Yesterday I was listening to Raf Epstein on ABC’s afternoon drive time radio. He was interviewing a tourist who was stuck in Bali due to the closure of Ngurah Rai airport in Bali as ash continues to pour from the erupting Mount Agung, Bali’s most prominent active volcano. Like many other tourists whose flights have been cancelled, this chap wasn’t too perturbed. He sounded jolly, amused even and serene. He was sitting by the pool eating chicken. A few more weeks in Bali with glorious weather and tasty Balinese food- what’s not to like. Raf made no mention, in this instance, of the significance of Mt Agung’s eruption to the lives of the Balinese people. It was all a bit of a joke really, ‘enjoy your chicken by the pool’ was Raf’s closing comment. It’s a similar story in the Australian press. Pictures of closed airports, or tourists milling about as airports open once again with only occasional glimpses into the lives of those hugely affected- the Balinese people.
While Mt Agung makes up its mind, 44,000 people have left the danger zone and are waiting. Many more thousands have returned to the exclusion zone to tend their cattle and farms. The Balinese economy is fragile: despite the lush fertility of the country, farmers live a very simple subsistence lifestyle. Those who have returned have had to weigh up the cost of continuing with their farms, crops and cattle with the threat of a possible disaster. What a choice!
Meanwhile, the Balinese economy is completely dependent on tourism. For months now, many sectors have been affected. Those working directly in tourist industries, such as hotels, hospitality, transport, mountain climbing and adventure, have been without wages for some months.
Gunung Agung, a sacred mountain, is revered by the Balinese. When Agung is active and threatens to erupt, it indicates that the Gods are displeased and something in the world is awry. The Balinese have been praying, or counting their losses, or worrying about their homes and livelihood: meanwhile tourists will either kick back by the pool and rejoice in their lengthened holiday, will be checking their travel insurance policies to see how much they might be financially inconvenienced, or travelling by ferry to Lombok for another flight home. Life’s tough.
The district of Lake Como is famous for its gardens and villas, and despite its proximity to Switzerland and its soaring dark wooded peeks ( over 2000 m high in some places), the weather is classified as humid subtropical. In winter, the lake helps to maintain a higher temperature in the surrounding region. Average daily temperatures range from about 3.7 °C (39 °F) in January to 23.4 °C (74 °F). Averages, in a sense, don’t deal with aberrations, like the exceedingly warm temperatures (above 25) we experienced in Como in late October recently. The lake is 400 metres deep and is Y-shaped, with two distinct arms. Travelling about by ferry, you can reach most of the 31 municipalities on the lake, all the lovely small Comaschi villages that don’t feature in glossy magazines or brochures. Keep an eye on the ferry timetable though and double-check with the ferry captain about return times, especially when travelling out of season. At each spot, you’ll probably find a small osteria serving the local lake fish or a good risotto. The Province of Como is more than its tourist namesake, the town of Como, which, as a single destination, is disappointing.
The clement weather helps explain the presence of palm trees and the luxuriant gardens that make Lake Como so special. The gardens of famous villas can be visited when open during the main tourist season. Many provide backdrops for American weddings. You’ll see plenty of ‘Wedding Planner’ signs around the province of Como. After all, the property rich but cash strapped marchesi need to keep up a certain bella figura.
Not all the lovely gardens are attached to villas. Public spaces are transformed through careful planting. Simple boxy looking houses take on more glamour when draped in Autumn creepers. Some gardens are wild, using the native chestnuts and pines of the ridges above: others are over manicured and formal. The synergy of garden and built environment ( house, village, church, dock, villa) results in a harmonious and glorious whole. It’s a lovely place to visit, especially if you get away from the main tourist traps.
The following collage is a media file full of gardens. Click open the first, then use the arrow to view some of Lake Como’s gardens.
Gardens bordering the lake, best viewed from the ferry.
Nice spot George
Gardens of Lake Como
One of our favourite restaurants, Fioroni, Urio. Lake Como
Gardens of Lake Como
Gardens of Lake Como
Green on green.
Docks and Creepers
Gardens of Lake Como
As close as you’ll ever get to George Clooney’s place.
