From Beijing to Beirut

Aller au contenu | Aller au menu | Aller à la recherche

lundi 16 avril 2007

Aldo was there

Ola boys & girls,

Since some of you are still debating over whether Aldo was indeed in Bali (he's not very tanned, Shrek met him in Paris the day I typed the latest blog entry, etc.), I decided to settle the matter by treating my faithful and engrossed readers to a brilliantly crafted fake picture of us in fake traditional Balinese garb (complete with fake belt and fake hat) in front of a fake Balinese temple called Pura Besakih. As a bonus, your wish to see me wearing a skirt (I'm wearing a lungyi and Aldo is wearing a sarong, although to me it's one and the same thing) is granted.
Certains d'entre vous ayant quelques doutes quant a la venue d'Aldo a Bali (il est pas tres bronze, et Shrek l'a croise a Paris le jour ou j'ai tape la derniere entree du blog, etc.), j'ai decide de regler le probleme une bonne fois pour tout en gratifiant mon toujours fidele lectorat d'une super fausse photo de nous deux portant de faux vetements traditionnels balinais devant un faux temple appele Pura Besakih. En bonus, ceux qui souhaitaient me voir porter une jupe (la j'ai un lungyi et Aldo un sarong, mais bon pour moi c'est la meme chose) voient leurs voeux exhauce.

Aldo & I

samedi 14 avril 2007

Six Months and Bali

Ola Boys and Girls,
Greetings From Bali

I am now in Kuala Lumpur, and back from two weeks in Bali, where my mate Aldo joined me. Since the internet was both extremely slow and outrageously expensive on this not so small island, I decided to delay my blogging, and I'm afraid you'll have to deal with a monster post here.
The flight to Bali was interesting, because I got the chance to try out one of the most famous of South East Asia's low cost airlines, namely Air Asia - you can think of it as the local equivalent to Ryan Air/Go/Buzz. Basically, it is as low cost as it can get : you don't even get a proper cardboard boarding pass but a flimsy receipt, there is no seating rule - it's on a first in, first seated basis- , there is nothing to eat and nothing to drink, but all in all, It Works (tm) (r) (c). I also got an unexpected treat : beautiful sky and clouds with the bright red color of the plane - Air Asia's color-, it was gorgeous and I almost felt like I was orbitting around the planet.
Je suis a present a KL, et je viens de rentrer de Bali ou j'ai passe deux semaines avec mon pote Aldo. Comme le net ramait a mort et coutait une fortune, j'ai decide d'attendre un peu pour blogger, et du coup, vous allez devoir subir un post monstrueux. Amis lecteurs, soyez patients...
Le vol en lui meme depuis KL etait tout a fait paisible, mais s'est tout de meme avere interessant puisque j'ai eu l'occasion d'essayer un des low cost asiatiques les plus connus, a savoir Air Asia - c'est un peu comme Ryan Air en Europe. C'est assez marrant, parce qu'ils poussent le low cost jusqu'au bout : pas de boarding pass en carton mais un truc ressemblant a un ticket de caisse, pas de numero de siege, rien a manger ou a boire, mais ca marche. En bonus, l'avion etant rouge vif et le ciel superbe, ca fait de jolis photos.
From the plane
Air Asia

