• Chris Edwards

Beautiful Bali- 1986

Updated: Jan 20

The first time we visited Bali was in 1986 as part of our one-year, around-the-world honeymoon. Since that time, we have returned many times; Bali is a a magical place, and is one of our favourite destinations.

by Elaine Weeks

Sensual Surreality

on the road from the airport to our hotel,

curious monkeys scamper out of our taxi’s way

old women bathe naked in streams by the road

while costumed giants parade

and glittering men and women hoist golden parasols and streamers

elderly Balinese men in traditional dress – bits of rice stuck

to foreheads, cheeks, throats – climb into our taxi

and pretend we are not there

as we all whiz past limey green rice paddies and temples with menacing stone

statues wearing black and white checkered skirts

motor bikes loaded with families of four dart in and out of traffic

while horse drawn taxis plod along the edge of the road

and women in borderline sexy traditional garb bearing

impossibly arranged towers of fruit and rice cakes on their heads

are temple bound

Yes, this is Bali.

Destination Ubud, Bali

Aboard a 5 1/2 hour flight from Melbourne, Australia to Bali, Indonesia, fellow passengers included young rowdy Aussie students whose main pre-occupation was to drink as much beer as humanly possible. Unable to avoid their ever louder conversations, Chris and I learned they were headed en masse to Bali’s famed Kuta Beach.

“Looks like those rumours we heard about Kuta being overrun by Aussie beach bums and surfers are true,” Chris sighed. “I think our best bet is to make a beeline up to Ubud.”

Ubud: a mystical destination in the magic zone. In 1986, a small village located in the foothills 30 kms inland from the airport, a charming artist centre and low-level tourist enclave.

Chris and I were anxious to immerse ourselves in an exotic culture and hoped to avoid areas bearing deep imprints of the west (as much as possible).

Later, we regretted by-passing Kuta as we learned it retained a unique charm of its own in those days as part of the hippy trail.

After breezing through immigration, we thought this was a good omen. We had purchased Tony Wheelers’ “South-East Asia on A Shoe String”, (renowned as ‘Lonely Planet’s yellow bible’ on the old hippy trail, due to its yellow cover), before leaving Australia, so felt we had a good inkling of what to expect in Bali. We were unprepared however, for the supreme effort required to travel in any direction.

After boarding three different bemos (small pick-up trucks outfitted with seats, used as a form of public bus) we finally arrived in Ubud. Armed with our guide book and its helpful list of places to stay we hoped to find a losmen (guest house) fairly easily but instead tramped all over Ubud before we found a suitable abode. I had been anticipating an easier transition from jet to losmen and had foolishly worn flat dress shoes and no socks instead of runners. By the time we finally settled on a losmen, the back of my heels were rubbed raw and bleeding. Matters hadn’t been helped much due to toting our thousand pound backpacks and being over-tired from lack of sleep in Melbourne.

A Home of Our Own

Most of the losmens we inspected were either too expensive or too primitive. One spanking new model was attractive enough with beautiful white tiling inside and out but was situated in the back yard of a private house known as a compound; chickens pecked in the mud all around it and wide-eyed children sat on the porch. Obviously, the owners were trying to cash in on the current interest in Ubud and had determined the path to fortune was to build a single guest room on their property.

Our goal was to find a losmen overlooking some soothing green rice paddies so we continued our quest down a dirt road lined on one side by houses and temples and on the other by rows of undulating rice paddies. And then, one of Bali’s gods must have stepped in for we encountered a young Finn who recommended Jati’s Home Stay; it was clean, the rooms inexpensive and spacious with some facing the rice fields. Plus, breakfast was included!

Following his directions, we wearily retraced our steps and turned down a narrow path. Soon, a small hand-painted sign indicated the entrance to Jati’s Home Stay; a young Balinese woman gracefully led us through the compound. The only room on the rice paddies didn’t have much of a view so we settled on a spacious unit which looked onto the courtyard bisecting the compound.

