Story last updated at 3:24 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Bali: More than just another day in paradise
Micah Ess
Micah's musings

Editor's note: Homer resident Micah Ess, a 1997 graduate of Homer High School, recently departed on an extended trip to Indonesia and Southeast Asia. He will be submitting essays about his travel periodically. This is his first installment, from the bomb-shattered paradise of Bali, where on Oct. 12 a terrorist blast leveled a resort, leaving nearly 200 dead.

Bali is a land of stark contrasts, a land whose natural beauty masks an ugly socio-political underbelly. The Lonely Planet travel guide describes it like this:

"Bali is so picturesque that you could be fooled into thinking it was a painted backdrop: rice paddies trip down hillsides like giant steps, volcanoes soar through the clouds, the forests are lush and tropical, and the beaches are lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. But the paradise gloss has been manufactured and polished by the international tourist industry rather than by the Balinese themselves -- who don't even have a word for paradise in their language -- and it pays scant regard to the political and economic reality of life on Bali."

Since the bombing, tourists are not coming back yet. One Balinese street vendor told me as I looked through his selection of cheap plastic knock-off Oakleys and jet lighters shaped like bikini-clad women.

Everyone that works here as well, he continued as he wiped down a pair of glasses I seemed to have smudged while trying on, they have gone back to the villages to have mourning. Just down the road on the beach, his wife is trying to get the few tourists sunning themselves interested in a Balinese massage.

Back at the hotel, just a block away from the bomb crater, the girl behind the desk tells me that she was in the Circle-K convenience store right next to the Sari Club when the blast knocked her off her feet. She tells me that the window blew out from the shock, and when she looked up, there was half the head of a boy she knew next to her.

The stories keep rolling in.

I was expecting more anti-American type attitudes here, yet no one even mentions or points fingers toward nationalities or races. I get the feeling that this Hindu island would sooner forget and move on rather than draw out the fear with retaliation.

There are bumper stickers on gates with, "Don't let the terrorists win, bring the tourists back to Bali!" written on them. Indeed, there were exactly four tourist-looking types on my flight into Denpasar, not including Chris and Eivin, my travel bros. I get the idea that this bombing has nothing to do with the anti-American terror folk we are told reside and train here. Why would terrorists attract attention to their supposed last remaining country stronghold? And why were they so unsuccessful at actually killing any Americans when it seems that it was their primary goal?

Balinese were killed. Australians were killed. Americans hardly even make up a significant percentage of the tourists that come though Bali. Americans go to Mexico. It doesn't make sense to me. It will be interesting to see if we ever find out the truth about what happened.

We were going to get off the island as soon as we landed, but the airline decided to put my bag on a plane going to Reno instead of Kuala Lumpur. So because some stoner baggage handler thought KUL looked like REN, I had nothing but a small bag and a camera to declare to the customs agent here.

Luckily there is no shortage of cheap clothing in Kuta Beach. Right across from the small room I have in the middle of the city, on the other side of a stubby flowering plumbaria tree, there is a small shack where hangs every type of sarong and sari in every color imaginable. If it wasn't for the guitar pickup in my waylaid bag, I'd have told them to send it back home. A good sarong is really all you need.

I like getting hit on by the gap-toothed prostitute as much as the next boy, but we decided that what we really needed was some seclusion. Padang Bai, on the other side of the terraced and rice-pattied island, is the jumping off point for Lombok and all islands east. There, the lava flow coastline gives way in places to white sand beaches just big enough to sprawl out on.

I always seem to forget that I have to give my pasty white Alaska-boy raingear-rubbed skin a chance to tan up before spending all day in the water. And with the ozone clearing out above Indo faster than the tourists, it was in approximately six seconds flat that my suntan lotion-covered shoulders went red. Bright red.

So there I was on my third day, lying in bed, unable to move. The ceiling fan overhead was on, but it was using the horrible wiring and lack of amperage in this small town as an excuse not to chip a blade on the densest air I've ever moved through.

Chris and Eivin had themselves covered all day and offered little pity. There are very few things one can do when one's skin feels like it is melting off, and one of those things happens to be purchasing vast quantities of insanely cheap beer.

The next day I made a point to cover my white ass up better. We walked way out on the southern point as the sun rose and watched lobster fishermen pulling their reed traps. Eivin, with his complete National Geographic cameraman setup, took pictures, and I looked for pretty shells.