Monday, September 21, 2009

Puri Manggi, Lovina, Bali

Puri Manggi: The Mango Palace is a lovely boutique hotel set in the hills above Lovina on the north shore of Bali. It is nestled on a ridge with luxurious landscaping including a bounty of mature mango trees (hence its name). There are a small number of individual bungalows and a few rooms together that face towards the sea. The rooms are large and quiet with comfortable beds and wonderful outdoor (semi-covered) bathrooms (the sinks are inside: commode and showers are outside). They had decent air conditioning and a very nice front porch with chairs and lounger. There was a television in the room for DVD watching with a very nice supply of DVDs in many languages in the dining room…but we never seemed to get around to it. We enjoyed the quiet.

Puri Manggi has the most spectacular pool I have ever had the pleasure of swimming in and sitting around. It sits at the entrance of the property taking full advantage of the broad view down to the sea (some distance away) and the wonderful cooling breezes coming up the slopes. Jerry and I are decidedly not “pool sitters” and yet there we were happily ensconced on comfortable loungers sipping a sprite and reading our books under a big umbrella. We took the occasional dip in the pool in the company of swooping swifts and swallows (and later towards dusk a few bats coming for a drink…of water of course). Jerry loved the reclining ganesha statue that spouted water from its trunk. He’d go and stand under it and get the water to cascade on his neck and shoulders. I’m sure he’d love one for the pool at home!

We spent 4 nights at Puri Manggi. Our room came with breakfast and dinner and we were happy to have all the meals there because the food was excellent. There was a nice choice each evening and it was excellently prepared. We also had lunch a few days, once served down at the pool. We even took a cooking class with the chef Gede Suadnyana and his assistant Komang Agus. In the morning of the day of our class, we accompanied Gede to the Singaraja market to get food for dinner that night. We wound our way through the vendors and he stopped to check the ripeness of a papaya or haggle a price for a side of yellowtail tuna...fresh…carved up in front of us yellowtail tuna. We saw freshly killed chicken (with heads on) and pig in many pieces (including the yet smiling head sitting on the counter…a little unnerving to see Wilbur smiling in the next world). It was a wonderful place with the scent of fresh fruit and fresh spices permeating the whole market place.

Our cooking class was later that day at 4 pm. We met Gede and Komang in the hotel kitchen (along with Mimi the kitchen cat) and proceeded to make a Balinese salad, a chicken curry, a beef curry, and a dessert (the name of which I am going to have to root out of my file and edit this post later) which was made like a rolled pancake with coconut/pineapple/sugar filling. We grated coconut, we grated roasted coconut, and we smashed spices and garlic and chili with mortar and pestle. Balinese do not believe in a food processor, except perhaps for making coconut milk (after you’ve hand grated the coconut). They believe the flavors are better by hand. Fortunately we had kind chef teachers who were willing to finish the job when Jerry and I wimped out. It is HARD work and these men must have arm muscles like iron. The dishes turned out delicious and we really appreciate Gede and Komang’s kind instruction and good humor.

One morning we rose before dawn to take a car down to Lovina beach to catch a motorized outrigger out to see the dolphins on the Bali Sea. The sea on the north side of Bali is very calm; at least it was this day. There is virtually no surf, which I suspect is why it is not as popular as the Kuta, Legion, and Seminyak regions. So out on the calm sea we rode in a skinny outrigger with thick bamboo poles for the “outriggers” and a 9 horsepower gasoline engine strapped with a rope to the cross strut. Now I’d like to say we were one of a few boats out in search of the dolphins on this quiet, predawn sea, but I can’t. It was like New York Times Square at rush hour. With all sizes of outriggers and tourists with every make of camera trying to catch a photo of the sleek, gray bullet of a dolphin.

We were lucky, we saw many dolphins. And we were lucky that our boat driver wasn’t one of the ones that made the mad dash to descend on a pod of dolphins on first sight. It reminded me rather sadly of the “bad guys” in the Pacman game trying to chase poor Mr. Pac Man down. Rather our driver figured out which way they were headed, made a dash around the pack and positioned us to race with the dolphins as they swam out of the madness and leaped in our wake and at our bow. It was pretty darn cool. Didn’t get a decent photo…but I stopped trying…I was so entranced with being with the dolphins.

We decided after that to leave them alone, kind felt a little like a bunch of hunters interrupting their morning feed. So we returned to the shore weaving our way through smoke from rice fields wafting across the still bay and gliding past sleeping sail boats and yachts moored in Lovina Bay.

The staff at Puri Manggi was one of the most considerate and delightful group of people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They were gracious, considerate, efficient, friendly, and kind. They were curious and talkative. They were very good at what they do. They made what would have been a very a wonderful visit into a FANTASTIC visit.

Besides the cooking class, we also had a massage and flower petal bath, and a manicure. The spa is in a delightful open sided building down the hill from the main complex of rooms. It is nestled in the trees (mangos of course) and has a fountain and stream running around the perimeter of the building. So there we lay on tables in a room open to the tree tops with the breeze coming in and the sound of birds, and water, and geckos filling our ears. And we had a wonderful, wonderful massage. Then we sat in another room open to the trees in a giant tub (big enough for two) of hot water and filled with flower petals. What a delight! The manicure was also great. She took her time and did a bang up job on my banged up hands filled with hangnails and broken nails. We had a delightful chat about her home and her family and about rock and roll and our shared loved of Michael Jackson and Bryan Adams! Music…the international language!

