If you enjoy traveling to a yuppie spiritual paradise where $20 yoga classes will bring you closer to enlightenment, attending traditional Balinese dance performances packed with “I ❤ Bali!” T-shirts is your idea of getting cultured, and being viewed as a commodity by desperate taxi drivers and club promoters is okay with you, then Bali might be the place for you.
Bali is terribly wonderful for the unconscious world traveler.
I see women dressed in scantly clothing hardly covering their derriere as I see native Balinese women wearing long skirts and long sleeve shirts to the beach. There is no awareness of cultural respect here for western travelers and it has been the greatest lesson that I have had to process during my two and a half month long stint across Southeast Asia.
I am mortified that I am here and I’m not going to sugarcoat my glee to be ‘traveling’ right now. I am embarrassed I have posted pictures telling people that I have traveled to Bali, the most magical place in the world. I realize that this makes me come off as an over-privileged spiritual snob, but let me tell you, my experience has been quite the opposite and has opened my eyes and created incredible awareness of the effects of tourism and most importantly made me aware of the obstacles the people of Indonesia struggle with on a daily basis.
Walking down the alleyways of the small beach city of Kuta is a nightmare. Souvenirs shoved into small shops with bright lights and merchants shamelessly shouting and grabbing you to purchase more and more is an extremely hard thing to process. I can’t fathom that this is anyone’s idea of travel and it seems like everyone is having the greatest time of their life here. (???)
Thankfully, Isabella and I managed to escape the hustle and bustle of the ‘spiritual’ town and city life in favor of a homestay in a small village. We were incredibly relieved and grateful to have found a place for less than $8.00 a night in the middle of nowhere (including breakfast!) and we didn’t see one ‘I love Bali’ bag or t-shirt. Refreshing.
During the homestay, despite it seeming like they actually really wanted to get to know us, were still shoving deals down our throats the second we got there. “Pay for my wife’s cooking class!” “Taxi to the waterfall!” “See the local, traditional Balinese market!” “Climb the mountain for a bazillion dollars!”
We went there with the intention of climbing Mount Agung, one of the most epic volcanoes I have ever seen. The guy who runs the place told us it would be 600,000 rp per person (around $50 USD) to climb with a guide and we agreed before actually thinking how expensive it was in US dollars and were too tired and flustered to haggle or question his price.
We left at 1:00 in the morning to summit the 3,000 meter volcano for sunrise. However, before we left we both had a panic attack about how much money we were spending (we both were trying to budget $200-$250 USD for the entire week including room) and so we haggled in the early morning hours with our taxi driver and got the trek for a much better deal (I think we paid $35 each for the guide and decided it would be our only ‘splurge’).
Initially I was pretty annoyed I had been conned into purchasing a guide to climb a mountain, but the pitch-black trek up the volcano in the middle of the night and the boulder scrambling during the last leg of the trail proved to be very useful and essential to have a guide.
The sunrise was incredible and it felt so good to be on top of the world, even if we forgot our jackets and were freezing at the top. Yankee mistake.
We were aptly named “No Jacket Americans” by the guides and thankfully, a lovely French man had an extra poncho that he let me use to keep warm.
The trek up Agung was an experience and I would gladly recommend it. Later, I learned that the guides are actually essential for the climb up because they are selectively chosen by Hindu spirits and were given permission to guide people up the mountain. Cool!
Aside from the overwhelming amount of dirty tourism here (and apparently it’s slow season!?), I cannot deny the beauty that Bali is. She is beautiful.
The rice fields are the greatest treat and I am happy to see that the only employed persons here are Balinese. I appreciate the spirituality here and also the fact that the Balinese refuse to conform to scandalous western attire. Tourism hasn’t completely destroyed their roots. Good.
But I can’t help but feel selfish here. I can’t help but judge the characters that come here to eat, pray, and love. Their reason for coming here is so individualistic and I can firmly hypothesize that they have never questioned their role in being a tourist here. Hm. I bet they leave feeling enlightened.
Aside from all this, I am grateful to have witnessed Bali in a very real way. It has helped me solidify how and why I want to travel and it certainly isn’t for vacation or spiritual enlightenment.
Bali looks really great in a photo, but it’s really hard to connect with in reality.