This is a guest post by Natalya Pobedova who is a travelling nomad and backpacker from the beautiful Brno Czech Republic. She writes at www.travelsiders.com and will be talking about her adventures in Bali
When I first stepped off of the plane in Bali, I was hit with a wave of sticky, hot air and the smell of incense. I’d never been in such a large airport that had so little air conditioning, not to mention small shrines and religious statues in several places in the terminal. After finally getting through the long line for customs, I was faced with a barrage of taxi drives, each trying to convince me that their fares were cheaper than all of the others. I knew better since my sister, a local resident, had told me exactly what I should pay for a taxi ride to her home.
Before embarking on my journey, when I thought of Bali, I pictured an idyllic paradise—a tropical island filled with resorts, picturesque temples, and serene rice paddies. But Bali is far from serene. On my drive through the center of Denpasar, I was struck with the sheer number of people everywhere. Personal space is a luxury that those in Western Europe are accustomed to having. The streets are teeming with motorcyclists, cars, and even people. It seemed that at every stoplight, people would walk in the midst of the many cars with hands out. Others, often children, would race to our car window trying to sell flowers, offerings, or wash the windshield. This was the first time I had ever seen four people ride on a small motorcycle, two of which were undoubtedly under the age of ten. Bali is busy, stressful, and dirty, but it is not without beauty and charm.
Because my sister lived in a typical Indonesian neighborhood in Denpasar, I was able to see a side of Bali inaccessible to most European and Australian tourists. Community is much more intimate in Indonesia than in many of the more developed countries that I have visited. It was not uncommon for my sister’s neighbors to walk in the door without knocking. They would often bring food, candy, or sometimes would just drop in and say hello. In the evenings, we would often walk to the corner store, which was one tiny room run by an older lady missing several of her front teeth. The store always offered a variety of fruit, vegetables, unrefrigerated eggs, snacks, and drinks. Although the food looked as though it had been sitting on the counter for hours, they always had ice-cold Coca Cola. As we walked back to her home, we were regularly visited by a large crowd of unsupervised children who were playing and running in the streets. They always wanted to talk to us, touch our hair, and especially our skin. One beautiful little girl kept saying the same phrase over and over to me. When I asked my sister to translate, she told me that the girl was telling me how beautiful my white skin was. I later learned that light skin is so highly desired that women often pay exorbitant amounts of money to have it bleached and lightened in salons.
During my stay, I had the opportunity to visit several of Bali’s top tourist locations as well as some local hotspots. Among the most inspiring places I visited was Tanah Lot, Bali’s most well-known temple. Located off of the coast of South Kuta, Tanah Lot sits on a large rock sticking out of the sea. At low tide, it would be easy to walk to the temple. However, as it is regularly used for worship, only the priests in their white robes and yellow turbans can be seen praying in the temple. Despite the swarm of tourists, at sunset, Tanah Lot could truly be described as enchanting.
I also greatly enjoyed my two trips to the art market and monkey forest in Ubud. The art market offers something for every type of tourist. As I walked through the many shops, I perused thousands of items ranging from t-shirts and trinkets to beautiful tapestries and intricate wooden carvings. The market had musical performers and many local food vendors. One of the best meals I ate throughout my entire trip was at the market that day. I purchased Lumpia, a dish similar to spring rolls, which are fried in peanut oil and drizzled with satay sauce. On a different trip, I visited the sacred monkey forest. Filled with ancient trees, plants, a temple, and of course monkeys, this site is sacred for Hindus and Buddhists alike as it is representative of the coexistence between man and nature.
Finally, perhaps my favorite visit was to the local farmer’s market on a Saturday morning. Because my sister’s husband worked with farmers, teaching them methods of sustainability, he began attending the market where farmers sell cattle, chickens, and other animals. This market is an all-day affair for families. There is a lot more than animals being sold. Some stands sold food, clothing, herbal remedies, tools, shoes, and even cassette tapes. For breakfast, we bought hard-boiled duck eggs and fried rice—an Indonesian specialty. While it was clear we were the only non-Indonesian attendants, we thoroughly enjoyed walking around, eating, shopping, and visiting with shopkeepers throughout the day. Although I was first shocked by the sharp contrast between the poverty the Balinese people and the luxury found at most tourist locations, Bali is an inviting and beautiful island that is definitely worth visiting!
Natalya Pobedova is a travelling nomad and backpacker from beautiful Brno Czech Republic. She is 27 and makes a living as a freelance web developer to support her traveling needs. She also runs a travel website for backpackers as a hobby: http://www.travelsiders.com/. She dreams to fly to Brazil and speaks Portuguese fluently. She visited 14 countries already and most of them are in Asia and Europe.
Linked to Weekendwanderlust hosted by A Brit and a Southerner