Are you for scuba?: Not “finding myself” in Bali

Bali is the cliché holiday destination for Australians. Like Ibiza to the British or Cancun to Americans, Bali island has long been the tropical place of preference for young tourists to get monstrously drunk every night and so lower the locals opinion of their visitors’ respective nations.

“If your nation is so developed” ask the locals “why do you keep throwing up in our cabs?” It’s a fair question, to which I don’t have an answer to share; just the observation that the sort of holidaymakers who throw up in Balinese cabs, rest assured, throw up in Australian cabs too. It’s a very unfair world.

This was my sixth visit to Bali, and the second without my parents who live in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, where I was born. Even though I don’t speak the language beyond “good morning” and “thank you,” or know the road rules beyond “me first” and “never stop honking,” going back to Bali loosely feels like going “home.”

After waving off everyone in our lives convinced I was planning to propose, the girlfriend and I boarded a mid-afternoon Jetstar flight from Sydney to Denpasar with a view to tropical sloth.

Now, there are many new-age young travellers who purposely visit ‘out of the way’ travel experiences i.e. camping in a yurt, passing through orphanages for super, SUPER deep Instagrams, dying at Everest base camp etc. who look down on superficial holidaymakers like myself, so I just want to say “Good for you. Want an organic cookie?” Now STFU for once in your life forever and allow me to tell you how I didn’t get round to ‘finding myself’ while traveling:

To avoid other tourists we opted to stay faaaaaaar away from the party/big fat white idiot district of Kuta/Legian beach, and settled instead in the lesser known district of Canggu; a rice paddy-intensive community about an hour’s drive into the island’s interior. To further increase the solitude, we plumped for a private villa.

My dude. It was nice. Private pool, outdoor living area with kitchen and lounge. Garden of frangipani and coconut trees on which orchids grew. Breakfast came to us at a time of our choosing. Upstairs/downstairs bedroom. Sun lounge.wp-1464140754463.jpg

Pond turtles.

turtle_time“There used to be over a hundred small fish in there” said the owner, a nice Slovenian man who married local and stayed and stayed. “But the turtles…”

And stop. Hammock time.WIN_20160519_09_27_52_Pro

But the very best bit of villa life was the open air bathroom which backed onto rice fields. I felt very lordly standing in the shower, flashing the countryside.WIN_20160519_11_36_13_Pro

“Look upon my wang, dear workers, and despair!” I decried to a draught buffalo in the middle distance, who seemed nonplussed.

During our breakfasts, a Gollum-looking cat would hop over the wall and mew at me.wp-1464140754438.jpgI’ve never owned a cat before, but a saucer of milk on the floor seemed to satisfy it, just like the cartoons said. “Stop living down to the humans’ expectations, cat! That’s what they want you to do!”

Our goal of avoiding other tourists however got off to a rocky start on our first day trip: a tour into the interior with our private driver (I already said we don’t share.)

First stop was a silversmith where we could peek over the shoulders of busy bees fashioning shiny metals and gemstones, before  being taken into a much larger viewing gallery for shopping. The girlfriend immediately threw down a very large sum of money. Stop two was a batik (a type of local textile design) trader, where you could again peek over the shoulders of people trying to work before being escorted into a much larger gallery and shop. She threw down in there two. I nodded hellos to all the tourists we saw at the silversmiths.

More successful was the lunch stop at the top of Bali, where we sat on the literal edge of a great valley, with views to a volcano and impressively large mountain-top lake. As we munched on satay and mie goreng a cloud passed beneath us, and I realised this was the view from the top of the bean stalk. Marvellous. I could definitely see myself taking a shower in front of it.20160525_125901.jpg

The low point was the rice terrace stop. First: We were already flashing a rice terrace on the daily back at the villa. Second: Getting to this particular rice terrace required us to drive past several hundred other rice terraces.

Needless to say I immediately fell down in the rice field and mud got everywhere. In my raccoon wounds. The two pictures we took of the terraces in the five minutes we stayed were nice, authentic countryside save for the thirty white people in polo shirts clambering through it.

At the end of the day, we fetched up tired and smelling like armpit water in the Ubud monkey forest. There was a forest, and it was filled with monkeys. It was a very apt name. The monkeys are adorable little Abu-like kleptomaniacs, known to yank earrings, watches and sunglasses off tourists, presumably on behalf of some forest Aladdin, who sits on a mountain of swag.

I spent the walk spinning wildly and looking up lest a fuzzy ninja get the drop on me. A pair attempted to get in the girlfriend’s purse but got stuck on the zipper, and so sucked on her hand instead.

This concerned me, as I remembered a 90’s Michael Douglas movie about a virus outbreak which started with a monkey, and if Cuba Gooding Junior didn’t apprehend this outbreak monkey, the US government would drop a bomb on a small town to contain the outbreak. I think it was called “Billy And The Monkey-pocaplyse.”

Luckily, she didn’t exhibit any obvious signs of rabies or anything similarly unattractive the following morning, which meant we were clear to go SCUBA DIVING! on the island’s north side, the site of the wreck of the USS Liberty. Our dive master was an amicable Frenchman, which pleased me for some reason,scuba

The main bar (Rock Bar) and seafood grill were below the main resort, built into the actual cliff rock. We ate lobster two nights in a row because Baller Time. But in between we managed two last cultural stops:
A river run via white water raft through the Balinese jungle that looks for all the world like the Jurassic Park stegosaurus stream. We were one of perhaps thirty other rafting boats on the water that day, most of whom proceeded in an orderly single file, except for our boat which was the jerk boat. Egged on by our laughing river guide, we and an English couple paddled furiously forward, jumping the queue through narrow boulder canyons, nudging other boats into helpless pirouettes, squeezing them into the path of fallen trees, slamming them into rock walls. We totally won.
Back at the shop, a poster commemorating a visit by Jean-Claude Van Damme Himself in 1994 bore pride of place on the wall. The were right to leave it there.
Then the Elephant Safari. Riding an elephant I’d equate to being on the top level of a London double-decker bus if it were trying to cross a boulder trench. It was very wobbly up there, with each plodding step hurling you to the side, before the counter step hurled you to the other. If you took an elephant to work and tried to put lipstick on, you’d poke the person next to you in the eye. I liked it much more on ground level.

The park – which Steve Irwin called the best elephant safari park in the world – was home to 31 seemingly content Sumatran elephants, who seemed as happy to see us as they were to take a long dip in their capacious swimming pool when not on tour duty.

Our last day was a day of low accomplishment: A two and a half hour spa day. Oh yes. This elaborate set up was apparently par for the course for the lady, but I’d never subjected myself to so many consecutive lavishing’s. Marie Antoinette when to the guillotine for less. As I lay in a rose petal recovery bath, I wondered if this was the tub Julia Roberts masturbated in whilst eating a hoagie in Eat, Pray, Love. I haven’t seen Bali’s most famous movie, but it sounds like a realistic plot point.
So in conclusion: I forgot to take any Instagrams with deep hashtags. Hashtag authentic. Hashtag hashtag.
Just go to Bali:
“It’s very nice!” – Borat