it's been a week since i returned from bali. images of beaches and palm trees were put aside in the last few days for more dreams of structural geology and questions about noncorrelable surface and subsurface deformation patterns... but now some of those questions have been answered and i have plans to re-visit my field area soon to help fill in some gaps. in the meantime, i'll finally get to write something about bali.
several weeks ago i was im-ing with my boulder roomate about plans i had to take some time off from my studies in taipei, in order to spend a few days in a villa in indonesia. i'm sure i added a few embellishments about my plans, but the one thing i remember about the conversation was chris telling me, "the more i talk to you, the more you sound like a fictional character." in following conversations since then he's clarified that he meant a character more like james bond or some such globe-trotting-martini-swilling-tropical-villa-living type persona... the point is: i never really thought about this 'fictional life' of mine until someone else brought it up.
bali is an interesting blend of realities itself. the very mention of the name brings up images of postcard beaches... attractive tanned people and white sand, palms, turquoise water and vivid sunsets; but the truth is a little more three-dimensional than that. one walk through central kuta will show a person a lot about what bali is like. yes, the island is beautiful... almost exactly what one might expect from the postcards, but the postcards can never do justice to the human element.
there is a very clear separation between locals and foreigners. foreigners are there by choice; we fly there on a jet and stay in a hotel. we see the sights and pay people to drive us around. we shop, we spend, and for the most part that is our role. it's obvious that the economy depends on the tourist trade and just about every local has some part to play in the exchange. it's nearly impossible to walk more than ten feet through central kuta without being offered transport or souvenirs or drugs. stray dogs cruise the streets while shop-keepers arrange small, ornate hindu offerings of food and flowers and place them at the entrance of their stores. the overall aire in the town is one of real-life... people trying to make a living doing what they can with what they have.
off the streets however, behind the scenes almost, small pockets of paradise and almost opulent indulgence are everywhere to be had... by those who can afford it. "afford" is a key concept here, because just about everyone who visits bali can afford this... but if you are a local you would be lucky to ever see inside this world. even i, with a relatively meager income by american standards (a lowly graduate student stipend), was able to afford an entire private villa. this is where fictional life begins. each morning in the villa, two staff came to cook breakfast. i swam in the pool and sipped cocktails floating on a tray. i had a masseuse come to the villa to work out a knot in my shoulder. i prepared dinner in the villa's luxury kitchen... the list of surreal experiences goes on (and gets better) but i'm at a loss for words to adequately describe them. five minutes walk from my compound's front door was the beach. sunsets were beatiful and a very popular restaurant (kudeta) was right down the street, where one can enjoy tapas and martinis by the starlit ocean.
on the last full day there, i was treated to a trip to 'dreamland beach'. as the name implies, the beach is amazing. after a 20 minute drive and short hike down through old terraces of uplifted coral reef, dreamland beach is a light coral sand stretch that separates the sea from the myriad small thatched huts and bungalows that occupy every cranny along the cliff. good indonesian food and beer and fun playing in the salty surf all seem like just the things you'd want from a place like this. again, surreal perfection leaves me at a loss for words, for fear that i would fail to do the memory justice.
on the trip back to the villa, the road was blocked by an accident that had just happened. already a throng of people had flocked to the scene, surrounding the tattered wreckage of a large truck and a small scooter. both vehicles lay on their sides; the scooter looked like a toy next to the heavy, broken form of the truck. among glass and platic and metal, all shattered and shorn, a very real hand lay limp and relaxed, protruding from beneath a white sheet laid out next to the scooter and the rider's broken helmet. the realization of life lost was sudden and sobering, but still confusing given where i'd just been.
flipping back and forth between these worlds, of frivolous indulgence and harsh reality, is an experience that seems uniquely balinese. luxury and strife co-exist in close quarters... foreigners on one side and locals on the other. sometimes the two worlds coalesce and the results can go either way, but no matter what, bali will provide anyone with memorable experiences and a new appreciation for what you have in your own real life.