Stairway to heaven? A funicular to elevated garden!
Gardens transform a plain building. So does paint.
With travel now readily available, especially within Europe, many little ports, towns and villages in Brittany have become inundated with visitors and holidaymakers during the Northern Hemisphere summer, from June to August, making travel less appealing. The British fly to Rennes or Dinan in Brittany very cheaply with Ryan Air, Fly Kiss or Easy Jet, take a car on the ferry, or drive through the tunnel via Paris. And so you would expect this area of France to be busy. Those not travelling independently are met by a 16 to 45 seater bus which then tours the area. These buses are out of place in tiny villages, clogging town squares, a reminder of those disgusting towering cruise ships dominating the Venetian canals which the Italian authorities are too cowardly to deal with.
Considering Pont Aven as a microcosm of this phenomena, there’s only one way to avoid these invasions: travel in late September or anytime out of season. The weather won’t be so gloriously sunny, and at times it will be quite moist, but I consider this to be a fair trade-off. You will find a quiet market square and a village getting on with its business in a ‘post seasonal’ way and you will hear French spoken. On some days, a few buses might land in the square- arriving at 11am, most stay for around 30 minutes or so, as the tourists disembark to buy the local buttery biscuits, canned fish products from the conserveries, or stare through the windows of the ateliers, the 40 artist workshops flogging colourful paintings of sea themes. And then the town returns to normal.
Pont Aven has always been popular with travellers. Paul Gauguin spent extended periods in this town in the late 1880s and early 1890s, establishing, with others, the Synthetist style, a break from Impressionism. Their work is often characterised by the bold use of colour, the abandonment of faithful representation and perspective, with flat forms separated by dark contours, and geometrical composition free of any unnecessary detail and trimmings. The modern Pont Aven art school tends to follow this style.
His legacy has left its mark on the town. Some walks follow in his footsteps, with little plaques dotted here and there, depicting Bretagne scenes of the local people or boating scenes. Art workshops dominate the retail scene here, but most are closed after August or only open during the weekend. The result of their presence, as well as the proximity of an Intermarche supermarket less than 1 km away, means the loss of a second boulangerie and a functional epicerie within the town. The town’s commerce is out of balance with a preponderance of outlets catering to the visiting tourist and not the locals. There are two or three good restaurants in the centre, often with reduced opening times, a creperie, one boulangerie, a bar, and a wine cave. A small market operates weekly in the town square. Many shops have closed and will be replaced, most likely, by yet another art gallery.
The district of Finisterre, in which Pont Aven is located, is heavily populated along the coastal area, in contrast to my recollections of the coastal areas in Morbihan. Beautiful farming land, away from the sea fringes, is dotted with smaller hamlets and villages, and larger medieval towns, such as Quimper. On cool days, motoring around the countryside is a pleasant way to spend the day. A visit to Locronan, one of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France‘, is worth the drive, but go early before the buses arrive. Like many a designated belle village, Locronon is on the cusp of becoming too faux. Once the tourist shops move in, the rent goes up and local retail suffers. The up side of this designation means these beautiful medieval buildings are carefully restored.
But then, this is the story of any lovely spot in France. Travel slowly, go outside of the tourist season, and most of all, attempt to speak French, however poorly, and always use your inside voice, even when outside. Intrusiveness, I’ve found, comes down to the volume of voice used by fellow travellers.
Prague is indeed a beautiful place and well loved by tourists visiting this part of Europe. The architecture offers daily surprises, especially if you walk, interspersed with tram journeys to give the legs a break. Row upon row of elegant and ornate six story buildings twist and wind along the roads that make up the vast central district. Public buildings are ornate and grand, with huge over sized doorways, gold ornament catching the late afternoon sun on French Imperial capped buildings, and threatening black church spires spiking the sky. A castle to outdo all others appears on a nearby hill, oxidised green cones and onion domes add a Byzantine element to the skyline. Prague’s site, spreading out from both sides of the banks of the Vltava river, is spanned by a romantic bridge or two. It’s all too much at times. Did Walt Disney steal his fantasy land towers from Prague’s skyline?
