I went to Kuta to see a Balinese Healer. Anybody who knows Kuta will know that the aforementioned sentence is a comedy of errors waiting to happen.
And so, it was.
What’s the Deal With Kuta?
“Mushrooms and Viagra?” my friend said when I announced I was going to Kuta.
“What?!” I replied.
“Mushrooms and Viagra! Those are the only things you go to Kuta for. They’re sold on every street corner.”
My friend was joking of course, but at the same time, she wasn’t.
I ignored the funny looks my friends in Ubud gave me when I told them I was going to see a Balinese Healer in Kuta. And although I had a sense that I was heading into a more touristy, raunchy area of Bali than my lovely little “home” in Ubud (which is pretty damn touristy as well, let’s get it right), I was still not prepared for what the day held in store.
WikiTravel sums up Kuta as diplomatically as possible:
Kuta is the best known tourist area on the island of Bali in Indonesia, and offers a great surfing beach, despite being chronically overdeveloped. Visitors who feel overwhelmed by aggressive hawkers, chain restaurants and traffic jams should base themselves further along the coast towards nearby Seminyak, though the area is still worth a night out in the low-end nightclubs and dive bars.
Chronically overdeveloped, aggressive hawkers, traffic jams, low-end nightclubs, and dive bars. All worked into two simple sentences. Sounds like paradise on earth. The only redeeming quality revealed in this description is the casual mention of a great surfing beach, which was true, and still a laughable affair on sight.
The best place to start this story is at the beginning. Buckle your seatbelt; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Getting to Kuta
Remember when I told you that Bali sucks without a scooter? I meant it. Because a trip to Kuta, which is about an hour away, becomes a complicated affair without wheels. My options were to hire a (car) driver ($22USD each way), hire a bike taxi (not for me), or take a shuttle ($5 each way).
The shuttle seemed like the most sensible approach.
Unfortunately, the shuttle I chose happened to pick me up first (of many pickups), and drop me off last. Throw in there some traffic jams and an inexplicable transfer between vans, and the trip took three hours. I was expecting two, so the additional hour of crawling through traffic was frustrating.
Changing Money in Kuta (How NOT to Get Ripped Off)
Changing money in Kuta: another sentence befitting of a comedy of errors. And so, it was.
Why would you be changing money, Nora? You might ask. Can’t you just use the ATM? Under any other circumstances, I’d satisfy my cash requirements with an ATM. However, before arriving in Bali, I’d been warned many times about the ATM machines being rigged with skimmers (watch this terrifying video if you don’t know what a skimmer is), and all reports advised to bring cash and exchange it.
Then, I read many articles about how to change money without getting ripped off (there’s a lot to know). So, I thought I was sufficiently armed for the experience.
Apparently I wasn’t.
It was a simple exchange: one 10,000 Japanese Yen note, which should convert to about 1.2 million Indonesian Rupiahs (IDR). (It’s about $100USD). I’d done it in Ubud a few times already, with no drama. Which is probably why I was so unprepared for the money-changing process in Kuta.
The first guy had a professional looking shop, and had just completed Canang Sari, the beautiful traditional Balinese Hindu daily offering. I thought: He must be an upstanding money changer, with the Balinese Hindu ethics of karma and such, right?
Seeing my crisp note, he proceeded to enter a bunch of numbers into his calculator over and over again. He came up with 1 million IDR. Still flustered from my three hour drive, and without my “game face” on as yet, I said “okay”. He counted out a pile of bills, and seemed in a hurry to finish the transaction.
I got my money, walked down the street, and realized what had just happened. He’d ripped me off for 200,000 IDR! A $20 hit was more than I was prepared to take, so I returned to his shop with a winning smile and a request for the other 200,000.
“Tax and commission,” he said.
“200,000 in tax and commission? No!” I said, still smiling. (Expressing anger and frustration gets you nowhere in Bali; everything must be done with a smile).
“Give me my money back,” he said curtly. I was surprised; I would have been happy for him to admit his folly and even to split the difference with me. But no – “give me my money back” was what I got.
And so, my first exchange attempt was a dud.
The second guy was brilliant. If he weren’t trying to rip me off for so much money, I’d have let him get away with it based on his talents alone.
