The adventure on my own commenced after the lovely Katia dropped me at the airport on Sunday evening. The drive into the city was backdropped by a gorgeous sunset over the huge Western Australian sky. As I was taking out 20 pounds (yeah, yeah, I’m a hoarder) of my overweight bag I got to talking with a blonde, dreaded (dreadlocks) surfer taking a weekend trip to Bali. He didn’t like Kuta, which was a little foreshadowing to the experience.
I got super lucky on the plane ride over; somehow I got a seat in the first row with ample leg room, fresh air and quiet. Perfect for editing photos and exchanging stories with the couple next to me. They were nomads and travelled around the world to attend music festivals and surf. We took off and watched the world’s most isolated city’s lights disappear below.
I landed around midnight and had the task of getting myself and my 70 pounds of luggage to the hotel. After being followed by a herd of desperate taxi drivers I was able to haggle a price the couple suggested I pay.
Everyone rips off the tourists in Bali, and as I was a young, female traveling alone, I imagined I would be targeted to pay a bit more. Knowing this, I was on the defensive and tried to haggle the best I could through the trip.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I landed. Honestly, I didn’t even know what Bali really was exactly until I booked my flight the day before.
For geographically challenged, like myself, Bali is a small island in Indonesia.
The closest town to the airport is Kuta, which is where I stayed for three nights. (This post covers the first night and day.) Kuta is a pitstop everyone travels to Bali experiences in one way or another. Bali’s Kuta is the party tourist attraction for tourists: it’s Las Vegas’ strip, New Jersey’s Seaside Heights, and most parallel: New Orleans’ Bourbon Street.
Tank top wearing, fist bumping tourists roam the streets as aggressive shopkeepers shout to get their attention to pay entirely way too much for tacky, worthless shit. Scooters are ubiquitous; honking loudly at every corner and pedestrian. (To be fair, they’re everywhere in all of Bali and Indonesia, but they really pissed me off in Kuta for some reason). A moldy sewage fish smell is omnipresent, but was concentrated most heavily in my hotel bathroom. Absolutely everything in shared spaces (restaurant menus, signs, streets) looked and felt like it had been used and abused tens of thousands of times before. Spending time in Kuta felt like I was sticking my hand in between booth seat cushions at a strip club. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I got to the motel around 2am and was warned immediately by the staff to keep an eye out for pick pocketers. I was already a little on edge after eyeing the dark and decrepit neighborhood the hotel was in, so I really put my guard up. The reaction the staff had to finding out I was traveling alone also didn’t boost morale.
The conditions in the hotel were really nasty. The sheets, blankets and pillow cases were covered in brown stains, black hair and bed bug poop. The most painful (emotionally speaking) part of the bed situation was that I had packed my extra sheet from Perth, but threw it away a mere four hours earlier to save weight in my bag. The room has a musty, moldy tinge to it, which was probably due to the moldy sewage-y stank coming from the bathroom. Despite picking the hotel on the fact that they had free Wi-Fi, I found out that, for some reason, they turn it off at night. With nothing else to do I try to fall asleep in the bed I had figuratively and literally made for myself.
I woke up a little homesick and unsure of what to do with myself. I hid my fanny pack from potential pick-pocketers, and spent the morning looking for somewhere I could get some Wi-Fi to check in with my parents and submit my visa. I found a Internet café that didn’t have Internet and paid $2 for some spicy grilled eggplant. Finding food that I could actually eat (with all my allergies and meat restrictions) that also looked appetizing was really difficult with Kuta’s nasty atmosphere and again, (I know I’m harping on this, but it was bad) moldy fish smell.
I applied for my new visa in a pub across the street with the tagline, “We Care for U.” At the time it was slightly comforting as I battled a little homesickness. After the visa logistics and my Tokyo blog post were taken care of, I set off to get explore and get lost.
The tiny town is made up of small shops selling cheap, tacky, boardwalk-style trinkets and t-shirts. You can around in any direction and see the exact same shit from the same factory in every shop. The vendors sit outside and aggressively heckle “very, very cheap,” “come in, come in!” and my personal favorite “how are youuuu?” I walked fast and tried not make eye contact with the negative energy. After wandering for a little I found my way to the beach.
I found a nice spot and watched the surfers and waves roll in for a few hours. After a while I got a little bored and watched on enviously as the the man next to me received a deep tissue, glorious massage. I way too patiently waited an hour for the elderly woman with a cute hat that read “N.O 80,” to finish and ask if I could be next. (Massages, and everything else in Bali, are cheap). She had another customer in line, so she quipped “my friend for you, my friend for you!” I so naively agreed; hey, a massage is a massage, right? Wrong.
She pawned me off to one of the scariest woman I have ever seen or (I shudder thinking about this), have touched. Skin was flakey off her giant paws and her some teeth were missing from her black, twisted smile. I looked on as the grandmotherly N.O 80 lovingly kneaded the patron’s upper back next to me. I glared her down as this lady loosely karate chopped my neck. N.O 80 was clearly HBIC and was in cahoots with everyone to work for her. I left feeling taken advantage of, violated and reeking of the nasty smelling lotion.
After getting a horrible massage on a beach in Bali (I never thought I would say that), I took a cold shower and headed out to see the nightlife, with low expectations.
The main street is lined with night clubs fighting for ear and air space with overplayed Western pop songs from the past twenty years. Club promoters beg for your attention and shove flyers in your face as LMFAO, Macklemore, Jason Derulo and Eminem blare proudly from the overcrowded bars. Tourists bump to the “beat” and act like 14 year old getting ~*~dRuNK*~ for the first time. The whole scene is a “party” for people that aren’t partying; its just like Bourbon Street. I sat in a restaurant opposite to the shitshow and ate some tofu and shrimp.
The adventure was off to a rough start. I was uncomfortably lost in a tacky, gross, moldy fish smell-y shithole, trying my best not to be ripped off by pushy merchants and masseuses.
Looking back, the experience was not only funny, but a sharp contrast to the rest of the trip. I met so many beautiful, kind and giving Balinese people to take the place of the terrible street vendors and experienced such a rich and deep culture that was the antithesis to the wannabe Western façade. Kuta is a right of passage every traveler to Bali should go through, but it wasn’t somewhere I would want to experience again.