Yep, that’s my view as I write this.
Not a ridge of kangaroos, but not too shabby. Just to the right is a bottle of Bintang beer and a small plate of spring rolls. The waterfall and the occasional delighted, yet muted, squeal of a paddling child is the background music. All looks, smells, tastes and sounds idyllic. This is the Bali of the holiday brochures and the television’s tourism shows. But according to recent news articles, it is a gloss on a veneer that is thin. As thin as the wrapping on my spring roll.
I was going to write a whole blog dismissing each negative report that you can find on-line with a bewildering myriad of counter-argument and supporting statistics and observations. In fact I had written it, edited and rewritten it and then I thought, stuff it! I really can’t be bothered getting all deep and heavy like some travel journalist. My conclusions don’t need that much debate or support. Yep, there are negatives to be found here. As anywhere. But there are positives too, many of them.
Not least is the simple fact of geography. We come here, as do a lot of Western Australians, because it is our neighbour. (UK spelling of neighbour, with a U. Or proper spelling as I like to call it). If flying from Perth then Bali is the nearest holiday destination outside of Australia. By a large margin. To fly here takes three hours and forty minutes. To fly to Kuala Lumpur is 5 ½ hours, London at quickest is 21, but normally 27 and Los Angeles can be between 19 hours and three weeks. (I might have exaggerated that last one a bit). Even to visit our neighbouring state capital and renowned party-hotspot of the Southern Hemisphere, Adelaide (that might be more exaggeration) takes three hours and twenty minutes.
Bali; short flight, relatively cheap resorts that are normally immaculate, staffed by some of the friendliest people on the planet. People who just exude politeness and are seemingly only allowed to be beautiful and ‘smiley’. As a stereotype they are respectful, religious, family-orientated, hard-working, tolerant and gentle. Not too bad for a generalisation. Compare those traits to some you might conjure up for other nations.
There is an exception to every rule though and the street traders used to be it. They seemed to be a different breed. A people set apart and intent on annoying you as you stumbled along the broken pavements. But in recent years Bali has done two things to make the place a lot more tourist friendly. I’m not sure if it was because President Obama visited a while back or if they just upped their game but all the footpaths in and around Kuta have been repaired or replaced. I know that seems trivial but it really isn’t. The original state of them, added to the ever increasing “aggressiveness” of the street traders who would continually pester and hustle, made a one hundred yard walk a misery. Now the pavements are flat, even and kind to the ankle and the street traders have obviously been issued with a Government warning. “Back off the tourists or cease to operate.”
The average greeting is now friendly, a gentle request to look at their wares. A polite no thank you results in the end of the dialogue. If you want to buy then the friendly barter and banter is still there. Those two simple initiatives, pavements & politeness, have transformed a walk around town into quite a pleasant experience. Driving around town is still nuts. I’ve never hired a scooter or a car in Bali. I see no attraction in entering the Wacky Races. Occasionally I take a taxi just to get an adrenaline kick, but it’s normally quicker to walk anywhere within 4 miles of your starting point.
Which brings me back to mine. My spring rolls are growing a little cold and the beer a little warm so I shall end this and go back to the holiday. A holiday on an island that’s close to home, steeped in a long and interesting history, has more temples than you could ever visit, beautiful countryside, mountains, rivers, coastline and people. On balance, it’s not too shabby. And the spring rolls have a paper thin wrapper that, despite its delicateness, keeps all the ingredients inside…
Oh, and Happy Indonesian Independence day for August 17th. The whole island is decked out in red and white banners, flags, bunting and tree wraps. Looks like a Larne Football Club outing to the Steel and Sons cup (and that reference is not going to make a whole heck of a lot of sense to most of you, but Wikipedia is your friend) 😉
Ian Andrew is the author of the alternative history novel A Time To Every Purpose, the detective thrillers Face Value and Flight Path and the Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. All are available in e-book and paperback. Follow him on social media: