Back to basics in Bali
By Phil Jarratt
Bali is rebounding, there’s no doubt about it.
Since reopening to international tourism in March, the island has seen arrivals rise from 15,000 in April to around 40,000 in May, led by Australians.
The Indonesian government hopes 1.4 million Australians will have visited by the end of the year, but that will still leave Bali far short of its pre-Covid 6.3 million internationals per year.
The hip neighborhoods of Canggu, Seminyak and Kerobokan are once again crowded, restaurants are full and pretty young people are pushing scooters way too fast everywhere you look.
But in a subtle way, it’s a different Bali than the one we left in 2019. While the lack of international tourists (51 in 2021) has devastated the local economy, many Balinese have retreated into the sanctity of their villages and picked up where they left off. , grow their own food and live a simple life.
We were talking about it with some expat friends the other night and it was suggested that we try a little seaside stay on the east coast, where they had effectively gone back 50 years. Sworn to secrecy about its name and exact location, we drove there last weekend.
When I first arrived in Bali 48 years ago, I stayed in a simple losmen, a cow pen set back from the beach, an electric generator for a few hours a day, a squat toilet and a mandi of Cold water. Breakfast of tea and bananas was left at the small table on the concrete slab porch. It was exactly where the Hard Rock Hotel is in Kuta today.
Our weekend getaway on the coast brought me back there and the trip was wonderful. Having reduced staff to immediate family and discounted rates, our hosts were busy and happy as they looked after us, just like they did in Kuta all those years ago.
Ok, our alang alang rooftop bungalow had 24/7 electricity and a seated toilet, and even the installed mandi shower had some concessions to modernity, with a plastic bucket replacing the old one concrete well. When grandfather and a few grandchildren carried our hot water supply in another insulated bucket, we were in absolute luxury!
And from our little terrace, we looked through a cow pen (with cows) to the Lombok Strait.
Breakfast of banana pancakes and Balinese coffee was served on a terrace by the water. Beautifully simple and simply stunning.
I don’t know if the return to simple local style accommodation is a trend or just an aberration, but I hope it’s the former.
Disclosure: I’m writing this from my poolside office in the villa we’ve stayed in for years, and it’s a little fancy. But it’s nice to have the opportunity to revisit your roots.