Sunday, June 29, 2008

Holidays in the Sun

Picking up where I left off last week (if you remember I had just taken a leak in one of Soekarno-Hatta airport's controversial conveniences) I'll continue this time with a short précis of my trip to a friend's wedding in Bali.

In fact, I've written about holidaying in Bali before in Metro Mad. If memory serves, on that occasion I was having my blood pressure raised by the overcrowded rat runs of the Legian area and lambasting the Neanderthal antics of the Australian surfers in the room next door.

Luckily, this time around proved to be a more soothing vacation, although the surfers were indeed out in force along with the usual ground swell of Kuta cowboys. These are the local beach lotharios who are often to be seen wandering along the sand in cowboy hats with packets of Marlboro stuffed down the waistbands of their shorts, accompanied by strapping Western women several inches taller than themselves.

After checking into my one star accommodation, I quickly rented a scooter with failing brakes and went careering down the road to the beach. The 66 area towards the north of Legian is a good spot to park one's lily white European skin, soak up some sun, splash around in the sea and peak at bikinis from behind a strategically held copy of The Jakarta Post. All the food and beer you could ever want are about a three-meter walk away. You can't go wrong.

In the evening I ran into an old friend around the Bali bomb ground zero area and we went for a drink or 15. The post bomb slump seems to be well and truly over and the foreigners are back with a vengeance. This time it's war!

As it's the school holidays in Indonesia there were also a lot of domestic tourists to be seen pacing the bustling streets of Legian, although predictably few of them were matching the Australians drink for drink.

A story has emerged in the Indonesian press this week which claims that the fiscal tax that we all begrudgingly pay when we leave the country could be scrapped soon. I won't be holding my breath as this story has surfaced several times before in recent years.

I have also heard though that the Bali tourist industry have lobbied the powers that be in an attempt to retain the tax. This would ensure that domestic tourists continue to come to Bali in numbers as opposed to gaily jetting off to Phuket or wherever. Hmmm. As I write this the latest word is that exemption from the fiscal tax will involve having to register yourself at the tax office and getting a tax number. Double hmmm.

Anyway, the weekend arrived and it was time to leave the Kuta hordes behind and head somewhere more peaceful. My friend's wedding was being held at a resort on the West Coast of Bali. After a two hour road trip that gradually unwound out of the jams of the south (only to find ourselves predictably crawling along behind several of those ubiquitous yellow trucks that chug along at 10 km per hour) we arrived in the Jembrana area, which is roughly equidistant between Legian and the port of Banyuwangi on Bali's westernmost tip.

This western part of the Bali is the least touristy area of the island and also its most sparsely populated, which made for a pleasant change after the urbanized sprawl of the south. After checking into our excellent little hotel of cottages (called the Puri Dajuma) I took a bicycle and went huffing and puffing around the local area. The countryside was gorgeous and after a few kilometers I found a track down to the beach.

A 10 km stretch of wide black sand stretched out in both directions and there was not a soul to be seen (not strictly true, do dogs have souls?) Several streams trickled into the sea along the beach's length and the breeze rocked the palm trees and jungle behind the sand as I strolled along for a couple of clicks. This was far more like the areas of solitude and natural beauty that I've visited in Sumatra or Lombok, than the holidaymaking hullabaloo usually associated with Bali.

This was undeniably the true meaning of getting away from it all. I had a delicious sense of, not so much loneliness, as that word is usually taken to have negative connotations. Perhaps aloneness would be a more neutral word. It was an innate peace devoid of 6000 W speaker systems, car horns and advertising jingles; a meditative splendor that one is obviously never afforded back home in Jakarta.

I watched the sun set dramatically across the sea, behind the mountains of the Alas Purwo National Park in East Java as birds arced and wheeled through the sky. Paradise is just a pee in a dodgy toilet followed by an Air Asia flight away.

After my Discovery Channel epiphany, all that remained for me to do was to enjoy my comrade’s wedding. This involved healthy amounts of pork, seafood, wine, kilts, Gamelan music and Legong dancing. Hopefully the hangover will clear in a few more days.