In order to enter the Praghesian frame of mind, attending a classical recital is a good way to start. An evening performance is held weekly at the small 1,000 year old church of St Martin in the Wall. The concert began appropriately with a beautiful rendition of Smetana’s ‘Vltava’, a musical poem now synonymous with this city, which became my earworm for the entire visit. I’ll plant it here for you, dear reader, to remind you of this well-known Czech classic.
Ancient churches have wonderful acoustics, the perfect setting for serious listening. St Martins is now a decommissioned Christian church devoid of all iconology, well restored with simple white washed walls. The well-known repertoire, one that would appeal to most visitors, includedDvorak, Czechoslovakia’s other great composer, Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Pachelbel, and Albinoni’s famous Adagio in G minor, a piece that always draws tears when played sensitively. Many of Prague’s Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues are now used as classical music venues in the evening. In this way, the local musicians are supported, church restoration becomes possible, and tourists get a smattering of the culture that still runs deep through this touristy town. Unlike her Catholic neighbour, Poland, Czechoslovakia’s population is largely atheistic/agnostic (70%): with so few parishioners, the churches have been put to good use.
One way to approach the lay of the land in Prague is to take a hop on hop off tour. A 24 hour ticket also offers a one hour boat tour and is well worth the money. After the tour, your can revisit other parts of the town with a day’s tram ticket, costing around 100 CK/AU $6. Walking Prague, however, is the best option if you want to get away from the main tourist areas.
Another activity, which is completely touristy but well worth it, is a sunset trip along the Vltava river. This is included in the price of the Hop on Hop off bus tour. With a glass of wine in hand as the sun sets over this beautiful and famous city, along with Smetana’s musical ode to the river running through your brain, it’s a lovely way to unwind and let go of any ambivalent feelings you might have about this well visited city.
Like a handsome man, Prague is very nice to look at, but the seduction, I feel, lies very much on the surface. This city didn’t steal my heart. I should have attended more recitals or gone to that green glowing Absinthe bar.
The Australian media revels in stereotyping Australian tourism to Bali. It’s an annual event, always bound to get a heated reaction. Fake news and generalisation usually does. The story follows the same old path: find a group of poorly behaved Australian bogans ¹, make sure they are shirtless or dressed in gaping singlets; a few tattoos help magnify the picture. Film them at a bar or nightclub in Kuta or Legian, with sound grabs of their loud, appalling behaviour. Beer swilling scenes and expletives complete the picture. This minority group is an easy target for the media. It’s an historic one too, recalling in recent times, the singlet wearing, fag in mouth, ‘ocker’ of the 1980s, and before that, the yobbo, the larrikin and the ‘wild colonial boy’. Australians have a love -hate relationship with their own working class. Often despised, they become symbols of our national cultural cringe. At other times in history, they’ve been employed to boost patriotism ( Ned Kelly, WW1 diggers, Henry Lawson characters). We either love or despise our famous bogans. A few random modern examples include Dawn Fraser, Paul Hogan, Shane Warne, Lleyton Hewitt and his wife Bec ( Australia’s answer to the Beckams), Kath and Kim, and Pauline Hanson. I have included Pauline Hanson, the Kabuki masked racist, in this list as she might be considered the bogan queen.
‘It can be argued that the larrikin tradition of disdain for authority, propriety and the often conservative norms of bourgeois Australia, are two sides of a self-reinforcing dynamic; the social conservatism of the mainstream fuels the undercurrent of larrikinism and rebellion, which, in turn, is seen as demonstrating that a firm hand is needed. This is sometimes referred to as the “larriken- wowser nexus”, ‘wowser’ being an Australian colloquial term for a person of puritanical mores.’²
A few more Australian stereotypes might be added to this time-honoured clichéd portrait of the Australian tourist in Bali. Enter the CUB family (cashed up bogans). The media portrays this group as a wealthy but poorly educated sub- class of ‘tradies’³, who have no time for Balinese culture or culture in general. The successful ABC television drama UpperMiddle Bogan milks this stereotype to the hilt. Add to this the media’s obsession with the Corby family and the vacillating portrayal of Schapelle Corby as innocent victim or guilty bogan drug smuggler. The annual media focus on ‘Australian young lad caught with a stash of marijuana gets caught up in the Indonesian prison system’ amplifies this stereotype. The media’s dramatisation of these sad stories suggests a deep distrust of the Indonesian legal system, resulting in untold damage to Australian- Indonesian business and political relationships.
