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
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.
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!
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!
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!