After a two-and-a-half hour KLM flight from Singapore to Bali, Ed and I landed at Denpasar International Airport. Five minutes passed until someone brought up the gangway. When the doors of the plane opened, I scurried after Ed. He wanted to beat the lines at customs.
Suddenly a short bald man ahead on the gangway called out, “The escalator’s barricaded.” The attendant pointed, bald guy turned, and marched onward. We followed in hot pursuit, even though the way looked as if it dead-ended into a wall. Bald guy turned a corner and when we reached it, I saw his head bobbing as he descended a narrow staircase. I scooped up my burnt-orange Tumi roller bag
designed for lightness and cringed when I reached the next floor. The corridor was dank; the carpet tattered. Metal pounding metal somewhere. Construction? Around yet another corner—men frantically waving signs with passenger names. How’d they get past security? Was one of them our greeter? I scanned for McCracken but Ed wasn’t stopping. Suddenly we alighted into a vast room. Purchase Visa signs hung above counters. “We don’t want these lines,” Ed called over his shoulder. “We have ours.”
My anxiety level was working itself into a panic attack. I’d had a bad feeling about our greeter meeting us at the airport. More than that, strange environments scare me. I don’t have a big desire to visit countries other than Germany, Europe, or places I can easily navigate a culture. I got to Bali because I married Ed, a man who loves to travel, is inquisitive, and will eat anything. The extent of my adventurous life has been limited to backpacking the Sierra. A bad back, memories of hiking with blistered feet with 40 pounds on my back, days I couldn’t spoon another scoop of rice and beans into my mouth, and sleepless nights in tents made me yearn for vacations at the Ritz. And I’ve lived on Maui—left it because of stinging centipedes, gecko poop, and tropical lackadaisical attitudes. I knew the likelihood of our driver not showing up was good.
Access to Bali was granted with three swift stamps to my passport.
We made our way to find our greeter, who was late. When Ed found him, he mumbled something about the construction. He was a flake. Our driver on the other hand was skillful at maneuvering his van through four-lane streets, and then two-lane narrow roads jammed with motor scooters that sounded like swarming bees. One scooter I saw carried three passengers—two women and a child in front. Aghast, I noticed their helmets and felt some semblance of relief for them.
We drove from Denpasar to Sayan in the dark, making it difficult to see outside my window. What I think I saw were slums. This was Bali? This wasn’t what my friends had gushed about, when they’d waxed on about, and wrote poetry and books about Bali. For the entire one-and-a half hours of our drive to the hotel, I stared into the dark and saw dimly lit courtyards of one-story concrete block structures and clapboard-like houses. I could discern piles of garbage, stacks of tile, rows of pottery and statues, motor scooter and motor-part junkyards; bright lights of storefronts shocked my eyes. Multitudes of motor scooters lined the street in front of dilapidated roofed open-air cafes.
The little enthusiasm I had for Bali after Denpasar International Airport was diminished, because the sight of poverty makes me uncomfortable. I’m not like people who travel to save the starving in Africa or rain forests of Peru. I’ve lived a sheltered and comfortable life. And I was vaguely worried, because coming from the U.S. one assumes that poor means dangerous. But I’d been told that Bali is full of kind, warm-hearted people. This is what I would have to look for to be comfortable here. Otherwise I might never see the things Ed and my friends love and appreciate about Bali.
Note: We ventured out to Ubud today and experienced everything from pot-holes in the streets, a beggar boy,
beautiful doorways and statues, and shelter from the extreme heat and kindness from the waiter at the Cafe de Artistes Ubud.
Tomorrow Ed’s “inner farmer” will spend the morning in a rice paddy. I decided to accompany him figuring it would be something worth writing about.