Following a recent trip to Bali, I started asking myself why we travel? I came to the conclusion that we travel to explore, experience and enjoy the vast cultures, sights, sounds, smells and adventures that exist outside of our homeland. I had a fun weekend with my friends in Bali but on reflection it dawned on me that it was no different to any other weekend back home. Pedicures, a splash of shopping, dinner and drinks at a trendy bar in the evening. Same, same, but different. Differing only by the currency and language – although let’s be honest, who even tries to speak a word of Bahasa during their visits to Bali?
On one of my very first overseas trips as a child with my family in the nineties, we ventured to Bali and the then little known Seminyak. I vividly remember arriving and being aghast at the scooters which were fully loaded with families of 5, wearing what looked like salad bowls on their heads or carrying a 6 foot bundle of sarongs. At dinner there would be monkeys as pets (which my parents, shock horror, let us play with), or Balinese ladies dressed in traditional outfits, performing dances passed down by their ancestors and encouraging us to join in. There were no fancy stores with clothing displaying $100 price tags, just lots of art and carvings and silver jewellery which we would heavily barter for. If our purchase happened to be the first sale of the day the shop owner would bless everything in the store by wiping the money over it. Breakfast was at a little cafe where a family of 4 could eat for under $10, and I will never forget my sister being mortified when the apple juice she ordered was pureed apples and not the familiar drink she pours out of a bottle at home. One did not venture to a day spa to have your nails painted or your hair braided, no you sat on the side of the street while the ladies pawed all over you and you worried in the back of your mind that they might run away with your shoes. All whilst a Balinese man named Wayan tries to sell you a “genuine” Rolex from his wooden briefcase of goodies.
But this no longer exists, and I blame the Aussies. Don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful boutiques, hotels and restaurants which have emerged over the past twenty years, but where is the authenticity and the culture? It feels as though we have just picked up a piece of Perth and moved it 2,500 kilometres away, to a place which is slightly more humid and can be subject to monsoonal rain. Some of these affluent places cost as much as a night out in Perth, and even worse, there is a line to gain entrance! The most commonly seen items on any given menu are pizzas and burgers to accommodate the western tourists, but how about some authentic Nasi Goreng or Mee Goreng? And culture does not count as “having a driver” which you can hook your mates up with on their next visit to the holiday island.
The plane ride home is full of fresh tattoos, bintang singlets and hefty amounts of duty free alcohol. This is not something we should be proud of. As we fly across the Indian Ocean I think about how I do not intend to travel to Bali again anytime soon, instead opting for an experience that will provide so much more. Although inevitably there will be another celebration of some form that we will be obligated to attend.
I feel like we are missing out on something amazing that used to be, however we are only guilty of having done this to ourselves. And if we want to experience these times of the past then we will need to venture further and further out of Kuta and its surrounds, which is not altogether a bad thing.
The nineties were simpler times – the internet, mobile phones and EFTPOS machines were only just starting to make their place in the world. I am slightly nostalgic and a little old school, so perhaps I need to stop longing for times of the past and accept (and try to enjoy) what these places have now become. After all, I was the one who willingly attended a 40th birthday weekend at The Bounty Hotel in Kuta, and whilst I was shopping in those aforementioned trendy boutiques, my now husband disappeared to the tattoo parlor and had a drunken man immortalised on his foot.