Monthly Archives: October 2013
I really did have so much to say about Bali, but racing back to my room each day to write about it wasn’t really top of my priorities! Now back in the UK, suffering from a mix of emotions with a bit of insomnia thrown in, I guess it’s time to catch up!
After a few days in Ubud I was keen to get to the coast and experience another aspect of Bali, so having done a bit of reading and chatting to other travellers I decided to head to Amed and work my way down the East coast to finish in Sanur.
The journey to Amed took much longer than it should have thanks to a ceremony. This didn’t seem to bother anyone at all, and I found this quite surprising as traffic was backed up for kilometres in both directions as a procession was slowly making its way along the road. Sitting in a bus with no air conditioning when the temperature is 30 something and the humidity is high wasn’t ideal. Most people got out of their cars, and I asked our driver how long we’d have to wait. “No idea” was his response. I asked what the ceremony was for ” No idea” was the response again. I understand that it’s perfectly acceptable in Bali for ceremonies to stop everything, and that such ceremonies can occur at any given time, often without much planning or warning…
On our arrival in Amed, as I ranted about earlier, we were dropped off outside a hotel and told we weren’t to be taken any further. You can imagine my horror as I looked at the uneven roads, hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders and wondered how far my suitcase would allow me to walk. To our rescue came Kadek ( very conveniently of course) who drove the French passengers to their hostel and me to his cousin’s homestay. It wasn’t where I had planned to stay, and once I looked around I realised it wasn’t where I wanted to be either, as I had to walk 45 minutes to go snorkelling. However, such is life, and at the mercy of two years of luggage from Australia, I had little choice.
Once I had freshened up and had a ridiculously cheap lunch of omelette and tea cooked at the homestay, I had a look around. I had been invited, and I later realised, possibly caused great offence by saying no, to a ceremony that was taking place on the beach that afternoon.
Kadek told me all of his family would be there and I would be most welcome to join, I could take photos and experience something of true Bali. Yes I was intrigued, but desperate after a week in Bali to immerse my aching body in the sea. I enquired as to what happened in this particular ceremony and was told that thousands of people would go to the beach at 4:30 pm, dressed in white. And what do they do there, was my question. Everyone brings animals which are sacrificed on the beach, to the gods. What?? Yes, goats, sheep and I thought he said dogs, but perhaps he said ducks. Never-the-less – keen though I am to get involved and experience something magical, I just didn’t feel I could support, let alone watch something like that. I hold no religious standpoint in this area, but my “religion”, or at least my way of life, does not agree with things like that. Sorry!
So I walked along the beach, past the angry dogs, and children asking me to take their photo and then asking for money for it, past the nice looking guesthouses on the beach, all the way to Jemeluk to snorkel.
Oh the relief to get into the water, and oh the wonderful things I saw. Ouch, I bashed my knee on the coral and saw blood spilling out as I understood the sign I had read about snorkelling only in high tide. Oops. So I got out, and went further round the bay, refusing a few massages, drinks and beds to reimmerse myself in the refreshing water to watch the underwater spectacular and pass away an afternoon finally doing exactly as I pleased.
I eventually gave in to Wayan, a driver who had accosted me a few days before. He approached me in the street – remembering my name and that I had told him I wanted to walk around Ubud by myself, that I was doing a cooking class, and remarked upon the red shoes I had been wearing that day.
That particular day I had left my room with the plan to go walking in the rice fields by myself. I was wearing trousers, my running shoes ( the closest thing I had to walking shoes – other than a pair of ankle boots and flipflops ) and I had a backpack on – which once it was loaded with two litres of water, my book and my camera- it weighed a fair bit. I really did look like a tourist out for the day, but I had no option. What Wayan didn’t know, and thankfully no one else did was that about a minute before I saw him, I had tripped on an uneven pavement coming out of a minimart – straight down I had gone, and got up as fast as my shaky body would allow me too. I was feeling a little unsteady on my feet so when he approached me offering me a day tour, I was almost relieved not to have to do too much walking.
