Monday, April 10, 2017

Braving Boats, Beaches and Bracelet Ladies

I awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing. A sticky heat crept into the room to dominate the air conditioning. I saw some bright colors out of the corner of my left eye and turned my head to find that my friend Jenny had left a few festive flowers right beside my pillow. Everything in Bali so far is different and lovely to wake up to. Portland, where I live, has been full of dreary winter and rainy spring days so far this year, with only a couple of brief, sunny reprieves.

Jenny was in her bikini and putting her face on. She was readying herself for a busy morning of lying around by the pool. After telling me where to find breakfast and coffee, she joked, "the Australians take all the cream though. I like to blame everything on the Australians." They were an easy target, I already knew, even though I had just arrived in Bali the previous evening. The place was rife with Australian tourists.

Bali is also lousy with street merchants, who stand in front of their shops trying to lure you in, desperate to relieve every tourist of all of their rupiah. We bobbed and weaved our way through them as we made our way to the beach later that day. "Hello, my friend," they all said to either one of us. To me, they always said, "Hey, green hair!" or "I like your hair!" and a couple of them just exclaimed, "Lady Gaga!"

"You're the bell of the Balinese ball, Amy!" Jenny said. "Damn, if I ever want to get laid in Indonesia, I'm going to dye my hair purple or something!"

We got down to the beach, each of us a sweaty mess under the glaring sun. We rented chairs with umbrellas and then all of the beach merchants descended upon us, in hopes that we'd buy their sunglasses, ice cream, or drinks (we acquiesced and bought a couple of cold beers). One man came by to try to sell us hats. Jen told him, "I spent all my money already!"

"Ahh," he replied, "tomorrow, if you want to hold onto your money, beware of the massage ladies! And the bracelet ladies! The bullshit-talking bracelet ladies."

Naturally we were intrigued, but we were also distracted by the funny ring that "bullshit-talking bracelet ladies" had to it. A woman walked by shortly after, her voice beckoning, "Massage?" I had to grab Jen's towel and cover me face to stifle my laugh.

After our one hour was up in our rented chairs, we walked from Kuta beach to a beach in Seminyak. We'd planned to eat on the beach and watch the sunset and hear live music and we found a bar where we could do all of these things. I like it here, even though it takes some getting used to that noodles are served for breakfast. The only dairy I get each day in the cream in my coffee, but I don't miss the sluggish feeling that plagues me when I've had too much dairy. Most places only serve instant coffee though, so that is another adjustment. But rice, veggies, fresh fish and Bintang beers are readily available everywhere and have pretty much become my diet here, and I can't complain.

The next day, we found a place that served real cappuccinos, for which we were eternally grateful. After lounging around by the pool for a couple hours, we headed back to the beach, where we played our ukuleles. People wanted their pictures taken with us as we played. Jenny pointed out that I had pictures taken of me for money back home, as a model. "Hey," she quipped, "she gets paid like, a thousand dollars an hour for this normally!"A man was lying in the sand just a few yards away from where Jenny sat. He kept smiling and staring at her, ostensibly enjoying the music. I went out to swim in the Indian ocean. Someone came by and started taking video of Jenny while she played more music. Then, she recounted to me later, the man lying in the sand nearby unbuckled his belt and took liberties with himself while Jenny played on. He was just fastening himself back up when I returned.

Today we took a long boat ride to one of the Gili Islands, where we'll spend the next 48 hours. The waves were prodigious and choppy. The boat ride felt treacherous. Jen gave me the Mexican equivalent of dramamine, stowed away from one of her other adventures, before, and during, the boat ride. I still felt a little queasy, especially when the two women in front of us started taking turns vomiting. Mercifully, Jenny and I kept our breakfasts down. I clutched my belongings or Jenny's hand in fear every time the boat shook, but finally, after an hour and a half of rocking back and forth, we arrived.

After we climbed out of the boat, scaled the side of it to get back to the front of it and jump off, we made the rest of our rainy voyage to the hotel on foot. We stepped mostly around, but sometimes through, big muddy puddles, as bicyclists and chickens scurried by. There are no cars on the island, only bikes and horse-drawn carriages. The rain and mud sticking to us, we finally found our little, rustic hotel, complete with an outdoor shower and toilet. I felt happy to take a tepid shower before lunch. I reflected on how I'd woken up today feeling sad that I was halfway through my trip to Bali already. I counted the days to see if I was wrong and if maybe I had more time ahead of me.

On our scary boat ride, I started counting the days before I leave Bali.

Now that I'm rested, clean and fed, I am happily between those two extremes: grateful for what I've experienced so far, and excited for what lies ahead, but relieved that I'll get to return home next week and see my son again.

As we'd traipsed through the mud, hauling all of our luggage to our hotel earlier today, a Australian man saw me struggling with my suitcase and offered to carry it over the mud puddles for me. I thanked him and he kept my bag from getting wet and filthy. "See Jen," I thought to myself, "there's something you can't blame an Aussie for: good old-fashioned chivalry." I can't wait to see what other kindhearted or bullshit-talking people we will meet on our adventure.

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