Sunday 13th May, 2007 Sydney to Bali (6 hrs flying Jetstar)
Monday 14th May, 2007 Kuta
Tuesday 15th May, 2007 Kuta
Wednesday 16th May, 2007 Kuta to Nusa Lembongan (boat 1.5 hrs)
Thursday 17th May, 2007 Nusa Lembongan to Ubud (boat 1.5hrs, van 2 hrs)
Friday 18th May, 2007 Ubud
Saturday 19th May, 2007 Ubud to Kuta (van 1.5 hrs)
Sunday 20th May, 2007 Kuta
Monday 21st May, 2007 Kuta
Tuesday 22nd May, 2007 Kuta to Melbourne (6hrs flying Jetstar)
Wednesday 23rd May, 2007 Melbourne to Sydney (1.5 hrs Jetstar)
Sunday 13th May, 2007 Sydney to Bali (6 hours flying Jetstar)
Angie comes over early to spend some time with us before we leave. At Hamilton Station we catch the 11.30am train to Central and as usual I doze most of the way – as always this is the only boring part of our trip. As usual we catch the airport train to the International Airport at Mascot.
After Chinese and O’Porto (yuk) we have a few drinks in the outdoor bar then pass through immigration. Here we buy Lauren an ipod for her car, two bottles of Bacardi and ciggies. The plane is delayed half an hour but we finally take off at 6.15pm.
Thankfully our flight is straight through to Denpasar instead of the dreaded Melbourne stopover. This means it’s only a six hour flight (made faster with a sleeping pill and a couple of drinks) and we land in beautiful, hot Bali at 10.30pm.
The airport is unusually busy so we spend an hour in the long immigration lines and don’t arrive at Un’s Hotel till nearly midnight. Poor Julie and Steve have been waiting up for us and we’re so excited to see them. They’ve been here a week already and are leaving in two days so we’re going to make the most of our time together.
They found Un’s this morning and it’s wonderful. So lush and so Balinese and in a fantastic area in the back laneways of Kuta. After a few drinks by the pool they head off to bed but Mark and I are too excited and have a couple more drinks and a swim in the beautiful hotel pool. Bed at 2am.
Monday 14th May, 2007 Kuta, Bali
Neither of us sleep well – Mark has to wear earplugs even if it’s deathly quiet and I’m too wound up. At six o’clock Mark is finally in a sound sleep so I decide to go for a walk. This only makes me more excited – all around is lovely. Later I head back to bed for half an hour but Mark is still sleeping so I hang out around the pool.
Meanwhile Steve has left for a surf at Ulu Watu so at nine o’clock, Julie, Mark and I have breakfast together in the hotel restaurant. This is an upstairs place, open on two sides – one that looks over the laneway (good people watching) and the other over the entrance to Un’s and the family compound next door. This is the best aspect – very tropical with a carved stone archway, a tiny Balinese gatehouse and a spirit house over the fence. Meanwhile Balinese music is playing somewhere making us almost burst with happiness.
After breakfast the three of us hang around the pool until Steve comes back about 9.30am. He said the surf was so rough he wasn’t even able to get out. Now because Julie and Steve already have a bike, Mark goes off to find one for us then he and Steve fill up at the ‘petrol station’ in front of Uns – six old cordial bottles on a metal rack and a plastic funnel (10,000Rp a litre).
Now we all set off for the beach with Steve’s board strapped to the side of their bike. We drive along Jalan Bensari on the outside wall of Uns then past a few smaller basic guesthouses parallel to the beach road. Here we turn right and head for Legian Beach, only half a kilometer away.
At the corner of Jalan Melasti we continue on along a narrow road that leads to a small car park. Here we leave the bikes and walk down to the sand where we’re swamped with beach ladies and men wanting to rent us surfboards, chairs, umbrellas, a massage, manicure, pedicure, buy t-shirts, sarongs, etc, etc.
Mark hires a heavy old board and he and Steve go in for a surf while Julie and I hire beach chairs and umbrellas and have the whole massage/manicure/pedicure thing. Not so pleasant as we’re continually hassled by Rudy, Jerry and Harry to buy watches and sunglasses. If we buy from one of them then the other one sulks and stares at you till you buy something from them too – a good ploy because they know we want them to go away.
While all this is going on, I didn’t see Mark nearly drown saving a Balinese guy who’d gone in to ‘save’ Mark. Apparently Mark’s leg rope had broken so the Balo guy goes out to help him but then they both get caught in a rip and two more Balo guys go out to save them – a comedy of errors happening here. Anyway, they all nearly drown and Mark ends up dragging one of the poor guys up onto the beach where he collapses and throws up on the sand. To top it all off, he then wants Mark to give him a tip because he’d saved Mark’s life!
