Day 3:59 am
Twelve days, four islands, one stellar conference and countless hospitable people have made this an extraordinary journey.
But it was at last time to pack up and head home. This was my third trip to Indonesia and on each occasion my heart grows ever fonder of the country.
My obsession with eating satay was inflamed. This has now turned into a fully fledged obsession with the #SataySelfie. And I’ve also discovered similar obsessions with drinking (and photographing) my cappuccino in locations of extreme beauty. And perhaps most unexpectedly I’ve got an obsession with photographing people on motorbikes. I’ll be posting my favourite pics over the coming days.
It’s easy and comfortable to travel here. People are kind, and perhaps most welcome is their natural and friendly manner with children. They are celebrities and an integral part of the interaction. People naturally love little ones and go out of their way to accommodate them. This makes it a fantastic destination for families.
After 8 days of holiday I had started to replenish myself and I wished we’d had a few more days to immerse ourselves further. Perhaps my only regret is not having a chance to explore localities on foot and in person. But with work, children and my aspiration at the outset to have the chance to indulge in some true relaxation, something had to give.
As a working mum, working even while travelling, I’ve learnt that everything is about choices and trade-offs. No holiday, unless it is remarkably long, can cover all bases. I do long to return to the days of spontaneous adventure when in a destination; to have challenging treks up volcanoes and mountains; to eat from roadside food vendors, and to spend hours roaming through local markets and haggling. I do wish for those days when you can change the structure of your holiday on a whim, because something more interesting came up. But I also love having my kids with me, and spending time with them, and showing them new experiences and cultures. And most of all, I know I need time to just rest and be.
The extraordinary thing about Indonesia is that you can do all of these in whatever proportion you wish. And so I don’t say goodbye to Indonesia, but rather, until next time…
Perhaps one of the greatest privileges in life is to wake up in a place of beauty and tranquillity. The hotel we stayed at had curated such beauty to perfection. The view from our bedroom had double doors opening directly into an infinity pool of sparkling blue water, which merged beyond into the vast blue of the Indian ocean and the clear skies beyond. It was only the different textures of each which allows the eye to see how one is transformed into the next.
Who could resist getting out of bed and straight into the pool?
As a woman who covers, the private pool villa has been the most extraordinary revelation. The four of us swam to our hearts content. The six year old practised her swimming. The two year old decided to swim with nothing but her nappy (and why not!). And husband delighted into the smaller warm jetpool while overlooking the ocean.
We ordered lunch in and ate it by the pool. Swimming, splashing and floating. I can’t express how the heart sings, but also the soul is acutely aware of the incredible nature of this blessing. Once you’ve experienced a private pool it is hard not to want one for a night or so on any future holiday. They cost, of course they do, but for a day and a night of magic, it is well worth considering.
We managed to escape its allure briefly, to take the children to dress up in local Balinese costume. The bright yellow, red and gold wrapped around them with sparkling head dresses couldn’t have made them look cuter if we’d tried, and the cultural immersion (if repackaged for tourists) was a delight. I think it’s a memory the six year old will hold dear.
But it was the night time sound of the crashing waves in the distance that was the highlight. The cosy feeling of being tucked up on the clifftops with the sound of the sea roaring beneath gives succour to the soul. And after hectic city life and managing kids, work and stresses of the daily grind, I felt like a new woman.
It’s a given that travel never goes according to plan. For our last night we had scoped out a sunset visit to much acclaimed Uluwatu temple on the cliffs overlooking the sea, to be followed by a local dance performance. The only thing we were warned about were the ‘cheeky’ monkeys who like stealing glasses and hats.
My husband was worried they’d pinch his spectacles (without which he can’t see) and I was worried that the monkeys might get too friendly with the toddler. (I was once bitten by one).
But none of this was to matter, because when we arrived we discovered we’d forgotten all our wallets and had no money. The half an hour drive meant it was pointless to return to the hotel, as we’d miss the sunset on return.
The driver turned out to be a saviour and had just enough money for one person to enter: I took the chance and went to explore. The poor kids and husband wandered round the mandatory shops and restaurants outside.
