Monday 6 August 2012

Bali Day 4

With my stomach almost back in control I decided on a long walk. Turning left out of the hotel I headed towards what I believed to be the beach. Just for the hell of it I had a massage along the way. A very good one. I eventually came to the end of the road and what turned out to be the ocean. The waves were large and signs indicated that the beaches were closed for swimming.
I turned left in the direction of Legion. A long walk, but a nice walk. I would have liked to have a dip in the ocean as by now the day was hot, but common sense prevailed, the surf and undertow could be dangerous. I walked on and eventually came to the Seminyak club. A nice looking spot by all accounts.

Continuing on I came to Potato Head. Potato Head is the current trendy place to be. It has taken over from Ku De Ta as the hip and happening place. Being a westerner and being well dressed I was able to walk in without being stopped by the security guards. I saw others being asked for identity, or maybe the bouncers were just checking that they had enough money to be there.

Not exactly sure how to describe Potato Head. It is a beach facing bar and restaurant and accommodation area. The prime activity seems to be reclining on day beds and drinking. Not a bad way of spending a day but the day beds are very close together. The clientele are almost exclusively scantily clad pretty young things both male and female with some decidedly older people trying to be hip and with it. As far as dress standards go, James Bond says it better than me. "that's a nice little nothing you are almost not wearing". Not being a pretty young thing I decided to leave before I was taken for a pervert, or forced to pay for an outrageously expensive drink. The odd thing was I could not find an exit, except back to the beach. Of course there had to be one, but not being a guest I had no idea where to look.
Continuing on I came to Ku De ta. Golly gee willikas I had walked all the way to Kuta. This was not the Kuta that I remembered from my first visit in the mid 80's. Which at the time was grass huts facing the beach. In fact I did not recognise this area at all. Ku De Ta was quiet and I had no desire to linger, so I managed to find an exit, was asked if I needed a taxi as I left, which I politely declined and ended up on a road paralleling the beach. I took a punt, made a left turn and walked up the road for a few minutes and saw a sign pointing to Seminyak Square. Before I knew it I was back at the location of Vivai. I now understood where I was.
So I took a lunch break at one of the restaurants in the complex. A few drinks and a nice Steak and chips went down well. I knew where I was now and decided to continue my walk back to the hotel.
After a short while I began to realise that Bali Belly was not gone, in fact it was starting to come an urgent thing to deal with. By this time I was in the middle of nowhere. No toilets in sight. No Taxis in sight. Nowhere to "relieve" myself. I pushed on doing that stilted stiff legged walk, designed to minimise movement in the lower abdomen, that those in extremis seem to adopt.
My brain was calculating how long I could hang on and how far I had to go. The results were not encouraging. Eventually with what I thought was only a few hundred meters to go I saw a cab and flagged it down. The remaining trip was further than I had thought, continued walking would have been a disaster. I hobbled to my bathroom.
Pure blessed relief.
No mess.
No disgrace.
Stomach eased.
This was my last day, with a late night flight ahead of me, so I rested the rest of the afternoon and packed my bags.
Brutal is the plain honest truth
Late afternoon I wandered out and had another massage. The same place as the morning, it was worth going back. Pretty close to the massage place was Naughty Nuri's. This place is legendary. The original restaurant is in Ubud in the hills north of Denpassar, this their second restaurant is an experiment. Their claim to fame is fantastic slow cooked ribs which are finished on an open grill before serving. Their real claim to fame is wicked Martinis so strong that they would fuel a Space Probe. I have an experience of the original Naughty Nuri's and no memories of much of the rest of the evening.
I had ribs which were pretty dry and "ordinary" and a couple of Martinis, but was careful not to have excess. I left , caught a cab back to my hotel, picked up my bags and headed to the airport.
The Bludger got home about 4am, had a couple of hours kip and headed for work.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Bali Day 3 - Lovina and back

