I leave Ubud, Bali* with more questions than answers. How is it that a culture, which is so committed to beautiful tradition, ritual, and ceremony, is so uncommitted to taking care of their environment? How is it that a people, steeped in the value of multi-generational dwelling and the continuity of family, seemingly place little value in the future health of their youth? How is it that a community whose members seem to always be smiling and happy to strangers like myself throw trash all over the rivers and lands they share with lifelong friends and relatives?
Perhaps, these are simply further examples of the good and bad the Balinese believe exists in everything. Adorning every temple, many houses and public areas are checkered patterns of black and white fabric which represent this juxtaposition of positive and negative forces competing for the soul. The picture above shows that pattern wrapped around the remnants of a Balinese Cremation Ceremony, which have been discarded on the beach.
Ubud and its surrounding area epitomize the fantasy / reality of many very popular vacation spots in small island countries around the world. In the center of Ubud, resides what I can only dub as a "Marketplace of Spirituality." There are buyers and sellers of all things spiritual. The buyers are almost entirely white and Western and more than a few have read "Eat, Pray, Love." The sellers are a combination of "Ex-Pats" and some locals.
I support people in doing whatever they think will make them feel better, so this is in no way a criticism of those who come to Ubud on a spiritual journey.
These are my observations: In what cannot be more than a 3 x 3 mile area in Ubud, there are, by my guess, at least 100 spas and 50 organic, vegan or vegetarian restaurants. There are yoga retreats happening throughout Ubud on a continuous basis. There are only 4 or 5 roads in Ubud, clogged with a handful of cars and a shitload of scooters. If one were to walk these roads, they would see a handful of lovely temples, hundreds of taxi drivers offering their services, many tattoo shops (where tribal art is very popular) and a few bars. It is quite self-contained and if one chose to, they could come to Ubud straight from the airport in Denpasar to explore the different avenues of spirituality offered, eat the food they are used to eating back home and get a very small taste of Bali. And, I assume, many come back feeling better in some fashion.
If one were to leave this small < 10 square mile area and venture out to the countryside surrounding Ubud, they would see a much different story. This area consists of rice patties and villages. It consists of almost entirely Balinese locals with very few Westerners.
There are hundreds of dogs roaming the roads and the sounds of roosters echo off of the stone walls enclosing each village. Someone said the "Bali Dog" is one of the first breeds on earth. I don't know about that, but I do know they need to do a countrywide sweep and neuter these guys, because it makes the "Isle of Dogs" look uninhabited.
This is what happens when a dog has had one too many litters. She hung out with us at the volunteer place. No matter how many times they tried to kick her out, she found her way back in.
I have to admit, I grew to adore her.
There is trash everywhere. Literally, everywhere. And when it stacks up too high, the Balinese locals burn it. Almost every male I met above the age of 10 smokes cigarettes in high quantities.
The Balinese people I met, almost to a person, were warm and welcoming. I felt no fear or in any way unsafe while I was in Bali. (Although, walking on the roads is no walk in the park.) This fact makes it even harder to watch them inhale the fumes of burned plastic and watch their young children able to go into a store a buy cigarettes at the age of 10. I worry for Bali, as parts of it are an ecological wasteland in many ways and there does not seem to be any plan to fix it. The locals cannot afford to do anything other than burn their trash or they simply don't know any better. Either way, this does not bode well for them in years or decades to come.
But who am I to tell them how to live their lives? I am just another white person to tell them all the things they could be doing better. The Dutch tried that for centuries here and it never worked. So, like people all over the world, I hope and pray for the best for them.
I hope people who visit Bali venture outside the beach towns and cities like Ubud to get a taste of the culture and spend some time with the people. Like the Balinese believe, there is good and bad in everything and their homeland is no different.
MY RECOMMENDATIONS IF YOU COME TO UBUD, BALI:
WATCH A CEREMONY: There is nothing more reflective of the beauty of the Balinese people than the ceremonies they perform. We observed a Cremation Ceremony and it was something I will never forget. The local guides can let you know when and where you may be able to see one.
FOOD: Ayam (Chicken) Betutu
Not easy to find, but delicious and worth it.
MUSEUM: Museum of Masks and Puppetry just outside the center of Ubud.
One of the best museums I have seen anywhere and under the radar.
MOVIE THEATER: Check Out "Paradiso" in Central Ubud. Much different than any theater in the States because the seats are cushions, and they serve a full organic vegan menu during the film.
*I did not see all of Bali. I spent 3 weeks around Ubud, a couple of days in Sanur, 10 days on Nusa Penida and a day trip to the north. I avoided the large beach towns on the south and west of the island.