Well, er, the problem was, I thought I saw a real live mermaid.
Loping on Bali’s Lovina beach one day, I came across a
troglodytic Indonesian man crouching over a campfire, cooking a stunted animal on a skewer. Was he eating a cat?!
“Very nice bitch,” the local sarong hawker spat in the sand. Lo and behold! I saw a bikinied blond, like the statuesque prow of a Viking vessel, splashing out in the water. Aha! Bali Baywatch. Glint: tail!
But when the magical apparition, one usually confined to the edges of 16th-century maps, subsided, I found myself dangling alone in the deep, lapping at the shore like the tongue of a blind man licking his false teeth.
“Maybe you want to see the dolphins?” the hawker persisted.
“The dolphins? Hey, that sounds interesting,” I said.
“Okay. I arrange.”
This time a real sea gypsy, with a soiled rag tied around his
head, greeted me on the beach. His smile betrayed a ragged set of
broken Chiclets. He shook my hand and winked, a cataract, an evil
eclipse. He resembled the demonic emcee from “Tales from the Crypt.”
But hey, the boat looked sort of seaworthy, and an adventure is
So I gave him a handful of crumpled rupiah and we dragged the
outrigger canoe out into the water. The antique ghost ship glided
through the waves like an ungodly phallic symbol, until halfway out the motor conked out and a worried look stole over the ancient mariner’s face.
“What’s the matter?” I asked with trepidation.
The Cryptkeeper began unfurling the heavy sail, pointing. I looked over and saw a fin slicing the water.
And another. And another. And another.
Hence, we were suddenly surrounded by scores of dolphins dancing
in undulating curves, coiling like verboten question marks. I’d never seen this many dolphins together at once, not even on TV. The old man grinned at me, my respect for him rising inestimably. I laughed just to hear what my own voice sounded like in the ocean spray.
Did the divine dance of the dolphins go on every day here off
Bali away from prying eyes? What universals governed such an event? My miraculous mermaid sighting had probably been a dolphin, too, but it’s fun relying on educated guesses rather than fact or fiction. Off an island at the very edge of reason, I now wondered not how many more dolphins I would spot, but how the bejesus we would get back to shore with only a hot Bahasa curse and a tattered sail. . . .
John M. Edwards has traveled world wide (five continents plus),
with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji. After graduating from Tulane University, he worked as an editor at Pocket Books and as a copy editor at Emerging Markets, which covered World Bank annual meetings abroad.
His work has appeared in Amazon.com, CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Conde Nast Traveler, International Living, Emerging Markets, InTravel, Traveling Stories, Amazing Travel Stories, International Business Times, Literal Latte, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review, Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Mango, Mabuhay, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Trips, Travelmag, Big World, Vagabondish, Glimpse, Go World Travel, Ecelectica, The Expeditioner, Trazzler, Essays & Fictions, Smoking Poet, France Revisited, BootsnAll, Hack Writers, Road Junky, Richmond Review, Adventure
Journey, DVD Express, Borderlines, ForeWord, Go Nomad, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review.
He is the recipient of a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists
Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay
Contest) Award, a Road Junky Hell Trips Award, a Literal Latte Travel Writing Award, a Trips Millennium Poetry Contest Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Award, and three Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” where you can eat ethnic every night with soul survivors from Dante’s Inferno. His future bestsellers, Move and Fluid Borders, remain unpublished. His new work-in-progress, Dubya Dubya Deux, is about a time traveler. He is editor-in-chief of the upcoming annual Rotten Vacations, co-edited with Bruce Northam.