Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
Trip End Dec 29, 2006

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Thursday, November 9, 2006

As in some other places in the world I have visited Bali has a smoky smell and the air is blurred with a soft haze. The rampant trash and vegetation burning surrounds every town leaves them in a perpetual tan mist. Throughout the restaurants, buildings, and countryside the Indonesians leave out small offerings. These consist of a six-inch square box constructed of sturdy leaves that is filled with fruit, flowers, rice, incense, and an assortment of other things that I didn't pay attention to. The incense clouds and smell is all pervasive and I cannot separate Bali from the memory of the incense. Underneath the tables mosquito coils would smolder trying to dissuade the mozzies from feasting on our flesh. These odors and blurry landscape gave Bali a dream like quality. The border of reality smeared by the haze and heat like an exotic dream of palm trees and blue transparent ocean.

We turned off the main road onto a smaller one and headed about a half mile to its termination at the sea. Facing the ocean and its rocky shore we checked out a hotel. Christy quickly vetoed it when her nose detected unknown and unwanted smells. I didn't tell her about the bucket for a sink. Across the road we noted a nice hotel that included a pool, air conditioning, breakfast, and an open bathroom. It is not uncommon to have half of a bathroom open to the elements. The rain waters the plants but the sink and showers are covered. This room cost us an extra five dollars a day and the other place did not include breakfast. The hotel was separated from the beach by a small fence. Directly in front were mostly rocks but as the coastline curved inland it turned to sand on which twenty or thirty colorful fishing boats rested. Past them the beach continued outlined in palm trees until the next point.

The surfing break was directly in front of the hotel and I would press my face between the bars of the fence watching the surf while Collette rambled off to cause mischief completely fatherless. The break reminded me off Davenport with all of its benefits and its downfalls. It was a long left but picking the wrong wave would give one cutback and then a mushy shoulder. They looked beautiful coming in but did not always deliver on your expectations. To avoid the mushiness the local kids surfed the inside where the waves were shorter but provided more zip. High tide was the optimal time but I surfed early in the morning rising at 5:45 to beat the wind and my schedule did not always coincide with the best conditions. Low tide demanded reef booties and careful plodding steps over the barnacle infested boulders the size of cantelopes. I was happy to be surfing again, even though I was not surfing up to my expectations (self deprecation of my surfing skills is a hobby of mine). Being in the water felt good, catching waves great, and being part of the ocean washing and off the dirt of 3 months of land travel ecstatic.

About my second surf I heard a PA system from the shore announcing prayer. This was a Muslim section of Bali and one of the Australians told me that during prayer time was a good time to surf because the locals were praying and the surf got less crowded. I never imagined a religion contributing to such a worthy cause and I might have to reconsider my opinion of organized religion. As I listened to the PA system the voice became more animated. It would die down and then suddenly get louder in obvious excitement. I thought this is the most vigorous call to prayer I have ever heard. This preacher (or Muslim equivalent) made a Baptist minister sound like a chemistry lecture. When I came in I walked past the field to discover that what I mistook as a sermon was actually a soccer match.

The hotel was about at fifteen percent capacity so we got to know the inner workings and comings and goings of all of the travelers. It was like a small town where the business of others was your business and gossip and idle chatter was a past time. In the water of Santa Cruz I am a sullen surfer bent on catching what I have determined is my fare share of waves. In Mendewi I took a low-key approach and chatted in the line up like a TV game show host. More then half the travelers were from Europe and the line up resembled a Vienna café. I always thought that someone from San Jose lived an incredible distance from the ocean but these travelers were from countries that didn't even have a surfable coast. My eyes filled with pity but my arms seemed to show no remorse whatsoever as I tried to catch any waves that they faltered on. By the end of the third day I knew who was leaving when and were everybody was staying. Esco the German was staying the longest, his friend the quiet guy from Austria was leaving one day before us, and the Japanese traveling by himself doesn't speak much English, so I don't know what he is up to. Every evening we would walk up the road to eat at a better restaurant. There the French guy and his girlfriend stayed along with James, a nice bloke from England. Of course there were heaps of friendly outgoing Australians and one filled me in on where to go on the Gold Coast. Thanks mate. If the surf was small out front everyone would pile into Adams car and at six in the morning and he would take us to Balian. The local, never flat beach break.

