I’ve dreamt of visiting Bali years before falling in love with the philosophy known as the “journey of the quest” as read in the world-famous book-turned-movie, Eat Pray Love. After reading the book for the fourth time though, my desire to get to Bali was ignited by daydreams of sitting cross-legged in front of a gifted, wrinkled stranger reading my palm or finding love on a dirt road behind a rice paddy. But you know what they say, expectations almost always lead to disappointment. I’m not exactly convinced who they are, but it’s been philosophically proven that they know what they’re talking about.
When I arrived at Denpasar Airport in Bali I was exhausted. Not to appear as out of place as I felt, I glide the trolley cradling my luggage through the crowds and out of the massive structure. I search the discombobulated groups of tourists camped out on the floor using their backpacks as headrests (who could honestly travel with everything they need in one bag strapped to their back, I thought to myself), anxious family members waiting for the first glimpse of their loved one’s face, and, of course, the small circle of prearranged private drivers. My eyes scan dozens of makeshift square cutouts for one housing letters that spell my name. I’d arranged this pickup days earlier with the hostess of the Airbnb I’d reserved. Slowly, I glance around again taking care not to swivel my neck too obviously, appearing lost is a solo traveler’s scarlet letter—so they say. I realize that there are no names that match mine nor is there a viable misspelled option to warrant further inquiry.
I decide to sit and wait. I can access the free WiFi (offered by the airport) and elect to send an email to the hostess to inquire after a direct means to contact the driver. I’m without a local SIM card and my current carrier doesn’t have global coverage in Indonesia so until I get to the Airbnb this is the only readily available means of digital communication I have. Settling in, I take in the beauty of this airport. The outdoors is brought indoors (and vice versa) architecturally communicating to me that on this island, people and nature cohabitate in the rawest ways. This thought makes me smile. I’ve dreamt of experiencing the Balinese culture, nature being an inclusive part of it. I’m nervous and excited all at once for this experience, my first solo trip and my first time to Southeast Asia.
I’m not hungry, but I’m peckish. I pull a snack bar from my purse, lean deeper into the trolley for support and eat the bar slowly, apparently, I’ve got some time. I wait two hours, but no sign with my name appears in the crowd and my emails/messages to my hostess go unanswered. I consent, instead, to appease what seems like the hundredth offer for a taxi.
The driver has no idea where the villa is located despite reading the address I’ve been provided. I’m perturbed, easy to do when I’m exhausted. Despite his geographical ignorance, he understands this is likely his last chance of securing a passenger this evening and feigns semi-knowledge of the surroundings. He insists that we will stop again for directions once we are in the general neighborhood. I move onto negotiating the price being as frank as possible that I would only pay him what I would’ve paid the private car, $20 USD (284,000 IDR). He pushes back ever so slightly wearing a grin crafted to charm in moments such as this, but I do not relent. We agree and I load my things into the trunk, sit in the backseat and exhale sharply into the stale air of the cab. This will be interesting.
The driver attempts to make small talk with me the length of the ride. My defenses are up and I choose to lie repeatedly when answering his inquiries vs divulging the details of my solo adventure.
Me: “Yes, I’m meeting my longtime boyfriend who’s already at the villa. He traveled ahead of me for work while I met some friends in Thailand.”
Also me: “Uh-huh! I LOVE surfing! That’s why we chose Canggu as our destination.”
The flurry of questions dissipates as we near the final destination. He stops, however, to ask after exact directions to the villa—as he said he would. The language they’re speaking sounds like squawking puppies if puppies could squawk. Satisfied in his instructions, he reverses the vehicle and we head back in the direction we came, save a left turn down a poorly lit dirt road. The sight of this road partnered with the impeccably gross timing of my inner terror of traveling alone at this hour increases my heartbeat. The pounding threatens to push out actual sound from behind my widening eyes. Every three seconds I play out a horrible death scene in my head; me kicking and screaming and biting off the assailant’s ear lobe, me running through the Balinese jungle barefoot with no compass. I snap myself out of it and feel around blindly in my bag for my mase (a gift for my travels) determined to steady my breathing as I do.
The vehicle comes to a slow stop and the driver turns to look at me. I’m frozen in place, my hand firmly gripped around the tube of mase inside my purse. His lips crack and a beaming smile shines through the gray darkness when he speaks, “Lady, I’m really lost! We go back to information, ok?” He doesn’t wait for a response, but turns away from me and begins to back the car up. I watch the jungle in the headlights get farther and farther and try to relax my entire body. So much stress for nothing. I’m positive my exhales are audible. Back at the information booth I fumble with my phone and realize there’s a free WiFi network available. I connect to it to see a message from the hostess ping my phone and I’m relieved. She expresses her concern for the mixup at the airport, explains to me that the driver was waiting there two hours (I narrow my eyes at that because so was I. Where was he exactly?) and that I should show the address on the booking to the taxi driver. Really, lady? Because I hadn’t thought of doing that (eye roll). This may be my first solo trip, but it isn’t my first time traveling or reserving international accommodations.
While I’m making reactionary faces at the screen of my mobile a different male approaches me. His English is amazing and he explains the driver doesn’t know the way and that he will now be taking me to the Villa because he does know and most importantly, that this exchange will come at no additional cost to me. I glare at him, then glance back at the original driver (squinting my eyes at him), then back to the new character in this saga again. They both wait for my response. Screw it, I think, here’s to adventure. I consent, no other feasible option before me. Thank goodness too, because less than ten minutes later I’m walking through the front gate of my Villa unharmed, in one piece and a bit proud of myself for keeping my cool. I place my luggage at my feet and wave the taxi driver off, standing taller than I did four hours prior. I admire the elegant and likely hand-crafted wooden door before me before as I position my pointer finger over the bell. Here’s to adventure, indeed, I think proudly to myself.
To be continued…
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