Bali Musings

Below are simply my musings on Bali. I loved and enjoyed my time there and would go back again but I think it’s important to look at the impact that tourism has on small islands that lack the resources and infrastructure to keep up with the demand and investment pouring into it.

Bali is an interesting place. It is just one of thousands of Indonesian islands but to most western countries and tourists, it is more famous than the country of Indonesia itself. An economy that almost solely relies on tourism, locals must have a job that caters to it or not have one at all. It is such a diverse country, ecologically speaking, but there is almost no industry there. The main crop export is rice but the biggest use for many of the rice patties is to be a backdrop to an instagram photo. There are many famous hotels, beach clubs and restaurants but there is no infrastructure setup to support it. You can’t drink the local water even though there are lush forests and freshwater streams and rivers in many places.

The currency exchange rate is 14,000 Indonesian Rupiahs to 1 US dollar. This means that many tourists are spending over one million rupiahs each day while the locals are struggling to buy simple food. The prices in Bali are still cheap compared to what I am used to but I am sure that simple goods keep getting more and more expensive as tourism begins to drive up prices making it even harder for locals to buy the things they need.

Bali is the only mainly-Hindu province Indonesia while the rest of the country is mainly Islamic. This could be what attracted western people to Bali in the first place who, over time helped it become the tourist destination that you see today. I don’t know a ton of the details of Hinduism but it seems to have lent itself to a bohemian culture which is why the notion of Bali being a destination for vegetarian food and yoga is now such a norm. In most places, the one thing that stays true even with the influx of tourism is the food. In Mexico, both the locals and the tourists eat tacos just as with sangria in Spain and lamb/gyro in Greece. The interesting part about Bali is that the locals don’t eat the same as the tourists do. Their diets consist mostly of meat – pork and duck being the two biggest. The locals aren’t the ones drinking the fresh smoothies and vegan rice dishes, its all the tourists which surprised me.

It is the “land of 1,000 temples” so religion and traditions are obviously a big part of their everyday life and while they do bow, pray and give offerings I don’t think many practice yoga. Almost every local puts out little offering trays in the morning for their gods but they end up just getting eaten by stray dogs or stepped on throughout the day as tourists make their way down the narrow streets to the beaches.

Tourism clearly came on too quickly because there was no city planning done before all the hotels and beach clubs popped up. There is really no infrastructure to get from one place to the other. 90% of the people drive motorbikes and scooters which makes it very difficult for the 10% that drive cars. Even the smallest of cars have trouble driving down the extremely narrow streets. There also aren’t stop signs or street lights so it can become chaotic. Since there are so many more scooters than cars and they are naturally more nimble vehicles, they crowd the roads and do not let cars even drive on the normal streets that are wide enough to be two ways. A simple twenty mile drive can take over an hour or two and its not because there is bumper to bumper traffic. It is simply the fact that there is no infrastructure to support a highway system or even simple two lane roads that would allow you to drive over 35 mph.

You can probably guess that the buildings in the towns aren’t much better than the roads. Right next to a brand new hotel are tons of shacks. You’ll see locals trying to repair a temple with the simplest and barbaric of tools but obviously there has to be modern construction tools/techniques somewhere on the island to build these hotels. I guess the knowledge or accessibility wasn’t passed down by the foreign investment firms that built the hotel, made their money and got out. The electric grid can’t support the influx of people and there were blackouts on numerous nights. The blackouts lasted different lengths but it would shut down many local businesses since without lights it is hard for a shop or convenience store to stay open. For a place that describes itself as eco-friendly because the hotel towels use organic cotton and recycled water, it doesn’t really seem that way when you look a bit deeper into things. One of the more famous beach clubs has this long walkway before it opens up into the hotel and pool area. There are huge sculptures made of trash and metal and a mountain of thrown-out flip flops that illuminate the damage that humans have done to such a beautiful place. You take a picture because it looks cool and after your first drink in the pool you forget that you are actually part of the problem.

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I’m not trying to suggest that Bali is a bad place, that you shouldn’t go there or that I wasn’t part of the problem I described above. I simply wanted to share a slightly different side of the island – an honest, real view rather than the view as it looks through an Instagram filter.

 

 

 

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