The Spirits Are Coming! The Spirits Are Coming!

Escape From Bali

“Start spreading the news,

I’m leaving today….”

–From “New York, New York.”

My ticket out.

I still don’t remember where I first heard about the Balinese New Year, but I knew I didn’t want to stick around for the celebration. I also knew I was running out of time to get off the island before it started.

It wasn’t the crowds that panicked me, it was the lack of them. It seems the holiday is celebrated with a night of partying and enough noise-making to wake the dead followed by a day of absolute silence in which everyone, including tourists, must stay off the streets or run the risk of arrest. The point of all this madness is to raise the dead or at least arouse the interest of evil spirits looking for a place to hang out and afflict for quite some time (or at least the duration of the coming year). They may be evil, but it appears these spirits aren’t all that fast or all that smart because the belief is that they don’t arrive until daybreak when everyone has closed up shop, gone home, battened down the hatches and agreed to stay off the streets. Once these mental midgets roll into town and notice the streets are deserted they must stare at each other, collectively shrug their protoplasmic shoulders and move on in search of another place to haunt. The whole process takes a day and is over at midnight. Anyone caught on the streets is thrown in jail and not released until the wee hours of the following morning. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a day of rest is bad, I just like to choose when to have it and resent having one forced on me, especially one that turns me into a virtual shut-in for 24 hours.

I knew getting off the island was going to require a finesse even before missing the bus from Penelokan to Kuta because I now had to book a flight on an open ticket and fly out of Bali on the same day. Knowing how hard it is to book an open ticket for a same day flight in the States, I expected Garuda Airlines to be even more difficult. 

Had I faced a similar situation back home I’m sure I would have been so stressed and so focused on the problem that I wouldn’t have talked to anyone. Since I was on vacation and back on my own, however, I was eager to meet new people and quickly got into a rollicking good conversation with the passengers on the bus to Kuta. 

I don’t remember exactly how or when the subject came up, but one rider mentioned that Bali had a reputation as the place where the world’s broken-hearted people come to escape loneliness. Although everyone else on the bus seemed to know this little factoid, it caught me completely by surprise. While I admit I’d never really thought of Bali all that often, when I did think about it I saw it as a romantic South Pacific island where couples go on honeymoon to walk along the beach and re-enact the famous torrid love scene in “From Here to Eternity.” (I am aware the movie was set in Hawaii, but the ocean and the climate are about the same). Despite having all but lost a girlfriend the month before, I wasn’t feeling too downhearted. I admit I made a mistake earlier in the day when I called her because it depressed me. It wasn’t sadness over lost love. Instead, the feeling came from realizing I needed to put closure to the relationship or whatever it was so she wouldn’t feel bad about dating someone else. The problem is that I was tired of being the nice guy, the person who always looks out for the other person’s feelings, because I always get screwed. Sure, I knew being nice would probably give me karma points later in life but I also knew that in the short run all I would get was a cold bed.

I hated that.

In the hours since the phone call, however, I felt energized to meet new people. And I was doing exactly that. By the time the bus reached central Kuta and was gridlocked in late-day traffic jam, three of the women on the bus and I got out of the bus and looked for a losmen. The three — an Australian, an Englishwoman and a woman from Elgin, Illinois — shared a double room and I took the room next door. Once we found the rooms the Englishwoman said she felt sick and wanted to sleep it off and the Australian woman said she was tired and settled in for a nap. That left Tina and I with nothing else to do until dinner so we went in search of the Garuda Airlines office (which was closed) the local Hard Rock Cafe. I’m still not sure why we wanted the Hard Rock because we never went inside; we just stood outside and stared. By the time we returned to the losmen her friends had already eaten so we ate at Pizza Hut, talked until they closed, came back to the guest house and found her roommates asleep when we returned, so we went back to my room and talked until 2 a.m. The conversation covered just about everything we could think of from my incomplete break-up and her only occasional interest in chasing after men during her travels all the way to unexpected attacks of good mental health that prompted both of us to end bad relationships and my love/hate relationship with what I call “door scenes.”

A door scene is my term for the moment of truth at the end of a date when both people have to determine whether to kiss, hug, shake hands or jump out of the car and run for dear life. It’s an excruciatingly delicious moment when anything could happen — the start of a lifetime partnership, an affair, or even a one-night stand. It can also be an exceptionally disappointing moment like the time when I had a date extend her hand in search of a handshake, making me feel like had just closed a deal or an exasperatingly insulting instant accompanied by the phrase “I just want to be friends.” When I was in high school I heard the phrase so many times that I swore if one more girl said it to me I was just going to say, “If you want a friend, get a sheepdog.” With so many expectations balanced on a single moment, it’s no wonder I had grown to hate door scenes so much that I avoided them whenever possible. 

It wasn’t until I’d said good night that I realized I wouldn’t have minded having a door scene with this tall, thin, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Midwesterner. The only question was whether I would be brave enough to tell her before I left for Jakarta later in the day.

The major question of the morning quickly became a minor concern when I rolled out of bed later than I wanted and had to hit the ground running. I reached the ticket office just in time to see it close for a coffee break. I was able to book a flight out, however. Unfortunately, when I got back to the guesthouse Tina’s roommates told me she was in bed sick from something she had eaten. The only reason I got to spend any time with her at all was that her roommates let me stow my stuff in their room when I checked out. Having nothing better to do in the seven hours before my flight out, I ended up spending the wait in their room reading, sleeping and hanging out while Tina’s friends roamed Kuta as we had done the night before.

I didn’t want to disturb Tina just to tell her I was interested, so I sat around waiting for my taxi to the airport. It wasn’t easy sitting there reading and not looking at her, though, especially when she turned over in her sleep and the blanket slipped revealing that she wasn’t wearing a top. Gentleman that I am, I grabbed a blanket and covered her. 

The incident taught me that there’s a code of honor among backpackers. In the States there’s no way a sick, barely clad woman would ever allow a stranger in her room while she slept. She or her friends might agree to store his luggage but that would be it. By the same token, I wouldn’t allow myself to be in a room with a barely clothed woman who was sleeping unless we were dating. It’s just too risky. Still, here we were two travelers who barely knew each other trusting the opposite to behave. It may have been the first time I experienced such trust, but not the last. It kept coming up throughout the trip. That doesn’t mean I didn’t look, however. After all, I am a guy. 

When we parted ways at 2 a.m., Tina asked if I would like to join her in southern Thailand in late April. At the time, I told her I wasn’t sure if I could. By the time I left, I made a note to make sure I got to Thailand on time. Since I didn’t want to wake her I wrote a note telling her I wouldn’t have minded a door scene with her. I know it’s lame, but somehow it didn’t seem right to wake a sick woman just to tell her about my lust-filled thoughts. 

I don’t know what the document says, but when I read it, it sure sounds pretty.