Bali Day 3.
This morning I awoke with a rumbly stomach and all the signs that I had potentially contracted Bali belly. Not the best way to start the day before a long car trip. I made my way to breakfast but ate sparingly and mainly took the opportunity to fill up on fluids. By the time the taxi driver turned up I had vented what I could and was as ready as I was going to be for the journey.
We left Seminyak, and to be honest I had no real idea where we were going, other than later in the day we would make it to Lovina Beach.
Our first stop was a Temple. A small entry fee and I was able to wander around at my leisure. I am writing this up a month later and too be honest I have forgotten which temple it was and what it was devoted to. It had lovely grounds and a huge sign suggesting that menstruating women should not enter the temple. It also had a toilet and I made good use of that. It was a nice day and very serene and a pleasure to be there.
A nice Balinese Temple
You may need to schedule your visit
Our next stop was a water temple. The Lake Bratan and Ulun Danu Temple at Bedugul. Bedugul is in the mountains and comparatively cool. It was once more a pleasant spot with the lakes and the mountains and lovely lush grounds. On the downside it is very much a tourist attraction, even for the Balinese, and it had more a feel of a botanical gardens with amusements included. Boats for hire, performances, which I missed, from local acts and a very private ceremony in one of the smaller temples, that attracted a lot of visitors and some security to keep the visitors out. A religious ceremony that foreigners would not and should not be invited to. I saw some of the ladies afterwards in their lovely costumes and one of them flashed me a smile. My heart went boom,(stop it Bludger there is no hope there), and she passed on by.

I also found a toilet here and made good use of it.
Along the way we had stopped at a the top of a mountain pass, at a Strawberry farm. I am not sure why we stopped, I think that it was an opportunity for me to eat. But food was pretty low down my list of priorities. I had a pot of tea to keep the fluids up. It did have a magnificent view across to Gunung Agung (Mount Agung) a large volcano - not quite extinct.
So we headed onward toward Singaraja and then to Lovina Beach. We stopped at the GitGit waterfall so that I could visit the falls. I was happy to do so, but was put under duress to hire a guide. I was given a rather pathetic story about how he took no money and all the takings were donated to a local orphanage. He wanted an outrageous amount of money. One of those situations where you end up having little choice, unless you want to create a scene. I bowed to the blatant rip off and allowed this man to lead me around. Shortly after it peeved me to see other tourists, without guides, walking around quite happily. Crappity crap.

