Bye Bye Bali

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We savoured our very last gourmet Bali breakfast as we prepared to farewell the beautiful Claire this morning. We all got to work packing and loading up our bags, hoping those Bali bargains wouldn’t tip us over the all-important 23kg limit! I was so sure mine would be over.

Our check out time was 10am, the same time Claire’s taxi was due to to pick her up but Suzie, Keryn and I weren’t flying out until 10pm. We had a full day left to make the most of the beauty and culture of this unique island before heading back to Sydney with a thump of reality. Putu, our ever helpful villa host, had kindly offered for us to leave our bags at the villa all day. His suggested plan for us was to be dropped off at the affiliated Cunggu Club (pronounced “Choong-goo”, where we’d be able to hang out by the pool and choose from a plethora of exciting activities like water slides, ten pin bowling or trampolining fun. His driver would then pick us up and take us to the airport at 7ish.

Arriving at the Cunggu Club was not unlike being on the Gold Coast. The place was crawling with Australians – even many of the staff speaking in that familiar Aussie twang. They looked to be running a kind of vacation club for ex-pat kids, the majority of them hailing from Down Under. We sat by the pool for a while but as Suzie suggested, the “Choong-goo” Club felt a lot like “Charingbah Pool!” This was no way to spend our last day in a foreign land! We could rub shoulders with our fellow countrymen any day of the week! We decided to get out of there. We’d go on a bit of an exploratory expedition and then return to shower and change, ready for our driver to get us to the airport.

I had been wanting to spend some more time at Uluwatu but up ’til now there hadn’t been time. My friend Wendy had recommended a place called Finn’s Beach near there and though we knew nothing whatsoever about it, we were in a “what the heck?” kind of mood and wanted to check it out. The Cunggu Club staff frowned dubiously when we mentioned our plans, pointing out the obstacles that lay in our path. It was a long way. A taxi there and back would cost an arm and a leg. It would be hard to find a driver that could come straight away. We persevered as driver after driver fell through. We sat on the front steps of the Club, hope rising with every driver that pulled up out the front, only to be crushed when they departed with other lucky passengers aboard. We were doing the maths and calculating the time we’d actually have at the beach, factoring in our 3 hour driving time, there and back. It was going to be tight! Finally, after 45 impatient minutes, OUR driver actually arrived! His name was Ketut.

Ketut was lovely! He’d heard every Rhonda joke going around but despite being the butt of the jokes was still happy to have Australians in his car! We promised not to mention Rhonda. He asked us if we’d tasted a “cat-poo-chino” yet! Ketut was a fountain of information. We heard all about his village up north in Singaraja where the placentas of his three children are buried in a row under his kitchen floor. He taught us lots about his village customs and his family. His name, Ketut, is part of the naming system in Bali; the name given to every fourth born Balinese son.

Pulling up outside Finn’s Beach Club, we calculated we had approximately 40 minutes (yes, only FORTY minutes!) to imbibe the stunning atmosphere of this place before being whisked away to Denpasar. The sky was filled with beautiful white ball lanterns and a crowd gathered on the picturesque lawn for a wedding. As we rounded the corner we saw, way down between the cliffs, a gorgeous white sandy beach with lines of aqua marine surf rolling through into a private cove. It looked like paradise. We descended the winding white rock-clustered staircase, past a perfect infinity edged pool that took maximum advantage of the sublime view, down to where an inclinator took beach going passengers to the serenity below. This serenity came at a price, however, and there was a daily fee of 250,000 rupiah for the privilege! We were only going to be there for 40 minutes! We pleaded with the young girl to waive the fee, assuring her we’d just be having a quick dip. She wouldn’t have a bar of it. Rules were rules. Suzie and Keryn were looking deflated. I could tell they were considering pulling up stumps and heading back but there was NO WAY I was going to turn around and go home after having driven an hour and a half to get there! Not on your nelly! I paid the required 750,000 rupiah – which let’s face it, is a rip off in any currency – and we were given a 450,000 rupiah voucher for drinks, by the girl, who I think by now felt a bit sorry for us. We took the sweaty inclinator ride to the beach below and were even more mesmerised by the colour of the water and the beauty of the place once we were there. A bamboo tree-house-style building with an arched pointed thatched roof, housed a beach bar and complimentary beanbags, banana lounges and cushions were perfectly placed on the beach, their occupants reading or snoozing under broad market umbrellas. It looked too good to be true! We plunged into the clear warm water for the first and last time in Bali and bobbed around in the gentle waves, all the while, keeping a watchful eye on the time! Taking some snaps on the beach, we were interrupted by a very charming chap, from Notting Hill, who kindly offered to take a photo with all of us in it. He explained that his friend was at the wedding up top and he was just enjoying the beach while he waited. He was super friendly and nice!

Watching the minute hand circle a few too many times and well aware of our curfew closing in on us, we ventured up to the bar for a quick cocktail – as you do! Suzie and I indulged in an Espresso-tini and Keryn enjoyed a fresh pineapple juice. There was some confusion with our bar credit but once we broke down the language barrier (still missing Miss Indonesia) we understood we still had 100000 rupiah left to spend! We immediately thought we should buy our English gentleman a beer. Suzie went down to give him the good news and, being the gentleman he was, he opted to join us! He introduced himself as Dom and was just so nice, impressing us with his innovative business idea ( seeming genuinely interested in us and what we were up to. He was the kind of guy you’d love your daughter to bring home to meet the family. Hoping we hadn’t come across as cougars, we made him aware of our time restraints and shook his hand as we left. I’m sure he thought we were nuts! Maybe we were!

We took the inclinator to the top of the cliff and then had an anxious (sweat inducing) run up the stairs to find Ketut waiting for us, wide-eyed and tapping his watch. How much fun can you have in forty minutes?! Lots! Feeling chuffed that we’d “lived a little” and been so spontaneous and daring, we climbed aboard Ketut’s car in a collective good mood! The trip home, though an hour and a half, flew by. His smoother than smooth fm radio station playing covers of soft rock songs with Indonesian accents certainly left a lot to be desired! Suzie inquired what Ketut’s favourite music was. He told us his favourites were Scorpions (a German heavy metal band from the 80s) and Michael Jackson! How could we help it? We broke spontaneously into song, starting with Jacko’s early career highlights and working our way through his back catalogue. Ketut, though too shy to join in despite our goading, was clearly enjoying it. Our trip culminated with our romantic rendition, in tune with the radio cover version, of Endless Love. Ketut concurred with us, uttering “it was so romantic!” He shook our hands warmly, gave us his business cards and then waved us off.

Our airport shuttle was already waiting at the Cunggu Club so we asked him politely to give us five minutes for a shower and change. Emerging from the steamy shower, I had put my dress on ready for the flight. Suzie, seeing my attire told me I was “so organised to have even brought a brunch coat!” Wish I had been.

The number one rule we were told about Denpasar Airport was: NEVER let anyone take your bags. As soon as we got out of the car, a couple of official looking, uniformed guys were ready with baggage trolleys and before we could say “hot like a sunrise”, they had hauled our bags onto the trolleys and were encouraging us to follow them through the airport. They asked us what flight we were on and did a damn good job of making us think they were trustworthy. After we had taken off behind them we all realised the error of our ways and began to panic. Mumbling under our breath, we instructed them to stop. They were not too happy about that and stood close to us demanding a tip. They refused to leave until they had some cash. What a scam! Something to be wary of in the future.