Once at the airport, you discover the single most annoying aspect of Bali : very very persistent touts, who cannot be trusted. Actually, I do believe that the following rule of thumb should be applied whenever spending time in the touristy parts of Bali : Trust No One, and even if you do, be extra wary. Anyway, after a few tens of minutes of bargaining and of fighting away a tout who was adamant on there being no place cheaper than twelve dollars a night (!), I finally got a taxi, and ended up in Kuta, which happens to be both the main resort town of the island and also The Tourist Den From Hell/Vice City.
Une fois arrive a l'aeroport, on decouvre l'aspect le plus agacant de Bali : les innombrables hordes de vendeurs de rue en qui on ne peut avoir confiance. Mon experience a Bali se resume a : Ne Faites Confiance A Personne. C'est penible, c'est dommage, et on ne veut le plus souvent pas traiter les gens de cette maniere, mais c'est comme ca. A l'aeroport, un bonhomme essayait de m'expliquer que je ne trouverais rien de moins cher que 12 dollars (j'ai trouve une chambre double a cinq!), et j'ai mis un certain temps a obtenir un taxi a tarif correct qui m'a emmene dans l'antre du vice, Kuta.
Once there, I met a group of seven frenchmen who had been travelling (and had actually met) in Australia for the past six months on the Working Holiday Scheme, and spent three days reading and talking, while Aldo was flying across the globe. In typical french fashion, some of them still did not speak english after six months in Australia, since they had been staying between french. When will people back home - I blame our education system and our belief in our linguistic superiority - at last understand that french will never be the international language, and that english has won?
Une fois sur place, j'ai passe quelques jours a lire, me detendre, et discuter avec une bande de francais super sympas qui venaient passer six mois a bosser/voyager en Australie.
Aldo finally arrived (picture down there, with sunglasses), and we started exploring the neighborhood. Basically, Kuta is famous for two reasons : it is the local Vice City (you can buy women everywhere, and most people are here to get drunk and party), and it has a big beach - which is also incredibly dirty- where people go surfing. And I love the color of the sky :-)
Aldo a fini par arrive (c'est lui avec les lunettes de soleil), et on a commence a se promener. Kuta est connu pour deux raisons: c'est l'endroit dedie a la fete dans l'ile (femmes, alcool, drogue, etc.) et il y a une grande plage tres sale sur laquelle les gens vont surfer. Note : la couleur du ciel est superbe.
Kuta Beach (2)
Kuta Beach (1)
The thing is, after one or two days in Kuta, you want to leave. I don't even understand why people come to Bali if it is to spend two weeks in Kuta : you can find the very same thing everywhere in the world.
Le truc, c'est qu'apres deux jours a Kuta, on en a un peu marre : il n'y a pas grand chose a faire (a part faire la fete), et je me demande bien pourquoi les gens viennent passer deux semaines ici sachant qu'on trouve la meme chose a la maison.

