Monday, November 29, 2010

Travel Warning!

This week the US government has issued a travel warning for US-Americans traveling to Indonesia. Oops. Too late. I was already there when I read the travel warning. I was on the island of Bali in the beach resort of Kuta, the site of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and injured 240 more.

I read of the latest travel warning on the third day of our five-day stay on the island. Should I venture outside our hotel compound? Bali has returned to relative normalcy in the last eight years. The streets of Kuta are not only flooded with water; there are also lots of tourists, mostly Aussies, around even as the rainy season sets in.

Tourism is more than just important to the 3.6 million people who live on the island; it’s a drug they’ve become dependent on. Over half of Bali’s population is entirely hooked. There are not just twenty men offering you a ride in their “taksi” but 200, not fifty souvenir shops selling exactly the same trinkets but 500, not 100 girls offering foot reflexology massage but 1000. It’s impossible that all of these people are able to make a living from tourism, especially when the island is under a constant threat of terrorist attacks. One has to ask what the future holds for Bali’s population as they become more and more dependent on tourists for their daily rice.

What’s worse, they’ve taught this behavior to the monkeys. The Monkey Forests of Bali are a textbook example of the classic Tourist Trap. Who doesn’t like cute, playful monkeys? As long as you understand exactly what the Monkey Forests are, I guess it’s fine to go there. I didn’t know what to expect.

When you arrive and pay your entrance fee, you are assigned a mandatory guide.

“Can’t we just walk around by ourselves?”

“You must have guide. Not safe.”

“Oh come on.”

“Must.”

So we entered the area with our guide. Not twenty seconds later a king monkey attacked me when I made the mistake of putting my right hand in my pocket. He jumped up onto my shorts and pulled himself around me, jabbing and biting anything that might contain food. Finally, our guide batted him off with her umbrella.

“Not put hand in pocket,” she said—laughing.

“Tell tourist this before tourist put hand in pocket,” I said.

“Ha ha. You funny.”

“Not joke.” I looked down at my clothes covered in monkey tracks. There was a hole torn in my t-shirt.

“King monkey. Very strong. Mean. You want to feed?” She pointed at the container with the food that we could purchase for a small price.

“Nah,” I said. “So, do the monkeys forage for food themselves or do you feed them?”

You feed them,” she said.

“This is the only food they get?”

“Yes.”

“Ah-hah.” I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to cause a scene. These animals were vicious and desperate to get the food in that container because they were HUNGRY. We kept walking. The next spectacle was enormous bats. I could only assume that they were also a sort of circus show. The whole thing made me so sad for these animals.

After about ten minutes of walking around, our guide hurried us around the temple and down another path.

“Down here,” she said. “My shop.”

“Shop?”

“Yes, my shop. Souvenir,” she said.

At that point we turned a corner and a woman, who turned out to be our guide’s sister, greeted us: “Drink? Singha beer?”

“I don’t drink beer.”

“Come in. Shopping.” She was pointing to her shop.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to buy souvenirs.”

“For luck,” she said. “For luck.”

This is what everyone says when they want you to buy something. “For luck.” Whose luck? Mine or theirs? It’s like in the Middle East when the salesperson tries to convince you to buy something because you’re his first customer of the day, and not buying something will cause him to have bad business all day. One shopowner said this to me at around three o’clock in the afternoon one time. Obviously, he’d already had a fairly poor day.

As an obsessed traveler it’s hard for me to come to terms with my role as a tourist. It’s something I struggle with every time I travel to a developing country and see how desperate the people get when there aren't enough tourists to go around. It will probably be quite a while before I head back to Southeast Asia. The trips for 2011 are mostly in Canada and Europe.

Right now I’m home for a few days. Yay :)

I must be off (to wash clothes),
Christopher

5 comments:

  1. ECOTOURISM or the NATGEO volunteer trips (ie. travel to Costa Rica and volunteer your time cataloging sea turtle egs, etc, etc, etc) might be a nice solution to the tourist trap you find yourself in. The monkey story made me sad - amazing how traveling can shape us, make us grateful for what we have (or don't). Thanks for sharing and glad you are home safely, for a bit.

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  2. Hey, Jenn! :)
    I saw a documentary on Eco-voluntourism about tourists who pay around 2500 dollars to work on a farm in Borneo for a month. I'm thinking about it.

    The Monkey Forest made me sad too.

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  3. Excellent write-up, and "voluntourism" is a very interesting idea, if riddled with complications and potential horrors.

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  4. Ha ha, you funny! I LOVED the monkey story. It really is an interesting conundrum though--the world economy goes to hell and people who were barely scraping a living off a tourist trade, now have far less of that. Just more evidence poo flows down hill... the people hit hardest are those least able to absorb the pain.

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  5. Hi Chris!
    Got here from the Travel Blog Exchange and really glad that you've taken a lot of time to put your travels up with nice photos.

    We went to Bali a few years ago with advice to avoid Kuta (overrun with drunken surfers) and stayed in Ubud - glad we did. It was super-touristy and the monkeys, even 10 years ago, were very aggressive but at least we could wander around by ourselves and make our own mistakes.

    The dancing nightly in Ubud (traditional with masks not R&R) was excellent as was the scenery and snorkeling and a bit of travel.

    I very much like the look of your blogspot entries - wish I could do that on my Wordpress but it tends to spread pictures and text all OVER the place. Also a tip of the hat to your funny writing. Thanks for keeping it light for us.

    I look forward to more of your posts.

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