Hello from New Zealand where Amaury and I are enjoying blue skies, clear air, good food, and much-needed family time! So far, we’ve spent time in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, and Wanganui. Bliss! Also, a very Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. I have so much to be thankful for this year, especially my friends and family who are always in my heart and thoughts wherever I am. My somewhat nomadic lifestyle has made me so deeply appreciate my loved ones and community near and far.
Meanwhile, Amaury has been frequently reminding me to write my posts on our Bali trip, because he wants to relive our wonderful honeymoon through my descriptive writing with a keen eye for wit, whimsy, and a well-placed food pic. At least, I assume that’s what he thinks. Or he knows I’ve been procrastinating.
While true, I do have good excuses. I’ve been caught up in other professional and personal projects lately like working extended research shifts, starting up a new Chinese class, organizing and attending various events (including winning best adult Halloween costume at a community party, priorities), taking guests sightseeing, and traveling around. Also, there’s just so much to write about Bali that it was quite daunting… After writing it all out I realized I’d written a novella, so I’m splitting this missive into three parts. Part 2 to follow shortly.
Without further ado, let me take you back about a month to our trip down to Bali. We were a little concerned about reports that the Mount Agung volcano was going to erupt, but after checking the U.S. State Department website along with other sources and developing plans if our flights were canceled, we determined that it was safe to go. Unfortunately, tourism completely shut down within a 12km radius of the volcano, which has been devastating to the population there that also had to evacuate. Tourism in the rest of the island proceeded as normal though when we were there, and it was quite busy with both Golden Week travelers from China as well as Australians and Kiwis on their school holidays.
Bali’s Depansar Airport had the familiar sights, sounds, and heat of other South East Asian airports. It was well organized and speedy but just didn’t have quite the chrome and sparkle of glittering KL. That said, we instantly felt at ease as we navigated the arrivals area, bypassed drivers yelling “taxi taxi,” and located our driver Mr. N waiting patiently to take us to our villa in Seminyak.
Yes that’s right, we stayed in a villa. La dee da! Actually, Seminyak is filled with hotels and holiday homes, and there was no shortage of affordable options when we booked on Airbnb. Our home away from home was a sparkling white studio apartment overlooking a shady patio, turquoise pool, and bright bougainvillea- all of which we discovered in the morning after a nice long sleep to recover from our trip. We were really happy to discover that China, KL, and Bali are all on the same time-zone, so we awoke rested and avoided jetlag. The only downside of our villa was that the bedroom and bathroom were in a raised loft area, so we spent our few days there throwing things up and down the stairs to avoid having to clamber up and down too much.
After eating the best pancakes, we wandered through a small market selling various touristy items, unsuccessfully haggled with shop-owners, and then ended up at the beach where we lazed around for a few hours. The water was clear and warm, but the waves were powerful so we avoided swimming too far out. We preferred to lie under our haggled-for umbrella, drink our haggled-for beer, and enjoy our haggled-for coconut and mango while avoiding haggling for more things from eager vendors walking by selling necklaces, art, fruit, drinks, sunglasses, and foot massages.
Later we rinsed off and went to a cool restaurant right on the beach for a charcuterie platter (one of my most favorite things) and icy mojitos. Everything was so affordable, but we felt like royalty. Then we wandered up the beach for relaxing massages at a nearby hotel. The massage therapists washed our tired feet and sprayed them with peppermint mist before our hour-long sessions. Given that we’d been walking for a while at that point, I think the foot-washing was more for their benefit than for ours, but we thoroughly enjoyed it all the same. We then relaxed outside in a giant round chair to watch the sun gently set into the far-off horizon.
A quick trip back to the hotel to shower and change clothes and we were off again for a fancy dinner at the Legian Hotel. Unfortunately, due to the potential volcanic eruption, we had to cancel some of our plans like water rafting and zip-lining, so we decided to spend all the corresponding money on delicious fancy meals instead.
That first night we treated ourselves to an eight-course meal at The Restaurant. You know it’s upscale when the restaurant doesn’t have an actual name. Our table overlooked the hotel pool, back-dropped with the wild ocean whose waves seemed to have grown larger in the night. The only downside was a slight migraine I developed halfway through the meal. Honestly living with frequent headaches is such a pain. I was more annoyed than sick, and by sheer mental effort (and meds), willed it away in time to enjoy the dessert.
