I’ve grown up holidaying in Bali – my first trip was way back in 2001 as a nine-year-old.
I remember during my early primary school years that friends would ‘go away’ (usually to Bali) and come back to school with sun-kissed skin and their hair in small little braids bedazzled with coloured beads. They’d hand out what are now all-too-familiar market wares, such as pencils with brightly painted, carved animals on the ends or little flipflop keyrings with “Bali” written on them. They’d share stories about their days in the pool or at the waterpark and talk about all the new friends they’d met there and describe the special souvenirs they’d brought home. That’s probably when I decided I quite liked the sound of ‘going away’.
After pleading with my mum for some time to take me (somewhere, ANYWHERE) overseas, my mum booked us a trip to Bali — and I was beyond excited.
Back when I was nine and experiencing Bali for the first time, it was not like the Bali we know today. It was much less developed, less clean and less commercialised. I remember playing ‘jump-the-crack-in-the-footpath game’ while walking along the unkempt sidewalks and streets, dodging many uncovered potholes on the road or open drains and was forbidden to touch any of the dogs and cats. (And at 25, my mum still tells me not to do this — but I do. I can’t resist.)
I was introduced to a whole new world and a different way of life. I learned about religion and local culture while visiting temples and observing the daily practices and interactions of the local people. I couldn’t believe that not all water that comes out of a tap is drinkable, or clean enough to brush my teeth in. I’d couldn’t believe that kids as young as three or four were put to work selling little trinkets along the streets, while they should have been in school. Most importantly, I learned at a young age what the world looks like for those in less fortunate circumstances.
Nevertheless, I found the Balinese to be some of the nicest, most welcoming people I’d met in my short nine years. I was completely doted over by the friendly Balinese — they LOVE children, especially babies. I remember adoring these two workers at the Bali Rock restaurant and bar in Kuta – a man with long dread-locked hair tied back in a pony-tail and beautiful woman who also wore her long hair tied up. Back then, they would have been in their early twenties. I have a vivid memory of the two on the dance floor holding hands and spinning round and round. They just seemed to love life. (I also remember them trying to pull me onto the dance floor, but I was much too shy to dance in front of people.) But I enjoyed watching them being silly and having fun, and I’m sure I found it hilarious when the dizziness set in.
I left Bali with so much excitement and love for the experience and the people (and of course, I couldn’t wait to turn up to school with my braided hair decorated with pink, purple and blue beads).
We’d planned to return a year later, our flights were booked and I was beyond excited for another trip to Bali. But then, the world was hit with the tragic news of the Bali Bombings. I remember thinking about the people I’d met on my last trip, and I wondered if they were okay. I remember feeling really upset that I wouldn’t be returning to a place that had seemed so peaceful and friendly just one year before.
In the years following, I naively questioned my mum about why we couldn’t go back to Bali. For a long time, my mum was set on the fact that Bali would never be the same. That it wouldn’t feel the same and that the peacefulness would be replaced by anxiety.
After much pleading and discussion, my mum and I finally made it back to Bali in 2008. And, it was different. In the seven or so years that had passed, Bali had changed, evolved, and adapted, but at its core, it remained the same with smiling faces on friendly locals still welcoming you to “paradise”.
Since then, I’ve been back to Bali almost every year – sometimes even twice a year. (Mum has been back just as many times, maybe even more.) Along the way, we’ve met some lovely, kind Balinese people and have kept in touch with many of them for almost 10 years. Bali has become home.
My 11th trip to Bali was in 2016 with one of my college friends from the U.S.A., who was visiting me at home in Perth, Australia. During college, Bali was often the topic of travel conversation. My friend would tell me how much she would love to travel to Bali — especially because she’d loved Eat, Pray, Love. To her, and many of my other college friends, Bali was this exotic paradise and a once-in-a-lifetime trip. For me, it’s only three-hour plane ride away from Perth, and closer to me than flying to Sydney or Melbourne! So when we discussed her coming to Perth, we planned a girl’s week-long trip to Bali.
We had an amazing time – wandering the grounds of Uluwatu Temple, relaxing by the hotel pool, wining and dining at El Kabron, meditating amongst the Ubud rainforest and terraced rice paddies, eating the most delicious meals, parasailing over the ocean, and meeting a few new friends along the way.
One of the people we met during our travels had a pretty eye-opening story to tell about getting mugged in Bali. They had caught a taxi alone, and the taxi was taking them back to their villa. The taxi was pulled over by thugs. The craziest part was that the thugs demanded the driver to hand over any money, including the money in his canang sari (daily offering) on his dashboard. Meanwhile, the passenger in the back was left untouched, although distressed by what he’d just witnessed. The taxi driver apologised to the passenger and was apparently quite visibly shaken by the incident.
On our last night in Bali, we decided to go into Kuta for one last hurrah! We’d had a few drinks and spent most of the night on the dance floor. We were having fun but decided that we wouldn’t stay out too late as we had a flight the next morning.