We therefore decided to leave for Ubud, about 50 km north, which is supposed to be the heart of Balinese culture. Ubud itself is an overgrown village famous for its billions of painters, who all have small workshops which you can visit, but which also all produce exactly the same thing, mostly western art mixed with a slightly balinese influence. It took me a while to understand why, but it apparently stems from the fact that Bali has been a tourist island for centuries, that many western painters settled around Ubud in the 30s, and actually founded the local art industry. The net result is that Ubud does not feel Balinese at all and explains why tourists love it! One strange thing happened though : I stumbled upon Aaron, who's an american journalist I had met a month and a half ago in Bangkok...
On a donc fini par partir pour Ubud, a 50 bornes au Nord, qui est cense etre le centre culturel de Bali. En pratique, Ubud est un gros village - qui a grandi trop vite- connu pour ses myriades de peintres aux ateliers qu'on peut visiter et qui produisent tous exactement la meme chose (un melange d'art occidental avec une pointe de balinais). Je ne comprenais pas trop pourquoi ils faisaient ca, mais en fait c'est apparemment du au fait que Bali est une ile touristique depuis plusieurs centaines d'annees, et que des peintres europeens se sont installes a Ubud dans les annees 30 et ont fonde l'art balinais d'Ubud. Le resultat est que tout ca n'a pas l'air super depaysant et que les touristes adorent ca. Un truc qui n'a rien a voir : je suis retombe sur Aaron, journaliste americain que j'avais rencontre a BKK il y a un mois et demi.
We had a bit of time, so we went to Purah Besakih, which happens to be the main temple of the Island. Bali has indeed a peculiarity : it is a pocket of hinduism in the middle of the most populous muslim country on the planet. There are hindu temples everywhere, you will find offerings on the ground in front of every single house, guesthouse or 5-star hotel. We were lucky, since the we were there at the time of the biggest festival of the year.
We had once again problems with the locals : we showed our tickets, and the man at the entrance said that we needed a guide - in spite of the massive poster behind him that proclaimed that guides were available if we wanted -. I asked why we needed one since the poster did not say it was mandatory, to which he shouted back that I did not understand and had to take a guide. We said no, he let us go (he really was trying to intimidate us) and hired a guide later on. The said guide happened to be really really good, and very talkative. In particular, he mentioned the bombings of Kuta - a city which he didn't seem to like - in 2002, which to him had occurred "because the people there have lost their religion". He then added that tourism had dropped by about 80% after the bombings and that it didn't bode well for the island.
Comme on avait du temps, on a utilise Ubud comme base de depart, et on est parti a Purah Besakih, qui est le temple principal de l'ile. Ce qu'il faut bien comprendre, c'est que si l'Indonesie est le plus grand pays musulman du monde, Bali est elle principalement hindoue. Il y a des temples partout, des offrandes devant toutes les maisons, hotels 5 et etoiles et autres arrets de bus. Comme on avait de la chance, on est arrive au moment du plus grand festival hindou de l'annee.
Comme rien n'est jamais parfait, on a aussi eu des problemes avec les locaux : on arrive a l'entree, on montre notre ticket, et le bonhomme qui verifie nous explique qu'il nous faut un guide. Je lui demande pourquoi il y a un enorme panneau derriere lui qui dit "il y a des guides si vous voulez". La dessus il commence a s'exciter, se leve, et nous crie dessus qu'on ne comprend pas et qu'il nous faut un guide. Au final, on a dit non, et il nous a laisse passer : je deteste quand les gens me forcent a acheter quelque chose.
Ca ne nous a pas empeche de prendre un guide tres sympathique plus tard, qui etait assez bavard, et a parle des bombes a Kuta - ville qu'il n'aime manifestement pas - en 2002 et qui d'apres lui venaient du fait que les gens la bas "avaient perdu leur religion". Apparemment, 80% des touristes sont partis apres les bombes, et l'ile a vraiment du mal a redemarrer. C'est bien simple, tout etait vide.
Pura Besakih
Pura Besakih
Going to the ceremony
Other than that, the entire island of Bali is covered in lush green vegetation, be it jungle, rice paddies, or any kind of green stuff. Suffice it to say, it is beautiful.
A part ca, l'ile etant volcanique, elle est couverte de tout ce qui est possible et imaginable ayant une couleur verte.
Rice Paddies

