Setting sail Down Under, into a new year

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We got through the night and back to the airport and, eventually, to Bali, for three days. Ah, Bali, the stuff of dreams. We had the best and worst of times. The worst was that Bali isn’t Bali. It used to be, people say, but it’s teeming with tourists and congested with traffic, mostly thousands of motorbikes.

The best was where we stayed — inland, not on the beach. We stayed at the Chedi Club in Ubud, a longtime arts center out in the rice paddies of the island. The Club is the former estate of an art connoisseur; now 20 villas are built among the paddies. No lobby, no center, just a fellow who meets you when you arrive and takes over your life. Don’t think butler. Think an Asian Tom Hanks in a sarong. Suri told us where we would dine, what sights we would see the next day (volcano, wood carving shops, coffee plantation) and when we would get a massage (not if).

First night, my husband wakes me up. Says it’s raining. I say, “You’re waking me in the middle of the night to tell me it’s raining?”

He says, “It’s raining in our room.” And so it was — buckets — and the roof was caving in. Suri was aghast, and basically threatening suicide from the humiliation of having inconvenienced us. So we got a new villa — bigger and better, with its own swimming pool — free massages, free dinner. I asked my husband how he ever climbed up on top to knock a hole in the roof.

Dinner in the pavilion was exotic. Torches blazed out in the rice paddies and music was played by two men on Balinese drums. This became so familiar that on the third evening, when we didn’t see the drummers, my husband asked the host, “Where are the boys?” referring to the two bare-chested men in half sarongs and grass hats.

The setting — the paddies — and the workers out in the fields reminded me of all the books I’ve read about Vietnam. It was peaceful but somehow a bit menacing, especially at night. In the dark we could see people in the fields with flashlights, and sometimes there were shots. Suri said men hunted an animal that burrows into the mud and comes to the surface at night. “It’s good eating,” he said.
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