2007 South East Asia – Bali

After a long long but quite comfy flight we finally arrived in Bali, the island of the Gods. Some of you might remember our trouble last time, arriving there at Denpasar airport with 16 bottles of wine in our luggage. Being used to a spectacular arrival we topped it this year though… Paul’s passport expired in January 2008 but according to Indonesian regulations it should still be valid 6 months after arrival… That issue created lots of stress with the threat of Paul being deported from Bali on the first plane available. Like last year we had to go to an ‘official’ office where entry ‘negotiations’ started. As the mistake was clearly made on our side there was no much room for negotiations and we we’re asked for 400$ ‘under the table’ to get Paul a visa. Patiently I managed to bargain it down to 200 Euro and once agreed upon Paul’s passport was issued with the much-desired visa and relieved we could continue to pick up our luggage. An hour by taxi later we arrived at Guci Guesthouse and a heartwarming welcome awaited us there by Uli. After a nice long chat we went to bed, completely exhausted from the long trip and the arrival problems we encountered.

The next day we contacted the British Consulate to enquire about applying for a new passport. An appointment was made for the next day and after that went to explore Ubud, which once again has changed a lot since our last visit, now a year and a half ago. The construction of new places seems to find no end. It was good to see however that tourism finally caught up after the bombings in 2002 and 2005; people seemed to be happier and the shops were well stocked up with new merchandise as well. We finished of the day in our favorite restaurant, Warung Enak, and the food and cocktails did not disappoint!

On Tuesday we rented a driver for a day and the first stop was the British Consulate in Sanur to apply for a new passport for Paul, another 200 Euros down the drain, but we did not want to go through similar problems on arrival in Malaysia where the same rules apply. It is not that easy over there to bribe your way in…. After the consulate we drove to the very south of Bali and visited Ulu Watu. The temple itself is not that spectacular but its location, on top of the cliffs is amazing. Monkeys were begging for food, the sun was shining and both of us were in the best of moods. Our next stop was the beach of Jimbaran where we had a fresh seafood lunch on the beach. Amazing! There was a small band playing music while we enjoyed our food and beer. What an atmosphere!!!

From Jimbaran we continued our trip to Kuta in order to visit the Bali Memorial. Kuta is the most horrible of places and we were waiting for our driver half an hour before we had agreed to meet. The Memorial was impressive and both of us were silent when we read the names of the more than 200 people who died in the bomb attack of 2002. The only noise we heard was from a woman offering us a massage, it was horrible so we left the memorial for what it was.

Our last stop of the day was the temple of Tanah Lot where we witnessed a fantastic sunset while having yet another beer at the terrace overlooking Tanah Lot. By the time we returned at Guci Guesthouse both of us were tired but felt extremely pleased since we had a fantastic day.

Still not totally adjusted to the time zone we decided the next day to take it easy and went to Bali Spirit Hotel for a lazy day at the pool. The setting was absolutely fantastic and we were looking out over the river meandering deep below us. A lovely lazy day with plenty of cocktails at the pool bar, lots of sun, some music and reading. Absolutely relaxing! We spent the evening with Uli and Nyoman and time went by quickly.

The next morning was an early rise. At 7.00 we had to be at warung enak from were we were brought to the Ubud pasar (market) where all local products like vegetables, spices, fish etc were explained to us. After that we had a coffee at warung enak where the rest of the day was explained, we put on our new aprons and headed towards the kitchen. The rest of the morning we spent cooking fabulous dishes, needless to say the two foodaholics enjoyed this tremendously. Last year we did also a cookery course but this one definitely had the most style. Fabulous recipes with a lot of attention for presentation, exactly the way we enjoy our food! After the cooking we were treated with a fabulous lunch, with all the food we prepared ourselves. It was an awesome experience!  The rest of the evening we spent again with Uli, Nyoman and the guests in the other house half. It turned out to be a real party and six bottles of Balinese wine later we finally went to bed…

Friday was another shopping day. We explored Ubud and surroundings, frequented a lot of shops and enjoyed once again cocktails at several restaurants. The highlight of the day was for sure lunch at Nomads where we enjoyed a fabulous Balinese tappas. That was in one word amazing, twelve different dishes, one even better than the other.

On Saturday we had an early rise again and visited a Barong dance performance in Batubulan. It was 20 years ago since I saw this and it was new to Paul, both of us enjoyed the performance a lot.

During the afternoon we went to a lovely spa where I had a royal Javanese treat. A massage with essential oils followed by a turmeric scrub and a yoghurt pampering (and I was not allowed to drink the yoghurt but it was used to pamper the skin). I finished of in a bath covered with flower petals zipping green ginger tea and enjoying a fresh fruit salad. How more relaxing can it get? Paul had a facial treatment in the mean time and looked years younger once that was done 😉 Totally relaxed we had a small lunch, a cocktail of course and strolled a bit through Ubud.

