|Detail from the painting Balinese Dance by Auke Sonnega|
Once a chic destination for European jet-setters and their imitators, Bolok never had recovered from the anti-Republic riots of a few years back that played night after night, for endless weeks on the world’s news programs. Empty beaches, shuttered shops, half-built hotels, trash-strewn streets, and charred villas memorialized the passing of the island’s brief dream of tourist-driven prosperity. Bolok’s inhabitants now dreamed only of leaving for Brunei, Australia, Singapore, Canada, or the U.S., or anywhere else that harbored a flicker of hope for life, prosperity, and posterity.
While true that these days few foreigners visited Bolok, the still-audible Siren’s song of cheap lodging and food, and world-class diving still lured the occasional thrifty adventurer. It had lured flamboyant Senator Charles “Call-me-Chuck” Landers, long-time Chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Before Landers had set off on his adventure, the Senator’s aide had called the U.S. Embassy to announce the visit and stress that, “The Senator and Mrs. Landers, of course, do not want the Embassy to go out of its way, or for it to spend taxpayer funds to support their private visit. They, of course, seek no Embassy assistance.” Newly arrived Ambassador Williams, sitting 1300 miles away from Bolok in the capital of Suluarta, and inexperienced in matters pertaining to the care and feeding of traveling Members of Congress, sighed in relief at these words; he dreaded the thought of making the long and uncomfortable plane and boat trip to dreary Bolok just to tend to the Senator.
On their first night in Bolok, the vacationing Landers gorged on mounds of inexpensive, oddly flavored prawns at The Vice Squad, one of the few functioning restaurants. During the beach stroll back to their hotel, and just as the Senator launched into his third rendition of “Imagine what that would have cost back home,” Mrs. Landers began feeling, by turns, faint, hot, cold, and sweaty. A gut-churning spasm felled her. The Senator soon followed, joining his wife sprawled on the sand in a pool of vomit and diarrhea. Two Australian surfers dragged the spewing Yanks to the road, and packed them into a taxi. In the hotel, the Landers ingested rehydration salts and expired antibiotics, and had their wallets stolen. Two days later, pale, weak and groggy, they departed for Washington.
Safely back in DC, Landers issued a press release expressing “disgust with the lack of concern shown by Embassy Suluarta for traveling Americans in Bolok Island, a major center of global tourism.” He put a hold on State Department funding until the Department established a consulate in Bolok.
[Read the rest of Go To Bolok! or, A Tropical Take]