Why I’ve got such a love-hate relationship with Bali
This could easily be your own story. It could also just as easily be the story of a stranger you met the other night. Coming from different corners of the world and having our own destiny, many of us on this island share the same path for a while.
But this is my story.
I left Switzerland, my home, in the beginning of 2005 to learn English in Australia. It was a fun five-month stint with new friends, too many Tooheys, and my shortboard.
I’d planned to have one month in Bali before flying back home to my “normal life” in Switzerland, but once I arrived I quickly learned how great (and cheap) life is on this island. The waves weren’t too bad either. Without ever planning it, I started to get deeper into the Indonesian culture, and I fell in love with the place in many ways.
Benesari was my base, Bounty my camp for the night way too often, and Nasi Bungkus the chosen fuel for my body. I surfed up and down the west coast, and when the first rain started in September I moved my search for waves over to the East coast.
Coming from a colder climate filled with reserved people, it was liberating to spend time in a place where everyone seemed to be so interested, open, and talkative.
But at some point, I was just over it. No more “Hello Mister,” “Mau kumana?” “bla bla bla”…I had to leave.
Now, this was partially because my bank account was telling me I had to, but also because I felt it was my time to say goodbye. Time to go with no plans of ever coming back.
By this point, surfing had become an essential part of my life. I couldn’t imagine just leaving it all behind. Surfing had become more than a “been there, done that” kinda thing for me. I needed a way to make surfing a regular part of my life if I was going to make my return home, but the painful truth was that home happened to be a 12-hour drive from the nearest decent wave.
I’d started to work in surf camps in my time away from home, eventually becoming a surf teacher and guide. I’d gotten to know France, Portugal, and Morocco pretty well. After that, I took my first big trips to South America, Africa, and then back to Australia.
But five years after my first round in Bali, a second Indo chapter unfolded for me. I was shocked how much it had changed in those five years. I can’t imagine how wildly different Bali must feel now to the people who came here in the 80s and 70s looking for untouched waves. Some of my favorite formerly secret spots close to Kuta were suddenly packed with 70 people each day.
Luckily, I quickly remembered that Indonesia has thousands of other islands waiting for me
so I set out for West Java, got a taste of Jakarta, and some of the waves around that corner of the archipelago.
I knew Indo had changed, but I also knew I could deal with it. A few more years passed and I had another chance to come back. I went to Nias and found some incredible places that are still intact like you’d imagine Bali once was. In fact, Bali had become a shopping stopover for me now. Even going out wasn’t what it used to be. But then again, maybe Bali hadn’t really changed that much, and I just wasn’t the same person anymore.
After traveling the world for more than ten years it’s safe to say Indonesia is still one of my favorite places. Coming back always sounds like a good plan. With thousands of islands, I still haven’t seen it all (and never will).
As much as I hate the traffic jams and madness on its overcrowded streets, and as much as I’m over certain parts of life there, I just can’t stay away. I love how people come from all over the world hoping to start something for themselves here. I love how people feel inspired and brave enough to go their own way and this is where they choose to explore that. I love how people you meet for only a few minutes will remember your name weeks later.
I love how people are genuinely curious about where you’re from and aren’t afraid of foreigners – something I see in so many other countries, unfortunately.
I love how it’s still possible to drive to the less touristy parts of the island and find kids running after you, yelling ”Bule, bule!” I love the restaurants and the intense taste of the local fruits.
And of course, every time I go back and get one of those waves I’m instantly reminded of what brought me (and most other people) to Bali in the first place. For better or worse, I also have to remind myself that all those crazy traffic jams and the crowded lineups that drive me crazy are a product of all the travelers like myself, making Bali what it’s become today… for the better or the worse!
But you know what? It’s still always nice to be back in Bali. Every time.