Island Hoppers, Part Two: Choices of Being Tacky but Tasteful…and Tasty

Upon meeting any Indonesian stranger for the first time, among the repertoire of predictable questions asked, tucked away between ‘sudah lama di sini?‘ (how long have you been here)  and ‘sudah menikah?‘ (are you already married) comes ‘sudah pernah ke Bali?‘ (have you ever been to Bali). Prior to visiting Bali, the place triggered thoughts like this: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, bungalows, paradise, Hindu temples, surfer haven, tourist trap, beaches, scenic rice paddies, freedom, debauchery, bare legs… Now that I’ve visited, it triggers words like this: polluted, overcrowded, overdeveloped, shopping, knock-off Ray-Ban’s, Aussie ‘bro-dudes’, great food, monkey’s, debauchery

Disclaimer: Don’t get me wrong, Klaas and I only visited two places in Bali–Ubud (the epicenter of Balinese culture) and Kuta (playground for debauchery-seeking bule). I’m not judging the entire island of Bali based entirely on visiting these two places. BUT from visiting these two places, I think that Bali’s nice, but it ain’t all that. Though a bit too touristy for my liking, Ubud was a pleasant first stop out of East Java. As most people in Ubud spoke English, Klaas was able to communicate and do things on his own without needing my language assistance (this lifted a huge weight off of me). Initially it was strange to be around so many foreigners at once, it was hard to not make fun of them and their overtly cautious mannerisms, I had to ask myself ‘did I used to be like that?’. But I quickly got used to it and indulged in the ability to blend in [once purchasing some fresh harem pants], although had a hard time coping with being perceived as a walking ATM machine. Would you rather be perceived as an isolated alien in East Java or a walking ATM machine in the tourist epicenter of Southeast Asia? The number of women wearing jilbabs could easily be counted on one hand some days which meant I could feel at ease and less sinful showing more skin. What up shoulders? What up thighs? Lookin’ a little pale and neglected there!

Bali and Gili food was a gastronomic fantasy… mind-blowing because yes, the food was indescribably amazing, but even more mind-blowing because it didn’t involve rice, bland tempeh, or the headache-inducing nuisance of the sodium family–MSG. Perhaps my standards have changed. I succumbed to every craving this vacation, so much that since returning to site, I’ve been battling my khaki school uniform skirt–the zipper is being a jerk to say the least. Not gunna lie, I have a weakness for banana pancakes (or ‘pan-cha-khase’ according to my host sister). Once the sweet aroma wafts within the vicinity of my internal OMG I WILL DO ANYTHING TO EAT THIS RIGHT NOW-tracking device, an alarm goes off, and the salivating commences, and instead of following my heart, the nose takes lead. Top that off with honey yoghurt, mango pineapple, watermelon salads, and fresh fruit juices every. single. morning. That ladies and gentlemen is the GOOD LIFE. Call me lazy but waking up after 9am, eating breakfast and then sloth’in’ around, perhaps falling back asleep until noon was rewarding. Anyone who’s ever eaten with me knows that I’m quite possibly the world’s slowest eater (hey, I like to savor my foods) and I usually have a hard time finishing meals in one sitting (back in the States, I’d usually carry Tupperware or tinfoil in my bag), but one evening, I had a mind-blowingly incredible ‘wet burrito’ that I proudly finished in one sitting from Taco Casa ‘n Grill, accompanied by a sour tamarind margarita. If the simplest non-Indo meals can bring tears to my eyes (READ: Thanksgiving mashed potatoes), then I’m going to be a mess when I go back home. It’s clear that being in Indonesia for almost a year now has distorted my perception of what’s an exceptional meal versus what’s actually digestible. So skewed that those lines have become fuzzy, because I certainly think a lot less now about whether I’m consuming something that was washed properly, contains animal byproducts, was ethically sourced, drenched in a field of pesticides or will have an adverse affect on my health in the future. Do the majority of people in the developing world have the choice to ask these sorts of questions and not go hungry? Probably not. Regardless, when I get back to the States, the saga of Elle versus the vengeance seeking zipper/button will surely continue…

Generally, being in Bali and even on the Gili islands made me feel guilty to be foreigner, to be able to have this ability to get whatever I wanted, to have this ability just because I was there to encourage an extent of exploitation. I’ve never been fond staying in touristy locations where most of the local culture has been altered and adapted to cater to tourists, there’s something really unfortunate and tragic about sacrificing one’s identity and packaging it in a superficial way for profit. I understand that’s how people make their living, it puts food on the table and allows educational opportunities to be available to those populations. There’s worse, more extreme and ugly ways to make a living, I know. But somehow I view tourism to this extreme end of the spectrum to almost be a new form of colonialism, though obviously not as repressive and degrading. Colonialism and the tourism industry obviously are VASTLY different from one another, I understand the stipulations of both, but there comes a point when it’s unfair, unsustainable and humiliating for those populations who have to cater to a handful of uncontrollably drunk tourists who stumble around disrespectfully. Do these populations truly have a choice? It was obvious riding inland on the Gilis that money earned through the tourism industry isn’t trickling down to the real local economy. The schools looked exceptionally run down and the local homes truly reflected it unless people are that modest.


Do you like being harassed by men selling knock-off sunglasses (even when you’re already wearing sunglasses!)? Do you like surrounding yourself with ‘dude-bro’s’ who walk around like gorillas with their tribal tatt’ed arms all puffed out? How about  bad DJ’s who blast the same terrible beats? Swimming with plastic? Do you like overcrowded beaches with heaps of trash dotting the shores? I’m going to answer all of these with affirmative NO’s. Welcome to the Jersey Shore of Indonesia–that’s gotta turn into some sort of Aussie reality drama. Some people can tolerate settings like this more than others. Believe me, I’ve surely missed endless silly debauchery with friends and dancing to bad music all night long but being in Kuta confirmed how much I needed to relax in a much calmer setting…And that’s just what the Gilis offered…can you imagine a place that doesn’t have or allow any motorized vehicles? (WHAAAAAT?!) Hell, I’d trade eau de gasoline in exchange for eau de horse poop, vehicular traffic in exchange for foot traffic, and deafening motorbike revving for… uhhhhhhm… anything! You know those postcards you find at the airport that reveal picturesque beaches glowing with over five shades of turquoise? This was that place. The Gili islands are a series of three tiny neighboring islands with a collective local population under 5,000 residents, located just off the shores of Lombok (located next to Bali). Though the islands merely survive on tourism, each island has its own unique charm, scattered with affordable minimalist to posh bamboo bungalows, the people beyond hospitable, relaxed and welcoming, the best brick-oven pizzas imaginable on this side of the world, and the most serene islands that make you feel as if the island is truly yours alone, it’s surely a place I’d love to visit again. You can bike around each individual island in under and hour and explore inland where there’s endless dirt roads weaving between coconut groves and friendly local communities. A few PCVs went scuba diving and seemed to have a wonderful time, however snorkeling was disappointing as all of the surrounding coral is still recovering from widespread El-Nino-like bleaching. Explore the Gili’s fast though… they’re still somewhat of a hidden gem, and developers are gobbling the land up quickly, I’m afraid that when I return to the Gili’s another twenty years from now, it may be unrecognizable and indistinguishable from Kuta, Bali.


1 thought on “Island Hoppers, Part Two: Choices of Being Tacky but Tasteful…and Tasty

  1. Pingback: Island Hoppers, Part Two: Tacky but Tasty…and Tasteful | From … | Ketekung Bungalow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s