A Bali birthday!

July. Call me partial, but it is a lovely month of the year, every year, for more than one reason. First things first, Happy birthday to me!

In keeping with the trend of restful nights, another 8 hour night followed. It would have been the aircon or the phase of nothing-to-do-other-than Eat, Burp and Sight See (Sorry Elizabeth Gilbert!), the nights on vacation days help you catch up on any sleep debts you have from the days on the hamster wheel.

The morning began with the usual machine made coffee at the patio of the room, listening to the birds tweeting, watching the calm albeit high tide sea, gardeners going about what gardeners do, early morning swimmers taking a dip and the man of the house packing used laundry back into our suitcase. We were going back home today.

We wanted to make our trip worthwhile for everyone involved. That included our daughter, who was braving through all the temple relic visits and all the conversations, only with the faintest hope that we would make it up to her by doing something fun at Bali. So we decided to do away with a half day shopping trip to Kuta ( which was what was on schedule) and instead went to Tanjung Benoa, which is where all of  Bali gathered for adventure water sports.  It was a ten minute drive from our resort and we got there early yet there was a big crowd already.

We sat with a slime ball employee of the adventure sports club, whose main job was to convince whoever he spoke to, to think of themselves as the best people who have set foot on the island of Bali. He tried his best to convince us that the adventure sport options he offered us were at a special price. But  having been there done that several times over, negotiating that is, we told him what we thought would be a good price. After the usual back and forth drama, we settled at some price we thought was reasonable. (Restless Wira did not relax till he was assured that we had frozen the deal and heard the cash machine in his brain go Ka- Ching!!)

Yes, that is us on the banana boat!

The first of our adventures was the ride on a banana boat. The ride was just that.  A ride on a banana shaped air float that was towed at high speed into the ocean, without a clue how far, how long or how jerky the ride was going to be. But let me say that it was enjoyable (for me), an adrenalin rush (for Akank) and safe ( for GSR).  If the banana boat had capsized or worse still deflated, the only saving grace was that we were all wearing life jackets and would still be afloat at sea for someone to spot and save us!

The second sport we opted for was more adventurous. In retrospect, GSR says it was the most foolish thing to have attempted. To start with, we were not given any life vests to wear on the motor boat that took us to a  point in the sea (that seemed like the middle of the sea to a novice’s eyes), to a bigger boat. The bigger boat was stationed just over the spot where we had to deboard the boat to get to the adventure. Secondly, the adventure club employees (at home in the rough waters, smoke spewing motor boats and figure hugging scuba wear) never really prepare you for any emergencies that may occur enroute to the sea bed or beyond. As it turned out, the Sea walker,     (which was what the adventure was called) was a half hour walk on the sea bed among the under water sea life and coral reefs. We were given scuba diving suits, foot wear and huge oxygen head gear to wear that allowed us to breathe through under water. Here is a link to a YouTube video of us under the sea!

What really happens when you get lower than 5 meters /16.5 ft under water, is that, your ears start popping (and that hurts) because of the change in pressure. To equalize the pressure, they advised us to keep blowing air into our ear canal. But like all good advice, when you are on your own, 5m under water, and the only sound you hear is your own breathing, the gush of water around you and the awful realization that this may well be your grave, the advice doesn’t come of much use.

But just as I was busy recalling the hand signs that I was shown for emergencies, before I was guided under water, I was swarmed by hundreds of multiple colored fish! The fish temporarily made me forget the discomfort in my ear. It was blissful to be part of their world till the ear pressure and the light headedness of being under water hit me back in full force. I survived the experience and lived to tell the story!

Wira’s eyes sparkled when we handed over a handsome tip, for being our knowledgeable guide and friend for the length of our stay at Bali. I “warned” him that his inputs on the various subjects we talked about were going to be published online and that he would be responsible for the authenticity of the information shared.

Disclaimer. All information shared in these blogs are either my observation or Wira’s. If you have anything to clarify, you know where to reach me (and I know where to reach him)

Bali beyond 48 hours

Selamat Baagi!! apaakabaa? ( Good morning! How are you) That was the Bahasa I learnt on Day 3 from none other than Wira himself. You did not expect me to stay more than 48 hours in Bali and not pick a smattering of Bahasa!

The dreadful part of the mornings in the resort is always the machine made coffee. I cannot for the life of me understand the concept of creamers instead of good old milk.  Well the morning at the patio of the room more than compensated for what the machine made coffee lacked. Refreshing breeze, lovely sun, scenic views, and the cheerful bougainvillea that seemed to celebrate every time the breeze blew. The ocean looked a color that was a stark contrast of the blue that it was on day 2!

The land in the sea!

