Well, to be fair to the island, Kuta and Legian are gross. Perhaps it’s the half a year living in Sharia-land Aceh or perhaps it’s my natural curmudgeon-ness, but one can see Kuta/Legian as either awesome, perfect for party hardy or as over-commercialized and over-sexualized. Kuta and Legian are the two towns smashed together near the airport. Clearly, I see it as the latter, when, for an instance, I get offered in the middle of the street by an octogenarian foreign man to try “magic mushrooms – safe in Bali” at about 10am on a Wednesday. It’s hard to see the Indonesians from all the scantily clad foreigners that are packing the beach, bars, restaurants, sidewalks and narrow roads on motorbikes, most of which are equipped with a side hooks for carrying a surfboard. They wander about with open Bintangs (the local, Indonesian beer) in hand, so it was no surprise that as I was walking down a street lined with Billabong stores, random clothing stalls, boutique shops, and restaurant/bars serving foreign junk food around 7:30pm on a Tuesday some blond stuck his beef-head out of a taxi window and spewed copiously.
Similarly, as I was continuing down the street I passed by a convenience store where a bunch of young, local men were drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels in the front. They kind of gestured and called for me to join them, but I declined. This is my second night and occasion in Bali, as I had an overnight layover here on my way to Dili and now a second overnight layover on my way back to Banda Aceh. Since there are only three airlines that fly into Dili at the moment (Merpati, Batavia and Silk Air) with only once a day flights for at least Merpati and Batavia, it was not possible to line up my arrivals to avoid the overnights. The first occasion I tried to avoid the meat market of Kuta/Legian by finding a CouchSurfing.org host, but was not able to line up a host for this second time. So, the first time, my host took me to a reggae bar in Legian where a majority of the crowd was these young, local beach boys (such as the ones drinking Jack Daniels on the street) with foreign women getting a taste of the local action. I imagine that the JD boys were similarly trying to identify their evening’s meal ticket. However, I did find this interesting, because in Thailand it is rare to see a foreign female with a Thai man. It is of course too common to find a foreign male with a Thai woman, and it is an often-heard complaint from foreign women that they have difficulty getting the attention of men.
I was able to get into the reggae bar no problem, but my host, who is Indonesian, had to buy a drink ticket before being allowed to enter. The drink ticket at the door was the same price as what is charged at the bar, but they require Indonesians to buy a drink up front, because otherwise they suspect that, unlike the foreigners looking to burn their disposable income on booze, the Indonesians will not buy drinks and only harass the ladies. My host, Agung, thought that this was a totally fair practice and that the Indonesians in Bali have brought this upon themselves. I thought it was rather racist.
It was generally a fun night with a reggae cover band playing the feel-good classics, but then the band finished and the dj came back on and it was bump-and-grind reggaeton time, which was time for me to leave, as, again, it was getting gross, and I had a very important date in Dili the next morning to rest up for. To round out the night we came out to leave and saw police and a big crowd of people. Agung’s friend who was standing outside said, “See that guy in the white shirt in handcuffs spattered with blood? Yeah, he just stabbed some foreign guy.” Great.
This time around I decided on a night in, updating this blog thing, with a beer bought at a convenience store (there are many, many convenience stores in this part of Bali). I believe that the place I have ended up staying, Komala Indah II, is such a pretty spot. It really doesn’t look like much until you get into the one-story complex of rooms; the rooms all face a beautiful tree-filled courtyard that feels quite peaceful and removed from all the huzzah of the streets. The room itself is basic with a fan and a cold water shower, thin mattresses but ok pillows. It is clean, and I have stayed in worse. The bathroom has made attempts at being western-style by having a bath tub (though you definitely wouldn’t want a soak in it) and a sit-down toilet, though it has no toilet seat, so it really would have just been better to have a squat toilet. Anyway, I’m paying IDR 85,000, which is like USD 9. This was rather a relief, because although I had heard Bali budget places had increased from the Lonely Planet advertised rate of IDR 50,000, I really wasn’t sure by how much they had raised. The taxi driver that I took from the airport (they have a system where you stand in line to get a taxi and pay upfront a fee based upon your desired destination, which is considerably cheaper than trying to get a taxi independently – about an IDR 150,000 difference) was such a bully. Right off the bat before we even started driving he tried to get me to agree not be taken to my final destination, because of traffic jams and it would be difficult for him. He asked, “Can’t you just walk down the street?” Then he tried to scare me into believing I wouldn’t be able to get a room for any less than IDR 200-300,000; “Yeah, maybe ten years ago you could get cheaper prices! Ha!” He took me down the most congested and commercialized area all the while ridiculing my thought that I could get a budget room. I suspect he took this route to try and convince me to look at a “really cheap place [he] knows that is much closer to the airport,” because he must get a commission for bringing people there – did I want to ask the price, yes or no? Yes or no? I told him no, he could take me to where I had originally requested to go. And I do feel rather pleased with myself. However, on the way out of Bali I had an amazing taxi driver where I had to take the risk of either choking to death from a coughing fit or run into a store to buy water and leave all my bags in the waiting taxi, and he did not drive off with my bags. Faith in humankind restored.