Monday 26th May, 2003 Sydney to Denpasar, Bali
We leave home at 5.15 am on a cold, rainy morning. Drive to Sydney without any holdups and leave the car in the longterm carpark. Very miserable weather still and we wait ages for the courtesy bus to take us to the International Airport. We check in and for once we’re sorry to see that there’s not many passengers.
Bali has suffered so much since the bombing of Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club on October 12th last year and it looks like the tourists are still keeping away. The trial of the terrorists is starting this week in Denpasar so I guess this is scaring people away even more. Mark and I don’t understand this mentality but everyone does what they have to do.
I can’t believe we’re at the airport again so soon. It’s less than three months ago that we were taking off for Egypt so I feel exceptionally lucky. Mark is my dream, my love, my hero. He knows what going back to Bali means to me and what it will mean to the both of us to buy our wedding rings there. No gold or diamonds could replace or mean more than the plain silver rings we want to buy.
My heart is full when I think of this beautiful little island. I don’t know why but it feels so right. My heart breaks for the Balinese people and maybe going will help a tiny bit. I think we’ll have to prepare ourselves for big changes, though. Will we find Barney and will Ketut be at Aneka? Has the bombing destroyed this perfect little paradise?
Through to immigration in Sydney, we buy perfume, bacardi, bourbon, Bailey’s and a book for Mark – Richard Branson’s autobiography. Ring Mum and Dad then board on time. We leave at 10.50am and move seats since the plane is only a third full. Mark has three middle seats and I have two seats next to the window.
Outside is still dark and raining but within minutes we’ve broken through the clouds and brilliant golden sunshine pours into the cabin. God, I feel like we’re there already! We’re flying Garuda so the hostesses are gorgeous Indonesian girls in traditional dress. Mark gets a couple of hours sleep but I’m too excited and read up on the guidebook. We want to cram in as much as we can.
As we leave Australia, the coastline looks amazing but the best sight is the islands of Indonesia a few hours later. We fly past a few on our right, one with a volcano peeking up through the mist that surrounds it. The captain soon announces that the weather in Denpasar is clear skies and thirty degrees – awesome!
At last we see our beloved Bali. It even looks wonderful from the runway. Palm trees grow right up to the airstrip and part of it juts out into the ocean. The terminal is so Balinese with fountains and ponds and traditional architecture. Nowhere else looks like this! We pass quickly through immigration as only about seventy of us disembark while the others go on to Jakarta. Sadly, of the seventy that get off in Bali, only a handful are tourists and the rest are locals.
We can feel the heat even inside the terminal and get a blast of it as we walk outside. It’s only 2.30pm so we’re still copping the midday heat. It’s what we love and adds to the excitement. The usual airport chaos is missing and only about ten tour-guides are here holding up their little name placards.
We’re met by a sweet girl who leads us to a van across the carpark. Even this is gorgeous and surrounded by flowering shrubs and tropical gardens. As we drive into Kuta, she tells us how different things are since the bombing. Even so, the streets are much busier than we’d expected and it all looks so fantastic. It’s still the Bali we love and I’m so excited.
Down Jalan Pantai Kuta towards the beach and then along the beach road which is still busy – bemos and motorbikes everywhere and even some tourists walking around. It doesn’t seem five years since we’ve been here at all and much, much better than we’d expected.
We’re booked into the same hotel that we’ve stayed in twice before as it feels like home to us. We turn into the long driveway to Aneka Beach and see that it’s as beautiful as ever. The foyer is open on two sides and as we check in all the wonderful smells of Bali over-power us. I feel that I could burst with happiness. We ask for a room with a sunny balcony and unpack a few things before going down to the bar.
Wayan is still working here and Ketut will be on tomorrow. Wayan has tomorrow off so he agrees to take us up to Ubud for the day. Now we order Bintangs and a cocktail and can’t get the huge smiles off our faces. Mark is as happy as I am. I can’t remember feeling this way since we were here last. My heart is full and I feel totally me. It’s so good to be in singlet tops and thongs – total freedom.
The pool is right next to the bar and there are a few people sunbaking and swimming. Can’t wait to get in the water ourselves and it feels wonderful. The gardens around the pool are so lush and flowering bougainvillea is everywhere. This is the loveliest hotel – not too big and so clean and friendly. It’s also only a few metres to the beach and opens straight out onto Poppies I.
After swims we decide to check out the laneway and walk down towards the beach. The same stalls are here and so is our favourite café right on the corner across from the beach. We’re the only customers and lap up the sunshine and the excitement of this area. Young motorbike and bemo drivers are hanging around waiting to pick up fares but not having much luck. Barney isn’t here today so we’ll just have to keep looking for him.