However there was a plus side, the guide was happy to take piccies of me, it is not often that the person with the camera gets into the pictures, and he also provided 2 cold and very welcome beers, which he was happy to carry around for me. The waterfalls were nice, the break from the car was nice and if I had been prepared it would have been a nice spot to spend some time and cool off in the pools beneath the falls.
Next stop was Lovina, I had a cat nap in the car on the way. In the process missing some beautiful tropical rainforest countryside.
Many tears ago, (yes I meant "years" but I made a typo, in hindsight it is not a bad mistake to make. There have been many tears.), probably around August 1983, I spent several days at Lovina Beach. My memory is vague, and I have very few photos of that era to remind me. At the time it was a remote destination, the Lonely Planet Guide of the day had little information. I remember staying in a grass hut, a Losman, and that the beach was a volcanic beach. I took a boat out and snorkeled a reef a little bit offshore. You had to live and eat with the locals. There were very few backpackers and the only permanent "white man" was a person called "Kiwi John". One of the early pioneers of a Westerner living in Bali.
Black volcanic sand at Lovina beach
Anyway modern day Lovina Beach is a tourist resort area. Not as built up as Kuta and Sanur and Seminyak, but well on the way. It has a seafront walk, with a myriad of shops and people selling all of the traditional Balinese things, i.e. shells, massages, drugs, beach ware and whatever. Also some very nice looking restaurants, cafe's and assorted bars and eateries. Probably worth a longer trip next time.
Anyway I took a walk around and did not recognise anything and made my way back to my driver. Incidentally I never got his name. It was foreign and remembering unusual names is something that I have difficulties with. I need to see the name written down and I need to hear it several times. Even for common western names I have learnt when meeting new people to repeat their name several times under my breath or else I will forget it. That applies to "babes" also, it isn't a disinterest or sexist thing.
The trip started getting a bit creepy at this stage. Previously my driver had asked if I minded if he dropped in on his sister in law. I did not mind at all, the opportunity to see a Balinese family going about there daily business was a good thing for me. One of my likes of traveling is the opportunity to learn about other cultures.
It turned out that the sister in law was the sister of his wife. And she was single. And she was looking for someone. And I was placed right next to her when we had a coffee (Kopi). And one of her sons suggested that I should stay the night. And if I came again to Bali I would be welcome to stay there. And she was struggling to make ends meet. And she needed a "good" man.
The warning bells were triggered and ringing in my ears. The lady was quite nice, somewhat younger than I, so I made polite conversation. My thoughts were roaming back to last years Vietnamese encounter and how that had not turned out very well, so I went into "protect myself mode". I didn't make any overt suggestions of interest but was polite and hopefully interesting.
I was saved, if that is the word, by the passage of time. My driver told me that to get back to Seminyak we should leave now. It was almost 5pm and we got back to my hotel at just after 8pm. During the trip back I decided that I would not mention his sister in law and leave it to him to make a move. He never said a word about her. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was not creepy after all.
 We parted on good terms. I had paid the equivalent of AUD 50 for the private use of a driver for the day, had seen some lovely places and not crapped my pants. He had a days pay and seen some of his family.
But for The Bludger the day was not over.
No a day of forbearance of food had left me hungry and I decided to risk eating.
After freshening up I walked a few minutes from the hotel and came upon a Restaurant called Piduh. It looked really nice, although almost empty, and one of its charms was 3 for the price of 2 cocktails. I sat down and ordered a Mojito. Nowhere near as good as the ones from Vivai. Pity about that. I ordered a meal and then was promptly ignored.
OK, the picture is, an almost empty restaurant with 2 bar staff and 3 waiters. I was ignored. My meal was brought out and I took the opportunity to ask for another Mojito. My first one had been emptied 10 minutes ago. No one noticed.
As I was eating a group of people came in. About 10 of them. An imperious acting woman demanded drinks and menus and acted as if she either owned the place, was a regular expecting good service, or was some sort of starlet. All 5 staff leapt to attention and pandered to their needs.
Situation: 5 staff, 1 group of 10 customers and me. After some difficulty I managed to get my free Mojito.
Once I had finished that I could not attract attention of anyone to get my bill. I seriously considered doing a runner. When I did finally get attention, the person who brought my bill turned his back on me and paid full attention to the group. I had to shout at him to get his attention to pay.
Basically I will never give this restaurant my money again.
I went home. Final trip to the toilet and sleep.
The Bludger was pretty knackered, too long in a car.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Bali Day 2 - Wandering the streets of Seminyak

Once again I was up early and had a leisurely breakfast. Once again I succumbed to the Omelet so I definitely needed some exercise to work it off.
I decided to take a walk and try to find some accommodation options for a future trip. I intend to re-visit the Seminyak area of Bali next year as part of a group. The party girl has already nominated times and places. The accommodation selected is a bit pricey for a single person. It is certainly OK for couples wanting a splurge. So part of my tasks while here was to look nearby for alternates that better suited my budget.
I wandered along my chosen path and got tempted by a massage along the way. My Masseuse was quite insistent that I should be having 2 massages, one to be conducted later in the evening in the privacy of my hotel suite. I declined the offer, much to her disappointment. A nice hour long massage is not a bad way to start the day however.
A little further along I then got tempted by a Barista and had a nice coffee in one of the cafe's that I passed. I felt very relaxed by this stage.
By the time that I got to the area to search for accommodation the day had warmed up and the thought of imminent dehydration was beginning to concern me. However I held off from having a beer and did some door knocking in the area. This part of Seminyak is just off the main road and has several private (and expensive villas). A little bit far from the beach, so it does not attract the beach crowd, but close enough if and when you want to get there. As it was I ended up back very close to Vivai restaurant the scene of yesterdays Cooking class. This was a fortunate coincidence not so much planning or design.
By the time that I had inquired at a few places, it was hot and basically lunch time. I popped into Zappaz Bar and Restaurant and had a couple of beers. Having a paying customer in the place seemed to be all a bit difficult for the staff, who were more interested in chatting to their friends, so I moved on. A nearby restaurant in the same complex as Vivai caught my eye and I settled into a chair and a Mojito and a very nice Nasi Campum (they insisted it was Campum not Campur) for lunch. This variant had Beef Rendang as the meat and was very tasty. Washed down with another beer also after the Mojito.
Nasi Campum - delicious
 After that I wandered back to my hotel and had a late afternoon swim in the hotel pool. The water was very cool and not very pleasurable.
That evening I had booked at Vivai for their Spit Roast Suckling Pig dinner (Babi Guling). I was a bit surprised when I was the first person at the restaurant, at 7pm. It will no doubt get busy later I thought, but in fact it never did. I settled at the bar and had a damn good Mojito. So good that I had another, and later on another and after that who cares.
This baby hit the spot
The staff began to bring my meal out to where I was settled. That was OK as it was all pretty much nibbles and finger food at this stage. A succession of Satay, Corn fritters (Perkedel) and other nibbly bits. Each was very well presented and very tasty. I felt like I was being treated like royalty.
Prawn nibbly bits