After our not-so-pleasant beach experience, we ride back to Uns then, as it’s one o’clock by now, we look for a café for lunch. We find a simple place not far along the alleyway and sit outside for food and Bintangs. At 4pm Mark and Steve go off on the bikes with their boards for a surf at Kuta reef while Julie and I walk down to Legian to the leather shops.
Lauren had been to Bali a few months ago and she’d some great stuff made at French Leather in Jalan Sahadewa by a friendly guy called Ivan. We find it easy enough and I order a black leather jacket each for Angie and Lauren ($100AUD each) and red leather boots for Angie ($60AUD). On the way back to the hotel we stop for a Caprioska each – lime, vodka crushed ice and soda water – the best drink ever!
It’s after dark when the boys get back and we’re really starting to worry. We later find out that Mark’s bike had run out of gas so he had to get a local guy to drive him somewhere to get petrol. Meanwhile Steve had lost Mark and was driving around looking for him. No problem in the end.
Now we jump back on the bikes and set off for the Kuta night market on the other side of town. This is so, so fabulous riding along the busy Jalan Legian which has heaps of people shopping and in cafes and the road packed with motorbikes and bemos.
But it takes a while to find the night market because we drive straight past it. Last time Mark and I were here we’d found a fabulous local place with fresh cheap food and stacks of atmosphere. I don’t know what happened but it must have become popular for some reason (maybe mentioned in Lonely Planet) and now it’s all new and shiny AND touristy.
Anyway we have a great seafood meal sitting outside then ride back to Uns to leave the bikes so we can all have a few drinks. At a trendy café in our alleyway, we get stuck into the Caprioskas and end up very drunk – doing childish things like taking photos of ourselves with Pippetta up our nose and having swimming races at midnight back at the hotel – very noisy and Mark nude – alright!
Tuesday 15th May, 2007Kuta, Bali
Breakfast is Julie, Mark and I (or is it ‘me’) again upstairs at Uns. Steve has gone for a surf as this is their last morning – flying out at midnight tonight. When Steve gets back we all ride down to the leather shop at Legian then drive on to Seminyak. We stop in a big area next to the beach and I attempt to ride the bike on my own – very pathetic with lots of squealing and near misses – I’m scared to turn because I think the bike will fall over.
At the posh hotel next door we all order cakes and pizza before checking out the local temple. On the way back to Kuta we stop at a fabric shop for Julie and I to buy woven table runners.
Instead of going straight to Uns, Mark and I set off for a ride through Poppies II and then onto Poppies I – it’s very exciting to be back in these old familiar alleyways.
But because of all the one way streets in Kuta it takes us ages to get back to Jalan Benasari where we decide to have a massage while Julie and Steve pack. We find a small place run by two sisters, Darmi and Suka. I have a manicure and pedicure (yes, another one) while Mark has a massage and a foot scrubbing. We also tell them that we want to go to Sanur in the morning so Suka arranges for her husband, Nyoman, to pick us up at seven o’clock at Uns.
The ladies are very sweet and we ask them if they’d like some clothes. We’d filled one of our backpacks with clothes from home to give to someone we liked here in Bali. They’re super excited and can’t wait for us to bring them from the hotel. They dive into the big bags and we’re really glad we made the effort. They love Mum’s tops the best and later, at the café across the road, they proudly turn up to show us what they look like.
On dark Mark and I set off on the bikes again with Julie and Steve for the southern end of Kuta Beach. Being down in this area at this time of day is always one of the things we love most about coming to Bali.
As usual at sunset, the Balinese are out in force and the beach is busy with families and tourists and lots of hawkers and massage ladies. The ladies are so much fun and because it’s her last night, Julie buys up big with presents to take home. We all have drinks brought to us while we sit on plastic chairs on the sand and watch the sunset.
Riding back to Uns along the beach road makes us very happy and we’ll definitely be coming back down here when we return from Ubud next week. After all having enchiladas together, we say a sad goodbye to Julie and Steve as they leave for the airport – wish they were staying and we feel a bit friendless at first.
We soon drown our sorrows with a couple of Bintangs at a new place we find up the alleyway then get to bed about nine o’clock. Very excited to be going to Nusa Lembongan tomorrow.
Wednesday 16th May, 2007 Kuta, Bali to Nusa Lembongan (boat 1.5 hrs)
An early start this morning. Early starts are always the best, especially when it means we moving on to a new adventure. As always the weather is perfect at this time of day in Bali – clear blue skies and warm but not yet too humid.