We were checked scrupulously by the Indonesian customs officials who asked to see our passports no less than TEN times! The security was on steroids. Our bags went through the x-ray machine, were all cleared, and then checked AGAIN! We even got a post x-ray pat down! Keryn tried to pay the exit tax with her $US but it was rejected because of a slight (microscopic) tear in the note. They really like their US dollars to be blemish free! They also insisted that Keryn throw out her newly purchased water bottle, much to her annoyance. Schapelle Corby has a lot to answer for! We had a nervous hike to the gate before take off, splitting up to go to money changers, toilets and shops, we hadn’t realised it was a 7 minute walk (the sign said so) to the gate! There was a last minute gate change and we were surprised to have the automatic doors open to reveal, not a plane, but a bus!

We noticed once we were finally onboard that there were quite a few empty seats in the rows surrounding us. Suzie asked if it might be possible to spread out a bit. “After the seatbelt light goes off”, we were told. Well, it seems we weren’t alone in our quest for a good night’s sleep. No sooner had the last twinkle from the seat belt sign been extinguished and there was a veritable stampede up the aisle! People were frantically pushing and shoving to get in first and one girl was jumping up and down (I thought she was going to crash the little plane!) The plane was still in take off position for goodness’ sake! With that we kissed the thought of a decent sleep goodbye and due to Virgin’s lack of provision of a pillow, head-bobbed in and out of a restless slumber for the next 6 hours.

Reflecting on our trip now I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go away with such a wonderful bunch of women. We’d certainly come a long way from our first day paranoia about being robbed, getting Bali belly and having drugs planted on us. Even Keryn (Mrs Hygiene) had eased up on the hand sanitiser that she’d brought to Bali by the bucketload only to find it was provided wherever we went. We’d also grown to love the gentle, patient and caring Balinese people and their beautiful country. I hope one day we’ll be back!

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Bali Is Bagus (Bah-goose)!

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We had a blissful morning of relaxation at the villa today. Our villa staff excelled themselves producing the best banana pancakes we’d ever tasted. Served with fruit, toast, bacon and eggs and a home made watermelon/banana frappe, it was such a treat. So delicious! I’m usually the first one up in the AM and in the stillness of the early morning, while dogs bark, it’s amazing to witness the hive of activity going on before everyone rises. The pool cleaner is first on the scene each morning and as the cock crows over our back fence, he diligently plucks frangipani leaves from the pool and puts out fresh towels, sometimes rolled into origami shapes. Next come the cleaners, mopping, wiping and polishing up a storm before the chefs arrive and get to work. As the girls emerge, bleary eyed, one by one, from their bedrooms, they barely have time to plant their derrières on the comfy couch before being asked whether they’d prefer a tea or a coffee today. We could really get used to this!

In the absence of Miss Indonesia, it’s safe to say our plans today were fairly loose so we spent the morning enjoying the glorious pool and villa facilities at the Double V. The banana chairs got a good workout and we all made headway into our novels, Suzie feeling obliged to set aside some time to peruse the Australian Master Tax Guide, since she’d lugged the hefty tome all the way to Bali! Can you believe, Claire and Keryn actually turned up to our holiday with identical reading matter? What are the chances? It’s been a race to see who can finish first. As the morning wore on, Suzie’s attention turned to her writing and she was busy honing her screenplay (“loosely” based on a true story…”6 girls escape the rigours of their busy lives as working mothers to explore the Asian paradise: Bali…” – only the names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved…) making some real progress. You heard it here first.

After swimming and sunning our way through the morning, we somehow summoned enough energy to get ourselves dressed and ready, taking the well trodden, and now familiar path, down Snake Alley to the beach. We thought we might pull up a banana chair at the spectacular W Resort – the one we’d stumbled upon the night we got lost walking home. Now this resort is incredible! The pool itself is a sight to behold with its terraced, lagoon-like shape and infinity edges. All sorts of floating beanbags, curtained cabanas and lounge chairs surround the multi-layered pool deck. As we walked around with our bags and highly conspicuous matching blue and white striped towels, we noticed every other person in the resort had a purple towel. We stuck out like a sore thumb. Greeted by a friendly staff member, we were issued with our own set of purple towels, now conforming with the masses and told we could stay and enjoy all the beautiful facilities as long as we ordered food or drinks from the bar. It’s such a great idea. I really wish the concept would catch on in Australia. Hot pink wristbands – screaming: “I’m not a paying guest” were attached firmly to our wrists to give us access to the pool.
Unfortunately, the weather had turned ominous – black storm clouds mounting all around us. Ann-Maree and I were given a complimentary buggy ride up the tree-lined driveway to the nearest ATM machine and by the time we were escorted back to the other girls, it had started to spit with rain; the conditions not really conducive for swimming and laying by the pool as we’d hoped. The lovely staff member who had welcomed us in, unnecessarily took the responsibility for the barometric goings on upon himself, his guilt over the rain causing him to offer us another poolside day when conditions improved. Given that our lunch had been rather pricy (Suzie’s rice paper rolls an exorbitant 100,000 rupiah) we intended to take him up on his offer.

The Balinese are a deeply religious bunch. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, who has turned almost wholeheartedly to Islam, Bali remains for the most part, Hindu, with a bit of Buddhism thrown into the mix for good measure. There are small, square green baskets filled with fresh flowers, pieces of fruit, bread, burning incense and other suitable offerings, placed in front of every doorway in Bali. They can be found en masse outside temple gates or just individually in random places all over the city. All the online travel guides we read before setting off to Bali, warned us to LOOK DOWN and try to avoid stomping on these little baskets at all costs, avoiding the displeasure of the “gods” and the wrath of the Balinese people. Well, now we are here, we realise this is easier said than done. Each of us has, on occasion, taken one or more of these strategically placed little offerings out, the severity of annihilation varying in degree according to the footwear we are wearing or the angle we come down on it. Luckily these foot faux pas remained mostly unnoticed! Let’s hope they don’t check their cctv footage too scrupulously!

Returning to the villa late in the afternoon, after we’d picked up a few little dresses*, Ann-Maree finished her packing and ordered her departing, airport-bound taxi. It was with heavy hearts and a human archway that we said our goodbyes, praying she’d have a safe trip back to her loved ones in Singapore. This left us all feeling nostalgic and it was for this reason the remaining four of us returned to our old stomping ground, the Mosaic Restaurant, where we had our first meal together as a group.

Speaking of stomping ground, our quickest route to Mosaic was on foot, down the treacherous Snake Alley (only treacherous due to its lack of lights and reputation as a snake playground after dark) and we literally had to stomp the ground to ward off any slimy visitors. I won’t lie, I was worried. Miss Indonesia’s stature had meant she was capable of wielding a torch that shone around for miles. Now without her, we couldn’t quite get the same effect (no offence Keryn!) Stomping my way down the path and having the comfort of Claire’s hand to hold, I was relieved (if not sweating profusely from the vigorous stomping) to come out alive!

Our dinner was magnificent but Claire and I were stung with expensive glasses of wine. It’s not very economical to drink wine in Bali and that’s an understatement. A simple glass of red had cost $16 AUD! We could have bought a whole bottle for that! The waitress had been less than generous in her pouring too, leaving us with not much more than a thimbleful which, needless to say, we sipped very slowly, savouring every drop.

With the gate through Snake Alley firmly locked after 8pm, we rode home, to my relief, the long way ’round, in a taxi, who undoubtedly ripped us off, charging us 40000 rupiah instead of the usual 300000. Had Miss Indonesia been there, we would certainly have challenged the fare but without her, we just copped it sweet. After all, his taxi had had great air conditioning and had smelt like mandarins making it easy to forgive his indiscretion. Returning to the villa, the four of us popped our disco playlist on, donned our cossies and slipped into the pool for a late night spontaneous aqua aerobics session, which in reality, ended up as no more than a long chat with us jumping incessantly up and down like Masai women. As Suzie observed, sitting around all day doing nothing had been expensive!
*this is an in-joke


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Heading For The Hills

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With only a couple of days left on this beautiful island, we still had a few things we were yet to tick off on our Bali Bucket Lists. We’d heard about a bike tour you could do up on the volcano, cycling down through local villages with a guide. It sounded fantastic. Miss Indonesia took it upon herself to do all the research for us and like our personal genie, granted our wish by booking our tour and getting everything sorted for us.

