Saturday, March 30, 2013

On a Bali massage table, dreaming of a Caracas newsroom

I glanced through the curative properties of the different treatments on offer. This was a two hour affair including a full body massage followed by a cleansing body scrub. That latter was available in five different solutions that ranged from green tea to jasmine coconut to some unpronounceable Balinese spices. They vowed to counteract wrinkles, cure cellulitis and wipe away stretch marks. After sniffing a few small flasks I ultimately chose the green tea concoction, mostly because it smelled good. It also offered to provide ample anti-oxidants. I didn’t really know what anti-oxidants were, but a cursory familiarity with Latin suggested it was something that would help keep me from rusting.  This was a requisite part of the Bali experience that I couldn’t miss out on, particularly in the Ubud where you can hardly walk two steps without someone offering you a massage. We were to be rubbed down with jasmine oil, then being scrubbed down with something that would tone my skin.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bali keeps it real

In most countries I’ve been to, a tour guide shows me through a beautiful temple, or the ruins of an ancient society, or a church that exemplifies culture and history.  Leaving those places, one is almost always confronted with the reality that the modern descendants of those ancient societies don’t live in anything that remotely resembles to iconic buildings being showcased.

Go to Southern Venezuela Roraima and you’ll tour traditional villages with typical round thatch huts of the Pemon indigenous people, just yards away from the squat concrete zinc-roofed shacks where the Pemon people of today live. The countryside of northern Italy is littered with beautiful castles in various states of repair or disrepair, none of which represent a real housing option for the average person who lives there. The historic center of famed Salvador de Bahia in Brazil boasts cobblestone walks, ornate churches collapsing under the weight of gold adornments, while bahianos live in drab concrete apartment blocks and dress themselves up in stiflingly hot 19th century garb in to lure tourists into paying them to take pictures.

Bali is the only place I can remember going where this is not the case.

Bumpy landing in Ubud

After a bit too much reality in Jakarta, our landing in the Bali resort city of Ubud turned out to be a bit more real-world than we had bargained for. The tourist haven was known as the alternative to the beaches of south Bali, converted over the last 20 years into a ghetto of drunken Australian college students in the best style of a Florida spring-break beach scene. What would ultimately become a fantastic five-day stay turned out to have a bit of bumpy landing.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Big Durian, from the slow lane

As a reporter I’ve always struggled to write about traffic. It’s a prosaic and dull affliction of modern societies that nearly everyone in the world has experienced. You do from time to time get the colorful anecdote of a woman who gave birth to triplets in the back seat of car after a 19 hour traffic jam, or gas stations going dry because of delivery trucks stuck in highway gridlock. Most of the time there’s no other way to say it other than “traffic here really sucks.”


“One line please! Single file! No carts here ma’am!” The airport officials barked at the passengers lining up for the flight, a scene that Isa astutely noted was reminiscent of TSA examiners in a U.S. airport ordering around unruly Caribbean travelers on their way home. These were in fact Cantonese security types in Hong Kong ordering the Indonesians to get it together. Women in batik dresses and traditional Muslim head covering chatted and chuckled as they scurried their way along to prepare for boarding.

After two meals, six movies and sixteen hours, we had made it to Hong Kong.