December 22, 2013

A Walk in Bali

Going to Bali is a rite of passage for any West Australian. It is the Cancun of Australia. People go there to party and take advantage of the ridiculously cheap way of life. It is cheaper to get to than Sydney You can rent a scooter for 5 dollars per day, my accommodation was never more than 10 dollars per night, meals were never more than 5 dollars with the cheapest and coincidently most enjoyable being the 75 cent Nasi Goreng (an Indonesian staple) purchased at a sweaty night market outside of Lovina.

But I must say, I hated Bali from the start.

On the Airplane, people were just there to party and have fun. There was total disrespect for the flight attendants and obnoxious behaviour. I was ready to get off the plane and get away from tourists.

Upon leaving the airport I was surrounded by "taxi" drivers wanting my business. A taxi driver in Bali is a guy who owns a car and hangs around at the airport for so long that he forgets where he parked his car while his family is sleeping to earn a few extra bucks. I was told to go for the "Bluebird" metered taxes because there is no arguing about the fare. They were right. I got into an argument with him because he specifically told me one price at the beginning, then changed it at the destination saying that it was his accent. The price difference was the equivalent of $2.20. This is not a significant amount of money to me but it was the principle of the matter that annoyed me. I soon learned that this is common in Bali.

I travelled to the north to Lovina, otherwise known as the Kuta in the North.  Kuta is tourist hub in the south lush with shopping malls, expensive hotels, and western style restaurants like hard rock cafe within a stone’s throw of the airport.

I was once again hustled and shown around to all these different hotels they were renting out. All of which were completely empty and cost between 15-25 dollars per night. The entire town was dead because the tourist season ended a few weeks prior. The guy working for the hotel continued to sale me on his hotel, but I insisted I would like to walk around first. Finally, he relented so instead tried a different angle selling me a on a tour the following day with snorkelling, boat rides, and Swedish girls. I quietly listened to his presentation but politely told him I simply want to go up into the mountains. Then he completely changed demeanour pleaded with me because he has a family and he was going bankrupt. I didn’t know what to say, I just didn’t want to go on a boat ride. I felt bad about it.

I strolled barefoot along the sand during sunset with a couple of coconut milks and some cookies. I was hoping to just sit there quietly and watch the sunset.  But I was bombarded by people selling anything from fresh fruit to woven baskets to cooking classes. One guy started by offering to "taxi" me around, then tried to sell me on a boat tour the following day, then snorkelling, dolphin feeding, and eventually evolved to mushrooms? Drugs? Girl? Guy? and finally ended with "What do you want? I can get you anything?" I just want to sit here alone and watch the sunset, mate. 

The next day, I went to rent a scooter to get into the mountains near Munduk, but again I was hustled for some absurd price of 150,000 IDR which is about 3x the competitive price. I didn't even bother negotiating the price down. I just walked out immediately. This is only 15 dollars but I hated how blatantly this guy (and most business owners) tried to exploit the tourists and make an easy buck. I understand they are mostly a poor country, but why not try to run a fair business? I suppose I am forgetting Indonesia is the 4th most corrupt country in the world.  I started to learn that the culture here works that way.

(Here is how businesses work in Bali.  Start off asking 10x the fair market price, some people might not realize and pay anyway and you will have made a week’s salary off one transaction.  I have heard too many stories of people paying 40 dollars for a taxi ride from the airport to Kuta because that is how much it costs in any major Australian City.  The normal metered taxi price is about 5 dollars.  Good Profit there for the driver.  Basically, everything must be negotiated down in Bali.  Everything.  EVERYTHING.)

So I walked out of that place and back to the hotel without any way of getting up the mountain.

So I just kept walking west along the shoreline.

I made a left turn onto a rugged, unnamed road pointing up the mountain towards Munduk.  I immediately began dripping in sweat from the mid-day heat and humidity. But it felt good.  I was just walking through village after village, farming house after farming house, bamboo forest after bamboo forest...UP and UP.  Until the mid-day heat dropped off as I ascended in altitude.

School children in brown uniforms joined me on my journey as they had just been dismissed for the afternoon.  I used the otherwise useless lonely planet pages I printed off to show the children how to make paper airplanes.

There were old Balinese woman with grey hair and straw hats wielding machetes and carrying produce in baskets on their heads. Groups of 3 generations of men congregated to do work together: patch a hole in the roof, repair a fence, burn off excess brush around their homes. Villages of school children joined me on my walk. Most people didn’t speak English, just “Haallo”, but one of the school children did. She happily chatted away with me as her friends looked on curiously.  She wanted to be a teacher.  Then she turned down a dirt trail to her home and was gone.

And then I found myself alone once again. Not in the physical sense because in Bali there are always people around, but I had made it to a town with tourists and businesses where I could quietly disappear into the conformity of a crowd. Was it Munduk? Maybe, I really don't know. Somewhere along the 7 hours of walking it took for me to get there, I forgot about the amazing lakes and waterfalls near Munduk which were highlighted in the guidebook.  Instead, the walk was about feeling a culture and ultimately restored my faith in the good people of Bali. 

Boats by beach in Sanur.

Mie Goreng, not Nasi.  Nasi means rice.  Mie means noodles. It only took a few tries to figure that one out.  

What is that?  It is gasoline for scooters.  I should have asked that question before I sat down next to it to eat my Mie Goreng.  The FDA wouldn't be too happy with these practices.  

One of many rice fields in Bali.

Alley way off the main road in Ubud, Bali

Near Ubud, Bali

15 minute walk outside of Ubud, Bali

Lake in the Central Mountains, near Munduk

Sunset in Lovina, North Bali

Villager walking on road

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