A quick look at the annual tourist arrivals to Bali is of interest here. The figures for 2016 reveal Australian visitors leading the way at 1.137 million visitors per annum. This year, 2017, the figure has been surpassed by the Chinese.
The Balinese will be the first to tell you about their impressions of tourists. They love Australian tourists because they spend money on local products and services and engage with the locals in an open and good-humoured way. They pump money into the local economy. The Chinese, according to the Balinese, don’t spend any money in the markets or on transport and don’t engage with the locals. Their tours are usually packaged; as a result, very little money flows directly to poorer Balinese people. My own observations of Malaysian and Japanese visitors, if I may generalise a little here, suggests they have a preference for large internationally owned hotels which effectively insulates them from Balinese people. European visitors prefer to eat in Western restaurants, and are far more hesitant with the locals. They do, however, spend money on transport, water sports, hired sun baking chairs, and tours.
The following is a summary of the makeup of Australian tourists in Bali based on my own observations over the last 39 years.
Younger tourists travelling overseas for the first time. Bali is an affordable destination for them. Some have studied Bahasa Indonesian at school and have a smattering of the language. This group spends money on sporting activities, transport, cheap clothing, sarongs and nicknacks. They tend to stay in budget or family run accomodation, and eat in cheaper, family run warungs.
The Bogan- Ocker tourist who usually base themselves around Kuta/Legian and Seminyak. They don’t take much interest in Hinduism or Balinese culture generally. They come to Bali to party. This is the group which gives Bali a bad name. They spend money on alcohol, transport and accommodation.
Family groups who travel to Bali during the Australian school holidays. They tend to stay in bungalows and small family run middle of the road Balinese owned hotels with swimming pools and proximity to the beach.
Older, retired couples or singles. This is a growing market and one that the Balinese are very happy to accommodate, by providing more flexible visa extensions, reliable health care and on site massage. The main attraction for this group is the climate and the affordability of food and services. Many in this group often stay in the same accommodation for a month or more at a time and are treated almost as family by the managers. This option is particularly appealing to older, single women, who feel much safer and more comfortable in Bali than in Queensland, for example. This group spends money on massage, pedicures, local warung food, drivers and accommodation.
Active travellers who enjoy watersports such as surfers, divers, snorkelers, wind surfers, bikers, cyclists, trekkers.
Cultural tourists interested in women’s’ textiles and ikat weaving, language, meditation and yoga, Hinduism, cooking, art, landscape design, and history.
Those travelling to Bali to attend the annual Jazz festival and Writers’ Festival, a growing market.
Business tourists who open franchises or restaurants. Whilst these operators are making big money in Bali, they do also provide hospitality training to the Balinese.
I’ve just spent two weeks with 15 members of my own family in Bali. In many ways we are a typical Australian family. We have different interests, different occupations, ages, educational levels and aspirations. I can happily say that we all have a high respect for the Balinese culture and people. I would also argue that most Australian visitors to Bali do.
Thanks Eha for alerting me to this latest nonsense about Australian tourism in Bali.
¹”The term bogan is a derogatory Autralian and New Zealand slang word used to describe a person whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplify values and behaviour considered unrefined or unsophisticated. Depending on the context, the term can be pejorative or self deprecating. Since the 1980s, the bogan has become a very well-recognised subculture, often as an example of bad taste. It has antecedents in the Australian larriken and ocker.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogan
At the end of a busy day in Bali, often involving far more walking in the heat than one initially intended, returning to a peaceful, quiet and well maintained garden is a godsend. A beautiful garden has become a prerequisite when choosing accommodation in Bali, especially when visiting Ubud.