For lunch we have satay, noodles, shrimp salad and beers – so cheap – and then walk over to the beach. It’s lined with palms and other tropical shade trees and the massage ladies are still here in force. We pay 40,000RP ($8AUD) each for an hour-long massage but then I end up with a foot scrub for $2AUD which I don’t ask for, one fingernail done for free and a piece of leather tied around my wrist ‘because I like you, Jenny’ – what a scream!
I promise to buy sarongs, bracelets, etc and come back for the full fingernail and toenail treatment. Not relaxing but I love the ladies and it’s all part of the Bali experience that you have to do. We talk to the ladies about the bombing and they all say ‘fuckin’ arsehole, Amrosi – we like to kill him!’.
The sun is setting now and the beach is packed with Balinese. This happens every day and we watch the families and young people walking around and playing games on the beach. From here we wander back up Poppies to change money and then back to the room to use the internet. Mark has had to bring his laptop with him as he’s not even supposed to be on this holiday and he’ll have to try and run the lab from here. There’s no luck with the internet so we find an internet café along the laneway. This is a change from five years ago when there wasn’t one internet cafe in the whole of Bali.
Now we walk up to Jalan Legion which is the main thouroughfare and the street where the bomb went off. Before October last year, this street was choked with traffic day and night, but now it’s almost empty. This really brings home the effect it’s had on Bali – no tourists, so no jobs and no money.
It’s depressing so we walk back down Poppies where things seem much more ‘normal’. There’s even a few more cafes opened since we were here in ’98 and we want to try them all. Firstly I just have to spend some money and buy six black cane placemats ($2AUD each), a shirt for Mark ($6AUD) and a scarf ($3AUD). Now we stop at a new café for dinner and soda waters then Mark has another swim at Aneka before going back to our room for bacardis on the balcony. A beautiful night but still hot and humid – sleep with the air-conditioning on.
Tuesday 27th May, 2003 Kuta to Ubud to Kuta
Wake at seven after a good sleep then walk north along the beach towards Legian – a gorgeous morning. We cross to Poppies II and have breakfast at Bali Corner Café. The stalls are just opening up and we really love this time of day here. We eat noodles, omelets and pineapple juice while Mark makes a few work and options trading phonecalls home.
After getting changed in our room, we meet Wayan out in front of the Hard Rock Hotel on the beach. The road is busy again this morning but mainly with Balinese going about their lives rather than the much-needed tourists. We head up Jalan Melasti and out of Kuta towards Sanur.
From here we keep driving to Batubulan where we stop to look at stone carvers at work. Wayan also takes us to a batik making centre and then on to Celuk. This is the silver-makers village and where we hope to buy our rings. I tell Wayan that we want to visit a small family business instead of the touristy ones on the main road. He drives us along narrow laneways overgrown with greenery and finally pulls into a grassy yard surrounded by trees and Hindu shrines.
There’s about six young guys here making silver jewelery on the open verandah and one of them shows us how it’s made. Inside is a small showroom where we find plain, wide rings that we love. Mark’s ring is too small so we go outside to watch them fix it. We also want to buy a very Balinese looking ring but no luck with sizes here. We’ve decided on two wedding rings each – one modern and one ‘alternate’. We look at two more silver shops but still nothing – have plenty of time so no problem.
Now we head towards Ubud which is about another half-hour away. A few minutes after leaving Celuk we’re hailed down by police who take Wayan to the back of the van and demand a 50,000 RP bribe. Other vans carrying travellers are also being pulled over and Wayan says it happens all the time. He knows it’s corrupt but still laughs about it – great attitude because there’s nothing he can do.
The scenery is tropical to say the least – rice paddies, coconut trees and everything a brilliant green. We pass through lots of small villages which all look the same with each family living in compounds behind decorated stone walls – very beautiful and very typical of Balinese architecture and design.
At last at Ubud. This village/town is the artistic centre of Bali and it’s more elevated position makes it cooler and less humid than the coast. It’s still so hot today, though, and Wayan takes us straight to the open-air Padi Prada Restaurant on Monkey Forest Road for lunch. This is amazingly beautiful and typical of so many Balinese eating-places. It’s hard to find anything here that isn’t tropical, tropical, tropical. It’s open on all sides and we choose to sit upstairs where the tables look directly onto waterlogged rice paddies.
We can even see farmers in the distance ploughing the fields with ancient wooden ploughs pulled by water buffalo. Beyond the rice paddies are coconut palms and grass and bamboo houses. We’re the only ones here and have a lovely lunch of fried chicken and club sandwiches then beers and a cocktail called Rice Paddy. We can see a couple of beautiful bungalows down below and built level with the rice fields. We ask the cost and, because of the lack of tourists, they’ve been reduced to US$80 from US$160. After looking through one which also has its own pool, we book it for Saturday night.
