Thursday, 2 January 2014

A brief stop in Bali...

I've recently been reviewing all of our photos and blogs from the trip in a bid to put together some sort of tome cataloguing our adventures. During this process I realised that some of my posts had been left unfinished and whole countries undocumented. I aim to rectify this with a new flurry of activity on the blog that will hopefully continue long after the records are up to date!

I recently watched Eat, Pray, Love the terrible hollywoodised version of the book with the same name; the story of an American woman who goes off travelling for a year to find herself post-divorce...blah blah get the picture. The book was equally bland and self-indulgent, but one thing that did catch my eye from my Sunday afternoon perch on the sofa, was the beautiful cinematography, the stunning scenes of Ubud's terraced paddy fields, the unmistakable Balinese village took me right back.

Bali was a bit of a treat for Chris and I. We had never really planned to stop there but on our convaluted journey from New Zealand to Canada (via Aus, Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong and LA) it actually made sense. So we decided to dedicate 3 weeks to this beautiful paradise. As a little girl, I grew up with tales of Tropical Bali - it was a mythical like place to me. My grandparents lived in Borneo, and then Indonesia and many a family trip to Bali had been made back when it was 'untouched' and 'undiscovered' by the mass tourism it receives today. I was also a big fan of South Pacific, the musical -  I had always longed to go there and experience the magic they spoke of for myself.

We set down at Denpasar airport and the heat hit us like a brick wall. That lovely tropical heat that is sticky and full of exotic smells. Ubud was our first stop and as our driver negotiated the traffic clogged roads full of beeping horns, we took in the chaos of smells and sounds overwhelming our senses that had been so very rested in the stillness and remoteness of New Zealand.

I like arriving in new places in the dark. All of your senses are straining to build a picture of where you are, everything is distorted by the blackness of the night and when you wake up in the morning it's as if you have been reborn into a new world. Our hotel was our first proper glimpse of Bali and it was beautiful - what a change from our smelly Kiwi campervan. Situated amongst acres of paddy fields with cosy nooks to sit and relax, not one but two infinity pools, lovely breezy open spaces and a complimentary shuttle service into Ubud; it was pure bliss. I think we sort of wondered what we'd been doing in New Zealand for so long as we settled into a slower, more laid back pace of life (and all at a fraction of the price it had cost us for a coffee back in Kiwi land.)

Once we'd taken advantage of the hotel shuttle a couple of times and felt we knew our way around a bit we hired a scooter and really started to have some adventures. Ubud has heaps going on. It is a hive of acitivty in both a good and a touristy/overbearing way. Everywhere you look there are boutiques selling 'designer' clothes, yoga workshops, art galleries, markets, slick bars, gourmet restaurants. It is firmly on the tourist map and has all the trappings of that. However, it's still posbbile to get off the beaten track. Take a walk away from the main streets and within mintues you can be slap bang in the middle of rice terraces that stretch far off into the horizon. Wander the treelined paths through these green oases and there are scenes of traditional Balinese life at every turn. Chris and I went even further afield and explored far and wide with the scooter finding villages, temples and views galore. These first few Balinese days were filled with exploration, gentle walks, dodging torrential downpours, eating delicious food and basically relaxing into the fact that we could afford to do stuff again! Chris, never having been to South East Asia before was loving it and the welcome we received was full of smiles and laughs.

When it comes to beaches you are spoilt for choice in Bali. The famous Kuta and Seminyak, however, weren't doing it for us. We wanted somewhere a little less developed where we could soak up the sun and relax. We headed to the fishing village of Padang Bai, gateway to Lombok's Gili Islands for a couple of nights of exploration of the famous volcanic black sand beaches of the north that, due to their relative distance from the airport, still enjoy a low key vibe. Once again, we rented a scooter and, ponchos in hand, spent our days zooming up volcanic paths through tiny hamlets, filling our scooter with water bottles full of petrol and taking fanta breaks by the side of road with spectacular views in every direction. The tourist trade in the north was fragmented and ramshackle. Still lots of development to come but fairly serene and peaceful for now.

As we were fairly low season we decided to head for Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three Gili islands just off the Lombok mainland. I say largest but you can still walk the cirucumference of the island in about an hour. The Gili islands are fringed by coral reef, a haven for turtles (we saw three!) and all sorts of tropical fish. They have no paved roads and no motorised vehicles. The only trasnport on the islands is either bikes or horse drawn carriage. Unfortunately it rained a lot during our time there but we still managed to enjoy the low key vibe of the place and spent our days snorkelling in the rain and sitting on our veranda catching up on emails and life back at home.

On our return to the mainland we got a glimpse of the built up Bali from our guesthouse in Sanur. We were stopped by police on our scooter and forced to pay an exorbitant bribe, hassled by touts and embarrassed by the throngs of Brits and Aussies abroad downing pints of beer and gobbling up English Breakfasts on Kuta beach. Thankfully, however, you can still very much discover your own piece of paradise on Bali's shores if you're willing, unlike the masses, to travel that little bit further to find it, and the spiritual and artistic magic of this unique island still prevails.

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