“Miss, you come in, I give you free drink.”
“Hello, where you stay? Come sit, try free drink.”
With every step I take along the road in this sleepy village someone tries to lure me into a conversation. So far they have all been sitting under open-air, thatch-top pavilions that serve as restaurants. I just shake my head no and keep walking. I am in search of an Internet Cafe. There is a third guy now, standing on the dirt shoulder of the road.
“Good morning – how are you?” he asks. “I am fine,” I reply. The Balinese are so polite that you want to respond in kind, even when they are in-your-face aggressively trying to sell you something. It is a trap they use very effectively. “Where are you staying?” he asks, in perfect English. I motion to the end of the road, “Down there somewhere,” I say. “I want to be your friend,” he continues. “My name is Delta. You want to go sit on the beach and talk?” He flashes a brilliant smile at me. Delta is about 5’8″ tall with jet-black, curly shoulder length hair and stunningly white, perfectly straight teeth. He is cute and he knows it. He can’t be more than 30 years old, although it is hard to judge age with the Balinese. “Delta, are you hitting on me?” I ask, now being completely impolite. He is taken aback and seems a bit embarrassed, but the smile never falters. “No, no, just friends,” he says, adding, “But very good friends.”
I am in Amed, fishing and diving town located on the furthest eastern tip of Bali. This is the desert side of the island, so it is hot and dry rather than hot and humid. And it is remote. Few tourists venture this far off the beaten track and even intrepid divers arrive in fewer numbers these days. Bali’s tourism industry was hit hard by the bombing of a nightclub back in 1998, and a second bomb two years ago. It is hard to imagine such a thing on this peaceful island where terrorism is almost unheard of. After the first bombing, governments all over the world posted warnings against traveling to Bali, which is a bit like being warned not to travel to the United States because of the attack in the World Trade Center, but people stayed away in droves. With an economy that is driven by tourism, the result has been devastating for the Bali. So, when the occasional tourist does arrive in an out of-the-way place like Amed, there is no way to escape the pestering.
I explain to Delta that, despite his gorgeous smile, I am not interested (although I am flattered) and continue down the street. Not to be deterred, he walks with me, suggesting first that we have dinner together (my easy excuse is that dinner is included in the price of my room), that we meet on the beach tonight to talk – jut talk (no thanks, I say), and finally, that he take me to snorkel the Japanese wreck a mile off shore in the morning (we’ll see, I say). He finally shrugs and leaves. But this is not the last I will see of him.
The only two Internet Cafes in this town have old-fashioned dial-up connections. I suffer through an excruciatingly slow session that will not allow me to upload any photos and finally settle for just getting my email. It takes over an hour. Back at the Vienna Hotel, I sit in the open-air restaurant, watching the local kids play a riotous game of pick-up soccer on the black sand beach. All the men from the hotel, along with my guide, Wayan, are squatting on the low concrete wall that separates the restaurant from the beach, watching the game and chuckling at the antics. One kid is so skinny he keeps losing his pants, causing him to trip and fall in the sand as he attempts to kick the ball. He just lies there, face down in his orange underpants, with his long shorts around his ankles, laughing. Wayan explains later that it is all part of the game – the kid uses it as a diversion. Halfway through the game Delta joins the men on the wall. I ignore him.
Early the next morning I snorkel out to the reef, which is just about 75 feet offshore, directly in front of my room. The coral reef is mostly muted shades of beige and brown, punctuated by the occasional perfectly circular disc of bright lime green or royal purple. While it is not the most spectacular reef I have ever seen, I have never seen more fish. Huge rainbow Parrot Fish drift lazily along with giant Red Snapper and elegant Queen Angelfish. With my focus on the reef beneath me I am occasionally startled by silvery needle-nose Trumpet Fish that swim by me at the level of my mask. At one point I find myself surrounded by thousand of the tiniest fish – purple and yellow striped Zerbra Fish, iridescent blue Neon Fish, and so many others I cannot identify: one with yellow and white horizontal stripes and a pink underbelly, another that is the purest seafoam green. They dart and zip around, curiously investigating me without ever touching me. Eventually I relax into the snorkeling and just drift along in the water. My breathing slows and I begin to hear the snap, crackle, pop sound of the reef that is the fish eating the coral. At the outer edge of the reef I judge the depth to be about 50 feet and I can see clear to the bottom. I wish I had an underwater camera!
After an hour of snorkeling I drag myself out of the water and plop on the beach. No sooner am I settled on my towel than Delta squats down beside me. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that a long conversation ensued about how much he loves me – HA! He finally gives up when another couple wander by that had earlier shown some interest in scheduling a dive trip with him.
Later that day, when when Wayan and I hit the road again, I tell him about Delta. “He was the guy talking to you on the beach this morning?” Wayan asked. “Yeah, that’s the guy.” I said. Wayan laughed and said he told his friends, “Watch – he can try but he’s not going to get anywhere with her.” When Delta finally walked away from me, Wayan turned to his friends and said, “See, I told you so, not that one.” I never realized how much he had my back over the past five days. “If this happen again, you just tell them you are traveling with me and I am your boyfriend. Then they will leave you alone.”
We are heading back to Ubud, the cultural and arts center of the island, where I will stay for the next four nights. On the way, Wayan stops at a roadside stand to buy Snakefruit, another of the dozens of unusual tropical fruits that grow here. He has been introducing me to different varieties as we travel around the island. Snakefruit is a round, brown fruit about three to four inches in diameter, that grows in clumps like grapes on the vine. It is named for its rough scaly skin. He breaks one open. Inside are sections that look like giant garlic cloves but taste delicious – astringent in a way that sucks all the water from your mouth, but sweet just the same. I ask about the big round fruit on the other side of shop – it too has a spiky exterior but is green and yellow colored. “That’s called Durian,” he says. “It stinks.” “Does it taste good?” I ask. He wrinkles up his nose. Somehow, I think I m not going to get to sample Durian so I lean over and smell it. It smells rank in in the same way limburger cheese does and I decide Wayan knows best.
Before returning to Ubud, we make several more stops to see the active Kintamani volcano in the center of the island, driving halfway around the rim and stopping occasionally to see the vistas across its giant caldera. The last eruption was in the 1920′s and the lava flow from that event is still clearly visible as a black gash in the otherwise verdant vegetation.
I am in Ubud now, back at the same hotel where I started this Bali journey. The dead lizard is gone from above the mirror but there still are no towels, toilet paper, or soap in my room. However, I am smarter this time and make a thorough check of the room before the clerk leaves and ask for the missing items to be delivered. In minutes I am well equipped, so I jump in the shower to wash off the sweat of the day. I splash just enough chilly water on me to soap up while I wait for the hot water to arrive – it sometimes takes up to five minutes for the hot water to reach the tap here in Bali. Five minutes later the water is colder. No hot water today – the machine is broken. We are really SO lucky in the United States and we take it all for granted.