Wayan turns up and we walk down to the monkey forest where he’s parked the car. I ask about seeing a village and he says he can take us to see a family home. This is back in Batubulan and on the main road. Most Balinese families live in family compounds which consist of about eight separate buildings set within high stone walls. Inside the ornate gate Wayan introduces us to an old man and his wife. She’s sitting in the shade on one of the verandahs and slicing up a huge cylinder of cooked rice. She lays each slice onto bamboo screens that her husband puts out to dry in the sun. These are homemade rice cakes and she gives us one to try.
We see the tiny primitive kitchen and an open-air room with a raised floor and a four-poster style bed on it. This is apparently for weddings but we can’t really get the drift of it all. There’s four small spirit houses on stilts, chickens, roosters for cock fighting, a shed for storing rice and to keep it dry during the rainy season, lots of skinny kittens and two young girls making ceremonial baskets from bamboo. It’s a nice atmosphere.
We stop again in Batubulan village to buy three carved wooden hangers. The old lady’s shop is just a shack and everything is caked with dust. She obviously hasn’t been doing much business lately so we’re glad we stopped here. Now we drive around the back laneways just off the main road to see a different world. It’s so lush and peaceful and I know I could live here.
Back in Kuta, Mark spends an hour emailing from his laptop in our room. Meanwhile I email home from a little place in Poppies I and change some money. Then it’s time for a beer and cocktails at Aneka and we’re so happy to see Ketut here today. We know him from the last two times we stayed at Aneka and we had a funny day with him in 1998 when he took us on a trip to Nusa Dua. He’d borrowed a car and had no idea how to use the gears so we kangarooed our way out of Kuta not even stopping for a red light then ended up with a flat tyre at Benoa Beach. Of course the spare was also flat so we had to get a taxi back. He’d also brought along his little three-year-old son who he told us was ‘very naughty, not like Daddy’. He’s still laughing and smiling even when he tells us about ‘the bomb’.
All life seems to have been either before or after ‘the bomb’ – it’s been a definite turning point in the lives of all the Balinese people. Ketut was to be at the Sari Club that night but he’d taken a group of tourists up to Lovina for the day and was too tired to go out.
After he makes me a milk cocktail we walk up Poppies to a massage place I’d seen an hour ago. This is Maria Massage and it’s in a tiny shed divided into two rooms. Maria’s husband, Wayan, also does massage so Mark and I get done at the same time. The room is so cute with frangipanis in a bowl under the table and the atmosphere only spoilt by loud Eminem music coming from across the alleyway. All part of the Kuta experience. We pay 50,000RP (AUD$10) for one hour – more expensive than before but heaps cheaper than home. It’s a good strong massage as well so it’s well worth it.
On the walk back home we stop at the open-air AP Bar for drinks. We sit on tall cane stools at the bar and watch all the action in the laneway. Lots of people around tonight and the café behind is almost full. This is a great atmosphere and we love to be hot and wearing our daggiest clothes and no-one cares. Mark drinks too many beers and I have banana daiquiris while we talk to a young English couple called Eve and Martin. Back to bed by 9.30pm.
Wednesday 28th May, 2003 Kuta
Wake early again and we’re out in the streets by seven o’clock. We’ve decided to hang around Kuta today and check out the alleyways between Poppies I and Poppies II. What a discovery! All the times we’ve been here and only now do we find a fabulous world in these little laneways. It’s wonderful in here – interesting houses and girls in ceremonial dress putting out offerings of flowers, rice, fruit and incense from woven baskets.
There’s small rundown shacks selling local food cooked while you watch. These are called warangs and you sit on old, wooden benches and order real Balinese food. The only problem is that none of these people can speak English and it’s all too difficult. We decide to eat in a tourist café a bit later but first we want to visit the bombsite – been putting it off but we must see it before we go home – like a pilgrimage, I guess.
We follow Poppies II to the Bounty Hotel which almost backs onto the Sari Club and where we stayed for a few nights last time. It’s so quiet around in Jalan Legian where the two clubs once stood. Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club are totally gone and are now vacant blocks behind tall metal fences. All the buildings around here are being rebuilt or repaired and the whole area looks like a demolition site.
At the corner of the Sari Club is a shrine to the people who lost their lives here. Some personal messages from parents and one from a daughter to her mother make us so sad. We’d been at the club with the kids in 1998 so we remember what it was like – not a fancy nightclub, just a little beach bar with people in thongs and T-shirts – just a place to have fun.
I remember the morning we found out what had happened. It was a Sunday and I put the television on while I was eating breakfast. I saw news footage of a fire and bomb explosion in an Asian nightclub and then heard them say The Sari Club. I thought it must be a club of the same name in a major city but then they said Bali. I called out to Mark and we watched it in disbelief.
The rest of the day brought worse news of the number of casualties and the next week we heard nothing else. I couldn’t handle it at all. I was so sad for the people who were killed and injured but we knew from that first second what it would do to Bali and the Balinese people. The tourists just left and, now seven months later, very few have come back.