At 6.30am we wait for Nyoman just outside the stone gate sitting on our packs under overhanging palms. He soon arrives, all smiles and very colourful in his pink tropical print shirt. He and Mark throw our packs into the van and off we go to Sanur.
Sanur is on the opposite side of the peninsular to Kuta on the east coast of Bali and where the ferry leaves for the island of Nusa Lembongan. The streets are relatively quiet at this time of morning and we’re soon out of Kuta and on the main road heading east.
The road is lined with furniture builders which do most of their business exporting overseas. In less than half an hour we start to see hotels and cafes and shops as we reach the outskirts of Sanur. Turning right towards the water we finally pull up at the end of a long tree-lined street.
This is wonderful! Lots of activity with local people being dropped off loaded down with food and even baskets of live chickens that they’ll take on the ferry to Nusa Lembongan.
A few sun-filled cafes with open sides face the ocean near the ticket office which is just a tiny wooden shed. Nyoman carries our bags to one of the cafes where I order breakfast while he and Mark buy our tickets for the public ferry.
To get to Nusa Lembongan we could either catch the tourist speed boat or one of the huge tourist day-trip boats or the public ferry. Obviously we’ve opted for the public ferry which will take longer but lots more fun and cheap as well – only 50,000Rp each (about $AUD8).
While we wait for the 8am ferry we make plans with Nyoman to pick us up here tomorrow morning to take us straight to Ubud. He’s very happy with the extra work.
Now it’s time to board the ferry which is anchored close to the shore a little further down the beach. The ferry isn’t very big at all – just a small outrigger that will hold about thirty people at best – well we wanted to do it the local way instead of doing the tourist thing – just hope it’s safe.
We walk past market stalls and food carts congested along a footpath right on the sand. It’s a busy, vibrant atmosphere with many local men eagerly helping people get on and off the ferry.
With no pier, we have to time our dash for the boat as the waves are sucked back into the sea. Ready hands are waiting to pull each of us on board while others wade out with our packs on their heads. Mark and I make it onto the boat without getting too wet and find a space on a wooden bench near the front.
In the water next to us are a group of Japanese men bobbing around in the water and having a marvelous time. They’re all laughing loudly and pointing to a strange western man trying to get on to our ferry. He’s a sort of Mr Bean/absent minded professor eccentric with lily white skin and skinny legs that he’s now showing off as he pulls up his trouser legs to keep from getting wet. He makes four attempts for the boat and is getting more frustrated and angry by the second. He finally has a mini tantrum on the beach until he finally makes it.
Everyone else on the ferry is local except for an Australian father and son who are off to Nusa Lembongan to surf. Only about thirty people can squash on to the boat and we’re just about full now. For the next one and a half hours we check out the other passengers and look out across the water towards Bali and Nusa Lembongan. A short patch in the middle is a bit rough but the seas quickly calm again as we see the dark outline of land in the distance. The trip is really enjoyable on lots of levels – love its simplicity and being amongst the local people.
As we approach Jungat Batu Beach we pass two ugly big pontoons where the tourist boats from Bali pull into every day. Each one has two levels of lounging and dining areas and even water slides – probably good fo r families but not for us.
We like the look of Nusa Lembongan already – less commercialized than we expected – except for those horrible pontoons. Again there’s no pier and we have to jump off as the waves are sucked back out. A group of locals are here to meet relatives and some to pounce on any tourists like us.
I’d picked out a place from the Lonely Planet but we decide to let a couple of young guys show us another place just along the beach. They run off to find some transport while Mark and I wait in the shade of coconut trees on the edge of the village. Besides the thatched village houses, every inch of ground is covered with seaweed laid out to dry in the sun. Seaweed farming is Nusa Lembongan’s main industry with tourism coming a poor second. Mark is soon surrounded by a group of little girls and boys who all want to be in the video.
Soon the guys who’d met us at the boat arrive on motorbikes and we’re soon speeding off to Ketut’s Place. We drive along a narrow paved road with basic homestays on our left and forests of coconut palms on our right. It’s a lovely free feeling and we know we’ll like it here a lot. Arriving at Ketut’s Place in minutes, we’re shown to a wonderful upstairs bungalow right on the beach.
This is truly picture postcard stuff – our view is white sand, clear blue water, fishing boats, surf out on the reef and the Two Thousand Café set up under the trees below us. Our room is reached by ladder-like stairs and we have a big balcony overlooking the water and a smaller one overlooking the gardens. Inside is lined with golden woven rattan with a king-sized bed and a beautiful tiled bathroom. This is probably the prettiest place we’ve ever stayed in.
