Hello from Senggigi, Indonesia on Lombok Island. We spent the past 16 days trekking through Bali and Gili Air Indonesia. During a large part of that time we had no internet connection whatsoever, so the next few posts were written several days ago but will be posted now. Tomorrow we fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I assume the internets will be fast and plentiful. So, please to enjoy the first of our Indonesia posts below:
We didn’t really know much about Bali before we came. To be honest, after two weeks on the island, I’m not sure I know much about it even now. I know even less about Indonesia as a whole. Going to Bali and saying you’ve been to Indonesia is basically like saying you’ve gone to Hawaii so you’ve seen America. The people and the religion on Bali are different (Balinese are almost entirely Hindu, whereas Indonesia is Muslim). This difference manifests itself in untold numbers of ways and permeates daily life. Making matters more difficult is that fact that Balinese Hinduism shares some of the larger elements of Indian Hinduism, but a great deal of the major elements of it differ greatly from that of India’s, having been infused with centuries of local customs and traditions. So, in conclusion, Bali is a land of contrasts. Thank you.
We went straight from the airport to Seminyak, an upscale beach town and we checked into our lovely guesthouse where we quickly made friends with other guests and the owners. Bali was the first time either Kat or I have been below the equator and literally the first thing we did at our guesthouse was flush the toilet. I can confirm that, indeed, the water does go down the drain the other way here.
Seminyak is pretty much like any other beach town. Laid back vibe, strains of Bob Marley drifting in from beachside bars. Of course, this has its downside. Just a kilometer or two down the beach from Seminyak is Kuta, which can only be described as Australia’s Cancun. They come by the tens of thousands laying waste to the land. I like drinking and beaching as much as the next guy, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I can say that being a pasty Australian teenager in a Bintang tanktop walking down the street with a beer in hand and a conical hat on your head, yelling at locals is definitely the wrong way. It was interesting to be American here as the “ugly tourist” stereotype is an Australian, not an American. When told we were from America, Balinese typically had one of two reactions: 1) “Oh, America. Big country! Very far!” 2) “Oh, you know Obama? He my uncle!” Cue UPROARIOUS LAUGHTER. I will say that the Balinese people are a delight. Always quick with a smile and a laugh, there is an undeniable joy about them
We wiled away our days in Seminyak just lying on the beach, eating standard beachside tourist fare (typically Nasi Goreng or Mie goring – fried rice and fried noodles, about $3 per plate). For $2.50 per person you could rent beach chairs and umbrellas for the whole day. Seminyak beach is without a doubt the most beautiful I have ever seen. Wide, super fine sand, stretches on for miles. It was great and I was sad to leave.
Our next stop was Ubud, in the center of the Island. Since Eat, Pray, Love, which has for better or worse caused tourism to explode in Bali, Ubud has been the epicenter for middle-aged women looking to do yoga and achieve spiritual enlightenment. We thought Ubud would be a low key city but it actually was quite bustling with lots of fashion boutiques and cafes aimed at westerners. The place felt entirely inauthentic and at the same time entirely genuine in way that’s difficult to describe. The town seems to be 100% designed for westerners, but you still see Balinese engaging in local ceremonies and customs (of which there are many. There always seemed to be a cremation or a wedding or an infant’s birthday going on somewhere).
We were told there was good food to be had in Ubud, though we didn’t really find it – with one exception. Balinese are famous for roast suckling pig (called Babi Guling), slow-cooked on a spit so that the inside is moist and fall-off-the-bone juicy while the skin is a delicious crunchy crackling on the outside. However, this is only prepared for special ceremonies and you rarely see it on a menu. If you want it, you have to go to a place that specializes in it. We went to the place in Ubud that is known for their roast pig. In fact, that’s all they do. You walk in, sit down on the floor at long communal tables. You can order meat, skin, or meat and skin. Kat and I each went for the latter. Words can’t do it justice. It was amazing. Go eat it. Now.
In Ubud we did some traditional touristy stuff. Saw some old temples and shrines, elbowing our way past Chinese tour groups. It was all quite interesting but with so little knowledge of the culture here I can’t say that I feel particularly enriched by the experience. One thing that did enrich me was when I watched Kat slip and fall into the holy fountain at Goa Gajah. That moment I will have forever.
From Ubud we drove 3 hours to Amed on the northeast coast of Bali for a few days of nothingness. No cellphone service, no internet, no TV. It feels like the edge of the Earth.
Overall, I like Bali but I’m ready to leave. It would be a wonderful place for a vacation or a honeymoon, but it is difficult to really get a sense for what it is to be Balinese and what everyday life is like for people here. I found the food to be generally mediocre (with the exception of that roast pig!) – but is this because the food really just isn’t all that good or because I was eating tourist fare? I asked our driver one day what he liked to eat and he paused and said, “Fruit.” Still, the beaches are lovely and the people are kind. Lacking great infrastructure, the island is bending under the weight of all the tourists that arrive here and you do feel a bit guilty about adding to that, but Bali is just too close to paradise to ignore.