Note: This post is part of a series on Bali. To start at the beginning, see The Bali Diary: Day 1.]
Setting an alarm clock is a sin in Bali, but it had to be done if we wanted to catch our 4 AM ride. What seemed like a good idea a few days ago now felt like a grueling proposition. I mean, who really needs to see dolphins at sunrise, anyway? Why not just find a YouTube video of some schmuck swimming with sea mammals and stay put in my comfy bed? I was debating the idea in my head when Chris came out of the bathroom just as quickly as he had gone in.
“Yep, it’s still there,” he said.
“What’s still there?” I asked, shielding my eyes from the bathroom light.
“You didn’t walk in your sleep last night did you?” It wasn’t a crazy question. I’m a known noctambulist, though I’m usually not able to master primitive door latches or locks while asleep.
“No,” I said slowly. “Why?”
“Well, the bar of soap that sits between our sinks is now halfway across the floor in front of the toilet.”
I put on my glasses and stood by Chris to investigate the situation. Made had left the soap out for us just the day before in a dainty mother-of-pearl dish. It was sandalwood-scented and wrapped in paper so pretty that I didn’t want to open it. But I did, and we used it, and now it was on the floor with what looked like claw marks all around the edges.
“What thing could have drug a four-ounce bar of soap from the sink to the floor?” I squatted over what looked to have been someone’s dinner and carefully picked it up. “Are those claw marks or fang marks?”
“Hard to tell,” said Chris. “But we better leave it there so we can ask Nyoman 1 what or who he thinks did this. Maybe it was a monkey, like the one who attacked your foot at the temple the other day.”
“Or one of those huge lizards that live behind the refrigerator. I’ve read they’re very territorial.” And they are. Every day that we’ve been here one has left a little surprise for us at the bottom of the step leading into the open-air restroom. The result being that I now not only have to negotiate the bed’s mosquito netting in the middle of the night (which never goes well), but I also have to find and put on my shoes before I can switch on a light, all while being careful of where I step and guarding for bats and arachnids, like the scorpion I saw on the wall next to the toilet the night before. Getting back to sleep has thus far proven impossible after such a foray into the black of night, and so I’ve taken to ignoring the water pitcher on my nightstand before bedtime.
But there was no need to worry about getting back to sleep this morning. Nyoman 3, our new driver, was already waiting to take us to the northern end of the island, to a village called Lovina, where the dolphins are said to surface regularly at sunrise.
We gathered our day packs stuffed with water shoes, sunscreen, maps, water bottles, and guide books and piled them into the back of Nyoman’s vehicle, and then we were off, down the dark ribbon of road that meandered through jungles and tiny villages. As I dozed off and on, I heard the high-pitched sound of a woman wailing/singing, followed by a man’s voice making announcements. These were the Fajr, the predawn prayers of the Muslims, traveling over loud speakers and filling the tenebrous air with an eerie sense of surreality. There are more Muslims here than either of us had expected for such a Hindu-predominant place, and Nyoman 3 explained to us how there are people of many religions living on the island harmoniously. It’s a point of pride for the Balinese, as harmony is a significant component of their faith. The balance of good and evil is always on everyone’s mind.
“Here we are,” said Nyoman.
We pulled into a parking spot at the water’s edge. The Bali Sea was calm, like a lake, like glass. “You could water ski out here,” Chris said. At our villa, which faces the Indian Ocean on the opposite side of the island, the water roars and crashes nonstop, day and night. Surfers love the full force of southern ocean swells that ride in straight from the Antarctic. Kuta Beach is a testament to how gnarly a beautiful beach can be when overrun by surfers on the hunt for the perfect break, along with the perfect bikini babe, the perfect blunt, and the perfect beer. And then there are the Kuta Cowboys, Bali’s version of the American Gigolo. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Although Lovina is more relaxed, it’s still a tourist trap. Before we could even get out of the car, hawkers approached us with shiny sea shells and wood carvings of Hindu gods. We’ve learned to not even acknowledge these people, as it only makes matters worse. Just yesterday, walking through a market, a woman barked at me that I’d promised to buy a batik skirt from her. She grabbed my arm and yelled, then begged. It was hard not to panic. I yanked my arm away, and she put the wadded-up skirt on my left shoulder and left it there. I walked on, not touching it, not acknowledging it or her. The skirt sat precariously on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot until finally one of the vendor’s accomplices grabbed it and returned it to her stall.
“This is Ketut, your guide for the dolphin sighting,” Nyoman 3 said. The fisherman and Chris did the Bali handshake, a series of grips that ends with a gentle rap to one’s own chest, and then we boarded his boat, Frisky, a canoe with outriggers that bent into the water on pontoons. There were dozens of these jukungs, and we looked like a swarm of water skippers as we zipped toward the horizon in search of dolphins. Soon someone pointed west, and all of the boats raced to a single black fin sticking out of the water. We circled the pod of dolphins, waiting for them to surface, then sped to the north when someone stood in their boat and pointed in that direction.
“This isn’t exactly the experience I was expecting,” I said. “I feel like we’re harassing these poor creatures.”
“It’s an open sea,” Chris said. “They can swim away if they want to. Maybe they think it’s fun. But I agree. It’s a little ridiculous.” As our boat practically hydroplaned to the next dolphin fin, we gripped the gunwales. I shook my head to part my hair from my eyes and saw that we were headed back toward the shore. The perspective changed entirely. While we had been busy looking out to sea, the morning had been unfurling behind our backs. We both pointed to the hazy sun, so enormous it was myth-like, emerging from behind the smoky, purple mountain range. With the boats in the foreground, it felt like we had floated onto the canvas of a Chinese watercolor.
“Now that’s worth the price of admission,” Chris said.
I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes, hoping to burn the image into my brain because I knew the camera could never do it justice. Traveling is hard, especially to a land this far away and foreign. But it’s moments like these that make it all worthwhile.
To read more, see “The Bali Diary: Squeeze!”