The humble rubber thong divides people, but I’m just going to put it out there: I have a thing for the thong. As far as I’m concerned it goes effortlessly from daywear to nightwear, from jeans to cossies – and it most certainly goes to Bali.
We were packing light for this trip, so I whittled the shoe selection down to a pair of joggers (ha! two months later they are still in the suitcase), a pair of tan Roman sandals (which, until yesterday, had also remained in the suitcase), and a pair of silvery blue, thin-strapped Havaianas. My favourite rubber thongs carried me from the farm to the plane to the front steps of our house in Penestanan, where they looked perfectly at home parked by the life-sized Buddha statue as they awaited their daily duty. Sometimes they were called upon for dusty walks along the hot, pot-holed road into Ubud; more frequently it was to trace one of the tentacle goat tracks through rice fields and up verdant ridges as we sought to cover new ground spiralling out from home.
Equally adept at slapping the buckled pavement and dodging dog shit, they were also the footwear of choice when it came to stopping for a tangy lemon juice or a foot massage. No awkward stooping to untie laces or buckles (particularly graceless with a baby strapped to one’s back). Just slip ’em off and slip in.
Alas, like all great love stories, this one contains a complication. The thong, sadly, has a flaw: It is not the most resilient of shoes. And its propensity to irreparably pull a strap from its lodging is accelerated when walking single file with small children through narrow goat tracks. Little feet catch the back of your thong, and BAM. You’ve blown a strap.
This was the fate of my beloved Havaianas some weeks ago while perambulating the road north of Penestanan. Attempts to return the strap to its rightful place were futile and so it was that, drear and forlorn, I found myself limping, one thong on, one thong off, into the nearby supermarket.
Eight dollars later I was comfort-sucking a chocolate brownie Magnum while my feet adjusted to the unfamiliar contours of a new pair of black rubber thongs. The thick straps perhaps weren’t as flattering as the dainty Havaianas, but they were solid.
The black thongs carried me through more of Ubud’s surrounds, and as the embracing grey skies and afternoon drenchings of the wet season swept in they proved the ideal shoe for negotiating cascading muddy streets.
On our last day in Ubud, following one particularly weighty downpour, I set off alone through the sodden streets for a post-lunch massage. As the sun began wearing holes through the clouds, my thongs slapped through the shimmering sludge. (A confession. Another flaw: wet-season thongs delight in flinging a Pollock of mud up the back of your legs.)
At the entrance to the massage place, I parked my thongs amongst the throng and prepared to surrender to the meditative music and frangipani-infused pampering. Instead, as I entered, I was greeted with the words, ‘You very dirty.’
Nevertheless, a smiling woman washed my feet and legs before delivering THE massage of my life (An aside: Oh. My. Sweet. Lord. Do yourself a favour and book in for a shirodhara. Now.)
Post-massage, freshly showered and enjoying the lingering buzz of a warm ginger tea, I floated out the door engrossed in the daydream that a weekly shirodhara was surely the key to becoming the calmest mother on the planet. Pausing on the step to slip on my thongs I was initially too zen to notice. But notice I finally did.
My thongs were gone. In their place stood a lone pair of similar but not the same black rubber thongs. With their thin straps and soft rubber soles they were actually a little nicer than mine.
I had a moment of moral and practical confusion. Should I go back inside to track down my own thongs? The most realistic scenario was that the owner of these thongs had, in a similarly zen state, already walked off with mine. All the other thongs that had previously been here were also gone. Plus these ones were my size. And they were pretty. What can I say? I slipped them on and mud-flicked my way back down the hill.
(On the watery footpath, they were slipperier than my previous pair, which I took to be my karma for stealing. I prepared to go over on my arse at any minute.)
The stolen thongs managed to keep me upright and took me from Ubud to the little fishing village of Lean, where for three weeks they flip-flopped from villa to sea to pool to restaurant, their most strenuous job being to absorb the intense heat and jagged edges of broken coral on the beach.
After that, they endured a toe-gripping drive to the spectacular green-on-green surrounds of Sidemen (pronounced like cinnamon but with a d), where, in a fit of joy no doubt brought on by the supreme beauty of the infinity pool overlooking nothing but rice terraces, I pushed the kids fully clothed into the pool. My daughter, having watched far too many sitcoms, dragged me in with her.
Oh how we laughed.
This not being a sitcom though, there was, of course, a downside. A complication. The plunging water pressure had wrenched one of my thong straps from its lodgings. It wasn’t fatal, but I knew from experience that it marked the beginning of the end. There’s no going back from dislodgement.
And so it was that on our dawn walk a day or so later that flawed thong bit the Sidemen dust. There was no sign of life.
I limped back to the morning market, the dead thong hanging from my hand. We weaved our way through stalls mounded with dried rice and peanuts and fish, until right up the back we found a woman with a laundry-basket full of footwear. I proffered her my dead thong. She understood.
I riffled through the potential replacements. A lavender plastic wedge, flip-flops with fluoro flowers. Digging down towards the plain ones at the bottom only brought further disappointment. They were all for dainty Balinese feet. Just one pair stood out, larger and ganglier than the others. Hard, shiny brown plastic. Thick straps. The soles covered in faux masseur nobbly bobbles. Cue my Cinderella moment.
The old woman delicately wrote down 25,000. Less than $2.50.
‘Okay,’ I nodded.
I slipped on my ugly new thongs and found Mark and the kids.
‘You found a pair that match your outfit,’ Mark complimented me. He wasn’t joking.
We continued walking but within minutes the thongs were in my hands. The rocky path hurt less than the stiff nobbly bobbles. I had finally met a pair of thongs I didn’t like.
My seven-year-old’s thongs fitted well enough for the rest of our days in Sidemen. Then, yesterday, for the drive to Sanur, out came the Roman sandals. Eighteen buttons just to get them on.
And so, today, I will scour Sanur for new thongs. In a few days, they will carry me to Denpasar airport, through the skies to Sydney, and on the drive home to the farm. Then they can look forward to parking themselves outside our new caravan as we embark on the next leg of our big adventure. Faithful, enduring and, I hope, uncomplicated.