Saturday, October 7

The best and worst of Bali

Garry has added another country to his list.  We’ve just returned from a week in Bali, Indonesia.  Sadly I’ve visited Indonesia for business before so no new stamp for me. However this was the first visit to Bali for both us.  We were curious to see if it really does live up to its sordid lager lout reputation.

The vacation was a last minute decision.  Much to our surprise (and delight) we were offered a week’s free accommodation in a luxurious private villa by an industry colleague.  Fiona’s original travel companion had cancelled at the 11th hour and she was keen to share the experience with others.  In the end we simply paid for our flights and within weeks found ourselves flying out of Sydney one Friday evening.

The villa itself was gem.  Four individual rooms (complete with ensuites) encircled a kidney-shaped pool and private gardens.  The center of the villa features an open-air kitchen and living area that opened out on to the pool deck.  Two in house maids kept things running smoothly behind the scenes, while a local masseuse and driver pampered and guided us each day.

Garry thoroughly enjoyed lounging by pool all week while I took time out to explore a couple of local tourist venues.  In between our indolent moments we continued to run our business remotely.  This all worked superbly until a systems upgrade by the local telecoms company left us without reliable internet access for two days.

The villa’s location in Sanur ultimately proved to be both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because it was located on Bali’s eastern coast well away from the crass and infamous back packing paradise of Kuta.  A new, modern supermarket was also available just a couple of doors away.  The local beach was rarely crowded.

However we soon discovered that Sanur was also a long way away from many of the island’s best shopping, bars and restaurants.  This meant that dining out often involved a mind-numbing commute in slow moving traffic for up to an hour in each direction.  Yes – you can dine like a king for half the price of a premier Australian venue – but only if you’re willing run a daily gantlet of noise, clutter and chaos to get there. For me this stressful book-ending experience spoiled the entire evening.  

We were also reminded that Indonesia is a developing nation when I picked up a nasty bug and enjoyed 24 hours of diarrhea. Despite these setbacks we enjoyed a superb Sunday brunch at the W Hotel in Seminyak. We then returned later in the week for a memorable dinner at nearby Meera Putih.  This restaurant’s interior in and of itself was worth the trip. Soaring white light clad pillars capture your eye the moment you enter the dining hall; each surrounded by full size (artificial but incredibly life like) palm trees.

We also discovered Mandailing Estate Coffee quite by chance while shopping in a local mall.  This is certified Wild Kopi Luwak; the world’s rarest coffee.  I recall seeing news stories when we were living in London about cups of this coffee being offered for £50.00 each.  We bought ourselves a 180gm bag, enough to make 4 cups of coffee for five days, for less than $20.00. 

This coffee is famous for its origin.  It comes from the remote highland regions of Sumatra.  Here wild Palm Civet cats (they look like a very furry mongoose) feast each night on ripe Arabica coffee cherries growing in the local coffee plantations.  The coffee beans ferment as they make their way through the animal’s intestinal tract. This process neutralizes the coffee’s natural acidity. 

The coffee bean skats are then collected by the locals and once roasted result in a smoother drinking experience.  Personally I thought that without its acidic edge this brew tasted rather like instant coffee.  However, experimenting with double shot variations resulted in a satisfyingly strong but less bitter cup.

Our culinary adventure was somewhat soured a few days later when we discovered that less scrupulous farmers cage the wild Civets and force feed them cherries to create an industrialized version of this famous coffee.  We found two such creatures in barren wire cages while visiting a local tea sampling venue.  While our coffee was the real deal it seems that many others are not.

When we did venture out the local sights were a little and miss. Fiona and I spent an afternoon exploring the verdant rice terraced valleys in Tegalalang and a thundering waterfall in Tegenungan.  The terraces were superb.  They were the real deal albeit enhanced with paths and stairways for easier tourist access.  I spent more than hour wandering the hillside soaking in the vista.  It was wonderfully refreshing to see something green after days of urban clutter and concrete.

Fiona and I also visited Uluwatu Temple.  This Buddhist temple sits precariously on the edge of a plunging rocky cliff face.  Sadly, the idyllic location didn’t live up to its Tripadvisor rating.  We found a dusty, dirty and decaying temple complex overwhelmed by busloads of selfie stick wielding Chinese tourists.  They blocked every path, crowded the stairways and constantly waved their sticks around like deadly Jedi light sabres.  The temple’s most iconic buildings were also out of bounds to all but the most fervent local worshipper.

Garry and I concluded it was worth the trip to experience Bali.  We also agreed that if we were to return we’d base ourselves on the opposite side of the island and hide away within the walls of an appropriate five-star resort.

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