Unfortunately, Ubud has been loved to death. A private courtyard garden blocks out the pandemonium, the snarl of traffic, the fumes of motor bikes and the endless stream of slow walking tourists hunting for gewgaws, monkeys and food. This is my farewell tribute to one of Ubud’s most delightful gardens. Aging and velvet mossed Buddhist and Hindu statues, inviting seating platforms, beautifully carved and painted doors, screening plants and tropical flowers, archways and entrances and stands of bamboo, evoke a traditional Bali midst a heavily urbanised town. The daily noiseless tending of tropical plants by gardeners and the morning placement of fresh hibiscus flowers and canang sari on all the statues and family temple have called me back to the charming Honeymoon Guesthouse year after year. Situated in Jalan Bisma, development and congested traffic has finally overwhelmed this once tranquil street. I cannot return. My love of Ubud now dwells in the past. I can revisit her there.
A big suksma ( Balinese for thankyou, best said with hands in prayer position) to all the gardeners of Bali. Without these steady, quiet and humble workers, Bali would not be so inviting.
The following collage is a media file. Tour the garden by opening the first photo and following the arrows.
Lush planting and screening
Pool area. Honeymoorn guesthouse, Ubud
Lotus position. Honeymoon 1. Ubud
My friend Ganesha
Lush plants, Honeymoon Guesthouse, Ubud.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Fresh Hibiscus flowers are replaced daily at Honeymoon.
Do you enjoy snorkeling and diving? Bali has some delightful areas to explore underwater and as the temperature is always warm in this tropical zone, there’s no need to don a wetsuit.
This year’s Balinese underwater adventure was enjoyed by Mr T and our daughter: the trip was a birthday gift from daughter to father, and will be another diving adventure they will recall forever. Due to my increasing lack of confidence on the open sea, especially in an area known for some ‘interesting’ currents, I remained behind and enjoyed another massage. These photos were taken mostly by Mr T, with his cheap underwater camera.
One of the best diving spots in Bali is in the north-west of the island at Pemuteran. The village, at present, is delightfully calm and traditional: the tourist trade here centers around diving tour operators and small, discreet guesthouses. There are a few warungs along the main road and very little shopping.
Many diving boats operate tours each day, especially in July and August, the main European tourist season. A day trip costs between AU$45 and AU$55 per person. This includes snorkeling gear, lunch, drinking water, driver and underwater guide.
It was Mt T’s second trip to the reefs off Pemuteran. He also enjoys snorkeling off Lembongan Island and near Amed. Although no turtles were spotted this time, plenty of colourful fish passed by.
Tropical fish, Pemuteran
Giant clam, Pemuteran
Coral conservation and and a turtle breeding programme are two postive outcomes of tourism in this area. “A community-driven reef restoration and conservation project started in 2000 that has changed not only the reef itself, but also the attitudes, livelihoods and economy of the entire region. Bio-Rock is a technology that uses low voltage electrical current on artificial underwater structures to encourage growth of corals and other reef life. Experiments with the technology worldwide have shown that it can help counteract some of the difficult environmental factors affecting coral growth.”¹
“The Turtle Hatchery of Pemuteran in the utmost west of Bali started in 1994 after Australian Chris Brown, the owner of a diving company in the area, bought a sea turtle from a local fisherman who caught the animal in one of his nets by accident, to save its life; the turtle was tied to a rope and let out to graze in the sea during the day, and at night brought into a small pond. A second turtle soon joined the first and thus the Turtle Hatchery Project became a fact. The Turtle Hatchery project’s mission is to promote the protection of the wild turtle population and to stop, or at least diminish the worthless slaughtering of turtles. Up to 2001, more than 3000 juvenile turtles have been released into the ocean as well as many larger adults.”²
Most visitors like to Bali are intrigued by the wild monkeys that inhabit temples and parks. I prefer to keep my distance. Notorious thieves of reading glasses, hats, bags and water bottles, monkeys can become aggressive if provoked. Ubud’s monkeys of Monkey Forest and the entrance to the park are known to scratch people and are easily provoked. The monkeys of Pura Pulaki temple by the sea at Pemuteran in the north are also known to be aggressive. Advice regarding rabies and hepatitis is often ignored by tourists keen to have physical contact with monkeys.
