Bali I: Kuta beach, the peninsula and Ulu Watu

I absolutely hate it. That is my first reaction as the cab driver drives me from the airport of Bali’s capital, Denpasar, to the biggest, most touristic beach in the island, Kuta. It’s a flashback of Phuket: over-commerzialized, with a McDonalds in every corner alternating with a KFC, and only college-aged white people walking the streets.

I finally make it through a small street into my hotel, where I’m supposed to meet up with a French Couch Surfer I met in back in Malaysia. At least the nice, fan-cooled bungalow surrounded by green reminds me that I’m in Bali.

We have all heard of Bali, and those who hadn’t before got the see Julia Robberts parading around it in the blockbuster movie Eat, Pray, Love. My friends from the region told me both to go and to stay away. Too touristy. Too full. Lost its charm. So I decided it cannot be the only place I see in Indonesia, but I must certainly make a stop.

Kuta is where Australians come to party. Kuta beach is where the rest of us learn how to surf. The first day I headed to the beach and got myself a surf lesson. My teacher, Gabi, is actually from Java, and a Christian. The surf lesson is mostly underwater (not on purpose, its just the whole not-being-able-to-stay-afloat situation), but in the end I manage to catch a wave and ride it all the way down to the beach. The feeling of elation was unparalleled. Gabi, who called me Shakira throughout the day, seemed a little yet not wholly pleased with my performance.

I saw him later that night, in the street that Celine and I managed to find after much looking for this infamous party we heard off so much. When in Rome… After much bar hopping in which the songs alternate between Enrique Iglesias, “I’m sexy and I know it” and Danza Kuduro, we realized there’s really no point in hopping cause all the places are the same. Small-framed Gabi was entirely drunk, I’m sure from the money I paid him earlier in the day for the lesson.

On the street at least two Balinese men stopped to tell me they had seen me “surf” today. I don’t know if it was because I looked so ridiculous that they had to remember, or if it’s just a generic pick up line since it’s likely that if you are there, that’s what you did earlier in the day.

The next day we rented a motor bike, which Celine drove given that my experience is limited to Ko Lanta, where there were virtually no other vehicles to contend with. We headed down to the peninsula, to try to catch the sunset in the cliff temple of Ulu Watu at the southernmost tip of the island. On our way there we had lunch in Jimbaran beach, a delicious plate of seafood including crab, shrimp, fish and calamari for 110.000 rupiahs.

When we got to Ulu Watu we saw that the dance performance we had wanted to catch was quite full, so decided to come back the next day. We did go up to see the temple though, and as I was looking at a monkey stealing a little girl’s water bottle, another one jumped up on my shoulder and stole my glasses. Panic! My travels are pretty much over without my ability to see. My first reaction was to try to take them back, but all the witnesses yelled at me, saying that it would bite me. One of the guides had some food, which after much chasing he somehow traded for it and the little beast let go of my Ray Bans.

The day after we went back to the peninsula, but instead went into a beach called Dreamland, incredibly beautiful, where I got to see many young Indonesians coming to enjoy the water. Never wearing swimming suits; they are always too fully clothed, with long-sleeve shirts and pants to the ankles, head scarves for most of the girls. This is how I know they are not Balinese, since most people on these island are Hindus, but probably on a school trip from Java or Lombok. They splash in the water, close to the shore, give a couple of squeaks of delight and back away.

We did go back to Ulu Watu to watch the Kat Cha dance. They squeezed in as many tourists as physically possible into the open air theatre facing the cliff, but I still truly enjoyed the performance against the backdrop of the sunset.