Bali is relaxing.
Sure, it’s annoyingly hard to get around sometimes as ojeks aren’t lurking quietly on every street corner like they are in Flores or in Cambodia, and you’re forced to resort to those Blue Bird Taxis, which are actually almost always OK and feature cab drivers who like to have chats. Mostly the thing to do in Southern Bali is wander around on beaches until you get tired, then sit down. Sometimes you sport in the waves and the surf, at least until the waves turn into horrifying two-story monsters (to my eyes) and you decided it may be better to sit on the sand and work on your increasingly formidable sun burn.
My distrust has been carefully honed in Phnom Penh and in Washington DC and in other places with a highly-developed and artistic rip-off culture. Fault poverty and worry for these things, and not exactly the people themselves (most of them) — but still, you don’t walk at night and you keep your bag close to you and you wear an ugly backpack and you assume a friendly person on the street is trying to game you for something.
This is largely not true in Bali (with some exceptions in heavily touristy areas) and is very not true in Flores.
My defenses are impressive but I am OK with having them taken down a notch. A few days ago, I was at Kuta Beach and I bought an early morning Bintang and I wanted to swim, and so in what for me was a shocking moment of trust, I asked the drinks guy to keep an eye on my camera and my purse. He did. No problem.
Then I chatted with a nice bar girl about my age and she wanted to go swimming with me, and my mind went in the place that people who read too much TripAdvisor does, which is “They are convincing me to go swimming so they can rifle through my bag! And maybe drown me! But I must go anyway! To be nice!”
So I told my carefully honed watchful psyche to shut the fuck up, and I went and bodysurfed with this girl and her friend from Jakarta, and we had a lovely time, and I came back and sure enough my bag was untouched. And I felt guilty.
I have in Indonesia Trusted People to: give me a ride home in the dark on the back of their scooter because they were the brother of a restaurant owner I knew, trusted an Australian miner guy to give me a ride to Kuta on his scooter because he was going the same direction and why not, and various examples of getting people to watch my stuff for the price of a cold Bintang and a few friendly remarks about how lovely Bali was.
Also have trusted a small and noisy man who lives in the jungle and owns a huge machete to lead me down a forested slope to his off-the-grid home village, and a girl I’d just met to take me on my Very First Ever Scuba Dive And Oh Shit The Bends And Sharks, and various drivers of various stripes who are keen on reggae music and telling me about their fondness for local rice whiskey while driving.
All of this I have accepted with much less of the usual strum-und-drang and Xanax fueled anxiety that accompanies some of my other endeavors in rougher places: mostly I have decided to cede power to the universe, and make my peace with the eventualities of Dengue fever, crocodile attack, or being suddenly sold into the multiculti harem of the Sultan of Brunei.
None of this has happened yet. And if it will, I suspect I will greet it with better-than-usual fortitude. Or at least, that’s what I hope.
I must face facts: I came to Bali as an avowed cynic about this arsehole of Australia, this blot on the face of tourism, and am now definitely converted. I am reminded of this song, which is insufferably cheesy, sung by Peggy Lee, and thus resonates with me on a somewhat embarrassing level. As a youngster I was in love with Tiki bars and the curious tourism fantasies of Paradise (half believing them) – as an adult of sorts, it appears nothing has changed.