One evening as we were walking to the restaurant up the street a whole swarm of kids descended on us like moths around a light. Clad in white and with skullcaps they were on their way to a religious ceremony. They greeted Collette with smiles and reached out their hands to touch her. At first she would have nothing to do with it and then started grabbing their arms and hands. I couldn't tell if she did it out of affection or just for the sake of grabbing so later on I asked her if she liked all of the kids and she said, "Yeah, I liked them." The moment they swarmed around us it was an exotic experience that was completely alien to home.

In search of the all-powerful ATM we boarded the local small bus that sputtered and rambled us into the next larger town, Nigera. The only reason I remember its name is because it sounds like sushi. The local buses are all privately owned so there is no fixed time of departure. You stand by the road and watch the waves of heat rise off of the black asphalt until the small bus pulls up. You jump on and sit amongst the other sullen and subdued passengers as it sounds and lurches like an unbalanced washing machine. The seats are patched and the windows are open to catch any available breeze. There are two people who operate the buses, a driver and a driver helper. The bus jockey's job is to silicate more customers; hang out the door and help passengers' board, and to collect money. He is also a wealth of information and easy to part with advice.

On the way back we hopped on the bus. In the beginning we were worried because at every garage the driver would ask a bunch of questions in rapid fire Indonesian. Unsatisfied with the answers we would set out again at an appalling slow pace. My imagination ran rampant with possible impending mechanic failures. To have something to occupy our minds away from our progress we passed out some of Collette's popcorn to a fellow child traveler. Her mom promptly put her feet up and fell asleep to the uneven rocking. Unfortunately I was one row up from her and I kept feeling something in my front pocket. It turned out to be her toe. Worried she might have a nightmare or some other dream requiring rapid movement I would discreetly move away until it stopped invading my pocket and my sense of good hygiene.

Stiff jointed we angled out of the bus and took in the town of Nigera. The main street was barely paved and was lined with an assortment of shops. We browsed trying not to stay in one place for too long or the heat would build up. We bought our quota of shirts and toys for Collette. The establishments whether clothing stores or restaurants have a ratio of about three to one workers to customers. A clothing shop with five customers might have ten sales clerks. If we get distracted and Collette wanders off we often find her by the front of the store being entertained by three to five giggling sales girls. The hotel restaurant has long periods of time when there are no customers so this time is consumed by watching TV. It's not uncommon to see the hotel guy behind the desk in a semi-conscious state with half closed lids and pupils the size of quarters (225 Rupia) staring at a place beyond the horizon.

After trying the main street we took a small alleyway that wound its way into a partly covered market. The lanes were barely passable because of baskets containing spices and food and racks of cloths spilled into the walkways. A complex smell of spices, fish and hot humans covered the air. Collette made quite a stir and as we zigzagged through the lanes black haired heads turned and smiled. Many reached out to touch her white hair or give her should or arm a passing pinch. Collette was on so-so behavior and at one point I thought she made a swift kick at a lady blocking her progress.

As mentioned the spread out cottages that made up the hotel were sparsely occupied. This gave the opportunity for the staff to get to know us. Well they got to know Collette and paid a passing interest in us. In the morning the staff of young women would call out to Collette in high-pitched singsong voices waving with smiles, "Collette, Collette". One morning Collette took time off from throwing things and grabbing the silverware to give one of them a hug and kiss. When it came to depart Mendewi I picked Collette up to give a final farewell and thanks to everybody at the hotel. The entire staff was in the front room of the restaurant watching TV. They rose at once and waved and said good-bye to Collette. Everybody was so friendly it made me feel good. The attention was overwhelming and Collette shrank into my arms.
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