He pulled out his tatty laminated picture card and map and started listing all the places we could visit at a higher price than two days ago. I reminded him of the price he had offered me and he suggested a less interesting itinerary. In the end we agreed on a price and my requests were simple: I was tired of all the traffic and the tourists and wished to see “real” Bali – rice fields, villages and something local. Apparently my wish was his command and off we went in his hot and stuffy van.
As we drove out of Ubud, I asked him a few questions on how life had changed since the movie and the book Eat, Pray Love. He told me there are so many more tourists now and it’s nothing like it used to be. He also claimed to have met Julia Roberts and had a kiss on the cheek from her. Coincidentally this man was also a healer, a masseuse, a wood carver and yoga teacher and his master was the very Ketut Liyer that Elizabeth Gilbert visited. The man now is quite well known, charges much more than he used to and is extremely busy. Go figure.
We approached the village of Tegallalang – which has a number of tourist shops, cafes, guesthouses and of course tourists running around. The views were spectacular – the sloped rice paddies and lush green valley. We drove through the village and out of it, as I had requested to get away from the tourists. When Wayan parked I informed him, noting the quickly approaching locals with postcards, jewellery and other wares, that would not appreciate being taken anywhere where I was hounded and expected to buy things. I explained I was on a tight budget and just wanted to look at things – that’s what I was paying him for – nothing else. He quickly shooed away the ladies, allowing me a moment to take a few pics, before they started to approach me again. I know they all work together – drivers bring tourists to areas where people are waiting to sell. Again – I made my position clear.
We were joined by another Wayan, with considerably less English, who liked to join Wayan when he has guests. It helps with his English and he enjoys walking through the paddies with him. Fair enough, although seeing that he had a book of postcards I knew I would later feel obliged to buy them. We wandered along the ridges, stopping here and there to admire to view and take pictures. I fell over again! Lost my footing whilst walking on another uneven pathway, coming down on the same knee – this time cutting my trousers and grazing my knee. From then on both the Wayans endearingly ( or just an excuse ) felt it necessary to hold my hands whenever we passed a narrow path or hopped over a paddy.
Through the paddies and up a very steep hill into a small village. On our way up we picked and ate wild strawberries and Wayan tried to explain the process of rice growing to me. I can’t actually regurgitate it, as I have asked a few people and not always understood the answers!
The village was indeed off the beaten track. We sat down at a small warung/stall and I was given a slice of freshly cut watermelon by the locals. I really did feel like an idiot in my New Balance trainers when they were all barefoot or in dirty flipflops…
At the bottom of the hill we were met by one of Wayan’s friends who was ready waiting with two coconuts he has just got form the tree. He hacked into both with his knife, made a mouthpiece and handed me the coconut to drink. I was most honoured, and drank what I could, although i wasn’t very keen on the taste – quite sour and having had a funny tummy that morning was a little wary of everything!
I have ummed and arred about posting the next two pictures, as I don’t like to photograph people and put them in my blog without them knowing, but I really feel it needs to be shown, and somehow I think this man with the large knife and kind eyes wouldn’t really mind.
The next part of the excursion was to an organic coffee and tea plantation where I think I upset the guide by not purchasing any of the overpriced “organic” tea. I thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary tasting, and I knew I would then be walked into the shop and asked to “take a look around” – which really changed the whole mood of the afternoon. Wayan and I agreed on the way back to Ubud that Japanese and American tourists probably DID make plenty of purchases to make up for my lack of.
I did try the Lewak coffee, which I paid 50,000rp for (About $5 AUD). The Lewak is a small ferret like creature who eats the coffee beans but cannot digest them, so they come out in its poo. The beans are then collected from its droppings, cleaned (thoroughly I hope) and processed into coffee which is sold at an extortionate price because it has been through the Lewak’s system. Curious, I tried it and, pardon the pun ( and the language ) I thought it tasted a but shit to me…
Note: Apologies readers, my blogs are not coming out chronologically. I wrote this on the beach yesterday, later finished on my room, as I had had some frustrating moments over the last few days. Take it with a pinch of salt please… It aint all bad!
