Bali, Indonesia. April, 2003.
We were well-travelled by now. About nine weeks for me and thirteen for my partner, collectively through Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Java and finally to Bali, where we had just left our "villa" in Ubud to spend the final ten days by the lengthy stretch of sand lining the west coast of the island's southern tip. This was Kuta Beach.
Kuta's probably not Bali's prettiest beach and it doesn't have the most awesome surf, but it's long curve is nicely situated between Denpasar city and the international airport. Meter-high waves roll in reliably and the tightly-packed sand is clean and safe for strolling, if not gleaming white as we heard it once was.
There's Mt. Agung, Bali's sacred volcano, looming over the daily sunset gathering.
Kuta's other great attraction is it's tourist scene: lodgings, bars, restaurants, night clubs are jammed into a highly concentrated urban grid just back from the shoreline. Surf shops, souvenir stands and crafts stores add to the mix. Out on the main boulevard, half a km. away, you'll find the same high-end brand boutiques as in Switzerland or Shanghai. Ho hum, right? The savvy shopper looks for knockoffs. (Hint: go south.)
The red flags warned of strong currents and undertows, and seemed to be universally ignored. One walks out for about a hundred meters into the shallow sea to find a very predictable surf rolling in at a 90 degree angle to the shore. The signs had more meaning to the surfers who ventured beyond the boogie-boarders.
Teams of nail and hair stylists patrol among the sunbathers, ready to swoop. Fresh pineapple, brought to your personal sun spot and chopped while you wait, had a booming trade along the beach.
Removed from the commerce, the flat tidal zone has an elemental appeal. Time slows down for weekenders from other Indonesian islands who come to join the afternoon throngs waiting for a dramatic sky.
Hinduism is Bali's majority religion and its devotees hold processions and celebrations along the beach, marking important occasions on the religious calendar.
To placate the deities, offerings of incense, flowers and even Indonesian paper currency are left on the sand just below the high tide mark. Gamelan musicians and dancers in gold finery gather under the palms between the road and the sand, awaiting their part in the carefully-rehearsed proceedings.
The low-rise commercial district back of the beach is divided by narrow passageways called gangs. These are fine for pedestrians, even those pulling hand carts. Here there is a pleasantly chaotic atmosphere of ready commerce.
Your sense of order and courtesy may be offended when you see taxis and SUVs attempting to negotiate the same thoroughfares. Be vigilant and prepare to be bumped on the the hip or the elbow by a passing side-mirror. The drivers seem impervious to pedestrian outrage.
At the time, we were only six months past the horrific bombing of October 12, 2002, that slaughtered 202 people, injured hundreds more and destroyed several building`s in Kuta`s core. The fenced-off wreckage zone became a memorial site for those wishing to leave condolences and offer messages of hope at the tragedy site.
And so concludes the recounting of our six-and-a-half-year-old Asian adventure. Happy traveling to all and if circumstances keep you close to home, take the time to enjoy your surroundings. Your neighborhood just may be someone else's exotic destination.
Southeast Asia, 2003, in chronological order: