Bali 2023

Wednesday, Robbie Burns birthday, 25th January, 2023.

Come at me Bali, we’ve danced before and I am looking forward to it again. Our last dance was a reprieve from the ongoing, draining nature of sole parenting, and had the desired effect. This dance comes about thanks to a complete lack of “holiday” over Christmas and New Year, despite taking 2 weeks leave. Frazzled, Jimbaran declared on about the 5th of January that we should come and visit you for the January long weekend, we immediately booked it all and here we are on our way, just 3 weeks later.

Fortunately flights to the northern suburbs of Perth (also known as Bali) were abundant and relatively cheap. We secured an after-work flight for the 25th for just $272 each on Air Asia. The trip home, on 30th January, coinciding with the impending return to school, was more expensive at $670 each on Jetstar, getting us back home before midnight and therefore giving a bonus day in Bali.

Naturally our journey to Bali had its share of (minor) events. Firstly, Jimbaran managed to get himself a parking fine trying to squeeze in a haircut between finishing work and leaving for the flight. In the check in queue (“we are unable to check you in online, please check in at the airport”), the computers that talk to the embassy to check passports were offline, so we were all forced to wait. That gave us time to arrange e-Visas for Indonesia and complete the online customs declaration. With those and our COVID vaccine certificates in hand, we eventually got to the front of the queue, checked in (no one looked at the COVID vaccine certificate) and we headed off to passport control. In a somewhat familiar scenario, our e-passports failed to let us seamlessly leave the country and we ended up in another queue to present our passports to a very nice human being. He informed us that the letter J was our problem, with the machines unable to recognise it! With both of us lumbered with this impediment, he had irrefutable evidence of this being the case. If only we knew someone with a background in computer system testing who could suggest a rectification strategy. Finally, through this hurdle we were left to lay our luggage bear on the conveyor and walk through the metal detector to our gate. No wait, “shoes please” and “whose bag is this”. Remember to take off your Birks and be prepared for electric shavers to raise suspicion. Finally on the right side of the bureaucracy we stocked up on gin and vodka for the trip and for collection on the way back, headed to the gate and enjoyed a hastily consumed beverage.

The flight was largely unremarkable, with a decent-for-an-airline meal. Jimbaran had found us a movie to watch, to pass the time, which proved to be a real dud. If I hadn’t been confined to a window seat, locked in seat belt, many thousands of meters in the air, I would have walked out! Apparently, it is in line for a BAFTA, receives rave reviews and 9/10 ratings, and is according to the critics, “a finely crafted, feel-bad treat”. I think it is better described as a perfect movie to watch as you start your holiday, because things can only get better! Soon enough (thankfully) we were descending into Bali and disembarking our flight. Armed with all the e-documentation we skipped the “buy your visa here” queue and headed for the “e-visas here” queue instead. It turns out that it would have been hugely faster to have bought the visa here on country and joined the non e-visa queue. Our queue was serviced by just a couple of officials who allowed queue jumping by (Russian) families, while the queue with many more people holding newly acquired visas zipped past us in a jiffy.

Eventually though we were through and found our lonely bags on the carousel, grabbed some water and went in search of our pre-booked driver ($15). A word or two about our driver and the car. He was with his wife, both looking barely old enough to be out of school, never mind married! I made the assumption they were students but was informed that an education was above the financial capability of a driver. The car was fine for the task but lacked seat belts, something you don’t realise you naturally expect, until you can’t find it. Anyway, we were safely delivered to the accommodation and checked in promptly. The foyer area is similar to every other tropical hotel foyer we’ve been in; open air, tall ceilings, chunky furniture and floral displays. Very inviting at midnight. Following check in we were escorted to our villa, along some paths within the complex. Through the large gate we entered our “compound”. After a quick orientation we were left to ourselves to explore the villa, pool and other areas.

Immediately within the gate we were under the cover of an outdoor living area, with an outdoor kitchenette, a dining table, a couch and a tv. On the fringe of the covered area there is a lovely twin sun lounger and of course, the pool! Through to our room we were impressed with the king-sized bed, another tv, a dressing table / desk with a big mirror and some deliciously cool air conditioning. The entire back wall of the room was covered with a pair of drapes that block the light from floor to ceiling, wall to wall windows. Through to the semi-outdoor bathroom we were delighted to find a huge shower recess, double sinks, a semi-outdoor free-standing bath and the loo! Our overall impression of our compound was that we would be very comfortable for the entirety of our stay and may not ever need or want to leave. Despite being late, there was really no option but to try out the pool. Absolutely delightful. It’s going to get well used over the next few days.

