Wednesday 10 Dec
The meaning of Bali
After about 20 minutes walking down the street in Kuta, I was disappointed and I understood why everyone told me to get out of there (not that I ever doubted the validity of this advice). The obvious sign that something was wrong was that I couldn't find any indonesian food! This was something I'd been looking forward to. However when I eventually did find a warung, I went in and immediately I had some friends. This proves that even in the midst of tourist mania it's possible to have real experiences with a bit of luck. The people I met turned out to be quite kosher as well (ie not planning to rip me off in any way I could discern).
After escaping from Kuta, I spent an afternoon being very lost in Denpasar, and finally arrived in Ubud after several tedious mishaps and a dubious meal of petrol flavoured sate kambing; and discovered peace and rain. All of this took place with lots of learning of indonesian, which is exciting, and although I still have a tiny vocabulary I am capable of getting around and negotiating prices, which while not essential to survival is satisfying. I think travelling alone makes this much more effective, as english conversations tend to undo most of what I have just learnt.
Other than doing a whole lot of nothing, reading books, looking at paintings, and visiting the local monkeys, the most exciting thing I did in Ubud was hire a motorbike for a day. "If the police stop you, say you've had lessons". I drove to Besakih, the largest temple on the island, and was intimidated by the guides, then I drove to Gunung Batur, which is an amazing volcano next to a lake, and had an (ironically) confrontational experience with someone who stopped me on the road and insisted on giving me a blessing and asking me to pay for it (I didn't). I didn't die or do anything really stupid in the traffic, but I did get sunburnt...
Bali is quite charming, and while I have a lot yet to understand about hinduism, and balinese people, I did figure out that there is a long history of foreigners being enchanted with this particular island. It seems to have been construed as an exotic paradise and refuge by a whole string of Europeans, such as Antonio Blanco whose crazy mansion is full of spanish architecture and paintings of balinese women (and in particular, breasts, which seem to be a theme - something to do with a traditional rural lifestyle and girls carrying things on their heads). All of this is quite interesting, particularly in view of the island's present-day status as Indonesia's tourist magnet. But it's also frustrating as it is a story about expats and doesn't teach me anything about Bali itself. However it made it superficially appropriate to spend a lot of time sitting in Ubud reading and so on.