After dumping our gear inside, we took a quick tour of the facilities (the communal bathroom was thirty feet away and consisted of a squat toilet and mandi, or sluice shower) and then retired to our patio. We plunked ourselves down on cane chairs to drink refreshing hot tea with lime that had magically materialized in a thermos by our door.

“How much Canadian does this place cost?” I asked Chris, a wiz at currency exchanges.

“Would you believe just over $2.25 a night?” he replied with a contented grin.

“Wow! That’s almost as cheap as camping on Taveuni on Fiji and there, breakfast was on us,” I exclaimed. “I can’t imagine breakfast here will be anything to write home about though.”

Happily, I was wrong. The next morning we were greeted with fresh squeezed fruit juice, a delicious, crepe stuffed with banana, coconut and syrup plus a bowl of fresh fruit, delivered right to our door. Other mornings, we happily devoured egg-filled jaffles (similar to a stuffed waffle), granola with thick yogurt and fruit or hot porridge with fruit. These meals afforded a leisurely start to the day and we began to feel the anxieties of getting here melt away.

Poking About Paradise

We didn’t stray far from our losmen for the first few days, preferring to explore the immediate environs. Our first night, we took the advice of our guide book and investigated a wonderful warung, or restaurant, about a 100 metres from Jati’s. Here we sampled delicious chicken sate and fried noodles washed down with a superb fruit smoothie and our first samples with Bintang, the local beer. Bintang is Bahasa–the Indonesian national language–for “star”. It was quite good. And, best of all, everything was ridiculously inexpensive.

Daily life in Ubud appeared largely unaffected by the presence of westerners. We were mesmerized by the continuous processions of women balancing immense fruit offerings perched on baskets set upon their heads, the result of many days of meticulous crafting, left for a few hours at one of the temples and later retrieved. The Balinese considered this ample time to afford the gods a good whiff of the goodies; rather than seeing them go to waste or eaten by dogs, the families would sensibly retrieve and bring the baskets back home, to consume the goodies themselves. Seemed rather sensible to me.

Bali is religiously distinct from the rest of Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim, while the Balinese practise a form of Hinduism. In 1515, the Hindu priest and princes of the Madjapahit monarchy were driven out of Java and into Bali by an army of Islamic fundamentalists. These refugees included Java’s finest musicians, dancers, artists and architects who feared that under Islamic rule, their beliefs would be stifled. The merry band was welcomed to an island replete with animists and ancestor worshippers and eventually, the refugees’ Hindu faith blended with the islander’s beliefs, producing a culture distinctly Balinese.

In short, the Balinese believe every living thing contains a spirit; when they pick a flower as an offering to the gods, they first say a prayer to the flower. Throughout the island, small plaited palm leaf baskets filled with flowers and herbs are everywhere: on sidewalks, on the prows of fishing boats, in markets, on statues and carvings, and in homes. These offerings are fabricated from dawn till dusk, to placate evil sprits and honor the helpful ones.

A few days after our arrival, Chris and I finally journeyed beyond the boundaries of Ubud. We were rewarded by the sight of a half-mile long procession of traditionally garbed Balinese carrying banners, fruit offerings and huge parasols on their way to the Presidential Palace. The parade also boasted several traditional orchestras and choirs as well as fantastic ‘lions’ sporting six brightly-tasseled legs. Enthralled, we trailed the parade for a couple of miles to the gates of the palace where we were unfortunately forbidden to enter.

We watched as the procession snaked slowly towards the palace, over a quarter of a mile away to assemble on the grounds. We never did learn the purpose of their visit but, we were thrilled to have been privy to such a spectacle and regarded it as a fabulous introduction to the many mysteries and charms of Bali.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Back at Jati’s, we had become familiar with Mote, the owner of the establishment. Initially assuming we were dealing with a ‘she’, we were startled to see our host wearing a tank style undershirt while serenely delivering breakfasts the first morning of our stay. There was no mistaking that ‘she’ was actually a ‘he’!

