BALI

On our recent trip to Bali (March 13-20) we stayed at the Bali Hyatt (http://www.hyatt.com/pages/d/dpsbla.html) in Sanur, on the East coast of Bali.  Here you see the wing our room was in, seen from the beach.  We would definitely recommend the hotel.  Good beach and pools, good food, good location, great gardens.
 

As you probably know,  Bali is famous for its religion, culture and art .  The Balinese New Year festival,  Nyepi,  fell during our visit, and we were able to see a great many temple ceremonies (from a distance, including backs of crowds, mini-van, and street corners) during the days which preceded it.  Large papier-mâché figures of demons are built, and are paraded around the eve of the festival, before being burnt in bonfires.  Everyone also takes to the streets that evening with pots and pans, or other noisemakers, to scare away evil spirits.  During Nyepi, all Balinese stay at home, in darkened, closed houses, using no electricity and doing no cooking.  This provides time for contemplation and is to ensure that evil spirits will think the island uninhabited, and will leave Bali alone for another year.  This meant that while hotels had dispensation to cook and use electricity, guests were unable to leave the hotel grounds, or to go to the beach.
 

On Sunday, we headed off (at the crack of dawn, 9:00 a.m. - and we even had to have breakfast first!) on the first of the two days of guided tours included in our package.  Our guide Mega, (pronounced mee-ga) who had met us and our fellow tourists, Herr and Frau Schmidt at the airport, first dropped us of at a performance of the Barong Dance.  Unfortunately, none of the shots came out very well, but at least we can lighten the digital ones enough that you get an idea!
 
 
 
 

Our next stop was at a traditional Balinese house, which supposedly was still inhabited, but whose owners had an agreement with the tour company.  The house is a collection of "huts", and house temple, within a private courtyard. We entered through the traditional gateway, flanked by the bamboo with the gate shrine with it's daily offerings on it.  Every house has a plaque enumerating the inhabitants (number of men, number of women & children) which seemed to be for police and fire use, although the explanation was unclear.

This shot shows you two "sleeping huts", with the kitchen behind (partially walled, and with the pigsty behind being investigated by a tourist).
 
 
 

Looking the other way, from the kitchen side back, you see the sleeping platform in the one hut more clearly, with the enclosed "Children's house" behind.  Our guide explained that the marker (not visible in shot) to the right (from this perspective) of the stairs, marked where the placenta of the girls inhabiting the house was buried during a ceremony following the birth of a child; a boy's placenta would be on the other side.  He didn't explain the reasons behind the ritual.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This (rather unflattering, but what the heck) shot is of Mega showing us and the Schmidts the "Rice House".  No meal in Bali is complete without rice, which has an important role in their culture.  So the storage of rice is very important, thus the high thatched roof with its sealed storage area, and internal beam construction preventing mice (and creeply-crawlies I'd just as soon not consider) from climbing up.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On to the Batik factory and inevitable shop, which was both interesting and traditionally tourist-priced.  (So far every "factory" of a unique item I've seen while touring in Southeast Asia consists of a demonstration area that shows tourists how the process, whether it be extracting and roasting cashews or dying batik, is done, on the premises of an over-priced store.)  From there we were off to the woodcarvers - again very interesting, and many wonderful pieces, but the level of artistry was commensurate with the level of the prices, so we resisted.  The Schmidts bought a small (egg-sized) carved duck, for a family member who collects ducks.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

After a jaunt up into the mountains, to have lunch while viewing the volcano (we're told there really is a volcano, when the rain and mist permit a visibility greater than 3 feet), our next stop was at the holy spring temple at Tirta Empul, founded in 962 A.D. and restored in the 1960s.  The springs are believed to have magical cleansing powers, and there are public (segregated) baths in the complex.  While we did not bathe, we did get caught by a rain shower, and had to make a dash back to the van.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A quick pause on the side of the road to take pictures of the rice terraces on the hills through the rain was followed by one last stop, at an art gallery in Ubud, where the salesman explained the different Balinese schools, and offered us the chance to buy.  By the time we got back to the hotel at 4:30 p.m., we were ready to collapse!  After sufficient rest, we finished off the day with the Ristaffel at one of the hotel restaurants.  As I told Chris, I enjoyed it MUCH more than my previous experience with Ristaffel.  Of course, in Amsterdam, I was only 13, and came down with a nasty bug the very next day, so my recollections are necessarily prejudiced!  The name Ristaffel was given by Dutch planters to this array of spice-laden dishes, accompanied by rice. You order the Ristaffel, and it is a set menu. I saved our menu, so here's a description: We started with a selection of appetizers, including prawn crackers, dried shredded beef, fried tempe and more, followed by a chicken salad with lime and chili, followed by a beef soup with bean curd (which was a lot better than it may sound - I don't particularly care for beef bouillon, but this was excellent), and then beef curry, fish satay, fried bean curd, green beans and shrimps, fried chicken, and duck roasted in banana leaf, with different spices and chilis in each, and it all arrived with a big bowl of fragrant yellow rice.  Needless to say, we did not make inroads into the dessert buffet!
 

