Bali was not what I expected. Somehow I had it in my head that this would be a tropical paradise with pristine white beaches and palm trees swaying gently in the ocean breeze. Instead it was mile after mile of urban sprawl, hundreds of shops displaying every commodity you could possibly imagine, crowded, narrow roads and sidewalks filled with thousands of people on foot, in vehicles or on motor scooters. Not at all unusual to see a young woman at the front of a scooter with an elderly woman sitting side saddle on the back holding a newborn infant with one hand and the driver with the other. And no helmets. Most locals don’t wear them. The only saving grace should there be a collision was that none of the traffic could move very fast given the congestion. What we saw of Bali I would describe as a combination of China and some of the poorer countries in Central America. I’m sure behind the gates of the large resort hotels and perhaps on the north shore of the island there are places more like the ones I’d dreamed of but on this particular day, we sure didn’t see them.
Having said all that, we did enjoy ourselves in Bali. We had arranged a driver to show us around as much of the island as we could see in 5 or so hours. The ship was scheduled to anchor just offshore near Benoa, Bali at 0800. We were in line for tender tickets at 0700 and still only got the 5th tender out by the time we made it to the front of the line. By 0930 we were ashore and immediately being mobbed by locals scrambling to sell us beads and fans and carvings and all manner of junk. Lin spotted Hadi, our driver, waving a sign with our names on it in the throng of people and we quickly made our way to his van, politely repeating “no thank you” “no thank you” to every person who shoved something in our face that they wanted us to buy. Now doesn’t that just sound like China?
Our first stop of the day was at a Hindu temple. About 70% of Balinese people are Hindu although the number of Muslims are rising. Indonesia have the highest percentage of Muslims in the world so it is inevitable that the numbers in Bali will increase as the population expands.
From the temple we drove to a protected reservoir simply called the Monkey Forest. And it truly was. Monkeys, monkeys everywhere. Hadi had warned us not to feed or try to touch them as they can become quite aggressive. We kept our distance, enjoyed the walk through the steaming jungle-like trees and took a few nice pictures. Then it was on to a terraced rice garden with a couple of stops along the way at a Batik factory and a silver factory, both of which were very interesting. I bought a few earrings at the silver factory but found the prices for fabric at the Batik place to be very exorbitant.
Our last visit of the day was to a coffee plantation. I think I enjoyed this stop the most as it was both beautiful and very interesting. They grew not just several varieties of coffee beans but also many herbs and fruits and vegetables which they use to make teas. The most interesting of the coffee beans are a variety that are about the size of a grape and red in color. They are fed to a small animal called a mongoose that you will see in the photos. We fed him ourselves and I’m happy to say that his sharp little teeth only chomped on the bean and not on my fingers. These animals also eat all manner of fruits but the coffee bean is their favorite. And here comes the weird and pretty gross part. They digest the bean and then poop out some part of it which is collected, peeled, roasted and packaged for sale. Seriously. Mongoose poo coffee!! Considered to be a delicacy and the most expensive of the coffees they sell. Needless to say we passed on tasting the poo! The ginger and lemon teas were delicious though and we really enjoyed the visit.
We took a different route back to the ship but the scenery was a repeat of what we’d seen in the morning. On the way we passed through 5 villages but never left town. Each one simply merged into the next marked only by an arch that let you know you’d now left Nusa Dua and had entered Ubud for example. The most green space we saw was a 2 block long stretch of trees and grass that we thought was a park but that Hadi told us someone owned. “Private property” he assured us! I told Hadi that I now had a visual for any tag I came across at home saying “Made in Indonesia”. I mean who buys all this junk – 5” glitter elephants, Hindu god and goddess statues by the hundreds, ceramic bowls, fans, wooden carvings, clothing, rugs, paintings, jewellery, masks, furniture etc. etc. They must do a huge export business because there was way too much there for just the locals and the tourists to be buying. We had talked to Hadi during the day about his family and about how the Balinese people made a living. Cottage industry and export along with tourism (like the tour Hadi was giving us) seemed to be pretty much it. Despite his looking like a teenager himself, Hadi has 3 children. His oldest son is 15, has finished school and is now just sitting at home waiting to turn 16 when he will presumably join his father in the business of driving tourists around. When we asked Hadi if there was any possibility of secondary education for the children on Bali, he said no – only for the rich as it is just too expensive. Very sad.
Close to 2 hours after leaving the coffee plantation we arrived back at the dock and were immediately mobbed by fewer but no less persistent people trying to make a late in the day sale. We thanked Hadi for the tour, politely deterred the peddlers and happily caught a tender back to the ship. Will we rush back to Bali for a second visit? Not a chance.