Bali – the island of the gods… and the tourists

“Hello? Bali Airport?”, he said in English and was told to immediately identify the airplane if they did not want the Indonesian army to shoot them down.
“My name is Dollars”, said Allan. “One Hundred Thousand Dollars.”
Not a sound came from the tower…
“Right now the flight dispatcher and those around him are calculating how much it is per person”, explained Allan.
“I know”, said the captain.
A few seconds later the flight dispatcher said:
“Hello? Are you there, mister Dollars?”
“Yes, I am here”, said Allan.
“I am sorry, but what was your first name, mister Dollars?”
“One Hundred Thousand”, said Allan. “My name is One Hundred Thousand Dollars and I am asking permission to land at Bali airport”.
“I am sorry, mister Dollars. I cannot hear you very well. Would you be so kind to say your first name one more time, please?”
Allan explained to the captain that the flight dispatcher had started negotiating.
“I know”, said the captain.
“My first name is Two Hundred Thousand”, said Allan. “Do you we have your permission to land?”
“One second, mister Dollars”, said the flight dispatcher, got permission from those around him and continued, “You are very welcome to Bali, mister Dollars. It will be our pleasure to have you here.”
….
“You have obviously visited this part of the world before”, said the captain and smiled.
“Indonesia is the land of possibilities,” said Allan.

One of my favorite parts of the Swedish book “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson (the loose translation is mine). It is quite funny and I highly recommend it. It is certainly not only about Indonesia (I have to say that before some Indonesian official declares the poor author persona non grata).

My first two months in Indonesia started in Bali and ended in Bali. Flights to Bali are the cheapest.

Most tourists in Bali stay in an area known as Kuta (best avoided!) and nearby Seminyak and so on. These are all places close to the airport and it is one of the world's worst demonstrations of what mass tourism can do to a place. South of Kuta and the airport there is a peninsula with a few incredible beaches like this one.

Most tourists in Bali stay in an area known as Kuta (best avoided!) and nearby Seminyak and so on. These are all places close to the airport and it is one of the world’s worst examples of what mass tourism can do to a place. South of Kuta and the airport there is a peninsula with a few incredible beaches like this one.

On your way to the beach you will be greeted by many signs (did I mention how well organized Indonesia was). This one is my favourite. I wonder if they have cameras in there. Or maybe someone goes after you and tries to sense the smell? How much would they charge for a quickie? So many questions, so few answers!

On your way to the beach you will be greeted by many signs (did I mention how well organized Indonesia was). This one is my favourite. I wonder if they have cameras in there. Or maybe someone goes after you and tries to sense the smell before they do the billing? How much would they charge for a quickie? So many questions – so few answers!

Bali is certainly a magnet for tourists worldwide. It is quite beautiful indeed, although Flores was way more beautiful. Bali has interesting culture, although Papua is a lot more exotic. But Bali has a big international airport (itself impressive in terms of corruption more than anything else), there are cheap flights from virtually anywhere. Bali has all the services a western person might like (read shopping malls), unlike many other parts of Indonesia.

In Indonesia the government has its finger in everything – it is a way to make sure government officials get the better share of anything. Since Bali started becoming really overcrowded, they built an international airport on Lombok next door. Now they are building one in Labuanbajo for Flores and the Komodo national park. My prediction is that the next one will be in Sorong, West Papua, for Raja Ampat.

Despite Indonesia’s ridiculous visa policy (it’s all about bribes again), tourists flock to Bali. The Swedish book above actually describes in a very entertaining way how Bali became what it is but I am not going to spoil it for you now – just read the book (again, the book is not all about Indonesia).

So, after two months in Flores and Sumbawa, I went to Bali to catch a flight to Singapore to get a new Indonesian visa. It was not possible to get an extension in Indonesia. It is very tempting to whine about Indonesian visas but I will keep it for a separate post. After two days in Singapore I came back to Bali and while exploring a bit, I landed a project that would take a few weeks to complete and pay well and since I was planning to go to Melanesia, which is not known as the cheapest place on earth, I was really happy with the timing. During the next month I spent most of my time translating and going on short rides on my scooter, doing quite a bit of Geocaching too.

I didn’t see too much of Bali but I saw enough. And it’s a place I am bound to come back to. It can be quite annoying (very touristy), but at the same time there is absolutely a certain magic to it that makes you want to come back once you have left. Something like New York.

Renting a scooter is 4 USD per day. And it’s a lot of fun. Most people I know have had accidents while driving scooters in Southeast Asia. Besides a few scratches, I managed to get away with just a swollen ankle and that’s pretty good for over a month of scootering around Bali.

