Once Upon a Time in the West

Indonesia's flag
Asia » Indonesia » Bali » Munduk
November 27th 2020
Published: December 4th 2020
Edit Blog Post

Sometimes I can’t help thinking we in the west have gone just that little bit mad.

We seem determined to live our lives at a thousand miles an hour, each day a constant rush to get ahead, simply to buy more shit we don’t really need.

Stuck on the hamster-wheel, we find ourselves trapped in the kind of high-pressure jobs needed to somehow eek out enough to afford a house, the cost of which is, of course, astronomical. What’s more, in some insanity, the fortunate few are pressured to borrow way above their means for a home much grander than they actually deserve, forking out yet more in loans for fancy cars to park in the driveway.

The truly delusional then end up hiring staff, realising they’re way too knackered working overtime to be bothered with cleaning, gardening, or walking the dog. The sparkling fully equipped kitchen so rashly purchased is rarely touched, as it was long-ago replaced by the far quicker, easier, and, let’s face it, tastier option of going online to order take-out.

Most of us end up living in some sort of prison of our own making.

Sure, it might be a surprisingly luxurious open prison, but it remains a prison nevertheless.

It can't have always been like this. Legend has it way back in the 60s they could pick up a new home for tuppence-ha'penny. First home buyers could save the cost of an enormous flat-screen TV and simply go on genuine nights out at the movies, where there may even still have been some decent films, barely a superhero flick in sight.

For many, the only rationale for this behaviour is the need to impress a mate. It’s a case of How to Save a Marriage and Ruin your Life. Marriage in itself doesn’t have to be a prison, of course, but so many of us seem to end-up marrying prison guards. And then for the really committed, shortly thereafter along comes The Parent Trap. I’ve always regarded ‘having kids’ as a bit of a misnomer, as the truth is, of course, that the kids have you, right by the short and curlies for a good twenty years, which, let’s face it, is actually longer than your average life sentence.

It’s little wonder that many tire of the constant pressures and find themselves dreaming of a prison-break. Sadly, the closest most get is arranging the odd Summer Holiday, which is more akin to day-release.

Holidays themselves are a curious thing. Like diets, while they might at first sound a good idea, really they’re just another way to set yourself up for failure. Sure, you may dream of relaxation and untold luxury, or escaping to the adventures of The Lost World, but let’s face it, after only a few days you’re coming straight back to The Rat Race and whatever it was that made you want to get away from it all in the first place. It’s as if the cast from the epic 60s classic, The Great Escape, forged documents and risked life and limb tunnelling out of Stalag Luft III just to spend a fortnight having a frightfully lovely time frolicking in the Alps, in scenes more like The Sound of Music, before tunnelling their way straight back in again to mull over their holiday snaps. Perhaps this is what separates the typical holidaymaker from the hardcore traveller. At first glance they may look similar, but in truth the traveller is not just looking for a quick recharge of the batteries; somewhere, deep down in his heart-of-hearts, he’s secretly dreaming of never ever coming back.

And on this occasion, for our moment of freedom in the sunshine, we’d chosen to escape to Bali.

To some Bali might sound fantastically exotic, but for Australians it’s a pretty routine hop next-door, much like Europeans popping off to Spain or Greece, or Americans heading down to Florida.

As if to prove the point this would be our fourth trip.

And Bali, despite its glowing reputation, is curiously underrated.

For Australians it has long become a holiday cliché, its reputation tarnished by mass tourism and a disdain for the kind of Aussies who tend to go there. And in some ways it’s well deserved, too. The last few decades have seen an explosion of development which has little to recommend it other than sparkling infinity pools and cheap cocktails. In fact, in many resorts close to the airport, other than cut-price drinks and cheap massages there’s little to distinguish it from staying at home. Avoid this southern area, though, and you’ll find there are still plenty of great little genuine hidden gems to choose from.

Unfortunately, as our flight handily arrived shortly after the witching hour, we’d need to brave it round these parts for at least a night. So I’d hopped on the net and booked a spot at Hermann’s place in Jimbaran Bay, a quick taxi-ride from where we’d land. Really it was just a cheap crash-pad to stumble into for the night, the only essential being a 24-hour reception.

