5 - Bali Bali Oxen Free (Bali, Indonesia)


There’s the Bali of your dreams…and then there’s reality. Liz Gilbert “told” me to go there, so I went. Shuck an oyster, find a pearl. Patience is a virtue.

by The Nostomaniac



I WAS OFF. Where I landed was moot at that point. Get far away? I got far away. I can’t remember what my expectations were of Bali. Whatever they were, I didn’t meet them at the airport. If I’m being honest, I never met them at all. The Bali of Eat, Pray, Love exists, just not in isolation. There’s a pearl in the oyster, but the shell is glued shut and covered with glittering feces. With time, effort, and patience you can crack the code. Thankfully, I had all three. 

Eurotrash and Australian spring-breakers. That was my impression of the airport crowd. So, right off the bat, I was playing the stereotypically condescending American douche nozzle. 


I wasn’t prepared for women in tank tops and asschunk-bursting Daisy Dukes. And all the males at varying stages of mullethood? Didn’t see that in the brochure. Gold chains, wily chest hair, and man boobs were the norm. I’d like to tell you there was irony involved. I can’t. It felt like the whole trailer park won an all-inclusive vacation. Jet lag did not aid my analysis.

I was unfazed. Disillusionment had been accounted for. It was why I chose a one-month, nonrenewable visa-on-arrival, as opposed to the two-month, renewable (up to six months) option from the Indonesian Embassy in the US. Would I stay or would I go? I had thirty days to decide. If the answer was “Yay”, I’d have to fly to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to get another visa.

Indonesian immigration is (or at least was) a circus. Corruption was rampant, and it was hard to tell what was legal, illegal, frowned upon, or encouraged. As you might imagine, money blurred the lines considerably. Before I left, I posted questions on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum. Not sure it was helpful, but it was enlightening. Take aways? You never know shit unless you see for yourself, a recurring theme. Also, fellow globetrotters can be snooty poopholes. 


Ubud. If it was good enough for Gilbert…That’s where I started. It’s the island’s reputed cultural hub, though I’m still confused as to whose culture the city is hubbing. And although Bali is a part of Indonesia, I’m not convinced it’s a part of Indonesia. Most of Indo is Muslim, while Bali has two main religions—Hinduism and Tourism. Miraculously, it does (or did) manage to keep them separate…mostly. But for how long?


Ubud, Bali

"Ubud is a remarkable town in the middle of the island of Bali. For more than a century, it has been the island's preeminent centre for fine arts, dance and music. While it once was a haven for scruffy backpackers, cosmic seekers, artists and bohemians, Ubud is now a hot spot for literati, glitterati, art collectors and connoisseurs. Famous names walk its busy sidewalks everyday. Elegant five star hotels and sprawling mansions now stand on its outskirts, overlooking the most prized views in Bali. Nonetheless, Ubud is still popular with backpackers, mystics and all the finest fringe elements of global society. Ubud is not "ruined". Its character is too strong to be destroyed. It still draws people who add something; people who are actively involved in art, nature, anthropology, music, dance, architecture, environmentalism, "alternative modalities," and more."

*Descritpion courtesy of Indo.com

**Photo by The Nostomaniac

Traffic tropes and memes, anyone? Bali. Island. Limited space. Bigger is better. Short of vehicular manslaughter, if you can get away with it, game on. No harm. No foul. I’m sure traffic laws exist, they’re just not relevant. It’s more like rock, paper, scissors. Buses > vans > cars > motorcycles > scooters > bicycles > bipeds. I’ve experienced the chaos before (Thailand comes to mind), but I think it best to never grow too comfortable. The hour ride from the airport to Ubud brought it all back. Until one acclimates, it can seem downright insane. In truth, it’s probably not that bad…probably. According to the World Health Organization, Indonesia only had approximately 4,000 more deaths than the USA in 2013 (38,279 vs. 34,064). Given the totality of my experience in Indonesia, I find this somewhat incredible…but there it is. Can’t argue with the numbers. 

Or can you? 

I was to spend seven months navigating the four main islands by motorbike. Feels like someone was padding the stats, but who the hell am I, really? It’s not like there was blood running in the streets.

Ubud would become my HQ for my time in Bali. Relatively speaking, it was much more sedate than the southern coast, and I had access to all I needed. I spent the first few days hotel skipping and recovering from jet lag. This included awkward massages. Bought a SIM card for my cell phone. Rented a motorbike. Yes, I entered the fray. Personal transport is a must if you are to unlock the island’s “secrets.” Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of others (taxi, bus, etc.) and you will feel tourist trapped. Motorbike equals freedom. Grab the fucking reins.

I spent my days exploring Ubud, meandering the surrounding countryside, and exploring the island. Sedate rice fields. Small villages. Temples. Monkey Forest. Even with tourism gone wild, the harrowing traffic situation, and bouts of what is affectionately known as “Bali Belly”, it’s fair to say I was enjoying myself. My transition from whatever the hell my life was before went smoothly. Indonesia would require more investigation. Thirty days wasn’t gonna cut it.



*Drone footage courtesy of Nguyen Le.