There’s a thing about me you should know. I hate touristy things. And on top of the list of touristy things I despise most, I’d write the phrase package tours.
And yet, due to an unfortunate sequence of events that are too complicated to get into here — simply because it requires a bit too much vulnerability on my part — my wife and I recently found ourselves on just such a thing on the island paradise of Bali.
Look. I am probably making it sound worse than it was. It wasn’t quite as bad as having to run to assemble under a yellow flag, just to be piled back into a bus, off to duckface at the next great Instagrammable spot. But, still. There was a brochure with lavish photos and superlative copy. And it involved having a schedule and transfers and being delivered unto cars and places and things to do and see, like meat being thrust through a grinder.
But I digress because I really want to focus on something that happened during one of these transfers. For this stage in the trip, we had to be moved from Hotel A to Hotel B, with Hotel B being on a different land mass to Hotel A, which meant we were dropped off into the waiting area of Rocky’s Fast Cruise — approximately two hours before Rocky was scheduled to take us to the island of Lembongan.
Two hours is a long time to wait. Especially considering that what Rocky would refer to as his departure lounge was nothing more than some benches nailed into the ground, covered by a flimsy strip of fibreglass roofing that flapped in the steamy breeze that blew off the Java Strait. Not exactly the kind of thing that got featured in the travel brochure. I guess some things remain better left unsaid.
Two hours of waiting leaves ample time for a string of experienced pedlars to filter through the piles of waiting tourists, hustling their trinkets, ice-creams and Bintangs — Indonesia’s version of that middle-of-the-road lager that you find in every region of the world — albeit always under a different label.
So there we were in the thick of all that. Not making eye contact, because being lured into buying anything would be the final submission to the package tour. I just tried to remain focused on the words printed on the pages of the very good book I was reading. I was only slightly aware of the fresh throngs of tourists who would be ejected from the innumerable vehicles that arrived, to be delivered unto Rocky and his speedboat. The more people arrived, the more the din of happy conversation rose — especially as quite a few of our co-tourists fell for the charms of the Bintang man.
I could edit out all of the pedlars. Except for one. A sad-faced purveyor of Magnum ice-creams who dragged an ice-box through the crowd calling out: “Ice-cream! You scream!” and then letting the line trail off into the humid air.
At first, I smiled to myself at the fact that the guy left off the final line that completes the rhyme. But the more he did it, the more I got hooked. Every time he started it up, I finished it in my head. We all scream for ice-cream. The refrain echoed in my skull like a Buddhist mantra.
Finally, Rocky showed up. He made a beautiful S-curved wake as he pulled the roaring vessel into the small bay. Several million points out of ten for style for this flip-flopped boat pilot. He certainly had done this before.
Everyone got up and gathered their things to make their way down to where Rocky and his associates were loading up the mountain of luggage.
“Ice-cream, you scream …” the Magnum man piped up one more time.
My wife and I looked at each other. We both had the same thought.
And, then as we walked down the jetty to Rocky’s idling speedboat, each clutching a Magnum, I began to doubt whether or not the ice-cream man really didn’t know how that rhyme goes. When I stuffed his hand with a wad of rupees for the two ice-creams, our eyes locked in a moment of mutual recognition. Me, the African advertising man, him, the Balinese ice-cream seller.
“We all scream for ice-cream,” I mouthed and for a moment his face lit up in a conspiratorial smile.
Some things are better when they are left unsaid.