In the evening we visited Indonesia’s best restaurant, the Mozaic just outside of Ubud. And what a treat that was. After an airport like security check at the entrance we were welcomed to the smoking lounge for a nice kretek cigarette and a glass of port. The welcome was heartwarming and not much later we were escorted to our table in the middle of a lush garden, which was tastefully decorated with statues. Well, what should I say about the meal? It was a six-course dinner with exquisite dishes. A Seafood plate with scallops, squid, fish and king prawn in a spicy broth. Lobster tail infused with oyster, crispy seared foie grass (goose liver) which was the best we ever had, Australian beef, a cheese platter, and the finishing touch was a perfect chocolate mouse with raspberries. Each course came with a glass of wine and the service was as friendly and professional as one could expect at this level. A superb evening which both of us enjoyed a lot! A short taxi ride later we rolled into bed and very quickly were of in the land of dreams, wonderful dreams…     

The next morning we were being picked up by Dewa, a driver we met a couple of days before. He drove us to the area of Mengwi to visit a small family cremation. First we went to buy a sash and traditional Balinese hat to match our sarong so we looked respectful; we wanted to go in traditional Balinese clothing, as we did not want to look like ignorant tourists. When we arrived the procession had already started and soon we merged into a group of hundreds of villagers on our way to the cremation grounds. Once there we were invited to sit down with a group of men and we had an ice conversation with some of them. It’s strange in a way as Balinese cremations are a happy event and show no tears, it is part of a series of rituals where soul and spirit prepare for the next reincarnation. Though it was a simple ceremony it was impressive nevertheless, as was the warming reception we received by the locals.

After the cremation we visited the Mengwi mother temple, which is situated in beautiful gardens. From there on the trip went northwards towards lake Bratan and the floating temple over there. Once again we were lucky and witnessed a small ceremony over there. It was fantastic to see that next to the temple a Budhist pagoda was erected, in Bali religions merge so well.

We also noticed that a bit further on during a visit to the local fruit market, over here there were predominantly Muslims which merged perfectly with the Hindu population; life can be so nice if there is a bit of respect to other religions and people.

On the way back to Ubud we once again had to stop in a little village where a procession for a temple ceremony took place. September is a very important month for Balinese people and one can see processions and ceremonies in every village.

Once back at Guci Guesthouse we took a refreshing shower and then went out for a Legong Performance in Ubud Palace. It was a fantastic performance but unfortunately we sat beside the stage which was not optimal for making pictures. Guess we have to take this performance back in memories. The evening was finished of an Nomad restaurant, another culinary oasis in Ubud.

A little sleep in, some breakfast and we were on the road again wandering through Ubud, we did some shopping, rented a car for the next couple of days and then went back to Bali Spirit Hotel for a relaxing day at the pool. It was a bit cloudy but the cocktails were nice as ever as was the food. The evening we spent again with Uli and Nyoman and all of us were getting very excited about our 20th anniversary of friendship coming up in a couple of days.

One of the things that we do very well is sleeping in Bali, I cannot remember having such deep sleeps night after night after night… Paul has really problems waking me up each morning but both of us feel extremely happy and relaxed!      On Tuesday our car was delivered and we went together with Uli to Klungkung market in order to buy fabric for tableware we wanted to have made. There was so much choice it was difficult to make a decision but we managed to select material from two sets of tablecloth, runners and napkins. Very pleased we left toko tika tika with a bag full of material.

From Klung Kung on we drove towards Padang bay where we went to our own ‘secret’ bay. We had to climb a hill in order to fin it but the reward was fantastic, small bay, super clear water and only a couple of warungs to order food and drinks. There were no more than 10 people on the beach so we were really enjoying our own almost private beach. The waves were high, and so was the undertow. Sitting on my knees I was dragged towards the waves and I did not realize the sand reacted as sandpaper on my feet leaving a big bruise, but what fun we had! A simple luncheon, fresh coconut, is this paradise? Guess it must be, unfortunately some Korean investors had thought the same as they bought the land and were preparing it for expensive villas with beach. Guess this will be one of the last times we have been able to go here as the locals will be bought out and the small warungs will have to make place for a cocktail bar and luxurious beach beds, the price of progression….

On the road to Ubud we lost a mirror of the car, which was wobbly from the beginning. We recovered it and brought the car back to the renter for repair. Walking back to Guci Guesthouse we made a ‘mandatory’ stop at Barandi restaurant for enjoying the happy hour with lovely cocktails like dragon breath, Tropical wave, Cajun moon and so on. It was lovely to sit there with Uli and catch up on so many things. Our final stop was a fantastic Japanese restaurant. The bad thing of Ubud is that there is such an overwhelming choice of restaurants that it is difficult to make a choice; one could stay here for a month without visiting a single restaurant twice. Once back in Guci Guesthouse we had another drink together with Nyoman after which a lovely bed was waiting for us for a well-deserved sleep.

