Expectation Versus Reality On the Island of Gods

If your paying attention, Bali is no longer paradise. It’s colonialism.

Bali and I’s love affair began more than two years ago in the spiritual town of Ubud. Covered in the lush green rainforest, rice paddies, and Hindu temples at every turn, there is undeniable magic here. It’s the reason why millions of people from all over the world have visited to “find themselves” over the years.

The winding roads are perfect for motorbike joyriding with green palm trees on every side of you keeping you company. I stayed in Ubud for five days on that first trip, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it became my temporary “home.”

That happened this summer, (winter for the southern hemisphere) when I found the perfect one-bedroom villa.

Seriously, when I walked through the tall brown doors into the private garden surrounded by planted flowers and a bright turquoise stone wall for privacy, I knew this was it.

I intended to have a space where I could focus on my writing, get deeper into my spiritual practice, experience some healing and simply be in nature.

You know, get my eat, pray love on.

I also wanted to be amongst the local people as much as possible but still, have access to the things I needed since I didn’t ride a scooter.

My expectations were those of anyone who sees images of Bali on Instagram, but the reality was significantly different.

When I first landed, I decided to stay in the surfer town of Canggu, fifty minutes south of Ubud.

I wanted to see if it lived up to all the hype it was receiving over the last year because of its proximity to the beach, nightlife, an abundance of coffee shops and its digital nomad scene.

I could totally see what the hype was about but it wasn’t good hype at all.

Not even a day had gone by and I had already seen the exploitation of the Balinese and the strong foothold of white supremacy.

It felt like walking through Venice Beach with all the glassed store shops and bars. Not only is economical exploitation happening, so is spiritual.

For every five bikes, at least two foreigners were driving (if even) and this was made clear when stuck in exhausting traffic in Canggu.

There was no shortage of cultural appropriation with white female travelers donning African style boxed-braids and locs and Native American headdresses and dream catchers being worn as costumes.

And I wasn’t the only person who noticed this. I met other black women and women of color who could not not see just how white Bali was.

Waiting for a taxi one night, I sat on a stoop next to a Balinese man and asked how he felt about the foreigners coming to Ubud and living on his island.

Of course, it was nice to make more money during the high season, but the overcrowdedness that results in frustrating traffic in such a small town is stressful.

If there is one thing that is palpable about Balinese people, it is their kindness and generosity.

They are spiritually devoted people filled with so much love and are probably the warmest and welcoming people I’ve encountered in my travels.

Unfortunately, their kindness is being taken for weakness.

This is how the powers of colonialism work.

When it happens, it happens fast before anyone has the time even to think “WTF have we done”? and “Where are ‘WE’?

I’ll admit after a few days in my magical villa, I considered leasing land (foreigners cannot own property in Bali, which is a good thing) in Ubud and having a house built that could be used as my base in my travels.

My mind and heart shifted around this idea after witnessing the unconscious traveling and living on the island.

As a black human being and someone who is committed to the dismantling of systems of oppression, I cannot be apart of the dangerous practices I’ve seen playing out in Bali an island inhabited by people of color.

Bali is magical. And it is also on the verge of being without the people and traditions that make it magical.

Renée Cherez is a moon-loving, mermaid believing empath seeking truth, justice, and freedom. Feel free to read more of her writing on Medium, here. Follow her on Instagram to indulge in her *sometimes* overly long captions on travel, self-discovery, and social justice.

Renée Cherez is a Black woman writer creating magic at the intersections of travel and Black liberation. Follow her on Instagram + Twitter (@reneecherez).

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