Keryn, still recovering from a painful bout of shingles and Ann-Maree had decided they would pass, on the rigours of a two hour bike ride, opting instead to have a quiet day to relax at the villa by the pool, perhaps fitting in a massage or two and staying local. So it was only Amanda, Claire, Suzie and I that were required to set our alarms last night for our crack of dawn departure.

Miraculously we were all up and dressed by the time our driver arrived for us, even managing time for a quick brekky. We’d booked Wayan to be our driver today but he had sent his older brother Kedek in his place who, when questioned regarding the whereabouts of his younger sibling, reported that Wayan was “head sick”. Amanda, being the seasoned Indonesia-savvy skeptic suggested that Wayan probably just had another job and had sent his brother so they could do both jobs. Who knows? Kedek did have a different driving style to Wayan, more than once causing me – unfortunate enough to be seated in the front seat for an uninterrupted view – to spontaneously gasp, grab the handle tightly and adopt crash position! The 55 point turn he’d done in order to merely get out of our driveway when he’d first arrived was a bit of an indication of what we’d be in for, leaving us a tad wary about his driving skills.

Nevertheless, we managed to make it in one piece and were delivered up through Ubud to the north, passing through gorgeous mountain vistas, witnessing daily village scenes as we ascended towards Mount Batur, also known as Kintamani, the dormant volcano. Looking out over the vast lake of black lava we were educated by “Peter” about the lava having been deposited when there was a large eruption back in 1963. He told us the last eruption had been in 1999/2000 and pointed out from our cliff-top vantage point, where his house was nestled down below. Peter oozed such confidence and spoke with such authority, we assumed wrongly he was our tour guide. It turns out he was just trying to sell us some of his “lava sand” artworks, which were really quite hideous.

Arriving at our starting point, met by the bike-carrying truck, we were issued with our bikes, had our helmets fitted and met our real guides “Marty” and “Ecca”. It was noticeably cooler up the mountain and we were celebrating the absence of humidity in the air. Almost as soon as we began peddling we were charmed by the beauty and history of the ancient mountain village we were approaching. Marty showed us the hanging coconuts dangling from branches and housing the newborn placentas of the latest crop of newborns in the village and intrigued us with the courting rituals, unchanged for centuries, of the villagers in that place. Groups of prospective partners were to run towards one another in the dark, tagging a prospect who would then be required to wed them in a midnight ceremony also in pitch darkness. He laughed as he told us “you might get a beautiful wife or you may get an ugly one, but you are stuck!” He then went on to say that in the rest of Bali, most people marry “by accident”, meaning an unexpected baby is on the way!

There was a temple in each village we rode through and preparations were being made for a special festival that was to take place shortly. Mopeds were snaking through the bends carrying gargantuan loads of elephant grass and other produce – like tiny ants carrying too-large crumbs – their proportions looking impossible. Women and men also carried monstrous loads on their heads effortlessly as they strode on towards the temple. We wondered why this practice hasn’t caught on in western culture. It would certainly improve posture and carry on all that early Romper Room training “…eyes ahead and don’t look down, keep that basket off the ground…” It leaves your hands free too! The Balinese may only be small in stature but they are strong!

The ride was mostly downhill and pleasantly non-strenuous and luckily none of us were arachnophobes. The “Spider Tree” was choc-a-block with golden orb spiders which the brave Claire and Suzanne (with some encouragement from Ecca) allowed to wander up and down their arms! Amanda and I were merely happy to provide an audience.

The thing we loved the most about this experience was just being able to see the villagers going about their daily business. Women pulled cabbage leaves from a mountain of cabbages, kids giggled on tricycles, young boys wobbled as they took their first rides on mopeds, temple carvers chipped intricate designs into concrete blocks, cows mooed in fields of waving green. All the while the soundtrack in my head was Sting’s song “Fields Of Gold”. I’d always thought the lyrics were: “on the fields of Bali” but Suzie helpfully informed me it was actually referring to fields of BARLEY. Oops! In the same way that Space Invaders will always remind me of baked potatoes, I’ll always associate that song with Bali!

At one temple we saw the Balinese village’s version of Mr Whippy. A man stood with his big wheeled cart, drawing a huge crowd of eager, sweet-toothed customers – the young and the very old. He was putting ice cream in little paper bags and topping them with a generous squirt of chocolate and chopped nuts, the recipients tucking in enthusiastically. Some things are universal.

One of the highlights of our ride was being privileged enough to actually enter the home of a village family. Feeling a bit like we were imposing, Marty and Ecca assured us the villagers welcomed their visitors, actually offended if their compound is not chosen as a stop. They were so hospitable and we were introduced to 3 generations of one family and shown through their compound, which would house up to three or four families, their temple, market garden and common area. With its primitive wood fire hearth, dusty smoky shelves and battered pots and pans, it was certainly a long way from the pages of House and Garden, though perfectly functional and adequate for all they needed. It made us all feel guilty for the priority we place on the unimportant. Suzanne and Claire were set to pack up their families and embrace the simple life (though Suzie would need to set up a large generator to power the Thermomix). It was a good reminder of the traps of materialism and the lie that it’s “things” that will make us happy. These beautiful, gentle, hospitable village people with their simplistic existence and hard work looked contented and happy as they greeted us grinning their often toothless grins.

Since we’ve been here, Claire has been plagued by the nagging question of exactly how rice is harvested. We have seen people out in the paddies pulling up the bunches of green, never actually sure of where the grains come from. So it was with great relief that we had our own little tutorial today, complete with concrete examples, explaining exactly how it’s done and allowing Claire to now get some sleep at night. The green bunches are laid down on big rectangular tarps and placed all along the roadside to take advantage of the sun’s rays, dried out and then put through a machine to remove the husks. There is only one machine in this whole mountainous region, owned by one enterprising and busy family who process all the rice in the area and conveniently allow flexibility of payment methods – no electronic payment here though. It’s either rice or rupiah! Wish I could pay my weekly Woolies bill in rice!

Coming down the mountain, though sad to be leaving the tranquility of village life, we were treated to a delicious buffet lunch in the elephant sanctuary, where we got to know our cycling buddy, Linda, from Colorado. The elephants were beautiful, especially the baby, and we all felt them looking straight at us through their warm brown eyes. Unfortunately, we got carried away at lunch – Amanda swapping diving adventure stories with Linda – and by the time we made our way down to the elephant show included in our ticket, it was over! Oh well. From the basketball, soccer ball, painting on an easel and water trough in the enclosure we concluded the elephant probably shot a couple of hoops, kicked a goal, painted a picture and cooled the audience down. We didn’t miss much really.

The two hour drive back to civilisation was actually an ordeal to endure with Kedek’s incessant hypnotic, panpipe oriental elevator music droning in our ears the entire time. Suzie started singing along to try to make light of a stressful situation! We couldn’t exit that vehicle soon enough! Getting back, it was great to be reunited with Ann-Maree and Keryn who were freshly massaged and blow-dried and definitely more relaxed than we were after the panpipes trauma.