If you’ve been into Kuta at nighttime, you’ll know that cab drivers are notorious for putting up their prices. However, you can usually haggle them down to a more reasonable fare. I pulled out my iPhone to check their asking price against the Australian dollar and to barter (take note: this was my first mistake). This particular night, the taxi drivers were not in a bargaining mood.
Still in the main area, just near the Bali Memorial, I walked a little further down the street to get away from all the other tired partygoers ready for bed to see if I could snag a taxi. My friend followed. I was distracted (looking out for a taxi and talking to my friend) when I was startled by a glowing light out the corner of my eye. I was about to bump into a man who was carrying a cigarette, and the cigarette was heading toward my face. I immediately panicked and pulled my hands away from my bag to block the cigarette. Before I realised what was really going on, I was swarmed by two other men.
While I remained oblivious, I even apologised to the guy for bumping into him because I thought it was my fault for not paying attention. (Which is true, I clearly hadn’t been paying attention). As I gathered myself, I looked down at my bag to see the zip undone and quickly realised what had just happened. I had been mugged in Bali.
This had all happened within SECONDS. Little did I know, that my friend – who was only a few steps behind – had been surrounded by men too, which they had done to stop her from helping me.
After they took what they could from my bag (my iPhone, which they must have seen me pull out, and some Rupiah), most of the men scattered. Leaving one very angry Australian (me), who’d just realised she’d been mugged in Bali.
At first, I was mad at the men who had robbed me and had put my friend and I in that situation. Then, I was mad at myself because I should have been more alert, more cautious, and more aware of our surroundings. I let myself become way too complacent in a place I have always felt extremely comfortable and extremely safe. Up to that point, I hadn’t had any reason to feel distrustful toward people or be too cautious so my guard was down. Unfortunately, my friend and I paid the price for my misjudgement.
After we’d realised what had happened, my American friend was mortified. She panicked and ran back towards the police, who were sitting just across from the Bali Memorial, to advise them what had happened. She was hoping to gain their assistance. (She later admitted to my mum and I that she had also been screaming “someone call 911” as she ran.)
My friend received the greatest shock of all when the police remained slouched back in their chairs and told her in English they “didn’t speak English”. While they may not speak English, the sheer panic she exhibited should’ve raised alarm bells. She was quite visibly distressed and needing some sort of assistance.
I have always been aware that the Balinese Police are notorious for being a little shonky at times. So while this bothered my friend to no end (it still bothers her now), I was not overly shocked by their lack of reaction. When we finally got in a taxi – now phoneless and a few thousand Rupiah down – the driver tried to rip us off on arrival at our hotel (after we’d just told him our story about being mugged). I was certainly not in the mood and my friend was horrified. We promptly got out of the taxi, I gave the driver the payment we’d agreed on before we got inside his vehicle, and walked into our hotel.
But, I received another shock at our hotel – a hotel I had stayed at the last eight times I’d come to Bali. We headed straight to the reception desk, both visibly upset and shaken, where I explained that we had just been mugged and asked to use their phone. The reception staff member seemed nonchalant and told me – while he continued to sort through papers in his hand – that I could use the phone but I would have to pay. It’s not that I expected a free phone call, but I think I expected more hospitality or compassion to be shown to guests who were quite obviously having a pretty crappy time.
My experience of being mugged in Bali could have been a lot worse, and, in that respect, my friend and I were lucky. We were not physically hurt (aside from being bumped into), and the only thing that was stolen was my mobile phone and a few thousand Rupiah. But, what really bothered me was the lack of compassion that was shown to us by the Balinese we encountered. I completely understand that in comparison to so many other occurrences and incidents that happen in Bali and around the world, being bumped into and having your iPhone stolen is hardly a big deal. But for me, I felt heartbroken that the place I’d always known for its beautiful, caring people had completely let me down that night.
I wondered, when it really mattered, where all those friendly and caring Balinese people that I’d become so fond of over the last 15 or so years were hiding. I just could not fathom how lonely our experience felt that night and how desperately we wanted someone to ask us if we were alright. Being mugged in Bali had stolen something so much more valuable to me – how I felt about Bali and how I felt about being in Bali.
Sadly, I returned home completely put off by many of the things that had once made me love the place so much so I considered it my second home. But after being mugged in Bali, I felt like I never wanted to return.
A year later, with a few more travels under my belt (and time to let my anger fade and let myself process the experience of being mugged in Bali), I decided I needed to return to rediscover all that I loved about the place. And, I certainly didn’t want this one bad event or people’s lack of reaction to my bad experience to deter me from returning to a place that I have always loved.
So earlier this year, for my 25th birthday, I returned to Bali. As I predicted, I found myself departing Bali with that very same appreciation and excitement I had when I was a nine-year-old visiting Bali for the first time, but with more caution and one less iPhone.