05 March 2011


Tirtigangga, Bali: I am loathe to write this blog. I have been coming to this place since 1985 and it is mostly unchanged and I would love for it to stay that way.


There are books one reads by people who came to Bali in the 1800s and who were horrified at how much it had been spoiled by the early 1900s. Every ten years or so new people show up here and when they come back ten years later they are outraged by how overrun their beloved Bali has been by voracious hordes of outsiders.

And it's kind of true. The government originally did a very good job of ghettoizing much of the tourism in the south - Kuta, Sanur, Legian, lately Jimbaran and some other beaches. Ubud was permitted to become the cultural showcase - sort of Bali Disneyland as it were. (Apparently the restaurant and hotel owners in Ubud recently ganged up on the kaki lima (pushcart food vendors) and banned them from city streets. FEH! I never liked that place anyhow. It deserves all the idiot hordes who are showing up because of that dumb book and movie.) Denpasar was the big city, the commercial hub, and as such it was permitted to be as filthy and crowded and noisy and crass as most of the other big cities in the country - or the world for that matter.

But when I first came here, it only took a little effort - and ideally a rented Volkswagen "Thing" (they all seem to have come here for an afterlife) to escape the international tourist ghetto in the south. Since I never spent more than a day or two in the tourist hellholes, I never felt overwhelmed by my fellow foreigners in Bali. I'd hop in my vehicle and head north.

This time I was worried. I'd heard disquieting rumors. Amed, the sleepy black sand fishing and salt producing village north of Tirtigangga had been developing fast. Candi Dasa, the beach community to the south the same.

And it's true. Amed has become a French colony of sorts, and a SCUBA diving center. Candi Dasa seems popular with Germans and Australians.

But praise the lord and pass the ammunition - Tirtigangga has been spared!

There may be one or two more homestays, set deep back into the hills, than when I first came here. One or two more restaurants - warung really - that provide pizza to bule, but basically it is the same place I visited for the first time 26 years ago.

This morning I woke up early, able to leave the hotel after Nypei Day by six am, and took a long walk through the nearby rice terraces and villages. It was the same place I have loved all these years - almost entirely unspoiled. In my entire weeks stay here, I have encountered, to say hello to, only 13 other foreigners. I have seen some five or six others in the distance. (Oh, make that seven or eight - two just walked into the Water Palace.)

I think this must be in part due to the beach not being close at hand. Tirtigangga is in the foothills and while you can see the ocean, it takes about a half hour or a bit more to get to it. Fine by me. I'm not a very beachy person.

Now I would never be so presumptuous as to say that Tirtigangga is the "real Bali" or anything like that. As a people, the Balinese seem to have a remarkable ability to go about their traditional business in the midst of what the rest of us would regard as overwhelming distractions of the modern, and pushy foreign world. They have even made a very successful cottage industry out of leveraging tourism in a way that helps them maintain their traditions and culture. (If anything, motorbikes, which are their own seeming current fetish objects, are the biggest threat to the place.) Even in the middle of the tourism tornado that engulfs such places as Kuta Beach, Balinese culture, tradition and even tranquility somehow manages to survive - thrive even.

But here, removed somehow from the onslaught of, well, of people like me, is the Bali that I truly love. A few pictures from this morning's walk in the neighborhood are below:


A.H. Ream said...

I'll be quiet as a mouse. You won't even know I'm there.

Dianne Emley said...

You seem very much a part of this place. You're sure that tacos, better whiskey and friends are enough to lure you home? Gorgeous photos.

Eric said...

Thanks, but if I stuck around too long I'd be sure to rile up the local Buddhists too much and sooner or later I'd be mincemeat. For my own good, I'm coming home.