Having arranged with the guide to postpone the second tour until Tuesday, we spent Monday relaxing after a late breakfast (no, not that late, the breakfast buffet closes at 11!)  Sufficiently rested, and fortified with reading material, we headed for the beach.  One drawback of Sanur's sandy white beaches is the coral reef (which we never did get around to going out to on a snorkelling expedition), as there is no surf.  Another, probably because of this, is the amount of seaweed. There are little paths out through these tough weeds, to little clearings, but if you want to swim for exercise -- head for the pool!  At any rate, we established ourselves under on lounge chairs under one of the beach huts, swam a bit, and spent a relaxing afternoon, reading and watching the crabs.  One of us, who is almost done peeling, 3 weeks later, decided to wait until going to the beach to put on sunscreen, and thought that the shade of the hut was enough.  Thereafter, he listened to me about sunscreen!  In the late afternoon we explored north up the boardwalk, and came upon the big new year beach ceremony, with everyone bringing their offerings in their festival clothes.  A wander back through the town brought us to a little warung (cafe) where we had an excellent meal for 10% of what the hotel charged.  Gave us a bit of a picture of the price range!  Although, to be fair, the hotel food prices weren't much higher, it was their alcohol prices that were usurious.  The beer Chris had back at the hotel after we got back cost the same as the entire dinner with beer for two! (And I won't even tell you what the cocktail I had cost in relation to dinner!)
 

On Tuesday, we were back at the tourist thing (therefore more photos!), on our own with Mega this time.  Our first stop was at the famous temple of Tanah Lot, on the west coast, which is more commonly seen in sunset photos, silhouetted against the sky.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Then on to the Monkey Forest, a temple with woods full of bats (yes, those are bats, not birds!) and inhabited by monkeys, sacred, because they live on the temple grounds.  Visitors, escorted by guides, buy little packages of dried yam bits to feed the monkeys.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The problem with this is, that the monkeys are quite aggressive in begging, and in grabbing food.  They attach themselves to pant legs, and take some distracting with scattered treats to make them let go.  Worse than that, this particularly cheeky monkey grabbed my hand rather than the treat, and only let go after he bit my little finger!  Nothing too serious, but he did break the skin.  Next, on our way back to the exit, another monkey jumped on my back/hat.  She was quickly distracted, and Chris did his best to brush off the back of my shirt.  On exiting, the girl escorting us got some iodine, which she poured over my finger (Ouch!).  Then, being a sensible tourist, and being prepared, if not prepared to be bitten by monkeys, I pulled the Polysporin and band-aids out of my bag, and bandaged my wound.  (Not the most successful of visits - I'd recommend giving it a miss!)
 

We then headed up into the mountains, wending our way through rice terraces and small villages, occasionally having to pause to let temple processions pass.  The skies in the mountains were overcast, and indeed opened up, but on the plus side, it was lovely and cool!  We visited the Pura Ulunu Danu Bratan temple, founded in the 17th century, and dedicated to Dewi Danu -- the goddess of the waters, before having lunch at a restaurant adjoining the temple gardens.  After lunch we made a quick stop at the local market, as I wanted to buy some spices, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg which are some of the local produce.  During the downpour which started just as we entered the market, I did buy some vanilla and nutmeg, following which we figured out how to open the umbrella Mega had handed us, and ran back across to the mini-van, where he and the driver were waiting.  (And when I got home and cracked some of the nutmeg shells, I found the nuts were of the consistency of cork!  I've since purchased some of a much better quality at a market in Little India, here in Singapore.)  One last stop, at an old, royal temple, then back to the hotel.  We were tired, and as it was raining, we had dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, the Cupak Bistro, which was quite reasonable, except, as previously stated about the hotel, for drinks.  Chris was very impressed with his club sandwich, which not only tasted good, but was beautifully presented Japanese-style on it's own little lacquer tray.  My fish & chips not only came wrapped in paper (clean newsprint), but when I asked for vinegar, they managed to come up with a little bowl of malt vinegar, although it did take a few minutes!  The service at the Bali Hyatt was excellent!
 

Wednesday we slept in, and in the afternoon walked south through Sanur, as we had not yet explored in this direction.  Many of the shops were closed, as most Balinese travel to their home villages for Nyepi.  However, we did both purchase sarongs, and later walked back up to the hotel along the boardwalk.  We saw many of the traditional Balinese fishing boats, complete with outriggers, along the beach. We also had drinks at a bar along the beach, having decided it was much more sensible to stop before getting back to hotel prices!
 

Thursday, being Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, was very quiet.  I had booked an appointment for us at the hotel spa, and dragged Chris along, over his protests.  We both enjoyed it very much, although Chris will tell you it all went horribly wrong at the end, when they put 'gunk' on his face.  We had our own little private 'villa' which was very nice, and it was a very relaxing afternoon.  Friday, we took it easy, walking in the hotel gardens, marvelling at the Screwpine trees, swimming in the pool, and having dinner at the "Irish Pub" in southern Sanur.  I enjoyed feeding the three kittens which were lurking about the courtyard dining area of the pub.  The rowdy kids of the German tourists at another table, who started chasing the cats, were not missed when their parents finally decided to leave.
 
 
 

And, unfortunately, Saturday arrived, dull and overcast, and we vegged about until it was time for our ride to the airport.  It was, however, a fun vacation, cheeky monkey and all!

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