Petrol-less Cars and Dangerous Predators

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December 13th 1995
Published: November 16th 2020
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Most Aussies seemed to have been to Bali so we thought we should probably give it a try. We spent a week at Sanur on the island's relatively quiet and protected east coast. We chose somewhere well away from the surf of west coast Kuta in the hope that our toddlers could enjoy the calmer waters. We'd also heard a lot about the drunken antics of our fellow countrymen over in Kuta, and weren't overly keen on experiencing any of that first hand either. Our resort was called the Segara Village. It did indeed seem to us like a series of small Balinese villages with simple single and double storey accommodation set in gardens filled with traditional statues and fountains. Our room was right next to a small pool and we spent a lot of time there cooling off and lazing in the sun.

We were struck by the beauty of the local temples, and the apparent inner calm and friendliness of the vast majority of the local people. We had to be careful not to forget this after we left. A lot of our more vivid memories of this island paradise were of a number of perhaps less savoury experiences. We could understand some of the local wildlife being a bit feral, but hadn't figured on quite the same degree of savagery from the local traders.

My workmates in Kuching had told me that we should expect to be constantly hassled by people trying to sell us things. I was warned that if we wanted to avoid being easy prey we shouldn't tell any of them that we'd just arrived on the island. There was a white line painted prominently on the ground under the carved archway separating the resort from the public walkway along the beachfront. Security guards were quick to pounce on any souvenir sellers who crossed it, but any guests who ventured over it were considered fair game. We took a deep breath and crossed the threshold. The hordes descended. Where did all these people come from? Watches, tee shirts, jewelry - if they could carry it, you could buy it. Despite our best efforts we somehow managed to get separated. One young lady tried to engage me in conversation by asking me when we'd arrived. My training kicked in. I lied that we'd got here about a week ago and had been staying over on the other side of the island. It seems that I may have neglected to mention to Issy what I'd been told about not revealing that we'd just arrived. A few minutes later the same young lady asked my beloved the same question. When she responded that this was our first day here any pretence of friendliness suddenly evaporated. She didn't hold back on the venom. "You lied, your husband told me you've been here for a week." If Issy wasn't intimidated enough before, she was now wishing she'd stayed by the pool, or perhaps even never left Oz. I'd never thought accusing potential customers of lying as being a particularly effective marketing strategy. It wasn't. Issy made a point of going to every stall except the one belonging to her accuser. My beloved clearly has a long memory for those who've wronged her. A quarter of a century later she still remembers her name, Irene, as if it was yesterday......

Now we've been to Bali a few times since, and I would much prefer to stick pins in my eyes than to consider trying to drive there now. The traffic's frenetic and most of the drivers appear to be insane. It seems however that I was much braver and more foolish back in 1995. We hired a car. The hire car company very kindly delivered the car to the hotel and off we set. What could possibly go wrong. We hadn't gone more than a couple of hundred metres when the engine spluttered to a halt. We'd run out of petrol!

We wanted head up to the Kintimani Volcano. No GPSs in those days, and most of the signs were in Balinese. The volcano is a mountain, we thought, so surely you just keep driving uphill until you get there. How hard could it be. Well harder than we thought apparently. We found ourselves on a narrow, windy, and very poorly constructed back road in amongst the rice fields. Its only saving grace was that it at least seemed to be heading roughly uphill. We passed some spectacular rice terraces, and the photographer in me couldn't resist stopping and getting out to take some happy snaps. I'd thought we were on a deserted back road out in the middle of nowhere, but it seems I was mistaken. The small roadside patch of land on which I was standing apparently belonged to the owner of the local souvenir stall, and it seems that I was now obliged to buy something. I was only gone for a few minutes, but I got back to the car to find it surrounded. Mobs of souvenir sellers were trying to poke pencils and various other souvenir paraphernalia through the windows in the vain hope of making a sale. Our toddlers were terrified. Where had all these people suddenly emerged from? The whole place had been deserted only a few minutes earlier.

We did eventually manage to find our way to the rim of the volcano. The view was stunning - a lake and villages nestled in a vast crater hundreds of metres below us. We sped back along the wide straight superhighway that we should have been on in the first place. Four and a half hours to get there, and about half an hour to get back. Hmmmmm......

We visited a temple in a forest near the coast west of the capital Denpasar. As we strolled casually through the jungle we heard piercing shrieks approaching us from both sides of the path. It seems that two local monkey tribes had decided that now was as good a time as any for full blown territorial conflict. We lost someone's hat in the ensuing chaos, but otherwise escaped seemingly unscathed. Undeterred we continued on to the spectacular 16th century Tanah Lot temple. This sits on top a small rocky outcrop just offshore, and is only safely accessible at low tide. It was reputed to be protected by highly venomous sea snakes that lived in the water around it. Just as well they're only here, or so we thought. We were relaxing peacefully on the beach in front of our hotel the next day when someone casually pointed out a colourfully striped sea snake washed up on the sand. How cute we thought, well putting aside the minor matter of it being dead. Cute it might have looked, but it quickly lost some attraction when we were told that this particular variety, the yellow-lipped sea krait, has some of the most toxic venom known to man, and is a very close relative of the numerous species of highly venomous serpents that inhabit our homeland. We stuck to the pool after that.

We thought we should at least have a look at Kuta since we'd deliberately given it such a wide berth in choosing our accommodation, so I drove Scott across there late one afternoon. I was struggling to understand the attraction. I'm sure it must have its good points, but all I could see was a dirty beach overshadowed by tall monolithic concrete hotel blocks, and narrow backstreets full of seedy looking bars. My countrymen must really like seedy bars and cheap beer. Each to his own I suppose, but I was left wondering why anyone would bother coming to such a wonderful peaceful temple-filled island only to spend most of their time there. We've got more than enough seedy smoke filled bars back home, where the beaches are much cleaner....


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