Kuta’s Lake District

By Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

Welcome to paradise. Welcome to hell.

I’ve always said that Bali is paradise most of the time, and hell the rest. The big secret about Bali is that it can rain for weeks at a time. After all, what do you think makes Bali so green? The only difference from other tropical countries where it rains cats and dogs is that in Bali, it rains only dogs.

Ask any Balinese, “Why all the rain?” and they’ll simply answer, “It’s the rainy season,” without any hint that this might be more rain than usual, that this rain is indeed wetter rain than usual, or that it is unfair to come all this way to Bali to see paradise and instead find the tropical greenery is still being constructed. It’s as if they are still working on the set.

“Does it always rain this much?” you ask. To which a man (or woman) may answer, “Sometimes,” in that Indonesian accent that stresses the second part of the word.

“I’ve heard that in the rainy season, it only rains for an hour or two in the afternoon,” you say, really prying for a confession now. Where is all that sunshine those glossy brochures promised?

But the Balinese just looks at you, wondering what it is you’re trying to get at. Have you prayed to Civa Raditya (the Sun) lately with a white flower between your fingertips? Well, then…

“I was here at the same time of year in 1998 and there wasn’t this much rain,” you persist.

He looks at you, considers this for a moment, and says, “You want transport?”

Downpours have been legendary in Kuta ever since I can remember. You see, up until about five years ago, Legian Street doubled as a lake during the rainy season. In this season, all the buildings on Lake Legian became waterfront property and property values were at their highest.

Lake Legian was really just a delta, fed by two rivers: Upper Legian Street and the Seminyak road. When they filled up, the water rushed downstream and Lake Legian swelled with pride.

People fished along the banks, and the restaurants on the lake had a constant supply of fresh fish dinners swimming past. The shops along Legian were either tackle shops or they sold inflatable rafts and Zodiacs, even snorkeling gear. Docking your yacht was free. Some intrepid cars attempted to cross but sank and became coral reefs for fish, and so Lake Legian became one of the most popular dive sites in Bali. Rainy-season tourism flourished as people from all over the world came to dive for the treasures in Legian’s famous caral reefs. Scuba shops and diving tours abounded. Those were the days.

But after a few sightings of monitor lizards swimming around, they decided to drain the lake. The construction of drains was done during the summer and we had to suffer months of driving through thick clouds of dust while dodging piles of dirt in the road. The only way you could advance at all down Legian Street was by putting big, fat tires on your car and driving over the cars in front of you. It made you appreciate Legian Street when it was just gridlock and motorbikes.

Along with draining Lake Legian came the idea to make Legian Street a “concept road.” They decided more money could be made from regular gridlock traffic than renting out fishing poles and diving gear. And after extensive research by the Balinese, it was learned that gridlock is great for window shopping. They started paying taxis to crawl down Legian Street to back up the traffic so all you could do was gaze at the new fashions in the windows along the road. New fashions? you say. Oh yes! With the floods gone and the scuba-diving tourists dried up, so to speak, the place was becoming downright upscale!

With the new concept road, trendy shops with glassed-in fronts were encouraged, threatening to rob you of the option of buying that sun-faded, exhaust-laden, tired-looking dress that’s been hanging in the shop way too long. Instead, they started hanging fashionable, one-of-a-kind fashion items that you just have to buy. Shoppers beware – you’ll find yourself poorer and poorer the longer you stay in Bali. People say the shopping is cheap in Bali but it depends entirely on how much you shop.

So the next time you’re in gridlock traffic on Legian Street, look closely and you can still see some of the old tackle shops now hawking tourist souvenirs to make a living. You may even spot some snorkeling gear or the odd pair of flippers hanging on the back wall. Some of the shops even sell a bit of Lake Legian nostalgia: wooden, hand-carved monitor lizards that look out wistfully onto the street.

I don’t know about you, but when I get the urge to drop a fishing line these days, I head upstream to Seminyak, to some of the old fishing holes that haven’t been drained yet – such as the one in front of Bali Deli. The security guards are something new, and you have to get searched for bombs, but the fishing is still quite good.

And as far as I know, they haven’t found any monitor lizards yet. Just alligators.

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