Another flurry of calculator action revealed the right exchange amount: 1.2 million. Brilliant. He carefully counted out one million in 50,000-denomination notes. Then he passed it to me to count. Yep, all there. He counted out the remaining 200,000. Then he took all the money and recounted again. I knew this was one of the scams (sleight of hand), so I watched him like a hawk. The count was fine. But when he handed me the final pile of bills, it was noticeably lighter. As in, he’d somehow managed to pocket half the bills, right under my watchful eye! I counted out 800,000 in front of him and asked for the rest (with a smile, of course).
That was when he informed me that my bill was ripped and that he couldn’t take it. I don’t know if he ripped it while I was doing the final count (because he knew he’d been caught), or if the first guy ripped it in giving it back to me, but either way, I was 0-for-2 in the money exchange game, and now I had a damaged bill to try and exchange. It was a tiny rip that likely didn’t affect the actual value of the bill, but certainly affected my leverage in a money-changing situation.
I furtively looked for the next place to change money that looked remotely legitimate.
It’s worth noting that Legian street in Kuta (the main drag) is an over-crowded, noisy, tourist hell. Between every souvenir shop (with desperate owners who begged me and some who literally grabbed my arm to drag me into their shops) is a guy robotically saying “Hello, taxi? Transport? Hello, taxi? Transport?” Next to him is a dilapidated nightclub and/or an overpriced restaurant (the kind that obviously makes terrible food….you know the kind). And next to that is a money changer. This quartet of horrors is repeated every 30 feet of Legian street.
So it’s not like I had to look far for my next money changer. What I was looking for was the most reputable-looking establishment I could find, but hopefully not so reputable that they wouldn’t accept my ripped bill. With damaged goods, I had to play their game.
One more flurry of calculator action. 1.19 million.
“Great, I’ll take it,” I said.
He counted out one million in 100,000-denomination notes. Easy peasy. Then, with exaggerated flair, he counted out three 5,000 notes, and two 2,000 notes.
I frowned. I knew something was wrong, but I was so flustered from the events of the morning thus far that I couldn’t put it together. I looked at his calculator, which had by that point changed to 1 million 19 thousand.
“See? 19,000,” he said. I frowned, still trying to put it together. “Let me count again,” he said, reaching for the money in my hand, but by that point I was nervous he’d pull another sleight of hand like the last guy, and, I was worried he would notice my bill was ripped, so I just took the money and darted out.
Of course, he’d ripped me off 180,000 IDR – which is about $14 US). But by the time I realized what he had done, I was over the whole thing, so I took the hit. Apparently that was the cost of changing money in Kuta, and I was out of energy to invest in the exercise.
But 180,000! That’s a lot of money in Indonesia. It’s two Balinese massages and a local lunch. It’s three shuttle rides to/from Ubud (nine hours of bloody driving time). It’s a truck-load of fresh fruit. It’s….it’s enough money that I felt really shitty for having been ripped off for that much.
Lunch a Breakdown
Feeling exhausted from my three-hour journey to Kuta, violated by my money changing incidents, overwhelmed by the desperate and touchy-feely tourist shop owners and taxi drivers, and overstimulated by the sheer noise and energy of the place, I had an hour left to get some lunch before my appointment with the Balinese Healer.
Finding a restaurant with reasonably-priced food was a difficult task. The restaurants reeked of awful, westernized, overpriced, plastic crap. Finally, I found a place serving Indonesian food (still overpriced) that looked slightly less deplorable than my other options. I ordered a traditional dish that is like a stir-fry, and comes with rice.
When my stir-fry arrived without rice, I frowned. I turned on what was left of my Balinese smile and asked where the rice was.
“9,000 extra,” said the server.
It was the final straw. I burst into tears right then and there. I marvelled through my hyper-ventilations at what a horrible place Kuta was, and wondered why anybody would ever visit this cesspool.
The server was understandably confused. She put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me while remaining as far away from me as possible (I was obviously a loose canon), and handed me some tissue with her other hand. “Are you okay?” she said, not sure what to do.
I laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation, cleaned myself up, assured my server that I was fine, and ate my (tasteless overpriced rice-free) lunch.
Seeing a Balinese Healer
Never mind, I thought. I’m here to see a Balinese Healer. I really need some healing now!
Which was ironic, because I’d made an appointment with a Balinese Healer the week prior feeling ailed by nothing more than curiosity.