We also had one of the drivers take us to Singaraja one day to go to Hardy’s (a department store with everything from food to shoes) and the central market. He was an amiable and helpful young man. He apologized that “his English not so good” but we communicated well and he was very helpful accompanying us through the markets and giving advice. Jerry found some knives (always on the lookout for new knives) and we bought a few kitchen gadgets (like a coconut grater, although I’m really going to try and figure out how to do that on a cuinsinart!!). We marveled at all the many colored fresh eggs (including pale blue ones…that are especially nice for temple offerings apparently) and all the fresh spices. We also were fascinated by the extensive amounts of foodstuffs and decorations are sold exclusively for the many offerings that are made to the Gods in temples and homes and on streets throughout the day and week. It’s a whole cottage industry!

On our final night at Puri Manggi our package called for a “candlelight” dinner. We thought every night was a candlelight dinner, so we didn’t think there would be something special. But we were wrong. The staff told us not to come out of our bungalow until the appointed time. Minutes before we were to arrive the power went out, island-wide, pffft! Just like that we were in blackness. But to the left of the dining area under a reconstructed “rice storage house” was a low table set on a platform decorated with cloth & ribbon, candles and flowers. Surrounding the little structure were over a dozen bamboo posts with votives set on top. Enough light to eat by. In fact it was just the right amount of light to eat by. It was utterly romantic. And to top it off, at the entrance to the platform the staff had formed the word “goodbye” with flower petals. It was charming. Then Gede and his staff served a wonderful meal of shrimp cocktail, mixed skewers of meats served on miniature hibachis, and banana flambé served tableside with ice creams and a strawberry flower.

Although the power came on for a short while, it eventually went off again leaving us with a few votive candles for light. Jerry and I decided to go swimming in the pool by candlelight. It was the best swim of our life. We lay back and stared up at the Milky Way filled with stars of the unfamiliar southern sky. We were lost in it the seeming chaos of the billions of stars. It was a lovely, truly memorable evening.

Cloves, Flowers, and Plastic Streamers: The Bali Countryside

Bali is basically a verdant agricultural island with rich volcanic based soils, ample rain (most of the year), and intelligent agricultural practices of terracing and crop rotation that have stood the test of time. There is of course, rice, but also corn, coconut palms and bananas. There are a myriad of different fruit trees. And there are more exotic crops of coffee, clove, mandarina (oranges), nutmeg, and tobacco.

We drove from Lovina via Singaraja and Mt Batur and Mt Agung (two high volcanic peaks) over to Sidemen in Eastern Bali. The drive takes you from the “dry (or rather drier) side” to the wet (or wetter) side” of Bali. Along the northern flanks of the mountains were acres and acres of clove, coffee, mandarina, coconut palms and other crops. The clove is harvested from tall trees both for use as the spice and as export (primarily to Europe) for use in cloves cigarettes. We saw locals drying the clove on plastic or canvas sheets alongside the road (we also saw people drying their clothes the same way just laying on the top of bushes alongside the road, curious habit). We also saw them drying shredded tobacco and rice in the same way. In fact we saw rice laid down in driveways so that cars would drive over it and in time separate the seed from the hull. Clove gathers use long skinny poles meters and meters in height that have smaller bamboo poles slid through holes in the center of the pole to form footholds. So it forms just a single pole as opposed to a double poled more traditional ‘western’ ladder. It looked pretty precarious to me.

And speaking of harvesting techniques, we noticed that in every home, every restaurant and in every hotel room there are always ample flowers laid about carefully and with consideration. A few frangiapanes are always left on the pillow of our beds. And yet, there are still flowers on the trees! I know there are many trees, but still. Well, it appears that in many places it is someone’s job to go out in the morning (especially after a rain) to gather all the fallen flowers (frangiapane and bougainvillea especially) carefully off the lawn and ground. And these flowers are used that day. We’ve also seen people with long poles gently tapping the branches at the tops of the trees to “encourage” willing flowers to fall to the ground. It is a lovely custom.

Another colorful and curious, if perhaps not environmentally sound, agricultural practice is the use of strips of plastic bags to make long streamers to drape across rice fields to discourage birds. It’s interesting to see the different “styles” of streamers and who apparently has access to colored bags versus plain white ones. I don’t know if they are recycling or just using new bags. And I don’t know what happens to the old streamers, I suspect they may clog up some stream somewhere. But farmers apparently need the birds kept away from growing rice and they really are pretty festive to look at. And it’s better than shooting the birds, which I think may have been the more, generally accepted method!

Lihat Sawah, Sideman, Bali

Compared to where we’ve stayed previously to Lihat Sawah you would think that this would not be a favorite spot. The power went out on a number of occasions. There was no air conditioning. The bathroom, although serviceable, was small and anything but romantic. And when the power went out so did the water and plumbing. The food wasn’t great (although it was good enough). And it was in a very quiet place with “little to do”. But in spite of that and maybe because of that, this little spot in the hills of Bali is one of my very favorite memories of Bali.