Despite my ambivalent feelings about monkeys, I found myself at peace with a few fine creatures at the top of Padang-Padang beach, on the Bukit Peninsula. Deterred by the crowds descending through the cave to enter that tiny beach ( made famous unfortunately by the film Eat Pray Love), I chose to hang out with some gentle characters around the temple. I am sure they were posing for me as I sat about quietly with my camera. I had no food, no bag, no voice and little movement.
Padang-Padang Beach is best visited in the low season, that is, any time outside the months of July and August. Northern Bali, around Pemuteran, is still relatively quiet in these months, a five-hour drive from the teeming and touristed South.
The first time I attended a Balinese Kecak Dance was in 1979. We travelled through darkness in a bemo, a basic van with side seats in the back, to a village some distance from Ubud. We passed through dense jungle and small lamp lit villages along the way: at that time, electric lighting was limited, intermittent and unreliable in Bali. Darkness held more mystery then and the Kecak fire dance, always held at night, was more exotic and entrancing. That performance was raw and primitive, leaving an impression of sound, fire, and primordial noise. We sat in a dusty circle around the men and I recall the black and white checked sarongs, the glowing honey coloured skin of the men, and the loud repetitive harsh chanting, as well as the central role played by Hanuman, the monkey.
Recently, almost 40 years later, we attended another Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple on sunset. The fabulous setting added drama to the story. The amphitheatre and stage, a large arena bordered by Balinese carved entrances and dense Bougainvillea, sits on the edge of the Bukit Peninsula, alongside the sacred temple of Uluwatu. The audience wear ceremonial purple sarongs or orange sashes in keeping with the dress requirements of this sacred park. Just after sunset, the show begins.
The Kecak dance and drama, ( pronounced kechuck ) was developed in the 1930s. While relatively new, it draws on the ancient traditions and legends of the Ramayana. Since its creation, it has been performed primarily by men. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece is performed by a circle of between 75 and 150 men chanting “cak cak” and other rhythmic and forest noises while moving their hands and arms. There is no accompanying music. One could compare the sound to beatboxing. In the drama, the loyal monkey, Hanuman, helps Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Other Ramayana characters include Sita, Garuda, Holy Man, Twalen, Laksmana, Trijata and servants.
In the modern version, Hanoman steals the show. His initial monkey-like scratching eventually brings roars of laughter when he resorts to scratching his crutch. After Hanoman escapes the ring of fire and the story comes to a close, he reappears as a naughty but loveable dramatic character, an acrobatic comedian who taunts and teases the audience. At one point, an intrusive camera waving tourist gets in his way. Hanoman grabs him, turns him around and attempts to pull his shorts down. The crowd laps it up. Then Hanoman leaps into the audience and takes a seat, grabs the glasses from a nearby tourist and places them on his head. This modern Hanoman has learnt a few tricks from the real naughty monkeys that inhabit the Uluwatu park. The crowd roars with delight and the children are entranced.
It was worth seeing the Kecak dance again. Despite the crowds and chaos of ticket buying, I can highly recommend this show.
She was sitting on a bluestone step near the corner of Rutledge Lane, just past the paint splattered wheelie bins. A waif of a girl, pallid and twig like, she looked like a Manga character, except her eyes were too small and demeanor too fragile. She was wearing a pastel coloured checked shirt over faded denim jeans, her long hair bleached white with pale blue dip- dyed ends. She was rolling a cigarette slowly and self- consciously, not street wise enough to adopt the insouciance of more experienced street artists. She didn’t appear to be homeless, there was something too studied about her appearance for that. Perhaps she came to admire her own art, or to contemplate her next one, or to rue the loss of her favourite piece.
Street art in Hosier Lane and its right-angled annex, Rutledge Lane, is transient. Each visit brings new surprises, new styles, as the genre mutates and evolves. Recent additions include more stencil art and written messages, some with environmental and political content, others with random thoughts.