While we wait for our room to be ready we have lime sodas and chicken satay skewers at the Two Thousand café on the sand. After settling in we walk along the beach to the Baruna Café for a beer then hire a bike to explore the island on our own. All very casual here so no helmets available. We head away from the where the boat dropped us off and end up on tiny overgrown tracks that lead down to the beach. The main strip of road gradually ends up not much more than a track itself. We follow it along the northern coast through seaweed fishing villages built out over the water. All work seems to revolve around seaweed – farming, stringing, raking and laying out to dry. We finally run out of road and stop for a snack at the tiniest of cafes while I have a dip in the shallow warm water next to our table. While we wait for our spring rolls (one huge one) and Bintangs we look around the village and watch nets being repaired then some cats and a tiny caged monkey keep me amused – they all hate me!
From here we drive back to Jungat Batu Beach, through the small township, up the hill behind and back down to the water. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal to do or see so we head back to Ketut’s Place. After a rest I have a massage with a local lady called Wayan down on the sand below our bungalow while Mark drinks beer and watches the afternoon spectacle on the water. Every day at low tide the place comes alive. Hundreds (lots anyway) of people are seaweed farming using hand propelled boats. They drag the seaweed into the boat then load it into baskets on the shore. After my massage I wander down to take some close-up shots.
At seven o’clock we walk down the beach to some of the cafes – a bit of an obstacle course in the dark dodging anchors sticking up out of the sand and trying to avoid being garroted by ropes tying up the boats in the water. Our first stop is the Scooby Doo Bar for drinks and a pizza then another cafe where we sit on stools at the bar to watch surfing movies – the only entertainment here on Nusa Lembongan. Before bed at 10pm we have another drink at the Two Thousand Café – have to be up fairly early again.
Thursday 17th May, 2007 Nusa Lembongan to Ubud, Bali (boat 1.5 hrs, van 2 hrs)
Mark sets the alarm for seven o’clock so we can pack and have breakfast at Two Thousand Café in time for the eight o’clock ferry back to Bali. Walking along the beach to the pick-up spot we wait around with the locals and a couple of surfers. Again we have to time the waves as we make a dash to dive onto the back of the ferry while we’re watched by lots of onlookers – maybe not much to do here except laugh at the tourists.
Soon we’re off but then pull into another place down a bit further to pick up more locals and even a motor bike. This would have been weird yesterday but today’s boat (another outrigger) is even smaller. And because it’s smaller, we’re glad that the water is especially calm and we can enjoy the ninety minutes back to Sanur without fear of drowning.
Even though it had been calm out on the ocean, the waves in shore are bigger today and most people get drenched leaving the ferry. One man piggy backs me and Mark manages to keep our bags dry by carrying them in one-by-one on his head. Nyoman is waiting for us on the sand to take us up to Ubud and he’s obviously very excited to see us – it will mean a whole day’s pay for him. He carries my pack and we all walk past the market stalls then I duck into a posh hotel to use the loo.
The atmosphere here is as exciting as yesterday but we want to start heading up north into the Gianyar district. This is the cultural heart of Bali encompassing the villages of Celuk, Batubulan, Mas, Sukuwati, Ubud and lots more. It’s here too that we’ll find the temples of Titra Empul, Gunung Kawi and Goa Gajah that we plan to visit in the next couple of days. There are lots of places to see along the way and even though we’ve done this so many times we still stop at Celuk at a silver maker’s workshop. We watch a demonstration – I think we could do it ourselves by now – and I buy a chain for my ohm ($35 AUD). At Mas we stop at a painters’ workshop – this place is so beautiful and I spend the time looking at the architecture rather than the artwork. Anyway, it’s not the true Balinese style of painting which is very intricate and lovely. Rather it’s the new big canvas, brightly coloured stuff that’s being reproduced all over Asia.
Not far from here Nyoman takes us to a temple where we hire plain blue sarongs from an old man sitting in a bale across the road. What’s a bale? Bales are thatched roof, open-sided Balinese meeting houses that are big enough to hold village ceremonies and banquets but nothing much is happening here today.
The town of Gianyar itself is a small administrative town and Nyoman stops on the outskirts where we have lunch in an open-sided restaurant overlooking a deep tropical ravine. We order salad, spring rolls and mixed sate and rice – all good as usual.
Now we bypass Ubud where we’ll be staying tonight as we want to visit the thousand year old temple of Tirta Empul near the village of Tampaksiring. We’ve been here several times before as well but it’s always an amazing experience. Today there are lots of people, as is usual, as Balinese worshippers bathe in the sacred pool in the first courtyard and line up to wash from the cold spring water gushing from spouts in the wall. Other worshippers give offerings of flowers and fruit and burn incense in the next courtyard. There is so much colour with the people in ceremonial dress while all around is lush and green. To get back to the van we walk through the maze of market stalls but don’t stop to buy.
