Travel rather than passage, except where the passage is past the breathtaking, is what always engages me. Sitting in an aisle seat I saw little of anything breathtaking. The last clear view of Australia was the soccer fields on the shore of the Cooks River, by Marrickville golf course.
My next clear view was the the ocean south of Kuta and the stretch of coral reef by the end of the runway at Ngurah Rai airport. It was here the Lion Air plane ditched some months back. Mere moments elapsed between this thought and a smooth almost spongy landing. Was the pilot making a point for those of us who might have been thinking thoughts of past disasters? I wondered, but as aiport building and aircraft flashed past I was thinking about my next three weeks on the island, meeting old friends, showing grandchildren around, confronting the changes.
Clearing Customs it was out into the maul that confronts every air traveller arriving in Bali. Scanning the crowd of faces I found my driver I Gusti, even before any momentarily look of being lost inspired offers of transport from others. Ironically my first task was to cancel a Lion Air booking made the day its aircraft had ditched at Kuta. My plan had been to travel out to Ende and meet up with an old friend, the head of a large Catholic Convent and School, but plans often change and I must remain on call for a quick flight to Singapore.
Leaving the airport area I was impressed by the innovative architecture of the new airport buildings under construction, a roof line of abstracted scallop shapes fronted by what seems like a post modern interpretation of traditional Balinese structures. Clearly the tourism industry has plans for Bali but will it be a place that I continue to recognise.
Now we were in the traffic and I realised why I’d stopped driving on the island, so many years ago. Concentration is absolutely paramount if one is to avoid the knocks and bingles that can so easily be acquired in this slow moving jumble of people thinly encased in steel, glass and plastic. My preference is to concentrate on the travel, in particular the transformations.
After a day in Bali I’m once again amazed at the persistent transformations, both leaps in technology and modern day involutions. Electricity polls draped with thick cables and optical fibre and the rapid emergence of the latest digital technologies. Then there are the involutions, the almost endless variations on restaurants, bars, spas and mini-markets. Yet despite the material clutter of questionable progress striking elements of the physical and cultural beauty, that first drew me to this small island, abound.
Out here in the rice fields on the edge town the whiff of burning plastic wafts faintly on an almost imperceptible breeze with the purr of a small petrol driven plough playing a duel with a high speed electric grinder. The noise of the plough is muffled only when I’d passes behind a small concrete farm building that’s replaced the old bamboo structure. One redeeming feature is the absence of twilight in the tropics. Soon the machinery will stop and I’ll enjoy the sound of frogs and crickets and there’s a full moon rising. Ah well, another day in paradise.
Suddenly it all stops and just as I imagined, there’s an ambience of frogs and crickets. Even the plastic smell seems to have been replaced by a whiff of burning rice stubble