Trapped in Tourist Hell

Cat really wanted to learn to surf.  She wanted to get on a board and ride through the tube of a giant wave.  While we were in Cambodia she surfed the web.  She worked hard researching where we could find the best surf spots for learning.  She kept coming up with Bali and in particular the town of Kuta.  Kuta was said to have consistent waves and, more importantly, sandy beaches.  Falling off the surfboard onto a rocky reef really wasn’t an option for my beginning surfer.  Thus she wanted to be in Kuta for her birthday.  So on a Wednesday evening we bought tickets flying out of Ho Chi Minh City arriving in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia in the evening on Thursday.

I had made reservations at a large, overpriced hotel just south of Kuta for only three days.  Just enough time to learn the basics of surfing.  We planned that right after we had taken our surfing lessons we would quickly head out of Kuta to a less touristed, more pristine area of Bali.  Little did we know that Friday, our first full day on Bali, was the holiday Nyepi.  I know of no similar holiday anywhere else.  Nyepi is the Balinese day of silence.  And I mean silence.  No is allowed on the streets except the “Nyepi police” who ride around on bicycles patrolling for rogue celebrants.  The streets are shut down.  The electricity plants are shut down.  There are no lights in town at night.  The ports are shut down, including the airport.  There are no flights in or out of Bali on Nyepi.  We found out when we checked into our hotel on Thursday that we would not be allowed out of the hotel on Friday.  There was already black plastic on the window to keep any of our light from seeping out onto the street.  We were told that a large, plastic sheet would be covering the entrance to the hotel in the morning.  We wouldn’t be able to leave.  One full day trapped in the hotel.  In Kuta.

Having been told about Nyepi and the Day of Silence coming up, we rushed out to get a flavor of Bali before being locked in.  We wanted to watch the parade of Ogoh-Ogoh.  Several larger than life effigies of the monster were carried down the main street of town in an effort to drive out the evil before the holy day of Nyepi.  It was akin to Halloween before All Saints’ Day or  Mardi Gras before Lent.  We tried to see as much as we could in the little time we had before Nyepi began.  In addition to the parade and Ogoh-Ogoh we walked to the beach just to see hear the waves in the moonless night.  After all we in Kuta to be near the beach and the waves. We wanted a taste of the sea before being trapped in the hotel for a day.

But at least the hotel had a generator.  They did try to keep us busy with a Bahasa language class.  We were the only ones to attend.  We had a great time with the staff trying to learn the language of Indonesia, drilling them on the phrase we’ve needed everywhere, “My daughter eats no meat, chicken, fish, or fish sauce.  She eats tofu, vegetables, rice and fruit.”  The swimming pool was open, and the hotel provided a yoga class in the late afternoon.  At sunset we went up to the roof to look over a completely dark island and up at a beautiful night sky with the Milky Way and the Southern Cross.  All was well in Bali.  It had been a pleasant way to spend our forced confinement.  We knew it was only for one day.

The next day, however, it rained.  The skies opened up and wouldn’t let up.  It poured all day.  Just stepping outside, we got soaked.  We were once again forced inside.  We made it a school day instead of a surf day.  Besides we hadn’t had a chance to call to arrange any surf lessons.  There were no phone calls on Nyepi, the day of silence.

Finally on our third day in Kuta, we got out to see the town.  Kuta is not pretty.  The streets are congested.  The shops and restaurants are overpriced.  The touts are aggressive, and the beach is covered in trash.  The town has a bad reputation as an overrun, tourist haven designed mostly for Australians to party and drink.  After all, Australia is so close.  Most Americans just head south to Mexico to be the ugly tourist.  Al Qaeda bombed a nightclub here in 2002.  The bombings were so devastating because so many people pack into the center of town to dance, drink and party.  Although the site of that nightclub is currently a memorial, there are still plenty of clubs crowding the streets with plenty of drunk tourist crowding the clubs.  It’s just plain gross.

But we were there to learn to surf, so all four of us headed out into that not-quite pristine water.  We got blisters and rashes from the gigantic surf boards they put us on, but we all were able to stand up and ride the waves.  We had fun.  Except for  Bill.  He developed back pain.  Pain that radiated into his butt and down his leg.  Yep, you guessed it.  He slipped a disc while surfing.