It was surprise then, on rocking up after A Hard Day’s Night, to find a nice cosy friendly looking little place peeking out behind a very high and firmly locked gate. There was no evidence of anyone around at all, and a brief scout found no sign of a bell or hidden key. Our sole option to avoid being stuck out there All Night Long seemed to be attempting to scale the lofty walls, and I didn’t fancy starting the holiday with a broken ankle.

Fortunately, despite no 24-hour check-in, they did have a 24-hour chicken, which amounted to the same thing as it went ballistic when I gave the gate a final frustrated rattle. This then awakened one of the guests who stumbled out to see the cause of the commotion, and he in turn kindly toddled off to wake up the manager.

Some minutes later Hermann himself appeared, bleary-eyed, and showed us to our room where we promptly crashed till morning.

An hour after sunrise we reconvened for breakfast by the pool, taking in a typical Bali vista of well-tended gardens, poolside fountains, simple wicker furniture and frangipanis in bloom. With just a smattering of guests and the scent of incense in the air, the days here looked almost as sleepy as the nights.

As we contentedly supped our coffees and wolfed down our pancakes, my reverie was interrupted by a sign on the pool wall. As usual there were the standard bans on running, diving and heavy petting, but it was rule No.6 that really caught the eye, a completely new prohibition in my experience: NO DIARRHOEA IN POOL.

Now I’d have thought that would have gone without saying. It’s certainly one up on peeing in the pool, the water changing colour quite without the need for any flashy chemicals.

In truth it set off multiple alarm bells, starting with questions over the quality of the breakfast we’d just consumed. It also made rule 5, NO DRINKING THE WATER somewhat redundant. Come to think of it, it kind of put paid to the running, diving and heavy petting too, which may explain why the pool remained resolutely empty despite being bathed in warming sunshine.

Outside on the road things looked similarly sleepy, no traffic besides a little row of taxis devoid of custom. The only movement was that of a sarong-clad gardener at the hotel opposite, quietly sweeping away the leaves with the sort of broomstick only employed in the west by someone dressed as a witch. No self-respecting 21st century Australian would clear leaves with anything less than a brand-new blower, preferably petrol-driven and at maximum revs, deafening anyone within range for miles around. This is an essential occupation every Sunday morning, lest a single leaf be left on a single driveway and lower the tone of the neighbourhood. It doesn’t exactly lead to the height of tranquillity, though, and frankly, I’d be less annoyed if they simply came round and shat in the pool.

With breakfast done we decided to check out the nearby beach at Jimbaran Bay. I’d fond memories of this from way back in the nineties, when I’d sat with three others, the only guests at either of the two little beachside cafes on the whole beach. From here we watched a stunning sunset round the curve of the sand over a Bintang and a bowl of chips, the only things either café seemed to be able to rustle up.

These days there were certainly more than one or two little beachside cafes, with an endless row of restaurants all around the bay. Astonishingly, though, there seemed no more people about than last time, seeing barely a soul as we strolled the whole length of the beach. As a result we took The Big Risk and arranged to stay at Hermann’s one more night, The Hustler fixing us up with a scooter to check out the stunning surf and temples at nearby Ulu Watu. It was hardly Easy Rider, but it would do the job well enough round these parts.

This, it turned out, was where all the people were, hip young Aussie surfers hanging at the beachside bars and teems of tacky day-trippers coached into the temple itself, every pathway and lookout thronged.

And funnily enough these same coachloads would then descend on Jimbaran Bay come sunset, the beach utterly transformed with a thousand outside tables smothering the sand, a million selfies catching the day’s final rays. Amusingly they did so on an incoming tide, leaving many of the latecomers, ourselves included, to enjoy dessert with waves lapping all round our ankles. As the moon sank behind us I found myself suffering from fernweh, the German longing to be somewhere else very far away.

Lesson learnt, we were off next morning, hiring a car from Hermann to head out west into less touristed territory. Quite why this should be is something of a mystery. After a brief loop through the mad metropolis of Denpasar you return to the coast, scooping up magnificent views of surf-beaches backed by lush mountain vistas that thus far seem to have escaped rampant development. Other than the stunning island temple at Tanah Lot, which long ago succumbed to tourist bus hell, nobody much seems to venture much this way at all.