Tonight, Amanda’s last night with us, was an extra special one and we dined at the highly acclaimed Koo De Ta restaurant on the beach at Seminyak. The sun set over the beach while we sipped cold drinks and squinted to read the menu in the trendy ambient light, pulsing dance beats in the background. At one stage we were even offered an itty bitty book light to assist us, (the optically challenged of us anyway), to decipher the mains from the entrees.

The food and company were above average and we were even visited by a talented magician who absolutely wowed us with his extraordinary card tricks! Even the astute Miss Indonesia couldn’t work out how he did it and we clapped each trick, astonished by his masterful sleight of hand. Even more astonishing was his immediate disappearance at the end, with not even a hint he was after a tip. How refreshing!

We were all heavy-hearted to have to farewell our fearless Team Leader. We hugged and said our goodbyes, making an archway for her to run through. We are going to miss you Miss Indonesia!

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Meals, Wheels and Deals

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Our discussions over breakfast this morning centred around our ever improving haggling skills. Amanda let us in on some secret Balinese business. Apparently, I f you are given a black bag for your purchases at the markets, it’s code for the fact that you are an A1 haggler and tips the other stallholders off that you are a haggling force to be reckoned with – a kind of black belt in the art of haggling. A white bag, however, signifies your rookie status and shows you have a long way to go – P-plates for bartering. This fascinated us and we went back over our piles of previous shopping to check our bag colours and statuses. Keryn, Claire and Amanda (no surprise) revealed a stockpile of black bags, making them swell with pride. I was disappointed, though not super surprised, to find not a black bag in sight when I rifled through my purchases from the previous day. I still have a long way to go.

As we headed out the door armed with our shopping lists, ready for a morning’s shopping in Seminyak, some of us with Black Bag Confidence and others of us – the mere White Baggers – like their apprentices, secretly hoping to pick up at least one black bag along the way, we knew we were in for some fun.

It was a short taxi ride to the Bali shopping Mecca and as we were dropped off in the middle of the Seminyak shopping district, Miss Indonesia briefed us on where we were, what to do if we got lost and where we were to meet for lunch. Where would we be without her? She also pointed out to Keryn that Legian Beach was actually pronounced “leggy arn“, not “leej-I-on“. We’re such tourists!

Inevitably we were separated into smaller groups as we wheeled and dealed to retain as many rupiah in our thinning wallets as possible. Ann-Maree proved relentless in her quest for a good price and her hard work was rewarded with some stellar bargains. Keryn, Claire and I came across one woman who was a very tough nut to crack indeed. She was digging her heals in despite our ‘pretty good if we do say so ourselves’ efforts, we couldn’t wrangle a rupiah out of her if our lives depended on it. At one stage I was buying a dress and was giving it all I could muster, going toe-to-toe with her backwards and forwards over price. We’d hit a standstill when we reached the equivalent of AUD$14, not a bad price for a dress, but I was determined to knock her down a couple more bucks. Right in the thick of it, in the midst of our ongoing discussions, Keryn unhelpfully piped up – in front of the woman – with confirmation that this woman’s dresses really were good quality and she thought that wasn’t a bad price. D’oh! Needless to say, I paid the $14!

Satisfied that we’d put some crosses through our shopping lists and having bagged some excellent bargains, we cabbed it to our lunch spot: Gato Gato, right on the beach, where were reunited to have our own little Show and Tell session of what we’d bought. It seemed that most of us had bought a dress of some description and as we held each one aloft for the group to peruse, collective approval was given, with a chorus of oohs and aghhs ensuing. Ann-Maree is definitely the Dress Queen and has worked tirelessly, adding some beautiful dresses to her collection. Something tells me she is not yet finished. The restaurant was in a beautiful spot and we were able to sit in the shade to avoid the direct sun – probably the hottest day we’ve had since we’ve been here. Our outlook was so pretty, peeping out to the surf beyond through big green trees.

After lunch, we divided into two groups. Keryn, Amanda and Suzie, who were not yet shopped out, were keen to return and to indulge in some more retail therapy. Ann-Maree, Claire and I made a bee-line for a cab back to our villa where we could swim and recuperate with a book.

The staff at our villa have been fantastic. There’s nothing quite like coming home to a beautifully tidy house that you haven’t had to tidy! They’re like little fairies working quietly behind the scenes.
We were told that if we wanted any clothes washed we should put them in the dirty clothes baskets in our rooms. I popped a few things in mine and sure enough, when I came home, they’d been taken off to be washed! Suzie pointed out that this must be just how our kids feel. It’s so nice for the shoe to be on the other foot so to speak! We’d better not get too used to it…

I’ve mentioned earlier that we have become accustomed to the crazy traffic here. Today I witnessed Claire and Keryn, on separate occasions, walk assertively out into the middle of the busy road, hands confidently raised in a STOP sign position, to hold back the surge of oncoming traffic on both sides, allowing us to cross safely. This they did with their bare hands! Impressive! We’ve come a long way.

Well Amanda had a special treat for us tonight. She instructed us to dress a little fancier than usual (what a great opportunity to test drive those new dresses!) and we organised our cabs. Our destination was La Lucciola, perched right on one of the prettiest stretches of beach in Seminyak. Making our way over the fairytale bridge lined with flickering lanterns along the ground that continued the whole way, we wound around a path through a wonderland of frangipani trees twinkling with fairy lights. Huge palms with long straight trunks were lit up from below and spotlights beamed across the breakers on the dark horizon. The restaurant was constructed from timber and bamboo, all open at the sides, with a thatched ceilings and a jungle tree-house, Gilligan’s Island kind of feel. The air was still SO hot, even though it was after eight at night, but there was a slight breeze coming off the sand. We sat on the second storey with such an incredible view it looked like it had been superimposed as a backdrop on a green screen. Suzie gave the ambience a ten out of ten. It was truly a romantic dinner for six. Our waiter, who was a dead-ringer for Guy Sebastian was incredibly attentive and the food was amazing! A few of us had the pork but I was initially hesitant since I had already had pork for lunch. After all, I didn’t want to make a pig of myself.

The dinner had started with cocktails and ended with scrumptious desserts. It was a night to remember. With eyelids descending, we barely had time to spray our insect repellant before switching off the lights and hitting the hay.

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Another Day In Paradise

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Being away with a group of girls, there’s one thing we all have in common…we like a good chat. In my experience, there can often seem like there are not enough hours in the day to sit and chat. It would seem obvious then, that these chats can sometimes continue on well into the wee hours of the morning, which is what happened last night…er, this morning. Suzie, Amanda and Ann-Maree chatted until 3am and were looking a little worse for wear by the time they emerged out from under their mosquito nets to eat their banana pancakes. Rubbing their eyes and moving in slow-mo towards the car this morning, our driver Wayan gave them a knowing wink and said: “ooh too much Bintang last night, no?” Well not exactly. Actually it was just cups of tea and an important planning meeting for our future blockbuster Hollywood movie: The Bali Belles and the Stolen Credit Card.

Not to usurp the important role of Miss Indonesia in any way, Wayan had become our unofficial travel guide, giving us suggestions of things we might like to see and do while we are here. He’d told us about a fantastic beach in Nusu Dua where we’d be able to swim and snorkel with turtles and had talked it up, to the point where we were all quite excited, envisaging up-close-and-personal encounters with these huge ancient creatures of the sea, swishing through unspoilt, crystal clear waters, the golden sand beneath us. It was quite a let down then when we arrived at our destination. The 50 tour buses out the front did seem to jar with the experience we’d been anticipating and should have alerted us to what we were about to walk into. Even so, I don’t think any of us were prepared for the scene that greeted us when we hit the beach. It was PACKED! Talk about commotion in the ocean! There were hoards of people swarming the sand with noisy power boats zigzagging along the waves, barely missing one another as they zoomed past; banana boats whooshing by; parasailers filling the sky. We were ushered into a waiting corral and seated at a table, looking at each other with confused faces. Amanda took the reins and using her impressive Indonesian translation powers, demanded answers. The look on her face was priceless when she repeated loudly, “the turtles are in CAGES??” This was just not what we’d expected. We made an executive decision (we’re all executives here) to go somewhere else and explained to Wayan that we wanted to go somewhere a little quieter. That was an understatement.

