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From Java to Bali: A Culture Shock

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Ubud, not Kuta, of which I took no pictures.

I lived in L.A. before coming on this trip. While I wouldn’t say I enjoyed Beverly Hills or West L.A. In general, minus the beach and excellent food of course, I had grown accustomed to witnessing the over the top lifestyle that prevails there. But I wasn’t prepared for Kuta.
Though we had been burnt out during our initial few days in Java we developed a fondness for it pretty quickly. The people are wonderful, the food delicious and cheap, the tourist, hardly visible. On our journey from Jogya to Bali we saw only two other tourists over the span of 24 hours. We arrived late in Bali due to road construction from the pier. We knew it would be late, so we picked one of the easily accessible areas of town to spend our first night. On hostelbookers we found a well rated dorm room for $10/person-an extremely difficult price point to meet while retaining generally acceptable hygiene. It just happened to be in Kuta.
Everyone I’ve met and everything I had read said stay away from this tourist trap. But, we figured it was one night, cheap and close to the shuttle to Ubud. In the morning we ventured out to book our shuttle and get food. What we saw was the first form of culture shock I’ve had thus far in Asia. Mostly, because everything looked like Santa Monica, plus relentless touts everywhere. Tourists easily out number locals by an extreme amount. The streets are clogged with people, the traffic horrendous, shiny shops, and expensive restaurants everywhere. We didn’t venture to the beach, where it is rumored they have to sweep the massive amounts of garbage every morning from the previous nights excess.
Kuta, the perfect example of tourism gone terribly, terribly wrong. What I have no doubt used to be a beautiful setting, is now in commercialized ruin. It made us sad, but mostly we just wanted to get the heck out. We were prepared for Bali to be an onslaught of tourists, we didn’t have any delusions regarding this being an off the beaten path sort of adventure. But never the less, we were shocked, and couldn’t leave fast enough. Literally as well, given the absurd amount of development and traffic.
I can’t understand why anyone would ever come here. The rest of Bali offers much for exploration, much of it generally unvisited. So with a beautiful island ripe with possibilities for authentic experiences, why in the world would you ever bother with the south?
Another downside to tourism is the general lack of cheap transportation options. The local methods of transit exist, but because the massive amount of tourists it is difficult to use. Tourist buses offer reasonable prices, but they are quite inflated. Taxis, are a different story. They cost an absurd amount and every one we took had no idea where they were going. I avoid taxis at all costs, I loathe them with a probably irrational hatred. So being forced to take them is my version of transportation hell. Dramatic, probably, but my dislike runs deep.
It was not the best introduction to Bali, but we couldn’t really expect much else.
Ubud, our next stop and true beginning to our Bali trip offered immediate relief. In part because the first thing we did was rent a motorbike. Being independently mobile is the best feeling. Freedom from depending on others at last! Yes, Ubud is a touristy place. But it is also ridiculously beautiful. Our hotel is also located 8km outside of it, offering an excellent escape. Our room looks out over the impossibly green valley and the only sounds are of the natural variety. It is so beautiful here it seems unreal. The sort of place you see in a travel magazine and note its beauty and how you must visit. But when you get here, and those pages are three dimensionally presented before you it feels somehow unreal, it the best sense.
While Kuta may have been an assault on our senses, once left behind it is simply like a bad dream. We left it in the past and on to better things. The rest of Bali awaits!

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