Our destinations were up North of Bali today and so we needed to drive long hours. Our first stop was a beautiful 16th century temple in the Indian Ocean called Tanah Lot. This temple is dedicated to the God of the Sea, Varuna.

Sometimes when the tide is high, you cannot walk upto the rock. Today we could. Even though only Balinese Hindus who wear  their traditional attire, head gear, kebaya and the works are allowed inside the temple.  There were a few pretend holy men at the bottom of the rock temple, smearing raw rice on everyone’s forehead and inserting a frangipani on everyone’s ears and collecting whatever funds came their way. What is truly amazing is the fresh water spring from the rocks in the middle of the salty ocean water, that the Balinese Hindu believe is holy. It was piped and pouring freely, but I did not dare to sip it to test if the water is indeed fresh.

Between the resort and Tanah Lot was an hour and twenty minutes of drive time and what but casual banter with Wira was the order of the day. Wira showed signs of exhaustion, with the wealth of info he possessed . It seemed to him that there was no respite to the question bank I had for him and how long could he keep refreshing content for me?

My husband had heard of the tooth filing ceremony  in Bali  and asked Wira about it and that gave something for us to start the days conversation with. Wira said that the ceremony was called Matata ( like hakuna Matata from Lion King) and it was a ceremony that was still practiced by some Hindus. It is believed to be conducted for boys when they grow to adolescence to remind them that they were not wild like animals and so needed to control their animal instincts! (Don’t we all know of some people outside of Bali that need such treatment? )

The hubby was on a roll! He began another gory subject- death ceremonies. We had already talked in detail of the birth and marriage ceremonies and so why leave is untouched?  He had watched a documentary about some sect in Bali, who left the dead in the open without a burial or cremation and allowed to decompose. To my ears, it sounded like a bad subject to discuss! But Wira being the sport he is, confirmed that it was still a practice but  in a remote village called Trunyan.

We passed a board that said Ketut and I immediately recalled Eat Pray Love  in which the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, spends some time in Bali . I asked Wira about the Medicine man whose name was Ketut something. It led us to the next topic – The naming conventions of Balinese names.  All first borns in Bali Hindu families are named Wayan, the second Madey, the third Nyoman and the fourth, Ketut. Now you would want to know what the fifth would be named like I did. Wayan again! All men have common first names as I (ee) and women are called Ni (née).  An I Wayan XXX, will be a first born son and a Ni Ketut XXX,  will be a fourth born daughter! Wira’s name is I Wayan Wira. He has two kids. Ni Wayan Putri and I Madey Mahatma Rajendra. Go figure!

The water temple in Lake Bratan

We had reached the beautiful Mt. Batukaru vicinity meanwhile and the weather had turned absolutely windy and pleasant. We stopped for lunch at a mountain side restaurant yet again and the splendor of the ambiance even made Balinese vegetarian food, after three days, seem like a delicacy! We drove up to Lake Bratan to see the beautiful Ulun Danu temple.

The temple of the Royals

Our final stop was at Taman Ayun temple, which was a 16th century relic of the Royal family that ruled the Mengwi district. The remains of the royals are till date preserved in these premises and it recently became a UNESCO heritage site.
That concluded our day 3 at Bali!

Bali, the next day

The night at Nusa Dua was peaceful. All of us got more than our usual hours of sleep and that set the  mood for the long day ahead. After a  quick breakfast we were headed on our way out early since we had a long drive before we reached our first destination.

These Barong dancers were so dainty and graceful.

The first treat of the day was an hour long Barong and Keris dance performance by a local Balinese theatrical group. A group of 8 people enacted a little known scene from the Mahabarat, the moral of the performance being the victory of good over evil. The elaborate costumes and traditional music made it worthwhile even though we did not really understand the entire plot summary of the performance.

Wira continued to enthusiastically share plenty of tidbits about Bali. First off, he showed us a tiny bamboo basket with colorful flowers and some green palm leaves in them and told us that it was called  Canang Sari and was an offering made to Hindu Gods before the start of anything new. Like today, it was offered to the Gods to make sure our trip today will go hassle free.

The Canang Sari in the car

Our next stop was a Batik village. Wira, like every other tourist guide gets a cut from any sale he causes, so I empathized with his enthusiasm that we bought something! Thankfully for Wira, we did decide to make some purchases.We also stopped at a silver jewelry making outfit at another village called Celuk and Wira’s commissions just grew and grew!

Wira turned out to be a wealth of information on anything I asked about Bali. How else would I have found out that Rooster fights were the biggest source of gambling in Bali ? The act is illegal and is punishable with a 3 month sentence in jail!

