We could live there. Adapt, eventually. Find our places, our people, a favorite stretch of beach, good coffee and reasonable access to the internet. If only we were very careful in selecting pieces of reality we like, and pass over all the rest. Bali today is not a paradise, it’s just too inconsistent. But it does have the makings of one.
A bike lane. Not something I expected to see in a city where most streets have no sidewalks, yet there it was. Painted on the side of a road, lit by LED street lights and… casually driven over by cars. Bali is dipping its toes in modernity while still firmly rooted in ways of the old.
A twenty-first century oasis, constructed from nothing in the scorching-hot desert, fueled only by the economic power of fossils (pun intended). It’s too impressive to omit, too exotic to ignore and too tempting not to dedicate a few hours in transit for exploring and verifying, what little we knew about the capital of Qatar, against reality.
A huge chunk of Bali’s riches are below the surface of the ocean. There’s a whole industry profiting off of that here, from diving courses and expeditions, through freediving to snorkeling for the amateurs among us (that would be us, of course). Exploring the seabed and its wildlife is one of the top three activities marketed every five meters on every commercial beach, along with surfing lessons and massaaage.
The jungle carries sounds of laughter, occasional screams of delight, and music; the voice of an excited, young speaker delivering a talk on environmental matters. We’re at Green School, nested in the middle of a thick bamboo forest, educating kids for a sustainable future, and possibly itself being the future of education.
Nasi goreng comes with rice (it’s literally “fried rice”), Mie goreng with noodles (accordingly “fried noodles”). Both basics around here, the former local Indonesian, the latter imported from China. Lest you think if you order them “with chicken” you’ll actually notice the little poultry scraps. Meat in Bali is at a premium.
Mind your step. They’re on the ground at every gate or entrance, though they’re not meant to greet visitors. Canang sari are offerings to gods—flowers, incense, often with some food, wrapped in bamboo leaves—freshly laid out every day. A symbol of the Balinese’ affinity with gods and spirits.
I wasn’t expecting to find any. We’re almost as far from Poland as physically possible while still remaining on the surface of Earth. I was expecting getting mixed up with Holland, which to the untrained ear sounds just the same, and then blank stares once we repeat “no, POland”. And I was wrong.
Paradise. We found it on the island where the land meets the sea, and it’s a whole different world from the craze of traffic and the never-ending rush of Denpasar with its adjacent cities. It must be the beaches around here that charm, enchant, captivate imagination, and keep folks coming back for more.
Brace yourself when, being white, you stumble upon a school trip of teenage, Muslim girls crossing your way in Bali. You’re just about to loose half an hour of your life on taking selfies with every single three or four of them. Just because you’re white—not even a particularly uncommon sight around.
Stay longer than a day, she said. Ubud has a lot to offer, she said. That’s mostly true—the crowd here is different than down at the beaches of the south. Young and fit backpackers or wealthy pensioners, shipped in with air-conditioned coaches. And monkeys, so keep your food stashed safely.
I feel safer driving here than I do in Warsaw. Or elsewhere in the western world, for that matter. Even on a two-lane road, densely filled with speeding cars, and motorcycles zooming by left and right. I know I can count on others to adjust to my maneuvers, as long as I execute them clearly and decisively. It’s when I hesitate that others get confused.
Our Flying Dutchman is leaving today. That’s not his name, but we didn’t get his real one when he first offered it. He’s been a source of recommendations for pretty much all of our dining here, having been a local here for months at a time. Now he’s off to a job in the Caribbean. One of the many vagabonds around here.
They always start with “Hellooo, how are you?”, spoken in a high-pitched voice, followed by the inevitable “Would you like a massaaage? Manicure?” Every ten meters along the beach in Kuta, every fifty in Sanur, ladies offering these local luxuries.
They have no sidewalks. The local streets consist of patches of asphalt (mostly smooth, thankfully), covered by a zillion scooters passing, sided by half-a-meter-deep ditches to contain heavy rainfall, then immediately property walls. Pedestrians enter at your own risk. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s unorderly. It’s Bali.