First Impressions Back in Bali

It’s an hour and a half drive from the Denpasar Airport to the Lotus Bungalows, our first hotel. I’ve arrived here a week before our first group of writers, along with my friend Nancy Gertz, who I invited along as my companion for the first half of my stay. I’m here to get over my jetlag and relax—and do some planning to get things ready for our first group.

It has been six years since I was in Bali. A lot has changed, but a lot has remained the same. The drive from the airport to Candidasa was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

The air feels the same—that luscious, wonderful tropical air. Before I deplaned, I stripped off a few layers, down to a light tee shirt, and replaced my sneakers with a pair of hiking sandals. I was ready to emerge from my long journey in a plane, and the 84-degree warmth did not disappoint. As Nancy and I sat in the back of the car sent to pick us up, I mostly just stared out the window, taking it all in. The traffic was still a crazy mishmash of confident, fast-moving cars sharing the road with hundreds of scooters. The vast number of scooters hadn’t changed, but the number of helmets had increased exponentially. There were far more single riders on scooters, many carrying just themselves or a little backpack, rather than whole families hanging off a single scooter or people carrying huge parcels strapped to themselves or the back.

We passed a number of Western chains as we drove through Sanur: McDonalds and KFC, Circle K as well as the ubiquitous red Pertimina gas stations. As we moved further from the airport, the tenor of life alongside the road changed. We passed construction projects—mostly all the work being done by hand. Baskets with chickens inside…were they roosting or fighting cocks?

Rows of monuments were being sold alongside the road—primarily statues of the Hindu pantheon with a few Buddhas thrown in. Stands sold melons. Warungs, little shops, sold petrol in plastic bottles. Black and white stripes appeared everywhere on curbs and roadways. A woman and child pushed a truck by hand on a very busy highway, surrounded by cars moving at high speed.

The further we got from the airport, the more I saw people carrying goods on their scooters—a bale of green wheat, a large barrel, a mountain of melons. A family of four flew by—mom and dad on the seat and the kids off hanging off the front and sides.

Palm trees and statuary increased along the roadway. And then off to the left—our first rice paddy—oh, I loved my eyes swimming in all that green. Vendors sold their goods by the side of the road under worn rainbow umbrellas. Amidst the shops and temples, piles of wood, and Bali street dogs, were heaps of refuse with nowhere to go.

Throughout our drive were tons of political messaging on large, soft billboards. Either there’s about to be an election, or they just had one. that’s one of the questions I have to ask. What’s going on with politics here?

A man threw coconuts up to the top of a truck, already heaped with a mountain of the round, hard fruits. Signs offered roasted pig (always with a picture of whole roasted pig), and as we got closer to Lotus Bungalows, the road got more jungly.

There were lots of things I remembered, but a lot that felt brand new, too. With the years away, I had reacquired beginner’s mind. And this was only Day #1.

Photo of The Lotus Bungalows by Marsha Morgan

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