“This passport photo, it is not good.”
It isn’t good. I had glandular fever that day, and my eyes were glassy, my hair a wild dark nest.
“No, it’s crap,” I agree.
“Naomi,” he says, squinting at my passport. “It’s Japanese name, yes?”
“I think it’s Hebrew,” I say.
“Japanese,” he says decisively, handing it back to me. “Ah! You’re from New Zealand! Kia ora!”
His white teeth flash and I can’t help grinning back. Welcome to Bali.
The customs officer waves my pack through with a languid “nothing to declare” and we emerge into the soupy 26 degree heat to calls of “taxi, boss!”
“What did the Lonely Planet say a taxi should cost?” I hiss to Darren and fumble with large notes, trying to look experienced, suave, nonchalant: all that we’re not.
“I don’t know – no, no taxi,” he rumbles, waving away a lean, grinning man hauling our packs into his cab.
“Cheap taxi boss!”
“Kuta fifty thousand rupee!”
“Bugger this,” I say, and walk off toward the carpark. We approach a small, balding taxi driver in a short-sleeved white shirt, crouching on the kerb smoking a cigarette.
“Cheap!” he says and leaps up as we lug our bags towards him. He reaches to shake our hands. “My name is Amet. Thirty thousand rupee.”
Darren nods approvingly. “That’s cheap.”
Amet grabs our bags, promising to take us to a good backpackers’. “Very good, very cheap!” Of course it is.
Amet speeds us the thirteen kilometres into Kuta with wide sweeps of his steering wheel. I grip the door handle and lurch across the seat at every turn. After Korea, driving on the left feels suicidal, though I grew up with it at home. As we swing through the streets I can’t believe the differences between the country I’ve just left and the one in which I’ve suddenly arrived. Bali’s roads, far from being the gray, ugly concrete shit heap of a wintering Korea, are hung with soft coloured lights and lush green vegetation. They seem cosily cluttered, a jungle of glimpse and murmur. The heat spreads all around, seeping into my winter-dry skin. Soon I am relaxed, heavy-lidded and smiling as readily as the Balinese people until Amet swings across two lanes and almost takes out a motorbike.
We have no travel plans here, both of us just wanting to sit on the beach for as long as it takes to forget screaming students and the breath of morning kimchi on the subway. We ask Amet for suggestions about getting out of Kuta.
“I will drive you north to Lovina Beach,” he offers, pulling up at a set of wooden buildings half-hidden by trees and turning around to smile at us. We exchange glances.
“What’s in Lovina?”
“Traditional Bali, dolphins, good for relax, very cheap,” Amet says, patting the steering wheel. He knows the buzzwords.
“Dolphins?” I say.
“Cheap?” says Darren.
Surprisingly, it just so happens that he can take us there tomorrow, for very good price.
We go to sleep watching the geckos creep across the ceiling, thrilled to be in a place where the outside blends so seamlessly with the inside, where the fan does nothing but shift warmth around, barely stirring the heat. But who wants the chilly artifice of aircon when there are gauzy curtains, verandahs, leaves brushing the screens and windows that open onto languid air? Couldn’t afford it, anyway.
In the morning, the sun has warmed the terracotta tiles outside, and there are little oysters of gecko droppings on the floor. I quickly wash under a rusty drizzle in the turquoise tub, eying the corners of the huge, decrepit bathroom for spiders. Drying with a rough, threadbare towel, I squelch across the room, push my blindingly white feet into jandals and head outside to explore.
2 Comments so far
Leave a comment