Friday, May 20, 2011

Bali Low

The coastal area of Bali had proved to be a disappointment. Rather than small quaint villages we had found massive urban sprawl, chock full of thousands of motorbikes and tourists. After just one day we decided there had to be something else and we headed to the hills in search of a mountain paradise.

The trip began with a late night clandestine call from the Hotel's Courtesy Shuttle Driver, who had offered his services on his day off. Because of what we assumed to be a conflict of interest he would be unable to pick us up at the hotel, and instead we would meet him in Seminyak.
So bright and early we caught the shuttle to town, to rendezvous with our driver, Wayan. Our transition from hotel to private car went smoothly and we were soon on our way. It didn't take us long to realize that we were not the only tourists on the island with the same idea, as we joined the long snake like line of private buses and cars that filled the windy, narrow road. An hour into the trip, a stop in the village that specialized in Batik Cloth was suggested. Unfortunately, rather than being delivered to a small plaza where we could wander and discover the intricacies behind the local textile industry we were brought to a large warehouse. We were given a mini demonstration that included the complex steps behind the final product--spinning, weaving, sewing and applying wax--before being ushered into a large showroom. As we wandered the aisles among the multitude of shirts, sarongs, dresses, and scarves, I could not help but reflect back on the laborious process that I had just witnessed outside the doors and wonder how so many products could really be handmade.
 As we continued our journey, visits to other villages that specialized in woodcarving, silversmithing, and painting were offered. We decided to skip these stops, since we weren't really looking at spending our day as consumer tourists, but instead were in search of the "real" Bali.
I am not sure what I had expected to find in Ubud. I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love so I wasn't drawn to the city by a best selling author. Perhaps it was my past experiences with mountain towns--places where communities live and survive from the land. Unfortunately, it wasn't a serene village set amongst rice paddies and rainforest that I found and instead I was once again faced with the ugly side of consumer tourism. There didn't appear to be small shops showcasing handcrafted arts; instead it was storefront after storefront of knick-knacks that can be found across the world. The town boasts that it is a treasure trove of museums and galleries--perhaps they are hidden behind closed doors--but all that met my eyes were large canvases depicting scenes not representative of Balinese culture-- pictures of Michael Jackson, nude women, and elephants being devoured by tigers.
We asked our driver for some time to explore by foot, and he left us in the center of town. As we navigated the hole riddled sidewalks, we were constantly  assaulted by offers for peoples services and products and the endless honking of the taxi drivers wanting us to climb in their cabs. At the gates of the Ubud Water Palace we entered in hopes of a reprise from the chaos that surrounded us. And though passing though the gates allowed us to leave some of the unpleasantness behind I was soon face with another atrocity--lurking in the shadows of the magnificent palace and gardens was a Starbucks. As my stomach began to turn I knew it wasn't the dreaded Bali Belly, but the ubiquitous presence of global corporate interests that made me queazy as any hopes of finding what I was searching for in Ubud quickly dissolved.

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