“Wasn’t he wearing a dress last night?” I asked Chris while we attacked our crepes.

“Well, we were pretty tired but I could of sworn he had a dress on. It might have been someone else but it sure looked like him – did you get a load at his nails?”

They were long, well manicured and obviously a source of great pride. We discovered Mote was the lead dancer in the weekly Kecak performances where some of the men perform as women. He urged us to attend a dance before leaving.

“You are in luck,” he said, in perfect English, “I will be performing in tomorrow night’s dance. I am considered one of the best dancers in Bali. You will not be disappointed.”

After this very humble invitation, we were curious to see him in action and found our way to the outdoor site of the dance the following evening. After paying a small admission charge, we were handed a flyer offering a description of this classical Bali dance. Over one hundred dancers were to perform to music comprised only of singing and hand clapping. The story is based on the Ramayana epic, written hundreds of years ago by the Indian Hindu author, Bagawan Walmiki. Dramatizing the eternal conflict between good (Dharma) and evil (Adarma), the forces of good are symbolized by King Rama and his allies, while King Rahwana and his allies represent the dark side. Mote starred as Sita, the beautiful princess, in love with Rama but captured and held prisoner by Rahwana.

Chris and I were ushered to the rows of chairs reserved near the front for the westerners. We felt somewhat uncomfortable in these seats of honour noting the Balinese were all sitting on the bare ground. We discerned however, that it would have been considered rude to refuse the chairs so somewhat reluctantly took our seats.

After a sizeable crowd had gathered, the drama unfolded. There was no stage, per se. Instead, the dancers appeared from behind a screen, weaving in and out of the enthralled audience. The set was lit solely by the orange glow of flickering torches, providing a surreal quality to the enchanting scenes enacted by the dancers.

We could scarcely believe that the exquisite creature portraying the character of Sita was not female. Mote, expertly made up and ravishing in a golden gown and headdress, had completely adopted the persona of Sita. S/he was alternately, flirtatious, coy, vulnerable, and innocent. There was no doubt, Mote WAS Sita.

Kecak Dance, 1930s

Even though Chris and I could not decipher the dialogue and songs, the age-old scenario of good versus evil, boy gets girl, was clearly apparent. After languishing in the clutches of the evil Rahwama, thinking that Rawa has forgotten her, Sita, was ultimately rescued by Rama’s monkey army, portrayed by around fifty men dressed solely in the black and white checked cloths which symbolize the balance between good and evil, prominent around temple statues. Observing the Balinese families (who undoubtedly had witnessed the drama many times before) react to the performance with excitement and enthusiasm, Chris and I hoped television would never conquer Bali.

Irksome Intruders

That evening, we received a couple of unwelcome guests in our room. Just as I was closing the door for the night, a huge winged beetle flew through the door.

“Yiii, Chris! Did you see that? Get it!”

The beetle flew madly about the room as Chris chased it with his sulu in an attempt to guide it towards the door. There was no way he was going to crush something that big!

“Hurry! Get it out of here! Ugh, no!”

The beetle had disappeared between the crack at the end of the bed and the wall.

“Help me pull the bed out!”

But the bed wouldn’t budge.

“Looks like we’ve got company tonight!” said Chris.

“Terrific! Let’s hope he doesn’t come out for some more exercise.”

Climbing into bed I heard a sound underneath the mattress below my pillow. Yanking back the mattress, I discovered another beetle, smaller and wingless.

“Yuk! Another one! Give me your sandal!”

But before I could smack it, it scrambled off the bed and darted into a crack in the floor. Now we had two intruders! Needless to say, I did not enjoy a restful night’s sleep. The price one has to pay to live in paradise!

Burning Up

The next morning, Mote pranced through the grounds deftly carrying a bright red umbrella in one hand and a tray of breakfasts in the other. He had resumed his ‘everyday’ appearance though still presented an exotic image in his brightly coloured wrap skirt and tank top. After downing granola with fresh fruit and juice, Chris and I spent most of the day reading and writing to the drone of a nearby radio providing non-stop background noise. At one point, we listened with amusement to an Indonesian soap opera. The heroine moaned in ecstasy to the sound of whips and approaching hoof beats.