When the main course came out I asked to move to a proper table. I was presented with a huge plate of pork belly and crispy pork crackling and a plethora of side dishes to go with it. It was obvious to me that as the only person eating pork that night I was not eating off a spit roast. I was not upset by this however as the meal was delicious. Far too much to eat but I struggled on.
I have found that it is common practice in Bali to have to order suckling pig and in some cases even whole duck, a day in advance. This is due to the length of time to cook it and the expense of the meat. Restaurants simply do not cook these meals and hope somebody comes in and buys them. I was lucky that the chef at Vivai had accommodated my desire for Pork, and he had also done a fabulous job.
The Roast Pork with accompaniments. The camera angle does not do it justice.
A close up.
 After the "pig out" I returned to the bar area, where I was presented with 4 different ice cream samples for dessert. Rum and Raisin, Lemon and I cannot remember the other flavours. All freshly made on the premises (as far as I know).

Dean the chef joined me and we sat talking and drinking for some time. The restaurant was very quiet that night. When I left Vivai, I discovered that the other restaurants and bars were also quiet and my taxi driver who took me back to my hotel lamented how little work he had that night.
In fact during the drive back the Taxi driver convinced me to book him for the next day and have a tour of various parts of the island. I had been considering that so it was an easy decision. We arranged that he would pick me up at 9am the next day.
The Bludger was overly full but very happy.

