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Bali, chasing the myth

Jacek Palkiewicz on Bali

Jacek Palkiewicz • Official website of the explorer and traveler

Bali, chasing the myth


Journey's year: 2019

Author: Jacek Palkiewicz

After a long journey, I take rest in the romantic colonial atmosphere of Seminyak, Indonesia's Miami Beach. The villa has an oriental atmosphere and is perfectly taken from the pages of Conrad's or Kipling's books. Fan wings rotate under the high ceilings, the canopy beds are protected by mosquito nets, and the splendor of the spacious rooms is enhanced by tasteful furniture in the Art Deco style. Over at the pool and in the shade of palm leaves, with butler service and all amenities, I've already forgotten about the air holes that haunted me through the endless hours of flight, during which I tried to recite as many of my morning prayers as possible. I have never encountered such flight turbulences before, so I could not convince myself that everything was OK. The stewardesses who are usually assertive were as pale as wax figures, and sat very tightly fastened to their seats, unable to give the passengers even a minimal sign of encouragement.

I arrived here for the first time in 1973, shortly after their airport opened. After that, I often stopped there on my way to Western Papua, a 4-hour flight. I recently spent my holidays in Bali with Linda and my son Maksym, a passionate surfer. 45 years ago, only 54 thousand tourists visited the island, but last year there were 6 million.

The island's image appeared in the minds of foreigners after the Dutch took administrative control of the island in 1908. The colonizers wanted to keep the Bali tradition alive by creating a living ethnographic park, cultivating their customs, language, craftsmanship, and religion. Beginning in the 1930s, anthropologists, linguists, and various eccentric researchers began to appear on the island, confronted by a sanctified cultural heritage, a multitude of temples and half-naked dancers. They discovered a mysterious paradise island by getting to know the inhabitants, their rich spirituality, folklore, and colorful rituals. For the European Bohemia, it was an idyllic scene. Supplemented with ecstasy and sexuality, for them, it created the romantic idea of "The Last Paradise."

In the 1930s, two Americans, Bob and Louise Koke, began to promote surfboarding on the beach in Kuta. The outbreak of World War II stopped everything, but in the 1960s, the Australian flower children found an oasis of peace here on their way to Europe. In 1969, after the opening of Denpasar airport, wealthy tourists appeared in place of the hippies, for whom luxurious hotels were built. Visitors also including a host of surfers boarding in the newly emerging guesthouses, enjoying a soothing, relaxing atmosphere. The rest was provided by low-cost carriers, causing a mega explosion of tourism. The myth grew, and Bali's golden era began. This masterpiece of the gods, created at the Earth's belly button, is still selling an exotic dream that is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

I can now ask the question: is this still the "Paradise Island?" It is usually the case that the better you know a region, the more difficult it is to express a univocal view on it. Thus, this island is also full of extreme judgments. At the beginning there is admiration, but with time you begin to reflect on things here. The verdict is no longer so one-sided, a less poetic or romantic point of view appears, broadened by a critical perspective.

I am not surprised by the voices of frustrated people who visit the same place after many years and say that "everything has changed here." Captain Cook, who returned to Tahiti after two years, wrote that the island "has changed beyond recognition." Man subconsciously idealizes a picture, because in the nooks and crannies of the soul there is nostalgia for what irretrievably disappears from the horizon in the race against time. Yet, when he returns, he sees that it is not the same place anymore.

Different things can happen during one's first stay in this iconic place. The colorful world of our imagination can either evoke positive emotions or insufficiency, because our expectations were too high. That was the case with Paul Gauguin who went to the end of the world in search of pristine primitiveness. In letters to friends, he complained about the novelty that surprised him because it "cut the roots of a noble culture."

We must remember that our technological civilization has inevitably caused great changes around the world. Very few original indigenous tribes remain in total isolation from the world. It is difficult to find a place where a tourist has not yet left his negative trace. Whether we want to or not, we have to accept this.

The exclusive Seminyak is a concentration of villas and luxury holiday complexes. It also has a beach, being the kingdom of entertaining ladies. This vacation resort primarily focuses on rest and fun, is full of salons, locals, spas, stylish clothing outlets and elegant boutiques.

Crowded and loud Kuta is the tourist's Mecca dominated by sunburned, tattooed Australian surfers. In the evening, the city becomes the epicenter of a colorful nightlife and unbridled fun.

Some believe that Bali has lost its charm. Of course, there are dark sides to it all. The island's reputation is aggravated by environmental problems, wild garbage landfills and plastic packaging on the beach. The makeshift buildings, the forest of cables running over the street, excess billboards, or drunk Australians can all be quite unattractive. The city streets are so crowded that it is difficult to squeeze along narrow sidewalks surrounded by hotels, expensive brand stores, restaurants and fashionable clubs.

"The old legendary Bali living according to its rhythm no longer exists," honestly admits a Dutch lady Esther Larive, the owner of a boutique in Seminyak. "It was destroyed by mass tourism and the growing number of hotels, pizzerias and supermarkets at every corner. Many rice fields have disappeared due to the wild expansion of the real estate market, and cement covers every available space."

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First Polish nationality participant in the Camel Trophy history was Jacek Palkiewicz (officialy participants from Poland started almost 6 years later).

Jacek Palkiewicz participated in Cale Trophy twice: in 1984 and 1985.

Bali 1 Bali 2


Bali 3
Bali 4
Bali 5


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