Bali bombing victims’ memorial.
Bali bombing victims’ memorial.

Bali's highs and lows

MY first glimpse of Bali was blurred and interrupted through the window on the other side of the plane. Though my tired eyes were failing me, the twinkling mesh that covered Bali below was more of a resemblance to a jungle of treehouses lit with candles than a bustling city.

Stepping off the plane, I noticed the smells more than the heat straight away. Bali smells of sweet soy, garlic and ginger, of incense and sandalwood, of cloves and cinnamon mixed with tobacco and ofstagnant water pooling in a dirty drain. Bali had so many smells floating in the air, you get to experience them all - good and bad - in the space of four seconds.

Then the heat hit me. The air was thick with humidity and I could already feel myself sweating. This was my first trip to the third world and while I was excited to get outside and see everything Bali had to offer, another part of me wanted to run back on the plane and fly home again.

Leaving the airport I was confronted by hundreds of Balinese people all yelling and offering different goods and services: "Massage?", "Transport?", "Carry your bags?"

Our driver emerged from the crowd with a huge smile and an even bigger hug, then led us to his car to drop us at our resort. A few Bintangs in the bar calmed my nerves before heading to bed.

Day 2 - Culture shock, quakes and happiness

I was suffering from serious culture shock. By the light of day the streets were derelict and rundown. We had to leap over giant holes in the pathway that exposed the drains, shifty planks of wood covered bigger holes too large to hurdle.

The traffic is horrendous with scooters, cars and trucks all competing for the rickety little streets. Every store was filled with clothes, bags, shoes, wallets, stickers and jewellery and I could not take two steps without the store owner inviting me inside.

For someone who has barely left Australia I was so intimidated and at this point, I didn't trust anyone. The group decided it was time for a massage. Within two minutes on the massage table, I was relaxed. My feet were getting some special attention and I was just about to nod off, but my bliss was interrupted by a horrible noise.

At first, it sounded like someone was moving furniture upstairs, but it got louder as it continued. My second thought was it might have been a car accident as all of our masseuses had run out of the building. I noticed the walls were shaking and I thought maybe it was a bomb, in which case it would be safer to stay inside.

My boyfriend Josh followed the girls out to investigate and yelled out for us all to run so we wrapped ourselves up in our towels and took refuge out on the street. The whole world continued to shake for a few seconds as more people were fleeing their buildings. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it stopped. All the girls at the massage parlour were in tears and I just stood there, shaking like the earth and not knowing how to feel. People were talking to me and asking me questions and all I could do was shake my head: what had just happened?

From the little attention I paid in science class, I seem to remember that earthquakes can generally lead to tsunamis which brought on an internal panic of a whole other nature. I wanted to get as inland and as high as possible, but I was glued to the spot.

A Balinese store owner came running down the street laughing at the sight of us out in the street in nothing but tiny massage towels. "It was just the volcano -. no tsunami warning. It is okay to go back inside," he said.

I went back to the resort after the massage. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. So the group dropped me off and headed back to the local bar to take the edge off. I got back to my room and curled up on the end of my bed and tried to fall asleep.

The next thing I know, the walls are shaking and the earth is rumbling. Not wanting to be alone anymore, I decided to pull myself together and go and meet up with the others.

Up until this point, I hadn't trusted the Balinese. But I needed directions or a scooter to get to my friends so I had to suck up my mistrust and talk to the locals.

I don't think I have ever met nicer people and I was hating myself for thinking badly of them.

Day 4 - Bali nightlife, 10 years on from bombings

Another member of our crew had flown over for the weekend so we went out for dinner on the beach before heading out on a pub/club crawl.

The first place we went to was called Alley Cats, a club that has a reputation for its double-double drinks. Double-doubles consist of two vodka shots and a double shot of energy drink, topped up with red Fanta for 150,000 rupiah which is close to $A1.50.

The club was packed with locals and tourists alike as all the fun and frivolity of any nightclub started to unfold. The day we arrived in Bali was the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings. It was so hard to comprehend that so many people were just enjoying life in Bali like we were, only to have experienced the horror of a terrorist attack in one of the friendliest places in the world.

We crossed the road over the star that marks the spot where the car bomb had gone off.

Just that bomb alone would have devastated Bali, it was in the main street that allowed people in and out of Kuta.

A block next to the star was vacant and Josh explained that while Bali has Muslims, most of the island is Hindu.

Hindus believe that when blood is spilt, they won't rebuild on the land until fruit has fallen. A new nightclub now stands where the Sari club once was because fruit fell quite soon after. We went to Bounty which is a multi-layered nightclub. Balinese boys were up on big blocks and stages dancing like Michael Jackson and bar attendants served cocktails in plastic drink bottles with a straw. It was wild inside and as we were just about to leave to go to the next place, the Balinese bodybuilders came out on stage to show off their muscles.

Sky Garden was our next stop and the most popular nightspot in Bali. Both clubs now have security, bag checks and bomb scanners which put your mind at ease. About 3am, we decided to stumble home and Josh and I went over to the memorial before finding some transport. The names of everyone who died in the bombings were listed on the plaque. The Aussies had the most names, followed closely by the Indonesians.

Because Bali does not exactly keep birth records, hundreds - maybe a thousand - locals could have died in the bombings but as they could not be identified, they have disappeared into history.

Day 5-6 Nusa Lembongan, aka Paradise

When Josh first came to Bali he went to Nusa Lembongan in search of three of the best surf breaks in the world: Playgrounds, Lacerations and Shipwrecks. What he found was life-long friends at the Ware Ware and today I get to meet them all.

The Ware Ware is a beautiful resort on the slopes of Nusa Lembongan. It overlooks the stretch of water that is home to the three surf breaks and seaweed farms as far as the eye can see. This is true Bali. Josh is part of the family at Ware Ware and to celebrate his arrival, the resort co-ordinator had organised a pig on a spit for us.

We borrowed some scooters and followed Sally, the boss at Ware Ware, into one of the small villages that was preparing our dinner. The time we spent in the village was host to some of my favourite moments in Bali.

The children who lived there were adorable. They were sitting in the shade - one nursing a baby as if she were a seasoned mum, but once they realised we were there to stay for a while, they wanted to show us everything about their village.

Water came from wells, food came from the fields, entertainment came from the imagination and everyone had a job to do whether it was sweeping the beach or farming seaweed. We saw the underground home that was carved by a man to escape a gambling debt, a group of men all trying to win money at crazy ball, temples and one of the boys from the Ware Ware invited us to his home to see his new puppy. We took in all we could of the island before heading back to the resort to enjoy the pig the village had shared with us.

The pig was divided into three, some for the villagers who raised it, some for the workers at our resort and some for us. Incense was lit on an offering of flowers to apologise to the gods for taking a life.

Lembongan is paradise.

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