Bali is considered by many people as a paradise – but these people usually haven´t been in other parts of Indonesia. For me, this touristy island is rather less exciting and I opt for a route along the north coast of the island to escape the party- and mass tourism in the south.
A few kilometers after the harbour I turn off from the main road and leave all traffic behind me. I can hardly believe that there is no traffic at all. In the last weeks on Java cars and trucks rushed by constantly, I never had a quiet moment. Now, suddenly, I’m all alone. Only a few monkeys squatting on the roadside.
In Bali, most people are Hindus. It is the last remnant of the great Hindu Majapahit kingdom. Before the beginning of the 15th century, when Islam started to spread, Hinduism was the common religion in all Indonesia. Today you can still find the ruins of Hindu temples in Sumatra and Java, and sometimes even small communities of Hindus.
In Bali people have resisted Islam until today and some differences are easy to see: many women wear shorts and T-shirts instead of long clothes and a scarf. Restaurants serve babi, pork, and alcohol is freely available to purchase, which of course also depends on the demand of the tourists. If people can afford it, they have their own small temple next to their house in order to do the morning puja, otherwise larger hindu tempels are everywhere. There are about 20,000 temples in Bali. Every family belongs to a certain temple where ceremonies are held regularly. Religion is deeply rooted in life and for an outsider often not understandable. There are so many different deities and stories and some old animalistic customs have been mixed over the centuries with the Hindu traditions.
Also in north Bali I observe the influence of mass tourism. In simple street restaurants, called warungs, the price for simple food is often twice as high as usual. Many shop owners are used to white people, bules, paying whatever the shop owner requests, as long as it is cheaper than in their home country. Only my Indonesian and the knowledge of the usual prices help me to squeeze the price for food and accomodation at least a little bit.
In the evening I talk to a security guard of the neighboring luxury resort. He gets paid to spend the night at the beach and to patrol the area. He says it is not dangerous here. During the day he stops women who try to sell fabrics at the beach to tourists from entering the hotel grounds. After a few minutes of conversation he asked me if I need a ticket to the moon, a term for drugs, or a young “genuine Balinese” girl. Previously, the security guard was a rice farmer but he sold his land and must now earn his money elsewhere.
Each year up to four million tourists come to Bali. This not only changed the culture and traditions of Balinese people, but the required infrastructure has a big impact on the ecosystem of the island. In the south the groundwater is already salty while the last mangrove forests are threatened to make way for a new hotel project. The amount of waste is increasing and there is no effective waste managment system.
I cycle fast to the harbour on the east coast of Bali. From here ferryboats connect Bali with the neighboring island of Lombok several times a day. Today the sea is a little bit rough and the ship goes up and down. Suddenly there is a groaning noise which goes through the entire ship, a few seconds later the engine stops. Many Indonesians become seasick and have been busy emptying their stomach contents into plastic bags. Now some people panic and start to put on life jackets. The crew members don´t know whats going on but stay calm. After a few minutes it is clear what happened: one of the trucks was not effectivly secured and has fallen on the next truck due to the high waves.
The crossing takes about seven hours. Occasionally the ship is accompanied by dolphins and small flying fish, which skyrocket out of the water and sail for several meters.
When I arrived in Lombok, I spend a few days in the capital Mataram to extend my visa. This time it’s even more bureaucratic than the last time. Another public authority must “OK” it because it is the third extension. While people in Bali tend to live from their rice fields or tourism, fishing plays an important role in Lombok. Fishing boats are lined up at the beach, fishermen repair their nets and boats at the beach, women preserve the catch.
With a new visa, I have only 5 weeks left in Indonesia, I cylce along the north coast. There is hardly any traffic and the road along the coast has often spectacular views. This is cycling that is fun, that I can enjoy and in the coming weeks it will be even better.