It feels like just yesterday I was gingerly walking out on the razor sharp reef of Uluwatu for the first time. I remember telling myself that, no matter how uncool I looked, I was never going to do that again without reef booties. Now six weeks later of living in Bali, I have a much more intimate relationship with that reef. I know the nooks and crannies, the best routes to paddle out, and how to paddle in (beware of the current at high tide). I’m still trying to figure out how to get in its barrel on my backside though.
A wave that once seemed so foreign now feels a bit like home. My connection to the reef at Uluwatu parallels my life in Bali as a whole. I’ve gotten used to it. I know the best restaurants — where to find vegan food. I can navigate the windy web of roads without the use of Google Maps. I could consult for tourists extending Indonesian visas. And I know enough words of Indonesian to have a vague idea of what is on a restaurant menu.
My imagination of Bali, which had been built by stories and tidbits picked up from friends and acquaintances over the years, has now been replaced by real experiences.
I understand why so many people come to Bali and why it’s particularly become a Mecca for digital nomads. It’s a great place to live (at least from a foreigner’s perspective); It’s affordable, tropical, has easy access to an international airport, has lots of surfing for all skill levels, and contains many of the luxuries of the Western world if you need / want them. It’s also fairly easy to get a long term visa.
There are few places on Earth that can check all those boxes.
Before I write a fluff piece only about the pros, I must at least mention that it’s not all spectacular. Pollution/sewage run off is a real problem, especially after a rain, malnourished stray dogs break your heart on most street corners, and afternoon traffic can be nightmarish. You can’t go far without getting a whiff of burning trash piles. The plastic bottles that have cute “please recycle me” messages are thrown in the trash because there is no recycling system to speak of (as far as I have seen).
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way…
For the last month I’ve holed up in a small hotel (they call them homestays here, I don’t know why) a 10-minute drive from the beach. Rent is cheap, about USD $220/month. I typically surf in the morning, come home, do some work online, maybe go for another surf, and then venture out for food in the evening. On weekends I’ve set out on scooter trips to other corners of the island.
It’s a relaxing lifestyle that does not break the bank. I get why so many ex-pats come for a month and stay for a decade. It makes sense for a lot of people.
As I explained in my previous post on Bali, it can be absurdly touristy here, which should come as no surprise to anyone. There are pockets around the island to escape the frenzy, for example, my weekend trip to hike Mt. Agung, but generally I am surrounded by other visiting tourists and the corresponding circus that comes with it.
As a result, I’ve felt that there is an invisible barrier between the tourists (like me) and the local Balinese people. Don’t get me wrong, the Balinese are exceptionally friendly people, but it feels difficult to go beyond the transactional nature of a service provider relationship.
Us tourists are the product in Bali. The constant hustling of products and services can be a bit annoying, but I get it. That’s the business here. Whether they want to or not, the locals have to inquire (and insist) about a massage, a taxi ride, or magic mushrooms. I imagine they see me as a walking wad of cash, and they’re not really wrong. A meager amount of US dollars goes a long way in Indonesia.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — just an observation that is probably common among any destination where tourism is the main industry. After all, I don’t speak Indonesian, I’ve only been here for two months, and the cultural differences between the east and west do create additional barriers. It would be illogical to compare my experience in Bali with that of Brazil, where I spent six months and forged some much more intimate friendships.
Anyway, I’ve got a few Balinese acquaintances at my homestay that I chat with on a daily basis. I am at the point where I can do all the pleasantries and basic greetings in a combination of Balinese and Indonesian. These guys get a kick out of it. Anytime they bring a new friend over they want to show off what they’ve taught the gringo living here.
As solo traveling goes, most of my time in Bali has been in relative solitude. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve met a quite a few people, some rather like-minded, but most connections are fleeting. People are always coming and going every week.
I feel ready to break away from the tourism overload, but I know it won’t take long until I miss it here. I won’t take for granted having a surf spot like Uluwatu in my backyard. Still, next time I come back to Indonesia, I think I’ll venture to a different island. There are over 6,000 inhabited islands in the country. It would feel silly to keep coming back to the same one.
But the adventure must continue. I’m off to India where a new set of experiences, learnings, and challenges await.
5 thoughts on “Final thoughts: 6 weeks in Bali”
From Siberut to Bali? Nice.
Evan, thank you for your insights and sharing with all of us your experiences plus and minus and all others in between. You are an extremely gifted writer and I am very proud of you. Please keep it up. Thanks again.
Love learning about your travels and experiences Evan. Great writing and fun pics to see. Stay safe and enjoy. Keep having fun and sharing these experiences with us! 💕
Thank you for another insightful blog. I know you loved the tropical surfing paradise but I also know the pups broke your heart. We are always balancing. Perhaps you can be my tour guide next year. Enjoy India!
Love, love, love you ❤️
Nice to hear from you. Great story and nice pictures! I’m really learning a lot!