We arrived on a gray day with spots of rain (in fact it rained off and on for the entire stay). When we first arrived it seemed they weren’t expecting us, but communications soon cleared and we were happily shown to our room on the second floor of a “villa” overlooking the rice fields and chili plant fields. For westerners the concept of villa conjures up some pretty grandiose ideas, so you can stop right there. Everything was pretty basic but what we did have was space and a fabulous view and quiet. We had a large covered veranda as large as the bedroom with a chaise, and table and chairs, and a view to the hills. We had a lovely 4 poster bed with mosquito netting and large doors and open windows with white curtains that blew in the almost ever present breeze. There were two big ceiling fans and decent lights. A soft, warm, creaky teak floor and a very basic “all in one bathroom” which was clean and when the power was on it had decent water pressure with good hot water.

I then proceeded to be sick having caught jerry’s cold that he was just getting over. It went straight to my throat and chest and I felt pretty darn bad. We managed a short trip into Klungkung to see the market, a traditional painter and a silver smith and then we limped home up the hills to hide out in our treetop bedroom. What a wonderful place to be sick. From the bed there were views out all the windows with the sound of rain on the roof and birds in the papaya, kiwi, lychee, and starfruit trees. There was good food and hot tea from the owners which was brought to our veranda for every meal (except breakfast when I managed to make an appearance).

We listened to the roosters crow ALL day from all across the valley. We watched a flock of swallows descend on the chili plant fields when heavy rains came. I don’t know if the rain forced insects down out of the air or up off of the plants, but when it rained the swallow/swift population quadrupled at least flying low over the chili plant fields. And on our last night there we listened to the drums and chanting celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan observed by the small yet visible Muslim population on Bali

One night we had a bird spend the night with us. A small brown bird flew into the eaves under the veranda roof. He seemed disoriented like he had lost his way to his tree before dark. Many birds are blind at night, so I guess he was attracted to our light. So there he sat occasionally disturbed by my movements, but generally just hanging out. When we retired to our bedroom, he came in through the open grating above the door and flew around above us until he found a place to settle down for the night. When dawn came, he stirred and started chirping before he figure the way out by the light of dawn and flew home with quite a story for the flock.

When the sun was out, I could lay on the veranda chaise and read or nap. Jerry and I played gin rummy with a pack of cards we bought in Ubud. We played scrabble on his Iphone. We read. And I slept. I slept a lot. But between the medication and the inhaler I brought from the US and all the healthy food we’ve been eating with heavy emphasis on fresh fruit and good tea, l recovered in amazing time. Thankfully.

Before we left we took a walk down into the valley along a quiet road that wound through the rice, chili plant, and corn fields. We crossed several rivers on old wooden bridges. We passed a mechanic shop with gasoline sold by the liter out of plastic water bottles. We saw women carrying offerings to temple on their heads. We passed men and women working in the rice fields: harvesting, weeding, shoring up old terrace walls. It was a lovely walk under a gray sky, one that gave us a sense of the rhythm of life for people in this valley region.

We paid 550,000 rupiah (or roughly 55 US dollars) per night for the villa room including dinner and breakfast (drinks and lunch were extra). I also had a great massage for 80,000 (yes, 8 US dollars) in my room.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Sounds and Scents of Ubud, Bali

Our hotel, Alam Indah, is situated to the south of the main center of Ubud on the other side of the Monkey Forest. It is nestled in a rural area with rice fields and homes and a few other hotels. The bungalows are spread out amongst lush gardens. Our bungalow is two stories with two large verandas and windows that open wide to nature. Our bed has mosquito netting for the evening. And given that there are only fans and no a/c we sleep with windows open, netting drawn, and mosquito coils on. Fortunately the evenings are fairly cool in Ubud (although last night was a bit too muggy for our taste).

Given our “one with nature” living arrangements we have come to realize that rural Bali is anything but quiet. At the moment there are at least 3 different types of frogs making their nightly racket. There is one that goes tchittchittchittchit; one that’s got a slower raspier tsktsktsk: a “ribbitt” frog: and a croaker whos croak ends in something that sounds like a small fart…honest…like a teeny whoopee cushion. Then we have a cricket of some sort (or another frog) that sounds like a car alarm. And then we have the roaming gecko(s) whose voice pops up from above, below, and near with its chatter and then “uhoh, uhoh, uhoh”. Jerry thinks its sounds like “f*^k you; f*^kyou”.

So there you have the underlying amphibian orchestra. Now you have the confused rooster who will periodically crow at any time of night or day…but gets going full throat at 4:30 in the morning…just long enough to wake you up then he goes back to bed until around 6. But let’s not forget the dogs…often doing their 101 Dalmatian thing, where they appear to be barking to the next neighborhood dog (probably something about those damn monkeys in the monkey forest who get all the food and attention).

Then we move onto man made sounds. From the far distance come the sounds of the gamelan or rinkhik with the melodic clinking of bamboo traveling far distances. And tonight for the first time the sounds of kites are extending into the night. Yes, kites can make sounds. They have HUGE black kites that fly high in the sky and seem to growl (something to do with vibrating strings). I’ve heard them during the day, but tonight someone is flying one into the night!