Now we head back down into the little alleyways and meet a friendly lady called Agung. She’s been buying vegetables and she shows us her home. She tells us that she does massage so we promise to come back later. Her house is so ‘Balinese’ and it’ll be an exciting change from the beach massages.
In another alleyway we see ceremonial Balinese umbrellas and decorated spirit houses behind a tall stone fence. Inside the garden women are weaving flowers and we ask them what’s happening. They tell us that there’ll be a big, religious celebration here tonight and to come back about eight o’clock. Unreal!! This is what we want to see – real Bali culture.
We finally stop for breakfast at the Secret Garden which is an interesting café tucked away behind some market stalls. Even though it’s still early it’s hot already and the verandah is the coolest place to be.
Mark has to make more phonecalls to work – so hard for him, trying to give me a holiday but copping it from the Amdel bosses. Jo Navaro had told him a few days ago ‘Mark, I do not give you permission to go to Bali’ – well, here we are and I’m so proud of my baby. He’s ready to chuck it and Joe’s attitude just confirms that he’s right to resign. He’s so calm about it all but I know he wouldn’t let me know even if he really was worried. He walks back to the hotel for more emailing while I buy five tops and a skirt from a very happy lady.
At Aneka pool we hang around swimming and sunbaking but not for long – too much to do. Swimming in this pool is my idea of heaven. The gardens and trees are so lovely and the pool has three dragonhead fountains at one end and the open bar all along one side. After cooling down we wander back down the laneway to Agung’s house. I love it inside more than the outside. It’s not as primitive as the family compound that Wayan took us to yesterday but it’s still the same setup. There’s spirit houses in the tiny yard and separate buildings for the kitchen and bedrooms but all opening onto a long verandah.
Agung meets us in her bra and introduces us to her daughter, also called Agung, who massages as well. Mark goes with old Agung and I go off with young Agung to a little house in one corner of the yard. A mattress is on the floor in a type of loungeroom and I have a great but very strange massage for the next hour. Her ten-year-old son comes back from school with two of his friends and then her husband turns up. Meanwhile I’m on my back, naked to the waist. No-one seems to take any notice so I don’t stress either. Afterwards we have photos taken together – a lovely experience.
Not far from Agung’s house, we find a very bambooey café for lunch. It’s opposite the cockfighting ring and a very green area with tall trees and shrubs. We like it here so much. A young hawker comes into the café and we buy nine CD’s from him for AUD $3 each. He’s very excited at his big sale and we’re very happy to have added to our Café Del Mar collection.
I decide to have a manicure and pedicure and find a little place in the next laneway. Mark gets his nails clipped then goes back to the room for a rest. Meanwhile, I spend an agonising hour with a lady called Maria who hasn’t got the faintest idea what she’s doing. She laughs the whole time and I don’t have the heart to tell her to stop. By the time I leave, I’ve been scraped under every fingernail and there’s a hole in the middle of one where the scissors slipped. A pretty young German girl is waiting to get her hair permed and I feel like telling her to run and don’t look back!
At 4.30pm we walk down to the beach to look for Barney. I even ask some of the other bemo drivers but they don’t seem to know him. Instead we find a nice little man called Made who drives us out to Jimbaran Bay for 70,000RP (AUD $14) – much more than we’d have paid before but the Balinese need the money more than we do so we don’t barter much at all. The drive out there is nice in the late afternoon sunshine and only takes about twenty minutes.
We came here last time so we know what to expect. Very basic cafes are set up all along the beach and we go to Maima Café where Made takes us. All the cafés are the same with plastic tables and chairs set up on the sand in front of thatched areas where you pick your fresh seafood and have it cooked over hot coals.
Before sitting down we walk right up to the southern end of the beach and watch kids playing in the sand and fisherman hanging out around their boats. This area is so alive with local people. The sun is almost setting and the sky has turned to gold. A few surfers are out in the water and it’s a perfect night – warm and still – just like every night here in Bali. Back at Maima we order beers and our seafood. It’s so expensive here now and we spend AUD $50 for twenty king prawns and calamari.
We choose a table out on the sand and have a wonderful meal of salad with our garlic seafood. Some roving musicians are entertaining other people further down and they’re even playing Bob Marley – what could be more perfect? Now Made drives us back to Kuta. We decide to walk along the beach and stop at another café for an Arak Attack. This is the very alcoholic local rice wine with lemon juice. Before heading back to Aneka we want to check out the religious festival that’s supposed to be happening in one of the back laneways tonight.
We find it easily and watch from the gate for ages. At first we’re not sure if it’s the right thing to do but one of the men beckons us to move closer. About a hundred people are crammed inside with the women wearing the traditional Balinese sarongs and lace tops with coloured bands wrapped around their waist. The men are all in white pyjama-like outfits with coloured sashes. One woman is chanting and singing while other women give offerings at the spirit houses. This is magic and we didn’t realise all these wonderful things happen just near our hotel.
