Bali for Beginners or the Disenchanted, part 1.

My guide to Bali is based on 36 years of visiting this beautiful island. Naturally, it will reflect many prejudices that I hold. I feel compelled to put this list together to aid those who may be travelling to Bali for the first time, but also for those who may wish to return but feel ambivalent about the place based on a previous negative experience. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bali has many diverse districts and travel cultures. It is important to choose the district that suits your interests and lifestyle. If you get this wrong, your view of the island will be tainted and your holiday won’t be so pleasant. The main tourist areas can be grouped as follows:

  • The commercial district, hotel and nightclub area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak. These beaches suit surfers: they are broad but lack natural shade. Commerce is ever-present and you may find it difficult to politely shrug off unwanted sellers. At times this will become extremely annoying but you must remain polite. Prices for restaurant food, nic nacs, and other services  including massage, pedicures, transport and so on will be higher and the level of negotiation will be more intense. Night revellers and other travellers may enjoy this area: if you don’t like loud night life or intense commerce, you may find this area really annoying. The very young gravitate towards Kuta and Legian. It’s a party town so beware! Accommodation options are diverse, from the super cheap to very expensive. The restaurant scene is lively here: many Australian restaurants have set up branches in this district. You can still eat local food but the style will be more Western, catering for a foreign palate. I stopped going to this district in the mid 1990s.
  • The beach area of Sanur. The oldest tourist district in Bali, Sanur still maintains a village feel in the back streets away from the beach.  The beach area in Sanur has deep shade along the five kilometre tourist promenade. The beach is not a surf beach, although intrepid surfers go out on the reef. At low tide the reef can be exposed and there are some safe swimming spots here and there. There is plenty of commerce in Sanur but it isn’t so intrusive. A polite ‘no thank you’ or tidak usually works. The prices are generally cheaper for most goods and services. Accommodation ranges from the very cheap to the hideously expensive. The restaurant scene is diverse also.There is a large expat community living in this district – Australian, Dutch, Scandinavian. This area is often favoured by older people, people with young families and young Europeans who flock here for the water sports provided (diving, snorkelling, surfing lessons, trips to the island of Nusa Lembongan, kite surfing). The night life winds up early. There are down sides to every district. Some of the grand hotel development along the water front is obscene. The water use in five-star hotels is around five times that of a whole Balinese family’s average of 200 litres a day. More about this issue in another post. I go here to relax but intersperse my stays with trips to other islands in Indonesia.

    Waiting for Customers - fancy a beach massage? Sanur.
    Surf school sets up on Sanur Beach
  • Northern beaches of Pemuteran and Lovina.Pemuteran is very quiet and dryer than the south. The sand is black and not so suitable for sun baking. This is classic old Bali. Tourist commerce is minimal but there are about 10 or so small resorts offering beautiful accommodation and food, a few good restaurants along the main street, and many diving operators. There are also some fabulous large private villas available for rent facing the sea. The area is known for diving and snorkelling as the reefs are intact or being restored and the local turtles are protected. The car trip from Denpasar area orSanur may take 5 hours, crossing a steep mountain range with stunning views of rice terraces. During our last stay, the town celebrated a mass Balinese funeral to which the tourists were invited.  Photos taken around Pemuteran below. Eating is on the agenda!
  • East coast beaches of Amed and Candidasa. I have visited both these places but never stayed long. The east coast looks very dry. There are many small backpacker places as well as newer flash- packer accommodation. Amed is the newest development in Bali and is too cool for school. The swimming and snorkelling are good and it is also a jumping off point to go to the Gili islands off Lombok. Candidasa seems to be in decline due to unscrupulous development. The once golden sandy beach (1980s) has been destroyed and concrete groynes have been installed in an attempt to reclaim some of the beach. The beach is impassable at high tide.
  • Ubud is the artistic and cultural centre of Bali. Away from the busy commercial centre, long walks through verdant green rice terraces can be wonderful. The restaurant scene in Ubud is quite innovative. It is also a place to see authentic versions of Balinese Dance and hear gamelan orchestras. The major art galleries in Ubud offer a good introduction to Balinese art through the ages. Again, the over development of this area is a worry and the commerce along Monkey Forest Road can be overwhelming. Each time I visit Jalan Bisma, I am shocked to see yet more rice paddies disappear.
  • Other areas. It is possible to rent a house in the middle of the rice paddies in central Bali. This is a great option if you enjoy isolation, speak a little Bahasa Indonesian and wish to learn more about Balinese life.

