Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Island of the Sods

I took the path of least resistance this Christmas and New Year and hopped over to Bali to stew in the sun and pig out on huge plates of international haute cuisine (hot food). It was off the plane and straight down Legian for me and I was sculling Storm beer and watching the sunset within the hour. Perhaps though, I shouldn't have lingered around the ground zero area too long. Yes, another Bali holiday, yet another chance to get to grips with the assorted Aussie surf intellectuals, Euro muesli heads and mercenary Javanese hawkers sent by Satan to mess with my head.

Back at the hotel (Suka Beach Inn on Poppies 2, Rp.60,000 per night with swimming pool and obligatory banana pancake breakfast) the Balinese International melting pot was recreated in miniature for my enjoyment. Straight off the bat I managed to scare some refined Euro types in the swimming pool with some uncouth British splashing about and soggy high jinx. They in turn responded by taunting me with a refrain from middle-aged, Tantric sex rainforest guru Sting's An Englishman in New York. I always have a slight inferiority complex which manifests itself when I'm around European tourists. I think this is largely due to the fact that they can understand what I'm saying as they can all speak English, but I can't understand a word of Swedish/French/German etc. My monolingual English ignorance tends to make me a bit wary. However, just because you can speak five languages doesn't necessarily mean that you have anything interesting to say in any of them, and this was demonstrated pool side by my fellow holidaymakers' Brit baiting chorus of Mr. Sting's weak tea bland, midlife crisis rock.

No, I had to get to my room. I was accosted on the way by a massage lady who was most insistent that I avail myself of her elderly services. I pushed her down the stairs and continued up to my Rp.60,000 per night presidential suite.

I got no peace there though. Next-door, a gang of antipodean surf gentlemen were proceeding to demolish their room from within, aided and abetted by several thousand bottles of beer. Every now and then one of these esteemed gents would return with more ale and announce, "Oi've got some more beer boys, wahay!" Smash, crash, thump, laughter, rinse and repeat. Ah, the trials of youth, God bless them all. I smiled and didn't for one second wish that I had a hand grenade to lob through the open window of their attached Mandi.

It was no use, I had to go out. I left the hotel and strolled into the balmy night air. Motorcycles piloted erratically by flip-flopped tourists were snapping at my heels but I was spurred on by signs saying, " Magic drink 50 m ahead," which seemed to be leading me onwards towards Buddhist nirvana and promising me insights into the everything-ness of Bali. After paying Rp.90,000 for a glass of psilocybin juice, I staggered saucer eyed onto the main Legian strip to do battle with humanity's dark side.

The local lads were out in force of course, stationed at 10 m intervals along the pavement and reciting their age old mantra of, "Transport... massage... woman... drugs," usually in that order. Best to keep walking I thought. Show a seconds hesitation and they've got you. I started to feel unsteady on the old legs and thus vulnerable to the handicraft Cosa Nostra. I stepped into a busy bar and sat down for a drink and a breather.

My brains synapses were audibly frying but alas no peace and quiet was there to be found. Surfers had swapped their boards for bottles of beer and were guzzling away as if the Sari Club had never been pulped. Local ladies were swarming around in tarty clothing trying to blend in. According to a Balinese lady that I chatted to, a lot of these girls are actually Jakartan butterflies who flock to Kuta pretending to be moneyed holidaymakers. It's more of a working vacation for them in reality. Unlike Jakarta though, the bar was also full of Australian girls hell-bent on consuming their surgeon general's weekly recommended units of alcohol in two hours.

It was time to slope off back to the hotel and get a good night's rest and thankfully my room was still standing next to the adjacent Mad Max/Rip Curl wreckage. Then oblivion, sleep, bliss.

The next morning I strolled down to the beach, all the way dodging a greater volume of motorcycle traffic than there is in Jakarta. Deck chair arranged, I sat down and settled in. Sun cream on pasty white flesh, knotted handkerchief on head, sorted. And then the broken record started up in earnest. The familiar oxymoronic whine of, "Just looking Mr, I give you cheap price." The psychic serenity of my son seeking session was ruined. Never again. I'll be having two weeks in Darfur next Christmas.

Simon Pitchforth