There’s nothing like an upcoming birthday to have you flipping back through times long past, a little wistfully. Today Bali came to mind as I was looking through old photos. Instead of writing about the month that was this month, I’m sharing a memory from the early years. It was 1994, I had celebrated my 29th birthday – 2 months before, and I was on my first all girls getaway.
I wouldn’t meet Bren for another a year.
I could hear the incoming tide lapping the shore of Padang Padang Beach. I lay there wonderfully weary, eyes closed and senses dulled – blissfully relaxed. I was oblivious to anything going on around me at that moment as the gentle sea breeze caressed me in an attempt to lull me to sleep. Trace peeled herself away from her towel and asked if anyone wanted a cold drink. Her massage had finished, and she was heading to the cafe. I watched her walk into the distance through the one eye I managed to keep opened and giggled as she began to spring across the hot sand, hopping from one foot to the other.
I had asked for something delicious in a coconut, in my head at least. I don’t think the words came out of my mouth. I may have only been semi-conscious. I wasn’t even sure that a cold coconut drink could be found at the cafe, but now I really wanted one. Mmmm – Pina Colada. The sting of the hot sun on my back didn’t detract from the massage I was enjoying. Our beautiful new friend Putu had magic hands. I had salty hair sand between my toes and a holiday glow to die for. [Sigh] Bali was being very good to me.
My cousin Trace, our friend Tam (also a cousin once or twice removed) – and I had decided we deserved a trip to Bali over drinks one Friday night. And before we knew it, we were there, soaking up the sun in heaven.
We made our way through a narrow path to the beach between two walls of rock. And found the perfect spot to spread our towels, prime position at the base of a curved limestone cliff that dropped gently from the headland. The headland was crowned with a mass of green trees and was kissed at its base by a crystal clear, azure sea. When you got in, you didn’t want to get out. This really was paradise. We were not far from the shoreline in one direction and a wooden structure housing at least one cafe, on the beach, in the other. I could have stayed there for days.
A sunburnt orange sarong hung loosely around my hips, and I wondered if I should remove it for the massage that I had paid not nearly enough for. But I was too comfortable to move. I had bought the sarong from a local woman selling them on Kuta beach the day before, from a basket balanced precariously on her head. She would probably seek me out to try to sell me another one later that day. The girls and I had reserved a little row of beach chairs there again – to enjoy a twilight cocktail as the sun went down.
I would buy another sarong and maybe a t-shirt in a heartbeat if she came by us again. I had only packed four swimsuits, a white crochet beach coverup, a pair of denim shorts, one black singlet, one white and two crop tops. Plus my new orange sarong. Oh, and a pair of thongs, a pair of leather sandals and a beach towel. Perfect for a fourteen-day stay – maybe I overpacked?
I would love to say I found myself in Bali. Hiking and cycling the outskirts of Ubud’s hilly valleys, rice fields and tropical jungle trails. I could imagine stopping at beautiful temples along the way to meditate or reflect on the bigger picture of my life. But I didn’t. I was young, it was high season, the balmy July weather was perfect, and there were tourists everywhere. Our time in Bali was spent exploring beautiful beaches, dancing at nightclubs and eating great food. Not from street carts – I’m not that adventurous. And hanging out with newfound friends. I was your typical touristy tourist who was single for the first time in a long time. I had gone from relationship to relationship, with barely enough time to breathe in between – for almost half my life. Finally, the pattern was broken. Who would have thought? Well done me.
I was happy. Even if happiness sat awkwardly on me at first. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Bali told me to embrace my newfound freedom with a carefree spirit. So I sat around a campfire late into a starry night with Tam, Trace and a crew of friendly strangers on black volcanic sand and swam under a beautiful waterfall with them the following day. I laughed till I cried when a monkey jumped on Trace’s back in the monkey forest, and she couldn’t shake him off. (or did it jump on Tam?) And later in the trip, I rode on the back of a small motorbike – my arms wrapped tightly around the waist of a very nice French boy through the crazy, busy streets of Kuta. I didn’t want this holiday to end.
Christov (said French boy) was kind and funny. We met him several nights before we were due to head home when he checked into the room next door. He and his friend had promised to show Tam and me another side to the Bali nightlife – they didn’t disappoint. We lost the two boys early in the night to find ourselves mixing with a very laid back, hip bohemian crowd till the early hours of the morning. Club Double Six was a grownups fairyland the tourist brochures had forgotten to mention. It sat comfortably on Double Six Beach, Seminyak. By day I’m sure it was breathtaking. By 11 pm, it was jaw-dropping. Taking up what seemed like an entire beachfront block. We didn’t know where to start.
