Escape from Bali

In early 1971, when I was 10 years old, my mother sold our house and moved our family (she and 5 children) from Northern California to the island of Bali, in Indonesia. The trip there was a story in itself, departing San Francisco in the passenger quarters on a freighter that took us all the way to Seoul, Korea (with stops in Yokahama and Kobe, Japan). The rest of the trip there was on commercial propeller airplanes, with brief stopovers in Singapore and Thailand, before arriving in Bali. There, we lived among the villagers in Kuta Beach, near Denpasar. We swam in the warm Indian Ocean and played amongst giant Sea Turtles and wild monkeys.
For those who haven’t been, Bali is a small island in a remote part of the world, and is separated by a small strait of the Bali Sea from Java, a larger island and home to the capital city, Jakarta. I feel lucky that mom knew this geography, because upon arriving in Bali, our passports had been confiscated by Indonesian government officials, who may have thought us to be drug smugglers, or some other shady characters. [They may have been correct but I was too young to be aware of this if we were]. We were traveling off the radar of family members back in the states, armed not with Traveler’s Checks, but with a suitcase full of money, later stolen, profits from the sale of our home, which funded the trip. Several months into the trip, after many opium-fueled nights, the money being stolen and a suicide attempt, mom decided that we needed to leave. However, with no passports and under scrutiny from the local officials, leaving the island would be difficult. Mom concocted a plan that would allow us to flee undercover to another part of the country and ultimately get to help at the American Embassy in Jakarta.

The way it worked was this: While we needed passports to leave Indonesia, we did not need passports to travel to another of the islands that make up the country. Mom soon had my brothers, sisters, and me on a dilapidated bus, traveling across the rugged terrain of Bali. My older brother, Hacsi, and I camped out in he luggage racks while travelers in the seats below vomited out the windows of the bus as it maneuvered the mountainous terrain. Once we reached the part of the island closest to Java, we boarded a ferry that took us across the waters to the other island. There, we boarded a train that was bound for the islands capital — Jakarta.

Of course this train ride could not be an effortless trip. The train was loaded with Indonesian military officers, most of which were puffing on opium cigarettes. The train also broke down about half way across the island, and we had to walk in the dark, and board a second train to get to Jakarta.

I recall he consul at the American Embassy as being very stuffy and formal, at least to what I was used to. Yes, they would help us get deported. We had been listed as missing in America and both state and federal officials were searching for us. But who would pay for the trip back to he states? That duty fell on my grandparents in Wyoming, who footed the bill for their blood relatives. My mother’s then-boyfriend, Ron,and our family friend, George, who had been traveling with us, would fly home at the expense of the U.S.

When I think of Bali, I don’t usually think of this big adventure. My mind is filled with memories of the wild monkeys, the Barong dancers, the warm ocean and the primitive people, who up till that time had not seen many white-skinned people, and who would follow us everywhere and peer in to our bedroom windows, curious about our culture, as we were about theirs. The locals would literally follow us to the outhouse [literally a hole in the ground with a board to squat down on top of] to watch us go to the bathroom.

Arriving back in America and after debarking a plane at San Francisco International Airport, I dropped to my knees and kissed he ground, to which my mother gave me a thwack on the back of he head, saying that I was not being funny and that I should be more grateful for the experience.

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