The smells of the evening are really wonderful, even the mosquito coil adds a certain richness to the recipe. Wood smoke from fields, incense from spirit houses, tuberose from the small bouquets left throughout the house, fresh air as the breeze comes through the window.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Last Post from Kuta, Bali

Tomorrow we head up to Ubud which is up in the hills, a little cooler, a little quieter. Will spend a week there. Before leaving I'm going to do a "cleanup" blog post. All the things I forgot to mention in the order they occurred and just general thoughts and impressions of our first days in Bali.

Garden Life: The gardens at Poppies are beautiful and full of life. There must be at least 10 different types of butterflies of many sizes. Fish in the ponds. Dark green frogs under the bridges and in the lily pads. Cooing doves, warbling shrikes, soaring swallows. Orange Red Dragonflies and the occasional white one. And our mystery night caller. Somewhere on the thatch roof of our cottage there is a creature that I can’t figure out if it’s a bird or a mammal or what. But once in a long while it will first chatter: chitchitchitterchitchit and then it goes uhoh uhoh uhoh uhoh uhoh uhoh ooooh. Silence. Its quite comical, even when it does it in the middle of night…I know I’m nuts…but I love the sound. More research.

Pura Uluwatu. I’m afraid that I gave this lovely temple very short shrift in my “Tale of the Monkey” blog post. Uluwatu temple (Pura is the Balinese word for temple) is located on the western tip of “the Bukit”, an arid peninsula that just out from the mainland. Once considered primarily a no man’s land (due mostly because there is little to no water there) it is now developing considerable tourist facilities and resorts due largely to the fantastic surf breaks located around the Bukit.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu (its full name) is one of the holiest temples in Bali. It sits atop a sheer rocky promontory with cliffs extending down to the surf. It is considered a “directional” temple that has significance in the lives of all Balinese not just local villages. It is the guardian of the southwest and dedicated to the spirits of the sea. It is relatively modest and unadorned but quite pretty. The innermost courtyard is for Hindu worshippers only, but you can see much of the area through the gates.

When we arrived there were only a few tourists (and of course the ubiquitous monkeys) and we enjoyed wandering the outer courtyards and grounds in quiet. As we started to leave we saw a large crowd of people coming down the path to the temple. All dressed in sarongs and sashes, mostly in white. The women mostly had on beautiful lace dresses or blouses. And all carried some form of offering, flowers, food, carvings, even a live duck. And there were hundreds of them (temple goers not ducks), then we realized there would be several thousand if not more. We chose not to stay knowing that the ceremony could be long and would mostly be beyond our sight (although frankly there were so many people there would not be room for all in the inner courtyards. It was VERY festive feeling. I’m glad we got to see it, because it changed our impression of the temple from something ancient and historic and perhaps static to something very modern and a live.

Discovery mall

As part of The Tale of the Monkey I mentioned getting my glasses fixed at Optik Tinggal. It is located in a modern multi storied shopping mall in Tuban (south of Kuta). The mall is large, modern, air conditioned…quite nice. And it opens onto a promenade that goes along the beach lined with open air restaurants and cafes. We bought a few sarongs, some incense, sandlewood soap, and some bread. Yes, bread…from a wonderful place called Bread Talk. Kind of like the Starbucks of the Bread and Pastry world. Fresh made pastries and bread in the middle of the mall. Flaky pastries, puffy pastries, cakey pastries and really good French baguettes, who knew?

We had a juice and fresh lime juice soda at a promenade-side Baroque Café that looked out onto the sea. It had big misting fans and shade. It was lovely to sit and rehydrate after the long walk to the mall. After that we attempted to walk to an area that was supposed to have a “night market”. We went where the map said, but either it wasn’t “night enough” or its well hidden. We were tired and hungry and gave up the pursuit. Opted for taking a nap instead.

Later that night we had dinner at a restaurant Jl Kartika Sawa and for the life of me I can’t remember its name. Will have to search through the receipts tomorrow. It was a LARGE open sided restaurant with corrugated roof, exposed piping, BIG fans, and Stone flooring. They served an extensive Chinese menu, international dishes, and what we came for: grilled fish. I had grilled GIANT prawns, jerry had the fish sampler. It was very good, very fresh.

On the way back to our hotel, we walked along the very trendy, “lit like it was day” Kuta Square. Big stores, lots of restaurants and bars on broad sidewalks. We stopped at the Haagen Dazs which had sit down service and a menu of chocolate fondue, crepes, and sundaes. I had the monte carlo…coffee icecream chocolate sliced toasted almonds, waffle cone crumbles and whipped cream…yum!

Interesting and Odd sights today. 1) Siamese Twin dogs conjoined at the hip, kind of: strangest thing I’ve seen in a long time. They seemed to be strays but looked in good health. Gives a whole new meaning to chasing your own tail! 2) Kites. Sunday must be kite day because all over the area, anytime you looked in the sky there would be kites of all shapes and sizes and colors. This afternoon there was a HUGE one made to look like a big black bird while close to it was a small squirmy orange one that look like a Koi fish. 3) Temple Procession. Today we turned a corner (in a taxi) onto a street in Kuta and were faced by a large procession of people in temple garb walking down the street (taking up half of it). The man in the front was carrying a baby, so it probably had to do with one of many ceremonies that takes place in the early months of a baby’s life. This is not a rare occurrence giving another interesting aspect to traffic in Bali.

