There seemed to be no strangers in Bali. Locals on the streets of Ubud waved to us, shopkeepers gave us free fruit and beautiful dancers in ornate gold headdresses invited us up on stage with them. We even flew kites with Balinese boys at a beach in Sanur. It helped that Kurt and I had our five-year-old son, Eddie, and our three-year-old daughter, Kasey, in tow.
Each driver we hired to take us sightseeing instantly became a new friend. Putu, a young, skinny man who had spiky black hair and wore a mint green button down shirt, was our favorite driver.
“I love to practice my English,” he told us on our way to visit an elephant preserve. It turns out Putu is the fourth child of his family. In Bali, there is an interesting custom of giving each child a particular name according to birth order.
The first child is named Waylan; second is Made; third is Nyoman; the fourth is Ketut and then it starts over with Waylan for the fifth child. Understandably, confusion can arise and many parents give their children a common variation of the established name. Putu is a variation of Ketut.
Eddie immediately connected with Putu, who fielded questions about every vehicle we passed. “Putu, why is the trailer set up that way?” “How can it take a big turn and not tip over?” “Why do all those men ride in the back with those antlers?” (Yes, why do they?) Putu offered thorough answers.
“Putu, do you have your own kids?” I asked after he picked us up from the elephant preserve. I knew family was very important in Bali.
“No, no, but I hope someday.” He added, “My mother wishes it so also.”
“Oh, it will happen,” I reassured him. “You’ll find someone nice, and you will make a great father.”
“Yes, you think it is so?” He broke into a full-on smile. Looking over his shoulder, he gazed at the kids for what seemed like a full minute before returning his eyes back to the chaotic road with tentacles of traffic.
“Definitely,” I answered.
Our next stop was Tegalalang, one of Bali’s famous rice terraces. We couldn’t see it initially. Several shopping stalls obscured our view. Because the road was lined with various vehicles, including mega motor coaches, Putu suggested dropping us off. He then would drive around the area while we took in the terrace. Meanwhile, due to “relaxed” bedtimes, Eddie had fallen asleep in the back seat. He desperately needed the nap. Putu saw me looking at him.
“I will watch Eddie and you go to see Tegalalang.” He nodded and smiled while the engine was idling. I didn’t want to wake Eddie, so Kurt and I got out of the vehicle with Kasey, and then Putu drove away.
We dodged shopkeepers peddling sarongs, dragon masks and wind chimes. Making it past the hagglers and souvenir stalls, we stopped above the terrace at the top rim and gazed down.
It looked like a Roman coliseum with descending rows of green steps interspersed with palm trees. The curving rows were alternating tiers of green – a completely green rainbow offering shades of emerald, jade, evergreen, chartreuse, lime, cucumber, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and whatever else you could find in the green spectrum.
The colors surpassed even the expansive hues listed in a J. Crew catalog. Toward the bottom tiers, a constant breeze blew the longer rice stalks in unison, making it look like giant centipedes were wriggling away. Meanwhile, the clonking of large wooden wind chimes, and tinkling of the smaller metal ones coming from the market stalls provided a soundtrack for the moment.
At some point, while absorbing all the green and completely Zenning out, I realized something. “Kurt, we just left Eddie in a running vehicle with a guy we only just met today whose name is Putu, and there are probably about 4,000 Putus on this island. We don’t even know the license plate number of his vehicle!” I didn’t even know the make of the car. Then after about a few seconds, Kurt and I looked at each other and shared the same expression. Complete calm. It’s Putu we’re talking about. No worries.
Perhaps the “serenity now” feeling that emanated from the terrace, or the intense humidity was dulling my soggy senses, but I was completely at ease. I had total faith in Putu.
We took some photos and savored one last moment of tranquility. Weaving back through the market, we saw Putu on the road next to the idling car. He waved vigorously to us, beaming as always. Perched on his back was Eddie, who also waved. Raising his extended arm up and down, Putu turned to Eddie, clearly pantomiming an elephant to amuse my perfectly safe son.
About the Author: A freelance writer, teacher and traveler, Stephanie Glaser studied in the Netherlands during college, and more recently, taught high school in Adelaide, Australia as an exchange teacher. Currently, Glaser lives with her family in Colorado where she teaches public speaking and writes about her travel blunders for her blog Travel Oops.