Below. the photos were taken in outer Ubud on walks around that district.

Have you been to Bali? What was your experience like? Do you plan to return? Join the discussion, your comments are valued.  Bali for Beginners and the Disenchanted, Part Two will deal with food, restaurants, transport, culture, problems and more so stay tuned.

The Italian Balinese. Massimo’s Ristorante, Sanur.

It’s not hard to find a pizza in most towns in the world, and Sanur in Bali is no exception. What is often hard to find is a genuine Italian restaurant. Wood fired pizza ovens have taken off here and there are some rather sad versions being pumped out to satisfy the Western palette, especially along the beach front restaurant strip but also in Jalan Danau Tamblingan, the main tourist drag and restaurant belt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARistorante Massimo is as close to authentic as you can get. Let’s start with the decor. The walls are covered with photos and paintings of Massimo, as well as images of Massimo with famous people: they fill every spare space on one lengthy wall as well as on the columns throughout the room. To personalise a restaurant that has a large and passing clientele seems particularly Italian, reminding me of a famous Italian pizza chain in Melbourne. There are also many framed black and white photos of Lecce, his home town in Puglia, Italy, assorted other subjects such as Alberto Sordi, in the famous spaghetti eating scene in “Un Americano a Roma“, together with other kitsch prints.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe table service at Massimo’s is fast and efficient. Massimo employs a staff of 30 or more on the floor, in the bar, the gelateria and pizzeria. I didn’t get back into the kitchen area to count the chefs and kitchen staff. The wait staff are very well trained, the best I’ve encountered in Sanur, and, while Balinese, they have picked up lots of Italian brio and style from whoever trained them. The service is fantastic.

Free little starter at Massimo's, Sanur.
Free little starter at Massimo’s, Sanur.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a resonably priced drop. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a reasonably priced option. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.

The food is good in a traditional way. There are many dishes scattered throughout the menu from Lecce in Puglia, marked with a code, Salentu. For those who have spent time in Puglia, these dishes will bring back memories. Mr Tranquillo had linguine with granchio, fresh crab ( AU $6.90) and I chose Spiedini di pesce alla griglia, three grilled seafood skewers with prawn, tuna and squid, which came with polenta chips and greens. ( AU $7.50).

The pizzas are excellent, the best you will find in this part of Bali. They start at around IDR 65,000 (AU$6.50 or €4.70) and come directly from the wood fired oven. We had a Napoli one lunchtime and found that one pizza was ample to share. Massimo has all bases covered with a relaxed open air bar, a gelateria, and a wood fired pizzeria facing the street, as well as the formal, spacious restaurant. There is also an excellent choice of freshly made tarts and cakes from the little caffe`.

Napolitana alla Massimo

This place is hugely popular with expats, tourists, and also middle class Balinese. It is a cavernous place with inside and outside areas and is always busy. It is advisable to book at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassimo Sacco has been in this restaurant for 10 years, is married to a Balinese woman, and has two children. A real autentico Italiano Balinese. And as for that man in the photo below, Massimo and I both share a love of the old films by Alberto Sordi!

Greeting the Dawn. Sunday, Bali

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6.30 AM Sanur Beach.
Dawn on Sunday and it’s all happening on Sanur Beach. There aren’t many tourists in sight- only Mr T and I, one western swimmer and a few expats walking their dogs along the beach promenade. But the place is packed and it’s wonderful to see. Sunday is the main holiday for Balinese and many family groups gather at the beach: some for traditional Hindu ceremonies, others to take a dip and a beach breakfast before the weather gets too hot. The beach is alive with activity as teams of cleaners sweep up leaves and rubbish, lone fishermen look for small fry to catch in nets, diving schools set up for the day as bemos deliver air tanks, and best of all, Gunung Agung pops out of the clouds and makes a majestic appearance. It was worth getting up early.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/early-bird/”>Early Bird</a>

Early Bird in Sanur

The Early bird in Sanur witnesses graceful sarong clad women perform the Balinese daily Hindu ritual of Canang Sari. A delicate hand places the remaining frangipani blossom on the woven offering and the incense stick is lit.

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Daily Press photographic challenge this week is Early Bird.

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/early-bird/”>Early Bird</a>

Feasting on a Budget in Sanur, Bali. Warungs by the Sea.