After two days,we decided to move to Gunung Batur, which is a climbable and active volcano in the middle of the island. We arrived with a regular shuttle bus, and a local at the bus station asked us if we needed to go somewhere. We answered that yes, we needed to go hotel x in town y. He said he would take us there. Fifteen minutes later, we walked into a hotel. Since I didn't see any sign at the entrance, I could not check whether is was the right hotel or not. Two hours later, we realized that there were two entrances to the hotel, one with a sign and one without, and that the bastard had taken us to the second entrance. We were not in the right hotel, nor in the right town. In the end it was not that big a problem. What is annoying is that you cannot rely on the locals to take you somewhere, to answer a question, or anything that may even very indirectly bring money to them. Because you get constantly harassed, and lied to, you become aggressive with the locals and start swearing you will never come back.
Apres deux jours la bas, on a fini par partir a Gunug Batur, volcan actif et grimpable situe au milieu de l'ile. On est arrive avec un bus, et un balinais nous demande ou on avait besoin d'aller. On lui dit qu'on va a l'hotel x dans la ville y, et il accepte pour un certain prix. Quelques heures plus tard, nous realisons qu'il y avait deux entrees a l'hotel auquel il nous avait emmene - un avec panneau l'autre sans-, et qu'on n'est ni au bon hotel, ni dans la bonne ville. Au final, ca n'est pas la fin du monde, mais c'est juste profondement agacant, d'autant plus qu'on devient lentement mais surement agressif avec la population.
The next day, we nonetheless climbed up the volcano - we unfortunately could not see the crater since the weather was bad -, but the surrounding area is some kind of green explosion thanks to the very fertile volcanic soil. I also met one of my former colleagues at AXA who was there with his wife on their honeymoon : talk about bizarre coincidences.
Le lendemain, ca ne nous a pas empeche de grimper en haut du volcan et de rater le lever de soleil (trop de nuages), mais le coin etait quand meme superbe. Dans la famille coincidences bizarres, j'ai aussi croise un de mes anciens collegues de boulot chez AXA!
Gunung Batur (4)
Gunung Batur (3)
Gunung Batur (2)
Gunung Batur (1)
Leaving the area for Lovina happened to be more difficult that expected, since we were in the middle of nowhere. The owner of the hotel wanted to extract an insane amount of money from us, so we started walking on the road until we met two smiling elderly Balinese who offered to take us up the hill where we could catch a local bus. Once up there, a 'friendly' local decided to help us and kindly informed us that he would stop a passing bus for us and that the price of a ticket was twice what was expected : this is Bali, and even taking local transport is painful, for the local rules don't apply to you. Ten minutes later, a minibus driver - soon to be joined by two of his friends - came to tell us that today there was no bus, and that we therefore had to charter the entire minibus. After twenty minutes of patient negotiations (including Aldo : 'we have time, we will wait for the bus', the guy :'ok then. one day, two days maybe.'), I spotted a cop who had been staring at our lively discussion for the past 20 minutes. I went to him, while Aldo kept the four predators at bay. Five minutes later, a bus came by, the cop blew his whistle, stopped the bus (good), and before we could do anything, the 'friendly' local had informed the bus driver that we had to pay twice the price (bad). We left the place really pissed off.
Repartir au Nord pour Lovina s'est revele plus difficile que prevu, vu qu'on etait au milieu de nulle part. Le patron de l'hotel voulant nous faire payer une somme astronomique (soit disant parce que les routes sont mauvaises alors que les routes de Bali sont excellentes). On commence donc a marcher sur la route avec nos sacs a dos, puis on tombe sur 2 vieux balinais souriants qui nous proposent de nous monter en haut de la colline et d'attendre le bus avec nous. Manque de chance, un autre local decide qu'il va se faire de l'argent sur notre dos, et nous explique qu'il va arreter le bus pour nous. Il nous donne le prix du bus, qui est en fait le double du prix normal. Un peu plus tard, deux de ses amis arrivent, et nous explique qu'il n'y a pas de bus aujourd'hui, et qu'il va falloir louer un minibus entier a deux. Aldo leur dit "nous avons du temps", ils repondent "un jour ou deux alors". Ces nains devenant insistant, je vais voir un policier qui avait une bonne tete et qui arrete un bus qui passe. Manque de chance, le local insistant du debut a deja explique au conducteur qu'on doit payer le double, et de guerre lasse on accepte. Au final, on est parti vraiment pas content : a Bali, les services locaux sont plutot delicats a obtenir pour un touriste.

Once we reached Lovina (north of the island), things changed completely. Basically, the area is very relaxed, there are almost no touts and no tourists, and the local people are amazingly friendly. Once there, after two days of relaxing - we hired a local to take us to to Danau Bratan, which is a big volcanic lake. There is another major temple in the middle, and the scenery is absolutely stunning.
Une fois a Lovina (au Nord), tout a change : c'est tranquille, les gens sont super sympas, et apres deux jours passes a ne rien, on n'a loue une voiture avec un chauffeur qui nous a promene a droite et a gauche. En particulier, on est alle au Lac Bratan, qui est un lac volcanique avec un temple au milieu. C'est superbe.
Water Temple (2)
Water Temple (3)
Water Temple (1)