Also in Tampaksiring but heading back towards Ubud we stop to visit the 11th century shrines of Gunung Kawi. After parking near some market stalls we stop at the top of hundreds (millions, maybe) of stone steps where we hire sarongs and pink temple sashes to wear arou nd our waists as this is a religious place. The three hundred steps lead down a pretty hillside surrounded by farmers working in their rice paddies while the path is dotted with market stalls (surprise, surprise). At the bottom is the pretty Pakrisan River and some thatched pavilions. But the best are the rock carvings – 10 huge rock-cut candi (shrines) carved into the cliff face. Not totally read up on their significance but they look very impressive.
By this time we’re ready to get to Ubud and find somewhere to stay. We arrive about three o’clock and stop at a money changer (monkey changer, as Nyoman calls them) then he drops us off in the busy section of Monkey Forest Road. We try the Ubud Bungalows where Julie and Steve had stayed a few days ago and luckily they have a spare bungalow right next to the pool for 250,000Rp. This is a pretty place – very Balinese architecture, our own tiled terrace with a table and chairs and a big bedroom and bathroom. Inside is quite dark but we like the moody atmosphere it creates.
After a quick unpack we head for the cafes. There are so many to choose from along this strip and we decide to try a few. The first is a trendy place with goldfish ponds and low tables so we order a Bintang each lying on cushions next to the pond with rain sprinkling outside. Never mind a bit of rain when it’s still hot and it just looks like the usual afternoon shower that they have up here in the mountains anyway – the reason it’s so green, of course.
Further along is the gorgeous Wayan Café – a bit more upmarket but stunningly beautiful with little pagolas set amongst the thick gardens. Here too you can choose to sit on cushions so we have our prawn rolls and Bintangs lying around on the bamboo floor. Walking back to our room we meet a man on the street who’s selling tickets to a Kecak dance to be held tonight. We’ve seen the Legong and Barong dances so this is exactly the one we wanted to see. We also find a shop to buy wh ite water rafting tickets for Saturday. I’m not really sure I’ll like rafting but I want to do it because Lauren has done it twice and she wants us to experience it as well. The shop is a lovely place lined with carved dark wood and selling expensive weavings that we bought for a song from Sideman village where they’re made. It was just a few months after the first Bali bombing in 2002 and there was barely a tourist in sight. Everything was so cheap and we bought up big – never get an opportunity like that again.
At six o’clock, after a swim and a drink on our verandah we set out for the night. On Monkey Forest Road we hire a motor bike for two days from a guy called Made who’s hanging around near our guesthouse. We decide to find where the Kecak dance is being held first then have dinner in one of the small cafes in a quiet area overlooking the football field. There’s a few really interesting little places along here but we can’t stay long as the dance starts at seven o’clock.
Like all the dances here in Ubud the Kecak dance is held outside but with a central fire and chairs for the audience set up in a big circle. The dance itself is one of the most famous of the Balinese dances. There’s no music except for the voices of the ‘monkey’ chorus. This is a troupe of one hundred bare-chested men chanting “chak-achak-achak” who sit and sway in circles around the fire. It’s great to watch but we’re totally clueless as to what it’s all about and we’re glad when the finale happens. This involves a lot of fire kicking and running through the fire with bare feet – excellent!
Now we drive around the streets of Ubud checking out the night life (there’s none) and getting our bearings. This is really one of our favourite things in the world – driving around together in the warm night air anywhere in Asia – magic!
Friday 18th May, 2007 Ubud, Bali
Today will be a rest day. We’re staying here in Ubud again but we want to stay somewhere different tonight. Ubud Bungalows are lovely but we want something a bit more rustic. We’ll look later but first we have a swim then breakfast in the hotel café. This is set up on a verandah further down the hill and where we chat with a nice American couple. She’s a jewellery designer and comes here twice a year to get her designs made up then sells them back home in the States.
After breakfast at 8am, we walk up to Ubud Pasar to check out the local food market before it turns into the art market and when the busloads of tourists come from the coast. There are no tourists here at all so we see the true local life. So many wonderful things are for sale and we especially love the colourful fruit and vegetable section. Downstairs is the meat section which isn’t really for the faint-hearted – some bits of animals I really just don’t want to know about.
Now for one of my favourite places in Bali – the Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal. This is just down the bottom of Monkey Forest Road (hence the name, stupid) so a quick bike ride and we’re at the entrance. Even this is beautiful (lots of ‘beautifuls’, I know, but it just is). The forest is sacred because it surrounds a number of temples and is essential to providing harmony between the cosmos, nature and man – so the guide book says. The Forest is thick with vines and banyan trees and the home to hundreds of long-tailed macaques who the Balinese love on one hand because they see them as guardians of the temple, but hate on the other hand because they pinch their crops and anything else they can get their naughty little hands on.