It is possible to dine very well on a budget in Sanur, Bali. You can splurge on a big night out but often the food won’t be any better than the local fare. The choice is yours. I like to mix it up a bit, making my travel dollar go further, especially when staying here for a month or so. I love eating at warungs, local family owned cafes selling simple food, and I often prefer these to the glitzy restaurants on the main drag, Jalan Danau Tamblingan. There are also many tourist warungs, mostly thatched or tin huts, which spread side by side along the beach at the southern end of Sanur, accessed by the street, Jalan Kesumasari. The menus and prices are much the same along this strip and the food is simple, fresh and good. They also sell Bintang beer and cocktails, coffee and soft drinks but no wine.

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Once you have established a relationship with the owners of one warung, it becomes hard to venture further afield. Little extra treats start appearing- roti bawang- garlic bread or kacang- peanuts to go with your beer. The first meal we have in Sanur is at Warung Kak Udong. The order is always the same- a grilled mahi- mahi fish fillet with vegetables and rice, or cumi pedas , stir fried squid and vegetable dish with chilli and rice. Nasi Goreng or Mie goreng ( fried rice or fried noodles) are lovely cheaper options at 25,000 rupiah ( $2.50 AU/€1.80).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fish is freshly caught and the portion size is large, making it a substantial meal for 50,000 rupiah or $5 AU/€3.6 per person. All up, a lovely fish meal by the sea, with a large Bintang beer for two, (30,000 rupiah) sets us back $13 AU. This is our middle of the range budget meal- we have cheaper options away from the beach with more exciting options but no sea view and more expensive options for western styled meals in big tourist restaurants.

Grilled Mahi- Mahi fish, vegetables and rice.
Grilled Mahi- Mahi fish, vegetables and rice.
Warang by the sea
Warung by the sea

 

The Morning of the World, Sanur,Bali

Morning is the best time to go walking, jalan- jalan, in Sanur, Bali. Walking along the beach front is a lovely ritual and one best done before the sun rises and the heat becomes too fierce. The pathway meanders for about five kilometres, with long stretches of deep shade provided by large Pohon trees. Along the way, picturesque Jukin are parked on the sand, colourful traditional Balinese outrigger canoes used for fishing or tourist jaunts; sunny sandy sections are lined with white beach chairs and umbrellas, beckoning those who are partial to frying, and shady beach restaurants, morning yoga schools and art markets begin business for the day. The large crunchy fallen leaves of the Pohon are swept away for another day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are lucky, Gunung Agung, Bali’s sacred mountain, may pop out of the low cloud on the horizon to greet you or the white cliffs of Nusa Penida will glow like silver in the morning sun. More rarely, Lombok’s 3276 metre high volcano, Gunung Rinjiani, will appear from across the Lombok Straight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaking in Sanur and walking this stretch of coast, I feel blessed to be back in the “Morning of the day”, especially as I watch the women carefully arrange their early morning offerings, Canang Sari, on small alters, Palinggih or in the larger Puri, district temples.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA nod and a Selamat Pagi or Good Morning to all the locals at this early hour makes the day special. Although most of the locals know rudimentary English, I prefer to use my very basic Indonesian where and when I can. A buongiorno goes a long way in Italy and so does a selamat pagi here in Indonesia. At 8 am, you will meet uniformed security guards of large hotel compounds, beach sweepers and sand rakers, and some of the omnipresent women, Judy, Anna and Norma, trying to make a few rupiah from their tiny beach shop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt this time of the year, April, things are very quiet in Sanur. The hotels are half empty and many beach warungs are closed or busy renovating for the season ahead. Some new hotels are being built on the main drag, vulgar looking concrete monoliths designed for those tourists who need to feel insulated from the local environment and its people. At the same time, some overcapitalised international establishments along the beach front have been closed now for some years and the jungle is returning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of the locals worry that the Europeans have been hit by the GFC and their numbers will continue to dwindle this year, affecting the local Balinese economy. Australians, of course, visit at all times of the year, being only a 6 hour flight away from Melbourne or less from Perth and other cities. The Australian accent is recognisable in any Balinese district, though not as prevalent in the Sanur district as say, Kuta/Legian/Semiyak, a district I no longer visit due to its over commercialisation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven after 36 years of visiting, Bali still entrances me. This island is Hindu and its culture is alive and well, despite a century of tourism. It is important to keep this in mind when visiting, through appropriate dress and behaviour, and by supporting the local people through the choices we make as tourists. Be mindful where your tourist dollar or euro is going.