“Sounds like she’s having fun!” Chris announced with a laugh.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “who needs to know the language! Some sounds are universal!”

Later that afternoon, our neighbours, Sophie and Pete, who had braved inclement weather very early that morning to attend a cremation ceremony, returned bedraggled, wet and happy.

“It was just fantastic!” exclaimed Pete, a lanky Canadian who was on an extensive world tour.

“Yeah!” chirped Sophie, a pretty blonde Swede Pete had met in Fiji. “It was worth getting soaked! You should have come!”

“We thought the rain had kept you from going too,” I explained. “You should have knocked!”

“Well, it looked like you guys were lights out so we didn’t want to disturb you. Figured you’d decided not to go,” said Peter.

“I guess we blew it this time,” Chris admitted, “Anyway, tell us all about it!”

“Well,” began Peter, “the body was carried atop a twenty foot tower. As they walked towards the cremation grounds, the bearers kept spinning it around and around in order to confuse any evil spirits.”

“They were spinning so fast,” interjected Sophie excitedly, “that the body fell right out onto the ground! It was wild!”

“After scooping it up, they continued their procession though now, they seemed a little more careful. Then the body was placed atop a pyre and food and other necessities were heaped on top as well. A priest in a white robe climbed up and sprinkled holy water over the corpse. Climbing down, he signaled for the pyre to be lit.”

“Did you stay until it was over?” Chris asked.

“We were getting pretty wet and after a while, the smell started to get to us so we headed back. Apparently, the family later gathers up the ashes and makes a pilgrimage to the sea to scatter them into the water.”

“One of the Balinese who attended spoke very good English and he explained things to us,” Sophie said. “Balinese aren’t afraid of death because it signifies a new beginning. They believe in their preordained role in the cosmic scheme of things, so accept death instead of dreading it.”

“That seems like a very healthy attitude,” I commented, “and probably explains why they seem so serene.”

“Yeah,” remarked Peter with a yawn, “children here don’t fight because they’re made aware of their lot in life so accept things the way they are. As a result, there isn’t any reason for them to become jealous or angry at each other.”

The Beach Beckons

After a blissful week in Ubud, Chris and I were restless for sun, sand, and sea so moved on to Candidasa, a beach resort on the south-east side of the island. Pete and Sophie had already headed there as well as Brad and Emily, a couple we met from San Francisco who were also staying at Jati’s. They were in the jewelry importing business so were veteran Bali travellers. With a bigger budget than ours, they could afford the most luxurious suite at Jati’s – a two-story affair with a magnificent view of rice fields, a western-style toilet (oh the envy!), a fridge and a huge wooden canopy bed with an air conditioner built into the ceiling!

Of course our journey to Candidasa was not an easy one despite how close it looked on the map. Three bemo rides and an hour and a half later, we arrived in the brutal heat at 10 a.m. With Chris’s burgeoning Bali belly, we did not spend much time looking for a suitable losmen and immediately settled on one, which, though not on the beach, was a real bargain at about $2 including breakfast and attached mandi.

Despite his condition, Chris joined me for a spell of sunbathing and swimming down at the water. Though not as white as our guide book had promised, the sand was nevertheless stunning and the sea was twenty shades of blue, crystal clear and comfortably warm. As we toured the length of the beach in the hopes of spotting our friends, we admired tiny, single-masted fishing boats which bobbed on the gentle waves. We also noted that many of the western women were bathing topless.

“I think a few should keep their tops on!” Chris commented dryly.

“So should some of the men!” I remarked with a grimace after we’d passed one middle-aged guy whose belly was so huge it almost hid his tiny g-string. “Talk about gross!”

