Big Trouble in Paradise
Holiday tripping to an island paradise was once considered to be all about the beach. Well, okay, you can throw in a few palm trees, and perhaps a bamboo bar down near the ocean where you can while away the days soaking up the sun.
Smashing your watch on the nearest coral reef, drowning the mobile phone in a Mai Tai and going native certainly captivated the imagination of countless travelers. But tourists have started looking for a little more to do during their beach holiday.
Today we have the likes of Patong and Kuta in Bali. Descriptions of either often portray them as tourist ghettos, urban resort jungles and commercial centers where everything is on offer. Touts line the beachfronts and men (and women, cats. clogs or any combination of) hang out on street corners or lurk in groups outside hotels, restaurants, bars and shophouses.
Stereotypes can be found in either, be it the common bond of singlets promoting local beers, brash tattoos and board shorts worn by men, women and children. Let's not forget about the hair braiding, goofy caps and all manner of surf branding.
Bali has long been the darling for the cheap Aussie getaway, but in recent years a strong Australian dollar has prompted hordes of Aussies to gather into groups and travel to Asia, honing into these two destinations like bees to honey.
Of course we have the Nouveau tourists mainland Chinese Russians, Eastern Europeans from every nook and cranny of the former USSR and yes, domestic travelers who now board budget airlines as if riding the bus home from work.
It's too easy here to take pot shots, as clearly things in the world have changed and islands now hold some far greater attraction than just the beach. Obviously there is a rising tide of MTV Jersey Shore watchers, tireless shoppers and missing groups of Walmart denizens gone on summer holidays.
Bali, like Phuket, is teeming with tourists taking to the roads on rented motorcycles to experience bruising, maiming and dying. Often with little traffic sense, no clear idea where things are and perhaps a few beers, they roar up and down increasingly crowded streets.
I must admit the sight of a stationary motorbike mounted by a dazed and confused visitor stopping in the middle of the road tends to run shivers down my back as the term 'roadkill' comes to mind.
The two leading resort destinations in Asia are somehow also unwitting vehicles in this strange journey of the new age traveler.
Eat, drink, shop, sleep (alone, or not), jet-ski, parasail, drive and consume – the beast of modern travel has an insatiable appetite.
I find it hard to understand what the attraction is, but I am without doubt among the silent minority, and it is possible to slip over the edge and lose touch with the main-stream.
It's complicated. Even thinking about it gives me a migraine that could be compared with a spin out at a recent feeding frenzy I witnessed at Kuta's Hard Rock Hotel breakfast buffet.
Having lived though that chaos and survived, my only conclusion is that diversity and change are not entirely bad things. So what if the heaving bodies crowding Patong and Kuta make me want to hide in my closet and never come out?
A growing number of tourists are attracted to the areas, and if that bothers me so much I can simply go elsewhere.
This is somehow comforting when I realize that as long as stretches of sparsely populated beachfront remain, all I need to do is divert to another location to enjoy my own special place in the sun.
I have no intention of telling anyone where that is, and one thing is certain – there aren't any beer logo singlets for sale there.