A little too dark, but you get the idea. Fancy food!
After a good night’s rest, I began the next day with a morning swim in the villa pool and yoga that cleared away the last remnants of headache. Then we set off for another tasty brunch at a café supposedly down the road. It was then that we realized that Seminyak is not all that walkable, not only due to the lack of pavements but also because Google Maps hasn’t caught up with the rapid development in the area.
As the hot sun beat down on my increasingly grumpy head, we wandered from dead-end street to dead-end street until finally Amaury relented and flagged us a cab. Amaury is chiming in here to emphasize that the cab driver scammed us out of a couple bucks, which he is still sore about. I was just so thankful to be out of the hot sun. We then regained our spirits with lattes and more pancakes at Pison Café (not better than the best pancakes, but still delicious).
Next, we took a drive through crazy Bali traffic to check out Kuta, which is south of Seminyak along the coast. Quite frankly, I thoroughly recommend avoiding it if you ever go to Bali. There wasn’t a lot there other than cheap backpacker hostels and lots of shops selling tourist junk. Feeling a bit let-down, we decided to walk back towards Seminyak along the beach.
Close to Kuta, the beach was filled with people selling or buying impromptu surf lessons, drinks, fruit, trinkets, and more foot massages. As Kuta fell into the distance, we found the beach quieter and quieter with nicer and nicer hotels along the shore. Eventually, we stopped at a beachside club called Aqua where we lounged by their roof-deck pool and drank more icy mojitos. Again, we found our money stretched far, and we thoroughly enjoyed pretending to be international people of mystery. We just had to spend the equivalent of $14 on food and drinks to reserve our own little cabana bed thing… So spoiled.
I’m not sure what you called this, but I love it.
Mediterranean platter heaven
Chilling in the pool
That night we had another delicious meal, this time at Bambu, a restaurant specializing in local Balinese food made well. A friend of ours recommended this restaurant and we’ve never gone wrong following her suggestions. We left thoroughly full of Babi Guling (roast suckling pig – a Balinese specialty), barbecue ribs, and chicken satay.
Although we would have been perfectly happy continuing our villa-beach-pool-food itinerary, I was determined to also spend some time exploring on our trip. After getting sticker-shock looking through tours of the surrounding area, I decided it would be fun and an excellent idea to just do our own exploring on one of the nearby islands called Nusa Lembongan. Amaury, ever trusting and happy to satisfy my wild whims, went along with the plan to spend our last day in Seminyak exploring this little island, supposedly an untouched paradise lacking the tourist traps of the main island and with excellent hiking, biking, and beaches.
Our villa came with our driver and guide Mr. N, who was more than happy to sell us various tours. Thinking he’d know the best options, I organized with him to get us boat tickets to Nusa Lembongan early the next morning for about $40 round trip including the drive to the harbor. At 6:30am sharp, Mr. N and another driver greeted us outside our villa for our great adventure. After picking up some nice ladies from New Zealand who were going on a snorkeling tour, we headed off to the boat company at the harbor about 30 minutes away. At this point, I probably should have realized that not all was going to plan when we learned at the harbor that the cost was $40 each, not total for our excursion. “Ah well, no problem, miscommunications happen,” we thought and happily turned over our money to the boat company.
We sat around for a while and then headed onto a yellow boat powered by 4 outboard motors tied to the back. With passengers crammed into every tiny seat, we headed off on a bumpy ride across the sea towards Nusa Lembongan- or so we thought. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a tangled mob of locals offering scooter rides around the island. It was during this loud back and forth that we quickly realized that we were not on Nusa Lembongan at all, but had been taken to a nearby but certainly very different island, Nusa Penida. We watched as our Kiwi friends headed off on their organized tour and thought perhaps booking an over-priced tour package wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
TO BE CONTINUED
No, seriously, I had to put the rest of our Lembongan and Bali adventures into a part 2 and 3, because honestly describing our various mishaps, activities, and tasty meals has ventured into novella territory. Stay tuned…