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Look to this day,
for it is life, the very breath of life.
In its brief course lie
all the realities of your existence;
the bliss of growth,
the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is only a dream,
and tomorrow is but a vision.
But today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow
a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
(Ancient Sanskrit)

 

 

Did the Earth Move for You Too? Transformation.

It was a lazy afternoon on October 13, 2011. A cup of tea had just been poured, as we sat on the porch of our guesthouse in Ubud, Bali. The teenager was fast asleep inside.

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Our teacups gave us the first hint that this moment in time would be transformed by an earthquake.  We were bemused by the behaviour of our tea as it began to convulse onto the saucer. Then we noticed a few other odd things; the walls seemed to be moving and small chunks of concrete debris fell from the ornate Balinese walls. Time stood still as seconds stretched into minutes. Wake up Mischa, we have to get out, now!  The teenager would not budge, adding an extra dimension to our adrenalin. As we bolted down the outside stairs, the concrete steps swayed in time to the movement of the gusting palm trees and the metal hand rails shuddered.

At 6.2, it was a big one by Balinese standards and was followed by a few aftershocks. The locals were really afraid, although had been trained from childhood to evacuate buildings quickly. In true Balinese style, they were genuinely concerned for their foreign guests. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Thanks Ailsa for the travel prompt this week.

Tradition and Change in Ubud, Bali. Canang Sari.

Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guesthouse, ubud.

Morning Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guest house, Ubud.

Ubud, nestled in the lush hills of Bali, a two hour trip by car from the sea or Denpasar airport, is often referred to as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali.  Ubud is pronounced ‘oobood’ as in the same way as the ‘oo’ sounds in ‘good’, but not the ‘oo’ in ‘mood. Despite its frenetic commercial centre, tourist restaurant precincts and overcrowded shopping strips, including a Starbucks outlet, traditional Bali is not far away. Just walk away from the tourist traps, jalan jalan into the outlying areas, or visit the temples (respectfully dressed), hike in the rice paddies and rain forest, or employ a driver to journey into the lush hills for a day trip.  It is remarkable how resilient Balinese Hindu traditions are: they have survived years of foreign influx. I would suggest that some Balinese rituals have become more pronounced in the 35 years of my journeys around this remarkable island. The practice of Canang Sari is an example of this.

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Ubud offers the photographer a visual feast on every corner away from the commercial hub. Leaving the food porn to others, I often spend each day photographing morning floral offerings, the Canang Sari of Ubud.  The canang is a small palm-leaf basket used as a tray, consisting of two syllables ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose). Sari means essence. Balinese women in tiny alleyways and shops spend their spare time weaving these little baskets, not only for their own family offerings, but also to make a little spare cash. If the tourist business is slow, a little local trade on the side is important for the local economy, as well as providing a small supplement to these women who make very little.

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Canang Sari are offered to give thanks to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and thanks. They can be seen on Balinese temples (pura), on family or communal shrines, on the ground in front of shops, on pathways, and on the prows of boats (in Sanur).

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Some tourists barely see these little trays, and if they do, they disregard them or step on them, not knowing much about the work that each one entails. A little delving reveals that these daily ephemeral tributes consist of the following elements:

Peporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, tobacco and betel nuts. The material of peporosan symbolizes the Trimurti, the three major Gods in Hinduism. Shiva symbolized by lime, Vishnu symbolized by betel nut, and Brahma symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha Candra. Raka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction. Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God:

  • White-coloured flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara
  • Red-coloured flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma
  • Yellow-coloured flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadeva
  • Blue or green coloured flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Vishnu.

1-IMG_6086Then they become more personalised, and this is where the interest lies for tourists who wish to learn more about Balinese culture. Cigarettes, wrapped lollies, rice, food, incense sticks and all sorts of bits and bobs are added. As the morning opens up and the heat sets in, dogs and birds steal the rice, tourists unconsciously kick the offerings and by mid afternoon, they are swept up in a pile and burnt, as new baskets are prepared for the following day, and the cycle begins anew. Flower dealers trade at local markets early each morning, selling frangipani, hibiscus, marigold and other assorted leaves and flowers, as well as all the other ingredients required for making Canang Sari.

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On each visit to Bali, my fascination with Canang Sari is renewed. Beautiful art lies at your feet each morning. What could be more enchanting?  Courses are offered to visitors wishing to learn this traditional practice.

