It is the overwhelming smell of Asia that assails the nostrils.
The hot, moist air laden with diesel fumes, the occasional waft of sewerage, the incense from the taxi cab – an offering to whatever Hindu god is in favour – the smell of mould and the sweet scent of frangipani, all comingle to say you are back on another continent, one that is no longer Kansas or wherever you claim to be home.
The artist in you cannot fathom the shades and tones of green, you stare at all the vegetation and let out a sigh of both admiration and despair, knowing you could never capture the way it looks, dense, lush, verdant and alive. It grows centimetres overnight, fertile, life affirming.
To walk the streets of Kuta is to run the gamut of offerings – massages, cold beer, designer copy handbags by the thousands and gawdy clothes, a decision to falter and look, a message to the seller to engage. Come In. I give you good price. Morning price. Lucky for me, lucky for you. The open face. The beguiling smile. The refrain is repeated along the street.
Will you buy something to take home? A T-shirt for the kids, a foam stubby holder emblazoned with Come To Bali. Another souvenir to adorn the mantlepiece or be shoved to the back of a cupboard. Or a flowing dress that seems out of place now in suburban Australia.
A search for the Bali bombing memorial leaves me feeling both overwhelming sadness and anger that the memorial is like an afterthought at the junction of two roads, seething with traffic. It may as well be a bus stop for all its importance.
I expected something more solid, more dignified, more symbolic of the total devastation the atrocity inflicted on so many young people from around the world. I read the names of the many and wiped my eyes. Sunscreen had dripped into my eyes you understand, in the heat and humidity.
I retreat to my hotel. Air conditioning does its job.
Massage your troubles away
The massage oil is warm and smooth as it moves over your skin, a deep sensual moment, a mixture at times of both pleasure and pain, as a knot, a sore muscle or a stressed body gives in and supplicates itself to the unknown stranger’s hands.
A bell rings at the start and end of each massage session. The high pitch note lingering in the air. The words of the poet John Donne, Ask not for whom the bell tolls, come to mind. Clearly, I need another massage to empty my brain.
Can I have one every day? Please, pretty please.
The taxi driver uses a GPS app unnervingly in one hand, while he tries to drive with the other. Still, we wind up down a goat track, a cook’s tour of the hinterland and the potholes of Jimbaran. A glimpse of white washing flapping on a far clothesline, a screeching chook racing to get out of our way.
But Bali is more than these snapshots. It is a quiet retreat down the back lanes away from the tourists and the traffic. It is a people who know they live in paradise and yet have been happy to share it mostly with loud tourists who fly in and out, oblivious often of the local culture and life of a gentle people.
Have you been to Bali? What did you enjoy or not enjoy about it? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?
Also read: New rules for tourists in Bali