Since Wira was in a chatty mood and we had a long drive ahead of us before we reached the beautiful Mt. Batur, I engaged him in plenty of conversation. I asked him about the Local festivals (did you know Diwali is celebrated for three days, with each day designated for one activity and the last day designated to apologize to the family for all the wrong doings in your life?), the Balinese weddings (Can be classified based on the levels of elaborateness as  Nista, Madya and Uttama), the Balinese calendar (has 12 months but 35 days per month) the vehicle registrations (all Balinese vehicles have DK on the number plate and plenty of other details), the traditional martial arts form (Pencak Silat )

This guy was caged and kept in the spice garden. He makes the beans of the Kopi Luwak!

We stopped at a spice garden on our way to the volcanic Mt. Batur. We saw huge cocoa beans, ripe coffee beans and cinnamon bark here. I also found out about Kopi Luwak.

This gourmet coffee is made from the bean taken from the poo of the civet cat that eats the red coffee bean skin and excretes the undigested bean in it’s poo. The coffee producers then grab them back and process them for this specialty coffee!

Yeah, that is what I am talking about!

The spice garden also had two pet  flying foxes, that were hanging upside down from two bare bush trunks like it was the most normal thing to do ( have you seen the wing span of a bat?)

The magnificent Mt. Batur.

We finally reached Mt. Batur. I was already feeling refreshed with the content of the conversation with Wira yet the scenic mountain was something else! Wira had wisely planned a lunch break right atop of Kintamani, which is the district of  Mt.Batur and we sat on a patio overlooking the volcanic mountain and it’s lava debris from the eruption 50 years back.

We passed large orange orchards and stopped to pick freshly picked oranges  from the orchard workers.

The entrance to the cave

Our last stop as per schedule was the Goa Gajah,a 11th century temple ruin with a small cave that used to serve as a meditation hall for Buddhist monks and Hindu holy men.

Move on to the next post to find out what else I did and  discovered on Day 3!

Vacation at Bali

Come July and we are looking  for a new place in the South East of Asia to go for a short vacation. Both Ramesh and I grow a year older in the first week of this wonderful month ( Allow me my prejudice) and we live it up to hail the new year that begins. Our last July trip was to Bintan. This year we chose Bali.

As always, my blogs are notes of my vacation schedule, with details of what I saw, ate, learnt and experienced. The object of this blog post is to help me relive the vacation some time later and excite you into wanting to travel to these amazing places and experience all that I have. So, belt up and enjoy the ride!

The flight took a little over 2 hours and gave me just enough time to watch Man on the Ledge and eat a Asian veggie meal. The landing was not as smooth as the take off but we touched base at Denpasar International Airport just 5 minutes behind schedule. Indonesia issues visa on arrival and promptly did when we arrived and within minutes we had cleared the queue at customs and were met by our guide for the next four days, Wira.

Wira greeted us warmly and offered to pick our suitcases and led us away into the melee at the airport, of hundreds of tourists arriving and leaving Bali. The Diahatsu Luxio which Wira’s accomplice drove was waiting for us at the curb and we hauled our one and a half pieces of baggage and ourselves into it and were on our way to  the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa.

Wira in his polite Indonesian accent informed us of our schedule for the next three days and how he was flexible if we need to take it easy. We asked him random questions about Bali and he kept us engaged in conversation. We gathered that there were 4 million people in Bali, of which not more than 2 million of them were Balinese,  in all 5600sqkms of the country which was a little over 8 times the size of Singapore!

At the end of the half hour drive from the airport during which Wira covered every subject possible from Hindus at Bali, to temples for The Trinity, music, culture, food, language , we reached the beautiful Nusa Dua resort. We had to pass heavily guarded gates and armed guards and security to enter this part of Bali. Wira mentioned that Nusa Dua has the most premium resorts and the security has been pepped up since the 2002 Kuta blasts

This was the ceiling of the Master bedroom.

The front office staff at the resort handed us aromatic cold towels ( Jasmine or Moringa) that immediately revived our senses. A freshly squeezed tropical fruit juice that tasted divine followed and after a brief ten minutes, we were checked into our room.

The view from the balcony of our allotted room at the resort.

A beautiful two room  fourth floor accommodation, with quaint balconies in each room, a bunker in one just like Akank dreamed of  and traditional Balinese decor. Multi coloured bougainvillea flowers lined the balcony and we could see the the blue expanse of the Indian ocean.

Soon after we had unpacked, we left to explore the Nusa Dua resort and spa. The afternoon was breezy and the wind made the ocean look even more blue. We spent a lot of time walking up to the beach front.

We came back to the room to freshen up and went for an early dinner. We had Balinese vegetarian food for dinner. A mixed vegetable in red curry and a mixed vegetable sate with red and white rice. The dessert we ordered was another something I really enjoyed, It was called Cendol Manis . Rice dumplings in palm sugar, jackfruit and coconut milk. Exquisite.

More on what we did the next day in my next post!