Did we settle in at the circular bar sitting proudly on a gorgeous stone floor – sipping pink cocktails in big balloon glasses? Or, did we order a whiskey neat, allowing it to express itself in the time it took us to move from the cocktail bar to one of the deep-cushioned lounges or bean bags on the beach? Who didn’t want to chill on the beach on a hot summer night surrounded by beautiful people and pretty Balinese umbrellas, with brightly coloured festoon lights overhead?
Wherever we started, we knew, at some point, we would end up on the dance floor and would stay there into the early morning. We might also sit in the seemingly endless turquoise pool sipping champagne, clothes and all. I’m not saying we did that. But if we wanted to, we could.
The gorgeously aloof, sun-soaked holidaymakers we found at Double Six were fascinating. And although they didn’t know it, they were pretty funny too. The best story of the night happened when Tam and I were in the bathroom reapplying gloss, me trying to scrunch some sort of shape back into my waist-length hair. It had turned into a mass of ringlets from sweat and the Bali humidity. Two stunning girls, probably in their early twenties, walked in and stood at the mirror beside us.
The first girl was tall, thin and had long black hair, a deep golden tan and piercing green eyes. Her name was Gaia. And she had perfect salon-styled beach hair. The fact she had kept it in place into the wee small hours was impressive. Gaia wore an opaque, cream mini dress that looked like lingerie and slipped casually over a gold lurex bikini. Her dress clung to every barely-there curve she owned, with fabric fine enough to hint at the bikini underneath. The crystal beaded choker she wore covered her neck completely and matched the wide cuff on her wrist. Both were in stark and sparkling contrast to the simplicity of her dress. She looked like she had just stepped off a catwalk.
Her friend looked so much like Winona Ryder, pixie cut and all, I had to look twice. We didn’t catch her name, so she will forever be Winnie to me. As she reapplied a dark red-black lipstick that matched her nails, she gave me a sideways glance. Taking in a deep, inpatient breath through her nose, she turned to look me up and down. In a strong accent, she asked, ‘are you old enough to be here – you look like a little girl?’ Uninterested in an answer she expertly snapped her lipstick lid closed, pouting at her reflection as she did.
Without so much as a chow, she and her friend left to rejoin the party on the beach. A long flume of cigarette smoke following them. When the door closed behind them, Tam looked at me, wide-eyed, mouth open, and we doubled over in fits of laugher.
Now back out on the open-air dance floor, we were absorbed into the hedonistic rhythm of the swaying crowd. As the sun rose in a blur of tall, icy cocktails and air kisses, the DJ didn’t miss a beat. We had danced all night and wanted to do it again before our holiday was over.
Just after sunrise, we made our way off the beach and found our way back to Kuta. It was a busy Monday morning, and the streets were already abuzz with families, workers and tourists. Horns beeped, and brakes screeched. It was chaos wherever you looked. Swerving cars and whizzing bikes, some piled with passengers, made my head spin. Or was it the copious amount of alcohol I had consumed?
We wandered in through our resorts pavilion and made our way back to our room. The faint, sweet scent of incense lit beside colourful Canang sari offerings in the streets still filled my nostrils. I could hear the beeping of the taxi’s horn as Ketut, our favourite driver made his way back out onto the street. Exhausted and quite possibly just a little dehydrated, I felt a small wave of nausea and the tiniest pang of regret creep over me. I didn’t want to leave. I knew this one would be a holiday to beat.
My 29th was a defining year. And there was no better place to decide to plunge into it headfirst, no holds barred, than Bali. I was grateful to have strong women in my life, a great family and good friends. Two weeks of eye-opening holiday bliss left me feeling confident – happy to be on my own and ready for anything and everything the Universe had in store. Which was perfect timing – because after taking a little time to breathe, I met my husband just 11 months later. Another story for another day.
Here’s to birthdays, and the memories they evoke. May we be lucky enough to have plenty of them both. I know if Bren could send me a birthday wish on Saturday it would probably go something like this (from one of our favourite songs.)
Time of Your Life…
it’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life. Green Day