Bali, Indonesia: On a muggy July morning, I arose early and walked a few blocks from the hotel where I was staying in Kedonganan to see the fishers dragging their wooden rowboats onto the shore. The beach turned into a bustling fish market. On the sand women and men dangled their freshly caught prizes in large woven baskets or plastic buckets. Others sat in the shade of the boats at rest, displaying their catch on a piece of wood or styrofoam.
I got hungry while taking in the scene. Time to try Sammy’s, one of the local thatched hut cafes, whose rusty sign with a faded Coke symbol indicated the many decades it had survived the storms. No doubt the cafe roofs had been replaced many times with nearby palm leaves. The café preparing the fish was owned by a family of fishers. It looked just like the other dozen or so restaurant huts that lined the beach.
The owner led me to a large white horizontal refrigerator filled with dozens of fish of different kinds layered over ice. Leaning in I pointed to a hefty perch. My stomach growled and my mouth watered anticipating the freshest fish dish I’d ever eaten. But my excitement was dashed by cayenne 20 minutes later when the server brought it out fully cooked. It was like eating a burrito with six jalapenos, way too spicy for my taste. The greens went to waste too, mixed with hot sauce as they were.
The meal ruined my appetite, but not my experience. I jogged up the beach finding unusual seedpods and seeds. I showed them to an Indonesian woman. Without a common language, we simply marveled at them silently, smiling at one another.
The Balinese came out to make their offerings to the gods: banana leaves folded into soft square or triangular shapes holding lovely, bright flowers. Incense, pointing skyward, burned alongside the bouquets. This lovely Hindu tradition gave me pause. I lingered, thanking the gods of plenty, then silently uttered my own prayer for peace.