Wish You Were Here

Sam Wells Bali

 

In the picture online, a young woman is on a rope swing, mid-air, the sand is white and the sea is turquoise behind her. Not another human is in sight.
Islands that make up the archipelago rise out of the water in the distance. Each a new paradise to discover. I want to be her.

It turns out that the only way to get to this beach is by sea…by booking a tour. Tour A or Tour C. Every operator offers the same route. As our banca cuts through the clear water toward the shore, duplicate boats appear from every direction. On the beach, ‘photo ops’ are already set up and waiting to be the next addition to fridge doors. Beach bodies queue for the rope swing.

The next stop on the tour is a serene lagoon created by adjacent limestone cliffs looming out of the water in the middle of the ocean. Little fish jump into the air as our kayak glides through the still water, into and out of spotlights of sunshine that reach the surface of the water through trees that grow on the cliffs above. They illuminate the fish below and the flotsam of fellow tourists to dodge all around us. Bobbing in the water in their life jackets, their buoyancy makes it difficult for them to move, that and the fact that they only have one arm.
The other holds a waterproof-cased GoPro on the end of a selfie stick. They laugh hysterically as they try to get the perfect shot.

I wonder if they’ve seen the giant sea urchins below their aquasocks.

As the tour boat makes its way back to the island, we come across two rogue kayakers in the open water struggling to get back into their vessel after being tipped out by unrelenting waves.
The local tour guides swim out to help them back on. As we sail away, they fall out again.

Back on dry land, and dozing in a hammock in 4pm sunshine, I notice a pair of professional instagrammers. They order a pina colada, photograph it but don‚Äôt drink it and wait for the sunset. Our hotel is one of the ’15 most instagrammable spots in the Philippines’.

News reports from around the world this year have brought a story of a Dutch tourist arrested in Mandalay who, desperate for sleep, unplugged a loudspeaker in a religious building near to his hotel that was broadcasting a Buddhist sermon. A Chinese tourist was detained in LAX after slapping a cashier at duty free. Another headline reads, “Mom lets her kid pee on the floor of imperial Russian palace.”

Following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand has issued guidelines for appropriate tourist behaviour during its mourning period, and the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, is looking to curb tourism to the city lest Barcelona ‘lose its soul’.

After paddling out to surf a break about 100m off shore in Bali, Sam Wells found he was surrounded by pumping music coming from party boats three storeys high with water slides jutting off of them. As another tourist paddled by on a long board, wearing a life jacket, snorkelling goggles and a cellphone in a wet pouch around his neck, Sam chose to embrace the situation.

He turned his camera on to the human activity outside the frame of the perfect vista; highlighting the contrast between idyllic places and the lesser-shown reality of visiting them.

He says, ‚ÄúA big aspect of what I observed was the constant need for humans to want to document everything. There were multiple occasions where I saw people not breaking eye contact with their phone on a selfie stick whilst on the beach. It’s like the excessive inclination to share has left the physical experience as a secondary thought.‚Äù

Back at the hotel in Philippines, short stories are left on the bedside tables each night about ‚ÄòEllen‚Äô or ‚ÄòMiguel‚Äô whose lives have been changed since being employed to create hand-crafted products for the resort: “Thank you for visiting us.”

 

www.instagram.com/samwellssamwells
samwells.co.za

 

Shot in Bali in 2016:

 

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

Sam Wells Bali

 

www.instagram.com/samwellssamwells
samwells.co.za

 

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