This goes for tourists especially and the monkeys are forever lying in wait – even at the entrance. You need eyes in the back of your head and keep everything locked away in your bag and even hang on tight to your camera. While I sit watching a mother monkey with a baby, another very clever one is gently undoing the zipper of my pocket to sneak whatever I’ve got inside. Mark feeds some a few bananas that we bought at the gate then we watch as one of the rangers opens a cage of potatoes and throws a few around. He forgets to lock it and no sooner has he gone than they’re all in there stealing the lot.
The loveliest part of this jungle sanctuary is the bathing pool within the Holy Bathing Temple. Down a long mossy staircase, a path leads straight through the trunk of a huge banyan tree then across a small creek way down below to the Holy Bathing Temple. This is the most spiritual of places and I’d love to sit here all day. But of course that’s not going to happen. As usual I’ve got a long list of things we want to see today and we need to change guesthouses, so we push on.
Heading back up Monkey Forest Road we check out a couple of places – Rajas Place doesn’t look too appealing but then we find Sania’s House. This is just down a back laneway from the market and is so Balinese I could die. It’s built at the rear of a family compound set in a garden thick with flowers and trees. To get to the rooms we walk past Sania and her daughters sitting cross-legged in a raised pavilion making temple leis of red and yellow hibiscus and chopping up food for lunch. There’s a small pretty swimming pool with a fountain and the rooms are either in small bungalows or in a couple of gorgeous three storey buildings elaborately decorated with carved doorways and stonework.
We book a room on the spot then drive back to Ubud Bungalows to get our packs. Mark ferries them around to Sania’s then comes back to get me. After settling in with a complementary pot of tea, we walk back up to the market where Mark buys a couple of t-shirts, wooden plates and mother of pearl knives. For lunch we find a very basic Muslim cafe in our laneway and order ayum sate – no one can speak English because this isn’t a tourist place – this also means it’s incredibly cheap.
Back on the bike again, we fill up with petrol then head out of town for six kilometers to the village of Bedulu. We’re here to visit Goa Gajah better known as the Elephant Cave – a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism and dating back to the 11th century. We came here over ten years ago with Angie and Lauren so it’s time we made another visit. We park the bike in the carpark then walk through the market (always have to walk through an art market to get to anything). From here we follow a long winding staircase down to the two traditional bathing pools and the cave itself. Here we pick up a guide called Ketut who gives us a sarong each to wear inside the cave as it’s a religious site. The mouth of the cave is actually the open mouth of a demon carved into the rock face and inside we sit inside meditation chambers dug out of the walls.
Outside again, Ketut takes us to watch an old lady grinding rice the traditional way (‘money please’) then Mark has a go as well. We walk through vibrant green rice paddies surrounded by towering trees thick with vines then down to a lovely area we never knew existed. Here are the remains of a Buddhist temple and Ketut shows us a huge stone carved head that had fallen during an earthquake that virtually destroyed the whole place. It lay hidden by the jungle for centuries until a team of Dutch archeologists came across it in 1923.
Back on the bike we take off for Yeh Pulu village where we’ve heard about some ancient rock carvings. The village is traditional Balinese but not as lovely as some we’ve seen. At the top of the staircase that leads to the carvings, we stop for a drink at a tiny basic café where we have an interesting chat with a couple of French artists.
Mark then has to hire a sarong before we walk down past rice terraces where people are working and groups of ducks are paddling around in the flooded paddies. At the bottom we almost walk past the carvings – I think because we were expecting them to be as big as the ones at Gunung Kawi. Anyway they’re very nice and in a nice setting but the best bit is the tiny caretaker who welcomes us with a huge wrinkled smile and frangipanis in her hair. She blesses us with water out of a teapot before posing for photos like a pro – then ‘money please’.
Enough sightseeing for one day so we head back to Ubud in search of alcohol. Ubud is packed with cafes and restaurants but barely a bar in sight. We even drive up to Hotel Champuen but the only place resembling a bar is just down the laneway from Sania’s Place. After too many drinks and some extra hot salsa and chips we both have a one hour massage at a place next door. At 40,000Rp, it’s much more expensive up here than on the coast. Anyway, no problem and the massage is good as usual and we can hear a gamelan band playing across the road – lovely.
Dinner is in a beautiful and expensive restaurant on Monkey Forest Road then pineapple juices at a cute café nearby. An early night.
