South of the Equator

Trip Start Feb 27, 2007
Trip End Jun 01, 2007

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bali: Indonesia's island paradise, surfers' exotic haven, and honeymoon destination for thousands of newlyweds.  I have been here for two days now and am coming to find that Bali is not at all as I imagined it from my obscured vantage point in eastern Kentucky.

I arrived here at 10 pm, on a plane full of Australian and European tourists.  It was a little strange to suddenly be around so many westerners after my stint in the backwaters of the Philippines, but I enjoyed the change of pace.  Being late, I couldn't just forge ahead to the interior of the island, so I caught a quick cab to the main beach and tourist destination of Kuta, on the western coast of the island.  The hostel I found is really great - lots of colors and interesting decoration, a nice garden outside my door, and great food.  The staff are also extremely nice.  For example, by the time I arrived, the kitchen had closed at the small poolside restaurant/bar, so I ordered a beer and thought about where I might find food.  After a moment, the server told me she could cook me up a plate of nasi goreng (fried rice), seeing as how I had just gotten into town.  An additional plus was that the food was AMAZINGLY good (I have since discovered that fried rice here is better than anywhere else I've ever had it - it tastes fresher, maybe?  I can't really describe it just now.). 

On finishing the meal, I was in a really positive mood and had a good feeling about Kuta.  It was Saturday night, at around midnight, and so I headed out to see what my little neighborhood was like, and what kind of craziness the weekends cooked up here.  This is where my views on Bali began to shift.

Because the area is so touristy, the nightlife is basically centered around a huge discotheque and some surrounding bars. Normally I would be upbeat about the area, but there was something a little strange about the whole scene as I walked around.  For one, the street hawkers were a little aggravating - the basic sales pitch begins with offers of either a cheap massage or transport in the form of a cab or motorbike rental.  When you say no, the next offer, from both men and women, is for a "nice girl, good price".  You just have to keep walking and shaking your head, so you don't get hassled any further.  I thought it was a little weird that everyone assumes foreigners are here to buy women - kind of creeps me out also considering how many old white men I've seen walking hand in hand with tiny asian girls.

Anyway, more off-putting scenery assails the eyes in the form of an immense mass of tourists walking around outside the discotheque.  More than anything, walking around made me feel like I was in Cancun for spring break again - I was surrounded by loud, drunk Australian chicks and a number of assembling dudefests...  I skipped the club in favor of a smaller bar with some character, and ended up talking to some Australians who had been in the area for about a week.  They turned me on to a local liquor called Arak. "It's a little like tequila, but hits harder", they said in an easy tone, and so we all took a shot.  They were right about the taste - just like tequila.  And they were really right about how it hits.  I only had one shot of the stuff, but it went straight to my stomach and started shoving everything else around.  It was weird to skip drunk and go straight to a hangover.  But we all had a good time anyway - just what I would expect from a night out with some aussies.

I think the final blow to my positive outlook on Bali happened the next morning.  When I woke up, I was excited to hit the beach and see some nice scenery.  I figured, if this is popular with honeymoners and tourists from all over, it's gonna be incredible.  I was shocked to find the beach severely lacking in the aesthetics department.  Right at the line where surf meets sand, there was a wide swath of trash.  Full-on garbage piles were washing in from the ocean.  I walked for over an hour up the beach, looking for a more clear place to set myself down, but the only trash-free spot was in front of one hotel where the employees were raking up the flotsam.  Walking by, I saw plastic bags, candy wrappers, empty plastic bottles - you name it, I passed it.  I half expected to see a native balinese man shedding a single tear at the scene, but I guess it's pretty normal to people here(?).  I never even sat down, just turned and walked back to the pool at my hotel.

I am, however, more of my optimistic self than I thought.  I've been spending my days by the pool with beers and banana milkshakes, eating like a king for little more than a homeless man's electric bill, and taking in some great sunsets.  Also, I am leaving the sweaty, european foam parties of Kuta behind tomorrow morning.  Destination: Ubud, one of Bali's major cultural centers.  I'm looking forward to some quiet time in the mountains, interesting Hindu temples, and finding the real reason why everyone thinks that Bali is such a wonderful travel destination.  I hope you all have a great week - be well!
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