My ten days vacation on the island of Bali (Indonesia) was a little different than I expected, nevertheless it was a pleasant exploration and a fine shopping trip. Here is my report.
Initially, I was attracted by the price: a local travel agency offered airfare plus 10 nights hotel for a total of only $760 what a deal! The location of the hotel was an area called Kuta Beach. This was the main problem, for I soon found that Kuta Beach is a well-developed tourist area popular with Australian surfers. I, being neither Australian nor a surfer, found it a bit too commercially intense. Avenues stuffed with restaurants, shops, and nightclubs left me wondering what Bali was really like.
Naturally, I did not stay long. I quickly realized that Kuta was best used as a base, so I took several day trips and one overnight island hop, described below.
ECONOMIC BOMBIn October, 2002, Moslem terrorists killed over 200 Australian tourists by bombing a nightclub on the main drag, Jalan Legian (Jalan means street). So, even now, Kuta’s beach and avenues are uncrowded, making the shopkeepers very determined another tourist used the word “desperate”. Only on the famous "golden mile" shopping+hotel district in Kowloon (Hong Kong) have I been so aggressively handled; walking down the street, hawkers cheerfully greet one in English (instant friends), reach out to shake hands, ask where you’re from, follow you, etc. anything to slow you down and divert you into their shop, selling watches, sunglasses, crafts ...
Hit by a quadruple whammy, tourism in Bali is way down and so are prices. The general woe of the American economy, our huge job loss in Silicon Valley, 9/11, plus the Bali bombing have all conspired to dry up tourism in Indonesia generally and Bali in particular. Consequently, you can get a fake Rolex for US $2 or 3, sunglasses for $2, bootleg CDs and DVDs for $2, my haircut was $4, and shrimp cocktail topped out at $2.50.
MEALSFruit juices were the start of most of my meals, a delight at only 8,000 to 11,000 rupiah ($1 to 1.35). Watermelon and pineapple are quite refreshing. Banana is sweet and thick like a milkshake. Mango and papaya were ordinary. The real surprise was avocado juice (puree, I suppose). It was very refreshing, fruity, nutty. Yum! I wonder why I’ve never seen it in the US? Most dinners were 25,000 to 60,000 rupiah ($3 to 8). My guide took me to his wife’s family’s restaurant (lovely setting on the beach) where I had my most expensive meal (surprise!). I picked a couple of live shrimp and a bright orange speckled fish (garupa) from the tanks which they barbecued beautifully for a total of 130,000 rupiah ($16), including a couple of fruit juices. Later, I mentioned the price to my guide and I was surprised when he said that I should have bargained it down. I was surprised at the idea that one could negotiate price at a restaurant.
Eventually, I learned that everything in the tourist economy was bargainable: lodging, taxis, souvenirs, guides ... Prices in most shops are not marked. Somehow, I don’t like a system designed to ripoff the uninformed.
BREAKFASTHotel breakfast (included!) offered an interesting crowd. One morning I met two Aussie surfers from Tasmania. Another morning, I met a Dutch brother and sister. He was teaching English locally and had lived on an island just off East Timor during the fighting there last year. From him I learned that this country is doing something dramatic to streamline their language and build nationalism: the schools are disseminating a new standard language called Bahasa Indonesia. He spoke of the problem of building a nation of “8,000 islands” and the difficulty of learning thousands of dialects. I joked, “Yes, but after the first few hundred it gets easier.” (He laughed uproariously, so I don’t think he’d heard much English-language humor in a while.)
Another day, at breakfast on the island of Nusa Lembongan, I discovered a new food: Jaffle. A jaffle is like a stuffed waffle, but without the recessed squares. Fruit is what’s inside. My pineapple jaffle was yummy.
HINDUDue to a quirk of history, Bali is Hindu, though the rest of Indonesia is mostly Moslem. Temples there are much more integrated into the community than I’ve seen in Moslem, Buddhist, or Christian lands; almost every block has one. The people of Bali give every appearance of devotion; religious holidays occur almost weekly, attended by large crowds in rich dress, and every morning an offering of rice, food, and incense is placed on the ground in front of every establishment.
EXCURSIONSOn one of my day trips, I went solo with a driver to see the volcano, Gunung Batur, near the center of the island of Bali. It’s still active, as evidenced by a large blackened area burned by lava flows last year. Its crater lake was lovely. The Balinese worship their volcanos, quite sensibly I think, since it is lava which created the islands.
My driver’s first name was Wayan. I had seen the name frequently, so I asked and learned of an interesting Balinese custom. It is traditional to name a firstborn male “Wayan”, the 2nd is “Made”, the 3rd is “Nyoman”, and the 4th is “Katut”. That sure would make it easy to keep track of the kids!
On another day trip, I visited the beach at Sanur to do some kayaking. The 30-minute bus ride was 18,000 rupiah ($2). I was interested to note the black and white checkered cloth used to decorate shrines and as ceremonial garb. According to my guide book, Sanur is known as “a home of sorcerers and healers, and a centre for both black and white magic. The black and white chequered cloth ... symbolizes the balance of good and evil.”
Another day trip took me to Ubud, the central region where the road is dotted with villages that each specialize in a craft: one village for wood carving, another for stone statuary, this one for paintings, that one for batik ... The rice paddy terraces there are famous for their verdant beauty. At one village, I bought a hand-made cotton tie for 40,000 rupiah ($5) from the fellow who made it.
I confess to being shamelessly delighted by baby anything they’re so cute! At a couple of the temples, I saw monkeys (macaques), and each time spotted an infant clutching underneath its parent as it caromed through the jungle.
NUSA LEMBONGANAn overnight trip to Nusa Lembongan was my favorite excursion. Only 108,000 rupiah ($13) round trip for a half-hour bus ride to the other side of Bali, then an hour-and-a-half ferry ride (double outrigger) to a small island off the southeast coast of Bali. I thought island prices would be stiff, but overnight in a modern cottage on the beach was only 70,000 rupiah ($9). My bungalow was lovely and had a great view, though sparsely furnished. There was a bed but no other furniture; no A/C, just a fan; shower and toilet but no towel, soap, shampoo, or toilet paper. I was the only customer for lunch at the adjacent patio restaurant. Nevertheless, the snorkeling was beautiful.
CINEMA HELLMy guidebook said there was a movie theater in Kuta at the Matahari department store. So, when I walked by it by chance one evening, I looked in no cinema. So I checked the guidebook; okay, it was in another branch of the store. Next day, when I found myself in that area, I looked in no cinema. That’s the problem with old guidebooks (a couple years back I picked up the habit of checking them out from the public library). Tired of walking, I got in a taxi to go home, and asked the driver about the cinema. They had recently built a new Matahari department store and moved the cinema there. He took me to it.
There, I found myself in cinema hell. There were two movies: Charlie’s Angels and Finding Nemo. Having been recently introduced to the range of film history by a class at City College, I was troubled by the selection. But I’d gone to considerable trouble getting there, so I had to watch one of them, you see. I chose Charlie’s Angels. It was the wrong choice.
I had over an hour to wait before the movie started, in a large shopping mall, devoid of shoppers. So, after a power tour of the shops, I decided to play American for the evening and dine at the nearby Planet Hollywood. I had a burger, it was good. I was the only customer (it was 5 pm on a Wednesday night). But of all things, I noticed that a 5.5% “service charge” was added to my bill; this seems a rather imperialistic attitude to make tipping mandatory in a country where the practice is rare. (It is not traditional to tip in Asia.)
Words I learned (Bahasa Indonesia):
Remember, if you don’t like where you are, you can always go somewhere else!
Copyright © 2018 by Kendall Callas All rights reserved