The highs and lows of travelling alone
Since leaving the life I had made in Barcelona 3 years ago I have been wandering around on my own. After a few months in the UK with mum and dad I had a 6 month teaching adventure in Slovakia and on a very low salary I saw the neighbouring countries on brief weekend visits. I then had a few more months at home to earn just enough money to buy my flight to Australia where I have spent the last 2 years doing my own thing.
The number of people who are surprised to learn I have done it one my own surprised me in fact. Some just couldn’t get to grips with the idea of someone just jumping on a plane and heading somewhere new for a while. They found it strange I had not done it with a friend or a boyfriend, or often asked if I had someone at home waiting for me. Many have even called me brave, but I don’t think travelling to Australia, or any of my Asian stopovers have needed bravery. A little more cash would have been useful and yes, at times I would have like a bit of company, but I have managed it without needing anyone to hold my hand. I haven’t left a trail of destruction or broken hearts in my wake, and thankfully mine hasn’t had any further damage. I have met people along the way: some I have seen again since, some I know I will, and some I am pleased I won’t.
I have worked as hard as I have needed to to look after myself and I have had a pretty good time doing it and for the most part I wouldn’t have travelled with anyone other than myself. Not having to answer to anyone, nor compromise or deal with disagreements has made life a lot easier. I travelled with a then very good friend of mine many years ago – when I was just getting a taste for this nomadic way and I have barely spoken to her since. I am sure I am not the only one who has lost a relationship through their travels. Only yesterday I was sitting in a Warung in Amed having my lunch when two French girls walked in. One had a red face, barely able to hold back the tears and the two could barely look at each other. I caught snippets of their conversation when they seldom spoke but I didn’t need to hear to understand that the strain of travelling had taken its toll on their friendship.
When I first arrived in Bali I had no watch – I’d lost it in Australia a few days before. Although I was frustrated not knowing the time at first, I found being timeless quite liberating. I got up when I woke up and went to bed when I was tired. I ate when I was hungry, and did what I wanted for a few days. I came to Bali with no plans at all – just my trusted lonely planet and a few recommendations and have been taking each day as it comes, at my own pace.
But when you are in a country that has such an abundance of places to go (where doesn’t?) and number of different interests to satisfy – someone to bounce ideas off and help make decisions would be really helpful. Instead I wrack my brains wondering where to go, or whose advice to take and often arriving somewhere thinking the sand is white on the other beach…
I have also felt alone here for the first time in a long time. I thought Bali would be an easy place to get about when you are travelling alone, but perhaps not when you are lugging suitcase, a backpack and a laptop around. I am also paying twice what everyone else is paying per night, as rooms are charge per room, not per person and full price for any travel I do, as I am paying for just me rather than splitting the cost. There have also been times when I have felt vulnerable on my own. Never in danger – don’t get me wrong. I walk down the street anywhere n Bali feeling perfectly safe, but just vulnerable. I suppose it’s still a rare thing for them to see a woman on her own, and I seem to be a target to get hassled. I simply cannot walk past a male (or female) without them attempting to offer or sell me something. Whilst I understand most people are just trying to make a living I wish the colour of my skin didn’t mean there was a dollar sign flashing on my head and the fact that there is no one by side didn’t mean I was an easy target. Having experienced this before, but to a much lesser degree, in Malaysia and knowing how different the culture is here I have taken to wearing a fake engagement ring. This has worked a few times, but the ring is so cheap that I cannot take it off now for the awful green ring it leaves giving me away!
