Water, Culture, & Food
It’s been a whirlwind several days since my last post. I’m glad Cathy has been keeping up with the blog … I’ve got a lot to cover now. Since my last post, from Taipei, we’ve headed south to the Indonesian island of Bali, the “island of the gods”. Simply by chance, we had the good luck to fly on EVA Air’s special Hello Kitty plane from Taipei. Hello Kitty was featured prominently, from the boarding pass to the pillows, as well as the interesting safety video. Most passengers seemed just as amused as I was to experience this, I’m not sure how many of their planes are of this style, but we consider ourselves lucky to be flown on one. Having taken a 12 hour flight just a couple days earlier, this 5 hour one seemed to take forever … perhaps our rampant desire to get to to the island of the gods trumped the actual time of the flight, but I was fidgeting the whole way there.
Arriving in Bali was quite an experience, the airport “Ngurah Rai” is brand-spanking new, and with the 30-day VISA exemption, our customs experience was quite smooth. Given that Indonesia is exceptionally strict on bringing in items into the country, we wanted to be extra careful we properly noted our prescribed medication, as well as our OTC drugs. In some Asian countries (I’m looking at you, Japan), bringing something like Sudafed is a no-no. You can get in a ton of trouble for bringing of the shelf medicines into these countries, and we weren’t going to start off our half year adventure having to explain to customs. It turned out that our worries regarding which box to check on the declaration sheet were highly overstated, and we strode right through customs without even so much as a bag check. Others weren’t so lucky, but then again, maybe we no longer look suspicious as we aren’t 20 year old Aussies traveling in a group of 20. The real Bali experience began as we hit the arrival hall - after grabbing some cash out of the ATM (Rupiah is 13,500 to the $1), we got some SIM chips for our iPhones. We went with the biggest package we could find, which was 17 gigs of 4G data, lasting for a month. Being unsure of the WIFI quality in our hotels, we decided go for the biggest data package around, which cost approximately $30. However as we went to pay, I realized that the 500,000 Rupiah we took out would only cover just over 1 SIM chip … d’oh. Back to the ATM I went, only to find out the Bank put a fraud block on my card, despite having filed a travel plan with them. Fortunately, being the excessive planner I am, I exchanged some dollars I had in my bag and completed the cell phone transaction. After buying a bottle of whiskey in Duty-Free (the alcohol in Indonesia is sketchy in many places and cannot be trusted), we went hunting for the driver holding a sign with our names on it. I’ve never seen such a spectacle, I am not kidding when I say there must have been 200 drivers all clamoring for standing room in the arrival hall. We were unable to locate our driver for quite some time, and fortunately having bought a cell phone package, were able to call the hotel and sort it out. We headed to the garage, hitting the biggest wave of humidity i’ve ever felt in my life, and jumped in the air-conditioned car.
Our hotel in Sanur, approximately 25 minutes from the airport, located on the Southwest tip of Bali, was called Kamuela Villas and Suites. Accustomed to rooms not exactly fitting the pictures on the internet, we were pleasantly surprised to find out our room was incredibly spacious, and included a jacuzzi in our own private outside area. We headed directly to the pool, a glorious warm one, and enjoyed the remainder of the late afternoon. Our first meal of the trip needed to be at a local Indonesian Warung (family run cafeteria) called Baby Monkeys, and I enjoyed the best Satay of my life, while Cathy devoured her Nasi Campur (Indo fried rice). After a few Bintang beers, we decided it was time to hit the sack before our next day.
Our next day consisted of a visit back to the Warung from the night before, walks on the beach, and more pool time. Getting adjusted to the weather took some time, but being near the ocean made it a lot easier. Being from the Bay Area, I am simply not familiar with 90 degree heat and 90% humidity. Pool time helped a lot, as did numerous Bintangs.
After a day of relaxation, we decided it was time to see some culture, and we hired a driver to take us all around the southern part of the Island. We first headed to a deserted beach, which allowed us some time to see what the ocean looks like without hordes of people. This beach reminded us of our time last summer on the border of Montenegro and Albania, we kept cracking jokes about Albania, and were in great spirits. Cathy even got to see some pretty cows (she’s a cow lover), and then we headed to the Uluwatu Temple. Donning sarongs our driver provided, we explored the Uluwatu Temple situated on an epically beautiful cliff, and even got to see part of a ceremony taking place. Monkeys also made an appearance, which is always amusing. After the temple we headed to the Single Fin bar, suggested by my former colleague Rob, watching the surfers during sunset. I want to go back to this bar - I can’t imagine a better place to spend the sunset, I highly recommend it if you ever make it to Bali. As the sun came down, a seafood dinner was in order, and the beach in Jimbaran is the place to go for a seafood dinner on the beach. As we sat down at our the restaurant, I noticed it wasn’t particularly busy. I immediately thought “tourist trap!”, and scanned the reviews online, finding out in the process that the food was highly overpriced and not very good. Using the power of the internet, I learned there was a highly regarded place right down the beach called Lia Cafe, and we headed there. Cathy picked out a delicious lobster to eat, as well as some calamari, and we chowed down for a total of $40 dollars, drinks and tip included. Eating lobster with your feet in the sand, hearing the waves crash around us was just magnificent, and we really felt the Bali vibes. Pooped beyond belief, we got back in the car for the hour long ride home, falling asleep before our driver pulled up to the hotel.
