As some of you may or may not know… my family and I are spending a month in Bali. We chose Bali for a number of reasons I won’t detail here, but we chose North Bali in particular for a few reasons:
1) It was supposedly not as touristy. We aren’t huge fans of large integrated resorts, drunken tourists and being accosted by people selling junk every 5 minutes.
2) Cheaper. As luck would have it (1) means that you will spend less money.
3) More “real.” My personal opinion is that if you are visiting a foreign country and then go out of your way to make sure it resembles your home country as much as possible… you’re doing it wrong :). Again. Personal opinion. You can take your vacation however you like.
Getting here was both easy and hard. For one thing, we are combining vacation with moving, which means that we have 10 boxes and suitcase with us. So we have to consider that with travel arrangements.
The flight from Hong Kong to Denpasar, Bali was uneventful and reasonably short (5 hours). Ok… short for people who are used to 14 hour trans-pacific flights.
Once we got here, we got our bags, met our drivers (one for us, one for our bags) and began the 3.5 hour commute to the house we rented. I want to point out that it’s a 3.5 hour drive and it’s 70 km so that gives you a sense of the kind of road quality and traffic you encounter driving around here :).
Both kids threw up a couple of times and there were points in the drive where we were thinking “what the hell did we do here?”
Once we got to the town we are staying in, the roads got better but it turned out the driver didn’t know EXACTLY where the house was. I had it on GPS (coverage here is amazingly good) and so we were able to find it. Here’s a couple of pictures to give you an idea of what the road looks like.
The second image is the narrow dirt road that leads to the parking for the house. When it’s 10PM it’s quite a bit more rickety and gives you that “there’s no way in hell this is the right place” feeling.
Well, it was the right place.
We got in, got settled, cleaned up some puke and went to bed.
EXPERIENCE SO FAR
Ok. So the drive was a bit rough, but other than that things have been great.
Here’s a panoramic shot from the back yard.
It’s pretty breathtaking.
There are a few negative points.
1. Humans think the world is their personal garbage can.
Because of the increase in population/tourism and the challenges of investing in infrastructure, the beaches have tons of garbage on them. Of course fancy houses for tourists have people who clean the beaches for you, but you can look 100 feet down the beach and see what the average Balinese person sees. The contrast is striking, and unsettling. Diapers, plastic bottles, potato chip bags… people are huge trash generators.
2. There is no “quick trip” to … fill in the blank.
Leaving the area is at least a 20 minute drive. Period. Walking is pretty much out of the question because it’s at least a 1 mile walk just to get to the main road, it’s really hot and the you’re walking through slightly tamed jungle. That means any trip requires calling a driver in advance and taking at least an hour. Needless to say, we haven’t done many :). It’s not uncommon to see a family of 4 with groceries on a moped… and usually the kids don’t have helmets. You do what you gotta do.
3. People are poor.
Not really a negative per se… but unlike fancy integrated resorts with giant walls that keep the “riff raff locals” out, we are right next to the locals and so it’s very obvious how different the standard of living is.
BALI FOR THE KIDS
For the kids, of course, none of this matters at all. We have a really nice woman named Ayu who takes care of cooking and cleaning. I enjoy doing dishes and cleaning up so I think her work load is pretty light. I get the feeling that seeing me wash dishes is a bit odd for her… but that’s ok.
She has 3 girls: 2, 5 and 7 and they have now come over almost every day to play with Lily. Despite Lily not speaking Bahasa (or any native language) and her kids not really speaking English… they somehow have no problem playing together for hours and have become close friends very quickly. Lily is very sad when they go and asks every morning when they will come back.
They build sand structures for hours, play with toys, run around the yard, look at the bugs and so on. I think we can learn a lot by watching children interact. Lily just immersed herself immediately and wasn’t troubled by any of the differences…except maybe food, but that’s kind of typical for young kids anyway.
For Alex it’s a bit different because he’s still so young (under 2). Mostly he runs around naked and goes in the pool. He DID jump into the pool on the first night which gave us a fright and him a healthy respect for deeper water. Since then he hasn’t fallen in or tried to jump… so I guess that worked :). From what I can tell he’s having a blast.
We have gone grocery shopping twice. The first time to get basics and to get a sense of things and the second to stock up more deeply. The interesting experience was the local market. Here’s a few pictures:
Now I have to say… this was a REAL local market. By that I mean it was a “why on earth is the white guy shopping here” kind of place. Some of the smells were powerful, but there was a huge selection of fruit, veggies, fish, etc. and we were able to load up on stuff for a reasonable price. I have no idea if we were getting “ripped off” but if we were, it was only in relative terms and I have no problem contributing to the local economy.
I was very thankful that Ayu came with us and could show us where to go and what to look for. My wife is also incredibly good at picking out fish, fruits and vegetables and has no problem getting her hands dirty. It was an awesome experience and I think it would have been harder to get if we had stayed in a more touristy area.
On the 3rd point above. EVERYONE we’ve run into is super friendly and doesn’t really seem to care about the obvious wealth disparity… at least not yet. I’m sure there are people who are annoyed that their once pristine and open beaches are now dotted with big houses rented to foreigners, but I haven’t felt any of this. Also, there are almost NO people trying to sell you stuff here… and when they do, it might actually be worth buying. No $5 made in China Buddha statues, etc. We did buy some peanuts and there’s an old woman selling hand made wrist bands every morning.
It’s mostly fisherman and their families trying to scape together a living.
I did talk to a guy who has lived here for many years and he related that while some things are better (health care, roads, utilities) the cost for the average person here has gone up much faster than the wages (sound familiar) and he’s really worried that the increased cost of living will be a big problem for his children.
My gut is that over the next decade or so the area along the coast will become more “rich expat rental homes” and then eventually “large integrated resorts” and the people that live in shacks along the beach making a living as fishermen will be relocated elsewhere. That’s really sad to me. I wish that the local population could benefit more directly from those kinds of developments, but it doesn’t seem to happen this way.
So I’m glad that we were able to see this area before it gets to that point. And even though I feel some guilt in living in such comparative opulence, I prefer being able to spend at least much of my vacation money directly on the local economy rather than giving it to a resort.
It’s also a lot cheaper when you are inconvenienced. Since I can’t just pop down to a fancy restaurant we tend to cook and eat at home… and we tend to eat what we have. We also tend to relax a lot. Since there isn’t 24/7 catered entertainment, we play hide and seek, make friends and talk to locals, lounge in the pool, etc.
It’s been great so far.