My challenge to the guide was that I wanted to experience and photograph the traditional Balinese way of life.
His response was very optimistic but I was dubious.
So, my driver Alex and I left my hotel on the outskirts of Ubud early and we headed north towards the lush and lofty hinterlands. As we drove through the centre of town, I thought he had no chance of successfully delivering on his promise.
As we zig-zagged our way along the main roads, I noted that they were lined mile after mile by myriad bric-a-brac shops, woodworking factories, food stalls, temples and an oddly regular collection of stores selling glittering diamante statues. There were diamante-encrusted elephants, tarantulas, Hindu gods and of course disco balls.
Intermingled with the kitsch however were some of the local traditions and customs I was hoping to find.
Roadside offerings to ward off bad spirits consisted of freshly cut flowers and a ‘gift’ offering were a constant sight on the drive as was the multitude of dogs that strode with more swagger than Jagger.
Alex explained that each household keeps a dog as security.
It took about 30 minutes after leaving the hotel until we turned off the ‘highway’ into what at first looked like someone’s driveway. However, this small lane was actually a B-Road and after we turned in, everything changed.
The next seven hours were spent exploring verdant valleys, lush rice paddy fields, restful villages, bamboo forests and isolated temples. New exploration for me but simply “re-visiting” for Alex.
By now I’d realised I couldn’t have spent $50 AUD and ever received better ROI – Return on Indonesia.
And I also have a confession to make, I was a Bali snob.
I was 40 years old when I visited Bali. I felt that if you hadn’t been there by the time you’re 30, let alone 40, there didn’t seem to be a lot of reason to go.
I just didn’t think we’d get on. I thought Bali was Kuta and Kuta was Bali. All brash and Bintang. So it turns out Kuta was pretty much like I had expected but I did have something very, very wrong. Kuta is in Bali but it’s not the Bali!
After just one visit, I’m looking forward to returning. I now know Bali has many dimensions - partying and pampering, chaos and calm, surfing and serenity, brash and breathtaking.
All of these are mutually exclusive however you could also experience them all if you wished. It certainly is a destination that you can make your own.
By day’s end, Alex had done it. We only saw one couple of western tourists after hours spent touring.
So it is possible to find authentic experiences but you do really need to know where to go. Grab a local guide to experience the real Bali.
Published under license from Well Travelled