We are ready when our driver Kadek arrives at 10am sharp in South Kuta, Bali; he is bright-eyed, professionally dressed, and cheery. More impressive than it sounds when you realize he has already been driving for well over three hours, just to pick us up. We will now be heading back to Lovina Beach from where Kadek began his journey at dawn this morning.
It takes some time to escape Denpasar as we dodge hundreds of flip-flopped scooter riders that pass on the right, or the left, or just hang like a parasite alongside our SUV. There are mothers with babies and toddlers in tow, some bound to their chests by a simple cloth sling. Helmets are optional. Kadek calmly negotiates around the scooters and careless pedestrians who are often balancing a strangely eclectic collection of goods on their heads and shoulders. I am sometimes surprised by the speed at which we “over-take” vehicles (a much more sinister process than simply “passing” another vehicle) and careen over the double white lines while facing head-on traffic as if a casual occurrence. Endless toots come from every direction signifying “I’m coming around this corner, but maybe I can’t see you and / or you can’t see me,” or “I am over-taking you,” or maybe just a simple “Thank you for letting me in, or out.” Or, all the previous combined. Kadek himself is a skillful “tooter.”
We pass a mish mash line-up of foreigners and tourists (white people) on scooters in front of a police station near Denpasar – apparently, a cash cow operation as we witnessed frequently in South Kuta. The irony is that they are checking to see if the foreigners are carrying an International Driver’s License which is merely a language translation of basic license information that can be easily arranged through AAA outlets in the US. We have one, but learned it expired after one year. When Cliff rented our scooter, no one even asked to see a driver’s license, they just requested a passport number. After the police pull you over and find you are not carrying an International Driver’s License, they demand cash as a fine and you are on your way. We were instructed by the scooter rental company not to give the police cash. It’s a racket. We quit driving our scooter.
Soon the chaos of the city is behind us and rice fields and verdant terracing graces the landscape. Weaving and rolling like a sailboat traversing large swells, we begin an ascent up a small mountain (we’re from Colorado) on a lane and a half wide winding road. Before long it looks like a scene from Jurassic Park and I am feeling like we are on The Road to Hana in Maui. Monkeys are munching an assortment of partially consumed treats along the roadside. Luwak coffee signs appear like road markers and countless hindu temples, large to small, line the roadways. Amused by the chaotic driving, Cliff asks, “Remind you of Italy?” Of course it does. In fact, the journey today has unexpectedly evoked a plethora of bittersweet memories of our travels this past year. I am grateful for the interesting and wondrous places and things we have been able to experience. Yet, one thing stands out above all else. It’s the people we’ve encountered along the way. The joyous faces and the pleasures of shared company – new friends. Friends brought together by circumstance where bonds form quickly. I wonder how our lives would be different if we had never met Dominique at a small museum in the countryside east of Paris, or had dinner with Serge and Sylvie in the lush courtyard of their cozy guesthouse in Toulouse. Our month in Croatia has especially fond memories – as we lived side-by-side with a family on a hill above the Adriatic Sea – KAH-tay (phonetic spelling), the humble fisherwoman who had also been a top-level pastry chef for forty years. Or sipping tea in Istanbul with Julie in one of her Airbnb listings; who thirty years prior moved from England after meeting her husband. And enjoying a seaside lunch in Cornwall with Mike and Suzanne, whom we met while working out at a hotel gym. And could I ever forget Taxi Tony who took us on a wild ride around London, in his Black Cab Taxi one wet and gray Friday afternoon. The young seven-year-old face of a high-energy rascal that I first came to know as a teenager myself, when I stumbled upon a social class documentary series, just starting back then and updated every seven years, called Seven Up. There are MANY others, including wonderful people whose homes we were blessed to care for in Australia. Like Mandy’s and her three loving furkids in Adelaide, and Kirsty’s and Rick’s home with their beloved 90 pound hound “Oscar” in Perth. I miss these people – they have become part of the fabric of our lives. Will we ever see them again?
The final journey today ended up taking well over four hours, including a couple spontaneous stops. Cliff purchased a dive computer after googling dive shops while we were on the road, and we stopped for an early afternoon cup of Kopi Luwak at a touristy roadside Coffee Plantation. Oh yeah….Turkish toilets – I almost forgot about these. First at the dive shop where I decide I can wait, and then again at the coffee plantation where I decide I can’t wait. Most often these toilets are the cleanest, just tricky to use, depending on what you wear that day. We also stopped to pick up some basic groceries and snacks at a convenience store, and a SIM card for Cliff’s phone. Just in case our Google Project fi phones fail us. It’s rare. But it’s happened. They are good for about 130 countries.
