Two weeks ago Tanith and I took off on a brief but very rewarding seven day holiday to the Indonesian island of Bali. Famous for its island surf lifestyle image, and perhaps more recently infamous for the two bombings of 2002 and 2005, Bali is still trying to get tourism, its lifeblood, back on track. We were enticed by dirt cheap accommodation at fairly good resorts, and the prospect of a nice relaxing time out of the hustle and bustle of the world’s most populous city.
Flying on Garuda Air (the Indonesian national carrier) in a fairly old 747, the 6.5 hour flight wasn’t too bad, and the 1 hour time difference meant we could settle into our new surroundings of palm trees and beaches with a minimum of discomfort. Cruising from the airport to our hotel resort in Sanur felt a little like travelling through parts of Mozambique, with plenty of traffic, and a distinctive third world feel. One major difference though was the volume of motorbikes and scooters in Bali – it seems like just about everyone has one!
Our resort in the south east town of Sanur was very nice, a few hundred metres to a decent beach, and close to plenty of restaurants. We decided to keep largely away from the touristy town of Kuta, where the previous bombs had gone off. For the next few days we spent some quality time on the beach and in the waves (no surfing for us I am afraid), shopping through some of the (compared to Tokyo) dirt cheap stores and markets, and eating copious amounts of seafood. One of our best evenings was driving through the Balinese rice paddies to watch the sun set behind an impressive Balinese temple built on the rocks overlooking the ocean, followed by a romantic seafood dinner for two on Jimbaran beach, where we had a good view of the occasional plane flying into and out of the airport!
Perhaps the only major irritating factor in Bali is the persistent and ever-present hawkers on the beach and in the roads. There is no such thing as passive selling here, as every time you passed a shop or a guy sitting on the side of the road you would invariably be asked to come inside or be offered transport services, money changing deals or happy hour drinks. We got very used to the sequential questioning of “Hello, welcome to Bali; where are you from? Where are you staying? Would you like to buy a sarong/ massage/ Balinese painting/ photo album? Tomorrow maybe? I give you good price!”
After four nights in Sanur and near depletion of the local seafood and fresh papaya supplies, we headed up to the village of Lovina on the northern, black shores of the island. We took in a few more temples, including the beautiful Udun Danu (or something like that!) situated on a small island in a volcanic lake.
We also gained an insight into the strong sense of Hindu religion on the island, as we were invited to our tour guide’s house to witness a few minutes of his family’s bi-annual family celebration ceremony. Amazingly, just about every house or shack in Bali has a shrine or two on the premises, built in honour of the hindu God and as a resting place for the souls of those family members who have passed away. Apparently you get bad luck if you don’t come to the ceremony twice a year, and clearly these guys develop very big families, as there must have been over 50 people squeezed into the family courtyard to pay homage and give offerings of fruit to their ancestors.
Our main reason for visiting Lovina was to go on a sunrise dolphin tour, and our struggle to get out of bed the next morning at 5am was well rewarded by the sighting of several hundred dolphins playing about in the early morning waves about 1km off the shore. Unfortunately we could never get too close to them, and my camera was never quick enough to get a good shot of them, but we felt that we got our money’s worth even before we then jetted off to the reef to spend an hour snorkelling, which was also good fun.
Lovina’s black sand beaches were a little disappointing though, with a bit of rubbish lying around even in the touristy areas, as well as even more aggressive hawkers than in the south. In hindsight we should have spent one day less here, but we did have another good trip when we negotiated to ride on the back of some scooters for about an hour in each direction to visit the South Sea Pearls factory. Here we got to see how the oysters are carefully grown and inseminated, and even got to see a $100 pearl being surgically extracted! We learnt a lot more about the different types and grades of pearls, with the major downside now being that Tanith would know if I bought her a cheap ‘pearl’ necklace!
We wanted to buy some pearls there as they were very well priced compared to what you would pay anywhere else, but were slightly concerned at the risk of taking them back to the resort on the back of two ‘guides’ who strongly suspected what we were up to. We eventually took a risk and cooked up a suspicious story about me paying for our lunch with my credit card, and promised to look more closely at the guide’s ‘genuine’ $10 pearls on our return to the resort. They didn’t really buy it, but we managed to get back safely without being mugged, and we were then forced to forego any further beach walks outside the resort as the guide seemed to spend the rest of the day waiting for us to emerge and buy his dodgy wares!
The day we were to leave we treated ourselves to a fine, two hour Balinese massage, followed by some furious bargaining in the cultural town of Ubud as we sought out bargain deals on frangipani essence, table dishes, place mats and anything else that was cheap and would be useful back home!
Our flight was for some reason routed via Jakarta, which made the return trip a little more painful, but at least it was an overnight flight and we were pleasantly surprised to find the humidity in Tokyo had dipped a little on a return (it has since returned to previous intolerable levels this past weekend!)
Tanith trying her hand at rice farming You can buy anything in Bali for a good price!
So now we wait for the advent of Autumn and the prospect of cooler temperatures, as Tanith knuckles down to studying for her 2 Unisa exams, before we can start jet setting again!