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Bali is dirty.
There, I said it. It’s the conclusion that I have come to after about five weeks on the island, which, in glossy travel magazines, is often described as “the island of the gods”, with accompanying pictures of pristine beaches, lush rice fields and women in traditional dresses. What I have found, especially in the south of Bali, is something in between a tourist trap and a dump. The north is slightly better. There are beautiful places – green rice terraces, charming little mountain villages, colourful temples and some fairly interesting wildlife – but the south will always be etched in my memory as one of the places, you’d probably have to pay me handsomely to go back to. Above all, even the most beautiful places in Bali are overshadowed by a gigantic public waste disaster.
It’s time to talk about my love-hate relationship with Bali.
The Good: Beautiful Nature and Interesting Temples
Bali has a lot of potential. The island is covered in impressive rice terraces with women and men working in the fields wearing colourful clothes and the traditional conical hats, the temples and the ceremonies are beautiful and the accompanying religion is fascinating. There are three volcano’s on Bali – Batur, Bratan and Agung – and quite a few mountain ranges, which rise up from the lush green land in impressive peaks and can be hiked alone or with tours. There are serene lakes, winding mountain roads and waterfalls in rainforests, such as Gitgit and Munduk.
As soon as I got out of the touristy centers, I found several beautiful places and I enjoyed just taking the scooter and going exploring. Being a fairly small but popular island, most of the attractions, such as Tanah Lot and Uluwatu are busy, with lots of tour busses showing up and usually a big parking lot and a tourist market out front. As long as you don’t go in the middle of the day on a weekend, even those places are very enjoyable and beautiful. But if you come to Bali looking for deserted beaches and quiet towns, you will have long drives and lots of searching ahead of you.
The Bad and the Ugly: Bali is a Public Waste Disaster
Obviously the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak region is a touristy hell and absolutely not my thing, but it being meathead territory wasn’t even the biggest issue I had with the place. I tried to give the area a chance. I have forced myself several times to go back to a beach that was covered in trash and to swim in a sea of plastic, in hopes of finally getting where all the ravings about Bali are coming from. And I’m not talking about the occasional wrapper being thrown into the water. At times it was so bad, that all I could see in the water was an endless carpet of trash. Wading in there, I could feel it brushing against my legs and tangling in my fingers. Combined with the “hello daaaarling” comments whispered in my general direction by creepy dudes in the streets, the constant offerings from shady men to buy some magic mushrooms and the army of party tourists wearing “I fucked Rhonda” shirts, I just kind of gave up and decided to get my nature-fix with long trips into the backcountry and to spend the rest of the time binge eating on street food and staying on my couch.
The pollution going on in some areas of Bali is so bad, that it will give everyone who isn’t completely inebriated or passed out in some side street the urge to gag and drown themselves in a bucket of delicious peanut and chilli satay sauce or to jump on the next plane leaving the island. The disgusting condition that the beaches and the water is in at that time of the year between December and March, is attributed to the winds and currents of this particular season, which end up washing ashore all the trash coming from the direction of Java.
Sure, the Balinese can’t control the weather, but I don’t quite buy into the “let’s blame Java” approach they have going there. Even when I went out of the touristy centers and big cities to the beautiful, postcard perfect places, there was always trash. The garbage out in the backcountry is just an extension of the disgusting mess that can be found on the beaches. Just like on the neighbouring island of Java, a lot of people seem to show a complete disregard for the planet and their home. Some make a weak attempt to hide their trash behind trees or in ditches, as if that makes everything better, but more often than not, it is just carelessly strewn on the ground. Heck, even the national parks are littered with plastic.
It’s the attitude held by a lot of locals, that it’s perfectly okay to chuck absolutely everything into the nearest river – out of sight, out of mind style – that is the true root of the problem. Why is it, that the locals don’t seem to see or care what is happening to their beautiful island? Is it lack of education? An incompetent government? It’s probably a combination of both and the idea, that it’s socially accepted to just chuck everything into the nearest ravine seems to go a long way back. There isn’t even a sewage system in place in Bali, everything goes into the rivers and consequently into the ocean.
Fact is, the place is a disaster and it needs changes fast. But so far, everybody seems to be busy blaming each other or the wind and the population is living in a complete state of denial. Bali has the potential to be a beautiful island, but it has to get its act together, or it will see its popularity diminish rapidly as the travellers of the world start catching on. The glossy magazines can only cover up so much.