The woman in question was recommended to me by a reader, who personally attested to her brilliance and transformational healing. She spoke of energetic work, channeling the Hindu gods, identifying and exorcising bad energy, and physical healing that she’d not experienced anywhere else. She said all I needed was an open mind, because this healer might do anything, including making sounds like a chicken and spitting my bad energy into a bucket.
Further online research into the clinic revealed similar reviews. This wife/husband duo were talented chiropractic/physiotherapists, and the wife was known to make animal sounds and spit into a bucket from time to time.
I was all for it! Having experienced (and even practiced) indigenous healing arts in South America, the idea of channeling other energies, and exorcising a patient’s bad energy by spitting or even vomiting, and making strange sounds wasn’t all that alien to me. I wanted to experience the brand of energetic healing practiced in Bali, versus what I’d experienced in South America.
Perhaps what followed with this healer was my fault. In an effort to see what she was capable of, I didn’t tell her what I wanted her to work on. When she asked if anything was wrong, I simply replied with “nothing serious”. I figured a talented energy healer should be able to see what’s going on in a patient’s body and go from there.
Or perhaps there was nothing wrong with me (other than being energetically molested by the morning’s events).
Regardless, all I got from this Balinese Healer….was a massage. It was a very good massage, mind you, with attention to acupressure points, and she immediately honed in on an area of tension in my neck that had been bothering me. There was no arguing her talents.
But there was also no chicken noises or spitting into buckets.
At one point she started breathing heavily and making a throat-clearing type of sound. I got really excited. This is it! She’s going to squawk like a chicken and spit into a bucket! But no, her heavy breathing stopped as soon as it started, and that was that.
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed to have paid a pretty price (financially, time-wise, and energetically) to travel to Kuta to see a Balinese Healer and walk out having received a massage. But it seemed to be in perfect keeping with my experience of Kuta on the whole; a place with fewer redeeming qualities by the second.
What to do in Kuta? Hit the Beach
With two hours to kill before my return shuttle to Ubud departed, I decided I may as well check out the beach. I envisioned sipping coffee at a cafe beside a delightful boardwalk lining a peaceful beach.
By this point, I should have known better.
First of all, the beach was protected from the road by a giant wall. Periodic breaks in the wall allowed people to enter and leave. So the beach was a mystery to me until I walked through that wall…..
And was accosted by people wanting to sell me surf lessons.
“Lady! I teach you to surf!”
“Hello! Surfing today? Great deal!”
“You must surf with me. We have fun!”
They were all over me. I wasn’t remotely dressed in beach gear, but it didn’t stop any of the throngs of surf instructors from trying.
Once I fought my way through that wave, I was hit by another wave – this time people trying to sell me beer. The next wave was people selling me keychains and hats.
Finally, I broke through the wall of touts and vendors, and marvelled at the beach in front of me.
There were hundreds – many hundreds – of people in the water, all learning to surf. It was madness. There wasn’t even a three foot strip of water that wasn’t filled with people, surf boards, and instructors. It was the most unrelaxing beach scene I’d ever laid eyes on.
Another final straw. I whipped out my video camera and filmed a maniacal rant – something I supposed might be a vlog entry. I marched up and down the beach, camera in hand, and ranted and raved about what a horrible place Kuta was. What a joke the beach was. How horrible the people were. On and on I went.
I turned the camera off, and looked around.
I realized I was the only person there who appeared to be having a bad time. Sure, the beach was packed – which isn’t exactly my idea of a relaxing affair. But nobody else seemed to care. In fact, they were all in the party mood. It was only me that didn’t have my party pants on.
Kuta: Great for Some, Not for Others
Kuta is the best-known tourist area in Bali. It’s packed, mostly with Aussies, for whom Bali is the closest and cheapest getaway. It’s warm during the winter months of July/August (which is Bali’s high season as a result). The beach has a perfect surf break for people wanting to learn to surf. And Kuta is close to the airport.
The resulting economy that has built up around this set of criteria is an overdeveloped tourist town that caters to people who want a cheap getaway to a beach to surf, drink, and party. If that’s what you want to do, then you’ll have a blast in Kuta. And of course, if mushrooms and Viagra are on your shopping list, Kuta will apparently serve you well.
To anybody else, I suggest you give Kuta a wide berth. Bali is a beautiful island with a kind and beautiful people. You won’t experience any of that in Kuta.
And for goodness sake, don’t go to Kuta to see a Balinese Healer.