When I first thought of travelling to Bali, images of beautiful sandy beaches, clear waters and tranquality in the air came to my mind. These images stuck to my head until I actually got to visit Bali itself..
It is so not what I had imagined.
Rather, think busy roads with the honking of cars and motorcycle alike, rubbish strewn all over the beach, touting and stiff competition amongst the locals to grab hold of tourists money and all these with the hot and humid weather beating down your back. It’s enough to drive you mad and set tempers flaring amongst your travelmates.
It didn’t help that my trip had started off on the wrong foot. The holiday package that I had signed up for had listed Harris Hotel and I kept imagining walks by the beaches just minutes away from the hotel. However, to my dismay upon checking in, that image was apparently reserved for another Harris Hotel located at Kuta beach. My hotel was located 30mins walk from the Kuta beach. Sigh (there goes my beach…). The hotel is nice enough though and I suppose this makes up for the inconvenience (in my own personal opinion) of not having the beach at my doorstep.
It may seem quite a negative image but in truth, this is the image that one would get if one stays in an area supposedly touted out for tourists – even though my hotel is not near enough to the beach.
However, the beauty in Bali lies not at the beach nor it’s nature, culture or people but it is evident as a whole – if we disregard the small details that goes into being a tourist-touting place. There were loads of activities that one can sign up for to “explore” Bali.
River-rafting brought me through a fast paced river that meandered its way down the mountain and brought me through a magical nature wonderland. Waterfalls (big and small), birds of all nature flitting here and there amongst the rushes by the riverbanks and local people squishing their way by the riverbanks looking for wild plants were sights to take in while paddling along in the river.
Not just that, cycling down the Kintamani mountain to Ubud was an experience that I would not likely forget. Not only did I manage to conquer my fear of cycling on road, the 2-hr ride took me through local villages and houses, beautiful padi fields and down beautiful albeit potholed roads lined with tall cooling trees and bushes or peoples dwellings. We passed by children bathing naked in the river while their mothers washed their clothes by the river in a time reminiscence of how our forefathers would have done so. Children greeted us happily – or rather cheekily I would say – saying hello and asking for money in the same breath jokingly. Needless to say, I was to preoccupied with staying on my bicycle to reply back.
It was obvious that these people led a simple way of life, farming and tending to their plantations and animals. The villages were full of life and noisy with the chatter of children playing by the roadside, women and men toiling away in their fields and animals like roosters and dogs wander from place to place leisurely. The harvest from the padi fields was laid out on the roads itself in front of their houses to dry, threats of rain would send them scuttling to take in the grains as we would take in our clothes from their hangings outside. I imagine our ride through their village to them is similar to the children’s greetings – hello! and goodbye!
To me, all these feels like the real Bali, people with their customs and tradition playing a big role in their lives and religion too. The one constant sight everywhere are the prayer shrines throughout the country – I even saw one on a road divider while on our way up to Kintamani mountain! The juxtaposition of modernity and tradition to me can often be found in the streets and roads where one can easily find offerings placed in front of shops selling modern clothings, bags and all sorts of accesories meant for tourists.
At the end of this trip, I find myself curious enough to want to come back again. It was simply not enough to explore Bali from the short period of time to even find out its secrets. Parts of Bali are so tourist – centred that I could barely tolerate it all yet I have been left wanting more. Of what I am not sure but while Bali may no longer bring up images of white sandy beaches with clear waters, I believe that there are parts of Bali that are exactly that – it has just yet to be discovered. Perhaps I am having an “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. The beauty of the country itself lies in all of it combined – people, culture and nature – just not in those parts where plenty of tourists abound. And it is exactly that I imagine that makes me wish I have the time to return to explore all.