Greetings from your favorite Marriott whore in Bali


NUSA DUA, Bali — Writing takes discipline but I need the discipline of a Navy SEAL to type in this Courtyard Bali business office with a sprawling turquoise pool below me. The pool meanders like a giant, languid snake around little sandy islands. Ferns shade thatched lanais chairs with green-and-white striped beach towels on each one. I’m staring out at a tiki bar under teardrop lanterns and lacquered wood paneling.

The Grand Junction Courtyard this is not.

I’m in Bali as part of my continued Marriott Whore’s World Tour. If you didn’t know, one of the benefits about being an American sportswriter is the Marriott points program. With every Marriott you stay in, you earn points. The more points you earn, the more freebies you can acquire. After about two years of chasing bouncing balls and cliches around the world, I usually get a free week in any Marriott in the world, including airfare.

I’ve taken Marriott to Paris (right on the Champs Elysees), St. Kitts (the biggest Marriott in the Caribbean) and Borneo (a six-star resort right on the South China Sea) and now in Bali where tourists have been following James Cook’s path for 500 years.

So have you all decided to apply at journalism school now?

The drawback is it takes as long to get here as it does for your average Marriott stay. From Denver to San Francisco to Tokyo to Singapore to Denpesar, Bali. It’s not so bad if you like United’s synthetic food and movies so wretched I’m convinced they don’t have windows so travelers don’t hurl themselves out at 36,000 feet after watching “Ruby Sparks.”

The most grueling part of the journey was a nine-hour layover in Singapore where the airport rent-by-the-hour hotel rooms (They have these in Bangkok, too, but they’re not for sleeping) were full. Singapore’s airport, fortunately, is like an adult amusement park with 24-hour shopping, free Internet and big-screen TVs where somehow I watched the Tennis Channel for two hours. I must’ve been really exhausted. Seeing a life-sized vision of Maria Sherapova five feet from my face did nothing for me at 4 in the morning.

I landed in Bali at noon and there is no better elixir for bone-crunching fatigue than landing in a new exotic country. I walked out of the open-air airport and the thick humidity tasted like coconut syrup. My skin felt dewey. And my memory of my first trip to Bali came flooding over me like an old favorite movie you turn on at night.

Nusa Dua isn’t really a town. It’s one long string of high-end resorts on the Bukit Peninsula, a sideways teardrop of an island off the southeast coast of Bali. The first resort popped up here in the early ’70s and they haven’t stopped building. It’s as commercial as a vending machine. Fortunately, it’s on a long stretch of white-sand beach that curls around the south end of the island like sugar on the rim of a mojito. There’s a reason tourist traps are touristy. They’re damn beautiful.

The rooms here are spectacular. I have a double bed with two chairs on a balcony overlooking the pool. The glass-enclosed shower has an overhead faucet that’s the size of a dinner plate. The swim-up bar last night is manned by Bagus, a rail-thin, round-faced 25-year-old who’s a veteran of the tourist trade. It nearly killed him. He was a waiter last year on the Italian luxury cruise ship that tipped over and drowned 200 people. He and the other waiters got out unscathed, which tells you something about the safety of the thing. He always was afraid of the water so he returned to his native Indonesia and came to Nusa Dua where the closest he gets to water is the pool that meanders around his bar.

He said I’m one of the few Americans he’s seen. Bali is a weekend getaway for Aussies who view it as one part all-night pub crawl and one part brothel. In my first trip in 1994, a leggy Irish PR woman I had a fling with in Greece the summer before rendezvoused with me and we spent every night pounding Bintang in the bars and clubs sprawling all over Kuta, Bali’s version of South Beach. Aussies were everywhere, hitting on every live uterus and slapping the backs of every male they didn’t know. Aussies, like the Irish, are fun drunks. Their country has few serious problems and they seem to spend most of their days deciding which muscle group to exercise and what brand of beer to drink.

Australia, as I’ve said, is paradise.

My first meal here last night was a little Balinese place recommended by Bagus. He goes to a place called Uyam, an open-air restaurant lined with ferns and fierce-looking Balinese figures that look like they’re ready to eat the rice off your plate. I had an Indonesian diet staple, nasi goreng (fried rice) and chicken satay (grilled chicken skewers ladled in peanut sauce). With an ice-cold Bintang and a slow-moving fan above me, it was the perfect welcome to another week in paradise.

Off to the beach.

Selamat Tinggal,
John

Categories: Asia, Travel StoriesTags:

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