“Australia Day”, 26th January 2023

This mid-week public holiday is the reason we are here. Why waste it, sandwiched between two workdays, when you can supplement it with a couple of leave days and turn it into a long weekend (and create 2 short weeks)? The holiday is known by some as Australia Day and by others as Invasion Day. I’ve commented before on my beliefs, so I won’t go there again, but not too far into the future I am sure we will wonder why there was so much conversation before we just changed the date.

To acknowledge our Australianess I created a playlist on Spotify of entirely Australian music, which we started listening to this morning over breakfast. Speaking of which, it was very nice to have breaky delivered to our little table. Something else we could get used to, a delivered hot breakfast every day. I know when in Bali one should do as the Balinese do, but I opted for eggs and will eat nasi goreng for dinner instead. Although the eggs and toast were fine, the coffee was terrible, an irony for a place that grows beans, so after a swim we decided to head out and look for a decent brew. Just one block away from our accommodation is a busy road with everything we need. We found a good coffee shop, Volken Coffee, as well as some tonic water for later, stocked upon Pringles and chocolate, before heading back to the lovely seclusion of our compound, conveniently called Jimbaran. I suspect someone with a sense of humour allocated Mr Jim to Jimbaran. Good on them, it makes it easy to remember.

After yet more swimming, listening to our play list, reading about Michelle Obama’s new hobby of knitting (who cares?) and generally relaxing, the afternoon arrived along with the 2 therapists and their two massage beds. Last week, via Klook, we booked a 3-hour massage each, comprising one hour Balinese massage, one hour body scrub and one hour facial. At $45AUD each we couldn’t resist. I was very much looking forward to it, but once booked, didn’t give it another thought. Jimbaran on the other hand must have been mulling it over, because last week, lying on Rockingham beach, he asked me “so what does a facial actually involve?” I can confirm now that the facial is done, that my description of cleanser, scrub, mask, toner and moisturiser, with a massage for good measure, was accurate and I think Jimbaran is a convert. It was superb, as were the Balinese massage and the scrub! What a luxurious way to spend 3 hours when the aim of the trip is to rest and rejuvenate. Time for a shower and another swim.

Finally our breakfast had worn off and Pringle’s weren’t cutting it so we headed out for a proper meal. Having spotted a gourmet sate house I had a hankering for this Balinese staple. Fortunately it was literally across the road and we were there in a couple of minutes. Yummo, the campur dagling was delicious, as was the ayam kalas with nasi goreng, and then the ornately presented mei goreng to fill the tiny remaining hole, all washed down with Bintang. I forgot how much I love Asian food cooked in Asia. Time for another swim and a little bevvie. I hope you all had a nice January public holiday, wherever you are and however you spent it. We certainly did.

Friday 27th January

After the busy activities of yesterday, today is a designated rest day! As with yesterday, we started with breaky delivered to the table but today Jimbaran ducked across the road and bought us a proper coffee. It’s worth noting that the price of the proper coffee is comparable to a coffee at home. Given that a cuppa is often the best way of working out the exchange rate, that makes Bali relatively expensive. Anyway, the coffee was much better than the stuff we had yesterday and nothing is as important as coffee.

After breaky we enjoyed the pool and some more music for the rest of the morning, also enjoying the light rain. Swimming in the tropical rain is lovely and something I remember doing a lot as a kid.

The rain stopped just before 12 and just in time for my pedicure appointment. The Balinese pedicure was similar and dissimilar to my usual experience in that it took a full hour and half (much longer than normal), but lacked a massage chair. As with the coffee, the cost was similar to home, but it was very much a boutique Balinese experience, not a beachside one like my manicure I had on my last visit. Now with bright orange toenails I am ready to cheer on The Scorchers tomorrow when they take on The Sixers.

