Monday, April 16, 2007

The Joy of a Hotel Pool

On my first day in Bali, I decided to escape the hellish streets of Kuta by taking a stroll though one of the bigger resorts on the main street. As a foreigner it was easy to walk by the security checkpoint and into the five-star facility. I walked through the grand lobby, all carved wood and fresh flowers, passed a few people eating snacks in a small café, down some stairs and into the gardens. I walked further, finding the surrounding both peaceful and manufactured.

After a minute I found myself in the pool area. Ranks of deck chairs held sleeping, sunbathing and reading tourists. People splashed around in each of the many pools, including a shallow one just for young kids. There was even a bar in the middle of the pool, with drinkers arranged on stools submerged in the chlorinated water.

Why on earth would anyone spend his or her time here when there’s a whole country outside waiting to be discovered, I asked myself. I would never take a vacation just to sit by the pool drinking pina coladas.

I walked clear on through to the beach, where it was high tide and I was forced to return the way I came. Once back on the public streets I was again harassed by calls of “transport,” “massage,” etc. It seemed I could not walk more than a few seconds without another touts yelling in my direction.

I left Kuta for Ubud a few days later, where I found the same treatment. It wasn’t as bad as in Kuta, but bad enough to make walking around unpleasant.

After a few days I left Ubud for a small beach town on the north coast called Lovina. Lovina is a sad little place. I’m told in July and August it is packed with Australians on holiday. Today it’s a dirty beach, rows of empty hotels and restaurants and hundreds of desperate Balinese trying to make a buck off he meager tourist trade. When I arrived in town, a pack of touts on motor scooters followed the bus in order to intercept passengers when they disembarked.

I checked into a rather nice hotel by the beach, air conditioning, swimming pool, hot water, the works. It is centrally located and just steps away from the rather dirty beach. What I didn’t know when I checked in is that touts hang out on the street outside the entrance and badger anyone who walks by. In addition to the repeated cry of ”transport, transport,” I’ve been offered massages, shell and beaded jewelry, Balinese calendars, fresh fruit, dolphin and snorkeling cruises, haircuts, hot springs and waterfalls, sarongs and t-shirts, wooden statuettes, polished sea shells, motor bikes, push bikes, prostitutes and drugs.

That hotel pool was starting to look pretty inviting. Who would ever spend their time sitting by the pool when there’s a country to explore? Me, that’s who.

I spent yesterday relaxing in the water, swimming a few laps, lounging poolside with a novel and book of Sudoku puzzles (addictive!!!) and eating a bag of mangosteens that a wonderful young woman from the hotel picked up for me at the local market.

And last night, I had some fun. I met a Dutch couple, Rene and Margriet, who are here for two weeks and we had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant in town. We ended up chatting for hours about travel in Asia, the role of tourists in local economies, the usefulness of a sarong, and, of course, the pleasures of a hotel pool. I ordered to my heart's delight and the total coast was less than one beer at home. Also, Indonesians will often tell me that food will be too spicy, but I've yet to taste anything that has made me sweat.

Tonight I board a bus for East Java and a change of scenery. Stay tuned.



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