Apparently, Candidasa attracted a wealthy Euro trash crowd, who sought a quieter beach vacation than Kuta. The village was rising to the occasion; additional losmens were rapidly being built and extended along the coast. There was no sign of our friends so Chris and I escaped the heat for a nap in the relative coolness of our losmen. We planned to search for a beach hut later in the afternoon and hopefully, track down our friends at the same time. Brad and Emily, we guessed, were probably ensconced in one of the more deluxe beach models.

Losmen Luck

After lunch, (poor Chris couldn’t eat again) we ran into Bill, an American lawyer staying at Jati’s who joined us in our losmen hunt. To get an idea of prices at the high end of the losmen spectrum, we first investigated a pricey-looking compound. A room for two including attached mandi, towels, drinking water and toilet paper was $13 Canadian but the boss immediately dropped the price to $8 in the hopes of encouraging us to stay. Admiring the beautifully landscaped grounds, we noted a large losmen overlooking the beach, situated off by itself. An ornamental fountain glimmered in front.

“Wow! What a beautiful losmen!” I exclaimed.

“Oh yes,” replied the owner, “very nice. It has biggest bed we have. The American staying there very, very tall. He ask me for room with biggest bed.”

“That must be Brad,” Chris guessed. “Is he with a women with yellow hair?”

“Yes! But they are not here right now. They have gone out on boat for the day.”

Leaving a note on their door, the three of us continued our adventure as sadly, our meagre budget meant $8 a night was pricey. We were fairly unimpressed with the caliber of losmens available in our price range. Most were already occupied and any vacant ones didn’t face the beach or were in rough shape. Eventually, we ended up at the end of the beach. Discouraged, we were just about to turn around and settle on a couple of the losmens we’d rejected when Bill spotted a small sign.

“Looks like there’s a compound at the end of this road. Do you want to check it out?”

“Why not?” Chris responded, “We’ve come this far.”

The road led off through a grove of papaya trees. Our feet kicked up a small cloud of dust as we passed chickens, pigs, dogs and small, rough shanties. Small brown children stopped their playing to stare as big westerners momentarily invaded their world. Five minutes later, the road ended and we emerged into a small compound of spanking new losmens.

“Wow! This is great! And we can see the ocean!” I exclaimed. “I wonder how much all this costs?”

The place looked deserted but as we slowly wandered through towards the water, a slight youth emerged from one of the losmens.

“Hello! You are looking for losmen? Please, let me show you.”

“Before you show us, how much?” Chris asked.

“Only 7000 rupiah but we have no guests for ten days so I let you have for 5000 with breakfast. If you stay seven days, maybe one night free.”

This translated into about $4 Canadian. Now this was more like it!

“Sure, we’ll have a look.”

He led us to the bamboo bungalow closest to the ocean. It was brand new and featured a large, L-shaped bedroom with a sink, two single beds, a closet that locked, a desk with chair and a large bathroom with a western-style toilet and cold shower. There was also a lovely tiled covered porch with sturdy bamboo furniture.

“We’ll take it!” Chris and I crowed happily.

Bandi was delighted to have guests. “When I have no guests I have nothing to eat. I must buy food out of pay.”

“Don’t they give you meals?” I asked in disbelief.

“No. I sleep here though so I lucky. I come here from Timor 7 months ago and I work hard so I can send money home.”

Chris, Bill and I recommended the compound to other people we had met so Bandi would be assured more business and food in his stomach; within a few days, four out of the six losmens were full.

We had privacy, a gorgeous view, modern conveniences and an attentive though not intrusive attendant in the form of Bandi. He gratefully saw to our every need and rushed over our breakfasts as soon as he saw us step onto our porch in the morning. The only real drawback to the place was the bar/restaurant which was being constructed next to our losmen. Not only was it slowly obscuring the ocean view from our bedroom window, the sawing and hammering began at six-thirty in the morning and continued past sunset. Once again, it seemed there was a price to pay to live in paradise.

