An Expensive View: Day Trip in Bali

December 18, 2014 | ,

Pictures can tell you a lot about a place, and they say “a picture’s worth a thousand words,” but a picture doesn’t tell you the whole story.

It doesn’t tell you what was going on around the photographer when the picture was taken, why it was taken, why the photo matters to the photographer (and/or why it should matter to you), and so much more. In this series, I share photos from my travels along with the story behind the picture.

This photo was taken almost exactly a year ago, in December 2013.

It’s the quintessential scene, right?

These terraced rice fields are what come to mind for many when they think of Bali, and I’m glad I got to see it for myself (and I love the way this photo turned out).

But I was also feeling a little grumpy when I took this picture.

My friend Laura, Roberto, and I had hired a driver to give us a tour of the island. Laura had recently arrived, and we were soon to depart, and we wanted to see more of this magical place.

But we had a long list of places we wanted to see (and may have spent a little too much time at the holy springs temple, our first stop that day, which we loved), and time was tight.

We’d told our driver (whose name I can’t remember, unfortunately!) that we were getting hungry and wanted to stop for lunch sometime soon, and he kept saying “I know a place, I know a place, we’re almost there.”

I imagined he was taking us to some secret hideaway, where we’d eat with his friends and have an amazing and unique local experience.

But then we pulled up in front of a large open-air restaurant that I immediately deemed a tourist trap given the groups of foreigners dining there (and the number of drivers hanging out with their cars in the dirt parking lot just down the hill).

But the view, oh, the view!

It lured us in and it wasn’t until we sat down, an older woman told us how the buffet worked, and my mind was able to roughly calculate the exchange rate that I realized we’d be paying an astronomical amount (by Bali standards) to eat what turned out to be a so-so lunch.

But we were hungry, and in the middle of nowhere, so we stayed.

Yes, there are lots of places in the world where you’ll pay an arm and a leg just for the view. But this time I felt a little swindled. I hate feeling like I’m swept up in a parade of “this is where we take the tourists” stops (even though we’d created the day’s itinerary), and I also wondered how much of a commission our driver would get for bringing us there.

Later in the day, we stopped at an overlook that gave us almost as good a view for free, which made our lunch stop seem even more unnecessary.

I wonder if it would have made a difference if we’d told him that we wanted to go somewhere local, if we’d asked him to take us somewhere he likes to eat (a strategy I learned, but apparently forgot all about, from my dear friend Layne, the Taxi Gourmet).

He may have been motivated to take us to this place because he’d get a commission, or because he thought that’s what tourists wanted. But he didn’t know what we wanted, and when he asked us after lunch how it was, I told him outright that the food wasn’t that great and we’d eaten similar meals in town for like a fifth of what we spent that day.

He seemed to listen intently to my comments, but I wonder if he absorbed them. I wonder if the next time he took foreigners on a tour, he asked them what kind of place they’d like to go for lunch, or simply told them “I know a place,” and they found themselves yet another table full of tourists taking the same photo of the same expensive view.

How about you? Have you been in situations like this before? What did you do, or what would you do differently next time?

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