the thatched villa

Posted: November 14, 2012 in Travel
Tags: , , ,

Bali Masari statue

As is the case in any airport outside the first world, the details of Bali spring up immediately, unfiltered by the west’s sterile machinery of commercial travel. The aging airport sags with the weight of the thick humidity, the long, unadorned hallway of arrivals funneling us into the customs hall, which only passingly serves its role of filtering and processing visitors, but more functionally introduces the throng of tourists to their first taste of the utter chaos that waits outside. A phalanx of small, official-looking men have already swooped in on the baggage carousel, looming over the lines of bags they have claimed as prospective clients and desperately trying to hustle their owners along and into an unspoken contract before reality dawns. Beyond this gauntlet of amiable vultures, the last veil is dropped and we are thrust into the seething crowd, a press of opportunistic humanity that never really relents. I begin sweating immediately in the heat, the humid air clinging to me and assailing me with the rich mixture of smells of equal parts incense, car exhaust, and decaying vegetation. We are well and truly in the belly of southeast Asia.

The island itself isn’t very big, and we don’t have far to go, but it still takes some time to work our way through the snarled traffic, even at 10 at night. Apart from some of the more remote side roads, you  never really escape the steady flow of mopeds and trucks as they intricately and with seemingly endless calm interweave together. Driving in it would be terrifying, but from the safety of the back seat, especially after the tedium of a 6-hour flight, it’s excitingly entertaining, like watching a storm battle outside your bedroom window. When we finally do pull up to the villas, another quick shot of reality is administered as the gate security guard quickly checks their own car for bombs. Many people over the next week will say Bali has moved on since the bombing 10 years ago, but with the sheer volume of security guards and safety checks I see everywhere, I have to wonder if they just don’t remember what it was actually like before, just like most people in the US barely remember that back then, people could actually greet us as we walked off the plane. But from here, it’s another world completely.

Our first villa at Bali Masari is only one of twelve, and the following morning we find ourselves wondering if we’re the only guests. The restaurant, the pool, the lobby, the spa, everywhere is empty of anyone other than staff. It’s suddenly like we’ve rented the cheapest private luxury complex on the planet, pre-staffed wth the most gentle, friendly people you can imagine. Our own villa, like the others, is perched on the slope of a river valley overlooking fields and farms and comes complete with its own small pool, but we instead take immediate ownership of the larger pool above us and start to seriously be on vacation.

Of course, we are not the only guests during our 5-day stay, but for all the appearances the other guests make, we may as well be. Typically we find ourselves eating our meals alone in an empty restaurant or by an empty pool, and despite being told to book massages a day in advance, we get them on a whim, which allows Liesel to indulge in her massage addiction and me to get more massages in one week than I’ve had in the past 34 years. This is what being ridiculously rich must feel like. Our desire to sight-see (“jalan jalan” as it’s called locally) or go on adventures wanes frequently and quickly, as much due to the heat as the ready availability of the pool to escape it. Nonetheless we still manage a day trip to Ubud, the “cultural center of Bali” as the brochures tout it to shop for handmade silver and visit various temples, both with and without monkeys. In the process we take on staff a good-natured driver named Regen to get us around, who proves handy at getting us anything we can think of, from a traditional Kechak dance performance to a variety of places for dinner depending on our whim.

By chance we had landed about as far from the tendrils of US influence as possible in time for the US presidential election.

Bali Masari statue

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