First stop on our agenda was Balian Bay, a beautiful curving beach fronting no more than a small village. We stayed in a charming little hut at the surf-school, but contended ourselves with watching proceedings rather than joining in. Quite how I’ve managed to live in Australia for so many years without ever getting into surfing is anyone’s guess. Perhaps I’ll finally get round to it in my nursing-home days, by when I’ll have plenty of time on my hands and might well appreciate a scene involving potential access to some decent recreational drugs, no doubt an improvement over endless painkillers, sponge-cake and custard.

Next day heading further west we checked out the spectacular Rambut Siwi Temple and found ourselves almost the only ones around, certainly the only non-Balinese, despite the temple itself far-outshining Ulu Watu.

Rounding the corner onto the north coast, Pemuteran was really what had drawn us this way, or more specifically the chance to dive off its beaches and around the nearby Menjangan Island. Much like surfing, Menjangan was something I’d been meaning to get round to for decades. Twenty years previously I’d actually driven all the way over the north coast to check it out, only to discover, in those undeveloped days, that nobody took Visa and there was no access to cash. Let’s just say that things have moved on a bit since then and diving the islands and surrounds is now a piece of cake, though I’d possibly missed the sweet-spot of the development cycle by a decade or so.

The one snag here was our room, which we belatedly found to be full of spiders, leading to many a nocturnal squeal, giving the impression we were quite The Odd Couple. Never a Dull Moment…

As a result, next morning we set off on a Magical Mystery Tour, headed up into the hills around Munduk. And realising this was No Way to Treat a Lady, I acquiesced and chose a slightly more upmarket place For a Few Dollars More, hoping for no spider-sized gaps in the walls. Unfortunately this backfired on us both when Debbie unzipped her bag to find, much to her dismay, that she’d accidentally trapped a particularly large eight-legged friend inside and brought it all the way over with her. Luckily it had the good sense to scurry straight out of the still-open front door before any flying boots could make its close acquaintance and we never saw sight or sound of it again; we can only hope it enjoyed its new-found hill views as much as we did.

This proved somewhat appropriate, as Munduk turns out to be one of Bali’s last great escapes all-round, particularly if you want to escape from Australians, who largely avoid it due to the absence of beaches or bars. It’s much more a Bali for the Balinese, or perhaps for the French, who seem to have invaded in great numbers as a tropical alternative Alps, escaping into the nearby hills while giving off an air of smug sophistication.

Munduk proved to have one last trick up its sleeve, in the form of zipping around the twisty undulating backroads in our fortunately tiny hire car. Here we passed through little local villages where tourists of any ilk were still rare enough to evoke a spontaneous friendly wave rather than a disdainful sneer, and the sunsets over the summits were reliably stunning.

Nevertheless, that horrible nagging feeling crept in, signalling that the holiday was almost over. I found myself tempted, like the legendary Steve McQueen, to take a crest way too quick, leap the fences and disappear off forever Where Eagles Dare. Sadly our wee hire car appeared to have even less power than a stolen 1940s motorbike, so I’d likely only find myself dragged out of the barbed wire, bollocked by the wife, and sent home with my tail between my legs, licking my wounds while paying the insurance excess. Better to Take the Money and Run.

In truth I can’t really complain. Even though It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad ,Mad World, I’ve had much more of The Good, than The Bad and the Ugly, and it’s not as if I’m The Last Man on Earth to miss La Dolce Vita.

It was time to show some True Grit, take a leaf out of the cooler king’s book and return to the prison of my rigid cloistered daily life. Besides, as Debbie pointed out All the Way Home, it wasn’t forever, we could always come back next year, but I didn’t Promise Her Anything.

I just sat silently mulling on how it would be to stay and live out the rest of my days in this tranquil paradise until one day many years hence when the reaper finally came a calling.

What a Way to Go...


5th December 2020

Where Beagles Dare
Breathless I must say after reading your discourse...was it a mournful song or an uplifting lament? It was about Bali after all...where reputations implode or strive to remain intact...where to survive is a trophy or just another Aussie's track. How would I know? I've never been there on purpose. But love that everyone has a different perspective...which is why I enjoyed your search for Bali's distract. Great blog.

Tot: 0.272s; Tpl: 0.015s; cc: 29; qc: 136; dbt: 0.1594s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.6mb