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Balinese Fish Curry. Tropical Nirvana

Hot balmy nights, evening white wines in a shady garden, a Balinese fish curry, these little pleasures are to be savoured, fleeting moments conjuring food memories of my other ‘spiritual’ home, Bali.

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Indonesian food goes very well with Melbournian summers. Some dishes are simple and economical: others demand some effort, especially this fresh Balinese fish curry, with its long list of ingredients for the paste, involving a market trip to an Asian grocery to source some of the more unusual ingredients. A good home-made curry paste makes all the difference. It really is worth the effort.

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I learnt this classic Balinese fish curry at Janet deNeefe’s Casa Luna cooking school,  which is attached to the Honeymoon guest house in Ubud, Bali. The curry sauce is rich, fragrant and complex and tastes just like Bali on a plate.

Preparing the curry ingredients at the Casa Luna Cooking school, Ubud.
Preparing the curry ingredients at the Casa Luna Cooking school, Ubud.
The paste being ground in the huge Uleg.
The paste being ground in the huge Uleg at Casa Luna, Ubud.

The curry paste.

  • 6 garlic cloves,
  • 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste/belacan/terasi ( toast over a flame before adding)
  • 3 large chilli, seeded. These chillies are not hot but give colour and depth of flavour.
  • 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric ( substitute dried powder if unavailable)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger
  • 3 candlenuts ( or use macadamia nuts )
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns.  I prefer white.
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, white section only. Save leaves and stems for adding to Asian stock.
  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped.
  • 1 large tomato
  • 3 small hot chillies
  • 2 tablespoons galangal
  • 1.2 tablespoon kencur ( not available locally)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar
  • stalk of torch ginger (optional)
  • pinch of nutmeg

Prepare the ingredients by roughly chopping larger items. Put everything into a large Uleg, mortar and pestle or food processor and grind to a smooth paste. I began mine in the uleg  (an Indonesian mortar) but quickly switched to the processor. You may need to add a little oil to blend them in a processor.

Home prepped ingredients in my little uleg
Back home. Prepped ingredients in my little uleg

Other ingredients

  • 400 grams of fresh mackerel in chunks ( 3 cm by 3 cm) ( or any firm fish that is suitable to curry) I used sea bass. NOTE. I would recommend 600-700 gr of chosen fish.
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil, NOT olive oil.
  • 3 salam leaves ( not available fresh in Melbourne)
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised and tied in a knot,
  • 1 torch ginger shoot bruised ( hard to find in Melbourne)
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup or more of coconut milk
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1.12 cups water.

    Cook the curry paste in oil, adding lime leaves and lemon grass.
    Cook the curry paste in oil, adding lime leaves and lemon grass.

After making the curry paste, by mortar or processor, heat a little plain oil in a wok and add paste to the hot oil, along with lemon grass tied in a knot and the lime leaves.  Also add the salam leaves and torch ginger if you happen to have them. Stir around. Next add the chunks of fish, stirring around until they change colour, for a minute or two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdd 1 cup of water, simmer gently then add the coconut milk. I use more than the stated 1/2 cup . Just add and taste. 1- 1/2 cups is about right for me. Check seasoning and add salt to taste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I had more sauce and not so much fish, I added a handful of green prawns, unshelled. Cooking them with shells on adds to the depth of flavour, imparting a fragrant tropical bouillabaisse sensation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave the rice cooking while making the curry. Balinese tend to use fat rice: Australian medium grain rice is perfect with this dish. Serve the curry in a big bowl with chopped coriander and lime wedges if you are lucky enough to have some.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGo into the garden, pretend you’re in Bali, and see how much turmeric you can splash about on your napkins. Tropical Nirvana to share for four. 

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Travel Theme: Laughter

The theme, laughter, has been chosen this week in response to the tragic and barbaric acts in France.  Ailsa, in her excellent post,  Laughter as a Political Act, sums it up this way,

If you can hold a harbinger of terror up to ridicule, if you can mock those who seek to oppress, if you can laugh at the ugliest of human behaviours, conventions, beliefs and traits, you diminish their power to terrorize, control and censor.

The little stone carvings below can be found in Bali, especially around remote villages near Ubud, and are used to scare away demons. While not images of hilarity, they are quite funny. I include them here in response to Ailsa’s chosen theme, the embracing of laughter.

Je Suis Charlie


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