As always, Miss Indonesia came up with a brilliant suggestion. Apparently, the resorts in Bali are happy for visitors to use their facilities for the day, as long as they purchase food and drinks there. Awesome! We were dropped off at one end of a strip of big resorts on the beach. Unlike the beach near our villa, this beach had pristine white sand and the line-up of sparkling resort pools, comfortable cushioned banana lounges and landscaped tropical gardens was dazzling. We devised a rating system to help us decide which resort we’d park our bikinis in but it was so darn hot and those pools looked so inviting that we settled for the second one we saw!

The thing we’ve noticed here is that there’s never really a time when you’re dry. The humidity is
unbelievable! You can get out of the shower or pool, go through the motions of towelling yourself down, only to find that as soon as you’ve finished, you’re wet again! The sun is hot but there’s no drying in the air. A wet towel can hang out in the direct sun for an hour but it just won’t dry because it’s so humid; very different to the bite of the drying Australian sun.

The Peninsula Resort – which it turns out was actually a time share facility – was happy to have us as their guests. This really was paradise. Set on the threshold of the warm white sand, with frangipani trees, coconut-laden palm trees, manicured tropical gardens, waiter service by the perfectly-temperatured pool and broad-brimmed umbrellas, it was certainly not a bad place to kick back for the morning! We settled in, munching on snacks of calamari and sipping on ice cold libations from the grass-roofed bar. We even indulged in some poolside pedicures. This is the life!

Out on the beach, the occasional speed boat would zoom past but every now and then something huge, that looked like a giant flying lilo would appear in the sky and it seemed like the same man was riding it every time! At first we were perplexed. What was that thing? It was way up! Keryn is our resident adrenaline junkie and could no longer resist the urge to go and check this thing out. She and Amanda went to investigate but discovered it was not as fun as they had first thought. The rider is strapped down, face up, while the guy who looked like he was having so much fun, held the reins and stood above you. We told Keryn she simply needed to get a job there if she was going to get the experience she wanted!

After our relaxation tanks had been filled somewhat, we called on Wayan to take us out to Uluwatu where we planned to watch the sunset above the famous surf spot. It’s funny how we’ve become accustomed now to the crazy traffic that had almost given us a collective cardiac arrest on our first day here. Packs of mopeds weaving in and out of lanes, almost touching vans, trucks and buses on frighteningly narrow roads, passing on blind corners and pulling out repeatedly into oncoming traffic, not an indicator in sight. It is amazing how now it’s just like water off a duck’s back.

Arriving at the temple at Uluwatu at dusk we were issued with our regulation sarongs. Once we were suitably decked out we were warned repeatedly over the loudspeaker to remove our sunglasses and secure any belongings that a cheeky monkey might be enticed to pilfer. Contrary to the many warnings, the monkeys were few and far between and no-one lost so much as a bobby pin.

From the edge of the walled 11th Century temple, we had uninterrupted views of the beautiful little cove below, surrounded by soaring vertical cliff faces on either side, topped with green, and as the sun sank towards the horizon it cast a golden glow over the lines of swell rolling in, the temple roof top silhouetted on the precipice against the orange sky.

With grumbling tummies – from hunger, not Bali belly – we once more climbed aboard Wayan’s van in search of some sustenance. Miss Indonesia had a destination in mind for us and when we’d been driving for around half an hour, she carefully ventured: “Wayan, are we still heading to Jimbaran Bay?” Wayan swiftly replied that we were about one and a half hours away which was met with hunger-induced gasps all the way to the backseat. He then piped up that he was only kidding and we’d be there in five minutes! He’s such a joker!

Jimbaran Bay was incredible! As we entered the beach we were greeted with a panorama of exceptional beauty as clusters of candlelit tables sat nestled right on the sand. Music filled the warm air and a gentle warm breeze washed across us from the dark sea beyond. Famous for its just-caught seafood, the menu boasted all kinds of fish which were pulled out of ice buckets right before our eyes and thrown onto the flaming grill, sizzling and smoking into the night sky, to be served with your choice of sumptuous sauce.

A Balinese quartet, complete with Ketut-style hats and consisting of a bongo player, 2 guitarists and a double bass player that was a good 30 years older than the other band members, were romancing the diners a table at a time, playing covers of Western pop songs and singing lyrics they clearly didn’t understand. They were hilarious! When it was our turn, they asked us for requests. Unfortunately Cold Chisel wasn’t in their repertoire so we settled for their pick, the Proclaimers’ “500 Miles”, getting everyone toe-tapping and vocal, rousing the crowd from their quiet romantic moods. They had a touch of the Wiggles about them a du rged on by our cheering they gave us a special TWO more songs! “Let It Be” was a crowd sing-a-long favourite but they cracked us up when the lead singer sang loudly “…CHAIR will be an answer, let it be, let it be…”

Speaking of chairs, I had a little trouble with mine. The table had originally been set with all the chairs facing the ocean but we decided to move around the table to help facilitate conversation. The conversation was helped sure enough but the angle of the beach and the way I was sitting meant the plastic chair legs sank into the soft sand and in a flash, my chair did a spectacular backflip, sending me flying backwards and leaving me sprawled upside-down on the shoreline, sand in every orifice! Even I admit, it did look pretty funny.

Our food was really delicious and obviously fresh, the only complaint being a few too many bones – clearly the fish’s anatomy was to blame. It was an experience we were very glad not to have missed. By the time we crawled back under the crisp white sheets at our villa four-poster beds we were very ready for a sound slumber!

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In the Ubud ‘Hood


This morning, our amazing chefs crept in, while we were all still snoozing (except Amanda), with ninja like stealth, so that when we awoke, our dining table was laden with an abundance of fruits and breakfast delights. Amongst these delights lay a plate of strange fruit – one we’d never seen. The chef with the least English told us smilingly that it was “black fruit” though the other chef, with better English, told us this tropical delicacy was mangosteen. Feeling like we were on a Tucker Trial from “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!” we each faced the fear of the unknown and bit into its soft, white flesh for a sample, giving the unanimous vote that it was really delicious!

As I mentioned earlier, Amanda (a.k.a. Miss Indonesia) was up before the sun, swotting up on her mapping skills so that she could steer us through the week, living up to her title and ensuring the avoidance of any more unnecessary incidents such as the one we endured last night. Over breakfast she then dazzled us with what she’d learnt and, pointing with outstretched arm in every direction from the dining table, showed us where exactly we were in relation to the rest of Bali, Indonesia as a whole and the world in general. There’s no doubt she’s good at what she does. With Miss Indonesia out front, we remain in good hands.

After seeing Claire’s “pensive pool shot” (featuring in yesterday’s blog post) Keryn commented that Claire might easily be snapped up as the poster girl for our villa. Amanda told her “if they approach you, charge LOTS”, to which Claire replied “oh don’t worry, I don’t even get out of bed for less than 5000 rupiah a day”. Stay tuned because that’s only 50 cents!

