It has been a month since I left Bali. My body left, my mind and soul, well, they might still be there. I loved Bali. It is such a special place. I would love to go back and spend more time there. It is one of those places I could see myself living if it were not for a big problem..you cannot bring animals into the country. That means JerryBrown and Maxi.
When I started planning my trip to Bali I had no idea what to expect. I chose to stay in an Indonesian style guest house rather than a tourist oriented villa or hotel. My hosts were a married couple with a child. She is originally from Austria and he is Balinese. They have been married 10 years. Birgit came to Bali on vacation and fell in love..literally.
Their home is very traditional. It has an outdoor kitchen, no air conditioning, and no swimming pool. My bathroom was more modern and semi outside but private. I had hot water one time during my stay. I chose this guesthouse because I wanted to be a part of Balinese life.
There are plenty of hotels, guest houses, and villas owned by foreigners that are full of luxuries. (To be fair there are some owned by Indonesians) You can insulate yourself from Balinese life at whatever level you want. Most have sanitized the Bali experience.
There are two distinct Balis. There is the Bali that is lived in by the Balinese and the Bali that is for tourism. I travel because I want to see another culture and learn. Everyone has their reasons.
Ubud is a center for health and healing. It was made famous by that putrid book and movie (IMHO) "Eat Pray Love." In the eyes of many Balinese this book did a lot to ruin their culture. It was interesting to talk to them about it. I found many parallels to the tango in Buenos Aires.
When my guides took me to a roadside Warong (restaurant) that was fly infested, I closed my eyes. I kept hoping the parasites from my days in Mexico would take care of me. The food was delicious. There was no silverware as the Balinese eat with their hands. It was the hot rice that would get me. There is an actual art to eating with your hands. I was happy that I didn't get sick from eating at that place. After that experience I figured I could eat anywhere and I did.
Most tourists pay for a tour for the Rice Walk. This is a 5 km walk through the rice fields. I walked myself. It was amazing, peaceful, and something I never experienced before. The sad thing is the walk begins with tons of little shops trying to sell things. Unfortunately this is everywhere you go in Bali, including the temples.
When I got to the middle of the fields there was an old man selling coconuts. He would lop off the top and hand it to you with a straw. It was 10,000 rupees or $1.00. He told me how he shakes to the trees to get the coconuts to fall. In a few moments two European tourists came by on their way to their expensive hotel that is situated in the rice fields.
I cannot imagine staying in a luxury villa watching people do back breaking labor. The villa is owned by a Swiss man according to my coconut friend. The two women began to explain to me what a coconut was. They were so condescending. I told them I was from South America, I know what coconuts are. They just keep going on talking about coconuts. People in Switzerland must have coconuts. They told me the old man climbs up the tree every day to get his coconuts. I looked at Mr. Coconut. There was no way he could climb that tree. He smiled at me. I bet they don't pay 10,000 rupees.
After they left Mr. Coconut invited me to sit down. In his limited broken English he brought me over some lemon grass to smell. Then some citron. He was delighted I knew it would get rid of mosquitoes. He brought over fresh cumin plants and other herbs growing along side the rice. We watched frogs play in the rice paddy.
When I finished my coconut juice he hacked open the coconut. The flesh was more like meat. I was used to coconuts that were harder. This was a completely different texture. It was such a huge coconut I could not eat it all. I wish I had a plastic bag on me.
My guides were a trip. They were not polished. They didn't drag me to any shopping outlets. They had their opinions. The waiter in my favorite restaurant Eve's Kitchen introduced me to them. Scooby makes his living from tourists among other things.
"Bali has always had tourists." He says to me. "Only the tourist now is different." I asked him in what way. He told me before the tourists came to Bali to enjoy Bali and to learn about Bali. Now they come to be entertained. They don't really want the real Bali. They bicycles down a mountain.
Many Balinese that I spoke to talked about how they could no longer afford to go to yoga. The yoga masters no longer wanted to hold sessions for the Balinese. Why should they? The tourists are willing to pay 100,000 rupees or more for a class. There are yoga retreats for $2000 USD. "Every day a new yoga master is born." they joked.
It reminded me of the tango in Buenos Aires. Many Argentine teachers no longer want to teach Argentines. Why should they? Foreigners will pay 2 - 3 times more than a local for private lessons. One only has to pick up the tango magazines to see all the new teachers.
When I found my accupuncturist it was by accident. I had no idea if the 350,000 rupees he was charging me was a good price or not. When I asked Birgit she told me that usually the foreigners are charged 500,000 rupees. Just like tango shoes or tango lessons. Tourists are charged more than locals. She said he was the best accupuncturist in Ubud and that I was lucky to find him.
She like the others I spoke to told me how many foreigners have now come to Ubud to set up shop. Yoga teachers, acupuncturists, and other business people are starting to push out the Balinese from their own culture.
When I asked about a restaurant where the food was typical, Birgit's husband laughed. "You have to go outside the city." He told me. "Here you can find Turkish food, Mexican food, Italian food, and a version of Balinese or Indonesian food. The tourists have ruined our restaurants." This reminds me of some of the older milongueros when they talk about the milongas. They blame the tourists for ruining them. For destroying the codes, lowering the levels of dance.
In the book "Eat Pray Love" the woman talks about going to a healer. These people in Ubud are known by word of mouth. They set no price. People pay them whatever they can. They feel their ability to heal is a gift and accept whatever donation people want to give them. True healers never ask for money.
I was referred to Pitu. He used reflexology. He was amazing. He was able to tell me exactly the issues I had with my health with no prompting from me. In our sessions he would talk to me about my soul and visions. It was an amazing experience. I am still feeling the effects of his healing.
Now Ketut Lyer, the healer in EPL has gone commercial. He charges a fixed amount and basically tells everyone the same thing. He is an old man. One person told me he just wants to earn lots of money to leave to his family. People wait hours to hear the same thing and pay for the priviledge.
When I first came to Buenos Aires, it was not easy to find people who really taught tango. There were those that would rush you in the milongas, but most of them, were just after the tourist buck. When one found the true milonguero who loved their tango, it was something different. Most of them had no idea what to charge. They loved to talk about their tango and show it to you. To be paid for it? Wow, that was something.
Times have changed. If you are 75 years old you are a living legend. Even if in your day you were not known as one of the better dancers, it doesn't matter. You get marketed as a "true milonguero" and people pay you for it.
It is sad what success can do to a place. The people who do not live there always see it differently. Some tourists think the Balinese are now lucky because they are getting a more Western way of life. More tourists and more money. Many Balinese I spoke to see themselves as losing their culture.
In the tango I constantly hear from foreigners how the Argentines should be happy that their dance is everywhere. That they should be willing to change. The codes are stupid, old fashioned.
It makes me sad. I hope to never lose Bali, just as my tangos still play inside my head.