2008-11-14 Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Kuta beach is remarkable not only in having beautiful fast breaking waves, but also for servicing as a popular hangout area at night, without having any particular lighting installations. In fact, by about 8:00pm it gets bat-cave dark but people still choose to line up all along the beach in high concentrations.
On one such evening, I too went to the beach and found a small patch of unoccupied sand. With that, I sat there, listening to the drawn out hush if the breaking waves, looked at the stars and examined all of the reasons why this sort of thing is not done at night on the beaches of LA.
Without warning, there was a flash of the camera not too far away from me. I turned to see two girls taking photos of each other - this is a beautiful beach after all during the day. Seeing them struggle with doing the classic holding of the camera on an extended hand self portrait, I offered to help. They gladly accepted and later took an even greater interest in taking pictures of me (this has happened to me before a few times already with complete strangers). I still don't quite understand the motivation behind this local custom, but irregardless of the gender, good looks or even the choice of the wardrobe, the locals love posing with tourists for photos. To some degree this may make sense, since tourists are cookie people in most cases. But this is Bali we are talking about - millions of us flux through this island all year around.
Whatever their reasoning may have been, I did my best posing with each of the girls sequentially, while the other took the photos. After exchanging a few "thank you"s, the girls left, while I took my seat on the beach again.
"Mushrooms? Mushrooms?" - there was someone standing next to me.
"Thanks for the offer but i am not interested" I declined, politely bowing and shaking my head.
"What about marijuana? Do you want some marijuana?"
I took a second look at the man who was now sitting next to me. He was your typical taxi driver - in his forties, casual pants, heavy slippers made with a single wide strip of imitation leather that covers the front part of the foot but not the toes, and a dress shirt, the color of which I could not tell as it was very dark.
"Thank you, really, but I am just enjoying my time here without the need for anything else" I answered.
"Uhhh" he moaned a bit disappointed but then added "where are you from?"
"I am originally from Russia, but now I am living in America" I pronounced this with clarity, intentionally slowing myself a bit so as not to sounds as if I have said this a thousand times before.
"America!" he exclaimed, narrowing his eyes and sliding open an eager grim. "I have some coke for you. Do you want some coke?" I could tell that he was getting excited and I almost felt regret for having to disappoint him.
"Honestly, I don't do any of that stuff, I don't even smoke. At most, I drink a Bintang (a local beer, similar to Heineken) if the occasion warrants it."
"Ummm, ya" he conceded reluctantly with the grim fading off of his face. "Then, what are you doing in Bali?"
"I surf!" My genuine enthusiasm was bound to soften him up a bit. "Do you know the break just down the beach from here?" I pointed into the darkness.
"Yeah, that's a really good one. Though I have been mostly on the one just before it - the left hander." There are 3 breaks in front of the airport. The right hander is the south most one, while the other two break to the left.
"Ya, Bali has good surf" he said with a hint of pride.
"So you are here selling mushrooms and marijuana, amongst other things. I do know that mushrooms are legal in Indonesia, but what about marijuana?" I knew damn well that marijuana is illegal. In fact, there is a large sign posted in the airport just before you pass the immigration booth, warning that the penalty for bringing marijuana into Indonesia is death - for real. But this was my chance to turn the tables around.
"It's illegal..." he admitted bobbing his head and drew his feet closer to himself.
I continued, "Too bad it's not like in Amsterdam. I hear that there you can sell it just like cigarettes."
"Ya, Amsterdam..." It was painfully obvious that his man does not have a fighting chance of ever getting to Amsterdam.
"So, aren't you afraid to be doing this on the beach at this hour when it's all dark?" I inquired.
"No, no, it's quite safe here" he replied with confidence.
"But there could be police, just walking by unnoticed!.." I was trying hard to see things from his perspective.
"No, the police here is not like in America. You just have to pay them some." He seemed to relax a little, stretching out his legs.
"Ah yeah, Bali police... This is a good place. Good waves too..." After a short pause I added "Are you married?" - I had read in Lonely Planet that inquiring about the spouse is a polite thing to do in Indonesia.
"Ya, since I was 25" he looked out into the distance.
"And do you have any children?"
"Ya, five. Three sons and two daughters. My first son is 17. Are you married?"
"No... I am 31 but I am still single..."
"Oh, do you want a woman? I can get a good woman for you." I could tell that his entrepreneurial side was kicking in again.
"A good woman?"
"Ya, good woman. She does massage too" he added.
"Hmm, may be some other time... Tomorrow I want to surf early - the high tide is at 7:00am and I want to get there before the crowds. Speaking of which, I should really get something to eat and go to sleep before it's too late."
"Ok, there is a good warung (a small kitchen that typically serves cheap local food, such as fried rice with chicken) where the taxis are. It's cheap. And it's good" he said earnestly.
"Ah, thanks." We got up almost synchronously. "You have a good night. It was nice meeting you" I said while shaking his hand.
"Thank you. Nice meeting you" he replied and with those words, the man disappeared into the darkness while I took another look around and started walking towards the taxi hangout corner. It was getting late while the waves were calling for me to be up early next morning.
Rina and I:
Lisa and Rina: