After four weeks traveling around the Indonesian island of Bali, here are some of our impressions and observations:
-As it is with many other popular international destinations, tourism can have both negative and positive impacts on the local culture and environment. The Balinese people have remained loyal to and diligent in their cultural expressions, and for the most part, have maintained a healthy balance in the face of heavy tourism. This is particularly evident in their practice of Hinduism. The thrice-daily ritual of making offerings to the Hindu gods is one of the most common sights. Various holidays are celebrated at village temples – roads are blocked off; prayers are recited into the night; people congregate with humility to give praise to forces much bigger than they. Rites of passage – weddings, funerals, births, etc. – are celebrated in community, open to all. The Balinese are proud of who they are – they display it in their dress, they express it through their artistry, their dances and music. There is a cultural integrity that weaves a strong national fabric. It’s really wonderful to be around.
-Bali isn’t as pristine as I had imagined it to be. Tourism has had a major impact on the natural environment, no doubt. Development and greed have gotten the worst of people’s sensibilities towards protection of natural resources. Single-use plastic (like the straw*) is still heavily used – it can be found strewn all over the islands (Bali and neighboring islands). Smog pours out from cars, trucks, and motorbikes. The smell of burning rubbish pollutes the air. Tourism’s impact was highly visible on our trip to Nusa Lembongan. Before our visit to the neighboring Balinese island, a local man responded to our query “What do you think of the island?” as “Used to be good. Now very dirty. Trash everywhere.” He was so right. It’s just another reminder that we need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, especially as we travel. We must continue to educate about the detriments of plastics and each do our part to minimize our impact. To that end, we travel with our own metal straws and canvas bags, decline excessive plastic bags, refill our metal water bottles instead of buying bottled water, and reuse plastic bags whenever possible.
-Driving in Bali is really fun; improvisational! To a Western mind, it may seem dangerous – what with the number of motorbikes and cars on the roads. However, Balinese driving habits appear to be an extension of their personalities, their trust for each other, and their faith in powers greater than they. Very few Balinese are actually in a hurry to get where they’re going, which leaves the majority of drivers comfortable moving at the same speed as other drivers on the road; all vehicles swaying too and fro in a gentle dance. For the most part, drivers don’t let their actions hinder others – they yield to bigger vehicles and work within the constraints of the situation without tempers flaring in any way; taking it all in stride. Merging motorbikes flow around corners, weaving interstitially between cars and trucks; people take turns yielding in a tacit order that is constantly changing. The pedestrian crossing a busy street is part of the scene – stepping into the lanes while the traffic flows around them gracefully, like water around a rock in a stream; the pedestrian trusting that the vehicles do not aim to cause harm; the vehicles understanding that they have the right of way. It’s so refreshing to be in a place where people trust each other instead of feeling threatened by each other.
-People were taken with my boys everywhere we went. For this, I was able to really let my guard down. Typically though, my guard is not up that much when I travel since I’m a more trusting traveler than a paranoid one. I have been in many cross-cultural situations that have helped me to develop an ability to differentiate between truly threatening and non-threatening situations. Traveling with the boys does require a certain amount of additional energy switched on for their safety and well-being, but knowing that the Balinese people adore and care for children made my experience very easeful. We also really loved the way people greeted each other in Bali. There is benevolence in their tone that is so warm, so welcoming, so comforting. People look each other in the eye and make a connection. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood of humans! And, it felt very great to be recognized and acknowledged as one. We are so grateful for all the kindness, guidance, and care we received from our warm-hearted hosts.
-The Balinese are incredibly skilled artisans. In particular, we found the stone and wood carving to be absolutely stunning. We were dazzled by the intricate stone carving in so many temples as it seems like an expression of their reverence for the gods. The level of detail in their work is nothing short of spectacular.
-Balinese food is extremely intricate and complex. Traveling with my kids most often dictates that we avoid local cuisine (shame!). However, from time to time, I was able to partake of the culinary diversity.
-Fruit was a big part of our experience, specifically fruit smoothies. We all sampled amazing tropical fruits, many of which the boys had never seen or tasted before, such as the durian, jack fruit, mangosteen, dragon fruit, rambutan, snake fruit, and various types of bananas (other than the typical, sterile Cavendish banana common to the western world).