Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Cultural Paradise

The first time I traveled out of the country I exchanged the sandy beaches in Australia for the tropical shores of Bali, Indonesia. With sweaty hands and a sense of adventure I landed at Denpasar Airport, and made my way to a resort in Kuta, Bali’s tourist hotspot.

Gravel roads swarmed with motorcycles weaving between drunken tourists, mostly Aussies and Kiwis. Mangy dogs hung their heads, foraging in the garbage piles for scraps. Hawkers out the front of restaurants touted their menus and shops charmed punters in to buying a sarong or t-shirt with misspelled slogans in English. And the air hung thick with the aromas of peanut and chili, mixed with the kerosene burners the street vendors used to cook snacks and meals. It was utter chaos and I loved it.

In contrast, the resort was clean, almost sterile, relaxing and… well… boring. Outside the high walls lay an island that begged to be explored. A culture rich in history and religion was waiting to be discovered. It didn’t take long before I cancelled my reservation, packed my bags and headed out to explore the real Bali.

In those two short weeks I climbed up Mount Batur and into the crater, taking care to dodge the pockets of steam pouring out of cracks in the rocks. I snorkeled on a deserted beach on the north of the island and cycled for miles along empty roads with nothing more than rice paddies to keep me company. I ate food I couldn’t recognize and had the displeasure of discovering what Bali Belly really is. But it didn’t matter how sick I got, because I was out there, learning about a new world and in the process of changing my own.

On Lovina Beach I met Ketut, a lovely woman in her early twenties with a smile that radiated from deep within. We befriended each other and she took me to her small village about an hour inland. I met her family and we spent the afternoon laughing and enjoying each other’s company with the help of Ketut’s translating skills. I learned a lot about life in Bali, the culture, beliefs and people and I left the tiny village with a stronger sense of what life could be like outside my own country. This experience catapulted me into a life full of wanderlust and I haven’t regretted it for one moment.

That was more than twenty years ago and Bali has changed a lot since then. The one thing I am positive that hasn’t altered is the essence of the people. Friendly faces greeted me everywhere I went, polite questions were asked with genuine interest and an undercurrent of hope ran through the veins of these people. By the time I landed in Australia, I was already planning my next adventure.

My first overseas trip made me realize I wasn’t cut out for the cushy resort-style holidays. Sure, a bit of pampering every now and again doesn’t go astray, but if I wanted to sit in a resort all day, I might as well head to Port Douglas in Australia. Adventure is an essential part of my being as is my desire to learn about other cultures. I need to get off the beaten track and put myself out there, even if it means getting into dicey situations every now and again. I choose to live the experience, rather than sip a cocktail and watch a BBC documentary (although there have been many days on the road when this has been very appealing!).

So how about you? What did you learn about yourself or the world on your first time out of the country?


  1. Alli, I really can't picture you in a resort. :) No wonder you were burning to get out of that sterile environment and see the real Bali with all its chaos and fascination.

  2. Oh my god, I could never deal with resorts – I always had to break out free and go outside, into the world and see the good, the bad and the ugly. And yes, some occasional pampering does work, but soon my mind starts to wander and the rest of me follow. I can do a day on the beach, I can even do two. I once did a day in a spa (it was a great spa, but there was no way I could do a second day in a row!) I did a bit better with cruises – I’ve been on two, because once you dock, you get off the ship and explore the islands or snorkel, or study the natives. But, there’s only so much time I can sit around the pool. If I were to get stuck in a resort, I think I'd rather lock myself in the room and write something.

  3. Heidi, yeah, I had to get out and absolutely loved it.

    Lina, I have no problems with a day of pampering, but that's about my limit. Although I once stayed in a place in Chile where I was out in the wilderness during the day get down and dirty and then returned to luxury at night (it was a work trip). That was kinda nice! I haven't tried the cruise thing yet, perhaps one day...

  4. I feel the need to say something smart alecky here. You can't get enough pampering? Besides, Alli in Bali? See what happens when you let me take a week off...

  5. And then there the fact that your party was pulled over by a cop for having about 5 more people in a 4WD than was completely necessary. Instead of being arrested (after a bit of a debate) he proceeded to supply a police escort to a place that did water activities (parasailing, jet skis, etc) and gave us a discount.

    Sure, it's somewhat outside the 'off the beaten track' theme of your post Ali - but I remember it as a damn good time! ;o)

  6. Yes, yes, Dave - I'd forgotten about the policeman!

    Supriya, if you try hard enough, it's easy to get away from the throngs in Bali. And hey, some days I'm all for being pampered.