Saturday 19th May, 2007 Ubud, Bali to Kuta, Bali (van 1.5 hrs)
This morning we’re up at 7.30am to get ready for our white water rafting adventure – am I really doing this? Breakfast is brought to us on our little verandah and Mark has a quick swim. We pack and load our gear into a van in the laneway as we’ll be going straight from the river back to Kuta. Our driver is Wayan and our two other companions are Usunta, a Polish born Canadian, and her daughter Joanna. We hit it off from the beginning and talk all the way to the Ayung River.
We stop at the top of a long staircase and get fitted into our rafting gear – life jackets and helmets. It’s nice here with a house and chickens scratching around. I say to Mark, ‘look at those chickens fighting!’. He says, ‘they’re not fighting (stupid)’.
Now we follow our raft guide, Wayan, down the hundreds of steps that lead to the river deep within a narrow gorge. The water looks a bit rougher than I’d expected but this isn’t the wet season so it should be okay. At the bottom we scramble into the rubber boat while Wayan gives us the lowdown on how to paddle – ‘forward’, ‘back’, ‘hold on’ and ‘boom’. For the next two hours we float down the river – nothing dangerous and quite beautiful really. We get soaked under a couple of waterfalls then get out at a really pretty spot for a swim. Floating though a steep sided canyon is so lovely with ancient rock carvings almost hidden by moss and greenery. The water is so tranquil here and I can honestly feel the wonderful history and vibes of this place. A bit further along the magic is broken when we see a lady having a dump and then get into a friendly water fight with some other rafters.
Gradually we start to see a few bungalows and jump out before climbing hundreds of steps to a restaurant at the top of the cliff. Our packs have been driven here so after changing into dry clothes we have a lovely buffet lunch sitting with Joanna and Usunta – corn soup, nasi goring, mie goring, chicken, pork and fruit. They’re going back to Ubud so Mark and I share our van with an Australian family – daggy but nice
We get dropped off at Kuta Puri Bungalows but it’s too expensive so we have a drink at the Treehouse to cool down, then book into Sorga Cottages in Sorga Lane. Mark hires a motor bike the we have a massage in a little place nearby.
Later we have dinner and happy hour cocktails (AUD $2 each) at the Secret Garden and watch first half of the FA Cup. At half time we drive back to Sorga and meet an odd couple called May and we don’t know – she never bothered to introduce him. He’s a lot younger than her and she seems to ignore him. May is about eighty, has her long grey hair in Balinese plaits and wears a g-string bikini – whatever!
Sunday 20th May, 2007 Kuta, Bali
Today we haven’t got anything planned – just want to hang around Kuta. Of course, there is brilliant sunshine, endless blue sky and heat. After breakfast at Sorga next to the pool, we have a swim and lay around reading in deck chairs. This morning May is wearing a g-string bottom and is topless! Later we drive down to the Discovery – a huge and hideous department store down near Tuban. Too awful so we head back to the Kuta Art Market to buy 170 DVD’S for Angie and Lauren – so cheap at 80 cents Australian but most of them probably won’t work.
Ready now for a sunset drink on the beach. We ride down to a spot just near the Art Market and find a beach ‘bar’ – just an esky and some plastic chairs. Here we talk to Linda, a pretty woman selling hair clips, Suzy Cola and Sexy Hot Dog. I recognise Sexy Hot Dog from many years ago when we brought Angie and Lauren with us.
I ask her if she used to be called Crazy Hot Dog and she says, ‘yes, and next time you come I be Sexy Hot Dog Big Pussy’ – hilarious! She wants to give me six sarongs to spend the night with Mark. He says, ‘I no good – small banana’. She says, ‘no problem – I make it grow’. He says, ‘I no good – finish too fast’. She says, ‘No problem – I give you Viagra’. I tell her, ‘he’s very young’ and she says, ‘I know, that why I love him’. By now I’m beside myself laughing and then crack up again when she tries to sell me some tops. I say, ‘I wouldn’t wear them’ and she replies, ‘not for you, sexy bum, for your daughters’. By the time we leave, I’ve had a manicure, a pedicure, a neck massage, bought sarongs and paid too much for everything – all worth it for such a great time with the girls.
Riding back up along the very busy beach road to Poppies 1, we share pizza and chicken sate with happy hour margaritas and bintangs at Agungs Bar. This is an outdoors place near the Secret Garden and another great find. We watch the French Moto GP on the tele above the bar and chat with the locals. Bed at 9.30pm.
Monday 21st May, 2007 Kuta, Bali
Another day hanging around. After breakfast at Sorga we ride to the leather shop at Legian but have to wait an hour for Ivan’s brother to bring the stuff on a motorbike from Denpasar. To pass the time we have a drink (stinking hot already) and sate chicken at a café across the laneway and buy a heap of CD’s from a guy walking past. In the shops near French Leather we also buy runners, board shorts, walking shorts for Mark and lots of sunglasses for Angie and Lauren.
