After the Bali bombings in 2002, Anthony Madigan swore he’d never go back to the holiday island. He’d been there three times before, but that was it for him. Time heals. He recently returned to Bali for the first time in 17 years. This is what he found…
EDIT: In the light of the Bali dog meat scandal, we thought it was time to revisit our Bali story. With an added reason.
1. Busy and Dirty
Bali is busier, dirtier, noisier and more westernised than ever. The good news is the hawkers have gone the way of topless sun-tanners. (In 1998 an ever-smiling hawker knelt next to me on a boiling beach for six hours trying to sell me a huge wooden eagle on a globe.) The joint no longer reeks of marijuana. On previous trips we were offered hash every 10 metres. Locking the boogie-boarder up for nine years really did work. Get high on life.
2. Total Dicks
If you like a penis, you’ll love Bali. Wood-carved bottle openers shaped like penises dominate souvenir shops, overshadowing Bob Marley merchandise. The abnormally long doodles (I think) are 14 inches. Tiny shopkeepers point to the two-inch ones and say: “Same size?” When you knock back a penis they’ll say: “Transport, boss? Plait your hair? Paint your nails? Massage. Cheap cheap!” I went shopping for souvenirs and lasted 10 minutes before heading back to the highlight of the trip: the swimming pool.
3. Obnoxious Aussies
Scrawny dogs scratch their balls and look at you sideways and bark but are too lazy to chase you. The crumbling footpaths have broken more tourists’ ankles than Indonesia has executed drug traffickers. Dried flowers, incense, cane baskets and more corn cobs than you can poke a penis at gather dust in gutters. Under some shade cloth down a side lane, a sunburnt Aussie in Bintang singlet barters with a young woman with a fresh flower in her hair and two babies on her hip – trying to get a sarong down from $3 to $2.
4. Tsunami Warning
Look out! A tsunami of scooters hurtles down every street and side alley. Dad steers, Mum rides side-saddle and three kids and two bags of coconuts hang on for dear life. No one knows the road rules but somehow it works. There is no road rage – just patience and tolerance. Speaking of which, Aussies come back from Bali raving about the “nice people”. Of course they are, Ocker, they’re relying on you to feed and clothe their kids.
5. Problem Pringles
Too old for the Kuta madness, we stayed at a quiet villa in Seminyak, the loud eighties music from a wine bar across the road the only minor inconvenience. And there was a big rat in the swimming pool but the kids loved it and couldn’t get it on Instagram quick enough. Get out and see the rice paddies, ancient temples and volcanoes. There’s only one thing more mysterious than Uluwatu Temple and that is: why are all the Pringles broken?
Our friends got ripped off twice in two hours by back-alley money-changers, con-artists who push your notes down a thin slot in the high counters. Our friends were short-changed by $100 not once but twice. They went and got their money back both times with few questions asked. For the crooks, it’s a numbers game. I’ve also seen handbags snatched in Bali; keep a 14-inch wooden weapon in your bum bag and always point it forward.
7. White Pointers
If you want to go to a beautiful pristine beach, save your money and go to Carrickalinga. I swam in the murky brown waters off Seminyak with nappies, coconuts, broken thongs, chop sticks and a few bits and bobs from last night’s peanut chicken satays. The white-pointers are menacing: I spent the whole day removing bamboo skewers from my arse.
8. Spud Gun
Bali is as cheap as you make it. Market stalls sell cheap shit but the ever-increasing number of western-looking retail stores charge Sydney prices. We lived on broken Pringles and big bottles of Bintang ($2.30) from Seven Eleven. The drinks prices at Potato Head, where beautiful people sit around an infinity pool in bathers at sunset, would make a forest monkey blush. A glass of Aussie wine that smells like a sweaty scooter seat is $15. If the prices don’t put you off, the security guarding the joint with machine guns will.
Bali belly is real: our friend fell ill and emerged from her room 48 hours later. I felt less than 100 percent the whole time but 53 big Bintangs will do that. Also be aware that Indonesia is talking about banning alcohol. Like the terrorist attack, that would be it for me.
Bali seems to attract trouble. During our stay, an Australian woman was killed by a motorcycle at Nusa Dua. A few months after our visit, Australian woman Sara Connor and her friend David James Taylor were charged with murdering a policeman at Kuta. The night before we flew out, a volcano erupted, delaying flights, but luckily for us, not ours.
11. The One Where the Stick Fetches Fido
Man’s best friends are everywhere in Bali. They litter the streets – often littering it with their leavings too. Mutts and bitsas, and Heinz 57 varieties abound. They can be cute, mangy, rabid, disinterested or look at you with literal puppy dog eyes begging to be taken home and loved forever. Turns out, you can take them home – in your belly. Unsuspecting tourists have been biting into dog meat satay. Whatever your stance on meat and the ethics of eating a doggo versus a chicken, the revelations about their brutal ends has left a sour taste.
Bali is not for everyone. It’s a culture shock (which I love). The humidity, pong, motorcycle fumes, random piles of litter and over-the-top airport security can get you down, but if you take Bali for what it is – a cheap holiday with great weather where the locals treat you well – it’s a blast. Will I be back? Thirty-eight Indonesians were killed in those bombings 15 years ago. The peace-loving Balinese are still as horrified about what happened as we are. Of course I’ll be back, if only to buy another 14-inch bottle opener.