And finally: Two Comments on Proper Restaurant Attire

I’ve just got to say it. I know this is a resort and surfer town but there really are somethings that one should NOT wear to a nice Balinese restaurant. First of all, Balinese people are relatively conservative in dress and manner. They put up with a lot to have all the skimpily clad beach goers walking up and down the streets all day. Second when it comes to dining in the evening at a restaurant as lovely and romantic as Poppies, there really should be some standards. We sat near a table of 10 suntanned, happy, easy going Australians. They seemed quite nice and friendly. But I have two observations. In no case should a bright blue “wife beater” tank top t-shirt be appropriate attire for a nice restaurant and this is especially the case if you are big, barrel chested middle aged guy with a beer gut. I don’t care how nice you are… put on a shirt for gods sake. Second, if you are really busty or otherwise big enough that you have to wear a bra under a spaghetti strapped dress, then you probably shouldn’t be wearing a spaghetti strapped dress. When did we start this trend that makes it okay to have your bra straps showing next to the spaghetti straps. It’s bad enough on teens, but really on women my age with the pounds to go with the age??? Just say No!


Sunday: 6th of September in DenPasar;

The day was cooler than yesterday with a bit of rain this morning, a few more clouds, and a nice breeze. After breakfast on our patio (more banana crepes and bacon), we took off to DenPasar with 3 goals in mind: the Pasar Bedung (the 24 hr traditional market); the “fabric” street; and the Bali Museum. (Again photos will follow when I can get a faster upload connection on the internet).

Denpasar is a city of 400,000 of which about 30% are Javanese, Muslims, Sasaks from Lombok, and Chinese-Indonesians. It is somewhat of a ‘working’ town without a lot of the traditional “tourist” offerings (including no beach). But we found it interesting for a Sunday explore. It’s located about a 20 minute taxi ride from Kuta (which costs 5 dollars).

Pasar Badung (which means Badung Market, Badung being Denpasars original name) is a 3 story brick market located on the Badung River in downtown DenPasar. The ground floor is fruits and vegetables, the 2nd floor is spices and sundries, the 3rd floor is clothing, shoes etc. The spice floor was very interesting and fragrant. The only slightly off-putting thing about our visit was a “guide” attached herself to us as we entered. I had read about this, they guide us through the market and would get a cut on anything we’d buy. We were REALLY just looking so felt awkward. However, her English was pretty good and she really wasn’t too pushy. Although I know she was disappointed we really didn’t want to buy any spices.

On an adjacent street, Jalan Sulawesi, are the fabric shops. Over two long blocks of stores hawking all types of fabric for clothes, sarongs, and sashes. Quite a busy street. We found one fabulous shop (I’ll edit the post with the name/address: once I organize my receipts) with high quality goods and no pushy sales jobs. A delightful owner helped us pick out some lovely gawzy fabrics to make into cool pants later in Ubud. The fabric was about $2 a meter.

Then we walked about 3 blocks down a quiet street with Muslim clothing stores, a mosque, and “halal” restaurants. The cafes were quiet and empty as this is Ramadan where all Muslims fast during daylight hours. Further down was a quiet tree lined street which led to a large park, plaza and the Bali Museum. A gamelan orchestra (a traditional set of musical instruments) was practicing for tonight competition. A lovely cacophony of sounds. There were many kites in the air, a common Sunday afternoon activity. Kites of all sizes and colors, a beautiful sight.

The Bali Museum is worth the visit to Den Pasar alone (although jerry loved the fabric street). The museum is a compound made up of traditional courtyards complete with the traditional split gates (Candi Bentar), bell towers, charming gardens (with ancient frangiapane trees), shrines, and sculptures. The compound mixes the styles of old palace architecture and temple architecture (Puri and Pura). The most interesting set of exhibits was in the Gedung Karangasem building which displayed on several floors information and exhibits depicting and explaining the spiritual and ceremonial life of the Balinese: which is the cornerstone of their lives.

As in the market, we had a guide “attach” himself to us. He worked for the museum but it isn’t clear whether we had a choice or not to use him. He just kind of started the tour and we paid at the end. But it was worth the 5 dollars a piece. He was informative about the museum but he also took time to answer many of the questions I had already about temples and ceremonies from things I’d observed so far. He was quite charming and helpful.

After the Museum we were happy to see the BlueBird Taxi at the curb, we were ready for a swim, lunch, and a nap. We’re feeling rather sluggish this afternoon, so have given ourselves “the afternoon off”. After all it IS a vacation!

