Disclaimer: The following is the personal opinion of one – me – and is not supposed to be a final truth – everybody is welcome to their own opinion.
Bali is a really beautiful island, blessed with good weather, beautiful beaches, coral reefs for diving and snorkeling, a dream landscape dotted with volcanos and rice fields. That has probably attracted a certain authoress, who then wrote a certain book, which, made into a movie starring Julia Roberts, became the mega hit „Eat Pray Love“. The „Love“ part happened in Ubud – a small town, about 25 miles north of Denpasar, and especially since that movie the mecca of all those who believe in Julia Roberts / yoga / meditation / fortune tellers / search for the meaning of life. I had read about Ubud, and determined early on that it was way too touristy for me and I would give it a miss. Even I can be wrong – sometimes – and when I met a lot of people who all liked Ubud, I decided to change my plans, extend my stay in Indonesia, and give Ubud a chance. A friend I’d met whilst travelling was curious about Ubud too and decided to visit me.
So, Ubud. Well, what can I say? A year ago, before I decided to go travelling, before I actually did go travelling, before I’d been travelling for 8 months on the roads less travelled and off the beaten track most of the time – then, I might have liked Ubud too. Shops, shops, shops, and when you think that you’ve seen them all, more shops. And all 100% dedicated to the Western traveller – shops for yoga and meditation, shops for jewelry and prayer beads, shops for clothes, shoes, shawls, scarves and gifts. And in between restaurants that offer everything at three times the normal price – what seems cheap to the Westerner, is only expensive to the person having lived off the beaten track for a while.
It is Disneyland, an air conditioned fantasy land for the well meaning Westerner, keeping them comfortably within their comfort zone even though thousands of miles away from home. The only problem (for me) – it has nothing at all to do with Indonesia or Bali.
Many come to Ubud in search of the „Meaning of Life.“ Call me cynical – I don’t think that many people have found the meaning of life whilst sitting in an air conditioned room in Fantasia, sipping overpriced chilled Chai Latte – in my (admittedly un-authoritarian, but nonetheless built by experience) opinion, you are more likely to find the meaning of life when it hits you in the face, in an authentic environment, on the street, for example in one of the many projects that Indonesia has to offer, and which are engaged in helping needy people and animals.
Perhaps I am just a grumpy ex-shopper. Same as I’ve morphed from a strong smoker to an equally strong anti smoker („You want to smoke? On the balcony. Close the door behind you! It’s raining? Tough“), I’ve perhaps changed from a shopping addict to an anti shopper (some of my friends will have trouble believing this). But I don’t think so. I think I just have a problem by now to live in a totally unauthentic, artifical make-believe-world, where nothing is left of the „real“ life, and everything is drastically overpriced – the tourist, so I was told, is called a „white coconut“ – apparently meaning: They pay anything.
I’ll stop ranting now. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose, it’s truly not important, and it’s not so unusual that high frequency vacation spots loose their original character quickly – otherwise, they’d probably not be high frequency vacation spots for long. And probably it’s true that the natives are better off through tourism. I am just not used to civilisation anymore, the culture shock was too great, I am traumatized. And many people DO love Ubud.
At least the environment around Ubud – as well as in all of Bali, really – is truly beautiful. Although slowly being pushed back, there are still rice fields and authentic little villages, and when we hired a motorbike and drove around, I felt much better.
But Ubud will never be mine, my friend – also a traveller – fled back to her little island, and instead of the meaning of life I felt in sudden need of a good spot for snorkeling; so I changed my plans again and escaped to the coast at Amed, where I am now enjoying sea and snorkeling.
Kindly people I met in Ubud (sic!) visited me there, and together we found true happiness – the Mother of all infinity pools – a dream on four levels, all to ourselves. The attached hotel is still being built, but for some reason the pool has already been filled – bliss!
(By the way, I really forgot to take even one picture of Ubud, that’s how shocked I was. Therefore, I can only show the beautiful landscape).
PS: Don’t go to the famous soothsayer (that movie again!) – I was told that he’s very old now, prone to nod off over your hand, and during the short times when he’s actually awake he’s just repeating the same thing over and over again – for a good price, of course 🙂
PPS: Tomorrow, I’ll leave Southeast Asia for Australia – I am looking forward to it and am only a bit apprehensive about a further culture shock. Then I’ll turn around, fly to India and try out an ashram – me and ashrams – who’d have thought!