The leather gear soon arrives and I’m thrilled with it – can’t wait to give it to the girls. Dumping it all back at Sorga we have a massage and pedicure at Dewi Dewa Salon then hang around the pool. Later we ride down to the Matahari department store to buy cheap makeup, a bag each for the girls, a silver ohm ring and tattoo stockings.
About five o’clock we head back down to the beach to hang out with the girls again. This time we also have Wendy and Julie who give me a foot scraping and sell us board shorts and junky jewellery. Sexy Hot Dog is here again and again she has me in stitches. Tonight she’s calling herself Sexy Hot Dog Bloody Big Bum and when we have a photo taken together she points to herself and says ‘look like monkey’. That made me a bit sad.
Before going back to Sorga we have a fun night at Brasil Café in Jalan Bensari drinking cheap cocktails and beers.
Tuesday 22nd May, 2007 Kuta, Bali to Melbourne (6hrs flying Jetstar)
Our last day in Bali. We’re leaving at midnight tonight so we plan to just do some last minute packing and shopping. That’s until I see a pamphlet in the foyer about a ngaben or a cremation ceremony that’s taking place today. We’ve always wanted to attend a Balinese funeral so this is perfect. A quick phone call by the man at the desk and we’re booked in.
At ten o’clock we’re picked up in a bemo already full of tourists from other hotels around the place. Luckily we’re the last to get picked up so we head straight for Denpasar. The funeral is being held in a village just outside the capital and we’re there in forty minutes. The street has been blocked off and lots of people wearing colourful temple dress are sitting outside the lady’s house. Both men and women wear a batik cloth called a kamben wrapped around the waist. The women also wear a long-sleeved, lacy blouse called a kebaya while the men wear an udeng which is a headdress symbolic of Hindu gods like Siwa and Brahma.
We follow our guide inside the family compound where relatives are sitting together on the floor and the woman’s body, wrapped in a beautiful cloth of red and orange, lies high up on a little altar just a metre from us. It seems macabre to be here but for the Balinese this is a joyous occasion and they welcome anyone who wants to come. We can even take photos!
Back outside we watch the gamelan band getting ready to start banging away while the body is carried out and placed in a tall multi-tiered bamboo tower decorated with flowers, coloured paper, tinsel, silk, mirrors and a photo of the deceased lady. The body is sticking out of the top tier and looks like it could just fall out. About fifty men lift the bamboo frame holding the tower onto their shoulders and the procession to the cremation ground sets off. It’s led by lines of ladies carrying offerings on their heads followed by the band and then the body. It’s incredibly beautiful and colourful and nothing like the sad black funerals at home.
The lady who died must have been of some importance because of the size of the funeral and because she’s the only one being cremated. It’s tough for the poor people who have to bury their dead and then dig them up again when they’ve saved up for a funeral or to have a sort of multi-funeral with multi-bodies – very bizarre!
On the way to the cemetery the tower is turned several times – no easy feat. Turning the body around is to sort of confuse the soul so it doesn’t know where to come back to and can be set free. Setting the soul free is the whole idea of the cremation itself – the bodies of the dead must be cremated so that the soul can break from earthly ties through burning and go off to Hindu heaven.
We follow the procession to the cemetery. This is shaded by massive banyan trees and lots of tables have been set up heavy with food and offerings for after the cremation. The body is taken from the tower, which is then pulled to bits, and placed on a low platform. We can’t see what’s going on because everyone has crowded around but I guess there are blessings and the like. Soon though the body is set on fire and everyone starts digging into the food – more bizarre! Apparently it will take a few hours to be reduced to ashes which will be poured into the water by the family late this afternoon on the beach at Sanur.
Soon we’re back in the bemo headed for Kuta. The only problem is that because we were the last to get picked up, we’ll now be the last to get dropped off. This would be okay except that we have to drop off a bunch of losers staying at Nusa Dua – a one hour detour which is eating into our precious last afternoon. I guess the good thing is that we get to see some of the huge resorts that this area is renowned for – very beautiful but look as boring as hell.
At last we’re back at Sorga – have a swim, finish packing and walk around to Poppies I for our last dinner and drinks. Always feel down on our last night in Bali and feel very jealous of people just arriving – we could stay here forever. As we walk back to Sania’s to meet our lift to the airport we both actually get a bit teary. The air is warm and still and we can hear geckos and frogs coming out of the darkness. Bali is one very special place.
Wednesday 23rd May, 2007 Melbourne to Sydney (1.5 hrs flying Jetstar)