G’day is how he greets you, and that’s his name too. Baliness hotelier I Gde Gunawan has fond memories of camping and picnicking with his “Aussie grandparents’ when he boarded in Melbourne many years ago. Things are a bit more comfortable at the Puri Santrian, the luxurious hotel he now manages on the beachfront at Sanur, Bali.
Bali welcomes, indeed needs, foreign visitors (even the Australians) more than ever. Most Balinese are just that: Baliness, wedded to their home villages, their home temples and their community. The raw material for racial or religious unrest is simply not there: last year’s Sari Club bombing was perpetrated by outsiders, now apprehended.
The Balinese social system based on the banjar or village cooperative, has always closed ranks on outsiders, and the province is now tightening controls on unemployed drifters from other parts of Indonesia. Many of the hawkers, vendors and masseurs who once made Kuta Beach an endurance test have been moved on.
Whether you’ve come for the shopping, the sunshine, the surf or the slopes, Bali remains an exceptional value. Hundreds upon hundreds of stores offer the ubiquitous batik fabrics, printed tee-shirts, surf wear, and software. Our evening at the Jazz Bar and Grill in Sanur cost a few dollars for each of us, and the ride home in a metered taxi clocked up less than a dollar. And where else would a smart bar serve non-alcoholic fruit thick shakes, or tolerate small children plying on the staircase?
There is no lack of things to do: spend the morning riding the 11 water slides at Kuta’s Waterbom Park and Spa, choosing between the high-speed Race Track and Boogie Ride of the thrilling River Raft Macaroni Tube or Jungle Ride.
Fast catamarans operate supper cruises with cabaret entertainment or all-day cruises to Lembongan Island; golfers at Le Meridien Nirwana can tee off within sight of rice paddies and ancient temples while their partners submit to time-honored massage therapies. Trekking, mountain biking or off-road expeditions tempt the more energetic, as does white-water rafting on the Ayung River in central Bali, which has become so popular that numbers may soon have to be capped. Surfing, of course, is what Bali means too many people: chasing those flawless tubes that roll in from the Indian Ocean.
Many of the best things to do in Bali are free or near enough. Without even leaving Sanur or Kuta you can marvel at the pageantry of a Hindu cremation, or inspect the tangible legacy of a history extending more than a thousand years.
Picking through the muddy lanes of Blahkiuh we discovered what’s special about a Balinese market; the piles of pork crackling (Indonesia’s Muslim majority naturally don’t keep pigs); the frangipani petals arranged in little square plaited boxes, hor’s d’ oeuvres for the gods; the earthenware pitchers and the gilded brocades for dressing up the deities. Women adjusted their ceremonial sashes before entering the market temple to set down their offerings. Bali’s Hindu ceremonies are so lavish that produce prices climb ahead of a big event, which chews up mountains of fruit and claims the lives of many a hapless chicken.
English is spoken widely in Bali, but I think I may brush up on a little Indonesian language before I go.
Listen to a Free Pimsleur Method Language course just for fun.