It is with considerable sadness that I write this which will be our final blog post (all will become clear). We have spent a year on the road, the water and in the air together and now it seems that our time together here in South East Asia has come to an end. To me it marks the end of a chapter in my life and an opportunity to bow out of trying to maintain a blog that has never been the regular or even semi regular update that I had hoped. With that in mind I hope that those of you that have been following feel as though you have been able to smile, laugh and share a few adventures with us.
We arrived in Bali in early June and took the opportunity to soak up the creature comforts generously donated by my folks as the the family got together for a week. I can safely say that it was hugely appreciated by Clare and Myself and it gave us a brilliant introduction to the area that would become our new home for several months thereafter. To follow on from this Clare found a way for us to stay in the same wonderful area and a way in which we could do it for free. Not only did she find us another Workaway but she also made sure she found one in a place where we could surf every day (by we, in hindsight I can say me). It's not right on the beach but it's a five minute scooter ride away.
Our last Workaway was to help a French couple build their dream lodge in an isolated part of the jungle in Borneo. This one as we understood was to help an American woman maintain her villa in Bali. What attracted us to this Workaway is that the villa is intended to serve as a place for Balinese artists of all types to visit, stay for free and concentrate on their craft. The owner, Suzie is an expert on everything Balinese, she speaks Balinese, Indonesian and one or two of the other local languages fluently after 20 years living in Indonesia. The villa is the creation of her and her later husband about 15 years ago. Us folunteers reside in the Pondock (local cottage) across the road. It's basic with cold showers, minimalist kitchen and five bedrooms but it is comfortable and friendly and we can stay for free. Our work here is simple. We are to maintain the property. For a few hours a day it's a great deal. Living with Suzie who is so tuned in to everything that has and is happening in Indonesia has been fascinating. She is a fountain of knowledge on everything Indonesian from the local textiles to Indonesian politics to the malfunctioning court system through to foreign investment in Indonesia. In fact, in regards to the latter she has become initmately familiar in a way none of us would wish on our worst enemy.
Most tourists are vaguely aware of the idea of corruption in Indonesia. This is usually in the context of traffic violations and in some cases just plane traffic when there actually is no violation. If an actual offence was committed 500,000 Rupiah (approx $40) may be sufficient to drive away. If no offence was committed a little scaremongering may lead to a smaller "offering" of about 100,000 Rupiah (approx $7) and a funny story of police corruption and your negotiation skills when you return from holidays. What most people are unaware of is that this type of mentality is symptomatic of a system of corruption that runs from the very lowest levels of society to the top levels of government and the court system. Suzies case (recently featured in the Sydney Morning Herald as a warning to expatriates) and her first hand and general knowledge has given Clare and I a look through the window into Indonesia and shown us an entire culture of corruption that most of us cannot even comprehend let alone flourish in. It literally does extend from the very bottom of Indonesian society to the very top. I actually find it amusing that you can drive through Denpasar and the largest advertising boards have pictures of a bunch of tough looking guys from Laskar Bali posing and wishing people happy holidays etc. I'm sure some are even recruitment drives. Laskar Bali is the local mafia. Can you imagine the Hells Angles or some such gang going on a rectruitment drive by billboard advertising in major cities? I can't. The more i learn about the corruption here, the more I recognise it for myself and the more it blows me away. Further insight was also provided by way of a documentary called "The Act of Killing". I won't tell you anything about it other than to recommend watching it if interested.
A lot of people give Bali a bad wrap. A lot of people also come for one week, stay in Kuta or Legian, drink every night, get hassled by touts and have a legitimate and totally warranted fear of getting Methanol poisoning. Three people died recently actually. For those adventurous enough to eat the local food it doesn't take long to work out that it is typically a maddeninly limited array of fried rice or fried noodle dishes plus a few others. There are also some fabulous dishes but they're hard to find if they're not in a more up market restaurant. Clare first came here about ten years ago and hated it. She had exactly that experience. Now Clare loves it. We stay in Pererenan about half an hour to the North West of Seminyak. We're amongst rice fields, villages and a few holiday villas. Within ten minutes on a scooter is the beach with some fantastic surf breaks, some amazing restaurants when you need a change of flavour, some great bars even if they can be a little on the "hip" side for Clare and I (ok, more for me) and access to such amazing delights as blue cheese and red wine at the couple of western supermarkets that are in the area. We can even find wine, although with the 300% alcohol tax imposed by the government driving prices so high we don't indulge as often as we otherwise might. This fact alone also makes it a little easier to see why someone would add deadly Methanol to spirits and coctails. Whenever we need to get away (don't I make it sound like we're doing it tough) there's some amazingly long and uncrowed surf breaks within a couple of hours drive in virtually untouched village settings not to mention all the other islands either a short boat ride or flight away.
It was in just such a place that Clare and I first experienced the benefits of our DAE holiday scheme in a fantastic little resort about ten minutes from the town and beach in Medewi roughly 2 hours from where we were staying. We were also introduced to one of the local sponsored surfers by a mutual friend and were shown around and invited to join his family for their end of Ramadan festivities, part of which i'll never forget. Imagine a two lane road with a procession of scooters. There are two large trucks/floats at the lead then every scooter from a dozen small villages following closely behind. Scooters are eight or ten wide with others trying to inch their way in between to improve their progress (not possible). The procession goes for about ten kilometres along the main road and through the back streets of the villages. It takes about an hour and a half of horns, fumes, near collisions, sore arms, strained backs, burning eyes and general stress trying not to hit anyone. Clare loved it. Guess which one of us was the passenger. I was wrecked by the end, had just enough energy to say good night to the family, head back to the resort and crash. Into bed. It was a great experience and something completely unique to us but a ride and procession that I will never forget and hopefully never repeat.
