Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kuta, Legian & Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia

Stepping off the plane in Bali was like walking into a wall of sticky hot.  And that was at 10:30 p.m. This was definitely a successful escape from the chilly air of Tokyo.

Tokyo had been so cold, mostly so clean and sterile and orderly, that the lushness and aliveness of Bali shocked my system a bit, and I realized later that it’d taken me a full day to acclimate my senses to the abundance of life here, to think of that life as a natural part of this island and not an indication of things being “dirty”.  Like the ants that had crawled through the stone wall of our villa and into the bathtub.  Or the lizard that fell off the ceiling of our porch onto the tile floor beside me with a “plop”.  The fuzzy slippery richly green moss growing on every damp surface.  The bugs hovering near our breakfast buffet, waiting for entry through the tightly pulled saran wrap.

Similarly, it’s taking me awhile to acclimate to and appreciate the Bali we’ve seen so far.  We’ve stayed in Legian these past few nights, and have wandered left into Kuta (packed with Aussie surfers and middle-aged tattooed ex-hippies, Indonesian guitar-playing Neil Diamond and Eric Clapton impersonators, and cheap tourist trinket shops), and have meandered right into Seminyak (designer beachwear and beach dress shops, carved Balinese furniture, shiny hip modern night clubs).

The traffic is thick, chaotic, and loud.  We’re back in the land of sidewalk hawkers (“good deal for you lady!”) trying to sell us taxi rides, cheap sunglasses, phallic can openers/ key chains, raunchy bumper stickers, beer T shirts, or just a dirty smile (from the little kids with nothing to sell but hands out nonetheless).

Most disturbing to us is the one thing that none of the guide books or any of the people we know who’ve been here have mentioned- the beaches here are filthy.  They’re littered for miles in either direction with plastic candy wrappers, plastic bags, plastic flip flops, plastic bottles.  If you peer close, even the sand grains are interspersed with tiny plastic grains (which makes me think of that disturbing chapter I read in "Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble" while on the beach in Vietnam last year).  No one seems to care.  Boys play beach soccer games in the surf, trampling trash with every dash across the sand.  The mostly Australian tourists spread blankets and sit on beach chairs amidst the debris.  It’s pretty disgusting, though I guess people keep coming because it’s so cheap here.  And maybe most people stick to the manicured grounds and sterilized pools of the resorts?  The only place the beach was moderately clean (no doubt due to the constant vigilance of an army of cheap labor) was directly in front of the Oberai resort in Seminyak.  I guess that’s what $400+/ night will get you in a land where the typical villa room in a pretty tropical garden with a pool is about $35/night.

Nevertheless, this place is still slowly growing on me.  For one, we're hopeful that we might be able to escape these crowds and find less spoiled beaches and quieter lanes.  But there’s also the cool breeze that comes off the ocean in the mornings and evenings.  The sunset on our second night here was beautiful, pinks and oranges and yellows that even turned to streaks of green after the sun slipped past the horizon into the ocean.

Walking down the busy sidewalks, dodging motorbikes, every once in awhile you catch a glimpse of the “real” Bali, what’s buried beneath the touristy imported stuff.  The little offering baskets woven out of palm leaves and filled with flowers petals, rice, maybe a cookie or two, and a silently smoking incense stick.

A narrow alley with tall walls on either side covered in dense vines, a lizard darting for cover when you pass, bougainvillea and coconut palms spilling over the walls.  A man crouched beside the street grilling tidbits of marinated meat on slivers of bamboo over a portable coal grill.  The tropical plants that we buy at the grocery store in Boston to bring a little green into our winter homes grow as weeds here in abundance.

So we’re keeping open minds and planning to look for more unspoiled corners of this island, and in the meantime certainly enjoying the humid hot weather.


  1. Wow, this is so great Kate. Love the photos and love the writing.

  2. I'm a big fan of that sunset beach photo with the 3 peeps on the sand. Beauty!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Wow! You saw the green flash after a sunset. I have lived on the west coast (Vancouver, Seattle, Vancouver Island) for almost 40 yrs & have never witnessed "The Green Flash". I've even worked on boats & spent many nights on the ocean to witness countless fabulous sunsets. I have heard of this elusive green flash that can sometimes be seen after the sun dips below the horizon over the ocean but I have never actually heard anyone talk about actually seeing it. Consider yourselves very fortunate. Traditionally when you witness the green streaks or flash it means you with find your true love & have a lifetime of love.