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.
Our stay in Bali was planned as creative downtime, where we generally stay in one place, spend a lot of time reading, writing, doing sports—“recharging our batteries” in many different ways. Such trips usually follow fairly predictable daily schedules, starting with jogging at sunrise, followed by mornings at the beach, finishing with afternoons and evenings strolling public spaces.
In Bali we could only really do the beach part of the three. Jogging was out due to lack of infrastructure—no sidewalks and no runner-friendly trails. For the same reason, evening strolls were also not an option. The island is direly missing safe public spaces, and I stress safe, because a busy, narrow commercial street or a crowded local market do not count as such. Yes, there’s a 4km long beachfront walk in Sanur (the first one of its kind in Bali), but even that’s pretty dense with people, shared with bikers and littered with unending offers of massaaage.
A brief conversation I had with a surfing instructor in Kuta (who’s offer I declined politely, but they always continued talking for a while), reveals an insight:
- “Poland is a rich country, right?”
- “Not really. We’re still way behind the ‘western’ countries.” I replied, aiming to underline that we’re a lot more sensitive to prices than, for instance, the Dutch or Australians.
- “Our country is so poor.”
- “But it’s also very beautiful.” I was trying to be positive.
- “Oh, that we have from God. The poverty is our doing.”
I concur. Most of what is truly wonderful in Bali is nature. The fertile, volcanic soil, together with a hot, humid climate, create perfect conditions for fifty thousand shades of green to flourish. Look below the sea level and there’s a world of its own there, with countless fish and corals in every imaginable color.
Those are the sort of landscapes you will see in photos, postcards and travel folders advertising Bali. It’s all too easy to pick out a piece of reality, frame it and discard everything around it—the traffic, trash and omnipresent civilizational disorder. I’m just as guilty here as any other photographer, because hey, why would I bring ugly photos back home?
Most of what’s unpleasant originates from humans. Which is actually reason to be optimistic, because if humans have created something, then humans can also change it, and the Balinese are already working on it.
We found the Balinese themselves to be some of the kindest people we’ve met anywhere in the world. They smiled a lot and frequently offered help without us asking. Very often when we stopped our scooter to check Google Maps for directions, someone would shortly stop next to us and inquire whether we needed any help. And our host at the Sanur Bagoes Guest House offered invaluable help and guidance.
Will we return to Bali? Perhaps. Its distance from Europe, speaking geographically and culturally, makes it the ideal destination to reset and recharge. Its infrastructure and environmental awareness are improving. And there’s a whole lot we haven’t seen yet simply because we didn’t know where to look, as offered by a book we stumbled upon in the last days of our stay: Bali Daze – Freefall off the Tourist Trail. The door on this one remains open.