Monday, January 10, 2011

82. Bali

A few months later Tony telephoned me and said “We are going to Bali for ten days, why don’t you come with us?” It had been three years since I vowed never again to travel overseas on holiday, but I really needed a break from Elaine, and this holiday would be different because I would not be travelling alone, and Bali would be unlike any other place I had visited before. And, indeed it was. The flight to Singapore was extremely comfortable, Singapore airlines are a cut above all the rest, and Tony did all the organising. There was a small mix up about my reservation on the onward flight from Singapore to Bali, but that was sorted out and later I received a lovely wooden box containing a huge candle as an apology from the airline! If that were the policy on British Airways I would buy shares in a candle making factory! The Airport at Singapore was amazing, spotlessly clean, orchids everywhere and the customs and immigration desks had bowls of sweets for the taking.

The hotel in Bali was magnificent, set in beautiful grounds which stretched right down to the beach. The atmosphere was cool, calm and restful and the weather was perfect; we seemed to be surrounded by trickling water and thousands of orchids. The hotel staff members were tiny, pretty and smiling and the girls wore long, slim colourful dresses made out of light brocade and their thick, black hair was combed back into rolls and adorned with flowers. The whole setting was like a Hollywood movie. The food? I have never seen the like before or since and the presentation was a feast for the eyes with carvings made out of fruit or ice or butter. Every kind of food I could imagine was offered, and many delicacies I had never seen before. And the display of deserts made me wish I had four stomachs instead of one, and it was all included in the price of the package. The only thing guests were required to pay for was drinks, other than fruit juice. If one wished to eat when the main dining room was closed, there were two other dining rooms where a more limited choice of food was available. It was piglet’s paradise!

Entertainment was also provided. One evening we listened to an excellent female singer who would sing almost anything on request, another evening we watched a troupe of dancers performing the traditional neck jerking Bali dances, and then the members of staff performed for us, very energetically after a hard days work. But the very best entertainment of all was the children’s evening. There was a circus training school in the grounds of the hotel were, every day, the children were taught how to work on a trapeze, how to tumble and perform acrobatics, it was a wonderful opportunity for them to enjoy themselves doing something quite different and they just loved it. They must have worked very hard because the final evening performance was a sheer delight. One little girl, who was obviously a trained gymnast, gave a spectacular performance on the trapeze. I applauded until my hands were sore.

There did not seem to be many children around, and that may have been because the beaches on our side of the island were not sandy and so were unsuitable for paddling, or playing, but the swimming pool at the hotel was huge. There were hotels all along the beach but it was sad to see one enormous building standing empty and uncompleted. The tourist trade had been so badly affected by a couple of terrorists’ bombings that the hotel’s developers had withdrawn. Our one trip into the town of Bali was not a great success because hawkers clung to us like limpets and made walking very difficult and unpleasant and we were pleased to return to the hotel.

The porters and drivers at the hotel were not allowed to tout for trade among the guests, but with little side remarks about “my brother who has a mini bus” deals were made. Thus a leisurely tour of the island was arranged; the tour had to be almost at walking pace because the roads were absolutely jammed with thousands of motor scooters. I remembered saying, in Bulawayo, that I could not take Jeni and Juliea to the doctor’s on my Honda scooter, but these Hondas were laden with husband, wife, a couple of kids, shopping and household goods. Traders carried all their stock of vegetables, or whatever, in huge panniers fixed all round their scooters. Some drivers wore crash helmets, others wore turbans. It was a kaleidoscope of colour, accompanied but a thousand motor horns. I was fascinated by the parade.

Everywhere people carried offerings of flowers to be laid at special places. The driver explained that because there were so many festivals in Bali, at least one a week, businesses had to employ migrant workers or nothing would ever get done! There is no doubt that Bali is a very poor island which relies mainly on tourists for revenue. Although there are hundreds of rice paddies, in fact the whole countryside seems to consist of rice paddies, they only grow enough for their own needs, there is nothing left to export. Rice is even grown in terraces on the hillsides.

We had lunch at a restaurant high up on a mountain, overlooking an inactive volcano - well, it last erupted in 1963 so it could go off again at any time. The food in the restaurant compared poorly to that at the hotel, and traders blocked the entrance, pushing and shoving so much I just wanted to escape into the bus. Jeni did not escape until she had bought, for me, a hand made chess set; My 92 year old neighbour at Somerset Oaks was teaching me to play chess, but I was not at all good at it. The Balinese revere animals so it was surprising to see so many mangy stray dogs on the roads. Dog collars and dog licences were unknown and, since the islanders eat mainly rice and vegetables with a little fish, the dogs probably never eat meat. Dog food would be much too expensive for them to buy.

The carved figures and carved furniture on sale were beautiful, but far too large and heavy to take back by air, but they could be ordered and shipped. But most of the island consisted of rice paddies and the one, dormant volcano. And we saw monkeys, hundreds of monkeys for whom we bought bananas. The monkeys in the monkey forest are sacred and may not be touched. It is a tragedy that terrorist activities deterred people from visiting Bali; the surfing was among the best in the world. Of course my opinion is based only on the hotel in which we stayed, but the service was outstanding, and the little people so pretty and polite.

The day we were due to leave I enquired at the reception desk about the procedure for handing out gratuities, only to be told “Thank you very much, but gratuities are not accepted!” So, all inclusive really meant just that. On the journey back we stayed overnight in Singapore but the stay was too short to visit the places I would have liked to see. Again, the hotel was magnificent and the breakfast outstanding. To the Indonesians, the presentation of food is an art form, but outside the hotel ugly MacDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises were packed with young people eating chunks of fried food out of cardboard boxes!

We wandered round some lovely shops and markets but the clothes were all very small, I don’t think the racks had ever held a size 18! How I wished that Tom had been stationed in Singapore instead of Egypt.

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