Published: August 11th 2006July 30th 2006
“Dead” is the best way to describe this place at the moment. It’s a bit like Melbourne during a football final: everything is open but nobody is home, except in the odd well patronized joint, and the mix of (non-Indonesian) Asian and Australian seems pretty even - more so than in Sydney. The hordes of Western Australians have been replaced by a few Koreans and other Asians, with a lot more Javanese than previously, according to a well seasoned couple I met who have been to Bali more than twenty times. Nevertheless, cash heavy west coasters are hard to replace and most businesses are going backwards.
Even with the slight increase of tourists from Europe and Asia the touts easily outnumber us tourists by several to one. Walking across the street I will be accosted by at least three touts, while walking down the street is far, far worse. The usual one sided conversation goes something like this: “Boss, hey boss, you want transport?”
[shake of the head]
“Where you from boss?”
“Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy. Ha ha. G’day mate.”
“You want ganja boss?”
[shake of the head]
[sotto voice] “You want massage boss? Young girl?”
Surfing in Bali
One of the young kids who has spent more time surfing than I ever spent in school.
[shake of the head]
“Young girl really good, really cheap, only 250 one hour.”
By this time I will be nearly out of hearing and will have about ten seconds of silence before the next tout or taxi driver begins the same conversation. It got tedious pretty quickly. And I wasn’t the only one targeted; an English lady I met commented on the propositions she had received: “You want good time? I’m young and strong, I go for an hour and a half, no problem.” I asked her if the young tout was as good as his word and she seemed a bit shocked.
With so few tourists the best way for the locals to make money is to rip off unsuspecting tourists, such as myself.
The first one, predictably, was immigration who charge a $25 visa-on-arrival fee and off your change in rupiah at a pathetically low exchange rate. I let them change $25, at about 7% below market, which made them happy.
The second one was, of course, the taxi driver. The ticket fee was thirty thousand (USD3) and a cab driver offered me fifteen, so I accepted. On arrival at my hotel he asked
for fifteen dollars and I burst out laughing. I gave him twenty thousand.
The third was the money changer. One shop was offering a far better rate than the rest so of course I tried to change USD100 for 989,000. He dutifully counted out nine 100,000 notes and nine 1,000 notes hoping I wouldn’t notice. When I requested the rest he started renegotiating the rate, so I left.
There were many more rip off scams that I avoided and probably several that I fell into, but it’s all a part of traveling in a touristy place like Bali.
To get out of Kuta Beach asap I hired a motorbike for a few days and headed around the island. Probably not a good idea without life insurance. Balinese believe in fate and that if it is time for you to die or get injured in a road accident, this is your karma and there isn’t much you can do about it. So no need to drive carefully: what will be, will be. Somehow I managed a few hundred km without getting killed; I guess I had good karma in Bali.
I don’t remember the places
I stopped at, I simply rode until I felt like stopping and stopped. The first place was a surfers’ paradise on the south west coast with great left handers and a gaggle of locals who spent more time on the water than on land.
Second stop was on the north-west where I found a hotel with TV, swimming pool, aircon etc for $10, but not much else going on. I left pretty early in the morning for a ride through the mountains.
Mountains and Ubud
The mountains are the real magic of Bali. On the way up the scenery is incredibly green, almost like it was painted or I was wearing green glasses, and beautifully carved into rice terraces by generations of farmers which are the economic backbone of Bali and an occupation to which many have returned since the demise of tourism.
Out of the city, the locals were far more friendly and not trying to sell girls and ganja, so it was far more relaxing.
At the mountain pass near the three crater lakes I came across a troop of monkeys who had taken over a rest stop. Being the first I
had seen in Indonesia, I stopped, photographed them, and had a bit of a yak with the locals at the shop opposite who feed them bananas every day. They seem to be respected in this part of the world. I guess it makes sense because you never know which of your ancestors or friends has been reincarnated as one. Best to be safe.
Riding down the road after a one hour break with the monkeys I encountered dozens more.
Ubud is the tourist centre of central Bali with the predictable higher cost hotels, western restaurants, travel agents, and shops for the hordes of tourists that used to visit. I only saw one restaurant get busy in the time I was there and rarely saw visitors shopping, let alone buying anything.
Riding around out of Ubud I passed whole towns centred around the manufacture of handicrafts for sale to tourists which were dying a very slow death. Great for bargain hunters, but not much help to non-shoppers like myself, nor to the locals. The ones that I talked to remained in business only because they had nothing else to turn to, and hoped against hope that tourism would
pick up again. They weren’t angry about the bombings; they simply couldn’t understand why someone would do such a thing.
Despite the development at Ubud, the magic that attracted people there in the first place is largely intact. The view from my hotel window and from the restaurants I frequented overlooked rice paddies and rice terraces, with huge swathes of countryside crafted into giant steps only a few minutes ride out of town.
I visited the obligatory monkey forest and temple and spent another couple of hours feeding and chatting to monkeys, locals, and tourists. They were all equally interesting in their own ways. The temple was closed to visitors because of a local festival or religious ceremony.
During my ride I came across several festivals, which in most countries would be cause to thank the gods for my timing. In Bali, however, with over 20,000 temples, all having several festivals a year, you would be hard pressed to get around the island without happening upon a dozen or so.
I had a look in one temple which was separated from the surrounding houses and easy to spot, but most temples were a bit more difficult
to find. Not that they are hidden or disguised: the Balinese temple architecture is very distinctive and impossible to miss, but the well-to-do Balinese seem to construct their houses in the same style. I thought Myanmar had a lot of pagodas, but the houses with gardens around Ubud each had at least half a dozen pagodas and closely mimicked the local temples. Wonderful to look at, but it would be a pain in the ass to have to mow the lawn.
After a couple of days at Ubud, I decided I’d done enough to justify the Bali stamp on my passport, one of the few Australian passports without one, and head to Lombok and the other islands towards East Timor where there are fewer tourists, fewer costs, and life is slower.
Bali still has its magic and is still beautiful, but life’s too short to enjoy paying for a hotel room with aircon, HBO, and room service. Off to Lombok, the Gilis, Flores, and Komodo.
There are more photos below