Our New Highway to Heaven Has Its (Awful) Moments

By Hector

A DRIVE to Candi Dasa is always interesting; in recent months – and judging by progress identified thus far, and the scarcity of scenes of actual work taking place, for many more months to come – this interest level has been heightened further by the Australian-funded duplication of the splendidly named Prof Ida Bagus Mantra Bypass, which ordinary mortals know as the Sanur-Kusamba bypass. So it was last weekend, when The Diary made a trip up that way (so much better than the alternative destination, alternative in both senses, of Ubud).

It’s a relaxing drive. Between narrowly missing oncoming wrong-side driving and maniacal Killer Yellow trucks emitting the screams of differentials in their death throes and self-evidently driven by complete idiots, and jigging bunches of closely following motorbikes from your exhaust pipe, you get to look at the lovely countryside. Those little knocking shops masquerading as cafés lining the highway are great, aren’t they? Still, last Friday’s trip eastbound was only 1hr, 45min door to door from Ungasan to the chosen beachside digs at Candi. Coming back on Sunday was only 1hr, 50min. That’s not bad for a 73km drive. Heavens, it’s a trip speed of around 30km/h. It would be much lower than that, of course, if not for the new 200km/h dual carriageway strip of the bypass that actually bypasses Kusamba.

What’s more, this creditable trip speed was attained while coping with all the diversions at the towards-Denpasar end on to the other carriageway, over thoughtfully thrown together all-terrain-vehicle testing surfaces. Imagine what the trip would take if there was a proper road. It would be helped if a proper road contained proper drivers, of course. People who won’t make eight lanes of traffic out of one in a devil-take-the-hindmost push and shove attempt to get to be first to the back of the next queue of traffic; truck drivers (and motorcyclists) who can read (specifically, the signs saying trucks and motorcycles keep left); non-colour blind drivers who can tell the difference between red traffic lights and green ones; and intelligent ones who know what the colours actually mean; that sort of thing.

Warming Moments

CANDI Dasa is a quiet little spot. That is, between tailgating posses of traffic roaring through town oblivious to everything, especially other road users and the big yellow sign at the entrance to the “Obyek Wisata” that advises 40km/h would be a good speed.

It passes understanding why mandatory speed limits aren’t applied to urban streets, and are then enforced. It should be patently obvious that there is no point advising Indonesia’s drivers (foreigners among them) about anything much at all. Even the natty new time-display counters at traffic lights – which tell you in green how long you’ve got before they go red and you’re notionally required to stop; or, in red, how long you’ve got to wait (especially at the airport turnout in Tuban) before your red light flicks back to 99 more seconds – seem merely to be an unmissable invitation to scream through well after the change.

At Candi Dasa on Sunday there was a nicely turned out policeman at the side of the road, chatting with his mates, and – perhaps, though this is a stretch – idly noticing from time to time the traffic screaming past the temple at double the advisory speed. We’re not sure he saw the Idiot Blue truck that flew past him on the wrong side of the road and did at least 500 metres of personal contra-flow to get past some slowcoaches whose flat-to-the-floor gas pedal performance was obviously deficient. Some of them, blast them, had actually slowed to around 70km/h. No wonder Pak Gila in the blue truck was impatient. The pity of it is that idiots like him so often turn out to have a date with someone else’s destiny.

Girl Heaven

VINCENT’S, the Candi Dasa eating establishment that has grilled Haloumi in pastry and thus The Diary’s unquestioned patronage, has whacked up its prices and downsized its portions. Ah, the evils of economics. It also seems to have gone into the girl business, at least vicariously, in a sharp break with its historic practice of having no females on the premises unless legitimate paying guests. The boys are all very nice, and generally helpful, but – well – it’s that sort of place.

At the weekend, however, there appeared to be two ladies in the lounge bar area of the establishment (they were accompanied by a mobile phone-equipped gentleman in an upmarket T-shirt, slacks and proper shoes) whose concept of resort wear was singularly brief and high-heeled and whose purpose was just as blatantly plain. Another chica de la noche had apparently acquired a punter – it’s not clear whether this was actually on the premises – and was struggling through dinner with her night’s wages at a neighbouring table in a skirt the size of a modest belt. It was probably designed for something, but the something wasn’t sitting down.

The Diary is an accommodating entity. Sadly for accusative moralists everywhere, prostitution has never been something to get het up about. It happens. It will never not happen. It’s better therefore to accept its inevitability and, if this gives you the vapours, to lie back and think of England or something of equally useless utility.

At the same time, it would seem to be a new element in quiet and hitherto decorous Candi Dasa. Perhaps it was a holiday special?

Anyone Around?

THE Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, an annual jamboree that takes its chief medium, English, so lightly that it forgoes bothering with possessives (it should be the Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival), will be with us again, in its 2010 guise, before we know it. It’s on from October 6-10 with the theme Bhinneka Tunggal Ika: Harmony in Diversity.

Unfortunately, only just over four months out from its start date, that’s about all we can tell you. That and the fact that its website this week is still headlining a night of words and music to warm up the space (nature abhors a vacuum after all) on April 9.

Perhaps its founder and chief inspiration, Janet DeNeefe, has been so busy trying to ensure that the umbilical cord connecting her event with vital Australian funding will not be completely severed with the departure next month of longstanding Australian ambassador Bill Farmer that she has quite forgotten the importance of getting something on the board, even if it’s not actually runs.

It’s unlikely the Aussies will cut her off without a penny, of course, even if Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has spent all the money he can expect for several years on technically avoiding a technical recession. They are commendably generous with arts funding to worthy causes both at home and overseas. And in the bigger scheme of things, the UWRF is pretty small beer.

A Rare Treat

EXPATRIATES of Scottish provenance or heritage are served pretty well in the Anglosphere, where men in skirts wielding instruments of torture are a commonplace. But not so outside the boundaries of that global diaspora, for example in Indonesia, where, were they asked, the bulk of the population would probably agree that the kilt is a Victorian fiction, the creature of novelists such as Walter Scott and poor, sad old Queen Vic herself, and that bagpipes are best heard (very faintly) from a safe distance, say over at least three substantial hills.

Nonetheless, it was a treat to get the Jakarta Globe on Monday and see on page one a mass of kilted gentlemen and accoutrements. On such occasions your Diarist’s residual Scottishness tugs on the heartstrings and tweaks the conscience.

The occasion was the 31st Jakarta Highland Gathering. It was at Tangerang (they should have held the festivities at Bogor; you can see hills from there). Cabers were tossed and hammers thrown, as is usual on such occasions.

The Diary’s personal favourite, in the Globe photo, was the Sikh piper in the middle. Sensibly, he preferred a turban and a tunic to a bonnet and a skirt. But never let it be said that the essential and overwhelmingly Scottish flavour of Britain’s former empire was completely wasted.

Don’t Go There

LAST week in our Island pages we featured Vladimir Karpov as our subject in the popular series The Big Questions. He is a creative consultant from Russia. He is not The Diary’s favourite creative consultant from Russia (that honour having been bestowed on Edo Botkunov, mentioned in The Diary two weeks ago).

It would be a surprise, in fact, if Karpov were anyone’s favourite creative consultant. He creatively consults for Wisata Media Komunika in Denpasar, whose website is to be avoided. It has a Trojan virus on it that no one there has apparently bothered to fix. Or perhaps they themselves never visit their site. It’s been the same for ages.

You have been warned: Beware of geeks bearing gifts.

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