After settling in, we quickly reconnoitered with Brad and Emily and enjoyed non-stop partying for a few days before they had to return to Kuta to pick up their jewelry order. Brad arranged for Tidiak, the manager of his losmen, to cook a huge yellow-fin tuna for dinner, hard bargained from local fishermen.

“All interested parties, or, should I say partyers, are requested to join Emily and I for cocktails and ‘the catch of the day.’ You won’t regret it!” he announced in his languorous Southern California drawl.

It was an international crowd that accepted the invitation. Chris and I represented the Canadian contingent, Bill added to the American delegation, an Austrian couple and three Germans represented the European. After sampling the delicious tuna barbecued Bali-style over a fire pit, mie goreng (spicy fried noodles) and fresh pineapple and bananas, liberal quantities of Indonesian beer, a riotous blackjack game ensued along with impromptu language lessons in English, German and Indonesian.

Talk About It

Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia was introduced by the government during independence in 1959 as an official language. This huge archipelago, consisting of almost 18,000 islands, stretches for 5,120 km from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and has some 300 hundred different languages which made governing difficult. Bahasa, a phonetically-logical language became the lingua franca for most Indonesians. It is a very simple language to learn and soon I was up to a couple hundred words by the time we left Indonesia. This came in very handy during negotiations for losmens, bemo rides, and souvenir hunting.

Black Beach Blues

On our third day in Candidasa, I opened my eyes at 5:30am. In paradise, sleeping more than five or six hours seemed a waste of precious time. I gazed upon bright outriggers skipping across the waves, either returning home or heading out for a day of fishing. Palm trees swayed languorously in the soft breeze while the sky, seashell pink at first, graduated to deep pink, violet and then bird’s egg blue, as the sun dragged itself slowly over the sea’s edge.

Another day born in Bali – known as the “morning” of planet Earth.

Chris and I had read that nearby Mt. Agung erupted in 1963-64 and devastated the eastern coast of Bali, leaving behind a stunning black beach. Apparently this black sand could be found in the cove beyond the bend a quarter mile walk from our compound.

The tide was out so we wandered past banks of exposed dead coral which abruptly changed to huge square slabs of jet-black lava as we rounded the bend. No palms here; instead, high cliffs bristling with spiky cactuses dominated a black, crushed lava beach. We had gone from the tropics to the desert in less than 10 minutes! It was brutally hot, as if walking along a shifting sun-baked asphalt highway, and we soon realized why we were all alone. A close inspection of the ‘sand’ revealed a few pieces of blue coral and a tiny yellow plastic motorcycle providing evidence that plastic and paradise don’t mix. Entering the water, we discovered the bottom changed to coral two feet out so swimming was impossible. It was an inhospitable place; we felt unwelcome here so returned to the comparative coolness of the tropics after about a forty minutes stay.

On one section of the sand beach where we were staying, men, women and children toiled just about non-stop digging dead coral. All day long, we watched them in up to their knees in the water, filling big wicker baskets full of coral, lifting them onto their heads and then carrying them up the cliff where the coral was dumped into piles. We observed that they were building a breakwall in the hopes of preventing more shoreline from disappearing into the sea. They were in a race with nature; every day at high tide walking home, we had to walk along the cliff never knowing whether the path would be still there. We were very careful at night for one false step and we would have fallen eight feet onto the beach.

A Pesky Voyeur

One day while we were sunbathing on the beach, I noticed a middle-aged Indonesian man in western garb draw near. He turned away from the water and climbed up some nearby steps. Five topless girls were sunning next to us and I soon realized that the man had positioned himself at a vantage point almost directly above them and was intently ogling his prey. One girl wore nothing save a g-string and while rather chunky, was quite a sight. None of these babes appeared aware of his gaze and continued frolicking in the water or lolling on the sand.

“I can’t believe this!” I whispered to Chris, “can’t they see what this guy’s up to? I mean, he’s so obvious!”

“They probably know he’s there but they just don’t care,” Chris replied sardonically.

After a half hour, the guy continued openly gawking.

