After 10 weeks of training, and the required three months at site, we were finally allowed to start traveling on September 15. Of all the Peace Corps countries out there, Indonesia has to be in the top 10 as far as interesting/beautiful places to visit.
Back in July I found a villa for rent in Kuta Beach, Bali for us and seven other friends. Five more people came along and stayed in a hotel next door. It was a fantastic time, but FIRST let me address the “Kuta Issue.” Everyone we talked to about this trip, from more experienced volunteers to the Australian lady we sat next to on the flight there, gave us a scolding for our plans to go to Kuta. They said Kuta is crowded, and Western, and dirty, and inauthentic and full of Australian dudes wearing Bintang (the national beer) tank tops. We knew that. We know that. It was mostly true (but the beach was actually very clean). And in the future yes, we will go to other places, with quiet beaches, with more culture, with less muscles and tank tops. But this trip wasn’t about that.
For our first trip away from site, our priorities were fun times with friends, a nice rental house, Western food, being able to act like our authentic selves, and independence. Most people want culture on a vacation, but yeah…we’ve been getting pleeeenty of that in our regular lives.
Kuta, and the house we stayed in was so incredibly Western. I think this realization is only hitting me now that I’m back at site. It’s good to know that if I need to feel like my old self, or step back into my old world, I can do that without going all the way back home. Last weekend we slept in a bed with two sheets and a blanket in air conditioning. I used toilet paper (sometimes) and took beautiful hot showers. I ate Mexican food twice, cooked a big brunch (and ate it off of Crate and Barrel plates) and went to a vegetarian restaurant and ate the kind of food I used to make back home (split pea soup and a veggie burger on whole grain bread!). I went swimming in a bathing suit and wore sleeveless dresses and shirts. It was odd how quickly I could slip back into that–I’m having to retrain myself not to use my left hand outside of the bathroom!
I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about “that world” being so close and accessible now. It underscores how different the culture is in our day to day life in the village. We spent almost six months living in this rural Javanese/Muslim culture, only to step into a Westernized version of non-rural Balinese/Hindu culture in only a three hour drive and one hour flight away. It’s weird. And I think, for the most part it’s great that we have that available.
But mostly, now that I’ve done that and gotten it out of my system I want to dig deeper into Indonesia and see more! We’ve caught the travel bug and I can’t wait to explore different and more authentic parts of Bali, Java, and other islands. Will and I have already made plans to visit Gili Trawangan (one of the Gili Islands near Lombok, Indonesia) at the end of December and beginning of January, and we have a friend visiting Bali in early January and I’m sure we will do more touristy things with him. During the school break next summer, my parents will be visiting for almost three weeks, and we are already brainstorming all the amazing things we can see and do while they are here–both in our village and around the country. Indonesia is an amazing place with temples, ruins, beaches, volcanos, orangutans, Komodo dragons, rice fields, villages, big cities and amazing food.
The other nice thing about vacationing in Indonesia is that we can speak the language. The cab drivers in Bali were pretty amused and surprised that we could speak bahasa Indonesia, and we got a lot of practice in. This also means that when we visit areas less frequented by tourists we will be able to get around more easily than if we didn’t speak the language. It opens up possibilities for us. I remember traveling in Italy for our honeymoon, and even though they are used to non-Italian speaking tourists, every time we bought food or souvineers it was kind of exhausting and we weren’t sure how it would go. Here, we don’t have to worry about that. It’s nice.
So yeah, I’m still processing the culture shock of seeing a Gap, Hardrock Cafe, and a store with Apple computer products. And now I’m back in a village where people yell “Hello Mister!” at me on a daily basis. Peace Corps is weird.