A Belly Full of Bali
Saturday 17th October, 17.30 and tomorrow we depart for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The last two days have been the most active we have been all week yet it has has been a mixture of experiences and emotions. The first three were largely taken up with recovering from the surprisingly chronic jet-lag. Even James, the self-professed brilliant traveler, has struggled to regain equilibrium from the 24 hour journey here. But as per my last blog, I suspect this may be more Life Lag than Jet Lag.
We have been based in a blatant tourist hub called Legian. This is due to us neglecting to do a huge amount of research before booking and trying to resist any more lengthy transfers to the the islands, anticipating how much we would need to rest. We certainly don’t regret our decision and feel as though we’ve experienced a side of Bali, but we’re also aware of how different an experience we could have opted for.
One thing we’ve found in preparing for this trip (and even since being here) is how enthusiastic people who have been to the places we are visiting are to offer advice. Without seeming ungrateful, the ‘advice’ has mostly been “go there, don’t go there, do this, don’t don’t do that”. When you mention the main hub of Kuta to the seasoned traveller you get a rolling of the eyes, as if this place is below the ‘real’ backpacker. None of this is practically helpful and I find it presumptuous of people to tell us what we will or will not like. We’re relatively simple people, believe it or not, and generally find we just want to experience whichever moment we are in and reflect later upon our mixture of feelings. Nothing is ever perfect and I think searching for the perfect setting and scenario can unbalance expectations and quite often lead to disappointment.
At large, Bali has not disappointed us. Out hotel has been an oasis of peace that we desperately needed. The town provides an interesting (albeit noisy) diversion, with PLENTY of places to eat and drink. We’ve eaten out four times, James opting for the traditional Indonesian dish Nasi Goreng every time, bar one. I have been impressed and delighted with the array of credible musicians around! On our second night we stumbled across a hotel cooking up an outdoor BBQ which we decided to stop at, and two men were playing some heartfelt 90’s classicson guitar and keyboards. I giggled at the retro, automated, synth chord progressions but their level of musicianship was undeniably high and I found myself over enthusiastically applauding them after every song. I don’t know why I was surprised. Perhaps because we have been in a little bit of a tourist trap here and in my experience in the UK and European countries, ‘entertainment’ for your tourist crowds can be a little below par. As it turns out, jobs in entertainment (music and dancing namely) are seen as highly skilled careers and pay exceptionally well. A job as a traditional dancer in the evenings can sustain an entire family here. What on earth are we doing wrong in the UK that our artists aren’t rewarded the same way?
On our fourth night we opted but simple street food in an open food court and again were pleasantly surprised with the fantastic level of the band playing. After a few wines, I continued to loudly applaud every song, despite no one else in the food court bothering to. To reward me, they asked if I had any song requests. Without even thinking “Norah Jones, ‘Don’t Know Why'” popped out of my mouth. Next thing, they invite me up to sing it. “Do they have special brain powers and know that I’m a professional singer?!”, I turn open-mouthed and say excitedly to James. Nope! They’re just extraordinarily friendly and not too proud to blindly invite strange tourists to make fools of themselves on stage! Something I wouldn’t be caught dead doing in my profession.
So there I was, crooning away with a five piece band and two backing singers in the middle of Bali. I finished a bit of Norah and, evidently surprised by my ability to actually sing, they insisted I sang another. I didn’t need much persuading so casually meandered on to a bit of Alicia Keys. After thanking them a little too profusely, we headed back towards the hotel stopping for our water dosage for the night at a mini mart. Whilst standing in line to pay I felt a tug at the side of my bag and spun to see a small, young, Balinese man lifting my iPhone from my side pocket. The utter FOOL that I am had forgotten to put my phone back securely in the inner pocket of my bag, after all the singing excitement. I immediately asked him for my phone back to which he shrugged and denied all knowledge. Calmly, James intervened and asked to search him. Nothing. Slowly I started to panic and felt a lump in my throat. I felt like I had actually lost my mind. I saw him take the phone from my bag but suddenly it was nowhere to be seen. My panic then escalated into hysterics, which I’m too proud to describe in detail. The worst thing was seeing James so helpless to act and having to let the scoundrel go. A moment later a friendly Australian informed us he’d seen him working with an accomplice and that commonly thieves act in pairs. He had slipped my phone to his partner before we could see and figure it out.
It’s just a phone and our safety is of course far more important than any gadget. But the deeply unpleasant thing was witnessing the act, being defenceless and knowing how much personal data is stored on that one little device. I have felt severed from my lifeline contact with my closest friends and family. Even though I still have my iPad, my iPhone had way more day to day interactions on it. It’s so silly really how so small a thing can completely unhinge you.
Onwards and upwards, the next day we headed out on a planned trip to the coast of Uluwatu to see one of the Hindu temples, sat on the cliff of the bay. En route we stopped at a coffee plantation and sampled some the most amazing teas and coffees, which left us with a real ‘ping’ in our step. The temple was neatly timed around sunset, closely followed by a traditional Balinese fire dance, telling the story of The Legend of Rama. Over 1000 tourists were literally sardined into an open amphitheatre. One thing I have noticed is that we seem to be the only Brits around and our culture of seeing and experiencing is very different to that of the Aussies and Japanese (which the majority of tourists seem to be). Simply put, we’re the typical Stiff Upper Lip in comparison. I wanted to Shush the whole amphitheatre and chastise the people arriving late or leaving early. It was SO distracting and to me seemed SO disrespectful. But the Balinese people barely bat an eyelid. Their traditional form of dance is ornate, overtly theatrical and accompanied by a chorus of seventy male voices, chanting and gesticulating wildly. I found it utterly mesmerising.
That day was topped off by a seafood dinner on a beach in Jimbaran Bay, which was every bit as romantic as it sounds. Today we topped off our Bali experience with a road trip to the Elephant Park just north of Ubud. “Excited child” doesn’t quite cover how I was this morning. I don’t know what exactly it is about elephants, but I’ve always been in awe of them. Their form, character, size, formidability, history, behaviour…They were simply exquisite. Wonderfully, these elephants are beautifully taken care of, in the sanctuary of the park where they are bred and nurtured by natives with decades of experience. Our elephant ‘driver’ has been working with them for 12 years. He couldn’t have been much more over 30 years old.
Both of our adventures out of where we have been staying have been tourist targeted and booked through private companies, which means not cheap, and shrouded by other tourists and tourist traps. Again, I can see the pretentious backpackers rolling their eyes in disgust, but quite frankly we don’t care. We came here to just live and experience and we’ll do that how we feel fit at the time, whether it be paying through the nose for a private tour, or just wandering into a random rice field (I don’t know if you could ACTUALLY do that but I guess we’ll figure that out).
There have been some down sides to where we have stayed and some dampening moments but I am actually a little sad to be leaving beautiful Bali behind. Our tour guide to Uluwatu yesterday, Ben, talked an hour non-stop of Balinese culture and what it is like for the lower class people, struggling to earn an income. They have three defining classes here, which are named, almost like a faction (I really wish I could remember their names). In effect I guess it’s the same as us defining an Upper, Middle and Lower class, but integrating across the classes here is very difficult. Most people within this region are lower class and work exceptionally hard to get a good job in the tourist trade. Others resort to petty crimes (almost makes me forgive the phone thief). It puts into perspective why the standard of hospitality here is so extraordinary. Their lives literally depend on it, and they are so grateful. How much I feel we could learn from these people. Kindness, goodness, humility.
Tomorrow we hop to Kuala Lumpur to meet our friends who are living our there and we’re flipping excited!
Until then, Suksma, Bali.