Libby, my friend from work, had given me the number of a driver she’d used while she’d been here on holidays late last year. While our villa does have its own driver, he is almost impossible to understand, having extremely limited English. Miss Indonesia would have literally been interpreting ALL day! Libby’s driver, Wayan, apparently had great English so we’d decided to spare Amanda the exhaustion and give him a call. He was more than happy to take us up the winding road to deliver us into the mountain area of Ubud and, more importantly, he was available.

Wayan arrived promptly at 10am and we guiltily skulked past the villa’s driver into the comfort of his air-conditioned van to embark on our mountain adventure. Ann-Maree sat in the front and got to chatting with Wayan. She asked him about his family and he told us he had one son, who was 18…oh and four wives. We all stopped talking and said a collective: “FOUR WIVES!?” to which he roared with laughter, peering at us in the rear-view mirror through his laughing eyes to see our reactions. Gotcha!

The road to Ubud was busy. As we left the cluttered tourist areas of Bali behind, the rural scenery was really beautiful and jungle-like in some areas. Bumping through deep potholes and passing rice fields, roadside bamboo food stalls, lush green foliage and hundreds of mopeds, we were amazed at the many locals we saw, carrying incredibly big and heavy loads atop their heads; backs rod-straight and seemingly with ease. We all enjoyed exploring this beautiful part of the island, Suzanne particularly impressed with the scenery. Pointing at one place, she declared “isn’t it beautiful!” right before realising it was a tattoo parlour! Her next exclamation of beauty was directed at some big rock carvings she discerningly spotted. We’re sure she was already mentally calculating the shipping fee to get it back to her garden in Cronulla until it was revealed that they were actually grave stones! Oh well.

Wayan suggested a quick pit stop at a batik place, where we were able to see batik fabric being woven, painted and sewn. It’s an amazingly intricate process and we enjoyed watching the expert craftsmen and women at work. The batik shop was good for a few trinkets to take home too.

Ascending further along the meandering road we passed through villages that were home to the ancient craftsmen, skilled in gold and silver jewellery making. These villages boasted a myriad of gold and silver stalls and shops. Before we knew it though, we were in Ubud. We had such a fun time weaving in and out of the craft and fashion shops lining the Main Street of this little country town, trying on dresses, picking up souvenirs and mingling with the locals. As I was negotiating the cobbled pathway something out of the ordinary caught my eye. A mother was cradling her young daughter, in a squatting position, with her legs forward, RIGHT in the middle of the footpath. On closer inspection I noticed her pants were down and realised what they were up to. They were near a drain but weren’t positioned over it. “Uh-oh” I thought, “the little girl is about to wee all over the footpath!” I did a double take when I looked again to see that in actual fact, this little girl wasn’t weeing, she was dropping a number two right there in the thoroughfare! Seriously! There’s something you don’t see every day! Apart from the few of us who were still goggle-eyed and trying to comprehend witnessing this unfortunate event, no-one else on the street seemed to bat an eyelid! Needless to say, we made our return journey firmly planted along the other side of the road.

The markets in Ubud were a buzzing hive of activity. It did take a while for us to warm up in the haggling department. Keryn’s first encounter with one elderly local merchant had him reassuring her that the price she’d seemed to have accepted with no qualms was actually negotiable. “Aren’t you going to bargain; you know you can bargain?” This hesitation on Keryn’s part was short-lived, however, and as the morning wore on, she was haggling like a boss, even giving her experienced sister-in-law Claire, a run for her rupiah! She and I were playing hard to get with a funny lady trying to sell us some shirts. Keryn boldly told her she’d pay $100,000 rupiah for both and true to her word, despite the woman’s back-turning shenanigans, wouldn’t budge. You should have seen Keryn go! She was on fire! An Aussie couple saw the transaction in progress and bustled in for a front row seat, shouting: “this is great, we gotta watch this!” Sure enough, her canny bargaining paid off and we were both beneficiaries of her newfound haggling prowess.

Claire and Suzanne were also a force to be reckoned with in this market arena, bagging bargains left, right and centre and forging a strong team-haggling-bond that I’m sure will last a lifetime. While it may be daunting at first, there’s something incredibly empowering about haggling. It’s fun for both parties and everyone was adrenaline charged as we set out to meet Wayan. None more so than Ann-Maree, who had inadvertently strayed from the group in her quest for bargains and was now not with us! Luckily we were able to call her and talk her back to the van. Phew!

Lunch in Ubud was absolutely delicious and I was over the moon to be able to order my “Brutus Burger” freely from the kids’ menu. No discrimination for over 12-year-olds in this country. Australian restaurants take note. Suzie also said her tandoori wrap was the best she’d ever tasted. Our waiter was very funny and kept us entertained with his repertoire of facial expressions, not quite knowing what to make of us.

Our next tourist destination was to visit the Luwak Coffee plantation which we’d heard so much about. This world-renowned coffee is known as Kopi Luwak, or Civet Coffee, which comes to your cup having undergone quite a process indeed. As the webpage states, the coffee is made from “the seeds of the coffee berries once they have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet” (a member of the cute little mongoose family). Did you get that? DEFECATED!! This furry little guy eats the coffee beans, poops the coffee beans and they are then collected from the steaming load, washed (hopefully very well!), roasted, ground and…voilà! Coffee is ready to consume. It sounds bizarre doesn’t it? Who in their right mind would initially have thought it a great idea to collect pre-digested, pre-pooped coffee beans from the excrement of an animal and try to eat them?
Well, the critics had acclaimed it and who were we to judge until we’d tasted for ourselves?

We met our young Balinese tour guide, Putri – who incidentally was dressed in jumper, jeans and socks with thongs because she wanted “white skin”- and she showed us around her lush green spice garden, pointing out all the different plants and their properties, smelling and tasting as we went. We were then given an introduction to the “pooper” himself and taken through the step-by-step process of this unique coffee-making enterprise. Amanda, Suzie and I were the only ones entertaining the idea of a taste but I was particularly fixated on the WASHING process. Having been reassured the beans were washed throughly, three times, I was hesitant but satisfied to take the plunge – the 2nd leg of the Tucker Trial was about to take place.

Putri brought us a trayful of flavoured teas and coffees to try, which we we were to work our way through systematically, culminating in the “poop coffee” taste test. The teas were all met with a favourable response and the coffee was surprisingly good. You heard me, it was good. Yes, drunk with no conscious thought whatsoever of where it came from, it was good. We spent some time in the tea shop, meeting the family who owned it, Keryn stealing a cuddle from baby Juna.

The last stop on our tour today was Tegenungan, where we walked down a steep set of stairs, trekked across some slippery rocks, clinging precariously to a fraying rope that had been bolted to the rock face, to a spectacular waterfall (well worth the harrowing trek!) and had a refreshing swim in the pool below. It was so invigorating and the sheer velocity of the waterfall was incredible! None of us stood under it for fear of brain injury! It was awesome!

Ascending the almost vertical staircase to the top, in the soaring, oppressively humid conditions, left us all puffing and parched, drenched in perspiration so the old bloke almost gliding stresslessly with a full 40 litre bottle of water balancing on his head like it was not a big deal, barely breaking a sweat, didn’t make us look good! We were starting to get bitten by pesky mozzies but the ever well organised Ann-Maree had it covered, offering us all a liberal spray of her All Natural repellant. Aside from the overpowering smell, the repellant had the slow release affect of making our arms feel like they were going to spontaneously combust so that half an our after the application, we were overcome with searing heat!

