You only have to google these two words to come up with a host of results with phrases such as ‘death traps’ and ‘flat on her face’ sprinkled generously throughout tourist reports. It is a given that you must walk head down to be (pun alert!) one step ahead of any hazards. These range from slight (tiny) trippable steps to massive holes. To add to the fun, as Indonesians are officially the laziest walkers in the world, you are also dodging parked cars and motorbikes. It’s an attitude of nobody walks anyway, so let’s just park here.
Last month, on the very busy Facebook page Ubud Community, it came to the attention of those who might do something about the situation when a visitor bemoaned a fall that led to a hefty medical bill. Suddenly, the pavements were news. It even sounded promising, but if you’ve been with me a while, you might recall the ‘tell you what you want to hear‘ syndrome beloved of Indonesian people. Endearing, but ineffective.
So here we are, in a ‘city’ rated fourth on a top 15 cities list recently, with death-trap pavements. How can this be? Well, it’s complicated. Part of the problem is phenomenal growth without accompanying infrastructure. You can hear dark mutterings about that film, because it seems the problems began immediately after. This month of August it is unbearable to be in central Ubud, with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and endless traffic jams. If the Balinese were a less philosophical people, they might very well pick up the anti-tourist cause infecting Europe right now. But that’s problematic, because without tourism, the economy would collapse. The aftermath of the two bombings last decade testifies to that.
Part of the problem is political. Ubud is not a ‘city’ at all, but an amalgamation of discrete banjars, each with its own area of responsibility. There is no oversight of the whole that appears to visitors to be a ‘city’ (at best, a town, in any case). When Travel+Leisure put out its Top 15 list, putting Ubud fourth, it can only have been considering the areas around Ubud, which are still lovely and relatively unspoiled.
The rapid growth of tourism has brought problems, no doubt, but political will can solve them. Last week, on Independence Day, acclaimed journalist, photographer and Ubud-resident Rio Helmi wrote a thought-provoking article urging some serious soul searching by Indonesian people. The situation cannot continue as is, and that includes death-trap pavements.
So keep coming, visitors, but not with rose-coloured glasses on because you might miss your step.
And why this post? Why now? Well, I fell down a hole in the pavement last week, didn’t I? Nothing broken, and I have some time to write.