More About Kuta/Legian/Seminyak

Saturday, August 5th: Kuta

More About Poppies

We continue to be enchanted with our little oasis in Kuta, Poppies Cottages. Service is fantastic. Every evening before sundown, two women come and light the mosquito coils on the front patio and in our bathroom. And they recharge the electric mosquito repeller that is plugged into the wall. In the morning we have breakfast brought to our patio and we eat outside listening to birds and watching the cats on the thatch roof of the adjacent house. This morning we had two banana crepes, a Spanish omelet, wonderful bacon (its International Bacon Day after all), fresh pineapple juice, jam, and Bali Coffee. The cost? $8.70 including tax and service. The same thing at the pool, our delightful pool. Clean towels, cool drinks, and you can order lunch off the menu. Again, astonishingly reasonably priced.

So let’s describe this wonderful pool (pics will follow). It is a freeform pool with water a delightful refreshing temperature. There are fountains of water coming from “masks” in the wall. Multicolored bougainvillea leans over and shades about 1/3rd of the pool dropping delightfully romantic flowers to float on the water. Frangiapane and palm like bamboo also surround the pool. Spotted doves and lyrical song birds flit in and amongst the bougainvillea flowers. One of the “house” cats patrols atop the coral wall. After a refreshing dip we laid on comfy chaises and read and napped in the shade. Heaven.

Walking Kuta:

Kuta is a pretty frenetic place full of tourists and surfers of all nationalities (heavy on the Austailian). Motorbikes, taxis, bemos, and trucks cascade down the narrow streets. Shop owners call to you in passing. It sounds a bit much, but I think we were expecting it and frankly aren’t that overwhelmed by it (at least in small dosages). For one thing, people are very polite, even when they are trying to sell you something. With only a few exceptions a polite “no thank you” is accepted and you are bothered no longer.

Legian Street:

Legian Street is a tree lined busy street filled with surf related shops, restaurant, and night clubs. It is famous, unfortunately, for the Kuta 2002 bombings that occurred at a well known night club popular with tourists in particular Australian tourists. 202 people of many nationalities died (including Balinese and Javanese workers)and another 244 were seriously injured. It was a tragedy both for those who died as well as for Bali itself. Bali is a very peaceful and gentle island and the bombings came as an unacceptable shock to all. A little bit of the “old” Bali died that day along with all the people.

Suffice it to say, Bali (at least Kuta/Legian/Seminyak) doesn’t appear to have let their guard down since. All cars/trucks/motorbikes and people are checked out before entering the major hotels and many restaurants. Security officers stand in front of many of shops, banks, restaurants, and clubs They are always polite and often helpful.

Along Legian Street near where the bombing occurred, the Balinese have erected a beautiful memorial which lists all the names of those who died. It is on a prominent corner and was funded by many people and business owners in the area (there are also memorials in at least 4 cities in Australia. We stopped by on our walk in the area and reflected on the many events of the past decade across the world that has forever changed our perceptions of humanity.


One evening we ventured up to Seminyak for dinner. We ate at Sate Bali which serves traditional Balinese food. It was on a tree shaded street in a quieter part of Seminyak. We had the “Rice Table” (Rijstafl) where we could sample a variety of Balinese dishes and desserts. It was good. We especially like the pork dishes. I liked the minced duck in a banana leaf. And with the exception of the traditional black rice pudding, we loved all the mostly fruit inspired desserts. The only little surprise was that they took only cash….almost the last of our cash. So there we were without cash for a taxi. And ATMs are not a common sight in many areas. So we took off walking to the main area of Seminyak looking for the ubiquitous money changer office. Fortunately we didn’t have to walk too far, and the rate wasn’t too bad. So with cash in hand, we grabbed a taxi for the shopping district where we walked off some of our dinner before going home to bed.

Practicalities: Phones, Money, and Internet:

Internet: Our hotel has free WiFi…wireless (so I am typing this from bed after an afternoon nap). There are many places with free Wifi. Some restaurant/cafes offer free WiFi during hours where business is typically slow. Others who offer internet at a charge, offer it at a very reasonable price. Now this is in Kuta. We will see what other areas have to offer.

Blackberry My blackberry works here. I signed up for the international plan before I left so that I have unlimited email and texting. So that is primarily how I correspond with folks at home.

Skype. We have skype on my notebook, so we’ve used that to call home (you can call to phone numbers as well as connect to computers). We tried it out to call my mother and it worked like a charm. It cost us about 2 cents a minute. Far less than the $2.40 reduced rate charge on my blackberry and the $4 buck a minute “regular” charge by cell phone.

Local Phone. Our friend David lent us his Balinese phone (he visits here each winter) to use while here in Bali. We bought a sim card for $5.00 bucks that gives us about 300 local minutes. So we can more easily call our hotels, drivers etc.

ATMs. Not all towns have them once you get out of the bigger towns. Also, sometimes there are scams/rigged machines. So the best advice is to use ATMs associated with actual banks. Exchange rates are good but you know those fees on both ends!

Money Changers. CHECK THE RATES and commission fees. They vary widely, street to street and day to day. Ask your hotel for a reputable money changer. Some will try to fast talk you and confuse you when counting out the money. If you feel uncomfortable cancel the exchange if possible. Fortunately in Kuta there are very good money changers with good rates.

