Stepping out of the plane into the cloying heat of Denpasar airport is not unlike subjecting yourself to the First Level of Dante's Hell. A warm, bizarre smelly limbo that you know that you will be out of shortly, but you just have to weather a bit more purgatory before you find your heaven.
The six hour flight on BoganAir was uneventful (i.e. OneStar - oops, Jetstar). I was thankfully sat next to a small, silent woman who, liked me, kept her thoughts on the iPad in front of her and only talked to me for the last ten minutes of the flight.
At the end of the flight we made the approach into the airport together. Regretably, I left my holiday hat on the plane, so I can see myself hunting down another "Deliverance Special" to wear around the place.
Anyway, it's entering the Arrivals Hall at Denpasar Airport that the fact that you're in a different country really kicks in. And like the First Level of Hell, home to the unbaptised and virtuous pagans, a plethora of humanity surges towards the gates. Added to the joys of the Arrivals Hall is that there are three steps to checking into Bali. There is the US$25 payable to the man at the first gate, a stamp to be gained from a second person at a second desk some fifty meters away. You then have to collect your baggage, but it through a large scanner by yourself and have a quick chat to the man at the Customs desk - after that, you're home free. All the while, there are a few things running through your head - namely Schapelle Corby, the Bali Nine. You know that you have no contraband packed - but still - the thought is there. It's good to see that most bags are sealed with small locks or zip lock tags helping to ensure that nobody breaks into your luggage.
But after a six hour flight, coming from a rather mild Sydney to the damp, oven like conditions in Bali, it's a bit disorientating - just like Dante, weary from travel, you're flummoxed by what you see. For me, the flotsam and jetsam that Bali attracts is astounding. Of course there is the bogan element with their piercings, tribal tattoos, stubbies and thongs attire and a laid back way of getting through the crowds on their way to the backpackers at Kuta Beach. There is, of course, the more erudite traveller like myself who prides herself on being organised, polite and nearly invisible. There is one other type of traveller, but we will talk about them in a minute.
I suppose it does help that I was feeling nice and mellow. On the recommendation of Millie I purchased a pass to the Qantas Club Business Lounge at Sydney Airport - brilliant advice that one. Once my mother's lipsticks were purchased, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin procured and a new happy snapper camera obtained for the holiday, I made my way up to the Qantas Lounge for two hour of rest and relaxation. A glass or two of champagne, some wonderful fresh salad and some gelati as good as you find in Florence were had, all whilst perched in a comfy chair watching the planes take off.
Spending time in there made the tip all the more pleasant - and I have a spare pass for future travels.
The other type of traveller which was most surpring was a group of Chinese tourists. Where even the bogans were queueing quietly in the immigration line, there was a barrage of Chinese tourists who came through with the force of a category one cyclone. What felt like a Mexican wave began to overtake the area. The personal space that is normally afforded to one in a queue was left by the wayside as a fifty strong group of Chinese tourists tried to barge throught the lines.
It wasn't well received.
After being shoved in the back for the umpteenth time, I made a point to stand my ground. The metal-ridden, tattoo freak behind me did similar, trying in earnest to get the group to play ball. In the end, the Immigration Officials stepped in and asked them to behave. The immigration official just rolled his eyes after and muttered something along the lines of "Chingleese - hmph." I'm sure he's seen it all before.
Denpasar is going to have a new airport in September- it's nearly built, which in some ways is a bit of as pity as this is all a part of the Bali Experience.
Once through customs and past all of the money changers I was relieved to see my name on a piece of cardboard held up by a smiling gentleman. Wayan was a godsend. He had a chat, took my suitcase and told me to follow him. We made our way to the van, a short distance away, weaving through fellow confusted looking travelers while taking in the scent of the tropics - sweat, clove cigarettes, fragipani and the faintest indication of mould.
Travelling does take a certain amount of trust. Trust in yourself, trust in the universe, trust in the fact that you're going to have a nice person take you the hour drive up to Ubud in the mountains.
I lucked out with Wayan, who was thankfully obliging in my curiousity and answered all my questions - "What's going on here?" (a festival), "Why are all the statues dressed in sarongs?" (it's part of the festival) "How do you learn to drive in all this craziness?" (You have an instructor like everywhere else.)...
I ask lots of questions.
Bali is a sea of air conditioned people movers and motorbikes. It's not uncommon to see a family of four on a scooter - dad driving, Mum on the back, a toddler in front of both of them. No helmets.
There is also a visible security presence in the evenings.
This is not Australia - I'm glad it's not Australia but the place has grown on me after a day.
And stepping out into the heat of the night, down a cobbled path, I found my patch of Paradise.
Just as Dante said I would.
But more on that later.