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Published: September 23rd 2011
For years now I have been dreaming about Bali. Literally dreaming. Ive had several dreams where I was in Bali and it was time to go home but I didn’t want to leave and I would wake up feeling really sad. Now, I'm here for real and like in my dreams, I don’t want to leave. Bali is a million things rolled into one – stunning beaches, traditional villages, pot holed streets, stone carvings, terraced fields, raging night clubs, stray dogs, Hindu temples, and smiling people. It smells of the sea, incense, and occasionally – sewage. It is both traditional and modern. Both peaceful and frenetic. I love it.
Getting into Bali was an adventure in and of itself. From Tokyo we flew to Hong Kong for a one night layover. We had absolutely no idea what to expect from China and had given it little thought. From the airport we took a shuttle to our hotel and were absolutely blown away by what we found. We had booked the hotel with Marriott points that Travis had earned while traveling for work last year. Although we knew Marriott’s were nice we were not expecting this. This place was pimp. It
was like a hotel straight out of Vegas – luxurious materials, colored neon lights, modern design. On one side of the hotel was a view of mountains and the ocean, and on the other a golf course. We had a drink in the lounge and laughed about how great it was that we were experiencing the ‘real’ ‘authentic’ China. The next morning we left early to the airport to catch our flight. Even the airport was beautiful. Seriously, I know it sounds silly to write about an airport but the views, the interior, everything was stunning. All the walls and ceilings were made of glass therefore allowing a beautiful view of the mountains and ocean from wherever you were in the building. Upon checking in at the ticket counter we were told that we would need to show proof that we were leaving Indonesia or they would not grant us an entry visa. So after much debate of the best way to go about this we ended up purchasing two very expensive “dummy” tickets back to Hong Kong. We planned to return them for a refund after we had gotten through immigration.
The second we arrived in Bali it
was apparent we had entered a less developed country. The air was muggy, the walls of the airport were stained and cracked, and the people no longer waited in neat, tidy lines. This point was re-affirmed when all of the electricity suddenly shut off inside the airport. We had not been here 20 minutes yet and we had already experienced a black out. We got through immigration no problem and no one ever asked us when or how we were leaving Indonesia. So much, for the expensive tickets we had just purchased. Without too much hassle we were able get a refund, minus a $60 service charge. We were a bit irritated that we had just made another $60 mistake.
From Denpasar we headed directly to Kuta, the main tourist region of Bali simply because it is the closest area to the airport and therefore a good starting point. The Kuta/Legian area is exploding with energy. The majority of activity lies between the beach road and the main road, Legian St. There are narrow alleyways connecting these two road that are lined with an absurd amount of stores selling cheap beach wear, jewelry, knock off watches, crass bumper stickers
that don’t always make sense (Mummy Washes Me, Front Hairy Bum) and other tacky souvenirs. Littered in between the stores are bars, restaurants, construction sites and pulsating night clubs. It feels like Cancun, but with more temples and the smell of nagchampa. Taxis and scooters roar up and down the street swerving and beeping incessantly. You feel like you need several sets of eyes – one pair to look at all the millions of things for sale, one pair to watch the ground for large black holes, and one to look in front of you and watch where you walk. We only stayed one night in Kuta and it was spent walking around looking for a place to sleep the following night. Unfortunately, absolutely everything was full so at the last minute before check out we panicked and booked a room in Seminyak for two nights.
Seminyak, is only a few minutes from Kuta but is distinctly different. It is much more chic and luxurious. The taxis still honk and the roads are still filled with potholes but the hotels are swankier, the night clubs more upscale and the shops….Oh, the shops! The main road is lined with small
boutiques selling some of the most unique, creative clothing Ive ever seen. Many of the stores are owned by French ex-pats who have moved here to take advantage of the booming commercialism in Bali. If we don’t leave soon, I'm going to blow my entire shopping budget for the trip. Its bad…in a very good way. What really makes Seminyak though are the bars along the beach. Several of them offer really cool chill-out spaces out on the sand with colored umbrellas, huge comfy pillows and ambient lighting. It reminds me of Burning Man a little bit. One night we were relaxing, watching the sunset, and having a nice dinner at one of these places when out of nowhere I started feeling weird. My face got really hot, my head was throbbing, and my stomach felt like I had swallowed a rock so we hightailed it back to the hotel. Once we got into good lighting we noticed that my entire upper body looked like a lobster. My face, shoulders, and chest were bright red and swollen – like a really horrible sunburn – only I hadn't been in the sun at all that day. We concluded that I was
having an allergic reaction to something I had eaten for dinner. Fortunately, some Benadryl and a long night of sleep healed me right up and I was ready to go again in the morning. I haven't had any other problems since then, but for the next few days I was leery of trying new foods.
We spent most of our time in this area wandering the streets, shopping and relaxing by the pool. One day however, we decided to “splurge” on massages (the going rate is $5-$7 an hour). I had walked past several spas earlier in the day advertising a “foot fish spa” and was intrigued. Apparently, you place both your feet in a large fish tank full of tiny little fish and as soon as you lower them in the fish swarm your feet and start nibbling on your skin, supposedly eating the dead skin cells and making your feet smoother. So we found a place with a fish tank in the front window and as Travis settled down in the back for his massage I timidly lowered my feet in … only to immediately squeal and pull them back out again. It tickled! The little fishies
do indeed swarm your feet. They get up in every nook and cranny and nibble away. I tried to relax and ‘enjoy’ the novelty of it – but the little critters kept trying to squeeze in between my toes! That was where I drew the line – no fishies in between my toes! I didn’t last the full 15 minutes.
After 4 nights in the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak area we moved on to Sanur just across the bay. Sanur is a sleepier, more upscale version of the Kuta area. Instead of shops selling tacky souvenirs there are art galleries selling traditional wood and stone carvings and other Balinese crafts. The crowd is definitely a bit older – several retired ex-pats now call this their home. We spent two nights here in an adorable little bungalow just a few meters from the beach and indulged in massages both days. In fact, there are so many people offering you massages you actually feel guilty turning them down. They really, really want your business - this is how they make their living. The first day in Sanur we were laying down in a little grass roof hut that was built out a few meters
into the ocean when a woman approached us and asked if we wanted a massage. I tried to turn her down but she persisted, so finally I obliged. She brought her mattress and massage lotion out to the hut and gave me a massage right there surrounded by the ocean on all sides – for $6 an hour (don’t worry, I tipped). Not a bad deal. Although I like Sanur I'm not blown away. I'm excited to get away from the other tourists. This still feels like vacation rather than travel. We leave for Nusa Lembongan tomorrow, a small island off the coast of Bali so hopefully that will be a bit more traditional...
For more pics see Travis' flickr site (he just uploaded more from Tokyo as well): http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejarvisproject/
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