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Amy Chavez Headshot

Bali Paradise? Hell Yes!

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Bali is still reeling from an April 9 Time magazine article by Andrew Marshall called "Holidays in Hell: Bali's Ongoing Woes." In the article, Marshall claims that water shortages, blackouts, garbage, sewage, traffic congestion and a rising crime rate are ruining the tourist paradise.

Having spent several years of my life in Bali (I still have a house there), I am aware of all these problems (and more!). But I had mixed feelings when I read the Time article. In one way I thought -- it's about time someone brought up some of these issues, the very things that make me ask myself sometimes, "Why do I come back here? Why does anyone?" There are frustrating moments in Bali just as there are being in any foreign country. But my frustration only lasts about five minutes, after which I answer my own question as to why I come back: Because I love Bali! The charms of Bali far outweigh its problems, and this is what the Time article overlooks.

No one denies Bali has problems. Bali's governor I Made Mangku Pastika, in the April 8-14 issue of the Bali Times, admitted that Bali indeed suffers from such blights. It is unlikely, however, that such woes will ruin tourism to Bali. The fact is that the problems cited in the article are not news. All of them, (with the exception of violent crime, which by world standards is still extremely low), have been going on for a long time and they still haven't managed to stem the flow of tourists to the island.

If anyone tells you it was "quiet" in Bali before they arrived, don't believe them -- unless they've been in Bali for 35 years or more. Lawrence and Lorne Blair introduced Bali's traffic-clogged roads in their documentary Ring of Fire popular in the 80's. Yes, the traffic may be getting worse these days, but it has always been bad. All the other problems Marshall cites have been going on since at least the year 2000 (which is as far back as I can remember), yet tourism has only increased. Tourists still come, as they always have, and probably always will.

When I wrote for the Bali Times in 1997 and 1998, 10 percent of my articles concerned Bali's roads. I am intimate with Bali traffic! But the truth is, there are only a few trouble spots on the island regarding traffic: Simpang Siur (the big bad round-about), Jln Legian in Kuta, Jln Seminyak in Seminyak and sometimes the road to the airport depending on which direction you're headed. But while the cars come to a crawl in those places, I have never had to wait longer than 20 minutes to get through traffic. (Since I was in Bali when the Time article came out, I was able to time my journeys every day). And if you choose to go by motorbike (110cc's) instead of car, like most locals do, you'll get through traffic in half the time. Anywhere north of these areas, which is most of the island mind you, is free of traffic jams.

But the main point is yet to be made: that most tourists never have to deal with Bali's traffic, except perhaps as a pedestrian trying to cross the road. Most people stay in tourist areas like Kuta and Sanur where everything they need is within walking distance. Japanese tourists (Bali's second largest tourism market before the March 11 earthquake) tend to stay in Nusa Dua, an exclusive zone with 5-star hotels where there is no traffic, no pollution, no garbage on beaches, and no black-outs (at least none that a generator can't overcome), and 24-hour security. If tourists go anywhere, they'll go by tourist bus or taxi, who will navigate the traffic for them.

My advice on traffic? Accept it, or head north. And don't expect miracles. Even when the much anticipated airport bypass (to be completed by 2013) is finished, or if the recently introduced proposal for a rail system around the island gets the go-ahead, it will only make more room on the roads for more cars. With a local population of three million, and another two million or more tourists every year, there will always be traffic congestion in Bali.

I could talk about the other woes mentioned in the Time article, but I think you get the idea. You can go anywhere and look at only the bad points.

Bali's number one tourist market is Australia. If Australians were looking for beautiful, clean beaches, they could just stay home. But they come to Bali to experience a different people, culture, and way of life. This experience more than makes up for Bali's shortcomings. There's a lot more to paradise than what meets the eye.

Besides, the U.S. may be free of water shortages, blackouts, garbage and sewage problems, but I've never heard anyone call it "paradise."