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Balikpapan to Bali

sunny

Though the locals couldnt even agree upon which day to celebrate Idul Fitri, I hit the street that morning with the intention of more last minute shopping before the presumed price hike of Bali, only finding the holiday now well and trully under way and all the shops closed. That rather simplified matters then in only stopping to frequent a happily open net cafe and a small Warung (eatery) where the boy excitedly pumped my hand and wished me a "Selamat Idul Fitri". As if I cared. He guesssed me to be French which was unusual, Australian had long been the favourite presumption. No messing about, after packing up for the last in god knows how many times I super-efficiently effected the 2 Kijang connection through uncharted territory to get me out to the airport early. Balikpapan then immediately presented itself as a candidate for my most aesthetically pleasing airport terminal ever, the fully traditionally stylised high roof with carved pillars imitating totems was an excellent blend of the old and the new. The imminent promise of escape back to civilisation was thereupon initiated with a pricey airport restaurant affording a western menu, cold Bintangs at a price and as a much welcome bonus the unexpected chance to catch the recent Grand Prix on TV. It was also the only airport where I'd ever encountered an admittance charge for the viewing gallery,though there were plenty takers, and I paid my 10p to crowd with the waving locals in order to spy an assorted gaggle of Boeings, Airbuses and amongst various propellor types most notably a CASA C-212, the first time I had seen this type used for passenger services. Though sadly modernisation of Indonesia's air industry in recent years had robbed me of rare yearned for wonders such as the geriatric Vickers Viscountand Yak-42s I had long anticipated, it was still exotic to behold assorted airlines such as Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air and Garuda Indonesia, I made my way down to the gate as my present suitor from Manadala Air landed to be promptly followed by another. It was typically Indonesian then to walk out onto the apron and have to guess which aircraft was mine, it was only in following the forerunners which directed me away from the Boeing 737 and onto my remarkably shiny and new looking baby Airbus A319. Not only was my flight cheap but it was unexpectedly to be in the modern day sportscar of the skies, with me repeating my previous adventure in securing Row 1 all to myself. Scouring the east coast of Borneo as I descended what I only now realised was the Makassar Strait, enormous waterway systems surrounded by seemingly virgin jungle were dwarfed in turn by daunting cumulonimbus studded cloud patterns. Entering what was variously the Java Sea or Flores Sea, a corner of Java became discernible in a striking volcanic cone punching through the clouds which I had to presume to be Gunung Merapi, a natural wonder which had blown me away even contemplating it upon the giant contour map in the National Museum in Jakarta. A left turn then lined us up for the run in to Bali and the abrupt cliffs of its southern appendage were contrasted by the great beach sweep of a bay.

It was like a stereotype to wait for my bag along with a freshly arrived planeload of fat, white, ridiculous looking Germans and I knew that I had certainly arrived into a different scene with the evidence of bullshit tourist paraphenalia such as leaflets pushing rip off tours. Different too were the more respectably dressed touts who literally ran after me in my quest to escape the melee, the excitement relayed through their elevated tone was surely a measure of just how much they were accustomed to riding the gravy train and fleecing slaphappy new arrivals. It was enough to knock them back in unanticipated Bahasa, saying that I was going to my house, not an impossibility in this neighbourhood. Aiming for the stereotypical travellers ghetto cum touristy beach resort of nearby Kuta, the guidebook's promise of "not even a 25 minute walk from the airport" proved more than a tad unrealistic, so it was dark by the time I negotiated habitually queueing traffic through the townlet of Tuban and traced the initial throes of Kuta. This was another interesting exercise then in finally retracing a long anticipated travellers ghetto, loaded with the threat of both good and bad. Though there were clearly going to be touts aplenty to variously brush off or ignore, Jalan Legian the main strip turned out to be too narrow to be intimidating and it was actually a dark, claustrophobic arrival in negotiating the areas renowned "Gangs" (alleyways) in search of a bed. Surprisingly devoid of signing or life in parts, I instinctively gave up on trying to make any immediate sense of the gloomy rabbits warren and simply trusted to stumbling upon somewhere suitable before long. Fortune certainly shone on me then when not even being sure as to which Gang I was in, I checked out a promising looking entranceway against the guidebook and found it to be one of the very few places I had previously earmarked. Expecting the whole area to be full due to Idul Fitri amongst other reasons, it transpired that a room wasnt available but unusually would be cum 10pm. After a brief further foray revealing "Full" signs and unappealing alternatives, that fortuitous late Check Out turned out to be a godsend in gracing me with a superbly sweet bamboo walled room with a hike up in standards in contravention to the price. At less than £2.50 a night, I reckoned I had just inadvertantly bagged the best deal in Kuta. Cleanliness and modernity in a spotless sit down toiletand conventional shower were unprecedented new wonders, certainly for that price, and I revelled in another maxim which my Penang long termer cohabitant had enlightened me with, Bali wasnt Indonesia. That much I knew to expect already, and thank god! With an upturn in spirits already qualified by the knowledge that I was to have an enforced lengthy patronage here, it was another redemption to promptly realise a cheap unpretentious yet tourist orientated cafe just around the corner. That first large bottle of ice cold Bintang had been a long time coming, and it was crazy to realise that having previously baulked at the expectation of a denizen of tourist bullshit I was now ecstatic at being palpably close to Oz and able to relax and recuperate in a culture of liberalism, comfort and facility. It made the privations of life under the conservatism of Islam seem ridiculous.

The character of the transformation had already been evident. First and foremost had been the local religious persuasion, with the headscarves now notably almost completely absent and a strange new quirk in the random prolific presentation of pavement offerings. Though I had yet to investigate why distant Bali of all places should sit as an isolated outpost of Hindu-Buddhist persuasion, a profusion of reeds woven into small square trays 6 inches square littered the streets outside doorways and random stone pillar shrines, even on the beach, filled with offerings of variously flowers, cookies, cigarettes and incence sticks, even the odd 1000 Rupiah note. Amid the throes of a full on tourist cavalcade it immediately revealed an otherwise hidden characteristic of the local populace. It was charming, redeeming and ridiculous all in one to witness waitresses for example momentarily neglecting their tables to arrive back ceremoniously with a tray laden with deity offerings and burning incence, to be placed on a small shrine above the beer fridge. They were extremely relaxed and jolly people and performed the ritual without undue fuss, but it was clearly an instinctive ingrained illustration of their psyche. A burning incence stick mounted upon high might be ritually encircled with a flower in their hand, then the deity tray offerings sprinkled with holy water and more further splashed onto ones forehead. Other observers might pass by with grains of rice incongruously stuck to their forehead, it was charming and ridiculous all in one.

Posted by andyhay2 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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