November 1 - 15 2012 / Indonesia: Bali to Australia
In Which We See Our Ninth Total Solar Eclipse
How to start…I guess I will begin with the great superstorm Sandy, which in the days leading up to our departure for Indonesia came ambling up the coast, so slowly and leaving such havoc in her path. Thinking nothing of a late-season hurricane—those happen down south, you know—I paid little attention until a few days before we were to fly. The weather people began talking about the projected path. A strange path, moving at a few miles an hour up the coast but then an odd sharp left turn to land, followed by a second sharp turn north. We were to fly to Los Angeles very early Sunday morning, then have 12 hours to catch a flight to Hong Kong, and from there to Bali. The next afternoon, pick up the little ship. Working backwards, I began to have some worry about making that ship: what if we did not after all manage to get the Sunday morning flight to LAX—and the weather was only going to deteriorate as that morning went on.
Ten-thirty Friday night, I checked the weather, then the airline website. It said, well, if you are planning to fly in or out of the following 20 airports, any time in the next couple of days, we won’t charge you if you want to change your flight. One of the airports was Boston. I called John to look at this, and finally we decided to try to fly out the very next morning—eight hours away. Michael at American Airlines sold us what might have been the last two seats on the plane, and the cab will be coming in six hours.
Stepping out into the fresh dark morning, our bags on the sidewalk, we wait—how familiar this is!-- and the cab comes, and the driver is a Christian man who has the Catholic service on his radio. At Logan, we consider all these sleepy people, get a cup of Dunkin, and after a “night” of less than four hours, and no sleep, there we herd onto a completely full plane. At least we were sitting near each other.
The stewardess said that 31 new passengers had been added in the last few hours. As it turned out, our original flight did leave, but it must have been one of the last ones to go.
The man I was sitting next to had the window shade down, and so I could not see a thing, which was too bad. But when I went to stand in line for the bathroom, I could see out! And onto that glorious display of geology which is our western parts. A young woman in the back row, machine in front of her on her tray-table, instead was looking out the window raptly, and pleased me by taking a picture. Reality is best, in the end.
We felt a little smug, well, a lot smug. We stayed overnight in Los Angeles cocooned at a pleasant hotel, with a little sitting area outside our room, overlooking the pool, the palms and bananas; we slept well at last, and we congratulated ourselves not only on getting out and on our way safely, but avoiding the anxiety that was going to come if we had waited until the next morning. Time and anxiety were suspended in the hotel, among the palms and bananas. We’d inserted ourselves into that controlled chaos that is international travel, passed from one vortex to another, presenting our tickets and passports, our many precious papers, our bags and shoes, machines and chocolates and toothpaste, all for inspection, and they had all been accepted along with ourselves.
Naps in the afternoon in our nice beds, drinkies and dinner, and then again to the airport. A squadron of 24 cute boy “Elders” in their dark suits, white shirts, ties and brush cuts, gathered at the gate; missionaries beginning their tours of duty. Elder Smith, Elder Jones, their name tags read. I overheard one of them explaining that they were flying to Hong Kong but then were going all over—the Philippines, etc. They will sweat in those wool suits, and they will see things they never dreamed of. Perhaps it will be the making of some of them. One can hope.
We kept abreast of the news on our machines and by talking to our daughters. At this point, now that Sandy has more or less dissipated, New York City is trashed, the New Jersey coast is awash and floating, and 48 people so far have died. Countless people including one daughter and her family are without power. It would appear that our house is ok, and our other daughter is definitely ok. We are now not able to be in touch with anyone and all the news is old news. We so easily have become accustomed to being in constant communication with the whole rest of the world that it is disconcerting suddenly to be separated.
Crossing the Pacific for 15 hours was not fun. There was some moderate turbulence for a while (I suppose the pilot would have described it as moderate). I buried my face in John’s shoulder and felt comforted.
All along the way we have been explaining to people what we are going to be doing. “And then we will be north of Australia for a total solar eclipse; we are eclipse chasers and this will be our ninth eclipse.” Oh! So there’s an eclipse scheduled? Is that of the sun? The moon? A what?? Why is it scary? How often do they have them? How long does it, like, last? What do you see? Do you take a lot of pictures? Does it get dark? And so over and over again I explain what it is like, as best I can, and John explains what is happening if they seem interested, and how often eclipses occur. “Well that’s certainly an interesting hobby!” [I cringe as I cannot abide thought of a hobby]
At length, lining up to board in Hong Kong, there’s Alex Filippenko the UC/Berkeley astronomer, who greets us in his big boyish way, shaking hands with John and hugging me. The last time we saw him was only a few months ago, in Hawaii for the Transit of Venus.
