Listen. I can be laid back when I have to be. I have been known to wait five or six hours before answering the occasional email. I have at times neglected to shake a towel vigorously before using it, risking unknown vermin latching onto my vulnerable, naked body. So when my husband and I decide to honeymoon in Bali, I have faith I will be able to enjoy it. To appreciate the views of unadulterated nature as I drift up and down a luxurious hotel infinity pool. And not necessarily think about, say, what kind of exotic parasites might potentially be inserting themselves into my vagina within said infinity pool.
At some point, perhaps basking in the glow of our travel agent’s enthusiasm, I must have decided my rampant O.C.D. wouldn’t be able to follow me to Bali, through interminable customs lines and sprawling opulent resorts and into the river-facing hotel spa where the woman in charge of my three-and-a-half-hour massage is now telling me to relax.
A three-and-a-half-hour massage is long. Longer than James Cameron’s “Titanic.” As the masseuse cakes my back with mud, I wonder what would be happening right now in “Titanic” if I had started it at the same time as this massage. Would Jack be learning to use utensils yet? Or would the ship be filling up with water already and I can break free sooner than I thought because time stops still here and in fact all notion of time as I know it has changed, and I will now understand time as a circle like Amy Adams’s character in “Arrival”?
“Relax,” the masseuse whispers as she applies pressure to my very tense neck, and I try not to think about the mysterious animal feces I found on the floor of our bungalow last night which my husband, in a bout of self-preservation, attempted to convince me were just a bit of rubble.
After the massage, in an attempt to relax further, I scan our bedroom floor with the iPhone flashlight because the lighting in the room is elegantly dim and by elegantly I mean frustratingly for someone who is not planning to engage in seduction at any point during this trip. I look up different critter feces on Google. I conclude the ones dotting our bungalow floor are salamander feces.
“Salamanders are great!” my mom gushes over our WhatsApp call, which I have initiated in a whispered panic from the locked bathroom so my husband won’t accuse me of failing to enjoy our honeymoon.
The smart toilet keeps greeting me, its lid opening and closing with a little whir, confused as to why I’m not using it.
“Salamanders eat all the bugs! They’re there to help you!” my mom says with forceful enthusiasm.
I do not ask her what if a salamander’s feces drops from the ceiling into my mouth because I’ve noticed her patience run short with this type of question over the years.
In the morning I am awakened by what I assume are ambulances but which are allegedly cicadas. My left ankle is swollen with two mosquito bites. I suffer from “skeeter syndrome,” which means mosquito bites on my skin distend to tumoral degrees and erupt in tiny welts. So the salamanders are clearly not doing their job, or: there are so many mosquitoes in this room their predators are sated and unable to eat them all — a frightening prospect.
I casually let this information drop as our concierge drives us through the resort in a buggy, a frangipani flower tucked behind his ear. He promises to fix the bug problem and drops us off at the lobby. A car is taking us to a traditional Balinese dance at a nearby temple. It is on a cliff top with scenic views of the Indian Ocean and sheathed in what the internet calls a “peaceful ambience.”
According to my iPhone, there is 90 percent humidity during the outdoor dance. I presume 100 percent humidity involves drowning. Rivulets of sweat pour down my spine like caressing fingers. I spray DEET on myself so profusely I can taste the chemicals on my tongue through my nostrils. The sun sets and the temperature cools slightly. Then the dancers set the stone stage on fire.
Suddenly (to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” in my head), swarms of moths the size of industrial pedestal fans descend from the heavens, slapping us in the face and alighting on our backs so that unacquainted audience members begin to pick them off one another in a display of solidarity. They’re just moths, relax, I repeat to myself, smiling emptily for my husband’s camera as the family seated behind me swat them off my shoulder blades.
Once the dance ends, our pores dilated from our impromptu steam bath, we make our way down the steep cliff to the parking lot, monkeys as big as dogs on either side of us, eyeing our purses and phones. One of them sits alarmingly close to our car. Our guide advises us to hide our jewelry and avoid eye contact.
When we return to the hotel, we find that a dramatic mosquito net has been swathed over the bed, and rubber has been stuffed into the window gaps. I DEET myself regardless. I trust no one.
On our last day in Bali my husband and I perform a Balinese wedding ceremony because it’s too late to cancel. The officiants warn us that they will sprinkle a little ceremonial water on us. We agree to this, and thus commences our soothing, spiritual journey. The priest proceeds to pour bowl after bowl of ceremonial water on our scalps. My makeup, hair and contact lenses stream down my cheeks. My eyes burn. I wonder if I could get a urinary tract infection this way. The priest sticks grains of rice to our dripping foreheads. They slide off and pellet our laps. The water never stops. It is more eternal than our love.
I count the hours until I return home. I berate myself for doing this, reminding myself this is the only trip of this scale I will ever take and as such it should be enjoyed.
On the two plane rides home I watch three “Bridget Jones” movies in a semi-catatonic state. I feel numb when we step into our apartment. I Google “Bali parasites you have to extract with tweezers from eyeballs weeks later.” The results are inconclusive. I start to relax. Then I notice them. Crawling up our kitchen walls. Pantry moth larvae. I cry a little bit. My husband cries a little bit. I miss Bali.
Episode is a column of first-person essays exploring a moment in a writer’s life. Virginia Feito is the author of the novel “Mrs. March” and a writer for Vanity Fair Spain. She lives in Madrid.