Duty free drinks of bacardi and Jim Beam on our lovely verandah before bed.
Thursday 29th May, 2003 Kuta to Nusa Dua to Kuta
Sleep in till eight o’clock this morning then get a phone call to tell us that we’ve won a holiday. I’d filled in a survey at the Maima Café last night and miraculously we’ve won ‘a major prize’. They’ll tell us all about it if we go out to Nusa Dua for ninety minutes. They’ll send a car to pick us up and bring us back and we get a free breakfast at one of the resorts. Mark is suspicious straight away but they deny it’s anything like time-share. We think, why not? We’ve got nothing planned this morning so why not go for the drive.
The weather is perfect again with blue skies and the temperature in the low thirties. It’s a thirty-minute drive to Nusa Dua and we enjoy every minute. The resort is nice and we wait on big cane lounges in the huge open-air lobby. At last we’re met by Toni, a sleazy Irishman who we hate on sight. With him is a young Malaysian guy who’s learning the trade. His name is Oz and is too nice to be with this creep.
Firstly we have breakfast but we have to eat with them obviously so Tony can size us up. Then he takes us downstairs to give us the con job. Mark doesn’t let him get away with anything and we can see him getting more and more hostile by the minute. He finally says ‘you’re not going to sign anything today, are you?’ – like we’re the scum of the earth. So happy that he hates us as much as we hate him and that he still has to give us the ‘free’ holiday. Up in the foyer a nice Balinese lady gives us our voucher and we take off back to Kuta laughing all the way – suck eggs, Tony!
The driver drops us at Bemo Corner as we want to walk around here for a while. There’s more traffic in Jalan Legian today and we’re so happy to be back in Kuta. In Poppies II, I’m abducted by a young girl who takes me down an alley to have my fingernails and toenails painted pink with white and red flowers.
From here we walk down to the cock-fighting laneway and find a Thai café for lunch. We sit on cushions on the floor and are served by a smiling man and his wife. Leaning against the wall with overhead fans cooling us down, it’s wonderful to watch the world go by outside. We love it here. Told that the cockfight starts ‘at one or maybe two’ (Balinese time) so we walk back to Aneka for a swim. This is the hottest day we’ve had so far and there’s a lot more people around the pool today.
At 2.30pm we go back to watch the cockfight. It’s in full swing and there’s about a hundred men all yelling at the top of their lungs as they make their bets. It’s amazing to see and there’s lots of blood. It’s a cultural thing so we don’t judge but glad to see that they don’t fight to the death.
The men who own the cocks really seem to love them so it’s hard to work out. Apparently it started as a religious thing with the spilling of blood for the gods. I like the area around the ring the best. Underneath the trees are warangs selling all sorts of interesting foods and other types of betting games going on as well. We’re the only westerners here and I’m the only woman watching but no-one seems to mind.
Mark needs to do some emailing from the room so I go back with him to wash my hair. Now down to the bar and we meet Tom, an eighty year old Australian, who’s come to Bali twice a year for the last fourteen years. He was here when the bomb went off and told us that two girls from the hotel never came home. Another two sisters from Germany survived but then one of them was eaten by a crocodile when they went to Australia a few weeks later – true!
Happily, Ketut is here and he always makes us happy. He laughs after every sentence and has a permanently beaming face. We make arrangements with him to get a driver to take us out along the east coast tomorrow. He also arranges with two lady friends of his to come to our room to give us massages. Can’t believe that we’ve had a massage every day since we came and they’ve all been in different places.
Afterwards, we walk down to the beach then find a taxi to drive us to the Kuta Night Market. It’s only about a five-minute drive but we probably wouldn’t have found it on our own. It’s down a side-street in an open-sided shed with lots of stalls and warangs inside. Only Balinese people here and a lot of them seem to be getting take-away food. It’s all freshly cooked so it’s a lot healthier than our fast-food at home. We wander around looking at all the food then choose a popular warang.
We order fish and prawns in garlic and chili and watch it all being cooked in big woks. The people are nice and like getting in the video. We eat at one of the long tables in front and have the best meal here so far. So much cheaper than Jimbaran Bay which has become so over-priced in the last few years. No-one ever comes here to the Night Market so it’s still the price that the Balinese pay.
Meanwhile my scraped fingernails from Maria, ‘The Manicurist From Hell’, are giving me hell especially when I eat. The slightest bit of salt just about has me going through the roof and the fingernail with the hole is now bruised as well. I’d hate to see the poor girl who was waiting to have a perm – she’s probably bald by now.
Walking back to Aneka we stop at a Chinese temple which we also hadn’t known existed till now. Learning so much more on this trip – have become better travellers after lots of trips since 1998. The temple is like all those we saw in Vietnam – so ornate and so much atmosphere. A few people are praying and burning incense but it’s quiet at this time of night.
