Postcard - Bali after the Bomb
September 2006©Nigel Spiers
After thirty minutes of fruitless Internet flight searching I give up and visit our local travel agency. The manager welcomes me and asks;
"Where would you like to go sir?"
"Bali I reply"
"Have you been to Fiji?" he asks
"No – Bali is what we have in mind"
"They say Samoa is lovely at this time of year"
"No" I insist "Bali is definitely where we are going"
"Its just" he blusters "that we don’t get much call for Bali these days sir"
"Exactly" I cry
"But there won’t be many visitors there" says the manager.
"And it’s low season in terms of the prices" he adds
"And it’s not Australia school holidays so there won’t be many Australians there" he says
"Book us four seats on the next flight".
When I tell people at work we are flying Air New Zealand then Garuda Indonesia there is a lot of eye rolling and sniggering. I have always enjoyed Garuda flights. This is born out on our trip where we are crammed into a tiny Air New Zealand 737 for a very uncomfortable 3.5 hour flight to Brisbane. The hostesses appear to have been selected from the All Black forward reserves and are playing trolley racing. This is where they charge up and down the narrow aisle pushing the drinks trolley at breakneck speed, bumping every shoulder and scattering food and drinks all over the cabin. Then a Garuda 777-300 flight to Denpasar – on time, plenty of leg room, good food, and friendly service – it can’t be faulted. While I wait for the toilets and pretend to do a few stretches at the back of the plane a bronzed young Australian guy asks – "is this your first visit to Bali?" He tells me this is his 10th trip to Bali, he is a surfer, and comes here for 3 months every year, then complains about the prices;
"Oh really" I encourage him
"Yeah I’m paying $10 a night for bed and breakfast this year" he says
"Bloody hell, what are you complaining about?" I ask
"It’s always been $8 a night".
We arrive at The Nusa Dua Spa & Beach Resort at night - the most spectacular hotel entrance I have ever seen. The resort is on the east coast of Bali and just 20 minutes by taxi from the airport. It is set in acres of the most exotic and beautifully landscaped gardens. Each time we turn a corner there is another magical scene created with Lilly ponds, tropical flowers in full bloom, waterfalls, stone carvings and manicured green lawns all lit by hundreds of lights artfully concealed behind the trees and rocks.
In the morning we awake to a fabulous sunrise, blue skies and 31 degrees going down to around 25 or so very pleasant degrees in the evening. This pattern is maintained for the whole week and according to the locals the weather here is extremely reliable. Even in the "rainy season", from October to March, there are no monsoons and the rain is limited, here in Camelot, to a little softening of the air at night. Apparently this means that Bali has a year round tourism market and there is no time of the year which is unsuitable to visit this paradise.
Next evening we take a taxi to Jimbaran Bay for a sunset dinner on the beach. The restaurants here are famous for their fresh fish and seafood. The menu is all priced per kilo so first we select our fish from the tanks, they weigh them and then we watch as they prepare and cook the fish in wire cages over huge beds of red hot charcoal. Troops of local musicians stroll along the shore and at the merest glance they are at our table playing requests - all in Latin style with very tasty three part harmony.
"Isn’t this the restaurant the terrorist bombed last year?" I ask the waiter
"Yes sir" he replies "just over there he has the suicide".
I don’t think I’ll tell the family about this – don’t want to spoil a nice holiday do we?
Day 3 and we are off to Ubud for a droppa-kulcha and to meet up with friends who make this pilgrimage annually and are going to take us to some of their favourite haunts. Ubud is in the centre of Bali about an hour and half’s drive from Nusa Dua in the south. This region is famous for its arts and crafts and each village on the way seems to specialize in something different and it is all out on display on either side of the narrow roads. The first village makes furniture from the local hardwoods and the next is completely overrun by stone statues and carvings of every shape and size. We stop at a village called Celuk which specializes in silver jewelry. As we approach Ubud the scenery changes dramatically and the beaches and jungle give way to rolling hills, bright green terraced rice fields and steep ravines cut into the foothills by runoff from the mountains in the north. It is one of the many Hindu festivals today so the fields are empty but the many temples on the way are busy and adorned with fresh saffron bunting. The township of Ubud is an absolute gem of narrow winding streets, exotic shops, superb cuisine and boutique hotels and B&B’s all at very reasonable rates.
On our drive back to Nusa Dua there is plenty of time to ask the driver all about Bali. The Bomb (the 2002 bombing of the Sari club in Kuta where 200 people were killed) seems to dominate the conversation. I ask the driver;
"So how is business?"
"Bloody bad" he replies
"How bloody bad is it?" I ask
"You are my second passenger and I work all day" he replies.
It’s now 6.00pm and a 25 minute taxi ride here is around Rupiah 60,000 i.e. around New Zealand $10. This is the big difference between the aftermath of the bombings in New York and Bali. The economy of Bali and its 3 million people is almost entirely dependant on Tourism income. The tourists, mainly from Europe, are now just starting to return in small numbers. However prior to October 2002 it was the Australians and to a lesser extent the Americans who made up the bulk of tourists and they have stayed away in droves. When we were in New York this year – the 7/11 disaster was not mentioned once by any of the locals we spoke to. I ask the taxi driver;
"What was the reason for the bomb?"
"Ah" he replied "that is easy – it was the Malaysian tourism terrorists"
"Really" I said astonished
"Oh yes sir – they were very jealous of our Bali tourism and after the bombing all our tourists went to Malaysia".
As we arrive at the first check-point in front of our hotel guards search our taxi, open the boot and use mirrors to check the underside. I ask the driver about this procedure which he goes through all day every day;
"This is very important sir" he says "one more bomb and we are all finished".
In the Jakarta Times this morning is an article soundly berating the country for unashamed brand and copyright piracy. Oliver suggests we go into Kuta and checkout this story for our selves. We walk into the first DVD store and a beautiful young woman beams and says;
"All DVD same price sir".
OK now lets see – 10,000 Rupiah is around NZ $1.60 for each DVD and each one is packed in its own hard plastic cover with a printed cover insert and the disc inside also has a full colour label. We don’t want to offend so we reluctantly purchase a rather large stack of movies and concerts.
At the traffic lights on the way back to the hotel we are surrounded by a swarm of young boys selling armfuls of daily newspapers from all over the world. They press the newspapers against the window so we can see they are today’s editions. The driver shakes his head and says;
"No sir – they are fakes"
"What - fake newspapers!" I say
"Yes – the front page is a colour photocopy but inside are old newspapers".
On the last night we go to Legian to meet up with friends and visit their favourite bar and restaurant – The Flying Piano. This is a fun place with a great resident band that goes from table to table playing your favourite songs. Around 10.00 pm the owner, Pedro Ben Justice, makes a grand entrance and after welcoming everybody profusely with many rounds of Arrack is easily convinced to play the grand piano. Pedro is from Switzerland, has lived in Bali for 10 years and is well known for his amazing classical piano improvisations.
After an overnight flight from Denpasar to Sydney with no sleep and a decent hangover I’m a little grizzly, need a strong coffee and in no mood to take any shit from the notoriously surly staff at Sydney International airport. I join a long line of hopeful coffee addicts at a café and when I finally make it to the front of the queue the dragon behind the counter simply stares at me. I say;
"listen this is the way it works – you say good morning and what would you like and I say hello may I please have a cappuccino".
She does a "double tea pot" but finally relents - another Bledisloe Cup win for the trophy cabinet!
Bali is a superb holiday destination and we will miss everything and everyone in this wonderful tropical paradise.