I was in transit in New Delhi airport. My Air India flight to get there was delayed four hours and then my next flight was delayed four hours. I asked the agent if there was an explanation and he simply replied with a cheery, “We’re always late!” (It reminded me of the story of the Indian stationmaster at a suburban station where the trains always ran late and the one day he ensured that the train left on time, everyone missed their train and the angry mob beat him up.) For both delays I was given free food to mollify me, to my shame. If at the Boston Tea Party the British had said, “Yeah, look, we’re really sorry for all the taxation without representation, but for your inconvenience how about a voucher for some free gruel before we send you on your way?” I would have been cool with it.
Anyway, in the airport I met a tall, blonde British girl named Stephanie. The skin on her face was so amazingly flawless and blemish-free that it looked cartoonish. I usually don’t pay any attention to skin, but I found myself staring hard at her. I might have had a thin, bubbling film of wonder on my lips.
I asked. She said she puts honey on her face and then bathes using a combination of honey, olive oil and lemon juice on her body.
When I stopped staring at her face I noticed she had equally amazing, lustrous hair. I asked about that, too, and her secret was to rub in mustard oil.
If I had seen Stephanie in California, I probably wouldn’t have talked to her. Too awkward. She’d have reflexively been reaching for her pepper spray and I’d have to evaluate if this was somehow violating the terms of my parole. Too messy. But traveling? I talk to everybody for any reason.
Now I am in another place where I notice nice skin: Bali. Must be the humidity. It’s my fourth or fifth time in Bali, maybe my sixth time in Indonesia. It’s a vastly underrated place, easily in my Top 10 of favorites.
I’ve been hitchhiking all over, from Ubud up to Lake Batur and back, and down through the southern peninsula. It’s been easy. It’s easy everywhere in Indonesia I have ever tried. It’s so easy that last time here I had an all-time experience: a couple stopped to pick me up who were driving home from the hospital with their newborn baby. Where else in the world would that happen? Did you know that in Bali a newborn baby doesn’t touch the ground for its first three months? (Students, you can drop out of school right now because TheDromomaniac.com is free education.)
Funny story that would be funnier if I knew how to tell a story:
I made a beeline to my favorite restaurant in Ubud, Puteri Minang, on the main road just near the post office. I sat next to a French girl at the table closest to the cash register and I overheard the owner take someone’s bill and say, “23,000…euros (instead of rupiah)!” I said to the girl, “That guy has been making the same joke for years.”
She said, “I know,” and pointed to a paper taped to the wall, a printout that looked like a restaurant review. I leaned closer to look at it and said, “Hey! I wrote that!” The owner had printed part of my blog last time I was here.
Ubud, now famous from the book and movie, “Eat Pray Love”, has become a mecca for older female travelers. I’ve never seen women outnumber men to this extent anywhere. A manifestation is that now central Ubud is almost completely saturated with fifi restaurants. It’s hard to find a place where normal people eat. I love succulent tempeh satay in a heavenly rich peanut sauce infused with potent wifi as much as anyone, but can I have a rough edge once in a while, a simple warung (food stall)?
I hitchhiked to the far southwest corner of Bali to the temple on the cliffs of Uluwatu, and when I came back, two local Aussies picked me up. The driver said that the last hitchhiker he took was a stunning Russian girl. “In fact,” he said, “I’m going to leave you in the same place I left her.”
I said, “Good, I hope she’s still there!” but he shook his head and said, “No, she was really messed up.” She had just come out of a high-end rehab center specially for Russian heroin addicts and wasn’t quite right. (I forgot to ask about her skin.) He went on to say that the Russians now have a “presence” in Bali. It’s funny that we all know what that means.
For the first time I have noticed Russian travelers. Many have yet to adjust to the heat judging from their lack of clothes, which is downright startling. Even more spent are the big Chinese tour groups—also a new entrant to Bali—who stagger around dazed in the midday heat.
At the end of the month is Nyepi, the day before Balinese New Year. Absolutely everything shuts down, there is no public transport of any kind, no one goes outside, and tourists aren’t supposed to leave their hotels. It is taken so seriously that they even close the airport for the entire day. Is that not the ultimate sign of importance and devotion? What other place, especially one so dedicated to tourism, would do that? You’re not supposed to watch TV or cook during the day or do anything but sit around with your family. I asked one guy what he would do and he said, “Gamble!”
Every time I am in Ubud I must mention the story of how I found three little kids 20 years later. When I tell this story to Balinese no one thinks it is interesting, probably because the family home is eternal. Everyone knows everyone, no one moves permanently, so where else were they going to be?
South of the airport on the peninsula I stayed in a newish “boutique” hostel called Jolie Hostel. Maybe when it opened it felt boutique, but having that many people use the same two showers means the drains get backed up and the whole place looks run down pretty quickly. There was an Austrian guy who had been staying in a dorm bed (109,000 rupiah, about $10) for six weeks. I asked him why he would do that to himself when he could have his own place elsewhere and he said it was because of the beaches. I think he said beaches.
When I asked more specifically where he was from, he said it was a little place near Vienna. He said it in the same resigned, conversation-ending tone as one would say, “Northwest Kansas” or “Southern Turkmenistan.” Who knows little places near Vienna? When I dragged it out of him that he came from St. Polten, I said, “I’ve slept at the St. Polten highway rest stop twice.” I do this all the time. (I am that annoying.) You can’t be from Central Europe and assume that I haven’t been to your town. You just can’t.
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