Next to the temple we see another Balinese ceremony and we watch at the gate. Again we’re invited in and this ceremony is even more interesting than the one we saw last night. This is a water purifying ritual and the men are stripped to the waist and walk up to a small doorway in a raised temple and have water poured over their heads. Women wear simple saris and do the same. Other older women are sitting around in ceremonial dress and some are burning fires. This is amazing and something I never thought went on in such a touristy area as Kuta.
From here we walk back to the hotel through the very huge Hard Rock Hotel. It’s impressive but leaves us cold and we much prefer our homey little Aneka. Drinks on the verandah again before going to bed. This is our last night as we’re off to the east coast early in the morning.
Friday 30th May, 2003 Kuta to Tirtagangga
Wake at 7.30am to another beautiful day. After packing, Mark emails and I wash my hair. In the foyer we pay our phone bill, confirm flights and check out of Aneka. Ketut’s friend, Nyoman, is waiting for us and stores our packs in the back of his van.
We plan to have breakfast on the road somewhere so we set off about eight o’clock. It’s hot and humid already but luckily the van is air-conditioned. We pass through Sanur and then along the coast road which we’ve never been on before. Later we turn inland to the small town of Gianyar which we really like. Further on we stop for breakfast at a small café on the outskirts of Klungkung.
This is in a lovely setting near a bridge and with a rocky cliff-face behind. It’s very green here and we sit in a raised pavilion with a thatched roof. While we wait for breakfast we wander down to some covered verandahs and find an artist painting unusual and lovely pictures. He introduces himself and shows us his studio and gallery and his huge sculptures made from dead trees. They’re all of the human face or body and are simply amazing. He’s so gentle and makes no attempt to sell us anything. These people are incredible.
Now onto Klunkung which is a surprisingly large town. If we had more time I’d love to check out all these places – will definitely come back again next trip. Not far from here, we turn off the main road and onto a winding narrow road overhung with thick vegetation. It’s so beautiful here. We’re on our way to the coastal town of Padangbai to hopefully do some snorkelling.
Padangbai is a terminal for boats to Lombok and other outer islands and a long jetty stretches out into the ocean. Nyoman drives us to a string of shacks near the water that rent out boats and diving gear. I think we’re the only customers they’ve had here for a long time but still there’s no hassling.
We hire an outrigger, a driver and snorkelling gear for AUD $40 then change into our swimmers in the van. The young guys at the hire shop take us down to the beach. This is so lovely. There’s no waves here so the water is calm, crystal clear and aqua blue with a narrow strip of white sand all along the curved bay. There’s a very laid-back, holiday atmosphere here with a few cafés and guesthouses across the road from the beach – would definitely love to be staying here. Another smaller wooden jetty is nearby and there’s some sort of colourful, religious ceremony happening at its far end.
Meanwhile our boat is ready. It’s a small, white outrigger and our driver is Ketut who’s brought along his young friend, Made. We push off from shore and head out of the bay. It’s so nice to be on the water to cool down but definitely getting sunburnt already. We sail around a couple of small headlands for about twenty minutes till we reach Blue Lagoon.
Ketut makes anchor then he and Made fish while Mark and I put on our snorkelling gear and flippers. The water is warm in Bali so no need for wet-suits like we had to wear in the Egypt a few months ago. The reef here can’t compare to the Red Sea but it’s still lovely and we see heaps of coloured fish. We hold hands again and I’m in love with this undersea world. Mark has been snorkelling and diving lots of times before but snorkelling is the last thing I thought I’d love – a great surprise. There’s always something wonderful and new to learn no matter how old you are.
Back on shore, we leave Padangbai and head inland to the very unusual village of Tenganan. It’s unlike any other Balinese village although it’s actually the home of the descendents of the original Bali Aga people who lived here before the beginning of the Majapahit dynasty in the fourteenth century. The village is a few kilometres off the main road and at the end of a leafy track that winds its way through other small villages.
Tenganan had become a big tourist attraction but hardly anyone comes out this way since the bombing. At the entrance to the village a few shops are selling souvenirs and, in particular, the very special kamben gringsing weavings. These are made by the time-consuming double ikat method which means that the threads are dyed to make the patterns before the weaving is done. They’re very expensive and I don’t even like them that much.
We pay a fee to get in through the stone wall that surrounds the village and find even more weavings here for sale. The setout of the village is amazing with two very long stone houses facing each other with lots of small doorways along each one signifying the many different houses within them. So many of these houses use the front room to display even more weavings – there’s literally thousands, but who will ever buy them?
The longhouses are built up a hill for several hundred metres and with a few communal buildings in the centre. We sit in the shade for a while and laugh at a chicken picking food out of the mouth of a cow that’s lounging around on the grass. Now we follow Nyoman up the hill where most of the village people seem to be hanging out.
