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Bali Magic

INDONESIA | Friday, 3 May 2013 | Views [895]

Bali's kind of a magical place, I thought to myself as I hurtled at frightening speed down the motorway one night. This thought threatened to be edged out by the realization of how precarious my continued good health was. Flip-flops, shorts and a tank top would do almost nothing to insulate me against the pavement should one of the cars or motorbikes hurtling past at similarly frightening speeds knock or jostle us into a crash. Mayte, as if sensing my thoughts, gunned it a little, putting on speed as we turned onto a straightaway.

A german tourist pauses at twilight

Mayte was the key here. Introduced to me through Doug, she was an LA local who had gone to school in Boston before heading out to Bali on an unexpected scholarship. Like me she had kind of fallen onto the island - when offered a sweet deal, she said yes, only to find it was less sweet after she arrived. That hadn't stopped her from falling in love with the island though - after longer than she should have she quit out of her internship and found real work on the island, going on three years now. Courageous and friendly, she wants the best for her friends and will go out of her way to get it for them. It's because of this girl I was able to get down into something a little closer to the real culture of Bali. When Doug and I met up with her my second night in Bali she immediately sat me down at the night market and ordered us some satay.

We hung out with her friends, Indonesian locals who welcomed me into the fold without a second thought. Everybody played a musical instrument, and Mayte explained to me that this is because for the youth of Bali there isn't much around to entertain and fill up time, despite the idylic settings. A musical instrument is relatively cheap, and practicing is free - they find themselves grouping up, forming bands and playing shows before too long, singing covers and local songs to locals and tourists alike. One of the first guys she introduced me to had just gotten himself a new rockabilly hammer, a sweet slick looking guitar straight out of an Alley Cats performance or something similar. Sadly I never did get to hear him play, but I heard him sing and it was pretty magical. It always amazes me how guys who struggle to speak English can sing like the classics.

However, we hadn't met up that night to sing (which was good, as it spared them of having to hear me try). The band split up for the evening, jetting away on four different scooters, while Mayte and two of the guys took me out to a little residential area. I had come out that night to learn how to ride! Well, at least how to ride a motorcycle (or scooter). Lessons were held on a relatively empty dusty road under the full moon, zipping up and down the stretch of road. My first twist of the throttle and the bike threatened to scoot out from under me, but soon I was opening it up more and more, the night air and dusty concrete wiping past me at speed. The end of the road would rear up, broken concrete fading into a field, and I'd awkwardly pivot about before heading back down the stretch again. My first time down and back I almost planted the scooter into some concrete pipes at the side of the road as I turned it around and goosed the throttle too much, but two more cycles after that I was feeling pretty confident. Not anywhere near confident to actually take the scooter out into traffic, but we call that survival instinct where I'm from.

Later in the week Mayte also took me to a traditional compound in Ubud where her friend lives - a great walled structure with a small shrine/temple inside, surrounded by families in houses. Here I learned that these complexes are handed down through families - when a family is granted land, they build one of these complexes, and the whole family lives in houses contained within. As a son marries, his new family is brought into the complex, gradually filling it up over time. When the complex begins to get crowded, the oldest son retains possession while the younger sons are pushed out to make their own ways in the world. Similarly women find themselves in somewhat of a tenuous position. Mayte told me of a young woman who came from a wealthy family. Her groom came from a poor one, and her family worried she would not be well looked after. To settle the matter, they bought land and put it in her name - though his entire family moves in with him and his new bride, she retains possession of the property, barring them from seizing it and ousting her should the worst happen.


Mayte showed me a lot those couple weeks I was in Bali, usually on the back of her scooter. Whipping through the streets of Bali, weaving in and out of cars, trucks and a hundred other scooters and motorcycles, I felt like I was flying. The wind roared in my face, the unforgiving concrete shot past my incredibly inadvisable flip-flops, and the island seemed to spread out before me, daring me to experience it all.

We hung out late at night in swimming pools, drank arak, lazed about on beaches, nearly drowned after heading out too far in a rip tide, belted out punk rock and love anthems in a marathon four hour kareoke session, ate the best of just about everything Bali had to offer and still found time to stargaze now and then.

John and Camille opened the island to me, Doug and Cat and El romped around on it with me, and Mayte helped me feel a little bit of a connection to the magic of this place.

I'm no monkey's chair!

Oh yeah, and she stood by AND DID NOTHING while a monkey sat on my head.

Tags: beaches, goodbyes, holy sites, memories, sunsets

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