Travelers Cheques. I feel old. Travelers Cheques are going the way of the dinosaur. We knew that before we came (AAA doesn’t even sell them anymore). But it turns out that MANY money changers really ding you for cashing a traverlers cheque. We can only figure there must have been quite a counterfeiting operation going on with TCs that increased the cost of doing business in them. However our money changer is an authorized American Express outpost and cashes them for only slightly less than the exchange rates for dollars. They also have offices in Ubud so we’re set.

Uluwatu: Or the Tale of the Monkey

Before I tell you about Pura Uluwatu (temple) I must get to the monkey story. Since it turns out well, I can say it will be one of my favorite travel stories (although it could have turned out much differently). Uluwatu Temple is located at the very end of the Bukit Peninsula. Besides its lovely setting on a high cliff, it is home to a gang of monkees…hundreds I suspect. We were told to watch our cameras, our earrings, hats, and glasses. So off came earrings and hats. But for those of you who know me, you know I am as blind as a bat. If I had to take off my glasses, I’d be in serious dangers of falling off that wonderful cliff and frankly wouldn’t be able to see a thing. So we took our chances (you can see where this is going can’t you).

After wandering around the temple (mostly monkey less) we headed down a tree shaded plaza to an overlook. I was watching a monkey sneaking up on jerry and was fiddling with my camera (strapped firmly around neck) when out of nowhere a monkey leaps out of a tree onto my shoulder grabs my glasses off my face and off she/he goes. There I am blind yelling “jerry, the monkey has my glasses” (to the general amusement of more fortunate European tourists). We attempted the “scare him” tactic: clapping, yelling. The small monkey was amused. We tried “here little monkey, good little monkey” approach. Again, amused. Jerry actually tried the stern father approach with “Put the glasses down!!!!) Again, amused. (That tone didn’t work with our son either) And all this time I’m thinking…do you suppose they carry rabies??? (Let me digress to say, that I had prescription sunglasses with me and extra glasses back at hotel…but these were my favorite orange glasses. And as Jerry points out, cost more than my Lumix camera, given the complexities of my lenses). I’m thinking, do I have something he might want more? Some little flashy thingy (where is Will Smith when you need him). Finally, a local comes up, the peanut salesman (for people not monkeys…so they say). He coaxed the monkey to drop the glasses in exchange for the peanut. And then he coaxed a 10,000 Rupiah reward from us ($1) in exchange for the glasses. Glasses that were minus one nosepad but otherwise unscathed and unscratched. Happy ending. And we left half wondering: did that peanut guy train those monkeys??

PostScript: Twitter To The Rescue

For those of you who wonder why people Twitter, well lets just say everyone has their reason, er, addictions. But in this case, I’m glad I do. Over the past few months, I deliberately developed some twitter friends (tweeps or twiends) in Bali in the hopes of learning more about the wonderful place we’re visiting. So there I am in the taxi with a wounded set of glasses wondering where I can get them fixed. Out comes the blackberry and off I tweet “Can sometime tell me where I can get glasses fixed. Had run in with monkey”. Within 30 minutes, I had a recommendation from 3 different tweeps all recommending the same: Optik Tanggal in Discovery Mall in Tuban/south Kuta. So off we went (it was in walking distance). And there at Optik Tanggal, I got two new nosepads, installed within 5 minutes for 3 US dollars. And voila, glasses fit again, as if there had never been one of those scrounging, devious, lighting fast little butthead of a monkey at Ulawatu Temple.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bali: Arrival and Kuta: Post 1

Thursday: September3rd, Morning:

What a delightful flight from LAX to Hong Kong. Yes, I know it was 14 and ½ hours, but Cathay Pacific Biz class (thank heavens for American Airlines frequent flier miles) is really super. First (the most important) the seats recline FLAT and every position in between flat and upright. The cubicles are private and quiet. The temperature in the cabin was pleasantly cool, enough to use the nice fluffy duvet we got for a blanket. Food was excellent, got both dinner and breakfast. And they served dinner right away so we could eat and get to sleep. And sleep I did. Besides the comfy seat, I took 1 ibuprofen 1 5mg ambien (the smallest amount) a glass of water and two fingers of a very nice port (and I didn’t eat heavy for dinner). I slept for almost 6 straight hours and dozed for another two. Heaven! Flight attendants were exceptionally attentive and pleasant. And to top it off the little biz class kits had dermalogica spritzer and moisturizer…my favorite brand and one that doesn’t make my eyes water.

So here we are in Hong Kong Airport. It’s a gray somber day outside. Hills rise to the left of the tarmac. We board in a few hours for Bali again on Cathay Pacific. I just took a shower in the first class lounge…feel refreshed and revived. We had a little dimsum for our 2nd breakfast of the day. Have free wireless and my bberry works. Yes!

Friday, September 4th, Kuta, Bali: Full Moon

The Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Kuta was uneventful and pleasant. Getting through immigration check was a little less pleasant. There were several plane loads of people processing through at once. And although it took only minutes to buy our 30-day tourist visa, it took well over an hour to get through passport check, just too many people and not enough imigrazi officers. It was very hot and humid and we were tired. But a friendly group of 30 something surfer dudes from California kept us entertained just by being stereotypical stoner dudes from California who had more than a few beers on their 16 hour flight from LAX.


