It's a beautiful, fertile island and while not everyone is rich, people sure aren't starving. As I arrived in the main town of Denpasar on a boat from Java, a woman approached a group of us disembarking tourists, holding up her baby as proof that we should give her something, as if 2 billion other people on Earth don't also have kids. Someone gave her a loaf of freshly baked brown bread, which she threw in the dirt, screaming that she wanted money. Seemed everyone on Bali wanted to beg or cheat you or at least sell you something you had no interest in. To actually take a vacation, which westerners may take for granted, is a luxury many people on earth will never know. Yet in light of the extreme poverty I saw in places like India and Bangladesh, most people in Bali are living in paradise but seemed awfully jaded from tourism. First stop in Bali was the nearby beach of Kuta. Here I was hanging out on the porch of my bungalow there with a German girl I head recently met in Thailand.
The Indonesians didn't seem overly conservative back in 1989 so I think it was especially shocking later when the Bali bombing happened. But Denpasar and especially Kuta beach were more than just hangouts for westerners. It was an over the top, wild place where particularly Australians came to drink excessively and party. There were hoards of pestering vendors on Kuta beach. I pretended to be asleep when they came but they would aggressively shake me to wake me up anyway. And the local belief is that one should never be roughly awakened or it could scare their soul away. I guess as westerners we just represented money without human value. They would say, "sunglasses, sunglasses!" and I would say, hey, I'm wearing sunglasses, then it would be sarong, sarong! Well, I'm lying on a sarong. They would go through their list of what they wanted to sell and start all over again at the beginning. And even if I were thirsty for example, I wouldn't buy a drink. If you actually bought something then all of the other sellers would come running and you would have a crowd yelling at you to buy their wares. It was like flies on shit and I hated it.
Also, the women seemed to do all the work and the young guys would just hang out and try to offer you drugs and prostitutes or they would be in the discos hitting on the western women. And instead of sending them off many western girls went with these creeps. I saw a local approach girls on the beach with the suave pickup line "hey, how about we go fuck", he got turned down a few times but within 10 minutes he was walking with a blond haired girl with her arm wrapped around his waist. Seemed the most liberated western women really fell for the most obnoxious Balinese machos.
Ubud and around central Bali
A couple of days and I was ready to head to Ubud, the major city in the highlands, well known for some of the better of many still used Hindu temples on the island.. There are a lot of decorative Hindu temples in Bali, so I get some of the photos confused. I believe this is from Pura Tirta Empul complex naar Ubud. It is built around sacred springs and has a couple of swimming places popular with the local boys, most of whom liked to swim naked and swarmed around me and a couple of other western visitors.
This is the distinctive Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave complex. It was intricately carved and has a number of ceremonial pools in front of it.
This was another temple, which was particularly interesting because as one sees in the following shots, there was some kind of ceremony going on and people were bringing offerings.
In the streets, boys were marching around playing music with drums and symbols. There were 2 boys dressed up as some kind of monster or deity which would feign an attack towards the bystanders. The music of Bali is very distinctive and always gives me a surreal feel of wonder.
This was a view from the Besakih temple, which I went to on a day trip from Candidasa beach. It is situated 1000 meters up the Mount Agung and is the biggest, holiest, most visited site on the island. One would expect to find ample transportation to go see it - wrong. Rather than actual buses, local and regional transportation in Indonesia was a series of converted jeeps, pickup trucks or minivans running set routes as shared taxis. I heard them all referred to as Bemos but I've read that Bemos are actually just the small 3-wheeled covered motorcycle type vehicles. I spent most of the day taking one vehicle after the next trying to connect through. Part of the problem is that drivers would simply lie to you about where they were going, take your money and drop you where ever. By the time I got there it was close to closing and not worth the hefty entrance fee so I didn't actually see more than the outside of it. I had difficulty to return to my beach bungalow and was in a terrible mood. Then some girls tried to make me sound like an uptight jerk for being so upset. Take it easy; it's no problem if you just keep cool. Next day they tried the same journey with the same result as me and came back pissed as hell. My most lasting impression of the Balinese were that they always smiled, said "hello mister" and then proceeded to lie through their teeth with the most elaborate tales which always ended with them trying to sell you something you didn't want.
Other than temples, Ubud is known for it's handicrafts like woodcarvings and batik but most of what I saw was terrible. Rather than done with any artistic inspiration, the same simple motifs are churned out over and over again like a production line concentrating on pure quantity over quality. The carvings, specialized on masks were finished with an ugly brown varnish to make them look antique. Cheap batiks were everywhere and really belittle an impressive tradition that reflects the beauty of Bali's landscapes and the colorful tropical fish one sees in its seas. A more interesting but gruesome tradition are cockfights, which I saw at a weekly market shown below.
The men were all sitting around smoking their distinctive Indonesian clove cigarettes and chatting. I suspect that the opportunity to socialize is actually more important than the fights themselves.
On the other hand, gambling seems to be pervasive here. Not only were the cockfights bet on but such board games as well. Surprisingly, chess was more popular throughout Indonesia than any country I have seen. I don't know if any gambling is involved but one often saw people playing on the street. Occasionally, I stopped to have a game with somebody, which would quickly turn into a battle against him and all of his friends - not only giving advice but jeering as well. Not that I am any good at the game but I think the table got overturned in anger more than once before a local would admit defeat to a foreigner.
After much contemplation I decided to go to the eastern beach of Candidasa. It is very narrow, much of its sand having been lost due to the depletion of the coral reef. At high tide the beach was often under water. There were supposed to be better beaches in the north but the connections here were better and it was a fairly peaceful yet affordable place to hang out, plenty of backpackers but not too wild. I was especially fond of the service, having my breakfast, typically tropical fruits, coffee and black rice pudding brought each morning to the porch of my bungalow.