I made this impromptu speech at an Institute of Company Directors training seminar, June 1995.
Travel, as you know, is full of unexpected things. In 1975 I developed a little dispute with the tax department. This caused me to drop out of the workforce in Australia and I took on odd jobs in other countries. One of these was running a hotel in Bali and on one of my trips there, I decided to do a two-day promotional tour to Jakarta. The hotel was 25km from the airport so I booked a taxi for 4am.
Of course the taxi didn’t arrive. There were no phones, so one of the guys from the hotel took me to the airport on the back of his motorbike — over village roads, with pot-holes and dogs all over the place. Most Balinese motorbikes, like this one, had no headlights.
There I was on the back of the motorbike, with a suitcase and a movie projector. This was in the days before videos. I got to Jakarta and spent the day seeing travel agents. I hadn’t made any arrangements for accommodation and was hoping one of them would make me an offer. He did, so I planned to stay at the Bali International Hotel, for half price.
It was getting to the end of the day when I dropped my gear off at the hotel. It wasn’t yet dark and I noticed the hotel didn’t appear to be quite finished. That didn’t deter me as I had other things on my mind. I was going to meet my geologist friend, Colin, who was an AMAX geologist in Jakarta at the time. He’d promised me a great night out so off I went to meet him.
I love the night life (just not this night life)
He’d thoughtfully left a message at the bar for me, saying he had been called off to the Philippines for a month. The note also said: “Ron, I recommend that any time after 10pm you go visit the cemetery”. Obviously code for something exciting, I jumped in a taxi feeling like James Bond. The message from Colin said to go through the gate and head left. It was pretty dark, miserable and grim, but this is the sort of friends I have.
The cemetery turned out to be the place where all the brightly made-up transvestite ladies met to lurk behind the grave-stones. They liked to chase unsuspecting tourists like me but I could run pretty fast. I got away, just as it started to rain. A five kilometre of walk later and with mud up to my knees, I found a taxi and headed back to the hotel. I thought I would just call it a night.
When I got out of the taxi I found a guy selling cigars. He had one of those little street stalls loaded with “beedie” cigarettes and elegant wooden boxes filled with Indonesian cigars. They were great big magnificent cigars and I couldn’t resist buying two boxes. That was about the only nice thing that happened to me that day.
Back at the hotel, I got the bags up the steps and went straight to my room. I noticed the front door, which was a wooden door with slats. I also noticed the slats caught the rain instead of deflecting it. Walking into the hotel room, I found water all over the floor. It was not a fancy room. There were two beds and sitting on top of one of the beds was the biggest cockroach I had ever seen. Not to be deterred, off came my boot and I whacked that cockroach aggressively. On lifting up my boot, I couldn’t believe that one single cockroach could make all that mess. Further investigation proved that on the way up the darkened stairway I had stood on a dog-turd!
One bed was out of commission but I had another. At this stage of the night, I felt a strong desire to have a shower. The bathroom with shower recess was fine, but there was no plumbing. On the other side of the room I spotted a hand basin full of water and a little plastic bucket with a handle. Fine, I understood the message. You stood under the thing, ran across and got the bucket, and repeated it 15 times. It was what they called a “shower”.
I went back and tried the other bed and found one sheet on top of a dirty mattress. At this stage nothing mattered. I was exhausted after a “hard day in the office” and then I realised that I wasn’t alone — the bed was crawling with small insect life. The whole bed was alive. Thank God I had those cigars because they saved the day. I lit up and laid back in bed, took a big breath of smoke, lifted the sheet and…I certainly fumigated those beasties!