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A quirky little Bali holiday

Despite being pretty well-travelled, I had never been to Bali until a recent trip. So, mine are the first impressions of the ‘older traveller’.

To me, the word that sums up the feel of Bali is chaotic. Of course, you can escape to the tranquillity of rice fields and forests, but for the areas around Denpasar, I’m sticking with that adjective.

It feels so chaotic that it shouldn’t work. But in its own special way, it does.

The chaos starts with the traffic. As you ride [reasonably] safely cocooned in a taxi, you will gasp and utter bad words at the alarming movements of scooters all around you; some of them appear to be a sheet of paper thickness away from your taxi.

If ahead, the rider spots a gap that your good sense, cultural wisdom and maturity deem impassable, they will dart through it. Sitting in front of the rider might be a small child playing a video game on a phone. There might also be a live goat.

Young and adventurous travellers might choose to hire a scooter and join the mayhem, but they should check the scooter thoroughly first and then always wear a helmet
when riding. If they don’t, the police will eventually stop and charge them.

The police are not to be messed with. Rumour has it that you can pay the local ploddery to turn on their siren and flashing lights to lead you through traffic if you need to get somewhere urgently, but I cannot possibly verify that.

While there are petrol stations as we know them you are also able to buy your fuel from little roadside stalls. It will invariably be stored in used vodka bottles. Unless, of course, the scooters run on vodka.

Common sense is the golden rule; if you choose to hire a scooter, operate on the principle that you are invisible and everyone else is drunk. And don’t drink from a vodka bottle.

The most unusual taxi ride I have ever had was a half-hour ride using what the driver described as a shortcut. It wound through mud lanes that were wide enough for one vehicle but accommodated two. If I wanted to, I could have put my hand out of the taxi window and grabbed food items from family tables or outdoor cookers.

As you would expect, I enjoyed some risible signs. On Kuta Beach, which has crude pop-up bars, shoulder to shoulder along the shore, I saw one sign hand-written on a square of corrugated cardboard: “Really icy piss sold here”.

Near our accommodation, I passed a roadside shop whose professionally painted sign featured the word Let’s followed by a silhouette depiction of a camel. My eventual guess was that they sold water. Then again, it might have been vodka. Or camels.

Others to enjoy included ‘Antiques Made to Order’ and ‘Pets and Durian Not Allowed’. The words of the latter were supported by graphics of a dog and durian with diagonal lines through them. [Durian is the tropical fruit renowned for its custardy interior but also its offensive pong.]

The currency [rupiah] deserves a mention for the simple reason that it features way too many noughts. You’ll be a millionaire while staying in Bali. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Care is necessary when making mental currency conversions because the number of noughts can get confusing. Friends visiting us realised they had paid NZ$25 for their taxi. The real price was $2.50.

The driver must have thought he’d won Lotto – but he undoubtedly deserved it.

The cheerful and charming people seem to work for next to nothing so what are a few noughts to wealthy tourists – which must be how the locals see us?

    Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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