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Published: August 28th 2009
(Day 510 on the road)
I think my timing to visit Bali was not quite the best. The main tourist area of Kuta was super-crowded when I was there, mostly by vacationing Australians (some of which are simply amazing on their surf boards), who seemed to have taken over the place. It also didn't help that I arrived late at night - I spent a good two hours looking for a place to crash, checking more than thirty hotels, guesthouses and homestays. All full, crazy! Just as I was thinking I would have to spend the night at the beach I found a hotel that had exactly one overpriced room left. With a couple standing in line behind me also looking for a room, I decided to take it. The next morning I was up at six o'clock and spent another hour and a half seeking out a nicer placer to stay. I decided to splash out a bit, which was the right thing to do really, as the difference between an OK place and a nice place (swimming pool, hot shower, clean, quiet) was often marginal, and it was more a question of finding a place that actually had a free
room. In the end I was lucky to secure an affordable room at a very nice place with a gorgeous pool set in a quiet garden.
To get to Bali, I had taken the train from Mount Bromo. The six-hour journey took me through some incredibly beautiful landscape, alternating between lush green rice paddies, semi-wild jungle and small villages. At intervals, a member of the railway staff came through the carriages collecting rubbish, which he then simply threw out of the train doors and windows. After witnessing this for about the tenth time I felt like punching the guy in the face - working for a "green" company like the railway it should surely carry some sort of corporate and private responsibility for the environment, no? But of course I didn't hit him. For most of the journey I was simply standing in the open doors of the train taking pictures of the amazing scenery outside. This was possible as the doors on Indonesian trains are always wide open even when going at high speed - I don't want to think about the children running around the carriages. At one point, I nearly fell out the door when the
train jerked just as I was taking a picture. Ha, that would have been an interesting story to tell! Then again, maybe not...
In Bali, the beach in the area of Kuta where I stayed was nice enough, but relaxation was made near impossible by the army of hawkers operating there. Literally every five minutes (I am not exaggerating), someone would disturb me trying to sell anything from DVDs to fake sunglasses, ice cream, souvenirs, batik, henna-tattoos, fruits, watches or massages. I found it pretty unbearable, and soon learned to keep to the pool at my hotel, which was blissfully quiet in comparison. After a few days I also discovered that the beach a few kilometres north of where I stayed was a lot less crowded, and, as a direct consequence, a lot less frequented by hawkers. So then I alternated a beach day with a day by the pool, which was not the worst way really to spend my time.
Unfortunately it was not possible to avoid the hassle when I left my hotel and was walking the streets ("Transport, boss?", "Yes, massage?") or in the many nice restaurants, with a constant stream of hawkers walking in,
much to the annoyance of everybody, with some tourists reacting very rude after enduring it all for a while (not entirely incomprehensible I must add).
On the beach, it was also rather interesting to observe Indonesian males taking pictures of foreign women in their bikinis (or without their bikinis in many cases). They would pretend to take pictures of the ocean or the beach with their mobile phone cameras, then turn and quickly take photos of the women. But their intentions and actions were so obvious that everyone including the women being photographed noticed it right away. However, that somehow didn't deter the guys at all. t could have been quite funny had it not been so appalling. But maybe that is price you pay when you travel to a conservative Islamic country and then decide that topless sunbathing is the right thing to do. Then again, Bali is predominately Hindu and has embraced tourism and whatever comes with it whole-heartily, with a large part of the island's economy now solely depending on tourist-money these days.
One part of the economy that seems to be left out from the tourist boom are the small, mostly family-run shops typically
selling snacks and drinks. But they deserve no sympathy for their lack of business: For instance, they try to sell a bottle of water for roughly double what you pay at one of the widespread supermarkets chains (Seven-eleven, Circle K etc). After a lot of hassle you might get it for only 50% more than the normal price (which is already inflated in Bali compared to the rest of Indonesia), but - not surprisingly - almost nobody buys from them, favouring the small supermarkets with their much lower prices instead. Trying to grossly overcharge tourists doesn't seem like the smartest way to do business for these little shops.
I have also finally realised why the streets everywhere across Indonesia are so littered with rubbish: There are absolutely no rubbish bins around. Except in Bali that is, because that's how I noticed it, and it made for a welcome change indeed. Way to go! Everywhere else, people have the choice of either carrying their rubbish home or of just dumping it where they stand. Most people seem to choose the latter, and everywhere looks accordingly. Incidentally, the same holds true for most parts of Malaysian Borneo, save for the bigger
cities. Strange government and municipal policies indeed; surely it must be more costly to clean up everywhere rather than emptying a few rubbish bins every few days? Then again, nobody seems to clean up, and nobody seems to care anyway. Hm...
During the last week of my stay, the month of Ramadan started. I had been quite excited about this, to witness the fasting firsthand and see the influences on people's everyday life. However, as Bali is 90% Hindu and flooded with tourists, Ramadan is all but invisible here. Apart from a handful of shops that half-covered their entrances with pieces of cloth to show their respect towards the fasting part of the population there was no sign that Ramadan was actually ongoing.
All things considered, I must say I can't quite understand the attraction about Kuta. Sure, it is a pretty place, but I have seen nicer beaches both in Indonesia and elsewhere (Pulau Weh in Sumatra comes to mind, or Pulau Tioman in Malaysia) with a lot less people, traffic and of course hassle. Plus, Bali is thoroughly overpriced compared to the rest of Indonesia - many things including a lot of basic necessities are easily
twice or even triple as expensive as in other parts of the country, which also affects the local population of course, thus creating a constant upward spiral of costs. The only thing that is really good value for money here is accommodation, with many very nice places to chose from.
But of course there is a whole lot more to Bali than crazy Kuta with its partying and surfing youths on their summer vacation, and I have only myself to blame for not exploring other parts of the island. I had planned to see what else beautiful Bali had to offer besides Kuta, and paid my hotel always one night in advance, thinking that the next day I would surely move on. In the end however, I felt so lazy somehow that I didn't move at all for the eleven days I was in Kuta. I am not sure why I had become so lethargic, but I assume it must have been a combination of the serene pool at my hotel, my apprehension to the constant hassle everywhere, the abundance of second-hand bookshops supplying me with good books, and the great variety of food from all over the world. And: Why not? After all, I really am living my life with no sense of time. I am loving it!
Next stop: Singapore.
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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