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Tourism

Before tourism Bali was agrarian with the main crop being rice, although Dutch introduced cash crops, like coffee and cocoa, and spices, like cinnamon and cloves, grow well. 

In the 1930's Bali enjoyed brief fame as an exotic and beautiful location and in 1949 a song Bali Hai figured in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, that was made into a popular film in 1958.  The song was subsequently covered by the likes of: Bing Crosby; Peggy Lee; Frank Sinatra; and Andy Williams.  The musical makes it plain that the island referred to is not Bali at all but Ambae island in Vanuatu, where author James Michener was stationed in World War II.  Nevertheless it was named for Bali, that henceforth became a mythic place.

In 1975 the actual Bali was promoted in the French softcore erotica movie Emmanuelle 2, staring Silvia Crystal, that, in the days before the X rating, was as about as raunchy a movie as one could see on general release.  There was a series of these films, that while not exactly Star Wars, spoke to the zeitgeist of their time and did very well at the box-office.  I remember seeing the first one, that opened to packed cinemas, in London.  Bali looked very inviting during an English winter.  The movies are still regularly repeated on World Movies (on cable).  

Tourism began to takeoff after the completion of an international passenger terminal in 1978, fuelled by the advent of inexpensive air travel.  Back in 1973 Bali received just over a thousand tourists, like us, a week.  It now receives, on average, eight times that number every day.  This vast influx of tourists is now by far the island's largest industry, accounting for around 80% of the local economy.  There has been an obvious flow-on to the economy in general so during this time the population has more than doubled, to nearly four and a half million today. But the fastest growing sector of the population has been the urban middle class that has grown many times over.

Of course in 1973 accommodation for a thousand or so tourists was mainly in guest houses and mountain lodges.  Most tourists came by ship and stayed on board so there were no multi-storey first class hotels or resorts with palatial grounds, and four or five swimming pools, like the The Haven Bali Seminyak, nor did it occur to the average tourist to spend their day on a beach.  That was left to a few die-hard 1960's surfers, backpacking the world in search of the perfect wave. 

Maybe there are times when this mythic wave appears at Kuta or Seminyak but in February 2016 it seemed very elusive.  I've seen bigger waves at Balmoral in Sydney Harbour when the swell is up.  And the sand is a lot cleaner at Balmoral.  

 

Seminyak beach1 Seminyak beach
Seminyak beach Seminyak beach

Seminyak beach

 

Nevertheless, I'm assured that from time to time the beaches are worth a visit, even for a Sydneysider.  Apparently regular travellers recommend taking your own boogie-board, although that has become less lucrative since Indonesian customs officials began noticing unusual weight or sponginess in the bag, even when the owners were apparently oblivious to the unusual shape or weight that their bag had acquired.

There is a special hotel on the island that provided long term accommodation for such oblivious travellers.

 

Long term accommodation for the oblivious

 

Nowadays there is a tourist strip from Seminyak to Kuta and of course Denpasar, the capital.   There is another Tourist hot spot around Ubud and lesser but perhaps more up-market places around the coast, away from the decidedly down-market Kuta. 

Other tourist attractions range from the hedonistic to the bizarre, like coffee that has been through the gut of a civet.  This is not an industry native to Bali but has been introduced from Sumatra as a tourist attraction and there are many well trodden sites that extract payment for 'free' samples if tourists fail to buy coffee, spices or some knickknack in their retail outlet. 

One can only imagine who was the first person to think of grinding up civet-poo for use as a beverage.  It is said to have happened after the Dutch introduced coffee growing to Sumatra and planters prevented the local labourers from taking the berries.  But these were eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, native to Sumatra, and the beans were defecated, allowing the workers to gather the poo and make their own brew.   Soon their brew became so sought after that the civet was introduced to other coffee plantations like those in Bali, Java and Sulawesi.  In Bali the coffee sells for around ten times that of normal coffee a kilogram but this price goes up fourfold in gourmet shops in the US and Europe.  This is a good thing as the ordinary coffee we tasted at these places was both more expensive than the Arabica available in Sydney and not as good.

