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#RussInBali One - Intro

INDONESIA | Monday, 30 September 2019 | Views [251]


I usually try to write a lot along the way when traveling, but this trip I found myself posting to InstaBook more than writing (search #russinbali on Insta or Facebook for more pics and stories). However I had plenty of time on the long flight home (between episodes of the shows I downloaded) to catch up.

I decided to go to Bali in September. It’s supposed to be the end of the tourist season, nice weather, and a tropical paradise. I booked a ticket for 3 weeks but didn’t book much in between so I could wing it.  I’m glad I did because I found Bali wasn’t what I was looking for, at least what I thought I was looking for.

Indonesia is a 17k+ island nation in South Asia. It is mostly Muslim, except Bali which is predominantly Hindu.  They also have Christians and Buddhists officially and some other religions not officially. Some familiar names of places - mostly because they are coffee growing regions or their political history are Bali, Jakarta, Java, Sumatra, Timor, Papua (Papua New Guinea is a separate country but shares the island with Papua) among others. I now have a better idea of where these and other places are in the world.  They have volcanoes all over the place. Some are active. They also get hella earthquakes. Last year in Lombok they had a series of earthquakes. Over 6.0 every week for 4 weeks. They are still rebuilding in many places. 

Me and a temple


I spent the first week tripping around Bali. It’s the most popular destination for Americans, Europeans, and a TON of Aussies. I wanted to get a feel for it but had no intention of spending too much time there. It’s a popular surfing destination so lots of foreign versions of the people I see in Santa Cruz. Mostly single lane roads. Driving on the left side of the road like in England. Traffic could be pretty rough at times. Lots of locals and tourists ride on scooters, zig zagging past each other, sneaking into the right lane every chance they get.  Intersections still freak me out with people going each way and I’m still used to how we drive at home so I’m always visualizing going into the wrong lane- which is why I took cabs and hired drivers when I needed to get anywhere I couldn’t walk to. That and all the scooter accidents I heard about and witnessed. I hear that Jogjakarta has a decent train system, and I saw some public buses there, but I never needed it. Other than that I did not see much public transport in Indo.  There are not a ton of traffic lights or stop signs. There ARE a ton of people directing traffic. Many hotels and restaurants had one or more people responsible for helping cars pull in or out of driveways and parking spaces. They walk out into the road with their hand in the air or blowing a whistle to try and get drivers’ attention so that they stop. This is also how I learned to cross the street at busier intersections when on foot (I’m grateful for the experience of growing up in NYC in the 80s where I got plenty of practice dodging traffic while jaywalking- like a game of frogger!) Sometimes in Jogjakarta I just waited for someone else to cross and walked on their far side. The traffic directors can also be seen standing in the middle of the busier intersections conducting traffic - it was pretty impressive. There is a system of honking, almost a secret language. Certain beeps mean “I’m going to pass you”, “Thank you for letting me pass”, “I’m coming around this tight corner”, “Look out for ___” and if they hold the horn more than a second or two it might mean “Screw you for ____”. It’s a pretty polite scene on the road all in all. 


All over Indonesia they burn their garbage, plastic and all. Combine that with the exhaust from all the scooters and vehicles, most men smoke, there was open fire grilling going on everywhere I went - wood/coal/paper/dried coconut shell (and I know that they burn the rainforest in at least a few locations - I saw nothing) and you can begin to understand what air quality is like. I was not bothered at any point, but I feel bad for those on their scooters traveling behind the buses and trucks. That would suck. I guess that’s why I see so many people with face masks on. I thought it was because they were sick or trying not to catch other’s germs but now I get it. 


Pretty much everything is set up for locals to make a few $ from tourists. You pay for entry to everything, even parking and photo opps. Plenty of restaurants with pictures on the menu. Souvenirs galore. On the flip side things can be unbelievably inexpensive.  Many of the meals I had were the equivalent of under $2 or even just pocket change. I stayed in some nice hotel rooms that were less than $50 but would have been hundreds back home or in Europe. 


WiFi is available almost everywhere, sometimes better than others. I got a SIM card and my phone always worked.  They have their own alphabet but it’s not used very often except for some temples and official looking buildings. They often use “our” alphabet to spell their words. Like “air minum” - pronounced ah-ear min-um which means drinking water.  By the time I left Indonesia i was familiar with many words like shop (toko) parking (parkir) hours (Jam!), push (dorong), pull (tarik), closed (tutup) etc - things you see on shop signs. I could say hello any time of day. Like Spanish you have to be specific about time of day when greeting - all start with Selamat. Then Pagi, Siang, Sore, or Malam depending on the time of day. Bali has it’s own language but they understand Indonesian. Thank you in Bali is Suksma and answered with Mawali. In Indonesian it’s Tarima Kasi and answered with Sama Sama. Some I figured out on my own, others I asked. Anywhere I go I try to learn some words and the longer I am there the better at the language I get. And locals always appreciate a westerner trying to speak the language. It’s a great conversation starter. Common sense but still a lot of fun. 


Street art/graffiti all over the place. Some really nice work. Chickens, dogs, cats, and birds everywhere in Bali.  Saw some monkeys along the roads in Bali.  There’s a ton of world famous coffee growing regions all over the islands, but they generally serve instant coffee ... I wasn’t expecting that. 


My first stop was Legian on the west coast of the island close to the airport. Felt like an Australian tourist trap.  Many of the bars were Aussie owned. Didn’t run into many Americans but I could spot the Aussies pretty easy after the first day, verified by hearing the accent. I did meet a few nice Australians, but for the most part the aussies didn’t respond when I would say hello and smile - I literally do this to every person I pass on the streets everywhere I go and I have to say that the Indonesians almost always responded with a smile of their own - especially when I used their language. I really enjoyed meeting all the nice people of Indonesia. 


After 24 hours of travel and the build up preparing to leave for the trip I had an agenda which is why I chose Legian- relax in a comfy room with all the proper amenities, get acquainted with the language and vibe,  and get some beach time in. I did all this and a massage too. Tried a couple of Bali “staples” like a smoothie bowl, nasi goreng and spring rolls but I don’t recall anything too exciting. I was not too familiar with other dishes. Walked a lot. After spending time on the rest of the island I feel Legian is not representative of Bali culture, rather the spot to go if you want beach, English menus, and a party/spring break scene. The beach is lined with bars and surf shacks with resorts lining the back road that stretches along the beach. Same goes for Kuta which is just south of Legian. If that’s your thing you’ll be in heaven, but not me. So after Legian ...  Ubud

Tags: bali


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