We stepped out of the airport and into the first fresh air we’d inhaled in forty-seven hours. Hot and humid, it swallowed us whole. Yes! I thought. No chance of a polar vortex here. We happily strapped ourselves into the back seat of Nyoman’s ride, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead.
Bali drivers make Italian drivers seem like grandmas on Percocet. Droves of little motorbikes carrying one, two, three, and even four people at once dart in and out of lanes, squeeze between vehicles, and come at you from every direction, including the opposite one, in your lane. Technically there are two lanes, but they’re entirely optional. Driving here is intuitive and cooperative. Otherwise, it would never work. Everyone taps their horn to say, “Hey, I’m here,” or “Hey, watch out!”
And so motorbikes pass each other and the many behemoth cargo trucks while chugging up hills and rounding hairpin curves. They even try to pass when there’s not a popsicle’s chance in a pizza oven that they can make it. After gasping and covering my eyes several times, I decided that it was best not to look out the front window. Better instead to say my prayers and let the Universe know I was thankful for having had a wonderful life full of blessings. Amen.
Our driver, Nyoman, cranked up the AC, effectively turning the vehicle into a mobile meat locker, and told us that he had to pick up his daughter on the way to the villa. Would that be OK? No problem, we said, even though I was shivering, yawning, and twisting my face into strange contortions to keep my dry, burning eyes open. All I could think of was a soft warm bed and a pillow. But first we’d have to stop by the villa owners’ home in Ubud to settle up our rent, get a SIM card at some little toko, hit up an ATM for rupiahs, and then, of course, pick up the daughter.
By the time she hopped into the passenger seat next to her dad, I wasn’t sure what my name was, much less hers. I thought she said “Wilda”; Chris thought she said “Winda.” But according to Lonely Planet, the Balinese go by certain first names depending on birth order, regardless of gender: Wayan (first born), Made (pronounced Mah-day; second born), Nyoman (third), and Ketut (fourth). So I’m pretty sure her name must be Wayan.
“Hallo!” Wayan said and shook our hands from the front seat. “Where are you from?”
We told her we were from America, which seemed to please her greatly. Americans are tenth on the list of visitor nationalities, so we’re a lot more exciting than the Australians or the Chinese, who occupy slots one and two.
“I will be married in three days,” she said with a heavy accent. “You can come to my wedding.”
Chris and I looked at each other. Had she just invited us to her wedding? For real? We’d only known her for three minutes.
“Are you serious?” Chris asked. “You want us to come to your wedding?”
“Yes, of course. The whole village will be there.”
We’d read in our guide book that if you can get invited to a ceremony while in Bali, under no circumstances should you miss it. So I guess we’re going to a Balinese wedding in three days.
Read more in “The Bali Diary: Fields of Dreams.”