Straight south, across waters and places we have not seen, and then we are landing in Bali. The usual messiness of silly money-making visas that no one cares about, lines that move slowly, slowly, chaos of bags and all, and a friendly query from the Customs guy: What do we think of Obama? We love him! we tell him. Obama, son of Indonesia. But then we are outside! It smells of cloves—from clove cigarettes I learn later—but still, cloves, in the Spice Islands!! It is humid and heatful, and I am so happy. Here is our hotel’s driver indeed with our name on a card. I am so relieved! The final anxiety-making piece, now in place.
We follow him past a row of shops; the shops including the McDonalds all have small shrines out front, of stone images wrapped in glittering silk. Wait here, he tells us, I will bring the car. I’m so happy!
He weaves the car skillfully past clots of motorbikes and other cars, honking smartly every few seconds to signal his presence. We drive past rows of small shops; I cannot see the goods because it all passes so fast, but it is so like all the other from-the-airport roads we’ve been down, although somehow richer, lusher. They are building a big new airport, to be finished in a couple of years, our driver tells us. There are dark layer-cake Hindu temples here and there, in empty fields, and fabric-wrapped stone shrines at the entrances to shops.
Do you like Obama? we are asked for a second time. He came here, says the driver. He came in a big big car and he drove right along here, and there were no other cars or motorbikes, just all the people waving at him. He has a big face!
U-turn onto a racing street, and abruptly up a hill, on a narrow twisting road that turns to dirt, up and up, and up. And we are here. Jimbaran Cliffs Private Hotel and Resort. There’s a cow in the small rocky field across the way, and a black and white dog lies in the dust. A woman is seen there with a large basket, on her cell phone.
It’s an astounding Paradise. Our room, all white tile and high white ceiling, startlingly emerald green silk pillows and wicker furniture, opens to its own exceedingly private Caribbean blue infinity pool, surrounded by green things growing and a red tile roof at its edge, and a canopied bed, and a view below of the modest city of Denpasar. The bathroom walls are open at the top to the outside, and there are plants growing in its black stone floor, and a brass incense pot. There is an enormous black tub, and free-standing shower. There’s a little kitchen area and in the refrigerator are two plates of fresh fruits, elegantly cut and arranged. From a corner censer a thin wisp of sweet smoke dissipates.
Immediately after the desk man has finished showing us all the appurtenances, and leaves us, I hurry to the edge of the pool, strip off all my travel clothes, and get in. I can’t be seen and even if I could I don’t care; it’s Bali and I am a tourist and an old lady and who cares. The limpid water is soft and the tiles are deep blue and the air is hot and sweet and I can hear a rooster nearby. How happy I am.
We go searching for a drink. There’s an ingenious use of space, water, rocks and plants here, and many small levels using the cliffside. There are small rock stairs here and there, and many plants and doors. A young man: Can I help you? We are looking for the bar. Ah! The Bar. He leads us down a steep short flight straight down the face of the cliff it would appear, and there is a little bar amid the green, and he is the bartender. He carefully makes me a mojito, and gets John his whiskey. The tv shows an animal program, Nat Geo I believe.
A little conversation, as one does with a barman. He is eager to practice his English language. The hotel has nine rooms, and is two years old, and he has been working there for half that time. Sometimes it is boring when there is no one much there (as now—one other couple). I mention how on the big cruise ships the crew is half Indonesian and half Filipino. Oh yes! he cries. That is everybody’s dream, to get a job on a cruise ship. You can send money to your family, do so much for your family. What does it take to get such a job? Well, you need two or three thousand dollars, to learn English, and then you have to have experience in a five-star. But, he says, it is hard too—I have a nine year old daughter and I would not want to be away from her for nine months… I am sad for him for I do not think he will find a job at a five-star.
We sleep sweetly. I waken every few hours and go into the bathroom, which is humid and warm and which smells of Asia. A misinformed rooster crows softly somewhere nearby, and a dog answers in his sleep.
There are miniature ants in my bed, so small I cannot distinguish their parts, and they feel only like tiny pieces of pepper and do not bother me. A small blue light above my bed makes moonlight. Three times a loud frog voice is heard just outside by my head.