Although it’s a rest day, we did take a wander down the road to grab a coffee and pastry before heading home to watch the cricket from the comfort of the pool. The sun stayed out for the rest of the day and we stayed in our compound, resting and relaxing. Eventually the need for food was raised and I requested “ginger”. With that brief Jimbaran was on the case and found us an option in Seminyak. With the cricket in Sydney washed out (and Brisbane beating the Thunder on DLS calculation) we were ready for dinner at Ginger Moon in Seminyak. To get there Jimbaran ordered us a grab and we were on our way through the busy streets of Bali. Without a booking they found us a great table outside and I was sipping on a Jamu Kunyit – Gin + ginger + lime topped with tumeric jamu + soda. Oh my goodness, such a lovely cocktail and fitting the bill of ginger and gin! Jimbaran indulged in Bintang as we decided what to eat. We settled on Bali nachos, Ayam Pelalah, nasi goreng and dumplings. So much good food, so little time. Completely stuffed (like the dumplings) we headed home in the rain for a sleep after our busy rest day. We are looking forward to tomorrow, an activity day in our itinerary …

Saturday 28th January

Oh dear, it’s raining again. The pool is full of water, Jimbaran’s shoes are wet from the coffee run and we are going cycling! Well actually, we are going to sit on a pair of bicycles and roll down the hill. I have heard this is a fun and easy thing to do, so we booked this through Viator, recommended by the Bali Bible. My only caveat was, that if I have to pedal, I want my money back.

When we booked, I thought we were going with a tour group and would be joining a few other folk, but when the driver turned up in a car, it started to dawn on me there just would be us. Sure enough, other than collecting our guide, we were on our own. We were driven out to Ubud, chatting away to the driver and the guide, Kadek. Our first stop was the rice terraces where I stopped last time. They are very pretty.

After wandering around we headed on to the coffee plantation, where we were guided through past the plants to try some samples of both tea and coffee. I remember doing this last time, but this time we bought tea. While we were coffeeing the bikes were added to the car ready for us.

About 2 hours after we left Legian, we arrived in Ubud and our car stopped in a farming area for us to start our descent. The bikes were offloaded, we were provided with helmets and water, we checked our bikes and affirmed the brakes were on the Australian sides, and off we rolled. Initially we rolled past rice fields, with people working to plough and plant rice. We saw the hand operated plough in action, a difficult beast to manage when you are in knee deep mud. All around the plough operator there were white herons, hoping for a feed of eel. The people we saw here were working their own plots, with their transportation parked along the road.

Our next stop was a family compound. I found this really interesting. Each family lives in a compound, surrounded by high walls, with a gate to the roadside. Adjacent to the gate may be an outlet for their business such as a warung, shop, mechanic workshop or something else. At the moment each gate is easily identifiable by the tall ceremonial flag, made by the men of the house, for a special day in the local calendar. These flags usually have an offering enclosed in a basket hanging from them, that includes whatever you like. Apparently many contain KFC and other unusual things like PlayStations. Obviously more traditional offerings like rice and marigolds are also hung in them. As we stood at the road a man wandered along, carrying his bundle of sticks past the flags and baskets. I doubt I would have survived long in a place where so much physical work is required, especially in the humidity.

Within the compound the entire family on the paternal line live together, with the youngest son as the head of the household. Compounds don’t get bought and sold, they simply get handed down, however this particular compound is relatively new, and is being occupied by a man who has many brothers and therefore the existing compound is too small to accommodate them all. The arrangement of the rooms within the compound is quite specific and based on the human body. The family temple in the north, the ceremonial area in the middle and the kitchen to the south. The sleeping areas surround these main structures, with the sleeping area of the household head built on a foundation higher than the other structures. The family temple is the place where offerings are made to past members of the family, hence the reason why compounds don’t get bought and sold; you can’t leave your ancestors behind.

The compounds are clustered in villages and the villages have 3 temples, one of which is reserved for death rites and cremations. After leaving the family compound we visited a village temple and listened intently to Kadek explain in detail about how the temples in Bali have different roles. I noticed the exquisite split arch entrance to the temple and it’s resemblance to the entrance of family compounds. I also noticed the offerings on the ground in many places. Offerings are made at three levels, on the ground, at mid height and up high. Once this was explained, it’s amazing how you start to notice these. The ones on the ground are obviously easy to spot, but now I am noticing the others.

Moving on we rolled through village after village, with many dogs owning the streets. They aren’t strays, rather family pets with licence to come and go as they please, darting out to see what’s going on and risk their lives and those of bike rollers! Our next stop was alongside a rice field where a scarecrow was hard at work. Now don’t think a human-like form, pegged into the ground, with straw protruding from the sleeves and trouser legs. Instead think of a man with a sheets of reflective paper, standing in the field for 5 hours, chasing away birds that swoop in to feed on the maturing rice grains. The man is relieved by his wife who takes the second 5 hour shift later in the day. In this case they are paid by the landowner, about a $1AUD per hour.