There have been a couple of occasions over the last few days where I have felt frustrated because I have had to ask for help or been put in a position where I am reliant on the help of a stranger – who under the guise of “helping” me has used it for his own gain. Take yesterday for example. I had booked a shuttle from Ubud to Amed the previous night – organised by the helpful man at my accommodation, He gave me the address of his cousin’s homestay in Amed and since he has been o kind I was only too pleased to take his recommendation. I was told to be ready just before 7, and that I would be helped with my case, and dropped at my accommodation. Not was the case. I struggled down the steep steps alone, as the driver waited patiently at the entrance 15 minutes earlier than I had been told watching me struggle with all my luggage he then turned on his heal to walk up the gang to the car! I had to ask him to help me to which he did of course, but clearly felt it wasn’t his job. The “direct shuttle” wasn’t direct, and we had to change buses in Padangbai to one with no air con (later traffic jam was very unpleasant). On arrival in Amed the driver dropped us (there were fortunately 2 French passengers with me) at a hotel in the “middle” of Amed, refusing to drive any further and drove off. Now it’s NOT easy to get around when you are lugging what I am, in that heat with motorbikes whizzing around uneven roads and no pavments. We were all pretty disgusted that he was prepared to just leave us there! A member of staff came out of the hotel, and seeing our predicament offered us to drive us to the hotel the French people had booked, at a steep price. I told him I had the address on the back of my bus ticket which the driver that driven away with. When I told him where it was, he said he would get me a better place, for a better price. Of course I was taken to his cousin’s homestay, which, pleasant though it was, wasn’t where I wanted it to be – It was far from the nice part of the beach, although I was assured this place was “on the beach” it wasn’t. But what else could I do?
Today, in a new location I became frustrated at everyone approaching me offering me a taxi, even after I said no I would often be followed down the street and asked again repeatedly. The same thing happened at the beach. Do I want to go in a boat? No thank you. Then following me, or approaching me again after I have sat down to ask me again, and again, not today? Tomorrow? It’s doing my head in! And much as I would love to go in a boat please, I won’t say yes and pay the same price you charge for 6 people as I am on my own, or get in a boat out to sea with an Indonesian man who is likely to grill me about my personal life (this too is normal and apparently harmless, but wildly frustrating!) I think I actually upset the driver I had in Ubud the other day when I refused to answer his questions about my previous relatonships to which he persistently asked, despite me telling him I was not in the mood to discuss my heartbreak.
So travelling alone? Good or bad? It has its merits of course, but right now perhaps I am in the wrong frame of mind. I am tired, keen to step onto my own turf, keen to have someone by my side and tired of having to struggle when I could do with a hand…
How are you going to eat INdonesian food? It’s so spicy!
Wrong! Indonesian food isn’t necessarily spicy – it can be if you want it to – but there are variety of choices!
I did my best to sample to local fare in Legian and once I have done the 5 staple dishes, I felt it was time to try more. Ubud is renound for its fabulous food and abundance of restaurants. As you walk down the street in Ubud each building is either a restaurant, cafe, accommodation or a shop. Most places are offering local dishes, artfully served and delicious in every way.
One of the only things I had planned to do was a cooking class – so I could go home with something practical other than just a suntan and a few cheap sarongs (can’t afford a lot else!) so I took a class in Bumu Bali, on Monkey Forest Road.
We started with a tour of the local market – with Made, our 18 year old tour guide/cooking teacher, myself and a German/French couple. This made things interesting as at times we had a 4 way translation going! Made might mis pronounce something, which I would re-itterate and then it was translated into French and/or German. Or vice-versa a German word was translated into French, which I figured out in English, to tell Made who told us the Indonesian word… tiring!
First stop: Ubed markets. These are partially underground and relatively quiet as far as markets go. The smell is something to note and the the place doesn’t look or feel clean in any possible way. Even Made commented on the “funky” smell! This is where most of Ubud buy their groceries and a number of them are unrecogniseable to the Western pallette. I wish I had taken a paper an pen, as I cannot remember what most of them were!
Next we went into the darkness of the underground part of the market – a maze of darkly lit stalls, squeezing past vendors and buyers, a musty smell and rice, spice and more rice!