Kokonut Suites - Hotel review

The hotel bar and restaurant is at the front of the hotel facing a main road. Breakfast was served here, I did not have any other meals or even a drink. The restaurant and bar area is covered but open to the air, it has fans overhead but no air-conditioning. A series of tables serves as the restaurant and some comfortable lounges in the bar. The decor was nice with lots of green. Traffic noise was a bit distracting but by day 4 I had learnt to ignore it. Balinese music played in the background.
View from the restaurant out to the street.
Breakfast was the help yourself buffet type. What I consider fairly standard for this quality of hotel. The bar area had hot drinks and cold juices and plenty of cold water. The cold buffet consisted of freshly prepared fruits including papaya, pineapple, 2 types of melon, plus a fruit salad and whole fruit such as orange, banana, apple, local fruits and a fruit salad. There is also a small selection of cold cuts including cheeses and pressed meat and a basic selection of cereals.
The continental breakfast area had toast making facilities with bread rolls and white and brown sliced loaves. A selection of pastries looked appetizing and a range of jams and condiments for the bread/ toast.
Fruit and bits and pieces
Eggs for the hot breakfast were cooked on demand. The chef made a nice omelette although possibly not the most exciting in the world. Nothing wrong with the quality and presentation I have merely been spoiled by some excellent omelettes in the past so tend to be over critical. With hindsight I think that some extra choices of ingredients such as spring onion, chives and herbs could have lifted the omelette. A selection of hot dishes included standard bacon and sausage plus a changing variety of local dishes. These were all reasonable and kept warm in a Bain Marie. Rice porridge was also available.
There was plenty of food even though the hotel was almost empty. Actually the hotel was fuller than I thought, I am an early riser.
My room was light airy and modern in look and feel. Sufficient accessible power outlets although you will need adapters to convert from the round 2 pin Asian outlets.  I was at the back of the complex on the top floor. It was quiet and private. A small balcony furnished with 2 cane chairs and small table faced south over rice paddies. However new development was occurring and it will not be long before the rice paddies are subsumed.
Taken at night - the living area
The bathroom was concealed behind a full-length mirror off the bedroom and was clean and well maintained. It comprised of a tiled bath with a shower hose, toilet and hand basin. There was plenty of hot water.
You wanted to know.
The bedroom had a king size bed, small study desk, hanging closet with an inbuilt safe. Bathrobes and thongs (flip flops) were provided. There was a phone by the bed and reading lights. The main living area had a comfortable lounge, large TV with about 50 channels and a coffee table.
A dining area and kitchenette completed the suite. The kitchen had plenty of cupboard space and surface area to prepare food, but lacked accessories. Beyond the basic crockery and cutlery were a stove top, saucepan, water jug, and microwave. Lacking even a sharp knife food preparation was limited to reheating and boiling water, not that I attempted either. If I had there were no facilities to wash up with afterwards. A fridge contained a well-stocked mini bar at reasonable prices. Two complimentary bottles of water were delivered most days. Overall the place was clean and comfortable. If you looked closely you could see evidence of poor workmanship and scuffed tiles, a cigarette burn in the couch but nothing to distract you from a good stay. Overall I also found the staff were all very friendly and helpful.
The available facilities were fine. There is an onsite massage which I did not try. Also a large pool with tasteful surrounds. The water was too cool at this time of year, although I was there early evening when the day was cooling anyway. Maybe at midday it would be fine. A small gym near the pool and wireless internet that was generally good but had occasional drop outs. The Wi-Fi was not suitable for watching video but sufficed for email and Facebook. North Americans will consider the internet to be totally inadequate.
My view- next visit will not be as nice.
The hotel is sufficiently distant from the main tourist areas that you are not hassled by people with Viagra and other substances. Yet 5 minutes in  a taxi will get you to Seminyak Square, Kudeta, Potato Head or the beach. It took me 30 minutes to power walk or longer if I  strolled. There are plenty of eating options nearby. Commencing over the road at the Strudel, a meat eaters paradise. Turning left as you exit the hotel and walking along Jl Petitenget will lead you to a number of places all within a few minutes’ walk. There is a mini mart next door and massage places varying in cost quality and salubriousness.