So now Cat had done her surfing and our three-day reservation at the hotel was up.  But Bill was unable to travel.  And Cat’s birthday was only three days away.  Plus she wanted to go to the waterpark in Kuta for her birthday.  “Waterbom” as it’s called was closed for maintenance when we got to Kuta, but a sign promised that it would be reopened by her birthday.  So we extended our reservations for three more days.  The kids and I spent that first day taking more surf lessons.  The day after that the kids took another lesson.  They were improving, riding smaller boards and going out past the breakers.  It was a good thing.










The next day was Cat’s birthday.  She was anticipating a glorious, fun-filled day at the waterpark.  Waterbom was also something she had researched before we came to Bali.  She was so excited to try out all the various slides and pools and boats in the park.  But the night before her birthday, Bill saw a new sign in front. The park was not going to open until the 29th, two days after Cat’s all important day.  Disappointed, Cat accepted the offer of more surf lessons.

Hank joined Cat early on her birthday morning riding the waves.  They had a good time.  When they came back out of the water, Hank was exhausted.  Cat, however, was so pumped she wanted to go out again that afternoon.  I convinced Hank to join her.  It would be a birthday gift.  On his last ride, coming in from the day, he lost control of the board.  It hit him in the head and created a one inch gash on his forehead right below the hairline.   The surf school drove us to the hospital for stitches.

It was not pretty.  The birthday girl was tired, hungry and sorely disappointed that her birthday was ending in an ER instead of at the restaurant of her choice.  All because of her brother.  Who was getting all the attention.  In the waiting room Cat cried.  A lot.  Bill went to the hospital cafeteria to find something to raise her blood sugar.  The choices were slim, but the snack helped, at least for a little while.












It was also a problem for Hank and me in the procedure room.  I found it incredibly hard to watch my son get stitched up in a foreign country.  I watched as they shaved the hair around the top of the wound.  I didn’t say anything.  I watched as the doctor dabbed hydrogen peroxyde and iodine on the wound to clean it.  I so wanted to take over at this point.  I just wanted to get a syringe and squirt that laceration with gallons of saline.  After all, he had been swimming in the trash filled waters of Kuta.  I said nothing.  Then I watched as she slammed the lidocaine into the wound.  Hank winced in pain.  It was almost comical how she put all the lidocaine into one side of the wound.  I laughed inside as she tested the anesthesia by pinching the other side.  Of course it hurt.  But like a good doctor, she questioned Hank when he said it was a sharp pain.  I asked Hank if he wanted more lidocaine, but he chose to suffer the sensation of the stitch rather than more  burning with the lidocaine.  With all the pain Hank endured my hand was becoming numb.  He was squeezing so hard.

But the doctor had yet to start the stitching.  When the needle did go in, it started on the side without any anesthesia.  Hank squeezed my hand again.  She started to tie the knot when I noticed how thick the suture was.  I asked.  It was a 3-0.  I asked for something smaller.  She said that it was in the scalp, not the face.  It did not need anything smaller.  I said the laceration was mostly below the hairline.  After a bit of back and forth she finally agreed to take out that stitch.  Redo it with a smaller suture.  With poor anesthesia.  Hank suffered through.  In the end Hank only needed four stitches (plus that extra one I had her take out) to hold his laceration together.  He looked almost comical with the dressing wrapped around his head like the fifer in that famous painting from the Revolutionary War.

We went back to the hotel to eat dinner at our restaurant.  The sweet, sweet staff brought out a cake decorated for Cat’s birthday while singing the birthday song.  She brightened a bit at this point.

The next day, Hank was a bit shaken by the head bonk and the stitches, Bill’s back still hurt, and my eyes were red and apparently infected.  What could we do but stay one more day in Kuta.  We ended up being there for seven nights total.  The hotel was almost twice our budget, the stay ate up a quarter of the time on our visa, and the town was not a place we would normally choose.  But my daughter had researched the place.  She researched where to learn to surf, and it turned out well.  She learned to surf.  In fact, she fell in love with surfing.  And except for the evening of her birthday, she was happy.  Very happy.


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