Made talked us through the spices that most Balinese kitchens have, where they come from and what forms you can buy them in. I realise now, having done the cooking class that a number of spice can’t be bought in the UK, so I should have invested…
Next came the class…
First we learnt how to make Basa Gede – which is a basic spice paste – used as the base for many dishes.
It contains all of this:
and usually is ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. However- thankfully many modern ladies use a blender!
The next dish prepared was indeed my favourite – Tempe Manis Otherwise known as sweet tempe. I my default did a vegetarian course, which interesting though it was used tofu and tempe as the base for all the dishes. I am not sure if I can sway my family to eat “vegetarian” food, but oh my goodness if I can whip this dish up again I’ll be happily eating it all by myself!
Next on the list was Vegetable Curry – which I forgot to photgraph as I was too busy eating it! And finally Balinese fried banana – bit of a heart attack – at least the idea is, but the batter itself uses half wheat, half rice flour, so it’s light enough to not feel too guilty…
And not to forget palm sugar! Used in everything and it makes it all so delicious!
Watch this space readers – plenty more to come – Rice terraces, Amed coast, a whinge about solo travel, and a bit more on Candidasa and Padangbai…
I spent a couple of days wandering around Ubud, with no real plans to speak of. I am getting quite tired of racing around trying to see things and exhausting myself, and one of the merits of travelling by yourself is that you can afford the luxury of doing things your way. So I dipped in and out of shops, galleries, down gangways and sat down in cafes to enjoy cups of tea, fresh juices and iced coffees. Not a bad way to spend a few days, however I noted that although Ubud is supposed to be quieter and more relaxed, it has indeed become a tourist hub and it’s impossible to walk down any street without noticing this.
Signs are written in English everywhere, drivers are desperate to get you in their car to show you the “real” Bali, There is an abundance of salons, cafes, restaurants and accommodation to fit every budget.And there is a tourist price tag on most of it unfortunately.
Speaking to a couple of locals I am informed that Ubud before Eat, Pray, Love was a completely different place – a small town centred around the market, surrounded by rice fields and a slower pace of life. Now however, the regular flow of tourists ( a large number of Americans not surprisingly) who stay and the huge number of day trippers means traffic is often very congested and it can take over an hour to drive the length of Monkey Forest Road, which is a couple of kilometers. It also means that those attractive looking street facing restaurants on that street come with exhaust fumes as well as the constant hum of scooters.
I am please I went – glad I got to sample the local fare, as well as learn to cook it, and also happy to have the opportunity to get out and see the are surrouding Ubud.
More to come…
Everyone tells you to go to the Sacred Monkey Forest here in Ubud – it’s in most guide books, on most people’s to-do lists and at a mere $2 AUD it’s well worth a go.
That said – if you don’t like monkeys, they scare you a bit or you are not keen on being ambushed – best to give it a miss…
After checking in and re-fuelling on my first day I tottered down Jalan Monkey Forest, not paying too much attention to my destination, dipping in and out of shops and skimming over cafe menus until I found myself at the gates. I paid my entrance fee and read the instructions and handed over my bag to the security so I wasn’t carrying anything appealing to cheeky monkeys. I had just bought a bunch of bananas and was putting money back in my bag when a monkey raced up behind me, jumped onto the counter and stole the whole bunch! He looked very pleased with himself once he had scampered up a tree to safety and had the whole bunch to himself!
Once in the park you encounter people feeding monkeys left right and centre. I saw a keeper instructing people to hold a banana way above your head so the monkey runs up your body and eats it from your shoulder. Of course I managed to find a bit of banana on the floor to have a go, and up the monkey ran!
