Welcome back ladies and gents. My lovely wife has relinquished the writing duties for our latest destination to me, Patrick. So strap in – this blog will be crammed full of spelling mistakes, bad puns, and lots of overly detailed descriptions about everything underwater.
Bali, Indonesia: If I had to pick one picture to describe this place, it would actually be a picture I didn’t take. So I’ll describe it instead. Picture walking through a busy city, stepping into an ally, and immediately finding yourself walking in the middle of a small rice paddy field. This field is filled with workers harvesting rice in the shadows of brand new shops selling the latest surf brands. This is Bali. The old traditions of the island backing right up to a western invasion of shopping malls, resorts, and restaurants peddling steak (cows are considered sacred to many Balinese people). Restaurant menus have taught me to say “western infusion” there, but I think “invasion” is more of the correct term. You can walk down the street and pass a group of guys engaged in what could only be a competition of who can wear the smallest tank top one moment, and then the next moment encounter hundreds of Balinese locals performing a religious ceremony outside of a temple built in the 11th century.
I want to pause here and give the Balinese their due. Most islands that encounter this level of tourism seem to roll over their culture, take the tourist dollar, and not look back. Anyone who has shelled out a hundred dollars to go to an ‘authentic’ tribal dance knows exactly what I’m talking about. But Bali doesn’t do this. Bali’s culture thrives despite tourism – they’ve kept their traditions alive for nearly a millennium. The mix of ancient and new isn’t a reason to avoid Bali; it’s a reason to come here. The beaches are certainly not the most serene, the jungles may not be packed with the most drop bears, and it may not feel like an escape, but the culture is authentic and the people are some of the nicest you’ll ever meet.
Now, before we go further, I want to address the volcano in the room. Back in September, Bali’s largest volcano, Mt. Agung, “woke up.” At first it looked like an eruption was imminent – a few tremors a day quickly turned into a few hundred per day. We were counting the hours till the eruption – but then hours turned to days, days to weeks, and as I’m writing this Mt. Agung remains sealed. We travelled to Bali despite the risk of the volcano erupting, which at the time was a difficult decision. Go, and you run the risk of using up resources that would be better used helping those displaced by the volcano. Don’t go, and countless Balinese people who depend on tourism for their livelihood are suddenly out of work. We chose to go, and from talking to the Balinese people about our dilemma, they were hugely dismissive of the idea that people shouldn’t travel there. They were mad that the media has made people think this was somehow a tradeoff. We even were asked by two police officers if we could take a picture with them holding up a sign stating “Bali is safe for tourists.” As a bonus, we got to constantly make small talk with the locals about if they thought the volcano down the road was about to blow.
One thing Bali does do extremely well is that it is a very photogenic country, which is great if you’re like me and like to take a lot of pictures, or, as we discovered, if you are an Instagram “model”. I’ve recently acquired an Instagram, and have been impressed by the picture-perfect travel photos that cover my feed. But in Bali, we got to see a little bit of the behind the scenes “magic” going on here. When you reach the end destination of every long hike in Bali, right as you run out of water and your swamp ass has turned your shorts into soaking wet swim trunks, you are rewarded with a stunning vista. And at this vista, undoubtably, you will spot what Sam and I call the “insta-bitty” -The girl that’s just finished the same hike as you did, except she has completed this hike wearing what appears to be a formal dress, full makeup, and perfectly curled hair. Meanwhile her photographer friend will be furiously taking pictures using his trusty iPad to capture the scene that will eventually show up your Instagram feed. Some locations have become so famous for their Instagram shots that capitalism has even made an appearance. The famous Bali swing photos? $35 each (keep in mind that the average meal cost is around $3 in Bali). Sorry we don’t have a photo of this landmark; at that price we just couldn’t swing it. Type Bali Swing into google if you really want to.
Personally, this is all a bit much for me. But, so long as I’m traveling around with 65 lbs worth of SCUBA gear and underwater photography equipment, I’m the last person who can judge others for going to extreme lengths to get the perfect picture.
Speaking of underwater photography and perfect pictures, Bali delivers here as well. My brother once told me that “there is nothing worse than having to look through someone else’s dive pictures.” He may be right, but this is my soap box, and I intend to use it. Before we jump into the pics, I do want to share one highlight straight from my dive log: “First dive to ever feature a monkey. Dead, teeth blurred, eyes wide open, just drifting through the current.”
We also did some muck diving during our time in Bali. To clarify, muck diving is where you swim around a muddy bay in low visibility with your macro lens hunting for strange and exotic creatures. Meanwhile, your wife swims behind you wondering why she married you. In reality, Sam loved this kind of diving. Probably because you get to see things like this:
To seek out these dive sites, Sam and I traveled all over this tiny island. And along the way, we found some pretty stunning places. The further north you travel in Bali, the more crowds you leave behind. What you’re left with is a rugged, volcanic island dotted with amazing architecture and plenty of monkeys.
One of the top experiences we had in Bali took place above water: staying at The Rice Joglo. This place was located deep in the rice paddies of Ubud, and staying here was the closest you can get to falling asleep in a fairytale.
Accessible only by a thin path cutting several kilometers through the rice paddies, the Rice Joglo is where you go to actually escape. Our luggage was delivered by 4 seperate moped trips by laughing locals wondering how we could possibly need so many bags. The trip out here is worth it, as it ended up being one of the few places to escape the tourists of Ubud pretending to find themselves “Eat. Pray. Love.” style. Yes, there are still plenty of man-buns and flowy pants walking by the house, but you could ignore them by watching the enormous bunnies eating in the garden or the ducks playing in the mud. In the evening, one can walk along the path and look for the giant mud holes where overconfident tourists had driven their rented moped off of the path and crashed into the rice paddies.
For more of our favorite shots from Bali, you can head over to The Salty Shutter: http://www.saltyshutterphotography.com/where-we-are/
Or you can skip straight to the good stuff (i.e. underwater pictures): http://www.saltyshutterphotography.com/latestdive/
Before we part, a little real talk for you. We’ve been traveling for three months now. This is somewhat of a milestone for us. At this point, we’ve been told by other travelers that you either know if you like traveling, or you know you’ve had your fun and you’re ready to go home. Honestly it’s a little bit of both for us. Some days everything is amazing and travel lives up to all the aspirational quotes you see strewn about the internet (like in this blog, per-say). Other days travel is exceedingly difficult, and you wonder why you ever left your couch. But when we left, I had maybe ten places I really wanted to see. Three months in, I’ve seen four of those places, but the places I want to see now have grown five-fold. Travel will do that to you. All told, we’re not done yet.
I also couldn’t write a travel blog without including some stats! These are all as of our last day in Bali.
Days Abroad: 95
Flights Taken: 18 (includes connections)
Miles Traveled: 19,953
Bags Lost: 0
Flights Delayed: 0
Countries Visited: 4 (minimum stay of 48 hours)
Dives Logged: 55
Money Spent: Too much
Extending our Honeymoon to Nepal,
Patrick & Samantha