Bali made an average effort on our first traveller/destination date together, but did not overly impress. We did have a few good times, but I really don’t think there’s any future in the relationship. Is it time we part ways?
When you hear the name Bali it evokes romanticised thoughts of a far away paradise, a tropical haven embossed with the idealistic paradigm of enchantment and romance. Thoughts of white sanded tropical beaches fill your mind and you are swayed of stories about the rich cultural heritage of the friendly Balinese people and the western influences that extend no further than a relaxing spa retreat and a few yoga classes.
But it isn’t really like that.
Bali is almost put on a pedestal in Western culture; revered by travel agents and package tourists as the ultimate in luxury travel, waxed lyrical about in novels and film, dreamed about by those seeking the ultimate escape.
And maybe that’s part of the problem.
Like a relationship that started with high hopes but has quickly gone sour, the reality of Bali no more resembles the dream than a fantasy notion of nostalgic wish fulfilment, and just like that relationship there comes a time when no matter how many good times there have been, no matter how you feel, you just have to let go.
My first visit to Bali didn’t start off well. I admit it. Thanks to the general laissez faire attitude to work in Bali (which I can normally sympathise with quite well, just not after a long flight and no sleep) and an immigration officer who paradoxically came straight from the Hitler school of tin pot despotism, actually getting into the country was an ordeal and a half.
First impressions did not go well at all. Never mind I thought, I’m a seasoned traveller and can get through it.
What followed was wave after wave ever increasing disappointment. Like going on a romantic dinner to find a rude, burping, nose picking date you have absolutely nothing in common with. The famed beaches were strewn with rubbish and most of the half decent stretches of sand I found had been swallowed up and cordoned off by private hotels and tourist complexes. Even the okay beaches weren’t a patch on others I had been to. in the region.
The pollution was on a level that is shocking for such a small island and it was difficult to escape the drunken Australians over on a cheap package holiday and the mentality that made it seem like Bali was to Australia that Benidorm is to the British. Even Ubud, the famed cultural heart of Bali kept trying to trip me up, either literally with the impossibly uneven pavements that made every short walk seem like an intense step aerobic exercise, or figuratively with the overly touristy resort feeling. You just could not escape package tourists and crowds of middle aged housewives you just couldn’t move for, all thinking they were Julia Roberts and trying to find themselves over a wheatgrass smoothie and a yoga retreat.
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty about Bali that I did actually love. We did have some good times together.
The relationship wasn’t going smoothly, but there was still just enough to like about Bali that intrigued me. Just enough to like that made me want to see past all of that initial nonsense and made me want to come back for more.
The Balinese people are among the most friendly I have met anywhere. From the host family at my homestay in Ubud who quite literally redefined hospitality to almost every local I met – outside of the tourist trap markets and touts of course – who always had the biggest smiles on their faces when greeting me, a complete stranger. Parts of the culture are both fascinatingly mysterious and unendingly beautiful all at the same time.
I was even impressed with the efforts the local and volunteer workers at BAWA were making to ensure the safety and health for the dogs and cats of the island.
There were times on Bali where I did relax and enjoy my surroundings, there are still definitely some places where you can escape the crowds of Kuta beach and the heavily touristy areas, I stayed in some great places, met some awesome people, saw some amazing things and there were times where I am glad I came. Truly. Despite everything I am glad I came to Bali and experienced some good times.
It all sounds great, I know. So what was my problem?
Despite all of that, it just wasn’t enough. There was no spark. There was none of that indefineable magic that makes a traveller truly fall in love with a destination. I wanted to be swept off my feet by Bali and all I got was, well, mostly average and uninspiring. In fact, it was the good times that made the bad ones seem so infuriating. I suppose not everyone can like everywhere, and I think that is the case here. Bali was nice, it just wasn’t somewhere I gelled with all that well. I certainly would never discourage anyone else from coming here and discovering it for themselves. I know many people love Bali and if that is you then that is awesome, I hope you make a happy travelling couple, it just isn’t for me.
I’m sorry Bali, but it’s time we part ways. It isn’t you, it’s me.
Oh okay, it is you and there are far more beautiful fish in that South East Asian sea for me to spend any more time with you, but I would like to stay friends!
Who knows, maybe I’ll return one day and try to give you another chance? Maybe. That’s the real beauty of travel. You won’t like every place you visit, it’s impossible, but there are always new places to explore and more than plenty new fish in the sea.
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