The next morning our repaired car was delivered We had a nice slow start of the day and in the afternoon we decided to go for a ride without a particular destination. We drove northward towards Kintamani and on our way back in Tampaksiring we ended up in an organic farm where spices, herbs, fruit and all sorts of other vegetables were grown. It was a lovely place and we ended up drinking local grown and roasted coffee. Before we left we bought some spices in the shop and slowly made our way to Ubud. It will not come as a surprise we had to stop again in a village where a big wedding procession took place. When in a hurry this might be a bit of a nuisance having to stop all the time but for us it was yet another treat, another possibility to witness every day Balinese life, a life that is so soaked in traditional ceremonies, processions and rituals.     

Back in Guci Guesthouse Nyoman brought us fantastic news as the British Consul had called that Paul’s passport had arrived from Jakarta. It was a big relief for the both of us. In the evening we visited the kecak and fire dance in Ubud, a strange, almost hypnotic experience but how fantastic it was.

Next days first destination was of course the British Consul. It was surprising we made our way through the hectic traffic in Denpasar and Sanur but we arrived safe and sound and only 10 minutes later we left with a valid passport for Paul, nothing stood in the way now to continue our journey to Malaysia. We drove on to Jimbaran where we spent the afternoon on the beach. The local band passed by again and while having our 1.3 kilo of fried Squid (it was the smallest one available) we were treated by lovely tunes accompanied by a sometimes bit out of tune voice. Neither of us cared as it was the atmosphere which was most important. A bit sunburned we left Jimbaran beach and merged in the now even more hectic traffic around Denpassar. We did very well though and by now we are getting very good in finding our way through the south. Back in Guci we met Daniel, Uli’s and Nyoman’s son, and had a great chat with him. The last year and a half he has totally changed. He turned from a nice and playful boy into a determined and focused adolescent. He is now visiting a business university, where he was selected out of hundreds of applicants, and he is very determined to finish this and become a successful businessman. It is great to see how he realized the lucky situation he is in while most of his former schoolmates just have the change the raise a family and work from month to month to pay the cost of living. Daniel has great potential!

We went back to Barandi for some more dragonbreaths, a simple dinner (we are getting in the stage now we are not hungry anymore, as we had so much food it’s unbelievable). The rest of the evening we spent with Uli, Nyoman joined us a bit later.

Friday the 21st of September, exactly 20 years ago Charl and I knocked on Guci Guesthouse door, looking for a place to spend the night. It became more than that, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that already lasts 20 years! A big hug to both Uli and Nyoman to start the day, followed by breakfast and then off to Ubud again. First stop was to check out how the tailor was doing with our tableware. A short stroll through Ubud and then slowly headed back for a lazy, relaxing afternoon. In the evening we had a fantastic dinner with Uli and Nyoman in order to celebrate 20 years of friendship. We had 2 bottles of champagne, Nyoman had cooked an amazing dinner and we finished the evening with a special ’20 years of friendship’ cake that we had ordered a couple of days before. It was a fantastic and very cozy evening which all of us enjoyed a lot.

The next day Paul and I drove off to the east of Bali where we visited small salt factories on the beach, it was an interesting process to see and the locals invited us to walk around wherever we wanted. It was clearly a place where that not gets many overseas visitors. After a walk on the beach we continued further north to go to mount Batur. It does not matter how often you’ve been here, it remains an overwhelming experience. The original plan was to drive around the volcano to show Paul the huge lava walls but due to lack of time we had to shorten it to a ride through the lava fields which was very nice nevertheless.

Back in Ubud we brought the car back, picked up beautiful tableware (2 sets of tablecloths, runners and napkins) that we had ordered before. We were very pleased with the result. We also picked up some other things we had ordered for dining purposes and returned to Guci Guesthouse for a refreshing shower. We could not believe that it was already time to prepare for our final dinner with Uli, Nyoman and Daniel, a tradition that started 20 years ago. But whether we liked it or not, this was our final night in Bali, halfway through our holiday and time to go on. As we like warung Enak so much we had booked a table over there, just like last year. The staff was great and so were the cocktails 😉 The meal was fabulous and the atmosphere superb. What a lovely evening!

The next day I did not want to get up but leaving was the only option. Guess the good thing is that you have to leave in order to come back and that will already be in 7 months time when I’ll visit Java and Bali with my father. After breakfast we had another chat with Uli and Nyoman and the driver showed up far too early for our liking. One final hug, one final kiss and then we were off; needless to say both of us were extremely sad.

Continue the journey to Malaysia at Mulu National Park