One of the girls had ventured into the water and I decided I would let her know what was going on. “I can’t take this." I said to Chris. "I’m going to go out in the water and tell her waht's up. Even if they all know he’s there I don’t think it’s such a good idea to behave like this. It looks bad and I’m sure it’s giving him all kinds of ideas.”

I strode into the water and nonchalantly paddled over to the girl who was floating on her back in the water.

“Hi. Uh, did you know that you’re all being watched?”

“Are we?” she replied in surprise. “Who?”

Good grief, I thought, is she for real?

“That guy up there on the cliff. He’s been staring at you girls for over half an hour.”

“I thought he was looking at someone down the beach! Oh my goodness! I’d better go tell my friends!”

As she swam into shore, I laughed as the pervert, inching closer to the girls, got too close to the edge and almost lost his balance. When she informed her friends about their voyeur, they all rolled over onto their stomachs and did not move until the peeper eventually lost interest and moved on back down the beach. I was beside Chris on the beach and as he passed overhead, I gave him a baleful stare as if to say “Good riddance, creep!”

Rude Neighbours

The next morning the sound of a car engine, twenty feet from my ear, rattled me awake painfully early. I groped for my watch – five o’clock! The engine droned for about ten minutes and then mercifully, shut off. My relief was short lived however when fifteen minutes later, it roared to life again. Indonesian voices screeched above the noise and I speculated they belonged to the two couples who had arrived the previous day and were renting the losmen next door. According to Bandi, they were on holiday from Java.

“Those ladies,” he whispered meaningfully, “they woman for money! I no like them here but they pay me lots of money. So…”

“Let me guess, Bandi: you need to eat,” Chris teased.

I peered through the window to see the group eventually load into the car. They were in no hurry to leave however. Instead, they let the engine idle a few minutes longer and then, ran the windshield wipers for several minutes just to be on the safe side. Finally, they slowly backed up, turned around and drove away.

Unlike Chris, who merely turned over and was snoozing again in minutes, I found it impossible to fall back asleep. Rather than thrashing about until my usual wake up time, I climbed out of bed, pulled on some clothes and ventured outside. The sun, well up over the horizon already, though it wasn’t more than 5:30, burned in a cloudless sky. I had never seen the tide out so far since we had arrived – the beach was probably twenty metres wider than when we normally went for a swim. Scanning the shore, I noted the coral diggers already hard at it. Other than that, the beach was empty.

Returning to the losmen for a camera, I discovered Chris awake. “I thought you’d left me for those Javanese sex maniacs,” he kidded sleepily.

“You should see the beach!” I exclaimed laughing. “Come on and have a look – the tide’s way out and I think we should go get some pictures.”

Chris fumbled for his sulu and followed me out.

“Wow! This is almost worth listening to those pinheads and their car! Let’s take a cruise down the beach.”

Approaching the tireless diggers, we stopped briefly and snapped a few photos and then, carried on down towards the more populated section of beach. After we had gone perhaps a half a mile, we spotted a figure kneeling in the sand apparently staring out to sea. Coming closer, we discovered it was a young Balinese woman intent on her morning prayer. A flower clasped between two slender fingers, her head lowered, and wearing the traditional floral wrap skirt and bodice blouse, she was the very image of Balinese piety. Not wishing to disturb her, but unable to resist such a wonderful photo opportunity, we took one quick shot and then left her to continue her ablutions.

Bali High

Our visit to this magical isle ended far too soon as Java beckoned. To us, Bali seemed much like the ideal representation of paradise, as seen in glossy brochures and on TV travel shows. When U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited the island a few years before our arrival, his opinion had reinforced this image; we expected the island to boom with tourists in years to come.

I imagine his travel budget was somewhat higher than ours however so he could avoid the bemo rides and the time spent looking for a suitable losmen. And no doubt his losmen was a bit posher then ours.

Paradise often looks even better when one can afford a few more of the comforts of home.

Next Stop: Climbing the Volcano

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