Friday, January 8, 2010

Heading Down South

Saturday morning, 19th of December, I caught a flight out of Tokyo to Bali, Indonesia. My headphones did not work for the in-flight movie, but the flight was otherwise agreeable. My traveling companion was Jess, another ALT from my city. On arrival, we were hung up getting the Visas, and so we were the last to the luggage claim. The conveyor was stopped and our two bags were in the hands of three uniformed men. With an assertive nature the porters swept us through the final steps of the airport, nearly barking orders at us. “Hand over the pink slip here.” Exchange money there.” Then it was over and they asked for a tip. I rummaged in my fresh envelope of Indonesian cash and gave the man who carried my bag a pink bill. Then the other two put out their hands. Okay, two more notes. The cab ride was near an hour, and about halfway through I decided to count my rupies. My first observation was that the pink bill is 100,000 rupies, or $10. I gave three guys a ten dollar tip each. And so did Jess. $30 rendered for a (no lie) 100 foot walk through the airport, more frustrating than helpful. But that was the racket.


The Airport is actually fairly close to the city center, but traffic gets pretty thick. I have no idea where so many people on scooters need be to going, but there they go. For the first few days we stayed at Sugi Bungalow in Kuta, Bali. Kuta is the tourism focal point of Indonesia. The spring break/Cancun/party central destination of Bali. We stayed about ten minutes of narrow street walking from the ocean. The hotel was a gated compound, complete with broken glass molded into the top of the fence. A pool, outdoor dining area, and a scattering of quaint bungalows gave little reason to leave.

For three days we hoofed it around town enjoying the international cuisine (lots of Mexican) and avoiding being made suckers. Kuta is a playground for tourists (mostly Australians) and a hunting ground for local vendors. I say “local” but it seemed that folks came from all over Indonesia to tap into this thriving tourism community. I have read that tourism has been down due to terrorism in the last decade, but it is hard to imagine there being many more people.

The beach is something else. A few miles of sand against the Indian Ocean. The sunsets are nothing short of amazing. The beach is well attended throughout the day, but especially at dusk the people pour out. And mostly locals at that. Its great to see people recognizing the good stuff that they have. But on the flipside, the beach and water are in a terrible state. Hundreds, no, thousands of fish are washed up dead on the shore. I don’t know what killed them, but I doubt it was kindness. In addition, garbage is everywhere. Not sure if its the locals or the tourists, but its bad.

I wanted to hang around the beach town to observe the Solstice. How grand it was to celebrate my second Summer Solstice of the year. The day loses a little flare being so close to the equator, but I enjoyed it just the same. Unlike those heathens in Japan who celebrate the Equinox. Dinner was at the Havana Club. Great food, good wine, and framed pictures of Che Guevara all over the walls. Then it was bedtime. The morning would include an early flight to Jogyakarta on the island of Java.