Thursday, December 11, 2014

What a difference a year (or 20) makes

Yup, believe it or not, and I am not quite sure I do, I was first in Bali 20 years ago.  I agree, I don’t look old enough do I?  It was the second stop on the trip that lit the travel fire in my belly.  The trip that changed my life for the better.  The trip that made me realise what life was about, and what I needed to do to enjoy it.

A chance conversation, one lunch, with a work colleague (who has become a life long friend), quickly escalated into us jointly leaving our jobs and embarking on a 12-month working holiday to Australia.  1994.  That is where it all started.

Prior to this, the longest I had ever left the UK was for 7 days.  For various holidays to the usual spots, across Europe.

So, describing us as wet behind the ears would be something of an understatement.  This could probably explain why, within 2 hours of being in Bali, I had been robbed of all my money.  That sounds dramatic doesn’t it?  Every self-respecting travellers’ rite of passage.  Being robbed.

Maybe I should add a few clarifications.  When I say “robbed”, I mean quite purposefully distracted by some of the smallest kids you had ever seen, whilst their erstwhile friends unzipped my bum bag (YES, I did say we were wet behind the ears), and cleaned me out of rupiahs, the local currency.  And by cleaned out, I mean the sum total of the few quid that I had allowed myself as my budget for the night.  Anybody reading this, who knows me well enough, will know that spending money is not one of my strengths.  I think it is the Yorkshire genes.  So I may have lost about £5.76 in real money. Still…I was robbed.

Bali, 20 years ago.  Apart from the trauma of the robbery, the things that stick in my mind from that very first trip in June 1994, was arriving at a very small, ramshackle airport.  Very different to the gargantuan, gleaming terminal, just opened this year.  Staying in Kuta, boy how that has changed, we found THE place to drink, a happening little place called Sari Club on Legian Street.  Many of you will know the Sari Club as the place that terrorists struck on October 12th 2002, decimating the club, and the surrounding area, taking the lives of 202 people. 

Bali bomb memorial
 Kuta looks to have recovered in many ways from this atrocity, and the development now seems rampant, to the extent that, like many places I’ve seen through southern Thailand, the tipping point has been breached, between tourism, and over development.  There are no moments of peace available at the memorial for the bomb attacks, on the site of what was Paddy’s bar, another of the bomb sites, as open air night clubs blast out tunes from the turntables, drowning out even the traffic. Some feat in itself.

The place is now unrecognisable, yet, there is one thing that will never change.  And that is the wonder of the setting sun, which we viewed from a little plastic stool, on the beach, with an ice cold Bintang.  THAT is what brought travellers to Bali all those years ago.

One other thing that doesn’t change, and gets much worse, is the traffic situation.  Why the roads have lines, and traffic lights, is beyond me.  It literally is everyman, and woman, for themselves. Scooters and motorbikes weave in and out of traffic, taking their life into their own hands.  And as you can see, not just their lives, but those of almost every member of the family too.  As a seasoned scooter rider, on the mean streets of Sydney, I had a change of heart from my original plan to hire my own wheels and rip up Bali.

Just 6 hours from Sydney, Bali is a different world.  And it wasn’t just a result of the wines, and whisky, and gin that was consumed on the flight.   Much alcohol was required after the stress of making it through some of the longest queues I had ever seen at Sydney airport.  And then equally long queues on arrival at Denpasar airport in Bali.  That said, the long queues gave plenty time to read and absorb the warning signs regarding ebola, and how you could catch it, such as “touching a dead body”, something that I then made a studious effort to avoid whilst I was there.

The week was spent in a great hotel in Tanjung Benoa, slightly north of Nusa Dua, in the south of Bali.  A far cry from my humble abode whilst in Kuta on my second visit in 1999, where I stayed in a very quaint little bungalow.  With a fresh flask of tea and banana pancakes served up first thing every morning.

Seven days flew by in a whizz of all you can eat breakfasts (it turns out I can actually eat quite a lot.  Who knew?), mid day beers at the swim up bar in the pool, trekking with elephants and hugging orang utangs, and lots of pork, a staple of every Balinese dinnertime.  There were satays aplenty, and large Bintangs all around.  One of the days was spent on the Bali Fun Ship, its actual name, where much fun was had on a day trip to a little island off the east coast of Bali, Nusa Lembongan.

I can’t go without mentioning the fact that I fell victim to the infamous Bali belly.  Probably as a result of the curry I had, that did in fact taste very good whilst eating it.  What I didn’t anticipate was the poo-snami that it would bring on the day, and subsequent days after. 

Oh, god, no.

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