We spent our last two days in Padang Bai, which is the port city from where ferries to Lombok (Bali's sister Island) depart. We also went snorkelling (and swimming with schools of angel fish and other funky marine life) on one of the small fishing boats on the pictures. Again, spectacularly friendly people : we were having a cup of the most excellent balinese coffee on the beach, and the lady in charge asked us how long we were planning to stay. We said that we were leaving the next day. About half an hour later, as night was falling, she came back to us and gave us two boxes of biscuits for our long trip back home. Like most locals we'd talked to, she seemed extremely concerned as to whether we would come back the next year, or at least tell our friends to come. Bali depends on tourism, and is presently suffering a lot.
On a passe nos deux derniers jours a Padang Bai, ville portuaire d'ou partent les ferries pour Lombok. On en a profite pour faire du snorkelling (tres sympa, je continue la liste des poissons du Monde de Nemo) sur un bateau de peche (cf photos ci-dessous). Les locaux etaient adorables : pendant qu'on regardait la plage tout en buvant une tasse de l'excellent cafe balinais, la dame responsable est venu nous demander combien de temps on restait. Lorsqu'on lui a dit qu'on partait le lendemain, elle est revenu pour nous donner des biscuits pour la fin du voyage.
De maniere generale, comme la plupart des balinais avec qui nous avons discute, elle etait tres preoccupe par le fait que les touristes ne venaient plus, et esperait donc qu'on revienne l'an prochain.
Fishing Boats (2)
Fishing Boats (1)

All in all, I consider Bali to be an excellent destination for a family or a bunch of friends, as long as you don't stay in the south and don't go crazy with the touts and the dishonesty of some of the locals . However, anybody who's looking for something really new and different from home, or actually any kind of cultural shock will not find it. When we were there, 80% of all people were american families and new age travellers - which has a huge surprise since americans don't seem to travel-, who could find a bit of novelty, gorgeous weather, and tons of things to do with their kids (which incidently balinese people love), a few korean honeymooners, and very few backpackers. Basically, the island is filled to the brim with tourists who do not care about the island's culture, or will only accept a slight deviation from what they know : this is mainly (but not only) what Bali has to offer. Is Bali overrated? Yes, especially on the beach front, which is absolutely ridiculous compared to Malaysia, and on the cultural side, which seems slightly dumbed down for foreigners (Ubud comes to mind). Will I come back to Bali? Yes, with my family. Au final, Bali me parait etre une excellente destination pour une famille ou une bande de potes, tant qu'on reste loin du sud et qu'on arrive a supporter les vendeurs et la malhonnetete de certains locaux. Cependant, il faut bien noter qu'a Bali on ne trouve ni choc culturel ni grosse difference avec ce qu'on a a la maison. Quand on etait la, 80% des touristes etaient des familles americaines ou des hippies americains - ce qui etait etonnant, vu que les americains ne voyagent pas du tout - , qui trouvent a Bali du soleil, un temps magnifique, et des gens pour s'occuper de leur gamin (les balinais adorent les gamins). Les autres etaient des koreans en lune de miel, et quelques backpackers. En substance, l'ile est remplie de gens qui ne sont pas tres preoccupes par la culture de l'ile et ne veulent accepter qu'une legere difference avec ce qu'ils connaissent deja : voila ce que Bali a a leur offrir.
Est-ce que Bali est surestimee? Oui, que ce soit a propos de la plage ou de l'aspect culturel, qui est edulcore pour les etrangers. Est-ce que je reviendrai a Bali? Oui, en famille.

In other news, it's been six months since I've left France and I'm flying on the seventeenth to Chennai, India, where I will meet my brother. I will miss South Asia, will come back there for sure one of these days, but it is time for me to move on. My favourites so far ? China, Burma, Lao, Malaysia (in no particular order).
A part ca,ca fait six mois que je suis parti, et je repars le 17 pour Chennai en Inde, ou je retrouverai mon frere (teasing: j'ai recu des histoires rigolotes ces derniers temps). L'Asie du Sud Est et son cote profondement bordelique melange au bouddhisme va me manquer, et je reviendrai certainement ici. Mes preferes? la Chine, la Birmanie, le Laos, et la Malaisie (sans ordre particulier).