It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.Likewise, here in Bali, every traveller must be in want of a sarong, massage, transport, or as is occasionally tendered jiggy jiggy.I quickly developed a composure of calm, zen-like indifference, walking through the streets of Kuta, ignoring the cacophony of services on offer.
Arrived at the airport and was kindly picked up by Darek, somehow defying physics and fitting my bags and the two of us onto his bike, and transporting me to meet Tamara (or as I fondly call her, the Dark Queen of Kuta), Vanessa, Tamara's boys: Liam and Levi; and her nephew Jayman.It must have been karma (Luchia I'm thinking of you here) being tired from the journey, all my protests were in vain as Tamara handed me shot after shot of jungle juice (a lethal combo of Balinese 'whiskey' and fruit cordial) and led me by the hand to dance on stage (me being naturally such an introvert necessitating such encouragement), the evening culminating in us all having tequila poured down our faces (when in Rome).There really should be a video crew following Tamara about, it would make for compulsive viewing, there is never a dull moment travelling with her.
I knew I would hate Kuta, Bali's black heart: I did the first time and the last 10 years have not been kind.One of those slices of South East Asian paradise that has been ruined by rampant, unchecked tourism.Still it has a way of keeping you there - the lethargy brought on by the jungle juice hangovers.
Some things though haven't changed, like the way you immerge from the cashpoints a rupiah millionaire and how crossing a road, you must step out in front of a row of oncoming motorbikes, passing off a confidence you don't feel as they flow around you like a shoal of fish.
Sadly saying goodbye to Vanessa and Darek with another last night of karaoke, dancing and skinny dipping, we went off in search of tranquillity, which we found at a little gem called the Secret Garden Bungalows on Nusa Lembognan, a small island scented with clove cigarettes, frangipani and the seaweed that is laboriously farmed and dried to create giant tapestries alongside the beaches. Dived with mantas, had some incredible massages and thought about learning to surf (again), but the island doesn't have breaks named 'shipwreck', 'lacerations' and 'dead English novice' for nothing.
For the sake of a few hundred thousand rupiahs and a few hours extra in bed I arranged a ride back to the mainland with a local cargo boat.This transpired to be a very, very small dug out canoe with a lawnmower engine fastened to the back - a great vessel to spend two hours crossing one of the more treacherous stretches of ocean in SE Asia."Well," I thought as I looked around at the captain and two Austrians on board "this thing can probably just about hold the four of us".No sooner than thought, we promptly collected two more tourists. Setting off a little lower into the water, we then stopped to up pick up another eight locals and had 25 freshly caught tuna fish deposited around our feet.Though not religious I did make the sign of the cross and just about managed to keep my cool as waves crashed over the boat, the other tourists flinging themselves on top of bags to protect cameras and laptops (mine were kept relatively dry at the bottom of the pile).
Arriving at Padang Bai I was very saddened to see what the last 9 years of 'progress' have amounted to and so joined by Shirley, we wasted little time in getting to the Gili Islands. Largely unspoilt, thanks to a no car, no motor bike policy, it was here we celebrated my birthday, crashing the most luxurious resort on the island for pina coladas at the poolside bar, massages and body scrubs (courtesy of Tam) a fantastic lobster dinner and dancing till the early hours.
After a week of soaking up the sun and bintangs on Gili Trawangeng something more active called to us in the shape of Rinjani, Indonesia's third largest mountain - oh but the best made plans. Tam and I got to the tiny basecamp village of ratten huts to watch a monsoon and count the frogs and lizards in the bathroom. Often there would be blackouts and i've never felt such darkness before, so thick you could almost taste it.After two days of solid rain we abandoned our hiking plans and headed to the Southern beaches of Lombok.Kuta Lombok is a surfing mecca with stunning beaches, huge waves and lush green hills, it is on the brink of a six gazillion dollar investment but for now it's a little piece of paradise. It didn't take long for us to ingratiate ourselves with the local surfing community and I often sat absorbed for hours listening to lengthy conversations about waves - who ever knew you spend whole evenings talking about water.
We befriended two great chaps Keith and Jim from Australia who were gracious enough to show us around.Jim also kindly gave me a surf lesson which was great fun, however, unfortunately for me Jim had neglected to mention a golden rule of surfing which is if in doubt let go of the board. Rushing towards the shore I clung on until I hit the beach, at which point the side of the board rebounded to hit me in the face - trust me, you've not been smacked in the face until you've been smacked in the face by 7ft 2 of fibreglass.The locals found it hilarious that I was even attempting to learn on such a large reef break (note the surf lingo) and I had a bruised, swollen nose and a black eye the next day to show for my efforts.
In between I am a little perturbed at Tams' idea that after four weeks in Indo we must all have hook worm, but that we shouldn't worry as it's a good thing - hookworms being a natural blood filter. Hmmm, i'm not so sure, they don't sound too good to me and Tam is full of strange notions - for one thing she's vegan. Regardless, I am not stepping barefoot anywhere anymore.
Tomorrow I am travelling back by public bus to Mataram, Lombok's capital to pick up my friend Louise from the airport (whoop whoop).The public buses here are quite an experience.You get on and wait for an hour or two until it is full: to the point where the aisle is filled with small chairs and those are taken too.Then you wait for another hour as incredibly more people are squeezed on, children on laps, men hanging onto the side and sat on the roof. Then for the next long while sacks of crops, artisans and livestock are brought on board (I saw one women hold on her lap six chickens tied together by their feet and two children), then for the next 30 minutes the driver will psyche himself up with nicotine and asian redbull (the kind that's banned in every other continent) before finally starting the engine - at which point the bus stops every hundred meters or so to let people off and on and everyone on the bus starts smoking and I try to duck the spittal coming from the women chewing betel nut in front - still it's all part of the wonderful adventure ; )
Semuanya baik xxx