The Black Holes of Bali

By Amy Chavez
For The Bali Times

It seems that with the filling in of potholes currently underway on Jl. Legian, we can all look forward to smooth driving down Kuta’s main tourist road. Until the potholes come back, that is. The thing about potholes is that they are like a disease, a mumps of the road. And they are contagious. Even after being cured, they are likely to come back. Once you have one pothole, there will surely be an outbreak of them in that part of the road, and soon they will have spread all the way down the road.

The movement of potholes from one place to another has been wholly documented. The Indonesian government recently decided to allocate more money to fill potholes at the provincial level outside of Jakarta and less money to the municipal roads. This indicates a movement of the pothole epidemic from the city to the countryside.

There is no doubt that Bali has been infected with the pothole disease for a long time. An Indonesian friend blames one individual pothole for the demise of his warung. It started out as a small hole in the road in front of his restaurant. Despite his complaints to authorities, no one would fix it. It kept growing bigger and bigger. The water attracted lots of flies and not long after that, alligators were living in it. The pothole continued growing until it was a small pond you could sail a dinghy across. And that was in the dry season. In the rainy season, it rivaled the Great Lakes. The pothole clogged traffic as tourists would stop their cars and do a few Hail Marys before crossing. To this day, it ranks as the largest pothole I have ever seen in Bali. 

It was all too much for the patrons to sit at the warung and watch pedestrians get eaten by the alligators. When entire pariwisata (tourist) busses started disappearing, customers stopped coming altogether, because everyone knows what happens to potholes that get too big — they become black holes. It’s no wonder the warung itself one day just disappeared.

Sometimes you’ll notice that a concerned citizens has taken it upon themselves to mark a particularly deep and evil pothole by putting a stalk of bamboo or some rocks in it as a warning to motorists. This person is claiming the pothole for his own. We do this in the United States, too. It’s called the Road Adoption Program, where people adopt a kilometer of road and clean up the trash around it. Here, albeit unwillingly, people adopt holes and mark them. Thanks to these people, hundreds of lives are saved across Indonesia every day.

The only problem I can see with the current gallant effort to fill the potholes in Legian Street is that it might make the place more upscale. Soon, Legian may even become as upmarket as Seminyak.

So upscale is it that I heard that Vice President Jusuf Kalla and his wife stayed in Seminyak on their vacation in Bali in December.

But I’ve never really understood why Seminyak is so often described as fashionable, or even swanky. I mean, yes it is swanky, as long as you don’t consider the horrid crawling traffic you have to putt-putt through to get there, the temporary shopper’s asthma incurred from walking on sidewalks alongside exhaust-spewing vehicles and if you don’t mind all the constant construction work, road maintenance and commuter traffic. If this is the definition of swanky, then Legian ought to be considered far swankier, because we have all that – in addition to gridlock, hawkers and drug dealers.

But there’s no doubt that Legian is heading more upmarket. It seems like every week a new, trendy shop appears with a glassed-in front robbing you of the option of buying that sun-faded, tired-looking dress that’s been hanging there so long that you’d never buy anyway. Indeed, shoppers beware! Instead, now they are hanging stylish, one-of-a-kind fashion items that you’ll just have to buy! And you’ll find yourself poorer and poorer the longer you stay in Bali. People who say the shopping is cheap in Bali are obviously judging this by the price of things rather than by how much you buy.

Of course, one of the secrets to the success of the shops on Legian is that gridlock traffic is great for window shopping from your car. It’s free advertising and more effective than print ads. With slow traffic parading past your shop every day, it couldn’t be easier. That’s why I always figured the potholes on Legian were there for a reason. I envisioned a monthly collection of Rp20,000 (US2.18) per shop to bribe the authorities to not fix the potholes – anything to make the traffic crawl slower!

But the shopkeepers of Legian need not despair, because if you watch the road workers closely, you can see that they have them in mind. With the shoddy work, the potholes will surely return. What we will experience until the next rainy season is simply pothole remission.

After all, a total cure for the holes would be a hole lot to ask for.

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