We were met outside the International Terminal by the friendly driver from Poppies Cottages where we will stay for 4 nights. He was a welcome sight as I stared into the sea of hotel drivers from across Bali waiting for their arriving customer. It was lightly raining, also delightful after sweating in the terminal. It took us about 20 minutes to drive to Poppies (located on Poppies Lane 1) in Kuta. As expected the roads were full of taxis (Taksi) and motorbikes. But after all the warnings we received at how bad the traffic is, all we can say is that isn’t even half as bad as the traffic in Hanoi or Saigon (which of course means it IS still pretty bad). So we feel perfectly fine negotiating it as pedestrians. We’ve even had a few cars stop and wave us across the road, an unheard of act in Vietnam (where such politeness would probably cause a 10 vehicle pile up).

Poppies Cottages: Oasis

We arrived at Poppies Cottages after driving through streets lined with stores, restaurants, surf shops, bars, and hotels and filled with tourists and surfers from all over the world. We maneuvered down the ever narrowing Poppies Lane until we came to the coral and stone walls and picturesque wooden gate. Poppies Cottages on Poppies Gang 1 is a magical, beautiful, oasis in the midst of crowded and hectic Kuta. There are 20 lovely, private cottages. Sitting in my room I can hear none of the hustle and bustle, only the doves, birds, and occasional rooster crow.

Our cottage is a roomy and comfortable thatched roofed structure. With wooden framed windows looking out onto gardens filled with palms, bromeliads, bougainvillea, poinsettia (huge evergreen poinsettia) and small shrines and statues. Everywhere you look there are flowers. There are ponds filled with fish. Deep red/orange dragonflies dance about the water. Number markers telling the direction to your cottage are simply decorated with a single fresh flower. The free form swimming pool is well shaded and is lined with fountains. Poppies has free wifi and a small library with computers available for use.

And then there is the bathroom which is my favorite bathroom ever. It is partially open air (although screened for mosquitos). Part of the roof opens to the sky, below which is a gravel bed lined with plants and Balinese statues. So as you take a bath you can hear the wind through the palms outside and if it rains the rain would gently fall to the gravel bed below. The rest of the bathroom is under cover with stone floors.

There are 3 resident long legged cats: two are grey and white and one is a ginger/orange cat. They are quite comfortable with attention.

Around Town

Made’s Warung

We dropped our luggage, took a shower, and took a nap! But once rested we were off for a stroll and food. We walked down Poppies Lane towards the water. We eventually made our way to Made’s Warung, a local institution. It’s located on Jl Pintai Kuta. It’s a large Warung: two stories, open to the street. With high ceilings and a thatched roof, the restaurant boasts a large wall filled with pictures of old Bali. The décor is whimsical including many statues of curious characters some religious, some not. Food offered is Indonesian, Balinese, and International. We tried the pork satay, BBQ ribs (served braised in a broth), and the fried noodle special. They have the local beer (Bintang) on draught. I had a beer, Jerry had a coke. It was plenty of food!! Total cost? $15.

Kuta is definitely not a sleepy little surfer town anymore and we didn’t expect it to be. But it is definitely still a surfer town. Surf board shops, surf lessons, billabong and quicksilver shops abound. And of course surfers of all nationalities (heavy on the Aussies) are everywhere. We spent some time drinking a fanta sitting on plastic chairs under a shade tree at the beach and watched the waves. They ARE beautiful…long curls of water. And this is the ‘easy’ beach. No wonder they all come here to surf, we haven’t even seen the “good” surf beaches yet.

Smart Salon

Kuta is also a shopping town: everything from knockoff Oakley sunglasses and Bintang Tank Tops to beautiful made crafts and clothing. There is also an abundance of places to get manicures, pedicures and massages. We stopped at “Smart Salon & Relaxing Spot” (Jl Pantai Kuta No 204). A clean, modern, and restful looking place, Jerry and I each had a manicure, pedicure, and foot reflexology massage (including a mini head and neck massage). For the two of us it was $36. And frankly, we think it was one of the better manicure/pedicures that we’ve had anywhere.

Pithe Can Thropus

After our mani/pedis we wandered down Jl Pantai Kuta and found a beautiful store called Pithe Can Thropus. The store had beautiful made fabrics, purses, puppets, sarongs, and many other items. Excellent quality and innovative designs (especially the purses). I found a lovely sarong with birds on it which I bought. I may head back there before we’re down for one of the lovely purses (my weakness).

Poppies Restaurant

There are McDonalds and Starbucks, but also delightful and delicious local warungs boasting delicious Indonesian and Balinese dishes at very reasonable prices. We ate at Made’s Warung last night. Today for lunch we tried Poppies Restaurant (across the lane from where we are staying). The restaurant is set in a lovely garden with flowers, palms, and pond (and another long-legged cat who was rather vocal about thinking she deserved some portion of our lunch). I had the mie goreng (a fried noodle dish) which was lovely. Jerry had a Caesar Salad which was good (and came with hard boiled quail eggs) and a delicious tomato soup (which was OK…not great…but OK). A delightful gesture was that at the end of the meal our waitress brought us a tray with ice cold wet towels and toothpicks. The towels were deliciously soothing after a day of shopping and walking in the sun.