Sareg House, Kuta Beach 2/2/73
During a period of enforced inactivity (explanations later), I have found it in my heart to keep you abreast of the news. If you had any conception of how inefficient the post office is here or how many Indonesians one must push past to reach the stamp window, you would be surprised that now already a second letter I write to you, in both which I stir you up, putting you in remembrance that I still exist. These aerogrammes don't even have glue on the edges, so one has to go back and stick one's finger in a pot of goo at the P.O.
In the last exciting instalment I think I mentioned that I had hired a motor bike for Rp 6000/wk. The only reason I can tell you what I did on any one day is that I have kept some sort of record in my diary. The days run together here, and otherwise I would not even know which day of the week it was. The traffic in the town of Den Pasar is frightful with motor bikes, bemos, trucks and horse-drawn dokars going every which way. Speed limit is 30 km/h but nobody worries about that. They follow Rafferty's rules. If you want to cross an intersection, you simply point in the direction you want to go, close your eyes and proceed.
We visited the Bali Beach Hotel at Sanur, a very sumptuous place which would be expensive in Australia ($20/night?) In this context, it is quite monstrous. OK for rich Americans on expense accounts.
Food in Bali is fairly westernised: lots of eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, some rice, fish etc. and I even had a quite reasonable steak with veggies the other night.
Paid Rp 300 one night to watch a Ketjak dance where about 100 men sit around in a circle waving their arms and chanting "Tchak, tchak", while a story is acted out in the middle involving gods, dragons etc. It was really quite beautifully done, though I think I got more of a kick out of the Barong dance the next night (performed in the street). This begins with a ritual sacrifice, a bird's head being "pinched off". Once again, forces of good and evil appear to be involved in a struggle and, in the climax, crazed lunatics come out grunting and screaming, receive what appears to be some sort of drugged potion, go into a frenzied trance and begin sticking krises into themselves (these are long knives with wavy blades). If it is done properly, the kris is supposed to penetrate the skin without drawing blood. One dancer had his fist clenched so hard it took three men to open it.
Took a long ride into the country and saw woodcarvers, painters etc. at work. Even found a Spanish painter called Antonio Blanco who lives in a beautiful house on a hill, like a modern Gauguin, with his Balinese wife. We had an interesting talk with him; he even writes poetry in English.
On Tuesday I took a Melb Uni architecture student to the snake-temple at Tanahlot and burnt my leg on the way. Bike skidded in a mud-puddle and as I fell off my calf touched the hot exhaust pipe. Burns, cuts etc. just don't heal in this country so, like everyone else around here, I've taken to drugs: I prescribed myself a course of penicillin. Today I think I'll yield to pressure and see a doctor, though I'd rather spend the Rp 2000 on yogi men or paintings.
On Wednesday I took an American girl (who's been teaching in Aust) to the mountain area at Penelokan. The mountains, of course, are volcanoes. One erupted and distributed death and destruction rather liberally as late as 1965. A single coconut made quite a reasonable brunch. We made a pact to be taken to the sights around the lake by 5HP motor boat at a cost of Rp 450 each. We had to walk 2 miles down a steep track to the lake. First stop was a "stone age" village which reminded me very much of Laudunum or wherever Asterix lived. However it was full of begging children: quite pathetically mercenary.
Next stop was the cemetery where these people lay their dead out under bamboo slats above ground. Saw one rotting body and lots of skulls. Last stop was the hot springs at the edge of the lake. Foolishly enough, I decided it was a pity to go so far and not swim and that was really the end for my leg. We had to clamber 2 miles up that mountain in the rain and were exceedingly grateful to be welcomed into a losmen at the top.
I was in extremis that night and next morning and, to add to the troubles, an upset of some sort emptied my stomach for me a couple of times. That has passed, thankfully.
Next morning we came straight home as fast as our bike would carry us. One of the hazards of driving here is the presence of myriads of dogs who lie, walk and roll all over the road and, being stone deaf, take no heed whatever of the horn. On the way home we ran over a chook which inadvertently crossed our path. It appeared to expire in a flurry of feathers in the middle of the road but we didn't stop to enquire after its health or see to a decent burial.
Depending on my leg, I may leave Bali early next week. Won't spend long in Java.