We done did it, y’all. After moving over 6,000 miles from our last home on Maui, and nearly 10,000 miles from our starting point in Austin, Texas, we are now living in Bali, Indonesia!
After a month of hopping around the island, it’s still very obvious how much we don’t know about this place. The culture, the crowds, and general way of life can initially be a bit overwhelming in a totally new, somewhat hectic country, and that’s absolutely okay. One of the great things about moving somewhere is that you don’t have to be in a hurry to figure everything out. So after a full month in foreign paradise, here’s what we like, what we don’t, and everything in between. Enjoy.
Bali: What We Like
I’ll save you a lot of googling – it’s hot as shit. Bali is located 8 degrees south of the equator, which essentially means your body will be fairly predictably on fire most days of the year. The annual low temperature is 72 degrees, while the high is 91 degrees (or 22 to 33 degrees, for the rest of the world). And while your sweat glands may resent you on land, the ocean is a wonderfully cozy 81 to 84 degrees year-round. Makes you want to pee in it already, am I right?
Proximity to Other Countries
As opposed to Hawaii, a 3 to 6 hour flight from Bali will land you in exotic locales like Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and the Philippines. In addition, Indonesia itself is ginormous and worth exploring – personally, I can’t wait to see Lombok, the Nusa and Gili Islands, all only a relatively short boat ride or flight away. Field trip, anyone?
I’m extremely thankful not to have to worry about a vehicle here. Cabs are everywhere (and very cheap), and scooter rentals (of which the driving is left up to boyfriend Peter, as two wheeled-anythings and I do not understand each other) are only around $5/day, or $45 to $55/month. Plus, my two feet can quickly get me to most places I want to be on any given day, including the beach, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, shops, spas, and our complex pool.
Cost of Living
I may be biased having moved here directly from the most expensive state in the U.S., but Bali is cheap. Like, even though I’ve spent more money than I’ve wanted to so far, my bank account is still high fiving itself kind of cheap. Is it getting drastically more expensive than it used to be? Yes, but most popular places are. Do I think we’d still consider it cheap if we were making local salaries? Probably not. But when I can go out to eat 3 times a day for $12 – $20 (and much, much less if I wanted to), take a $20 split, multi-hour car ride with a personal driver to a different area of the island, and rent a fully-furnished, bills-included, fairly nice apartment 3 blocks from the beach for less than I spent on half a bedroom in Brooklyn, I consider that cheap. And I’ll take it.
Finding Long Term Accommodation
Finding a place to live is as easy as finding a beer to drink. Seriously. No credit check, no deposit, no shits given. If you’ve got cash, you’ve got a place to stay.
Admittedly, I still don’t know a tenth of what I want to know about Balinese culture. But from everything I’ve seen, it’s fascinating, unusual, beautiful and intriguing – all things I’m on board with.
Picture your own tropical paradise. Is it flowing waterfalls in remote jungle locations, white sand beaches wedged between enormous sea cliffs, lantern-lit nightlife with volcano views, or lush greenery with tropical flowers and drinks from a coconut? Bali’s got ’em all, and then some.
Lack of Rules
As long as you’re not a supertwat, a lack of rules can be a lovely thing. I will forever enjoy the freedom of drinking a beer whilst walking down the street.
Ease of Living
The unspoken rule seems to be that if there’s anything you don’t want to do, you can pay someone to do it for you. This goes for basic tasks like laundry (it cost me $6 for two weeks worth), driving, grocery shopping and cooking, down to smaller, more hilarious perks like pool float home delivery and neck massages while you eat breakfast.
Bali: What We Don’t
Before I begin with the negatives, I will note that we were aware of most of these items before moving here. As with many low income or developing countries (thanks to Jon Brown for opening my eyes between this and ‘third world’), what we, as residents of countries outside of these arguable distinctions, consider basic luxuries (such as waste disposal and restaurant health standards, for example) largely don’t exist here. The most we can do is be aware of the situation, do our best to avoid contributing to it, and help where we see opportunities for improvement. Most of these issues are engulfed in their fair share of deep-seated controversy, which I hope to learn more about as our time here continues.
It’s a serious, serious issue. Along with China, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, Indonesia was named one of the top 5 countries responsible for more than half of the world’s plastic ocean pollution, and it’s obvious the second you step off the plane. Plastic bags, and to a larger degree, trash in general, is everywhere. Residents burn their trash in nearby yards and fields, and the smell of burning rubber and plastic is inescapable. Which brings me to my next point…
During Indonesia’s annual dry season, peat forests of Sumatra and Borneo (quick fact: Indonesia has 17,508 islands, 922 of which are ‘permanently inhabited’) are burned for palm oil. This year, these fires are at their most damaging levels ever, and the effects are just plain horrendous – millions of respiratory infections, toxic air and haze related deaths, daily greenhouse gas levels that match that of the entire United States, death of endangered orangutans, school shut-downs and grounded flights. Not to mention the $30 billion it has cost the Indonesian government. In general, there seems to be a lack of action and a sort of “meh” attitude when it comes to huge environmental issues, which is truly a giant bummer. There’s a lot of corruption and desperation involved, and even the seemingly simple solutions can get lost in the battle of politics, priorities and money.
Opportunity for Illness
In the past, I’ve erred on the side of germs being a good thing, at least as far as excessive hand-sanitizing and obsessive cleanliness goes. However, that was all before I got to Bali and got sick as balls on day 8, along with Peter, who got equally sick again two weeks later. Salmonella poisoning, amoeba infection, food poisoning, Bali belly, whatever the doctors want to call it, it totally kicked our ass, and it’s almost assuredly from consuming contaminated water or food, despite drinking only bottled water and attempting to eat at clean places. For Peter to get it twice in our first month is saying something, and we now actively practice impeccable hand hygiene and take daily probiotics. In addition, Bali is home to other sexiness like Dengue Fever, Typhoid, Chikungunya, Rabies and Hepatitis A. The good news – you’re unlikely to get Malaria. Hooray?
While it’s certainly not the most complicated thing I’ve ever had to figure out, it’s also not the easiest, and seemingly largely at the discretion of your particular immigration officer instead of the law. It is what it is.
Much like Costa Rica, it’s hard to find a legal way to make money in Bali as an American. Rightfully so, Bali reserves jobs for its citizens, and even if you possess a skill that a Balinese resident supposedly can’t do, it’s expensive for a company to sponsor you for a work permit and the appropriate visa. Your best bet is to find a way to make money online, especially with the perk of the low cost of living and the good exchange rate for American dollars (much less so for Australian dollars, by the way, but still better than earning a local wage).
Getting caught with drugs in this country, including marijuana, won’t just get you a few nights in jail or a hefty fine… it may just get you put on death row, per the new Indonesian drug laws of 1997. Umm, say whaaa?! While I certainly didn’t move to Bali to start a new crack habit, I must say I find these laws a bit intense and terrifying.
Every city, country and island has its own negatives and positives, and living somewhere new, especially at first, is all about experiencing those aspects first-hand in order to assess your own happiness. As long as the negatives don’t make you start bawling in public places and pooping in dark alleyways, chances are you’re going to be just fine. Stick with it, or pack your shit and move on.