Unable to find someone to thrust my camera at, I managed a quick snap myself before the little dude jumped off. Later, finding a monkey with nothing to do and another bit of disgarded banana I tried it again, this time two monkeys jumped on! Suddenly a little scared that this might no go well, I was quickly rescued by another tourist, wanting a monkey photo of his own, he leant in and one jumped off. Banana finished, the monkey on my head then started working on my hair! Perhaps he was kindly checking me for nits? I quickly removed my sunglasses before he could get them, and held onto my necklace as his little hands started trying to find things to steal, I raised me hand in panic and got a little nip on the finger from a monkey who wasn’t keen to hop off any time soon! Eventually he jumped off as I started walking about, and I continued my journey through the somewhat magical Monkey Forest.
Later on whilst walking down the street of the park itself something landed on my shoulder from a great height with a heavy splat which also hit my face. Guess what it was? Monkey poo – from a great height. It smells revolting and of course is probably good luck, although I thought it was pretty shitty luck! The first people that saw me didn’t have any tissues and unkindly carried on walking. Thankfully a few steps later I encountered a gay American couple who went into a shop to ask for tissues and helped wipe me up as best they could before I could find a toilet for a proper wash!
All part of the fun!
As I write this I am sipping on very sweet strong coffee, and eating a freshly prepared fruit salad, sitting on the balcony of my $15 room. Instead of rushing off sightseeing, I am taking it easy, trying to work with the Ubud rhythm and also taking a moment to catch this blog up!
So I arrived in Ubud yesterday afternoon. I had a driver take me from my hotel in Legian all the way to Ubud. Davy was a well informed man with little to say, but questions he could easily answer. Interestingly the journey was shared with another guest from the same hotel who was from Melbourne – so thanks to my Australian experience we found we had plenty to talk about between commenting regularly on the alarming number of motorists with no helmets on, cyclists with no helmets on and that despite the somewhat erratic nature of the roads I noted that about 90 % of vehicles on the road looked brand new, and I didn’t see any with signs of previous accidents. Much as I love driving, you’ll know from previous posts, I have to say Indonesia is not somewhere I would willingly rise to the challenge.
On our way to Ubud, as predicted we stopped at a number of places. Yes of course these were all very interesting, and even a few things to be learnt by watching people creating works of art or traditional crafts, but I couldn’t help feel that I was a bit of disappointment to my driver and owners of the places we visited, as I didn’t once put my hand in my pocket to make a purchase.
I didn’t take any photos ( and quite probably wouldn’t have been allowed ) of the ladies working on silk batiks, or the jewellery makers working on filigree earrings and the artists in different stages of their 3 week paintings. I really do appreciate seeing things like this, but can’t help but feel a sense of desperation as we are steered into these places and looked upon hopefully as tourists with money who might make their day.
Once arriving in Ubud a communication problem, a traffic jam and a very hot day meant that finding a place to stay was a little more stressful than needed. We drove past the first two places I wanted to try and by the time I realised we were looking for somewhere to drop me off, all I could do was jump out of the car in traffic and run to a few of the many guesthouses that Ubud is abundant with. I was going to go for a little luxury – hoping for a pool in a lush green garden, but what I ended up with – where I am sitting now couldn’t be better.
Right down the end of a gang ( small lane way ) I found Rice Paddy Bungalows. Having tried a place recommended by the Lonely Planet which was revolting, and another place in the same gang as this which looked mosquito ridden I was happy to land upon this. There’s only 6 rooms here – in three buildings and set in a lovely green garden. Cadek, who later told me his name was lying on the ground when I poked my head into the garden. “Yes?” He said smiling, as he jumped up and put his t-shirt on. He showed me the available room – up a steep set of stairs, but wonderfully spacious, spotless and incredibly good value. It’s a large room with a beautiful 4-poster bed ( I have always wanted to sleep in a 4 poster bed!!) and a bathroom which is kind of a wet room. I have a large balcony with table and chairs, breakfast included and wifi in my room. Not to mention the very friendly staff who asked me politely where I was from etc but thankfully did not ask me where my boyfriend was or enquire as to why I was travelling alone – two questions I am already tired of answering – so much so I have taken to wearing a fake engagement ring!! Kedak also came all the way with me back to the car to collect my suitcase. When I asked if he’d mind helping me I hadn’t realised he’d be willing to take it all the way there and then – to my shock – pick it up and carry it on his head up the steps to my room!