Fast forwarding a day, we drove north to our next stop, the cultural heartland of Ubud. On the way we stopped at an eco surfer resort in Keramas, a town recommended to me by my friend Sasha, and then got up close and personal with real Balinese culture, as our driver took us for a visit to his family home. Jiwa, the driver, could not have been more hospitable, and introduced us to his charming wife and kids, treating us to a snack of fruit, tea and homemade rice treats. His home is beautiful, down the narrowest street i’ve ever seen in my life, complete with a family temple. In Balinese culture, if possible, family is so important that new generations just add on to their parents’ homes … Jiwa’s home was a mere 50 feet from his parents, where he was born 40 some-odd years ago. After the snack break, we went to a local market, purchased a purple and a yellow sarong, complete with sashes, and then explored a wood carving operation. If you are following me on Instagram, you probably saw the insanely large and intricate carvings we saw. I’ve never seen anything like them before, it can take up to 2 years for a craftsman to create one of these pieces. We went for something a little smaller, and picked up a set of book ends made out of mahogany wood for 50% off the initial asking price. Haggling is necessary in this part of the world, and being an former trader at a bank, I relish the opportunity to make a market work for me. New wood pieces in hand, we completed the trek to Ubud, and checked into our next hotel, Vill Capung Mas, set back off the main streets, in a rice field.
Villa Capung is gorgeous, and we got the first villa built, room 1, with a direct view into the Jungle Valley right below the pool. Checked in by the sweetest man, Pande, we jumped into the pool, trying to cool down from the long day we just finished. Following our swim, our stomachs were rumbling, and we set off on a 20 minute walk to Bridges Restaurant. Bridges is one of the best spots in Ubud, and we were fortunate to receive a generous gift certificate as an engagement present from our friends April and Dave. The food is amazing - I enjoyed duck and Cathy savored her lamb, although the heat got to us at the end, and I suffered from a bit of heat exhaustion. It was our fault that during our very busy day we failed to drink enough fluids, keep our electrolytes high enough, and made the dumb decision to have a drink before eating dinner. It goes without saying that you should never make those three mistakes in one day in this temperature and humidity, and we suffered from it. We learned our lessons, and the next day took it very easy, relaxing by the pool, ordering delivery food, and catching up on some personal items on our computers.
Spa culture is a big part of Bali, that’s why a lot of visitors come each year, and we both enjoy it as well. Our friend at the hotel suggested we visit the Jaen’s spa, which would even pick us up from our hotel, so we wouldn’t have to schlep there in the sweltering heat. Ubud is in the interior of the country, much warmer and more humid than the coastal areas, and after the prior night’s experience, we took up their offer. After a massage and some delicious fruits and tea, we felt so much better, and got some great sleep. I never sleep well ahead of travel, my mind is just running nonstop, and after a week of jet lagged sleep, I really needed a good 9 hours. I got it finally, and felt so much better the following day.
The highlight of the next day was dinner. If you know me well, you are well aware of my love for Indian food. I don’t like very spicy food, but if I were to pick my favorite foods, Indian is up at the top. We chose this restaurant due to its fab reviews, as well as the air-conditioning. AC is not a big thing on Bali (even the 5* hotels don’t have AC in their restaurants). Ganesh Ek Sanskriti was a godsend, with blasting AC, and the most tasty butter chicken I’ve eaten since my summer in Cape Town back in college. Feeling full and cool, we planned out our next day, wanting to explore some of the highlights of Ubud.
Up at 8AM, scarfing down our breakfasts (Indonesian fried rice for me), we got in the car with our driver and sped off towards the famed Tegalalang rice terraces. Moving early is the best thing to do here, as there are a ton of tourists, and by the time 11 AM rolls around, it is exceptionally hot, sweaty, and busy. Tromping through the rice terrace, eventually climbing over the equivalent of 30 flights of stairs (thanks iPhone tracker), we got a first hand view of the pictures we’d scoured through our research. We learned the difference between types of rice, how the fields are flooded, and saw a number of tourists who mistakenly wore flip flops sliding around precipitously, nearly falling off the paths. Hiking shoes were the best choice we made, and I’m glad we did. I was even able to climb into a little cave, where the farmers hide during rainstorms. After going down the muddy steps, and then back up the original concrete ones, we stopped off at a coffee plantation nearby. Luwak Coffee is a big thing here - if you haven’t heard of it the quick des is this: Luwak jungle cats eat coffee beans, then poop them out, farmers find the poop, and start sifting through it. It’s a long process, all done by hand, and involves a lot of heating, sifting, washing and peeling, rinse and repeat. The cats are nocturnal, and weren’t awake when we got there, but man the coffee smelled amazing. I didn’t try it as I have a bit of a weak stomach when it comes to strong coffee, but just learning about it and smelling the brew was fulfilling. Back to the hotel we went, jumping in the pool again, and chatting with some other guests from the Netherlands. They were on their honeymoon, and we chatted about their travel plans and exchanged tips from experiences thus far. After tromping up and down the rice terraces, our legs ached, and we strode back to the spa for another delightful treatment. I write this post having returned to our Villa, watching and listening to the rain pouring down outside. Rain here is something else, it comes and goes quickly, but when it rains, it pours! Until next time …