One of my cinematic joys is the work of pioneering Scottish director Bill Forsyth. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Gregory’s Girl (ok, everybody had a thing for Claire Grogan back then and I wasn’t immune, don’t ask why now) or Comfort and Joy. I smile at the mere thought of Dickie Bird and the Glasgow Ice Cream wars. Sadly Hollywood chewed up Forsyth and this hugely influential director has only made a single film in the past 20 years, apparently broken by the process in California.
My favourite Forsyth film deals with the modern world treading, somewhat harshly, upon a quiet, isolated village in the Scottish Highlands. It’s called Local Hero and it’s a truly wonderful hour and eleven minutes (despite having a soundtrack tie to the odious Mark Knoffler).
Tonight we had a Local Hero moment or two.
We’d decided to go to a charity dinner to support BARC…The Bali Adoption Rehabilitation Centre. There are three or four charity organisations dedicated to the welfare of Bali dogs. The state of many of the dogs on this island is both heartbreaking and disgraceful and there seems little impetus with any governmental agencies here to do the simple thing and pass an animal welfare law or two. It’s not hard really and it's to Indonesia's shame that they have not.
The dinner was at a place called Medahan, north east of here, just off the highway to hell..the Sanur to Candidasa roadway, which may or may not compete with the Semerang to Jepara road as the most dangerous road on this planet. Grossly overloaded trucks meander along at 120km, often on the wrong side of the road, pausing only to overtake you, usually into oncoming traffic on a two lane bridge. This morning a truck decided that the best time to overtake me was when I overtaking a bemo..thus turning this two lane death trap into a three lane death trap. Said truck had painted out most of the glass on his windscreen excepting a small star, which gave excellent forward vision.
Fortunately the traffic police are on top of this…stopping tourists and motorbikes, usually when it’s close to lunch or dinner time, as these steaming overloaded behemoths roar past, about to take out a family of eight crowded into a four seat 1997 Suzuki Jimny (whom I should add, are also overtaking on bridges and blind corners).
Anyway, we’d had to go north to a place called Belong, about 20 minutes above Ubud, and decided to head south-east to the dinner / party in as direct a route as possible. I studied the Periplus Bali Road Map and discerned a likely route. Years of experience have taught me that this book cannot be relied on. For example, JL Sunset Rd (yes I know Jalan is the Indonesian word for Road so it’s repeating itself but that’s what it’s called), perhaps the major thoroughfare in Kuta / Legian, does not exist in it...or at least part of it does, but it goes in the wrong direction. Don’t ask.
Thus, at 5pm we, being the nuclear family of three, got in the Jeep in Belong and meandered down the map. All was fine until we reached the Satria turnoff. The map showed a clear route south through to the highway. It was a win-win. We avoided most of the H-To-H traffic, and made it in a reasonably quick time. ETA was 6pm.
We followed the route south and it began to get perilously narrow for our large-ish Cherokee 4 wheel drive (which, travelling roads like these daily…and much worse, we can, I think justify more than the X5 in Neutral Bay or Pajero in Remuera). Of added concern were the number of people, including a fair number who were half naked -it was mandi (washing) hour- in the waterways and creeks who were looking at us with some bemusement.
Nobody said a word though.
As the jalan narrowed it forked. To the left it turned into a gang (lane) wide enough for a motorcycle, to the right the road continued. The map showed it going straight ahead, which was not an offered solution. Thus we veered right. There was a lady in the creek, dressed but doing the laundry in the now very dark (which I guess is a good way to hide any dirt), with a child. We drove slowly past her, she gave a confused look and our hopeful road turned into a dirt driveway and stopped.
Ever so carefully and slowly we backed up, avoiding the lady and went into a driveway to turn. She smiled at us as her child ran behind our wheels and I stopped quickly. Not a word from the lady, who was now happily ignoring us despite the fact that we’d almost squashed her little one.
Gingerly we edged back towards Satria, past the increasingly bemused looking people with their clothes off and back to the main road where the map indicated that a turn to right may yield better dividends. On the way out we passed two small, full, tourist buses heading inwards, and we guessed they had the same Periplus map.
So east we went along the next marked road and it seemed to make sense. We followed it right then left then right again then left then did a u-turn because we found that the road we were on seemed to be going in the wrong direction, and instead headed off, past a temple with a bunch of people doing gamelan practice, and past many more semi naked people largely ignoring us. And then we wound down, very steeply, into an overgrown river valley and followed the ever narrowing road until it became a goat track. With nowhere else to go the Jeep became a goat and we wound up the very steep track until it widened and we found ourselves in the small village of Anggarkasih, which was next door to......... Medahan (see above!)
So map in hand I discovered the road through to Medahan and headed off down it. The family sitting, conducting a cleansing ceremony, in the middle of the road, like everyone else, looked bemused. I guess waving expat families in Jeep Cherokees don't make it to their ceremonies that often.
The road narrowed and narrowed and then…uhhh…stopped. And it seemed we might have to back over the ceremony, but fortunately we found a bit where the road got an inch or so wider, and making use of the 4 wheel drive to get the front wheel out of a ditch, did a 43 point turn. The family moved their ceremony again and we found our way back on the main-ish road, where, after the first guy I asked had looked at me and walked away, someone explained the way to the road to Medahan. It was a major road that was NOT on the map.
2 hours after leaving we arrived at the Charity do...just ahead of the two mini-buses we'd passed earlier...it was just starting and a chap with long grey hair in a strange red wizard's outfit was just about to make his welcoming speech. We wandered to the bar and bought ourselves a beer (at some 7 times the going rate) and Brigid noted that she was perhaps the only woman in the place not wearing animal prints. Perhaps it was a sympathy thing with the dogs…
Three staff spent 15 minutes, with a calculator, trying to work out how much change to give us from Rp102,000 when the bill was Rp72,000. They got it wrong.
We also noted that the crowd was one of those typical of charity dos, with a few moneyed couples but here, with a decidedly feral and eccentric edge. Older Australian eccentrics tend to have an affinity with this island, and there are lots of them, I guess since Byron Bay got too gentrified. We found a quiet table away from everyone and waited. The wizard and the lady from BARC continued to welcome everyone and made a few in-jokes amongst the feedback. Clearly they all knew each other, and we slipped down into our seats a little more, happy that no-one else was sitting with us at our table.
Then three couples wandered in and pointed in our direction. As they arrived they introduced themselves….Dick, Sheena, Bob, Ted, Carol and Alice or something like that. One guy looked like a leprechaun, but with a big red nose, and the women had very, very heavy makeup. They were loud, English and very Costa del Sol sorts, but also very friendly. And they were smart. They were not gonna pay Rp30,000 (plus 21% tax and service) for a beer. They’d bought their own drinks..cans of coke, something cheap with bubbles and a plastic cork, lagers and an eski full of ice.
Carol then reached over, picked up the bowls with the toothpicks and sugar sticks in them, tipped these onto the table and handed these to Bob, Ted and the rest to use as ashtrays.
The wizard then announced the buffet was served. We went out and noted that it looked like it had been sitting there for some hours so we put our heads down and headed off down the highway to hell to Sanur for a pizza.
The point of all this, as long winded as it may seem is the dogs (the one above on the left is ours, Star, a loving loyal, friendly…sometimes…Bali dog). We may have wandered aimlessly for hours like bule-bule gila (crazy white people) and have done a runner from the actual function but at least we gave to the dogs.
And you can too…..please.
Bali Street Dog Foundation (with Paypal)