Everytime I have met Cedak he as greated me warmly, remembering my name. This morning, I woke up nice and late for once and once he saw me on my balcony he rushed up to offer me the breakfast menu. What arrived was delicious indeed – A banana pancake drizzled with honey, a black coffee and fruit salad of banana, papaya, pineapple and melon. Incredible value for just $15 – compared to the revolting room I stayed in the previous night which I paid $4o for!
“I have absolutely no desire to go to Bali” “Everyone goes there!” “I don’t know why you want to go to Bali”
“I wouldn’t go to Bali if I were you, it’s not safe anymore” “Ooooh you be careful there in Bali. it’s quite dangerous you know” “Why go to Bali? There are so many other places you could visit”
Just a few of the reactions I got when I told people I was spending two weeks in Bali on my way home to the UK.
I consider myself to be fairly streetwise, not as well-travelled as I would like to be, but an optimistic, open-minded traveller in any case. These comments, although disappointing, were not going to put me off visiting a country that has been on my wish list for many many years. Yes, I indeed had conjured up (possibly unrealistic ) images of white sandy, palm-fringed beaches and those lovely bed-like seating areas in beach bars to sip long drinks and watch the sunset. I also had a serene, green country in my mind, where people take life slowly, do yoga, eat well and live our dream. Of course I know I had to reduce and re-check my own expectations, but what I can conclude after my third day is that Bali clearly is what YOU make of it.
Forgive me for the lack of pictures in this post, but perhaps thanks to my flight, a lot of moving around, carrying heavy bags and the emotional stress of saying goodbye to so many people – my body seems to have decided that now is a good time for it to hurt. A lot. So I have been trying to walk around with as little as possible, meaning my camera very often gets sacrificed for a bottle of water. At this point I also wish to add that this post (and entire blog) is merely my opinion, and my musings on what I have observed and experienced. If I am offending anyone ( I probably will ) then please do not comment – as I won’t post it. I have to say this, as I once wrote something that a reader disagreed wildly with and wrote so in a comment which I deleted.
My first port of call was Legian – supposedly much less frantic and touristy than Kuta, and a little less snazzy than Seminyak. I think someone told me there are 6 flights daily out of Perth to Denspasar, Bali – so it’s little wonder that tourism has exploded, Australians are everywhere and catering for the masses means that some of Bali’s charm might have been reduced. It’s not hard to escape the fact that this once small, probably quaint seaside village has now morphed into a “cater for all” type destination. You cannot walk down the street without people calling out “Hello Darling shopping? Nice looking! Transport? Taxi? Nice things! Bloody good price ( this made me hoot the first time I heard a little Indonesian man tell me in an Aussie accent that he would give me a “bloody good price”). Every restaurant offers you the 5 same dishes – Mie Goreng, Nasi Goreng, Chicken Satay, Gado Gado and seafood Laksa. On the same menu you will find steak and chips and every Western item they can think of. It’s also not hard to ignore the fact that there are large (sorry but they are), tattooed Australians walking around in Bintang vests, and yes true to the stereotype – often sunburnt. We have the equivalent undesirable tourists from the UK who make me cringe when I am on holiday, trying to hide my nationality, so I am not bashing the Aussies, just the ones that embarrass me.
Walking on the beach brought it home to me – it turned my stomach in fact. This apparently beautiful 12km strip of sand was littered with plastic waste – coming from the sea. I had my beer on a sun lounger, watching the sunset, so I could say I had done it. But I didn’t enjoy being hassled by the sellers, not did I want to even put a toe into the revolting looking water.
