Thursday, June 28, 2007

paradise lost

Klungkung, Bali. Hall of Justice

“Transport? You want transport? Maybe tomorrow? Where are you from?”

“Hello…What’s your name?..Where are you from?…Where are you staying?…You been to Bali before?”

“Sarong? You want sarong? I give you good price”

“Madame. Bracelet Madame? Special sunset price. Won’t get this price tomorrow”

“Massage? I give you good price! Manicure then, you want manicure?”

Ah - the sounds of Bali/Lombok. Part tropical paradise. Part impoverished nation. Other than those who were trying to hawk their wares, we did talk to many locals typically men in their late 20’s all desperately trying to leave the country. One was searching for a German woman to help him escape, another wished to find a way to Australia – hoping to attract a sponsor (as he already had a wife and child, the girlfriend/marriage route was less likely). There were many stories of families with “special friends” in Australia – donating money to educate their children or kick start their business. We heard of the heady days of Kuta at its hedonistic heights and the drug addictions fuelled by tips from the generous tourists, of the big Yuba (crystal meth) problem (especially on Lombok).

When you are a tourist in a foreign land, especially somewhere like Bali, you are as much a part of the problem as you are of the solution. For years Aussies flocked to their favourite tropical island for package holidays. Two bombs and one "stupid, dumb bitch" later (quote a local Western business owner about Ms Corby, who for the record actually is guilty) once thriving resorts have turned into virtual ghost towns.

We had a holiday in 2 parts – the first essentially backpacking with no fixed destination, staying in cheap rooms, off the usual Aussie tourist route. The second was in the tourist Meccas of Ubud and Legian – both in their own ways a take on "Disneyworld Bali". The Bali shaped strongly by the type of tourists they attract.

In Pandangbai, there were desperate street sellers, mostly women and children. A pervasive veneer of sadness and poverty. Children basically ran the virtually empty accommodation strip, featuring identical down at heal rice barn style (lumbung) rooms at $5/night (including breakfast for 2).

In Gili Air there were few children, most of the hawkers caught the boat over from mainland Lombok each day to sell bangles and necklaces to the predominantly German, Dutch and French tourists seeking some beachside relaxation or diving. A small island with only your own two feet or pony carts for transport, food that was uniformly delicious and a gentle, quiet vibe.

Ubud was an odd culture shock after the quiet eastern shores. The streets thronged with visitors, many shops were up market and air conditioned, the cost of a room could rise to many hundreds of US dollars a night. There were even restaurants, real ones, not just run down warungs, with publicity that boasted reviews from London newspapers. There were masses of cashed up Americans and Japanese staying in luxury resorts. In organic juice bars, bright eyed young men and women of many nationalities flocked for yoga classes and even study groups of “The Secret”. I suspect they followed their juice with an enema.

But even in the midst of that, there were late afternoon soccer matches, volunteer teaches (and many other professions) in residence working for no wages and some real Balinese food in out of the way places.

Indonesia is surely a land of contrast and Bali even more so.

Now, after a couple of days of chilly weather, rain, work routines and alarm clocks going off at inhumane times I try to reflect on my couple of weeks in paradise. I am left with two distinct feelings. The first – a belief that as tourists, we can be both saints and sinners, architects of a monster. The second – of utter relaxation!

Here’s all the good stuff: snorkelling at the Gili’s just metres away from turtles and the technicolour fish life, lying in the shade eating breakfast looking out across a turquoise sea, eating delicious food for next to nothing, meeting many fascinating people from near and far, learning a little about Balinese cooking, swimming most days, totally chilling out, looking up at the universe at night, living without an agenda for a while.


sunset in Sanur, Bali

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Blogger Mary Catherine said...

I have never traveled. Your description made me feel like I had been there. Thank you for sharing.

Mary Catherine

10:33 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks mary catherine...but it is no where like being there - the smell, humidity, tinkling of an approaching cicodo....perhaps taking flight might become one of your personal coaching aims? :)

12:15 pm  

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