Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Unexpected Trip through the Rice Paddies

Back I hurried out of my Bali bungalow at seven in the morning to get downtown to Casa Luna, the meeting place for my first day of volunteering at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

I’d put on my white official volunteer T-shirt in the morning, but it was drizzling rain out, so I threw an unofficial T-shirt into my bag to change into later. Today wasn’t a “dress nicely” day, but yesterday I’d finally figured out what to do about having nothing decent to wear in my round-the-world rucksack. I’d bought a nice top in town and then taken in my cotton travel skirts for pressing at the local laundry.

I’d tried to pay, but the laundry woman didn’t have change for my 20,000 rupiah note ($2.25). "No problem," she’d said as she handed me my ironed clothing late in the afternoon. "Pay me tomorrow."

Simple long cotton skirts are nothing special, but they’d have to do. I’d tried going all the way to Kuta for some shopping but hadn’t found anything but a $30 coffee press that was beyond my frugal means.

I’d also gone in for some hair color and to get my nails done. The nails had worked out all right, but the salon had lost running water for some reason, right about the time the hairdresser had to wash the color out of my hair.

“We have another spa,” he said. “It is down the road.”

“You want me to walk down the road with this?” I pointed to the color all over my hair.

His eyes got large. “Of course not,” he said indignantly. “I will take you on my motorbike.”

And that is how I ended up sidesaddle on the back of a motorbike heading the wrong way down Monkey Forest Road, hair color smeared all over my roots, en route to a salon with running water.

At least my hair looked good this morning, I thought as I trudged across the rice paddies and down the Campuhan Steps to where I could hail a motorbike taxi to Casa Luna. The festival guests were to be there at 8 to walk with a travel writer to the venue, called Villa Kelicki.

20,000 to the motorbike, I groused to myself. It's only $2, but I usually walk. Walking is good for me and I hate negotiating. How much do I hate negotiating? The real motorbike rate was 10,000 and I knew it. A car was 20k.

But there’d be no walking today. I was running late and the drizzle was putting me in a worse mood. I had to laugh at myself for being such a lousy subordinate. I don’t like being told what to do, was annoyed to have to be somewhere at 7:30 in the rain, and hated having to wear a white T-shirt.

Plus, my supervisor and I had gotten off on the wrong foot when I’d suggested the writer wouldn't know the way to Villa Kelicki.

I'd backed down. It just wasn't worth fighting over. But I had gone to the volunteer headquarters and asked around for directions. One of the volunteers had taken me to the trailhead and showed me where the walk to Villa Kelicki started.

I arrived at Casa Luna first. I hadn't really needed to take the motorbike after all. I waited, engaging the guests that showed up and inquiring about their backgrounds. Two women were from Broome. Another from Melbourne, one from Adelaide, one from Auckland. There were no men.

By 8:15, we had a writer, Eva, me, and eight guests. Three were missing. Louise had stopped by, and I’d told her we'd wait here for a few more minutes, then the rest would go hiking while I stayed behind in case more people showed up. She agreed and left for the villa.

That's when the guests told me that they'd received notification that our event would start at 8 several weeks ago, but had only gotten notification to be at Casa Luna rather than Villa Kelicki last night. Not all tourists are carrying smart phones or laptops. Some of them might not have gotten the message.

And were probably waiting at Villa Kelicki. It was 8:15 already.

I made a new plan.

"Okay, instead of waiting here, I'll hurry on ahead to the villa and get the other tourists and bring them back to meet you on the walk."

The writer nodded.

"Great. We'll see you later then."

Two more tourists showed up just as we were leaving. Only one was missing now. I called Louise to tell her our plan, but the villa is in a cell phone dead zone. I couldn't get her.

I hurried down the block, passing my regular motorbike taxi driver. He's Nyoman, whose mother likes to overcharge me for mangoes.


"Not today," I called from across the street. "I have to go to the Campuhan Ridge, walking!"

He waved and I continued on, finding the trailhead at Ibah Hotel and crossing a small bridge near a temple. I followed a path up the ridge, and up some more ridge.

Now I noticed how humid it was today in the drizzle. My white volunteer T-shirt was hot. Really hot.

Up the hill I rushed, hurrying to get to the villa to find the other guest.

My phone rang.


"Marie? It's Louise. The other guest was at the villa, so I sent her with a driver to Casa Luna."

"No, no, I'm..."

"I can't get reception. I'm calling you from a different phone."


My phone rang again.

"Marie? It's Loui--"

"Louise, can you call your driver? I'm almost to the villa now. Can you call and have the guest come back?"

"Well, she wants to do the walk."

"Can you call and get her to meet me at the trailhead?"

"I'll try."

I turned around and rushed back down the hill. After about ten minutes, I ran into our group hiking towards me.

"I have to go back to meet one person."

They looked at me with sympathy, and I hurried on. The writer called after me.

"Do you know where Villa Kelicki is?"

That stopped me.

"What? You don't know where it is?"

"No, I've never been there."

"It's somewhere that way." I waved back in the direction I'd come from.

