During my very first week of traveling through Indonesia, I met the beautiful half-Indonesian, half-Belgian Kartina in the artistic city Yogjakarta, better known as ‘Jogja’ and often described as the cultural capital of Indonesia.
Most tourists flock to Yogjakarta to visit the Borobudur; the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world.
Yogjakarta is also known for its shopping street Jalan Malioboro, located in the center of the city and filled with little batik shops. And although Yogjakarta may be a city that is devoted to its traditional Javanese culture, it is at the same time a very modern and relaxed city, due to the many students that study at the Gadja Madah University in Jogja.
Kartina had just been engaged to her beau Leon, and they were about to open up a dive center in Canggu, where they had moved to from Yogjakarta. ‘Let me know when you’re in Canggu!’, she said as we were having coffee in a café and little did I know this was the start of a sweet friendship. After traveling through Java, I hopped on a flight to Bali, only to coincidentally run into Kartina in Batu Bolong, where she was preparing for the dive center’s opening in the coming months.
Their dive center called Khatulistiwa, is the first certified PADI dive center in the trendy village of Canggu, in the south of Bali. They offer (advanced) open water courses, snorkeling trips and scuba dive excursions all over Bali.
I had the most amazing experience snorkeling with Kartina and Leon, having fantastic seafood in Jimbaran, and they showed me around their favorite places (and secret beaches!) in Bali. Every time I go back to Bali, I make sure I bring the Turkish sweets called baklava with me from Amsterdam – Kartina’s favorite sweets – and we explore the newest restaurants and cafes in Canggu.
Kartina allowed me to share her island highlights with bali bliss, and why everyone should experience the magic that is Bali.
How did you end up working and living in Bali?
‘My father used to travel to Bali very often, because – being from Belgium – he felt Bali was very international compared to the rest of Indonesia.
I have always been fascinated by Balinese culture and I used to dance the legong (traditional Balinese dance). Growing up in Yogjakarta, I studied art history and also lived in Brussels. After 7 years I moved back to Indonesia, and moved to Sanur (Bali) before moving to Canggu.
In Canggu, Leon and I founded the Khatulistiwa Dive Center together. With Khatulistiwa I want to be a bridge between Indonesian and Western people and although I feel more Indonesian than European, I have a very European point of view on things, which helps us in our business.’
What difficulties did you and Leon encounter whilst setting up your business in Bali?
‘The challenge was to differentiate ourselves from other dive centers so that people would choose ours. There are a lot of dive centers in Bali, many of which are around for longer than 20 years. The older dive centers have more experience diving wise and they have regular clièntele that keep coming back for a dive excursion. But as we are a young couple, we tend to attract younger people and because we are located in Canggu – where all the youngsters hang out and stay nowadays – it’s not difficult to find our clièntele or for them to find us.’
What is the best thing about Bali?
‘For me, Bali represents freedom. Though living in Bali can be very challenging at the same time.
Bali is a mystical island. It doesn’t ‘accept’ anyone to live on her soil. My great grandparents moved here a long time ago, but because my great grandmother fell mysteriously ill all the time, they had to move back to Yogyakarta. I feel blessed Bali has ‘accepted’ me as an inhabitant.
What I also love about Bali is the Balinese devotion to their religion: In Jogja they have lost their essence of praying and offering, while in Bali it’s more sacred.’
What don’t you like about Bali?
‘Sadly, nowadays a lot of Balinese people are driven by tourism, they only think about the money.’
What’s your favorite place in Bali?
‘Every place in Bali is my favorite place!’
Okay, but if you would have to name a few favorites?
‘For diving, this would have to be the island of Nusa Penida, we often take our clients here so that they can snorkel amongst manta rays!
For food, it has to be Ibu Oka, Ubud. They have the best babi guling!’
‘My favorite dance is definitely the traditional Balinese legong dance. I used to dance the legong myself.’
(All over Ubud, you can see this visually alluring dance performance.)
Favorite beach: ‘Although I live close to Batu Bolong beach, my favorite beach is in Candidasa; Pasir Putih, better know as Virgin beach.’
Best place for shopping: ‘Same place as where you love to shop, Loraine: Tegallalang!’
(close to Ubud)
Why should people have to experience Bali at least once in their life?
‘When people come to Indonesia, the main airport to enter the country is Jakarta. The capital city Jakarta is more business minded and the traffic is very hectic. We certainly don’t recommend people going on holiday in Indonesia to experience their first days of their holiday in Jakarta, after a long-haul flight. I feel Bali has a nicer “welcome to Indonesia”-feel to it. The island of Bali has a tropical vibe, which is a better start to your holiday.
In Indonesian cuisine, we use so many spices in our food that a lot of people have stomach and/or indigestion issues during their first week in Indonesia. I feel in Bali it’s easier to avoid these issues as Bali has so many options for European food, and Indonesian food that is easier on the stomach for non-Indonesians.
And last but not least, when people go to Bali they will experience a rich and beautiful culture and of course amazing nature!
Bali is an easy transit port, for travellers that want to explore other islands, with Java to the west, Lombok and Flores to the east, and Sulawesi and Borneo to the North. So Bali is actually in the center and the heart of the Indonesian archipelago!’
Photography by Dimas Hendrajaya