The Other Bali: Life Outside Greater Kuta

By Vyt Karazija

The tourist sitting on the next bar stool, leafing through brochures, discovers that I live here. His eyes light up and he says: “What’s this Bedugul place like? Or Lovina – we’re thinking of going up for a few days.”

“Umm…” I reply, “I’ve never actually been there. I, er, sort of hang around Legian and Seminyak. I haven’t gone much past Umalas really…” I trail off, embarrassed. “How long have you lived in Bali?” he asks. I tell him a year. He leans back on the stool and looks at me as I was a new species of mildly toxic toad. “Soooo… you’re not interested in seeing more of Bali apart from just the south?”

I am stung. I am interested, but the terrible twins, Procrastination and Sloth, have conspired to prevent me from ever making the effort. I have all the excuses: The roads are terrible; the traffic is a nightmare; it will take too long … I mean, how many ricefields do I want to see in one day? But as it turns out, like many preconceptions, these were utterly wrong. Having had my wake-up call from the barfly (thanks mate!) and even more encouragement from friends, I hit the road, and discover what a treasure I have been missing.

A mere 50 kilometres north of my usual stamping ground, I see Bedugul for the first time. It’s cool – the place is 1,000 metres above sea level. The markets look interesting, so I bargain hard, my negotiating skills honed on the demanding strop of Kuta, and force a vendor to reduce a bag of cashews to a mere Rp35,000 (that’s around US$3.80). “Small bag,” says my Balinese driver, trying to keep a straight face. “You want I get more? Cheap?” Naturally, I humour him. He comes back with a bag four times the volume. “Fifteen thousand,? he tells me laconically. He has the grace not to smirk. Harga bule; harga lokal.

Then he takes me to Kebun Raya Eka Karya – the Bedugul Botanical Gardens, established over 50 years ago. Inside the 120-hectare site (that’s 297 acres) is a veritable wonderland of vegetation: 650 species of trees, 500 types of orchids. If you teleported a person in here, they could be forgiven for thinking they were in New Zealand, or South America, or even the famous Botanical Gardens of Palanga, Lithuania. The only thing that is familiar there is a traditional Balinese house hidden in the grounds, which accommodates 12 people. And you can rent it. Where else but Bali?

Heading north again, we see spectacular lakes – Bratan (with its 11-tiered water temple), Buyan and Tamblingan, while passing terraced rice paddies of the most brilliant shade of iridescent green I have yet seen in Bali. The road, which is surprisingly good, winds in savage switchbacks through the 1,220-metre-high mountain pass. Motorcyclists, just as crazy as in the south, overtake blithely on blind corners, swaddled in parkas, coats and scarves. For me, it’s a pleasant 22 degrees outside. For them, it must seem like Mawson on a motorbike.

Descending to sea level, we head towards Lovina. Another surprise: It’s not a town as such. It’s more a series of villages that have coalesced into a picturesque 12-kilometre strip. But it’s laid-back and friendly and the coastal scenery is impressive. Restaurant prices are half that of Legian and the food is excellent. The vendors are astonishingly relaxed too. “I have sarong. You buy?” I politely decline. “OK, no problem,” she says. What? No badgering? No pressure? I like this place already. Accommodation is nice and cheap too.

I briefly consider observing some dolphins. The operator informs me that his boat departs at 6am, which means having to get up at 5am. I don’t do mornings at the best of times, and that time is ridiculous. The dolphins miss out on seeing me: Cetaceans tidak this time.

The next day, we swing through Singaraja on the way to Lake Batur. I don’t see much of the place, but what I do see is clean. No rubbish bags, no litter. We need to kidnap some of the people responsible and bring them back to south Bali to teach us how it should be done. I’m impressed. But when we get to Kintamani, I am less than impressed. Oh, the scenic vista of Lake Batur and the volcano is wonderful, but some of the people make me feel as if I am back in Kuta Square. The place is packed with tour buses, restaurants with a view are way overpriced for the unappetising kludge they serve, and the vendors are intrusive, persistent, whiny and aggressive. And there are scam artists, who “repair” vehicles they themselves damage.

I come back to the car unexpectedly, and there are a pair of seedy-looking gents crouched beside the back wheels. “What are you doing?” I inquire. “Ah, just checking your tyres, boss,” says one. Ah … “And your friend on the other side?” The other entrepreneur sheepishly approaches, putting something shiny and sharp back into his pocket. “Tyres OK?” I ask, simultaneously shocking them by treating the pair to a quick photo opportunity. “Yes, yes,” they say in unison, backing away. “They will stay OK, ya?” I say firmly. It’s not a question, and they know it.

It was a very short trip, but it got me out of the ghetto. It gave me a tiny glimpse of the richness and diversity of Bali the Island, rather than my narrow picture of Bali, the tourist enclave. I know there is much, much more to see and learn. And I’m really looking forward to doing just that; before too long.

Vyt Karazija writes a blog at http://boroborigmus.wordpress.com and may be emailed at vyt@elearning911.com.

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