As we arrive at Villa Tiga Wasa, we are greeted by staff, Sumi the Cook and Housekeeper and Kadek (again), the Gardener and General Repair Guy. They are warm and friendly with huge smiles! The gentle nature of these people is quickly evident. We drudge up the steps to our villa, like the vagabonds we are, with numerous sacks in hand, back packs mounted to our backs, and walk directly up the center of the villa and straight out onto the wide-open lanai. The view is captivating! Muted dusty blues and hazy grays in the distant sky obscure it, but I know the Java Sea is concealed below. I am instantly struck by the extreme sense of peace.
We settle in and start unpacking. Cliff takes a dip in the pool. I am tired and somewhat dehydrated; by intention to avoid unnecessary pit stops. I need a break. I drink some bottled water from a 5-gallon container situated on the kitchen counter. I start perusing the help-yourself bookshelf adjacent to the counter and discover “MY NAME IS RED,” by Orphan Pamuk and set in 16th Century Istanbul. I am hooked by the moment I come to the period at the end of the third sentence. I lay down in our spacious bedroom that opens to a balcony with that same amazing view I spoke of earlier. Feels great to stretch out and relax.
After about 45 minutes, Sumi asks, “What would you like for dinner?” I am immediately stumped. This is the question I usually ask! She also wants me to make a list of what we like and what grocery items she should pick up while shopping. I quickly slip into empathy mode. I don’t want to put her out. There is a definite language barrier. This feels strange. Stranger than I expected. I am used to being the one in charge in the kitchen!
I return to the bedroom and excitedly continue reading the intriguing, bizarre novel that will surely bring much intellectual stimulation over the coming weeks – I don’t usually read 400 page novels. Soon I hear subtle clinking sounds in the kitchen. I wonder what Sumi is whipping up for us! It’s different to be on this side of the process. I feel like I should be offering help. I am interested in learning more about Balinese cooking. My need to rest wins out over my curiosity and empathy. It’s a good thing.
“Ready!” Sumi shyly calls out. There it is again! I am usually the one declaring this message. Maybe not so shyly. I respond promptly, “Coming!” I don’t want to keep her waiting or show a hint of disrespect for the meal she has prepared. On my way to the table I notice a rather mangy smallish black and white dog on the porch. He appears somewhat skittish. I try to make eye contact, but he resists. I am not overly surprised by this having experienced island living in Bora Bora where feral dogs are everywhere. I assume he is Sumi’s. She says his name is Belang.
Two servings of tasty Nasi Goreng – chopped chicken, yellow and red peppers, onions, sweet and sour tamarind and chili spices, and rice all blended together and neatly plated on the lanai. Al fresco dining in the kind of setting we have previously paid dearly for, gazing over the tops of palm trees and banana ferns – it’s a feeling like floating above the clouds. In a treehouse. I could get used to this!
I dish Belang some left-overs in his bowl out back, while Sumi states “Chris’s dog. Owner.” We later learn that Belang is really a neighbor’s dog that Chris and his wife have come to foster. I notice he has a bad leg.
Before Sumi leaves, she asks “What would you like for breakfast?” That’s my line again, what shall I say?? I feel guilty asking someone to make my breakfast. “Just yogurt… and fruit… and toast.”
“What time?” she queries again. “Uh…” Why is this so difficult I ask myself. “Nine o’clock,” Sumi offers. “Okay, sounds great!” I say slightly tongue-tied. Ridiculous. I know.
The sun has begun its descent. The sky washed in a misty grayness with streaks of pinkish color poking through; remnants of a sunset. We can still see an outline of the curvaceous coastline below. Mystical Hindu chants and song like praising fill the darkness. Cliff checks out back the Villa around 8:30 PM and sees that Ketut, the property’s security guard, has arrived. He is in his bamboo, open air hut and gives a friendly wave – a shy, gentle man, English not so good. Ketut will remain there all night, performing occasional searches around the property with his trusted “torch,” as my Aussie and British friends would say! 😊 “Flashlight” as we call it in America.
The night comes early. It is dark and balmy. Below, a bank of twinkling lights remind us of the small village that exists along the sea. There is a cacophony of sounds emitting from the inky darkness; crickets and geckos and roosters, and a sundry of other nameless creatures. The windows are wide open. The breeze is cool and gentle. The smell is earthy and honest. I am recalling the feeling of summer from my childhood. Life is abundant and good.