We’ve picked a great time to visit the village as there’s to be a big festival tomorrow and today is when all the food is prepared. Most of the young people are hanging out together while the adults are congregated in groups doing different stages of the food preparation. The men are chopping all sorts of vegetables in enormous amounts while the women are cooking in big black pots over open fires. They talk the whole time and I can tell that it’s the local gossip by the rapt looks on their faces. This is so primitive here and it’s been a great chance to see more of real Balinese life.
Leaving Tenganan, we drive back to the main road and on to Candi Dasa. This is a coastal town but there doesn’t seem to be a main centre and it all seems to be strung out along the water’s edge. It’s more green and overgrown here than I’d imagined and it’ll be another nice place to stay next time. We stop now at the up-market Lotus Café right on the water and have a posh lunch of chicken stuffed with ham and cheese and a few beers.
From Candi Dasa, we turn inland again for about half an hour then turn off the main road and start climbing upwards to the picturesque area of Tirtagangga. This is our destination for today and we hope to get a room at the guesthouse inside the grounds of Tirtagangga’s Water Palace. This was built by the local rajah early last century and consists of a series of ponds, pools and fountains.
Nyoman pulls up at a small market outside the entrance and helps us carry our bags inside. Here we meet Made who leads us around the Royal Pools to the Tirta Ayu Homestay. This is so wonderful and atmospheric with Chinese-style roofs on three different levels. It’s old and elaborate and yet totally unpretentious. It overlooks the pools and sits at the base of a cliff thick with tropical greenery.
The bungalows are built up the hill behind the main building and reached by tiny winding paths through a jungle of flowering trees and palms. For only AUD$30 a night we have our own bungalow with a verandah and a bathroom open to the sky with a sunken tiled bath that’s filled by a fountain head high up on the wall.
The rest of the afternoon we spend lounging around in the big cane chairs on the verandah drinking our duty free grog and reading. Mark then has a one-hour massage with Made in the room while I sit outside catching up with the diary and getting rid of my flowered finger and toenail polish.
Dinner is in the open-air restaurant that overlooks the ponds. This afternoon we’d booked the pick of the tables which sits on it’s own in an alcove that juts out from the rest and has the best views. We have satay chicken, pork, soup and lots to drink. It’s been a long day so we have an early night with our mozzy ring burning and listening to the sounds of frogs and geckos.
Saturday 31st May, 2003 Tirtagangga to Ubud
This morning we wake to the sound of the ever-present geckos. We love it because we know we’re in Asia even before we open our eyes. The weather is perfect again and so hot that Mark has an early swim in the big, upper pool before breakfast. It looks especially gorgeous here this morning and we wish we could stay for a few days.
We walk across stepping stones through the pools and out into the market. Across the road is a bamboo and thatched café that looks out over rice paddies so that’s where we head for breakfast. The young waiter, who is also the cook, is so happy to see us. While we wait for our food, we watch the village kids walking to school and I feed carrots and bananas to a tiny monkey. The poor little thing is tied to a pole and holding a broken piece of tile that he can see his reflection in. Our breakfast is proudly delivered but it’s the worst food imaginable. Mark had ordered a cheese omelet so he gets a dry vegetable omelet with two slices of cheese on another plate. My watermelon juice is good although my toast is hard as a rock and there’s no butter. No problem, the setting and the lovely waiter make up for it.
Very hot now, so we go back to the room so I can change into my swimmers. We swim in one of the lower pools where a few Balinese kids are having a great time. Fountains pour water into both sides of the pool and, looking back at the guesthouse and the jungle growing up the hill behind, I can’t imagine anything more beautiful. We can’t stay here for long, though, as Made has arranged for his Uncle Ketut to drive us to Ubud. Ketut helps us take our packs to his van and we leave about ten o’clock with Made waving us off.
Today we drive along the inland road over the mountains instead of yesterday’s coast road. From Tirtagangga we drive up and up and around and around. The road winds its way through luxuriant tropical growth and lots of small villages. At the village of Budakeling, Ketut tells us that this is where many silversmiths live. We’re so excited that we may be able to find our Balinese-style wedding rings here. Ketut pulls up and we follow him down a laneway overhung with vines and bougainvillea. At the end next to a rice paddy is a lovely Balinese house and here at last we find the exact rings we’ve been looking for. We love that we’ve bought them here because it will always be a special memory.
The road continues to climb upwards after Budakeling until we have panoramic views of green fields and rice paddies stepped into the overlapping hills. At a lovely bend in the road, we stop to walk down a hill that’s layered with rice fields and watch groups of people cutting and thrashing harvested rice. We take lots of photos but no-one speaks English so there’s a bit of a communication problem – a lovely, friendly atmosphere, nevertheless.
Further on we stop at a tiny village to look at cloves that have been laid out on the road to dry in the sun and I talk to one of the village ladies. One day we’ll come back to this lovely area.
