Sunday, June 1, 2008

7 Days in Bali (Day 7)

Day 8 in Bali, Going Home

Wayansu was usually the first in the street to open her shop. At 7am, when I went to the hotel lobby to settle my account, I could see her across the road just emerging from the lane at the side of her establishment. With hair pulled back tightly from her craggy face, she peered up and down the street and then into the hotel driveway, eagerly searching out her first customers. She swept the front of the shop absentmindedly with a straw broom while her eyes scanned her surroundings, and then she spotted me and waved. It was more a beckoning wave than a greeting, performed with palm downward and fingers moving in a digging action. No doubt another bedspread had been discovered among her network of connections. I replied with a wave of greeting, pretending that I interpreted her gesture as a "Good morning" rather than a "Come buy".

Then on to breakfast and an eggless start to the day. I was feeling guilty about the quantity of cholesterol I had pumped into my system over the last seven days. Not only did each day begin with an "egg any style", but each nasi goreng came with an obligatory egg on top. Tana was right. There is some kind of ineluctable association between Bali and chickens. Not only does the island look like one, but its inhabitants appear to live on fowl and their produce. So it was toast and runny strawberry jam today, as a kind of rite-of-passage for my imminent return to a non-Balinese cuisine.

After breakfast I strolled along the street doing a final inspection of the shops to see whether they had anything that might attract my remaining rupiah. It was also an opportunity to say some goodbyes. There were sad farewells to Dini and Rika and the boys next door who processed all of my film. The hairdresser, who never gave up trying to entice me into her empty salon for a haircut, manicure or scalp massage. Tommy and Forrest, the tailors, were not around, and neither was, I regret to say, the irrepressible Wayansu who had gone off to perform some religious or filial duty. The young man in the leather shop relieved me of some of my rupiah by selling me a couple of belts. And then it was time to go.

Rooster at PacungThe bus to the airport contained other travellers. A pair of young women sported badges of a Bali holiday - braided hair and deep brown tans. They were laden with bags of purchases to take back. I hope they weren't taking anything else back because their muted conversation contained tittered references to the boys on the beach. A family group sat stony-faced, looking a little numbed by their Balinese experience. Their children were braided and looked happy enough, but mother and father wore expressions that suggested their break had not been the best thing to have ever happened to them.

We tumbled out of the bus at Ngurah Rai (it is not possible to exit from one of these wretched tourist vans in a dignified way), beat off the porters, and made our way through baggage x-ray, seat allocation and immigration to await the flight. I recalled my first trip to Bali in 1982 when a policeman at the x-ray machine demanded that I gave him money ("you give me Australian dollar") before he would return my luggage. I had refused without, I am pleased to say, suffering any mischief to my person. No such demands were made of us here and the process was quite orderly.

Yeh Panes shrineThe escalator down to the Qantas Club was still broken. It was broken on my last visit a year ago and I had the feeling that it was broken on the trip before that as well. Come to think of it, I don't recall ever riding on it, so it may be that it has not worked since it was installed.

We were eventually ushered aboard the 767 where I took up the window seat in 26J. I propped a pillow against the bulkhead and prepared to take a homeward nap, thinking back over my week away. My reverie was rudely interrupted by a young woman who looked for all the world like Kylie's sister. She stood in the aisle before me, hands on hips, and gave me a terrible glare. "You're in moi seat mite!" she said sharply. I timidly showed her my boarding pass, on which was clearly imprinted 26J, and told her in the politest terms that she was mistaken. She responded by producing her boarding pass which was also stamped 26J. She then proceeded to ignore me altogether and bailed up a passing steward, demanding that he remove me from my seat and place her in it. She was apparently unfazed by the imprint on my boarding pass and believed that her age, gender or race gave her a superior claim to my seat. I felt like informing her of the old adage that possession is nine tenths of the law, but her manifest anger dissuaded me.

To my relief the steward declined to move me, muttering something about a "stuff up" (an observation that seemed self-evident to me) as he took Kylie's sister to the back of the plane. I fantasised that she had been bundled out of the rear door or, at least, placed in a seat-for-difficult-passengers equipped with an ejection device. In any case, I didn't see her again.

I was joined by another woman who, it transpired, had also been double-booked in a seat at the rear. This was probably the seat that Kylie's sister now occupied. We both said elitist things to the steward about being members of the Qantas Club and never having been treated like this, but Yeh Panes bungalowhe was unmoved. He probably only half-heard us as his attention became focused on the agitated conversations that were breaking out between cabin crew and passengers elsewhere. It seemed that the double-booking stuff up had spread to other passengers as well.

People were waving boarding passes at desperate staff and for a moment it crossed my mind that the entire flight might have to be aborted. It took about ten minutes for calm to be restored. Somehow, the staff managed to seat people in seats that they were, more or less, happy with. I found this deeply worrying. Although I travel a lot, I confess to being an unhappy air traveller, and anything that suggests a malfunction usually makes me want to get out and walk. How can a computer at check-in allow two people to be allocated the same seat? If this is how good the computer system is on the ground, how well does it work in the air? These feelings were counterbalanced by the desire now to go home, so I put the seat fiasco out of my mind and settled back for the flight, confident that I would be able to resist any further attack on my occupation of 26J.

As we taxied I looked out of the window, trying to drink in the last sights of the island. Not that there is much of scenic value at Ngurah Rai Airport, but the thick undergrowth on the south side of the runway reminded me vaguely of our journeys to Batur and Batukau . We took off to the west, Kuta beach shrinking below the wing as we climbed steeply towards the clouds. In a few minutes we were in the clouds and our view of Bali was gone. There was a dense cloud layer over the ocean today, unlike the trip up when the speckled white waves of the Indian Ocean had been visible most of the way. The pilot threaded his way through the tropical turbulence until we reached 39,000 feet where the air was smooth and the sky above us a rich cobalt. We were now closer to the edge of outer space than the inner space of the volcanoes of Bali. The rolling green ricefields were replaced by a brilliant white layer of cloud. Small balls of cumulus bubbled through the surface of the layer, the whole cloud field stretching out to the horizon without a break.

Lunch was followed by slumber. I was woken by slight ripples of turbulence that signalled our arrival at the Australian coast. The clouds had gone and far below us I could make out the red-brown of Barrow Island and the tidal Rice threshers near Tabananflats of Onslow. A couple behind me came to life as we crossed the coast. Or, at least, she came to life but I can't vouch for her partner. The remainder of the journey was accompanied by a running commentary from her about where we were. She tracked us all the way to Perth - Onslow, Exmouth, Shark Bay, Geraldton... Each landmark was pointed out to her partner, who remained silent throughout the monologue.

When we descended to 8,000 ft, the splashes of purple across the landscape told us that we were near Perth where jacaranda trees were in flower. A little lower and the spaces between the jacaranda were punctuated by the yellow of Australian Christmas tree. You could now make out the orderly pattern of suburbs, parks and streets. The woman behind me became even more excited as she claimed to recognise her son's house, and the announcement of this even evoked a grunt from her partner. And then we had landed.

There was the usual rush to grab duty free liquor when we arrived. Some poor soul brought down an entire shelf of Johnny Walker with a hell of a crash and a resultant stink. A customs officer asked me a few vague questions, and that was that. It was all over for another year. It only remained now to go home, distribute the booty and plan the next trip.

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