“Be careful on the roads here,” our driver says, tilting his head and smiling into the rear-view mirror, “the motorbikes are mosquitos here. There are a lot of them, and they are buzzing everywhere.” We pull into the traffic outside of Denpasar airport. Emerging from a car lot draped in tropical plants. I never though a parking lot could be described as beautiful. But it was. Bougainvillea of all colour dripping from its multi levels, hiding the cold grey concrete from view. It seems even the plants here are trying hard to please.
Like so many other Southeast Asian countries I have visited, Bali faces confusion. A junction where rich traditional and ancient culture meets an ever demanding, globalized and material world. “See that hill over there?” our driver points to a large range sitting on the horizon, a dark mass towering above its surrounds. “That’s no hill. It’s no island. That’s a rubbish dump!” He laughs. But his eyes do not. The waste produced by our throw-away culture, in which Bali is the playground, left by the thousands of tourists, discarded by the locals, and mounded into an ever-present reminder that something is out of kilter.
Dark shapes float on the evening breeze, way above our heads. There is a kite festival on in Bali. Contestants have come from all over the world. Hundreds of kites’ drift silently, silhouetted against the dimming sky. Meter long tails flicking this way and that.
The market is overwhelming. Not in size per se, but in the detail. The ornate and colourful. The shimmering and sparkling. The patterns and textures. Everywhere ones eyes fall, there is something rich and fascinating to look at. But there is so much. One cannot focus on any one thing. The mask snarling from the wall, the jeweled glass coasters, the beaded baskets and the long necklaces glinting in the sunlight. Salivating over the treasures, charmed by the wide smiles, and intoxicated by the wafting incense.
Cool gelato may distract us from our aching feet. But the sun disappears quickly on the equator so we must keep moving. One’s head is constantly moving – jumping over a gutter in the footpath, stepping sidewards to let the motorbike speed past, an eye on the dog running across the road in your direction, and a glance in the shop window selling the latest fashion.