We boarded our plane in Seattle for San Francisco at 7 pm on a Tuesday. We flew through a night, a day, and into another night. By the time we arrived in Indonesia, none of our Silent World dive group knew what day it was, or what the time was. We had flown across the Date Line to arrive at dinner time on Thursday on the island of Bali.
The flight had been quite comfortable, thanks to Singapore Airlines where economy passengers are treated with luxury. I practiced Lesson 1 of Indonesian with the Berlitz Course at my seat television. After several hours, I had mastered thank you, good morning and good bye. Lesson 2 was much harder and would only have helped, if in fact, the shopping center was actually located on the corner of the street to the left. I gave up and promptly forgot how to say hello. I slept for eight hours, watched a couple of movies, and felt good when I stepped into Asia for the first time. After deplaning, our Seattle group made a bee line to the Hong Kong Airport Starbucks, grateful that the comforts of home could be found worldwide. It had been 15 hours since anyone had enjoyed a latte.
We headed off again for Singapore. I practiced my Indonesian, Lesson 1. We had a four hour flight and a four hour layover. Asia is my place. I looked around and realized for the first time that I am not short in Singapore. I have never felt short. I think of myself as 5’8” tall, that is, until I look at anyone else. But here, in the Singapore Airport, I am just right. Average. This feels good.
Flying into Singapore is fascinating. The waterways are packed with cargo vessels, barges, and tugboats. There are so many container ships, that you could walk across the bays and inlets from ship to ship without getting wet. The empty ships are heading into the harbors, and the filled ones are leaving for export to the world. Singapore is a busy place. The property along with water is lined with perfectly manicured golf courses covered in flowers and palm trees. Beauty and order are important here. Even from the air, you know there is money to be had in Singapore.
The Singapore Airport is amazing. There is a pool, hotel, orchid, sunflower and cactus gardens, music studios, Tiffany, and even a Mercedes Benz store. The Mercedes store is closing in June. Perhaps there were not enough travelers purchasing S-types on their layovers. After exploring the high end stores and photographing ourselves in various gardens, we were off again. This time to Indonesia. More language lessons. Terrimacassi Cambali. That’s not spelled correctly, but it means, thank you very much. And it only took me thirty some hours of practice.
I had fallen asleep on this final leg of the day, and I use that term liberally. When I awoke, it was night again. Oh god, what day is it? I was seated by the window. When I looked out over the wing, I saw what appeared to be large fireflies passing in formation over the wing. They were beautiful. I had never seen anything like this before. In reality, they were the stars of a constellation that resembled Orion, an organized pattern of light in the black night sky. In the darkness, our plane appeared stationary, which created the illusion that the stars were flying past us. Below I could see the lights of Bali. We had finally arrived.
The Bali Airport at Denpasar is typically tropical, with the addition of carved stone and wooden decorations throughout the terminal, and large signs that warn if you bring drugs into the country, you will receive the death penalty. Ok, this isn’t Kansas, Dorothy. I am laden with drugs, Sudafed, Imodium, and malaria meds. I am safe. Bringing these in is not a death penalty offense.
Our drive south of Denpasar in our tour bus takes us through narrow roads lines with open air shacks, parked motor scooters, men sitting outside talking, and dense vegetation. There was no highway. Our guide introduces himself as Marta and rolls the r for quite a while. He states that Marta is a Balinese man’s name. Marte would be the female equivalent. I have been told there are only a few names in Indonesia. A mother may name several children Marta. When calling for a son, she may say, “No. Not you. The other Marta!” It must be a way of keeping life simple.
Marta laughs at the end of each sentence, and his voice rises high in a near squeal with glee while explaining the details of his culture. He is missing a tooth, and another in the front is gold. He enjoys smiling and showing us his teeth. Indonesian people smile all the time. Like a baby, who smiles at the sight of any face, this is how you are greeted everywhere in Bali. Iced towels and bottled water are handed to us. Sweetly scented plum aria leis are placed around our necks, and we feel refreshed for the moment.
Marta tells us what Bali means to him. B, he explains, is for beauty. He points to the window through the darkness. A is for Artistic. Everything he says is decorated, and we noticed that the shacks we pass are ornate with carving and painted surfaces. L is for lush, and yes, green lush landscape surrounds us. The I is for imagination. Artists have come to Bali for years. I know I am in the right spot. Marta continues, as he laughs beneath his batik cap. Bali will take on its own special meaning for everyone. To some people, it is a place of magical spirits. We have to decide what Bali will mean for us. We are tired and quite, and think of Marta’s words as we watch the shops pass by through the bus windows. Marta continues in a giggle. “We are known for our white bitches.” Now everyone is laughing. I have been looking forward to sunning on those white sandy bitches! We have arrived at our resort.
Amy is my roommate. The welcome basket in our room from the hotel has a card: to Tula Holmes and John ? So Amy, where is John! John, not withstanding, I am grateful for Amy. We have a lot in common and have come to Indonesia for similar reasons, even though we may not know how to express those reasons. We have a nice relaxing dinner of prawns in an open air restaurant listening to live Indonesian music. We change into our swimsuits and while the others of our group are sleeping, we go to the pool and glide in. The stars shine above us, and the water is dark. We swim around the flowered islands of the resort pool without rippling the cool water. We are balanced in the water, relaxed, and at peace. We have talked throughout dinner like sisters, and have shared memories that were painful. We are now smiling and quite.
This is our first night in Bali. I cannot explain why, but I feel that I know why I have come. Perhaps the words of explanation will come as the days pass. Bali is Hindu. The inhabitants are religious. They pray to the good spirits three times a day, making offerings of flowers, food, and animal blood. They pray to the evil spirits as well, not to destroy them, but to turn them into allies. They believe in Karma, and that actions have consequences. They live so that their actions will insure good Karma. It is a place of happiness and peace.
I am writing from my window seat of our charter plane to Wakatobi on my first Indonesian morning. The flight attendant began our flight with a prayer for our safe journey. I photograph a florescent turquoise atoll for you to see when I post it on facebook. It stands out against the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Dark green islands dot the water, each encompassed by electric light blue lagoons and coral reefs. We are nearly at our destination. We will have dive tests today, and settle into our beachside bungalows. I have been waiting for that white bitch. I hope that the next time I settle in to write on my laptop, I will be in a rope hammock suspended between two palm trees. I will keep you posted. And remember, good karma to you all!