PORTS OF CALL
Bali For Real
The Tacky Coast
‘Bali Hi’ did call me, but unfortunately at first, it wasn’t quite the dream I expected.
One certainly doesn’t go to Bali for the beaches. These grayish black sands are a mass Aussie tourist destination, particularly for visitors from Perth, where in December and January the temperatures in Perth and it’s surrounding areas tend to be 40 degrees C and above. Their main destination, Kuta, reminisce of a tacky Jersey Shore or Camp Beverly Hills East, is a tourist ghetto with cheap hotels/B&Bs, cheap shopping, cheap day spas, and a party, party, party atmosphere. The party vive continues up the beach all along the coast from Kuta through Legian, to the much quieter and more tasteful Semiyak. All the way, there are bars, restaurants and hotels that parallel the beach road and the beach.
During the winter rainy season, the beaches and coastal waters are infested with trash and refuse that had previously gone out to sea. The trash floats in from local areas as well from Indonesia’s more northern cities. It is brought south by the currents only to return to the land on the rain soaked in-coming tides. Locals when finished eating don’t help the situation, as they leave their trash right where they sat on the beach, then wondering off to other interests. Troops of early morning trash cleaners clean up the refuse daily, only to have more return by evenings end.
Wave-wise, the whole coast is a surfer’s dream, and surfing schools dot the coastline all the way to Changgu, a small, quiet undeveloped hamlet much to the north. Nat, a young surfer from North Carolina, USA, told me that after surfing, he had to immediately wash his board in fresh water and take a shower to remove the slime and grime that coated his board and body from the trash infested water. Yet I have been told, that during the dry season, May through September, the trash problem does not exist, the beaches are clean, sand much lighter in color, and the Bali paradise returns.
In the daytime, hotels that line the road across from the beaches cover the dark alluvial sand with beach chairs and umbrellas for their guests. Every late afternoon the beach parfenaila is removed and scores of young local boys take over the beaches to play lively games of football (soccer) in the sand. Most hotels have at least one or two pools where many guests just hang around all day, only leaving for one or more of the cheap spa treatments available at their or a neighboring hotel. The warm, humid weather perpetuates this languid behavior. Guests only rouse themselves in the late afternoon, around four PM to prepare for an evening of drinks, dinner, and if so inclined partying until the early morning hours. When the cycle begins again.
The only deviation from this pattern is if one is registered in a surfing school or decides it’s a great day for shopping, and goes to the Kuta mall. Unlike the enclosed malls I am used to, Kuta’s is a series of streets with shops selling local as well as international brands.
There are a massive number of Polo and Ralph Lauren Polo shops and a massive number of dogs throughout the island. A taxi driver informed me that 70 to 80 percent of the Polo shops were fake, and the government informs island guests that the same percentage of dogs have rabies. In 2010, 76 people died over a two-year period from rabies, and 34000 were bitten in the first seven months. The Animal Husbandry Agency has two hundred teams going to 700 villages vaccinating dogs. Since 2008, three hundred thousand dogs have been vaccinated and tens of thousands stray dogs culled. The government is obviously making an enormous effort to get dogs vaccinated and also neutered. As for the phony Polo and Ralph Lauren Shops, they just continue to open through out the island.
Beach shack bars line the beaches, mainly in the Legian and Semiyak areas. Both food and drink are served from noon to well into the night, and nightclubs throb until all hours along the beach road.
My Guest house, in Semiyak, the Raja Gardens, with just nine rooms and a large inviting pool situated in lush gardens, is almost an anachronism, among the larger hotels and pools of the area. Semiyak is the trendiest of the three main communities couched together along the beach. It has lots of snazzy little boutiques and great restaurants with everything from Moroccan to Swiss food. If you’re into the party scene, cheap spas, shopping, and learning to surf, this coast is your cup of tea. As for me I was looking for more.