In the morning I put on my striped cotton caftan and go to sit outdoors on the big canopied bed by the pool, my legs dangling over the cliffside into nothing. I hear those roosters, and some cows which are across the way, and, faintly, some strange music. There are birds in some nearby tree tops, and swallows swing past. The humidity rises, and I am ready for whatever is next.
Hmm. Writing just now again, I am not sure at all what day it really is, or what “really is” means in this context. I guess it is Friday here where we are, and where are we then? On these trips, it’s hurry, do nothing, hurry, do nothing; there are lots of pieces to everything we have to do, and we float in a confusion of time and barely-perceptible structure. Things are done at what seem to be odd times, everything is scrambled, and what time is it, really, and what does that mean? I keep my watch on home time as always, to center me and connect me even if tenuously.
We talked a lot about time yesterday. When you are on these trips, time buckles, attenuates to almost nothing if not nothing, nothing apparent or anything you can really enter. It slips and slides and then embraces you fiercely and crunches at you as you hurry and hurry and show papers and get in line or whatever. Or it compresses or oozes, and all you can do is sit in it, and wait.
We lay in our white and green room for a while, quietly. We went into the little eating place with its few tables and its view of the houses below, plumes of smoke rising from them here and there. We ordered vegetarian sandwiches, and before they came it was noon, and we heard the call to prayer on the radio nearby and from invisible towers at a distance. Since there are Hindu shrines everywhere, and we were told in no uncertain terms that Bali isn’t Hindu, we are perfectly happy with topless people on the beach, they told us, not like those very religious people in Java—anyhow, when I asked our small smiling waitress what I was hearing, she explained it was a Bali holiday. Perhaps meaning holy day. I said, Is it religious? Yes! she said, relieved that I understood and had a word for it that she understood, too.
We ate our sandwiches and in the room again I made a little picture of the green silk spread by the blue pool in front of the orange tiles.
While John settled the bill, I stood in the open entryway by the little dirt road. Across the road were the cows, and some chickens in the driveway of the hotel. I went a little out in to the street, and looked into the field. There under a tree, like the cows sensible in the heat, was a woman. We looked at each other, staring, and waved small waves to each other.
The hotel driver took us on a wild drive to the boat terminal. The streets are turbulent rivers of vehicles, all apparently knowing what they are doing but not so much to a western eye. Our driver drove smack on the midline, often with a truck to one side and sandwiched between motorbikes. I suppose there are rules but I do not know what they might be.
There was a striped orange feral decidedly male cat skulking about at the terminal yesterday, and I took his picture, to add to my future slide show, Cats of the World.
We have gotten on this ship, called Orion, with 96 other passengers (one couple, only, did not make it from the storm, out of Pennsylvania). I am not feeling very happy. I so hated being wrenched from that lovely place, with its piercing blue water and emerald silk and orange tiles, and the high white ceiling, and the suspended time.
So here on the boat or ship. I am behaving badly as always in these situations. I loathe meeting “my fellow passengers.” John, the one who hates socializing, is delightful with people, while I sit and sulk and try to be invisible. I was really at my worst (I am actually writing at 5 am the next morning and I have been awake for hours and so decided just to get up, and it is still half an hour to coffee.) I took some pictures as we sailed away from Benoa Harbor. The channel is so narrow that on either side were people standing in the water only up to their knees or thighs, fishing, as we went by.
The dinner hour, or hours, were terrible. A torture of shrieking voices and slow service. The woman to my left cawed at me, ‘SO WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOURSELF WHILE HE WAS DOING TRANSPORTATION?” I thought I would scream. Education, I muttered. Period. Oh, she cackles, WHAT AGE?? Trying desperately to make conversation with this sullen woman to her right. All ages, all subjects, I said shortly, and turned away, a masterpiece of rudeness. She offered that she had been a teacher and added, YOU’RE ALWAYS A TEACHER AREN’T YOU. I nodded. End of story.
Finally after having a few vegetables and some very good soup, deafened, beat up, I left.
There was a long briefing by various people. Too much to take in. One of the guides who apparently works on the ship said Oh he would stir up some controversy, and cluelessly asked us to indicate by a show of hands who among us were Republicans or Democrats. Actually there were a few Republicans, but we others cheered loudly. Still, it was grossly inappropriate and even John thought so, he who is usually so tolerant.
The kid is an Australian and I guess he doesn’t get it how intense this election is, and how high the feelings, and how very rude it is considered in America to discuss politics with people you do not know. I will tell him today. The election is in four days.
The sun is rising. I’ll go out.