Is where the sacred comes hand-in-hand with treacherous and undulating footpaths dotted with gappy loose-hinged drains.
Walkways are covered in Hindu offerings for luck and abundance, animal excrement, the bodies of dead creatures (most likely road kill), trash, incense and a never-ending parade of men offering innumerable variations of:
Hey-lllooooowwww Madaaammmm! Taxi, yeeesssss? Tomorrow, yeeesssss?
Road rage and road rules seem to be minimal, though. Scooters and motorbikes outnumber cars, trucks and buses in some parts of town and weave in between each other alarmingly. Right/wrong side of the road be damned.
There’s plenty of horn tooting but its aggression-less. More – hello, do you see me - rather than – f#&k you!!
Between one and four people ride on two-wheeled vehicles, often with at least one rider glued to a mobile phone. Sometimes it’s the driver. Or one or two people carrying over-sized cargo: water flagons, bushels of coconuts, building materials. Occasionally the goods are bigger than the bike. And yet… there are relatively few bike accidents.
To me, Bali looks like unadulterated life. In the west, we like all the Ugly and Broken Things to be hidden. We pretend that everything is perfect by creating the illusion of order. In Bali almost every man-made object shows signs of decay.
Street cleaning is undertaken by shop-owners with hand-made switches, perhaps woven from palm or coconut trees. The never-ending run of downpours washes everything else away in the end.
Westerners flock to the island for yoga, partying and diving, but you won’t find many locals indulging in such recreations. I love Bali furiously, even with its bad smells and over-zealous touts and yet… I’m somewhat uncomfortable that most of the things I’m doing there are unattainable for many of Bali’s residents.
Five years after my first visit, Bali is doing somewhat better economically-speaking. Back then, so soon after the terrorist bombings tourists were sparse and businesses were desperate.
Now, there’s free wi-fi almost everywhere but much less honesty in commercial interactions. I’m pretty sure that the tourist prices have gone up considerably. You need to put some effort into bargaining in order not to be completely ripped off. Yet… things are still relatively cheap, although the price between what you’d pay at home and in Bali has narrowed. So it’s hard – for me anyway – to haggle too much.
Despite all of this, Bali is a place where stillness can be found. Where waking up before dawn comes naturally to me and where ducks can be observed in the rice paddies (they eat the rice paddy pests!).
The overwhelming heat and humidity also teach me to move and act more naturally – do a little bit and then rest. Move then rest. Eat then rest. Etc.
Nature has not been corralled into neat little concrete boxes as it has in the west. The jungle still rules, and barely tolerates any attempt at civilisation.
Occasionally, wild things happen there, too.
Like visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest and interacting with knee-high grey monkeys with their little hands that tug on your pants to demand another banana. All business-like. The signs warn not to touch the little cuties although what can be done when a curious one curls up next to you while you sit on a low stone wall? Even though you’ve no bananas left (he’s checked), he still hangs with you.
And then mind-blowingly, he uses your left knee as a perch. Tail swinging. In some ways, it’s almost like having a cat sitting there except it’s NOT anything like a cat.
It’s a wild monkey.
It’s magical. Even if you’re too stunned/laughing too hard to get a photo. Memories like that don’t fade.
Every home has its own temple, as well as public temples on every other street corner. Right along with the dogs.
You can also visit said sacred temples only to be lambasted by touts pretending to be temple workers. Lying to you about the access that your entry ticket allows you without a “local guide”.
The temple is sacred but apparently you’re fair game.
This is not so magical unless you allow for the magic anyway.
But it is the nature of Everything Not Being Perfect.
You can get angry about it or you can go with the flow.
The flow is always easier.