Friday 3 August 2012

Bali Day 1 - Cooking Classes with Dean

I awoke very early, it was still dark outside, and fought the desire to get up, however by 7 am I was ready to head down for breakfast. A fairly typical range of options for this class of hotel, the Coconut Suites. I had babur ayam (rice porridge with chicken), followed by fruit and then an omelette with Bacon and some chicken rings. I did have a trace of guilt about the hot food but not too much.
Babur Ayum
The main item on the days agenda was to find the restaurant where I was booked to attend a cooking class. I elected to walk and sought the aid of the reception staff for directions. I was advised to take a taxi, but I chose to ignore their advice and walk. After all it was not far on the map.
I boldly set off, being careful to avoid holes in the foot path, and walked and walked.  Street signs are rare in Bali, but I did find one and referring to my woefully inadequate map taken from a tourist brochure determined that I was still on track. Time was passing however and I needed to be at the restaurant by 9am. I considered it may indeed be time for a taxi but still felt that I was close. Just another few minutes walk and I would surely be there......
However I had not had an opportunity to change money so before calling a taxi I needed to change some money. Up ahead there was an ATM sign so I kept going toward the ATM. At 8:59 I arrived at the ATM and from there I could see my destination! Yay.
I made it basically on time. At Vivai I was greeted by Dean the head chef and person who would conduct the class. Dean proved to be an excellent host and friendly and hospitable. I joined the other two participants and we chatted over a very nice coffee and then a shot glass of chocolate drink to start the day. Dean talked with us and showed us the special coffee beans that are eaten by Civets (Paradoxurus) and shat out and collected to make Luwak Coffee.
Combat - so tiny
After this introduction we piled into a minivan and were driven to and conducted around the Denpasar  market. Having been in plenty of Asian markets it was not new to me but I relaxed and went with the flow. We were joined by “Combat” a young girl whom Dean referred to as a shopping trolley. I thought it a bit rude at first and it had overtones of the western superiority but in a way this made sense, if you could put that thought aside. Combat carried a basket on her head and all the groceries went into it. We didn’t actually buy too much so she had an easy trip. Her fee for this service did not seem much, but apparently Dean was paying double the price that the locals paid.
We headed back to the restaurant. By this time it was close to 11am and I was beginning to wonder how much cooking would be done. Back at the Restaurant I was offered another coffee and then Dean took us through the ingredients that we would use that day.
I was familiar with many but there were certainly some new ones on me. Finally we put on our aprons and started on a basic curry paste. By this time it began to become apparent how the day would run. We all had chopping boards and made a token effort at chopping some vegetable. The helpers gathered our chopping’s and then did the hard work of making the paste. And so it went. This was the “glamping” equivalent of cooking, with people to clean up after you, others to prepare parts of the meals and cook. To be honest it was not hard work, more like going round to a friend’s place and having a chat in the kitchen and lending a hand while others did the work.
Dean and some of the staff
Between us we turned out a surprising amount of food. We all did little bits and pieces, I ended up stuffing the duck, while the helpers had done all the hard preparation work and then took it away to cook. The three of us also prepped a whole fish each, we scaled it, gutted it, filleted it, pin boned it, and then de-skinned the fillet. That was good learning. We also de-veined a prawn in a way that I had not seen before leaving the shell intact, and prepared a whole squid, which I have done before. It was all jolly nice with the helpers cleaning up all the mess and doing the cooking. In between we chatted and took photos.
That Duck will never fly again
By this time we were all getting a bit hungry and the food preparation had got the digestive juices flowing.  By about 2:30 ish it all started to come together. Technically the class was meant to end by 3pm so I was wondering how this was going to turn out.  We cleaned up and sat down at a restaurant table, drinks came out and then plate by plate a veritable feast of Satay, fish balls on lemongrass skewers and corn cakes.
This was just the entrĂ©e’s and already far too much to eat. Then came the mains, the whole duck had been baked in banana leaves then the leaves removed and finished in a hot oven. There was a lovely chicken curry, pork curry, rice, a bowl of simply incredible seafood soup and a lovely fresh salad. The seafood was the popular dish of the day, but it was all superb and we had “cooked it ourselves”. By now we had all conceded defeat and then were offered black rice pudding and rum and raisin ice cream. Groan. We all tucked in anyway.
Duck - an after shot

Seafood Soup - it was magnificent
Dean joined us for mains and desert. All day he had been a genial host, willing to explain and share his skills and knowledge. All of the would be cooks were well satisfied with the day.  It was gone 4:30 when we eventually left
I walked back to the hotel which took a solid 50 minutes with stops to change some currency and pick up some drinks for the evening. I was too full to consider eating that night and even the drinks were a struggle to find room for.
The Bludger was full and more than happy.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Bound for Bali

I sat in the departure lounge of Darwin "International" airport. Waiting for my flight to Bali.
I had picked up a relatively cheap deal some weeks ago and in the interim had found some cheapish accommodation.
Departure time 7:30 pm which had allowed a full day of work and a quick dash home to change and shower before flying out.
A slight hitch at the Airport in Bali as my pre-booked transport could not be found. I caught a taxi instead and was soon at my hotel. It was late, I bought a beer, from the 7-11 next door and was soon in bed asleep.
The Bludger had worked all day and was now in a foreign country.