Now I am sounding very negative I know, and I didn’t even go to Kuta – imagine what I would say about that! But as I said, I think Bali is what you make of it. For many Australians it’s a cheap get away – cheaper than going somewhere locally. You have got guaranteed sun, cheap food, beer, clothes and services ( massages start from just $6 – If I were Australian I’d be flying over for pampering alone!) and your dollars can probably get you a nice hotel with a pool if the beach isn’t appealing. If you surf – I imagine everything else is a bonus.
But I am generalising wildly of course and speaking of the stretch from Kuta to Seminyak – the most popular tourist areas and easiest to get to from the airport.
In my case – I am certain Bali has much more to offer. I have eaten those 5 dishes, had a massage, manicure and pedicure, done my sunset beer, and then started to get a little irked by constantly feeling like people saw me as a walking cash machine and keen to spend. So I am heading inland to Ubud, for a change in pace, a change in atmosphere, a slight change in temperature and to try and find the essence, not the tourist face, of Bali.
I arrived in Brisbane airport, one I am so very familiar with now, about 2 weeks ago. I was tired, and a bit hungover. I wasn’t sure what to expect – only that I was going to be suitcasing it up and down the east coast to tick boxes and fit everyone in as best I could before departing. Some I am certain I will see again, others I’m not so sure. Age plays a bit part in the uncertainty of repeat visits – but true to my word I made it back to connect with my Maltese family here in Brisbane.
Not being one to reveal myself, nor the identity and privacy of my friends, family or those I meet on my travels – It’s a little hard to express this visit in a blog.
What I wish to say though, was that leaving this part of my family after just three and a half days in their company – having met a number of people who I never knew existed – sharing stories, photographs and filling in the gaps of a bit of family history, was harder than I imagined.
I was treated like a long lost (which I suppose on one level is true) much loved member of the family. Stories were shared of my Maltese grandmother – the Aunt of the relative I was staying with – and her time here in Australia 60 years ago with my father and his father.
The three of them arrived in 1950, when my dad was just 8 months old. They arrived on a boat, as many did, as “ten pound poms”, as many did and left two years later, as some did. Their time was short, but the memories have held fast for many years. They left, but other members of my Nana’s family stayed, having permanently relocated here from Egypt. And so the Maltese side of my family set up their lives in Darra, Queensland.
I was so fortunate to be invited into this world, and welcomed so openly. I ate fabulous Maltese and Italian food (They are a Maltese-Italian family), drank homemade wine, fresh coffee, listened to Italian conversation and found a piece of myself in these people. I met a number of second cousins (My dad’s cousins), their spouses and their children and was told I had barely scratched the surface.
There are two sides of my family here in Australia. On my mother’s side there are my Grandmother’s brothers and their children. Many of these I had met from various visits over the years, and who I have happily reconnected with, as well as cousins I had heard of but not met until now.
But back in January last year, shortly after arriving from the UK after my Christmas break I’d had lunch with a cousin of my mum’s and was walking back to another cousin’s house where I was staying when it occurred to me that these weren’t the only people in my family who lived in Australia. I had no idea where my dad’s family were living, or even if they were still alive. I just felt I needed to do something – I thought it would be nice to locate the house my dad lived in as a toddler and take a photo of it, so I called him and asked if he could find the address. What do you know – the next day I had jumped on a train and was spontaneously knocking on the door of a total stranger to me, who I’d been told was my second cousin. After an understandable amount of confusion I was welcomed in for a cup of tea, and then sent to another house a few doors away to repeat the same speech to another cousin I hadn’t met before. It was a mad decision to jump on the train that day – with no notice and just arrive at someone’s door – but perhaps one of the best decisions I have made so far, as I unearthed a whole group of interesting, loving, caring souls who welcomed me as though we’d known each other for years.
It’s worth mentioning that I never came to Australia to specifically meet any of these people – I came on a mission of my own to find my own way, answer some questions and to see what I could do for myself here in Australia. Everyone that has come to me, or become part of my life here has been such a wonderful bonus that they deserve a place in my blog.
Brisbane from Mt Coot-tha where I was taken for a visit.