small shrines + temples – these were like small square pagodas.  Their religion seems to be very much a living thing for the Balinese – not only the shrines but also doorways, crossroads + just stretches of pavement were adorned with offerings – tiny woven grass trays with a few flowers, leaves, + sometimes a little rice – to bring good luck, + appease the bad devils.

As far as the recovery of our goods went, there was slow progress – tho’ towards what I do not know.  The office opened eventually, + they told us the bus had gone on out to the coast, but would be returning here by about 10, another couple of hours wait.  It was, in fact, a little early, but we only had a small success with the return of the Time + the cough sweets – the plastic bag containing the presents + the books had disappeared.  This depressed us immensely, not really because of the things we’d lost – tho’ I would have liked to have kept the Philosophers’ book – but because seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate.  We’re almost thinking, “What will go next?”  Still, there was nothing more we could do now, so we shouldered our bags + walked out to the bus station to catch  bus to Kuta, the resort town to the south-west of the city.

It was an easy journey, especially as we got chatting to a local guy on it, who not only made sure we didn’t pay over the odds, but took us back to the place he was living, +arranged with another friend who was living there to guide us to a losmen.  The place was, in fact, a little more expensive than we wanted to pay, but, altho’ there was no pressure on us to take it, we decided it was easy enough to do so, at least for the one night.

During the afternoon, by mutual agreement, Val + I parted company.  It was her birthday tomorrow, so I wanted to buy her a few small presents – anything major she would have to choose herself.  We had come to our losmen by a back alley, so this was my first experience of Kuta, + I was horrified.  It was just exactly a seaside town, not as crass as the English variety perhaps, but not much better for being the tropical dream.  Australian-style leather craft shops vied for space with places devoted exclusively to pirated cassette tapes, cafes (advertising cold beer + Aussie tucker) were cheek by jowl with shops offering native masks + carving… tho’ little of it, it seemed, was of very high quality.  Jesus, I thought, what on earth are we doing here?  We’re not on holiday.  Not like the obvious Australians wandering up + down the street, the girls in short shorts or baggy T-shirt over bikini.  I wasn’t sure I could stand it at first, but after a little while I got used to it.  As one does.  And then settled down to the serious business of finding some presents.

At first, again, I was in despair, but eventually ended up with a reasonable tally.  A painting, on cloth, of a traditional Balinese lady.  A pair of ear-rings, a blue stone in a silver setting.  A cassette of the best recent material of Joan Armatrading.  And a bamboo flute.  This last I even managed to improve.  I had bought a small + cheap one, + then, my purchases complete, stopped to refresh myself at Poppies, the most popular, tho’ rather expensive, Kuta restaurant, with a fruit lassi drink.  A guy there, spotting my flute, offered to swap it with his, of the same type but much larger, + seemingly with a much better tone.  I do not know his motive, but acceded readily.

In the evening, we went out to savour the delights of Kuta cuisine – one thing about the place, they certainly have a lot of choice.  We ended up, tho’ , walking a long way up + down the main road, looking at the various places, + from time to time, sampling.  At the first place, I was unadventurous enough to have a jaffle + chips, tho’ Val tried something rather more ethnic.  We had banana pancakes at a different place – not very nice – then to another bar, which had a good atmosphere, where we ordered 2 expensive but massively potent cocktails.  After which we staggered home.

Definitely an encounter with another culture, both the good and the bad – the differences in food, archotecture, art… but also the crass commercialism which comes with selling itself as a holiday destination for Australians. Annoyiong to lose the goodies we had acquited, particularly in so ridiculous a manner. Not that they were worth much in themselves, but when you have so little, it is galling to lose anything at all.

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