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 flambĂ© 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.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Absolute magic in that writing Annette. I wanted to be there - especially the cooking class. And the swimming by moonlight. Well, for that one, I'd want to be there with Aaron!
What a wonderful vacation. Hope you enjoyed it!