My husband and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary yesterday. Our wedding cost us about two grand but for our honeymoon, all those years ago, we went off on a four month European trip. I have been transcribing my husband’s travel diary that we recently unearthed in some decluttering exercise.
(See previous entry) This was my husband’s first real trip abroad. My comments in brackets.
Monday 30-3-98 Kuta, Bali
We woke at 7am and went to the beach for a walk. The beach was grey sand and there was rubbish everywhere, mostly from firecrackers. (At sunset on the eve of Nyepi day, the Balinese gather to perform the ritual of Pengrupukan. They parade sculptures made from plaster, paper and wood, playing loud music on bells, horns and drums in order to “scare off evil spirits by making unbearable amounts of noise as is humanly possible.” You can read more on bali.com. While the last few years have seen a passion for recycling and environmental care in Bali, the general population there in the 90s had no understanding of the right way to dispose of rubbish. To be fair, neither did we in Australia! We just built dumps and hid our refuse away where we couldn’t see it. Bali isn’t big enough to do that so at best, the rubbish was raked into piles and set alight, resulting in columns of black smoke from discarded plastic bottles and wet paper. I am very happy to see the change that has come about recently.)
The waves and water looked good at high tide. In the forty-five-minute walk we were offered watches, hats, shirts, hash, and other drugs, all at special rates (“Morning Price.”) Some sellers were really persistent and walked with us for about twenty metres before giving up.
The food is pretty good everywhere and very cheap. Most main meals are less than a dollar and soft drink costs about twenty-five cents.
We decided to check out some alternate accommodation and went with a group of people. (Our original accommodation was basic at best.) We walked the streets for about two hours and looked at everything, starting from US$1.50 a night up to places for US$250 per night. A lot of places were IDR10,000 to IDR20,000 a night which is about two to four dollars a night. Some were really bad but some were okay, if you were prepared to give up your dignity! A lot of tourists stay in these places, especially travelling guys. (We met quite a few British guys who had been travelling through Asia on the cheap for years, eking out an existence and spending their days smoking and gambling with the local lads. One guy we met on this trip won quite a bit of money on a cockfight, from memory it was illegal for non-Balinese to attend these but I could be wrong. He won some money but after they “ate the loser” he became quite ill, although he admitted that may have had something to do with the mushrooms served with the unfortunate rooster.)
We booked into the Mastapa Garden Hotel which advertised its price for US$40 but gave it to us for half that rate. This was by far the best of anything around that price range. The rooms were good and clean with air-conditioning, a clean bathroom and a good pool, miles ahead of our previous night’s accommodation. (I can still remember how lovely the air conditioning felt on our clammy skin. The hotel was on the main road but as it was built around a central courtyard like most hotels of the era, so the rooms faced the pool and the jungle-like grounds. You can still stay in this hotel and from my quick Google searches, the pricing and the accommodation remains basically as they were in the late 90s. It’s like time has frozen on that little strip of Jalan Legian.)
We went to the beach and tried to barter for a shirt and a sarong. It felt very uncomfortable. The lady started out at a “special price” for a shirt, dress, and sarong at IDR250,000 (AUD$50) but we realised we only had IDR70,000 (AUD$14) on us. We ended up buying the shirt and the sarong for IDR60,000 total after much bargaining. I think she did quite well out of us as we felt bad knowing it was so cheap anyway. Some other people we met said we could have gone as low as half that amount but I would have preferred to pay more. Everything is so cheap anyway. (We no longer haggle when we’re in Bali. We’re not big shoppers and if we really want something we are prepared to pay for quality items in the shops where haggling isn’t done. If we buy from an artist or artisan in the market, we will haggle a little but usually will pay them what they ask. It might sound condescending to say this but we can afford it.)
On returning from the beach, we found our room filled with hundreds of tiny mosquitoes. We were very quickly offered a new room, an upgrade to the Deluxe room. It was a bit better and had a fridge and a balcony. The hotel has two monkeys in a cage out the back and a strange red parrot. Christine went to give a bit of grass to the monkey, and it shot it’s hand out like lightning and tried to grab her hand, not the grass. Scared the shit out of her. (That monkey was a mean little blighter but you would be too if you were kept in a cage. I’m not sure why I thought it might want a piece of grass. I’m a vegetarian and would describe myself as an animal lover but I am distrusting of most animals, especially when I’m traveling. I’ve been to most of the temple in Bali and regularly interact with monkeys, especially in Ubud, but I keep a respectful distance. One of the most magical experiences I’ve had in Bali was being with about 100 other students in a yoga class upstairs at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, when a large family of monkeys made their way slowly across the balustrade from one end of the huge pavilion top the other. You could have heard a pin drop among the students.)
We went to dinner with the Poms. (Years ago, this was a common nickname for English people but I am not sure anyone still uses the term. Michael goes on to mention this group of people regularly throughout the diary but, as often happened back in the days before social media, we didn’t keep in contact and we cannot recall anything at all about them.) The hawkers come out in force at night. It seems overbearing at first but you do get used to it. You just smile and keep walking and say, ‘Jalan, Jalan,’ which just means, ‘I’m going for a walk.’
When changing money at the bank, I can see now how we sometimes had trouble dealing with some banks in Indonesia when I worked in the International Finance department of (one of the Big 4 banks in Australia. My husband was working his way up the ladder in one of those big banks but threw it all away to run off with me and work in my crazy little giftware company, start craft markets, and blow all our money on a long honeymoon.)
I can imagine what Bali was like in the early days when tourists first started visiting. I have read a few books written then and some set earlier. (I was going to make a list but you can find a great one here…)
I can close my eyes and picture what it was like then but I wish I had more photos of this trip. In those days we didn’t have digital cameras or phones. I know I took some photos in Bali but after all these years and multiple computers and hard drives later, I have no idea where they ended up. But unless someone was a passionate photographer back then, people didn’t usually take a lot of photos. I’d owned a camera since my 9th birthday and I loved to take photos but my camera wasn’t waterproof, so it usually stayed in the hotel room unless I wanted to lug it around for a specific reason. And considering most of our days culminated in the pub…
After our trip in 1998, we didn’t got to Bali again until 2015. We were blown away by the sheer scale of some of the development. It was the wet season but still very busy with traffic snaking around Kuta and Ubud ’til all hours.
But Bali has changed so much in the past 7 years. We started visiting regularly after 2015 and usually go at least twice a year. In our opinion, the government is doing wonders; improved roads, hospitals, schools and environmental protections and many small groups of locals and ex-pats are doing amazing things to improve the lives of everyone including the animals there.