En route to Croatia to see a small fish, previously thought to have become extinct, my wife Lisa and I stopped over in Bali. This is a brief passage taken from The Return of the Ferret Zombies.
By some trick of the light, combined with a rain-slicked pavement, the restaurant window had become a mirror. The face that looked back at me had won a boxing match, but just barely. If I wasn’t going to chuck my lunch all over the sidewalk, I was going to need air conditioning.
And here’s the trick – Townsville in northern Queensland is a truly wonderful place to live. The community is small enough to be navigable, but large enough to have almost everything that anyone would ever want. Other than the occasional cyclone, the weather is clement, and no part of the community is more than a twenty minute drive from shark- and crocodile-infested waters. Locals say that if it didn’t get so stinking hot in summer, the population of Townsville would likely swell from 180,000 to two million. Thank goodness for the stinking heat.
But Denpasar on the on the island of Bali is even closer to the equator than Townsville, and in early December, we left behind stinking heat to take up the skin-ripping heat of an Indonesian summer. Lisa and I had to walk no further than the jet bridge to be subject to an interesting new sensation. It was a message from the deep, animal-instinct portion of our brains telling us that we were experiencing heat and humidity that was not entirely compatible with life as we know it. There are forms of bacteria, known as extreme thermophiles, that just love this sort of heat, but they live at the bottom of the ocean on sulphur-spewing geothermal vents. I am not a bacterium, and as we stood in line to pay fifty dollars to enter the country, I could feel myself wilting.
Despite the late hour of our arrival, there was no way on God’s great Earth that Lisa and I were going to have dinner at our hotel in Kuta. That would have been too easy. The sun had gone down, and the sultry streets of Kuta cried out to us. Carrying the most miserly of street maps, we dove face-first into the night.
My first impression was of the re-emergence of life that could not stand the heat of the day. Street vendors and shops were doing a meagre trade, but all of the proprietors looked optimistic. Scooters and small-displacement motorcycles rin-tin-tinned up and down the streets, possibly trying to generate a little breeze for their pilots and passengers. Sidewalks, broken and covered with wilted votive offerings beckoned us onward and onward. We passed endless hole-in-the-wall establishments that offered food that would likely have inoculated the digestive tract of the uninitiated. Patrons were few. We accepted the invitation of a restaurant with bright lights and the right sort of feel for the travel weary, disoriented visitor.
We were given a menu with letter-perfect English translations, suggesting that there is a time of year when we would not have been the only westerners on the streets. Lisa settled on a dish that was a fusion of Indonesian, French, and Japanese. The menu was turgid with offerings for me, the vegetarian. In indicating my choice, I made my first faux pas of the trip when I indicated my choice by pointing at the item on the menu using my index finger. This is just not done in Indonesia. Lisa had a cappuccino milkshake. My milkshake featured strawberries that were still growing in the field behind the restaurant when we walked in the front door. We had arrived in Indonesia.