Indonesian food is the best! When I was in Malaysia (which is world famous for its food) everyone was telling me how Indonesian food would be pretty dull. Well, that couldn't be further from the truth.  Indonesian food is in fact pretty healthy (a lot of fresh fish and rice and vegetables in most places) unlike Malay, Thai and Chinese food, which is often considered some of the best in the world, but let me tell you its secret - it's called MSG - don't tell anyone! So, Indonesian food is healthy and good and abundant. As much as I love fish, my favourite thing is this tempe (soya squares), which I had every day, three times a day in a restaurant in Ubud, recommended by my blogging friend The Dromomaniac. You can never do wrong with the Dromomaniac! I despise soya in general but this tempe is something that I have literally been dreaming about since I left Indonesia.

Indonesian food is the best! When I was in Malaysia (which is world famous for its food) everyone was telling me how Indonesian food would be pretty dull. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Indonesian food is in fact pretty healthy (a lot of fresh fish and rice and vegetables in most places). Malay, Thai and Chinese food is often considered some of the best in the world, but let me tell you its secret – it’s called MSG – shhh, don’t tell anyone! So, Indonesian food is healthy and good and abundant. As much as I love fish, my favourite thing is this tempe (soya squares), which I had every day, three times a day in a restaurant in Ubud, recommended by the blogging guru The Dromomaniac. I despise soya in general but this tempe is something that I have literally been dreaming about since I left Indonesia.

Escaping the south and all the madness there, I went to this place close to Ubud - a nice homestay, quite cheap by Bali standards, again recommended by the Dromomaniac, to do some work. The view through the window was quite impressive and a Hindu ceremony was passing under my veranda a few times a day. The internet connection wasn't great so I soon moved to Ubud proper.

Escaping the south and all the madness there, I went to this place close to Ubud – a nice homestay, quite cheap by Bali standards, again recommended by the Dromomaniac, to do some work. The view through the window was quite impressive and a Hindu ceremony was passing under my veranda a few times a day. The internet connection wasn’t great so I soon moved to Ubud proper.

I stayed in a homestay in the center of Ubud for more than ten days, doing work. This is what my office looks like. A nice lady was selling fruit just outside every morning and a western style bakery was 2 minutes walk away. What else does a translator need?

I stayed in a homestay in the center of Ubud for more than ten days, doing work. This is what my office looked like. A nice lady was selling fruit just outside every morning and a western style bakery was a 2 minute walk away. And there was a Hindu temple in the garden. What else does a translator need?

The notice board at the Bintang supermarket in Ubud. Bintang is this western style supermarket where a kg of bananas costs $3. In Indonesia bananas grow on trees, literally, behind the supermarket. When I asked if the bananas were imported from Ecuador, the lady at the supermarket gave me with a very empty look - to this day I have no idea what she was thinking.  Now Ubud is a place that featured in the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" with Julia Roberts. After eating in Italy, praying in India (of course!), Julia Robert's character finds love (Javier Bardem) in Bali Indonesia. More precisely in Ubud. Since then Ubud has become a bit of a Kuta but for the new age, spiritual folks. It is full of middle aged women who walk slowly around in sarongs, smiling at the world and buying overpriced coconut drinks. I wonder if there are enough Javier Bardems for all of them - probably not. Yoga and meditation are of course very popular, as are colon cleansing and liver cleansing (same as colon cleansing but with lemon juice, as some random guy explained to me over lunch while sharing a table at my favourite restaurant). And you thought "Touch and flow" sounded creepy.

The notice board at the Bintang supermarket in Ubud. Bintang is this western style supermarket where a kg of bananas costs $3 (twice as much as in Iceland!). In Indonesia bananas grow on trees, literally, behind the supermarket. When I asked if the bananas were imported from Ecuador, the lady at the supermarket gave me a very empty look – to this day I have no idea what she was thinking.
Ubud is a place that featured in the film “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts. After eating in Italy and praying in India (of course!), Julia Roberts’s character finds love (Javier Bardem) in Bali Indonesia. More precisely in Ubud. Since then Ubud has become a bit of a Kuta but for the new age, spiritual folks. It is full of middle aged women who walk slowly around, wrapped in sarongs, smiling at the sky and buying overpriced coconut drinks. I wonder if there are enough Javier Bardems for all of them – probably not. Yoga and meditation are staples, but other activities are also gaining popularity, such as colon cleansing and liver cleansing (same as colon cleansing but with lemon juice, as some random guy explained to me over lunch while sharing a table at my favourite restaurant). And you thought “Touch and flow” sounded creepy.