The path leads down past the monkeys. There were just a few and they kept their distance, although admittedly I didn’t stop to find out if they’d jump on me. The way opens to a stunning view of the sea and the place was heaving with tourists. I must admit I didn’t see any locals, and our driver didn’t seem to think locals came here often.
The view is extraordinary, but forgive me for saying that the temple itself rather unremarkable. I wouldn’t even have known the way hadn’t a stream of visitors been flowing towards it.
On the next cliff top stadium seating had been set up, with maybe 50 – 100 rows of tourists filling it up preparing to watch the dance.
Again, without any money I couldn’t buy the additional ticket, but videos I’ve seen before have been quite something.
It’s not the temple you’re visiting here, or seeing locals in worship. This place is just for the experience, the atmosphere and of course the sunset.continue reading
One of the frustrations I’ve had during this trip is that the hotels we’ve stayed at, chosen for comfort, relaxation and child friendliness, coupled with day trips that visit tourist destinations, have left me whizzing past local villages and unable to really get a feel for local life and culture. Of course, those were the choices I made, and every choice comes with a trade off.
But at last, on the penultimate day of our trip I took a guided village walk to nearby Ungasan village. My guide was a woman who herself lives in Ungasan, was born there, married there and who said she had no plans to ever leave since her ancestors are also there.
It was hot, really hot, hot and sticky. The road wound up and down through lush trees and beautifully adorned houses. We passed a junction with a shrine sacred to the locals, it was there to offer safety, and if you drive past you have to ring your horn to acknowledge it.
The local central marketplace had a row of shops in the middle and shops all the way round the outside. This was where most of the religious items were bought. It was 11am when we arrived and the shops were closing. “What time will they re-open?” I asked, imagining a much needed afternoon siesta. “Oh no, this is it!” said the guide. “They open at 4am and close at 11.” It seems the life of a Balinese woman is tough – she needs to wake up, come to the shops to buy food and prepare breakfast for her family before they wake up. She will also prepare the items for the daily offering for her home’s own shrine.
What caught my eye is the number of Muslims in the area, from Java, I was informed. This surprised me, especially as the population looked comfortably and historically interwoven, and the guide felt it was perfectly normal. So much so, that she was surprised when I pointed out how beautiful it was to see a shop selling the items of Hindu rituals, right next door to a Muslim shop selling their equivalents like prayer mats.
As we walked on we saw Banyan Trees (sacred, protected by a wall, a special ceremony to cut them), mango trees (several varieties), coconut palms (the yellow fruits bunched together tantalisingly) and teak trees. In the fields were cows, who moo’d to us and we moo’d back (at least I did) and screeching cockerels.
Cute children played in school yards. The locals who drove past and knew the Guide honked her. We walked past the bank, an incredibly grand building (‘some of the locals have made a lot of money here from selling their land’).
Before the hotels came, Ungasan was a small village, mainly farming and some fishing. It’s about half an hour from Denpasar, the capital and feels extremely remote, perched on the furthest southern tip on the cliffs. It’s on limestone and so farming is tough.
Despite my own choice to stay at a resort in this area and enjoy its delights, I was suffering acute first world guilt that perhaps the row of hotels on the coastline had torn the local fabric of society and environment. But speaking to her and other locals, I felt it wasn’t as clear cut. In her opinion, everyone in the village works at a hotel. The tourism industry is sustaining this and several other local villages. But equally, large posters across the village were protesting against land reclamation in a nearby area. The village was sprinkled with villas rented out by travellers who would then spend their money in local shops. And in the surrounding areas surfers and long term inhabitants were plentiful, again, spending money.
Each village in Bali has three shrines: Pura Dalem (Shiva), Pura Pusa (Vishnu) and Pura Desa (Brahma) named after the three gods. You couldn’t enter but could see the large altars and doors.
There was a friendly buzz to the place. And the locals zoomed past on their motorbikes and smiled and I waved back. Life was in full swing here. And I was grateful to have had a chance to get out of a car, free myself from the cloistered surroundings I’d put myself into, and actually get a taste for what it is like in a local village. It’s worth it – give it a try.
This guided tour was provided courtesy of the Banyan Tree Bali. All opinions are my own.continue reading