Saturday, September 12, 2009
Bali is throbbing with tourists, Balinese, flowers, and old and crumbling temples and stone walls throughout. So far I have landed in Denpasar, spent a night Seminyak (right outside of Kuta), 2 nights in a central town called Bedegul in the mountains, and 3 nights in a northern beach town called Anturan (right ouside Lovina). Today I have finally found internet! I didn't think an island so used to tourists and catering to tourist needs would lack internet and I was happy to learn that it did.
Bali is awesome - it's paradise. It's filled with big beaches and giant surf in the south, quaint quiet towns in the north, where I am now, and mountains in between. The southern central coast is swamped with tourists in skimpy bathing suits "showing more than I'd like to see!" one German friend put it. So Isabel, a friend from high school, and I immediately drove north to the mountains first to get out of the crowds and see some of non-coastal Bali. Regardless of where you are on Bali, the locals are used to tourists and trying to make a dime. Since the Kuta bombings of a night club in 2006, tourism here has slowed down, locals have told me. They are eager to drive you to guest houses and hotels of their friends, who then give them a commission, and then recommend tons of tours of temples and waterfalls, or places to rent motorcycles and cars, and the list never ends. Each town there is a monopoly of people connecting hostels to tours to restaurants and taxis. It takes a lot of willpower to turn them away and do things yourself! The locals can easily convince you that you can't do something alone, like walk 10 minutes to a temple on the water! You start second-guessing your skills and then paying for a boat ride to get there! This actually turned into a really fun boat ride from a Hindu temple to the middle of the misty, magical looking lake for a swim and making a new friend from Germany, Helgue.
Bedegul, this mountain town, was a little eerie though and lacking many tourists, it felt like a place out of time beacuse the fog hung down so lowly and the air was chilly and grey. The people were a little poorer but much more honest-seeming than people on the beach capitalizing.
Now we are in a tiny village named Anturan, right outside the larger Lovina. It's a black sand beach littered with fishing boats all quaintly painted different colors. Chickens, dogs and cats scavenge the beach though and there are trash piles every so often and strings of rustic beach shacks along the coast. Beautiful flowers pink red and orange grow everywhere and overflow into corridors through the towns and even grow out of the gutter. The local people seem happy and slower paced here, true island time. Women sit on the beach and try and sell sarongs and bracelets and massages for $5 an hour. Men orchestrate the monopoly of tourist services. Nights in guest houses are about $5 for me and $10 for the room. Dinners are about $8, and chartered taxis from town to town (2 hr rides) are $20 total.
There is a large dead reef here because in the 90s locals would bomb the water for fish. Now the fishing boats leave around 4pm and go fish for mackerel. They bob up and down at night like lanterns on the water and don't come back until 11 or so. December will bring the tuna and maybe some marlin.
I had some really good mahi mahi yesterday grilled with spicy greens and cabbage and a big pile of rice and tempeh. It's refreshing to find light and good flavorful food. A lot of places are not so good and try to westernize themselves with pad thai or even spaghetti etc.
isabel and i are getting along great. we both like the quiet but are also itching to start surfing so we will have tomove to the more crowded beaches.
Bali is 5% Muslim and about 60% Hindu. Ramadan is happening now so the Muslim are fasting. In a week or so, for Ede, Bali anticipates large crowds from Java or Jakarta coming to vacation. The call to prayer in the early mornings is waning and beautiful and long. Besides the traditional professional roles of women and men here, the women seem to share priveleges. I see women driving on motorcycles everywhere along with men. Both sexes speak a lot of English, at least enough to sell the latest tourist gimmick or have a short conversation!
So far I have met lots of Germans, Austrians, some French and Dutch, and no Americans, which isn't that surprising as America is so far away. Surprisingly most people are reserved when asked if they like Obama. They respond saying I don't know yet. Then there are some bars or restaurants with big pictures of his face right next to Bob Marley's. I thought they would have liked him a lot, but people aren't so easily impressed with America it seems!
I would like to post more than this, but I don't know how available internet will be. For now, these are my impressions of Bali. I don't know where I am going next so I will post as things unfold.