 

Coffee Cherries Civets
Unhappy Civet Civet Poo
Roasting coffee Putting Tourists to work

Kopi Luwak Coffee - Civet Pooed Coffee beans
This is a tourist showcase.  The actual commercial production is intensive agriculture, like caged chickens, and is controversial.
The kittens can be stroked but the adults become wild and the civet, centre left, was cowering from me.
The elderly lady is roasting coffee the traditional way.  Wendy helped.

 

With rampant tourism has come economic progress and a big end of town with up-market retail together with many less innocent charms; sex tourism among them like the 'Kuta Cowboys', local gigolos servicing foreign female tourists, in addition to the usual female prostitutes, who abound.  There are of course numerous bars selling the local and imported beers in addition to cocktails, particularly during happy hour, that in the sign below you may read extends from 4 til 7, when drinks are two for one. 

Food is relatively inexpensive but you get what you pay for.  Balinese food features pork obviously not common elsewhere in predominantly Muslim Indonesia but not beef, although beefburgers are available in tourist areas. Chicken, fish and rice are universal. Fruit juices are popular and very good when supplemented with 'special water'.  The local beer is fine and almost essential to replace the litres of sweat that I tend to exude in this sort of climate.  There is also a passable local wine but imported wines are very expensive.  Breakfast in the hotel was excellent but the best local restaurant out of the many we tried was Greek.  Lunch in the countryside was pleasant in places that are particularly set up to cater to tourists being driven around, albeit with a premium service charge and hidden commissions to the drivers.  But as I'm never tired of explaining, I have trouble with chilli, so maybe I didn't get to try the so-called 'best'. 

 

Seminyak Hotels Seminyak beach

Countryside Restaurant and Seminyak Hotels

 

In place of a decaying colonial town of 1973, Denpasar is now a high-rise city with a conventional suburban area extending for miles. Likewise the small village of Ubud has grown to a substantial town where dozens of hotels jostle for space and the markets have grown tenfold. 

 

Ubud1 Ubud
Ubud Ubud
Ubud Ubud

Ubud
Almost every stall in Ubud and in other markets, even at temples, sells wooden penises.
Who is buying them?

 

While the local people are still predominantly engaged in agriculture, most of the entrepreneurial growth had been by foreign investors and immigrants so that when local parades are held and women place offerings in little square handmade baskets around the streets they seem to be more tolerated by the merchants and street touts than encouraged.  Unlike India, the streets are relatively clean, except for little offerings on top of anything that doesn't move; the streams are unpolluted by garbage; and there are no assertive cows wandering around claiming ownership.

Tourist visitation is variable with the season, so that in in order to handle the peak there is an oversupply in the rainy season.  In February when we went, much of the top end accommodation is vacant.  Thus a luxury resort hotel for a week with full buffet breakfast, free internet and so on was packaged with airfares, for the cost of a couple of nights in the Canberra Hyatt.  The downside to this was that on two separate days we hired a driver to go into the mountains and on both occasions visibility was poor.  It poured so heavily on one of these days that roads became flooded on our return journey. 

 

Mountain Rain Mountain Rain
Rain Rain

Rainy Season

 

When something happens, such as a volcanic eruption or a terrorist night-club bombing, to damage the Tourist trade, the whole Indonesian economy suffers.

Bali has two active volcanoes, Mount Agung and Mount Batur.  In February and March 1963 Mount Agung erupted killing around 1900 villagers in pyroclastic flows (very hot gasses entrained in and rock or ash) and lahars (subsequent mud flows due to rain).  More recently, in 2000, Mount Batur erupted and for a period continued to sustain minor explosions, becoming a tourist attraction.  Although it is now quiet, it was on our schedule but we were unable to see it due to fog and rain. Nevertheless the mountains are an excellent place to escape the oppressive heat of the strip, that combined with the incessant noise of motorbikes weaving between stop start cabs and trucks, make many of the streets in the built-up areas quite unpleasant to walk in. The countryside remains quite beautiful in a rainforest - rice paddy sort of way.  And as it is on the other side of the Wallace Line, distinct in terms of flora from the rainforests of Northern Australia or New Guinea.

 

 

 


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