It’s been two days since I’ve left the bungalow. I’ve been focused primarily on hydrating, self-preservation and rejuvenation. Muscles all over my body hurt and though it may sound more like making excuses to support laziness I don’t want to risk any serious health problems. Besides, my olfactory recoils at the repugnant aromas that fill the air surrounding busy streets and business-filled areas. Balinese burn trash, jungle, rubber; everything.
I should have started this trip in Ubud. It’s enchanting here; the green is greener, the people friendlier (if that’s possible) and the food exquisite. I’ve been learning something new about myself each day—sometimes several times a day. Despite this, I’m desperate for more human interaction. Spending time with just myself has worn thin. I refuse to let another day pass spent alone so I research day tour companies in the area. I locate one with a free pick up/drop off service that lasts nine hours and will operate whether I am the only participant or not. Doing my due diligence, I double-check the TripAdvisor reviews of the business before deciding to book it.
Andre, my hired driver for the day, has pulled over on the side of the road just next to a KFC and a Dunkin Donuts, which he proudly exclaimed are “my products” because the brands are American. According to Andre, Balinese love fried chicken. He says buying a bucket of fried chicken for dinner is a quick and easy way to feed the whole family. The fact that we’ve been discussing fried chicken for more than twenty minutes alongside Andre’s second favorite topic, President Barack Obama, warranted bouts of hysterical laughter from me. I deduce he has chosen these topics for discussion because 1) he has limited English speaking skills, and 2) that I am Black-American. I joke with him about it – my way of taking the power back in the situation – to test his sense of humor and his social queues; maybe he’ll catch my drift.
The reality is most Balinese people have a genuine affection for (the former) POTUS considering part of his childhood was spent in Jakarta. Andre cracks a window while lighting a cigarette and asks me if I mind. I shake my head in response. He asks me if I smoke. I lifted an eyebrow and mouth, not cigarettes to the polluted air rushing in and occupying the car’s interior. I fold my top lip upward in an attempt to block my nostrils from the accost, but it does little to sway the volatility of the scents.
I’m lost in thought, but thinking about nothing at all. The temples here are ancient; some creepy in appearance and others jaw-dropping with ornate decorations and entryways. Andre admits that some of the temples popular with tourists today were handcrafted by locals wanting to cash in on the tourist boom. Recalling the desperation in the faces of the women selling saris, keepsakes, etc. at every temple entry, and I believe him. One lady went so far as to throw the sari on my person and walk away demanding I pay her one dollar. The dark side of tourism, I think to myself.
Andre is gabbing on and on about nothing. He chuckles loudly to himself before speaking about how it amazes him that California and New York are part of the same country, but are so far away. I think about the stark differences in coastal cultures of the US and have to concur. I tell him how I thought Balinese air would smell sweet with mango or sodden like soaking rice. He roars at this comparison throwing his head back and slapping the steering wheel wobbling his head back and forth in a fit of laughter. He exclaims that once the air did smell of such things, but that this time was long before his life began.
Andre and I banter throughout the day exploring temple to temple, rice paddy to rice paddy with some food shoved in between. I ponder how this day could have been spent, alone and feeling sorry for myself in a foreign country, and congratulate myself on my gumption. Realizing that my first solo trip concludes in just a handful of days I play a supercut of the awkward moments that tested my endurance these last weeks. I remember how doubtful I was I would get to my second day let alone the end. I smile widely at Andre. I am not listening, but I am entertaining his idea of entertainment as my thoughts wander to the future. What will I get into next? Where will I go…?
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