My friend Clara was present for the inception of my blog, in the summer of 2009 in Paris, and a main “character” during its early days. Now, two years since we last saw each other, she is making a reappearance. Clara was traveling around Southeast Asia with a friend for six weeks (as part of a year spent traveling and living on different continents) and they stopped by Laos for a visit. After several weekends spent introducing her to my life in Vientiane, she went off to Indonesia and I finished up the term.
We met again in Bali, that most famous of Indonesian islands, which is known either for its romance (if you’re a 20-60 year old female who has read Eat Pray Love) or its hedonism (if you’re an Australian male from the ages of 15-30…sorry for the stereotype Aussies, but it’s true!). I had visited here previously shortly after my arrival in Asia, in November 2010, and was looking forward to a return to the sunny island.
After a half day spent in Sanur, a relatively quiet but touristy town with a main beachside promenade scattered with souvenir stalls, flabby tourists, and Balinese kids tearing by on bicycles, we took the ferry to Nusa Lembongan, a smaller island about an hour and a half away. Lembongan’s main industries and tourism and seaweed farming, and part of its main charm is the (near) lack of cars on the island. After wading onto the island, we checked in, rented motorbikes, and proceeded to explore for the next half day. The roads on Lembongan are rough and winding, but took us to mangroves surrounding a seaweed farming village, sunbleached temples, and deserted beaches, where ominous black clouds foreshadowed the day to come.
As soon as we returned from biking, the downpour began…and continued for the next 24 hours. Luckily, an island holiday isn’t a time to be anxiously rushing around and sightseeing anyway, but plans for a second motorbike adventure turned into plans for drinking shakes and reading.
On our last morning in Lembongan, we were stopped in our tracks for a parade. Men and women with large bundles on their heads, wearing white, processed by us, sounding drums as they went. As we waited for the boat back to the mainland, the driver explained that these were offerings to the sea, in preparation for the upcoming holiday Nyepi, or the “Day of Silence.” On this day, people strictly stay inside all day in self-reflection. Although we left just before the holiday in Bali, we, in a way, had our own rainy day of stillness in Lembongan.
Departing Lembongan, the sky finally seemed clear. But just as the island faded from view, the rain began. When the rain became torrential, tarps were rolled down the sides, obscuring any sight of the horizon and any breaths of fresh air, just as our small wooden vessel began pitching and rocking in the storm. The wiry Balinese guys sharing our benches lit cigarettes, which mixed with the strong stench of stale sweat, as the closed berth became hotter, and the passengers queasier. People stuck their heads out of both sides to start throwing up, and I tried to breathe through my shirt, while simultaneously mentally timing my ability to extract the life vest from the ceiling in case of a capsize, which seemed only increasingly likely.
Fortunately we made it through the shore, without sickness or peril, but only white knuckles and churning stomachs. I breathed in as many good familiar Bali smells as I could–sweet rice, incense, seawater, and flowers. And then I said goodbye to Clara until our next adventure and headed to another part of the same country, yet a world away–East Java.