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.
To be fair to the people here, lovely as they are, some areas are better than others. More central streets have some sidewalks, some major streets have bike lanes and there's even some form of public transportation, though we only saw it used by schoolchildren. But first impressions are overwhelming and we were wondering: where's the paradise that we were promised?
We're still puzzled over how some people talk so highly of this place, spending months at a time here. Sometimes even years, working remotely or freelancing, enduring mildly inconvenient business visas, where they need to leave and re-enter the country every 60 days. Perhaps we became too westernized over the years—proper city dwellers if you will. Or perhaps it's all about extracting the bits of beauty from the surrounding chaos and focusing on those, discarding everything else.
The weather is beautiful. We had seven days of solid sunlight, and with the angle of the sun here, close to the equator shining straight down, got some minor burns just strolling on our first day. Quickly learned to wear hats and sunscreen on all exposed skin at all times. We're still expecting short, intense rainfalls in the coming days, as it's the beginning of the rainy season, but so far there were none.
There's a lot of vegetation. Green, thick, tropical trees everywhere—in the streets, gardens, and along the beaches. Then there are the beautiful rice fields, which we only had a glimpse of so far, at the outskirts of the city. We're yet to leave Sanur and Denpasar properly to experience more of Bali's nature.
Beaches we've seen, over here in Sanur and the Western side in Kuta, are long, sandy and very gently sloping into the sea. Lots of walking before one reaches reasonable depth, and even then swimming is discouraged (well, officially forbidden, but nobody seems to enforce that) due to strong winds and currents. Most people lay on sunbeds, shaded by umbrellas.
There's a lot of Dutch people here. Most of them seem to be living here, working—the “digital nomads” of today. Then we also frequently heard French spoken, and obviously there are the Australians, though most of these seem youngsters, sitting in noisy Kuta—the party paradise of the island. We're happy we were directed to Sanur, where our guesthouse is located off major streets, with a green, tranquil courtyard and a statue of meditating Buddha. We can always hop on our scooter and go somewhere more intense, when we want to, then retreat to calm and silence.
It's cheap-ish. Very cheap for Western Europeans, I assume. We got our apartment for 3 weeks for roughly €250, and for another €70 rented a scooter. The remaining expenses are a mix. Yes, you can get a meal here for €1, providing: you go to a really local place (and you have to know which one, since most look really shabby and you're probably interested in some hygienic standard) and you're fine with eating rice only. Want some protein with that? That'll cost you. A whole, smallish, grilled chicken costs €5, which is almost twice as much as we'd pay in Warsaw. Alcohol has ridiculous taxes imposed by government (Indonesia being a Muslim country, after all), so a pint of regular beer in a local shop costs almost €2—triple of what it'd be in Warsaw.
Oh, and there's no dairy, really. Yoghurts are all sweet and expensive (relative to other prices here), as is milk. Forget about cheese—none seen to date. Very little meat, no hams, sausages of any kind. Noodles, rice and fruits are plenty, though.
There's no way one can live without a scooter here. Hugely inconvenient to walk, no public transportation, lots of taxis, if one enjoys paying, and cars will often get stuck in traffic. Scooters, on the other side, with an ownership ratio of perhaps one per person here, move surprisingly fluidly. One needs to get used to driving on the left (no biggie) and generally behaving decisively on the road, and you're set. As one Australian advised me: focus on what's ahead of you and trust that the people driving behind you will sort themselves out.
So there we are. Zooming around on our rented scooter, looking for the bits and pieces of reality that make this place pleasant. With some recommendations from other expats, we found a few reasonable eateries (one offering a dessert of fruit salad with… mayonnaise; go figure), our favorite stretch of beach, with colorful little boats setup along the shore—earlier possibly used for fishing, nowadays probably mostly a tourist sight.
We're about to go inland in the coming days. See Ubud, more temples, rice fields, forests and hopefully some monkeys. Still looking to see what it is exactly that makes people so enchanted about this place.