Directly across the road from the scarecrow a new structure was being erected, about 300m from the road, behind a rice field. At the road the building blocks had been delivered and women were in the processing of moving them to the build site for men to lay. The blocks were about the size of a large shoe box and each woman was carrying 3 at a time. I doubt I could carry one that distance, never mind three. The clincher is that almost all of these women were carrying the blocks on their heads! Our guide spoke to them on our behalf. They told us there were 8 of them, each required to move 100 blocks, to be paid $5AUD each. That’s $40AUD to have all the blocks moved. They also told us that yes, their heads and necks hurt, and I noticed the one woman was carrying two blocks on one shoulder and one tucked under her arm. Goodness me, that’s a tough days work, with little OH&S consideration. I felt for the sisterhood and wished them all the best.

Not far from here our downhill ride came to an end at a warung (like a kitchen outlet) with an amazing view over the rice fields. We were given a lovely meal, with some delicious fried soybean cake that I want to eat again, some cold water and some cool, fresh fruit. Kadek and the driver didn’t eat with us, explaining that the idea of eating with other people is unusual in Balinese culture and it would make them feel uncomfortable. In fact Kadek explained that most families only eat breakfast together, then duck out and eat at warungs during the day, on a needs basis. So we enjoyed our meal together loving the view and reflected on how awesome our day was. All too soon, but also just at the right time, our tour came to an end. We were very comfortably transferred back to our accommodation where it was raining, and looked like it had been all day. How lucky were we to have had a beautiful, dry day? It would have been completely different in the rain.

So Bali, this activity was much more enjoyable than my tour on the last trip. Here’s how I reviewed it on TripAdvisor: We are a couple of oldies (54 and 56) who do cycle at home, but just wanted to cruise downhill, in holiday mode. This tour was perfect. We were picked up from our hotel at 10.30. It’s a fair drive from Legian / Kuta / Seminyak, but definitely worth it. Everything was provided, including helmets and bottled drinking water. The bikes were in good condition and suitable for the tour. We stopped to look at rice terraces and working rice fields. We visited a family compound and Kadek introduced us to some interesting information about Balinese culture and way of life. We visited a temple and cycled through a dozen villages. All up, we went downhill for about 27kms! The cycling part of our trip ended at a warung at 4.45pm, for a delicious meal. A great day out in the island! Would highly recommend this tour to anyone who can balance on two wheels.

And for the record, I hardly had to pedal!

Sunday 29th January

After all that exercise, we definitely needed a rest day, around the pool. So, after breakfast that’s exactly what we did until the need for more coffee drove us out onto the streets. We didn’t go far and, on the way, Jimbaran started the tricky process of gift buying in Bali. The requests included “Bali pants”. Fortunately (or unfortunately) our very short walk to the non-existent café that Jimbaran had chosen, took us right past a market stall selling pants. In no mood for the obligatory haggling, I choose the 6 pairs, and left him to negotiate the price from 900,000 to 300,000. It was almost too hard to watch, but with his experience from Vietnam, he was definitely the man for the job and secured the purchase! I almost need alcohol instead of coffee after that! We did find a nice little roastery just near the villa, and enjoyed a very nice coffee and quiet reprieve from the heat outside.

Back home, we spent the afternoon poolside, sun soaking and resting, conscious that we are heading home tomorrow. As the evening approached though we got ready for an evening out, Jimbaran’s family gifted us some money for Christmas, so we decided to treat ourselves to a swish meal at one  of Bali’s finest restaurants, Kaum Bali, at Potato Head. The restaurant is part of the Potato Head Beach Club area. I have never experienced a beach club, and looking down on all the people crammed into that little club area for the day, I can see why. I am sure the folk there were having a nice time, but I was glad we were having a better time! We thoroughly enjoyed delicious drinks on the balcony overlooking the sea at sunset. I thoroughly enjoyed a gorgeously presented cocktail called Indo, mixing lemongrass-infused gin, citrus juice, mint, spiced syrup, and sparkling wine. When our table became available we were escorted inside to “The dining room of Kaum Bali, thoughtfully designed to reflect the rich culture and traditional craftsmanship of Indonesia. Concrete wall panels have been stamped with motifs from genuine Torajan wood carvings, known as pa’sura (or “the writing”). Bespoke ceramic tableware by Gaya is used for serving and the long communal table in the centre encourages guests to eat in the traditional family-style manner of Indonesia’s tribes”. Very nice.

