I had a chance to reflect on these observations today because I traveled from Bali to the Gili Islands, specifically Gili Air. I was up at 6am and just arrived at Gili Air at 5pm. But, the difference is that I was not on a crummy bus for 11 hours. Instead, I was on a specially tourist geared fast-boat that took me from Bali to Gili Trangbanan. From Gili T, as it's known, I took the public island hopping ferry at 4pm to Gili Air. What Bali demonstrates is a head-start on the countries of Cambodia and Laos. Bali has obviously been a tourist destination now for several decades and it shows. A fast-boat?
! Four massive outboard engines make what used to be a 4-8 hour journey in 1.5 hours. I was picked up this morning from my guesthouse in a properly air-conditioned, pretty well maintained shuttle bus. The roads are not cratered by huge missing patches of asphalt. Bali was an entire wasteland of Western influence....the swanky boutiques, even the Western swanky beach club I visited yesterday...all for tourists. I had Mexican food for dinner last night for Pete's sake. Bali is to Australia what Cancun is to America. There is very little Balinese culture remaining in the toursit areas just as Cancun has become little America. Now some love this--all the amenities and foods from home in which to find comfort. Big discos/clubs in which to party all night long even though we're in a highly conservative country.
In terms of development, Cambodia is by far and away at the bottom of the totem pole. Laos is in the middle with their tin and shingle-roofed houses and cell phones, cars, and obvious signs of material wealth. Comparatively, Bali is in the stratosphere.
Personally, and this is just how I feel, I am saddened to see these places being overrun with people that do not care a bit about the culture or history. I feel the uniqueness of the place is ruined when it overtaken by these sorts of forces. In Bali, miles and miles of rice paddies have been removed for the construction of mega-villas and major hotels
. Is this better than what was there before? These tourists come to party hard with a beautiful backdrop. And, these lesser developed countries see big dollar signs, but to the detriment of their customs and culture---again, in my opinion.
The tourism industry, like any increase in power and money, seems to warp people's sense of right and wrong. This was highlighted especially well today. As I mentioned, I booked a fast-boat ticket to Gili T. Well, I wanted to get to Gili Air. I had read online that there was a twice-daily public island hopping ferry that cost 23,000 rupiah ($2.3 USD). Perfect. I'd take that. Only problem was that after being dropped off on the beach by the fast boat, there is no clear sign pointed or indicating where I should buy this public ferry ticket. So, I begin walking...to no avail. So, I ask someone and they point me back down the way I came. Then, I walked into the office of the very company that brought me to the island on their fast-boat. They said, "Oh, right next door." I look next door and see that it is another fast-boat company...hmmm, this doesn't seem like the public ferry terminal, but stranger things have happened (i.e. going into the restaurant in Cambodia to get a bus ticket). I ask the guy and he says I am in the right place. Great. He says, "40,000 rupiah". I tell him that I think it is supposed to be 23,000 and he says, "nope, 40,000". I look at him point blank and say, "I read last night on multiple websites that it is 23,000 on the public ferry
. That is what I'm paying. Where is the public ferry office?" He says he doesn't know anything about that and than 40,000 is the price. I thank him, pick up my bag and tell him I'm going to keep looking. Sure enough, not 500 ft away is the "Tourist Office" where I purchase my ticket for 23,000. Now granted, that is only a difference of $1.70 USD, but it still irks me to no end. The face to face lying is really irritating. To top it off, I ask the tourist office attendant if there is a place I can leave my bag. She tells me right next door is the island security office and they will keep it. Perfect. I walk over and ask if I can leave my bag there. Sure says the security guy out front casually smoking a cigarette as he lounges back in his chair obviously appraising me both physically and mentally. With tendrils of smoke pouring out of his salacious mouth he adds, "But charge 20,000." I look at him, and walk past him inside where I meet another guard who says I can keep the bag there. That's when slimeball pipes up in Indonesian to suggest they charge me 20,000 rupiah. Now, Bahasa Indonesian was created in the 50-60's by the first president of Indonesia after successfully gaining independence from the Dutch. The language was created as a way to unite the people of Indonesia who spoke over 350 different languages and dialects on the thousands of differnt islands. Linguists and experts were brought on to help in the design. Thus, the language is very easy to learn and understand, so I could piece together what was being said by the sleazy guy
. Thankfully, the other man told him no. I looked at him and said thank you. Then as I walked out I pointedly looked at the other guy and then promptly went back to the fast-boat agency and hollered at him that I was able to find the ticket for 23,000---thanks! He just barely acknowledged me. These are the things that are so sad. Such a sell-out they are. Corrupted and losing conscience. Even the men and women just begging you to buy their goods/food. I feel certain these people have pride just like the rest of humanity and would prefer not to be brushed aside constantly as they plea for a sale. The best tactic is of course to completely ignore them even when you hear their plaintive mewing behind you...."Lady, lady, you want to buy...cheap price...very good...just try...Miss Miss..." But to completely ignore another human is just sad in itself. These things begin to wear on you because you know that it wasn't always this way for them. Before tourism, they were likely in other occupations. We tend to think that bringing our dollars to these places invariably makes them better, but I'm not so sure after you begin to see more clearly who exactly is reaping the benefits of these dollars. I think that is why my favorite place to travel so far has been the Republic of Georgia. That country does not know a tourist industry. There are no tourists to support it. So, everything is as it would be for a simple person coming to visit.
Anyway, these are my ramblings and my thoughts
. My accommodations are pretty sparse here. I chatted with some folks and they highly recommended their place so I'll probably go check that out later this evening...get my ducks in a row that way. So far, Gili Air seems quiet and much nicer than Gili T. Again, it's all perspective. I was told that Gili Air and Gili Meno are too quiet and that Gili T had things to do, but you could still get away. Now, I compare this to the Cambodian islands. I was told the same thing about them....Koh Rong was developed and a bit too many people, but Koh Rong Samloem was very quiet. Comparatively speaking...the most developed island, Koh Rong, off the coast of Cambodia is still not even comparable to the least developed island, Gili Air, off the coast of Bali. That gives you an idea of the differences in development of the two countries. Incredible.
I'm not sure yet how I feel about this island. It began raining right after I arrived. It is still the rainy season in Indonesia and so daily thunderstorms are likely to happen. I don't mind it so much, but my room is literally a cement bunker. There is nothing in it. No mirror, no TV, nothing except a fan. I already asked to cancel tomorrow's reservation. I feel like I'm in prison here on an Indonesian tropical island! I found really cute bungalows that some other people suggested and so I'll stay there I think. More expensive, as is everything in Bali, but rather than stay in my prison cell, I'll fork over the cash. Also, the food is quite expensive. Each meal here on the island, if I eat what I want, will run me in the 7-10 USD range...I can eat for that in the States. Taken together, this is why I am not sure yet how I feel about this island...
I got some bad news about Komodo Island...it is not accessible yet for the season. It will open up in late February or March sometime. I still do not have clear information on this.
Today was a day of observations. Coming into this, I had no idea what I would like and what I would not like about each country. I had no idea if, or how, the countries would differ from each other. Now that I've spent a bit of time in Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia-Bali, I can definitely see the differences and similarities.