The village of Sideman is further on and here we stop again to watch women weaving the very beautiful songket material. The fabric is interwoven with gold or silver thread and we buy two beautiful hangings after visiting the weaving shed. It’s feels so ancient in here. It’s not a tourist attraction but the real thing and we feel a bit intrusive. Now we continue along Sideman Road which is so fantastic – small villages, Mount Batur behind us and endless views of emerald green rice paddies.
We finally arrive in Ubud around lunchtime and book into our luxury suite at Padi Prada. Our bungalow is set in a flowering garden and has a big bedroom, a kitchenette, a bathroom, a separate shower room and a large verandah with a raised platform in the middle for relaxing and eating. We’re directly on the rice paddies where farmers are ploughing the fields with water buffalo. We even have our own pool. It’s hard not to feel self-indulgent in the face of their hardship and poverty.
After a swim we walk down the main street and eat lunch in a nice café. The power is off so it has to be salad – no problem. Mark buys a shirt and I buy a shawl for Mum. Another swim and then we both have a massage at the hotel’s spa. This is in a small stone room near our bungalow and half is open to the sky. The atmosphere is so magical I could cry. We have a one-hour oil massage each with two sweet young girls – so relaxing it’s hard not to fall asleep.
On dusk we watch the sun setting over the rice paddies – another magical moment. Now we get dressed up in our new Balinese clothes and catch a bemo around to the Ubud Palace for the nightly performance of the Legong Dance. Last time we were here with the girls we saw the dance in another palace but this time the setting is even better.
We walk through lily ponds to sit in front of the stone façade which is lit up from below making a surreal spectacle. I love the dance and the traditional instruments and sitting outside on this warm, still night. Bali truly is paradise on earth.
We move to the restaurant towards the end of the dance and watch the rest of it from here. I don’t like the menu – too fancy and a rip-off – so we just have a drink and walk around the next street to a lovely open-air café. This is much more fun and more ‘us’ as well. The young waitress is a sweetie and we have a lovely night.
Sunday 1st June, 2003 Ubud to Kuta
A great sleep in our huge four-poster bed. Breakfast is fresh tropical fruits and juices. It’s served on the verandah on the platform and we dress in sarongs to feel the part. After a quick walk around town, we decide to have our own private Balinese wedding ceremony. We change into new sarongs and set the video camera up near the pool with the rice paddies behind us. We tell each other how we feel and put on our wedding rings. This is so romantic and to us it will always be the real ceremony.
The heat is melting us so we have a skinny-dip in the pool and then change to go to the monkey forest. This is only a few metres down the road which is shaded by thick overhanging vines. We love the monkey forest even though we’ve been here twice before. At the entrance we buy peanuts then walk up the wide path to the main area. I swear, I could watch them all day. There’s lots of babies hanging on to their mummies and lots of naughty little ones running around on their own. One big monkey steals the whole bag from Mark’s pocket and sits there stuffing himself while all the others try to run in and snatch them off him.
We meet one of the caretakers who shows us around and takes us to a temple on a hill which we never knew about. He shows us three miniature paintings that he’s done himself. Ubud is well known for its miniature art so we buy all three. Then he takes us down to the beautiful old temple at the bottom of the gully where a small stream runs through the forest.
This place is my utopia – peace itself. It’s so serene and incredibly beautiful. The temple is overgrown with bright green moss and the sunlight streaks through the vines in long yellow rays. Monkeys are jumping all over the place and most are climbing up the cliff face on their way to the rice paddies. Apparently there’s a leader monkey and when he says go, they go.
Back at Padi Prada we pack up and organise a bemo to take us back to Kuta. It’s a hot one-hour drive but there’s always something to see on the way. We get dropped off in Poppies I and decide to stay in a cheap guesthouse as we’ll be leaving tonight at nine o’clock to go to the airport.
Halfway up the laneway we find a nice place with a small pretty pool for AUD$14. The room is dark and dingy and very basic but it’s perfect for today. In the laneway we have lunch and buy a few last minute presents for the girls. We spend the rest of the afternoon having a few drinks and on dusk we walk back down to the beach. There’s a huge crowd here tonight all cheering on tug of war teams.
We watch for a while then have a last drink at Aneka with Ketut. So happy that we met him again but sad that we never found Barney. Maybe next time. Now we go back to the room to pack then arrange for transport to the airport. Our last dinner is at a busy café in the laneway and, like always, we really, really wished we were staying longer.
On the drive out to the airport I feel so happy and grateful that Mark thought of bringing me here. It’s been a full and wonderful week and not at all the sad experience I thought it might be. The Balinese people are incredible and have an attitude to life that we can only envy. We’ll always come back to Bali and buying our wedding rings here is more precious to us than anyone will ever know.
I love you Mark. I love you Bali.