I, like so many 20-something women in the U.S., read and and loved Eat, Pray, Love. I felt like I ate pasta with Liz Gilbert in Italy, meditated with her in India and rode bikes with her through picturesque rice fields in Bali.
Then I went to Bali.
As any rational person can imagine, the experience differed from how the book portrayed it, or perhaps Bali has just changed so much since it was thrust into the limelight by Gilbert's memoir.
Don't get me wrong, there are parts of Bali that remain unspoiled and gorgeous, but I had a definite love/hate relationship with this tiny Indonesian island.
The southern part of the island AKA where EVERY tourist visits. It's crowded, dirty, and felt horribly inauthentic.
The less-visited central areas outside of Ubud. Turns out, there are still parts of this island not spoiled by tourists, and they were pretty magical.
The party scene. Streets had bar after bar with loud club music and happy hour specials. It felt like the only thing to do was drink yourself into a stupor, not something we were really interested in.
The friendliness of the people. Everyone we met asked if it was our first time to Bali, and when we said it was, they ALL immediately said, "Welcome to Bali!" It really felt like the Balinese were proud of their island and excited when others loved it too.
It felt like Balinese people never wanted to say, "No." We learned that, culturally speaking, they want to be friendly and welcoming, so admitting that something isn't right or available seems contradictory to them. It's a nice concept but leads to a lot of disorganization. A chef we met said that he has a real issue booking staff members on Hindu holidays. He asks if they're available to work, they say, "Yes," then literally no one shows up on the day.
Are we confirmed for our transport across the island tomorrow? "Yes of course" (Nope)
Is there a shuttle running into town at 5 p.m.? "You betcha!" (No, no shuttle)
Are you still serving food? "Yes come on in!" (Only one thing on menu is still available)
The small signals of religious devotion. Among the 7 Elevens and touristy restaurants, you can still see the Balinese commitment to their Hindu religion. On steps leading up to nearly every business there were religious offerings, blessings for good fortune. At our silent retreat, the Balinese staff made and placed around the retreat over 30 offerings every morning. As much as Bali has changed in the past 10 years from the increase in tourism, there are still subtle ways that the culture and religious devotion remains.
The driving. Thank GOD we didn't rent a car like we talked about. The roads are narrow and overcrowded with cars and motorbikes, so the process of getting around is stressful. I'm shocked there aren't more road accidents!
The sunsets. These were not over-hyped.
Have you visited Bali? What did you like/dislike?