After a yummy meal in Ubud, we bundled back in the air conditioned car and began our descent to Seminyak. Chatty as usual, our conversation turned to Wayan’s car horn usage and the way the cars and mopeds continually toot one another on the road. He explained that he tooted to let people know he was approaching – a kind of “man-on” strategy and that tooting the horn in Bali was never done as an act of road rage. I spouted that I wished I had a “happier horn” as my car horn sounds quite aggressive even if I’m just giving a G’Day toot. Wayan’s horn, however was quite a happy horn. The conversation climaxed with me pronouncing emphatically to Wayan: “I really like your horn!” As soon as it left my mouth I realised what I’d said but it was too late! Poor Wayan remained politely stony-faced while we all rolled around the car in raucous laughter. Oh dear!

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Getting Our Bearings

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Our four-poster beds were as comfortable as they were glamorous and we all woke to the Bali sunrise feeling refreshed and well-rested. Amanda hit the road early, taking the opportunity to catch up with some friends that were here on holidays but the rest of us had a very leisurely morning.

Our villa is completely open on one side, with absolutely no doors at all and it has such an indoor/outdoor feel with two of the bathrooms more or less roofless! It’s very cool. You can be “inside” but showering under the stars! One of the bedrooms opens right out onto the pool too, so you can sit in your bedroom and dangle your feet in the cool, clear water! It’s fun taking a running jump straight past the bed and into the pool! The villa also comes equipped with a small staff, with Putu at the helm. Without a front door, or front wall for that matter, security could be a bit of an issue but not so for us because we have our very own security guard stationed right at the front gate!

This morning we had two beautiful chefs come to our own little kitchen and whip us up some bacon and eggs, toast and fruit – and the sweetest pineapple I’ve ever tasted! They set the table beautifully and waited patiently for us to finish so they could wash and clean up. They were super efficient and within minutes they’d slipped away, leaving no trace behind them. It can be a little disconcerting sometimes when they slip in silently and suddenly appear! Each night they come back and light some mozzie coils for the roofless, wall-less areas of the house, turning down the beds. Wanting to show our appreciation and thank them profusely we’ve been working hard to rehearse some Indonesian phrases. Having lived in Jakarta, obviously Amanda is our pin-up girl for all things translatable. In fact, we’ve taken a vote and officially crowned her Miss Indonesia. She’s Team Leader (with capital letters). Today, however, as I mentioned, she had taken off and left us, the Indonesian-speaking rookies to fend for ourselves.

In regards to language acquisition, and aside from Miss Indonesia of course, our talents in this department have remained dormant thus far, just waiting for the chance to be set free. Finding ourselves here in this foreign land provides us with a rich training ground in which to hone these skills. Keryn had the very innovative concept that we should each be in charge of just one phrase and make it our job to say it when called for. We would be specialists. She decided to be in charge of saying “thanks” – the Thank You Specialist. This concept, although good in theory, was extremely short-lived, due to the fact that no-one could remember their phrase, especially Keryn! Thank you is “Terima Kasih”. We really needed something to trigger our memory and had been working on something to help us remember it. We thought of “tiramisu”, “tear in my car seat”, “terror my shoe” but then it dawned on us. We could say (“I’ve got a) tear in my cossie” in an American accent and sound like authentic Balinese. This is working for Keryn on the whole, bar the time when she slipped up and said “I’ve torn my cossie!” There is another phrase that sounds like “sexy mo” but I can’t remember the Indonesian word it stands for! Basically our system has backfired. There’s definitely room for improvement!

Following Putu’s directions, we bravely ventured out, on foot, from the comfort of our villa, down a long, particularly skinny pathway that apparently led to the beach. It had high concrete walls lining either side and open drains along its length. Eventually we did emerge right in front of the ocean. It was beautiful! The surf was pumping but there wasn’t a soul around. Actually Ann-Maree decided she’d like a quick body bash, plunging into the surf enthusiastically. Completely alone in the line-up, she was swiftly beckoned out by a whistle-blowing lifeguard who was signalling wildly. The beach was closed. Ohhh, so that’s why it was deserted. As we strolled along the dirt road beside the black sand beach, we were set upon by an eager hat salesmen, who actually hit the jackpot when Claire, a seasoned haggler from way back, decided to make a purchase.

Continuing along the shoreline, we passed ritzy looking hotels, day spas and restaurants, mixed with lean-to shacks and thatched-rooved pavilions serving local street food – committing to memory the places we wanted to revisit. As we walked, we were constantly shuffling aside to dodge mopeds and taxis. It was as we turned away from the beach, however, that we really had to start traffic-dodging! Somehow we had found ourselves on a major thoroughfare, buzzing with cars, trucks, taxis & mopeds and while it was a well-travelled route, it was barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another without taking off a side mirror and was surely never intended for pedestrians! We would liken it to taking a stroll along the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. Occasionally there was a driveway where we could slip out of harm’s way for a quick breather before the onslaught of traffic ruffled the hairs on our arms again as we walked in careful single file.

The experience had unnerved us somewhat and with Miss Indonesia still not in our company, we thought it wise to hail a taxi. It’s worth stopping here to say a few words about the currency. Suzanne, being the accountant amongst us, has unofficially become our currency conversion expert. Exchanging our Aussie dollars into rupiah turned us all into instant multi-millionaires! There are so many zeros on each note! We began by trying to convert prices into our own currency but that was confusing, never quite knowing how many zeros to drop. Over lunch, Suzie gave the mandate that this converting nonsense had to stop. From now on we would simply talk in rupiah. None of us have truly grasped it but it’s fair to say, some less than others. Admittedly I’m the worst. I was distressed over dinner because I was 10,000 rupiah short in paying my bill and someone had to chip in for me. Ann-Maree, held me by the shoulder and said: “Sarah, it’s ONE dollar!”

We now know we were ripped off twice by taxi drivers who we allowed to negotiate a price at the start rather than use their meters. Miss Indonesia was disappointed in us upon her return and schooled us in the art of cab catching in Bali. If they don’t have the meter on…get out. Simple. Claire helpfully reminded us that although we were clearly ripped off, we were contributing to the greater good by helping those cabbies put food on their families’ tables. Good point Claire.

We checked out some markets and shops in Seminyak and put some more money in Balinese cash registers. Everything is so cheap here! Over lunch Claire realised she had bought a hat, some Chanel sunnies (authenticity admittedly dubious), a dress, two taxi fares and lunch and all up she’d only spent $55!

One of the places we’d passed along the beach this morning was Mosaic Restaurant. It looked gorgeous with curtained, cushioned Balinese gazebos, big wooden tables with cushions galore, lit- up trees, lush tropical gardens surrounding a resort-style pool with a bridge over it and spotlights shining out to the waves. we decided to go there for dinner. Putu advised us that it would only be a short walk down the narrow path but suggested a taxi home might be the safest option as snakes frequent the path after dark! I have a pathological fear of reptiles. Seriously. By the time we embarked on our journey, it was already dark and the alleyway was PITCH BLACK! I had images of writhing serpents under the cover of darkness, ready to pounce. I wasn’t being paranoid. He definitely said there were snakes. Yikes! Amanda faithfully lit the path with her torch and forged a way through the darkness for us. We made it!

This was a night to remember. It was still so balmy and warm, a gentle breeze blowing off the shore and stars twinkling above us (including the familiar “saucepan”). The sound of the waves crashing on the sand could only faintly be heard above the extra cool 70s disco tunes the funky DJ was laying down. Donna Summer, Lou Rawls, Hot Chocolate, Michael Jackson. It was the best disco in town! We were grooving along in our seats all night! One particular source of mirth for us as we indulged in our scrumptious dinner was the unfortunately placed Mosaic Restaurant logo that adorned our waiter’s apron. The 3 interlocking hexagons did somewhat resemble male genitalia and we couldn’t even look at him without breaking into fits of giggles. We’re so immature.