More ads for courses. I wonder if the "Life Coaching" has something to do with the "Sacred Song Circle" and the "Money! Money! Money!" course.

More ads for courses. “If you successfully complete our “Life Coaching” course, you get a 50% discount for our “Money! Money! Money!” course.

One day I will organize my own course in Ubud. I will call it: "The Essence of Live Sacred Healing Spiritual Blissful Consciousness" (with some Touch and Go thrown in during the breaks).

One day I will organize my own course in Ubud. I will call it: “The Essence of Live Sacred Healing Spiritual Blissful Consciousness” (with some Touch and Go thrown in during the breaks).

On the other side of the notice board is what it's all about - houses with swimming pools are way too popular here and many are for sale or rent of course. And a Texas Chilli Cookoff never hurt anyone!

On the other side of the notice board is what it’s all about – houses with swimming pools are way too popular here and many are for sale or rent of course. And a Texas Chilli Cookoff never hurt anyone!

So many vilas are built in Ubud that the hilly landscape is getting overcrowded. Here some workers are doing grading in hope the expensive vilas up there are not going to fall down into the river some day. Fingers crossed!

So many villas are built in Ubud that the hilly landscape is getting overcrowded. Here some workers are doing grading to prevent the luxurious villas up there from falling down into the river some day. Fingers crossed!

Back in Seminyak, after the laundry service lost all of my underwear, I managed to bargain four of these down to 150,000 rp ($15) from 400,000 rp ($40). Not too bad. Especially when they come in the Bulgarian flag's colours. The seller had no idea what I was talking about.

Back in Seminyak, after the laundry lady lost all of my underwear, I managed to bargain four of these down to 150,000 rp ($15) from 400,000 rp ($40). Especially when they come in the Bulgarian flag’s colours. The seller had no idea what I was talking about.

I was very lucky to be invited to a cremation ceremony in Karangasem, eastern Bali. The Balinese take their religion very seriously and, being Hindu, they have plenty of gods to pray to. “Do you pray every day?”, I asked a young lady. “Yes, except when I don’t feel like praying or when I am waving the red flag.” Fair enough!

How the cremation works is that the remains of a few dead people from the same village are kept for a while until their relatives organize (and save money for) the very special  cremation ceremony.

How the cremation works is that the remains of a few dead people from the same village are kept for a while until their relatives organize (and save money for) the very special cremation ceremony.

The remains of all the dead people are put into these cows, which are then moved to a special place in the bush, under a lof of singing and dancing. The cows are placed on a platform and then burnt.

The remains of all the dead people are put into these cows, which are then carried to a special place in the bush, accompanied by a lot of music and processioning. The cows are placed on a platform and then burnt.

Later the ashes are gathered and split in as many parts as there were dead people being cremated and each family gets part of the ashes.

Later the ashes are gathered and split in as many parts as there were dead people being cremated and each family gets a part of the ashes.

And of course I showed up in my normal everyday wear. I didn't have a lip job, I promise!

And of course I showed up in my normal everyday wear. I never had a lip job, I promise!

I did see some other things in Bali, including a visit to some hot springs at night and a hike on the volcano Mt Batur.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

There is so much to recommend to do and avoid in Bali that I don’t know where to start. I think I have updated some Bali-related articles on Wikitravel for accommodation and such.

The best piece of advice is – don’t let yourself be ripped off. In Kuta a guy on the beach asked 40,000 rupiah ($4) for a drinking coconut. The normal price of a coconut in Indonesia is 5,000 rp in the bush and 10,000 elsewhere. When I laughed in his face he became very angry. Meeting tourists who know their way must be tough – probably the most challenging part of his job.

Mt Batur is famous for another rip-off. You don’t need a guide really (unless you actually do), but the populace is really greedy for the tourist buck so they sit around the start of the trail and tell you a guide is compulsory. If you decide to go alone anyway, your scooter will be destroyed when you come back. One option is to walk all the way there (leave your transport in Kintamani) and politely ignore the wannabe guides. Another option is, as I did, take an alternative hike on the western side of the volcano. Here is a GPX trace. This is a trail that is not popular and there won’t be anyone else there.

This post also has quite useful information.

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7 comments

  1. Thanks for the mentions! Funny to see you hate soy but love tempe. HA!
    Why aren’t there more photos of you on your website, especially the “About Me” page?

  2. That’s really nice to see your picture with balinesse headband. You know? bandung also had precious headband like bali called “Iket” . And i just knew that you like tempe ,, hahahha. I invite you to come to bandung ,taste all of food that made from tempe and i’ll bring you to the place how tempe is make… Two thumbs for this post^_^

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