"Okay, we'll see you in a bit."

I hurried along down the path.

The humidity was really getting to me now. I rushed to the trailhead.

No one was there.

I waited a minute, then called Louise. I couldn't get through.

And so I pushed on to Casa Luna.

The guest wasn't there. I called Louise again. I didn't get through again, but she must have gotten the missed call notification, because she did return my call a minute later.

"The guest returned...she didn't go to Casa Luna."


And the rain was starting again.

"Can I come there by motorbike?"

"It's pretty far by road. You better walk. It would cost a lot, maybe 60,000."


I started to walk back, but Nyoman and his mother caught me again.


I told them what was going on.

"It's a long way. I can find it, but it's 60,000."

"I'll do it for 50,000."


I hopped on Nyoman's motorbike, not sidesaddle for once since I was wearing jeans. We zipped back past the trailhead and on up the hill to Bintang Supermarket.

"I am going to just confirm where we are going," said Nyoman. He talked to some taxi drivers, then we followed their instructions on up the road, turning right after a bit and heading off into the hills.

"Let me ask you something," said Nyoman. "People like to read and they like to write. But these are things you do alone. I don't understand. Why do they pay all this money to fly here to this writing festival, and what can they do together that is reading and writing?"

I shrugged, though he couldn't see me on the back of the bike.

"I don't know. It's a funny thing, hard to understand. No one is writing at a writers festival. But people like to meet and go to Bali. They like to do something fun when they get here."

"It's the same with the yoga festival. I see all these people come to Bali to go to the yoga festival. But if someone wants to do yoga, why would they go to a festival? Wouldn't they just go to Yoga Barn and do yoga?"

I had no answer for Nyoman. But he wasn't done yet.

"You know this woman who is in charge of the writers festival? She's Australian. She owns three restaurants. And there is a man, an American man, who owns the biggest yoga place. These are the most successful businesses in town. What do foreigners have to make so much success? I only have an elementary school education, but I have taught myself English, but I cannot get a job because I am not a secondary graduate. So I think to myself, I need to find a smart foreign woman to marry. She will have a good business."

"Nyoman, I think you have to be careful with this plan. There are a lot of foreign women who do not have good businesses."

"That's true. Some foreign woman also have unsuccessful businesses."

We considered this for a while, then we were at the village of Kelicki, then at a hotel with Kelicki in its name. I went to the front desk, knowing the answer before I asked the question.

"Is this Villa Kelicki?"

"No, that's back down the road. Go left at the junction."

"That's not it?" Nyoman was confused. We returned the way we came, passing lots of places with Kelicki in their names. And that's when we realized that the village of Kelicki had a lot of Kelickis.

The rain was getting worse. Nyoman shielded his eyes with his hand. My jeans were getting wet.

"Here are the flags! No wonder we missed them. They are on the ground. Why didn't they put the flags up?"

Every writers festival venue has flags to mark the spot.

We went in to find a security guard. Two tourists were sitting behind him on a porch.

"Is this Villa Kelicki?"

'No," said one of the tourists. "That's back down a ways. They left the flags here but it's the wrong place. That's why they took them down."

Nyoman was getting frustrated now.

"I think it's..." He told me where he thought it was. "Do you agree?"

"No. Just ask someone."

He asked, got new directions and we started off again.

And that's when we saw my tourists and writer, all looking wet and annoyed, and walking the wrong way.

We slowed down and stopped.

"Hey, Marie! Are we going the right way? We were told it's two kilometers up this way."

"No, you're not. It's back this way."

"Oh." Our writer friend swore just a bit now.

The rain really started pouring. Nyoman said, "Come on, we'll go find it and then make sure it's here. I'll come back and tell you."

He found Villa Kelicki this time, and the two of us, sopping wet, walked to a small hut to find a brunch, Louise, and several concerned staff members.

"Our tourists are lost," I said. "Do you have a car that can go get them?"

"I have a car," said the manager. "Do you have a driver?"

"I will drive it," volunteered Nyoman. "They are really wet. Those poor tourists."

"How many are there? My car only fits four people."

"Take these umbrellas," I said. The villa had several. "Make two trips."

Nyoman went off into the rain to fetch our tourists.

"He'll come back, right?" whispered Louise to me.

"Yes, I know where he lives. He's a good guy."

He returned twice with our wet tourists, and I slipped him a second 50,000 note, which Louise later told me I could get reimbursed for.

The staff of the villa handed out towels, and then the brunch could finally begin.

The writer conducted his talk, while we snacked and dried off in the villa. And later, I caught a lift back to town, so I could go see Australian folk-rocker Paul Kelly speak about a book he’d written. As an added bonus, he performed a few songs. I’m a fan of his, so I pushed my way up to the front, happy to be dry in my back-up T-shirt here in Bali.

The sun came out as Paul Kelly sang.

You know money only buys you what you want
And you can't buy your balls back
like you buy a pair of pants
And once they're gone you've really got fuck all
Watch out little boy don't lose your balls

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