Thoughts on Bali
For the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with what to write about Bali. For whatever reason, I left the beautiful little island with mixed feelings. While undoubtedly a lovely place, I found it to be so overwhelmingly touristy, I had difficulty feeling like I could get to know the real Bali or it’s people. However, as I suspected, my memories of the little Indonesian island have since sweetened. I just needed time to digest Bali–or maybe a bit more experience traveling in Southeast Asia to really appreciate it’s beauty.
I guess it didn’t help that I seemed curse with mediocre luck for much of my trip. My luggage did not arrive until 3 days after I did. My day pack had been packed full of my electronics rather than a change of clothes, bathing suit, toiletries or even a set of contact lenses. Poor communication from Baggage Services meant I had to spend my time”stuck” and waiting in Sanur, unable to go snorkeling/swimming much (no suit/contacts). I choose to ease my worries with $4 massages. First world problems, I know.
When my bag arrives I head straight for Ubud. I had stupidly high expectations for Ubud, which naturally, were not met. Tip: never have high expectations for anywhere–you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. Ubud was hectic, dirty, under contant construction and also extremely touristy. However I find a cheap hostel with a pleasant, social environment, and am able to meet and explore with a nice group of solo travelers.
On my first full day we make a stop at Monkey Forrest; a sort of sanctuary for monkeys on the outskirts of town. This is an entertaining afternoon of wandering through a forrest inhabited by an unusual number of primates. As we wander we observe monkeys as they graze on crumbling temple walls; wrestle and play with one another; eat their bananas (gifts from tourists) with their creepily human hands. I enjoy this place; a smile is pastered on my face all afternoon.
That evening we attend a traditional Balinese dance. Traditional Balinese dance is hypnotic and haunting. The music is made by an army of men sitting next to instruments which appear to be a cross between a xylophone and hand chimes. It’s a sound that cannot be described in words, and is a strange experience for the ears. Both men and woman are ornately dressed, with a fully made up face. Facial expressions are important in this type of dance. Eyes are widened and stare out expressively to the audience. The men are particularly creepy. I try hard not to make eye contact.
On my best day I hire a somewhat random mototaxi driver/guide to take me on a full day ride throughout the central countryside. This random driver, my guide, is called Made (ma-day), and about my age, handsome and naively sweet. He smiles easily and asks if I have a boyfriend. I lie and say that I do–he tells me this guy is lucky to have me. What a charmer.
On the back of his motorbike, Made takes me all over Central Bali. We stop in villages, at viewpoints, at rice paddies, a coffee farm and a temple. I ask him a million questions about Balinese culture, he patiently answers. At the farm I try a variety of teas and coffees–one of which is Luwak coffee. This is coffee made from coffee berries that have been eaten and digested and pooped out then dried and roasted and made into coffee that some crazy westerners will pay big bucks to drink. I paid about $5 for my chance to try. It was not my best cup of coffee or my worst.
He takes me to a temple to observe a Balinese religious holiday. We get caught in the rain and end up watching the beautiful rituals for hours from the protection of a pagoda roof. We watch as a father splashes holy water onto the faces of his praying family. As we wait, he explains how when a person dies in Bali they are cremated. However cremation ceremonies are expensive, so often they must wait until multiple people die in a village so they can hold a mass cremation.
He tells me how when a person becomes sick they visit a healer. The healer gives them remedies, which often work quite well in healing the sick. But when the remedies fail that person must become a priest or they will die. So they give up their former job and live the busy life of a priest in Bali, attending weddings, cremations, births and any of the very frequent religious celebrations which occur each month. He tells me so many fascinating things about Balinese culture I wish I had a tape recorder so I could replay and properly digest all this beautiful information.
On my last morning in Ubud, I wake just after sunrise. With a couple hours before my shuttle is due to arrive, I take a walk. After grabbing a bite to eat, I meander down the street from my hostel, walking a few minutes down the main road, up a gravel road, down another road. From here I emerge into one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I’ve seen in Bali. All around me are rice fields. There are a few rustic houses, a cute cafe, and a nice looking guesthouse–but mostly wet, green, flat rice fields lying out in front of me in all directions, broken up by narrow foot paths and a few random palm trees. It is quiet and peaceful and breezy here. This must be the Ubud everyone seeks. I’m deeply disappointed to discover it now, with no camera and only a few minutes to enjoy the views before I must rush back to my hostel and catch my shuttle.
From Ubud I take a shuttle back to Sanur where I catch a rustic wooden backpacker boat to Nusa Lembongan. Here, I spend my last few days. It is peaceful and far less touristy on this little seaweed farming island. Unfortunately it rains my entire visit. I wake up one morning with a painful pinched nerve in my back, a somewhat familiar problem. Hence, I spend my time on Lembongan getting extremely painful massages, sleeping and watching the rain fall from my bungalow porch. Its solitary and quiet and while at first relaxing, quickly becomes dull.
My last day I spend in Sanur with a friendly Australian woman I had met earlier in my trip. We wander Sanur, eat and sit by the pool of our guesthouse. Though it rains nearly the entire time, after my time in Nusa Lembongan, I’m just happy to to have someone to talk to. The following day, I feel neither happy or sad about leaving the island.
In hindsight this seems unfair, maybe I owe Bali a second chance…