After paying thousands and thousands of rupiah for our dinner (about $30 per head) we had to have a quick round table discussion on how we would get home. We weren’t too far from our villa but there was that narrow path to navigate in the dark, with the SNAKES… There wasn’t a taxi in sight so we decided to ask the security guard for his suggested plan of action. He was sure we could access our villa by taking a short cut through the “W” hotel, just down the beach and kindly escorted us, with his torch, along the path to where we could see the hotel. Unfortunately this was where he left us and unhelpfully withdrew the provision of his torch so that we were left stumbling across the sand, shoes full of grit, barely being able to see a foot in front of our faces. He left us stranded in our hour of need. We made several attempts to enter the palatial grounds of the elusive W hotel but our attempts were thwarted by carefully stacked sandbags and spotlights being directed in our faces. When we finally scrambled off the sand to an opening in the trees we were met by a stern security guard who promptly checked our bags before reluctantly letting us enter. The saga continued when we had to seek more directions that led us down a driveway, framed with overhanging bamboo, that must have gone on for a kilometre at least! The so-called short cut had taken us totally off the beaten track! Now we were faced with the decision of wheather to walk or get a taxi. We had 4 or 5 taxi drivers beeping their horns at us and trying to attract our business. Each of us had assessed the risks and had formed our own opinions. All I could think of was snakes. Amanda wanted to keep us off the main road because she thought a group of 6 girls walking along with handbags would be sitting ducks for bag snatchers! Others of us were worried about being mugged on the back streets.
After umming and ahh-ing it was decided we’d make a worthwhile investment and go home in a taxi. It was $3 each…!

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Bali Bound

Bali Bound


We rose in great anticipation before the sun (and the rest of our families) today and I was greeted with a hot coffee and Keryn’s smiling face while it was still dark. We were going to Bali! We crawled our way through the peak hour throng on our way to the airport for what seemed like forever and were bubbling with excitement when we met up with Suzie at the check-in counter.

Earlier discussions had confirmed it would be a good idea to pack lightly, Amanda proudly announcing she would just “throw a few sarongs in a bag”. So simple. So admirable. Surrendering our bags to the weigh-in machine (also known as scales), soon revealed we each had our own interpretation of what it meant to pack “lightly”. Suzie came in as the clear champion, weighing in at a mere 13kg. Keryn tipped the scales at 17kg, which was a stellar effort and, while I tried earnestly to pack lightly, I failed miserably and came in at 19.8kg. In hindsight I probably didn’t need 5 pairs of thongs in different colours. It looks like Suzie will be lugging all our purchases home!

Defying past form, we did get to the airport with ample time up our sleeves, visiting Suzie’s father-in-law at the help desk to get the inside information on where to buy the best coffee (thanks Big Al!) We even had time for a leisurely stroll through the duty free shop before an obligatory shot in front of the Departure sign and an ushering into our seats onboard our Bali-bound Virgin jet.

Feeling a bit more like a domestic flight than an international one, with legroom only Tattoo from Fantasy Island would find befitting, we were perplexed as to where they may be hiding the television screens. Under the tray tables? No. Hidden compartment in the roof? No. Hmmm. The Captain was enthusiastically spruiking the “in-flight entertainment” choices on the PA but there was no sign of where our entertainment might come from. We were also told to switch our phones to aeroplane mode, which we did.

After sitting on the tarmac for a good half hour, we heard a whisper that we needed to use our OWN devices. Luckily we had iPads but unluckily they were safely locked in the overhead lockers! Tough luck if you don’t own a device. No movies for you! We discovered at the eleventh hour that there was an app we needed to download, using our own data, so we could then log into the Virgin onboard entertainment wifi and all of this had to happen before the last of the cabin doors shut! It was a mad scramble to get out of aeroplane mode and get the damn app before take-off! I managed to get it just as the back wheels tucked under and we had lift off but Keryn and Suzie weren’t so lucky. It would have been nice to have had a heads up on this! We could have downloaded the app before we’d even boarded!

Flying diagonally over Australia’s massive land mass took up the majority of our 6 hour flight and brought with it a fresh realisation of what a huge country we live in! There was an excited announcement from the Captain when we were flying over the Alice but alas, we were on the wrong side of the plane. Before we knew it we were making our descent into the tropical unknown, crystal blue seas twinkling at us from below.

Emerging from our anchored aircraft into the muggy Balinese afternoon, our heads were swimming with snippets of advice we’d collected from our well-travelled Bali-savvy friends. Don’t let ANYONE take your bags. Don’t make ANY jokes about security, bombs, drugs or Schappel Corby and certainly don’t mention bodyboard bags! To be honest, it was a bit daunting. Filling out the Immigration Forms, I couldn’t help but think of the Bali Nine; signing a declaration that they had no narcotics. Keryn had some Nurofen in her bag and we were even paranoid about being caught with that!

We’d read that we needed to have US dollars for our “on-arrival” VISAS so we were well-prepared, felling quite smug and loaded up with green backs as we approached the unsmiling man behind the counter. He took Suzie’s US$20 and then swiftly handed it back, stating unapologetically that he wouldn’t accept any note that was pre-1996! What the? The note she’d handed over was actually pristine and we’d joked that our wrinkled notes were quite inferior. Suzie had to fork out AUD$50 and it was just lucky she still had some cash on her! Keryn and I approached the counter with much trepidation, ironing out the dog ears on our crinkled offerings. We were so relieved when he, still unsmiling, ushered us along to the next queue, which was a beauty! It snaked around for miles! It took a good forty minutes to wind our way to the one-at-a-time queue. None of us could truly relax until those passports were stamped and we were in possession of our luggage!

Speaking of luggage, by the time we got to our baggage carousel, it was almost completely bereft of bags of any shape or size! Where the heck were our bags? Over to one side, we spotted a couple of guys in official looking outfits, pulling all the bags off and putting them in a pile. They looked suspicious by all accounts and we were paranoid and on high alert. We’d already broken one of the golden rules. Don’t let anyone touch your bags! Satisfied that our zipper cable ties were still intact, we were thrust out into the Balinese daylight, in the stifling heat to find, with relief, our trusty driver. Phew!

The drive from Denpasar to Seminyak was an experience we won’t forget in a hurry and one we all hope not to have to repeat! It was chaos! The sheer number of mopeds and motorbikes on the road was insane! Packs of 10 or more bikes in clumps, weaving in and out of the traffic with the speed and zeal of a fiddler’s elbow! We saw one guy giving his undivided attention to composing a text message while trying to navigate the minefield that is the Bali traffic! He only bothered to avert his eyes from his screen seconds before he may have slammed into a dozen fellow-bikers. We saw little kids perched precariously on the fronts of their parents’ mopeds, without helmets, while they darted in and out of buses, trucks and oncoming traffic! Scary stuff!

The scenery was not quite what we expected either. There seems to be a strange mixture of upmarket, rural and really run down places, right beside one another. Our driver, “Madday” had extremely limited English which made it a challenge but what he lacked in language skills, he made up for in enthusiasm. He was suggesting all kinds of things for us to do and see but we didn’t have a clue what on earth he was talking about! Just smile and wave! Teriima kasih!

Our villa was down a narrow side street that sailed past cows sitting in paddocks of long grass, burnt out buildings, small fields of green, building sites, slums and rambling driveways. At the end of the road, the van came to a halt and we dubiously walked down a laneway of stepping stones, emerging in a beautiful oasis of frangipanis, statues and waterfalls; our villa was magnificent! Our host, Putu, showed us around and introduced us to our own private chef who proceeded to cook up a storm for us while we paddled in our own private pool! The meal was scrumptious and now we await the arrival of the other 3 girls, excited about what tomorrow will bring!


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