To introduce one lengthy saga I will point out to those of you that don't know, as long as i've known Clare, she has wanted puppies. At the very least to have them close at hand to play with if not to actually own and mother full time. There are times when it seems like as you drive through some of the villages at night that the dogs are reaching plague proportions. This can be a problem for health reasons for both the animals and human residents. Rabies is a huge issue at times. For this reason the government actually runs periodic programmes to cull them. Recently on Nusa Lembongan such a program was implemented with the use of poison. Sadly unsuspecting and starving dogs can't resist eating anything they find that looks edible and the programs are quite successful if extremely inhumane. There are also plenty of pet casualties so it's no surprise that the culling programmes are usually met with a lot of opposition. But I digress. Early one morning as Clare and several others from the pondok set out on their walk to the beach to start the day they found a severely damaged puppy lying on the road just near the villa. A lover of all animals but particularly puppies Clare could not leave it there to suffer. She and the others also found what must have been that one's two sisters lying by the side of the road. Fearing the same fate clare bundled them up and brought them home. Suzie, ever the pragmatist and voice of reason if not most emotionally sensitive told Clare to get rid of them (knock them on the head with a rock). She could not. Would not. A heated argument and Clare was permitted to hold onto them for two days to give her time to find them a new home. I don't think i've ever seen the poor girl more stressed or emotional. Over the coming weeks Clare spent hours each day on the phone to vets, NGO's and individuals trying to find them a home, be it temporary or permanent. In the end they were bounced between professionals, friends and strangers for several weeks until she finally found them a family that would love them. Finally. Rest, peace, job done. Or so we thought. Then the phone call. The woman cannot keep them. They have scabies according to her vet and in contradiction to what we were told by the vet who gave them their first vaccinations. Well she was right, her family were starting to itch, her other pets were too so we picked up the puppies and took them back to the vet near us. Two more weeks of injections, washing, twice a day feedings and walking. Atleast while going to the vet each day Clare could play with all the animals. Small reward for all the time, energy and emotion. For those of you that followed the saga on Facebook finally we can report the good news. They are scabies free, their hair is nearly grown back and they have been returned to the family. A happy ending at last. Hallelujah. Through all this I was impressed at the determinationn and dedication Clare gave to these little lives and hope that seeing them happy, healthy and furry a at the end of it all feels like the reward she deserves.
Following the puppy saga life settled down into some sort of routine. Surf, eat, work, sleep, repeat for me. It's late August now. We've been in Bali two and a half months. For the past six weeks we've been fortunate enough to have moved out of the Pondock and into the main villa. Three or four star accomodation with A/C, views, pool, wifi, hot showers, an ensuite and library in our room. It's not my intention to brag rather to explain how and why we would stay in Bali so long. I am surfing every day. Clare is thinking about doing the same. We might stay another fortnight, another month or even longer. Clare has found some work doing admin for a mate and i'm virtually living the Byron Bay lifestyle for a fraction of the cost. What more could we ask for.. Serious jobs, more travel, family and friends. All will have their turn. Just not yet. After all, it is with good reason that they say "be careful what you wish for". So we dare not.
One final little adventure/experience that would be remiss of me not to write about was our wedding. There is one photo online at the time of writing. Basically we had our names put forward to a villa management company that wanted to promote one of their villas as a wedding destination. Ti Amo Bali is the name (http://www.tiamobali.com/photos.htm) and Clare thought it would be good fun to have a night away in an old style timber javanese villa that was relocated piece by piece to the rice fields in the centre of Bali. Our end of the bargain was to be the newly weds. As hesitant as I was it turned out to be a lot of fun going together to pick out a dress that i'm sure Clare would never have worn while she had to pin me into the a suite that belonged to the 6 foot 2 villa manager. The whole shoot was done barefoot with shots either from the knee up or with the two of us cleverly arranged so my feet were hidden by her dress. It turned out to be a fun couple of days posing as newly weds. As gratitude we have been offered two nights there free at a time of our choosing.
The irony of the experience and what I referred to as saddening at the top of this post is that it is highly unlikely that we will ever get to use it. At least not together. As of mid September Clare and I have decided to part ways. We have had a brilliant twelve months together between Europe and South East Asia. Spending every minute of every day together was rarely if ever a hardship and was more often than not brilliant. As far as i'm concerned we did it better than almost anyone else I can think of. Unfortunately it seems we have become individually more self aware and recognised that if not permanently then at least temporarily we are being pulled in different directions. It is with a lot of love that we part ways and also in hope that everything that made us so compatible will bring us together again in the future. This post marks the end of this blog, the end of a year of travel together and the end of a chapter of our lives together. For the time being we will continue to go round and round not knowing where it will stop for either one of us. However it is time for us to move on to whatever will make us even happier and more fulfilled and in doing so, continue to live the dream.