A holiday in Bali is great but just try living there.
The room, our home for the next three months, is dim and full of a damp musty odour, an aide memoir of constant humidity that allows nothing to dry. Here on business, and on a budget, all that separates me from luxury is a high brick wall and the tangled, rambling vines that hang down in a dense other wall, that thrives in excessive humidity. Beyond the wall, the Sanur Beach Hotel is for rich tourists who will never see into our space behind the Trophy Ayu complex located on Danau Tambligan. They laze on the beach, browning white skin and nursing exotic drinks, brought to them by smiling Balinese waiters dressed in traditional sarongs.
Sanur is dark and spiritually oppressive, with rumours of black magic and witchcraft constantly spoken of, in hushed voices, by those around us. The night before, we walked along the beach and found a group of Balinese men, in ceremonial dress, huddled in a circle performing some strange ritual. “It’s something evil,” I said to my husband, expecting to see dead chickens and blood smeared faces. I went to investigate – they were playing cards.
Our wrought iron light pendant holds two 25-watt globes and I can barely read the papers spread out on the table. Wayan brings some Bali coffee and I ask for brighter globes. He frowns, perplexed by the request.
“No-one has ever asked me that,” he says, “I will find.” Two hours later, I am still waiting. The afternoon shadows lengthen and the wall blocks rays from the setting sun; the room is depressingly dark.
“He’s forgotten,” says my husband, “they always do.”
“I’ll ask Rose,” I say to my husband and I manage to stop her before she leaves the office for the day.
“Wayan was going to find me some brighter light globes.”
“Sorry,” she smiles, “Wayan gone home. We not have brighter – perhaps Alas Arum.”
Back at the room, Terry is gazing intently into the murky waters of a small canal, which runs between the room and the wall.
“What’s Alas Arum?”
“Sorry, I don’t speak Indonesian. Ayum is chicken – if that helps.”
“Well I don’t want a bloody chicken, do I?” I snap and go to find an answer.
Butu is serving coffee to some German tourists who have escaped from the Sanur Beach Hotel. I wait and then follow him to the kitchen. Health department regulations are flexible in Bali – I am standing in rat droppings.
“Butu, what’s Alas Arum?”
“That is supermarket,” he replies.
“Further down Tamblingan,” he says. I wait while he flips an egg onto a plate of nasi goring.
“Butu!” I persist and he gives me that, ‘what are you still doing here,’ look.
“How do I find it?”
“You catch a bemo.” He points to where three people are alighting from a small green rusty mini bus.
“What do you want at Alas Arum?”
“You not need Alas Arum,” he says, with a look accusing me of total stupidity.
“Over there, they have.” He points to a small delicatessen across the road.
The globes are between Nescafe and Bintang Beer. Donald’s Mini Store has everything from apples to zips and I am thrilled to find the manager speaks English. I return to the Trophy with a bag of goodies and a dozen light globes.
Terry is still gazing into the water and nursing a large gin and tonic.
“Got the globes,” I say triumphantly, dragging a chair under the light fitting.
“Great,” he murmurs without lifting his gaze.
“What are you looking at?”
“Where?” I follow his line of sight.
Hundreds of frogs, in various stages of procreational activity, a portent of the plague that tormented the Egyptians, now threatens.
“How long before they take over?”
“Let’s see... Gestation period for frogs, I have it right here in the back of my brain, buried beneath our paperwork for Customs at Benoa Harbour.”
Our room runs off a narrow path that turns the corner and leads to a swimming pool – it is green. “It’s always green,” says my husband. Behind the pool, two sets of narrow blue doors lead to two separate bungalows surrounded by a tropical garden; each has a larger room, outdoor bathroom and small thatched gazebo. I am jealous of the occupants and spend the next few months hoping someone will vacate, giving us an opportunity to upgrade our accommodation.
There are eight other rooms, occupied by life’s drifters, seekers, disenfranchised and runaways; time-share employees, working six days a week, barely able to support themselves on what they earn. Their job is to persuade tourists to purchase a share in ownership of a condominium, offering a two week annual holiday, for ten years, in any one of a dozen locations around the world. Every morning, after breakfast, they catch a taxi into the Kuta office, where they wait while young Indonesians prowl the streets, offering tourists a free lunch and entry into a competition for a video camera. The willing participants are taken to the office and given a sales pitch lasting four hours. Lunch is a small sandwich and a warm bottle of water, and if they weaken, they will part with thirty thousand dollars.
Nothing here is easy; all government documents are written in Indonesian, taking me days to translate. Bali is a nice place to visit but I don’t want to live here. How appreciative I have become of our beautiful country of Australia and I can’t wait to return home.