We were waited on very well. We chose and thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful of the Sate Buntel Dengan Acar Rujak – Grilled lamb satay wrapped in caul served with pickled vegetables, rujak-style, the Rendang – braised beef in a mixed West Sumatra spice and fresh coconut milk sauce, red bean and potato, and the MIE GOMAK – Wok-fried noodles with shredded grilled chicken, andaliman spices, fresh curry leaves and coconut milk sauce, all washed down with a pair of Rocket Juices, mixing strawberries, pomegranate, citrus, guava and tangerine juices, with house-made hibiscus syrup. Despite all that food and drink, we were unable to spend the funds, so there are some left over for tomorrow … If you are in Bali, we would highly recommend all three places we ate at, each different, with different budgets and different atmospheres, but all delicious.

Monday 30th January

Of course all good things must come to end, but not before one last luxury. We spent the morning resting, packing and sadly checking out. We thoroughly enjoyed staying here at S18 Bali Villas. Without hesitation we would come back and stay here again. The staff were friendly and kind, while being almost invisible. The room was comfortable, spacious and clean, with all the amenities we needed. The pool was cool enough to enjoy on a humid day and warm enough to stay in for a good long swim or soak. The breakfast was fresh, and supplemented with a bowl of pastries to nibble on throughout the day, and topped up with sweet cakes in the evening. The grounds of the complex were stunning and while there were other guests staying in other villas, we never saw them and rarely heard them. The location was supreme, with everything we needed within walking distance, and Grab fares to Kuta and Seminyak just a couple of dollars each. We found a great deal for the 5 nights through Agoda, and would recommend you shop around, as the prices on the website are much higher than other sites.  

After leaving our bags at the villas we grabbed a grab and headed off for a very decadent massage at Bhava Spa at Amnaya Resort in Kuta. From the minute we entered the spa we were treated very calmy and specially by the staff. We started our experience with tea, as we flicked through the spa menu. From the spa menu (!) I chose a relaxing Samskara Warm Stone, over 90 minutes designed to “revive aching muscles and banish tiredness with a healing massage performed using heated basalt rocks and a detoxifying oil blend. A feeling of warmth will penetrate your skin as the rocks are gently glided over the body in caressing motions”. Jimbaran went with the Balinese Massage, also over 90 minutes, to “experience the curative benefits of traditional Balinese massage to revive your senses and eliminate muscular tension. It combines long strokes with robust thumb and palm pressure to stimulate circulation and restore energy levels”.

Once we confirmed our choices we were lead into the couples room and our experience started with the “refreshing foot wash (which) soothes tired toes while a small bell rings softly to symbolically announce the beginning of this experience”. Oh my, I could get used to this without any problem. Next, we were invited to enjoy our respective massages, which I can confirm were amazing. I love hot stones and this massage was as good as any I have had, just the right heat in the stones and pressure in the massage. Our post-massage experience was also great, with more tea, and time to regather ourselves. If we came back to Bali, I would definitely head back to Bhava Spa and may even try on e of their Bath Rituals!

Back on the hot and busy streets of Kuta we needed to secure a few more gifts, so we repeated the procedure from yesterday, with me even less inclined to haggle and Jimbaran even more confident. It helped that we were all out of Rupiah and literally spent even last one on the this purchase of hats, shorts and baby Bali Pants (for Evie). The lady didn’t believe us and kept trying to haggle until she relented and we walked away with the goods. Maybe Jimbaran can do the negotiating on our next big purchase at home! All out of money and time, we headed back to the villas to collect our bags and wait for our driver to take us to the airport.

Nothing ever goes as smoothly as it appears when I write it, and so for the ugly truths. I cam home with a rather uncomfortable case of Bali Belly, something I didn’t anticipate or plan for. Luckily it resolved relatively quickly without antibiotics, and I learned not to leave home without all manner of medications next time! I also awoke the day after we got home to an unfolding flood, threatening to swamp my house! Just what you need when you are struck down with a belly ache. Both were less extreme than they felt at the time and neither were bad enough to spoil the relaxing holiday we set out to have.

So there you have it Bali. We travelled to visit you again, enjoyed your wonderful hospitality, rested, explored, ate and drank, swam and rode, relatively cheaply, and all in 4 days and 5 nights. I think we agreed we could easily go back and redo the private villa with a swimming pool, and even toyed with the idea of making it an annual January long weekend event. Who knows, maybe we can convince the Drummer and Piper and their respective partners to join us. We’ll see …

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