Ogoh, Ogoh The Night Before Nyepi

and all through the house. Well, you know the rest, but not in this case.

Due to a different calendar system in Bali, New Year‘s Eve takes place every year around March. In 2018 it is the 16th of March, one day before Nyepi, which is the Day of Silence.  Nyepi is the day where everything in Bali is closed (restaurants, shops, even the airport). You are not allowed to go out on the street.  But, before that day, the Balinese Hindus celebrate Ngrupuk Parade – also known as the ‘Ogoh Ogoh’ Parade. This is a huge Hindu New Year’s festivity all over Bali. The locals are roaming through the streets, carrying great ‘Ogoh Ogohs’, playing drums, pushing gongs and holding torches.  The Local  collection of villages under the name of Pecatu held their festival in the soccar pitch in front of the S.D. 1 school.  Mitch, Kelsi and I rode our trusty scooters into the throngs of people to join them in watching the judging of the Ogoh, Ogoh’s.

 

Not an Ogoh, just me.  Trump’s stylist was in town, can you tell?

 

This is an Ogoh!

 The Ogoh’s are giant monster dolls made of light materials: Wood, bamboo, paper, and styrofoam. They are carried on bamboo platforms through the Ogoh Ogoh Parade. They take the shape of mythological, evil creatures and gods to represent negative aspects of living things and criticise society and its latest issues. The name itself comes from ‘ogah ogah’, the Balinese word for ‘shaken’. The scary artworks are indeed shaken when carried through the streets and almost seem to move, dance and come to life. One was shaken so hard his head came off to great glee from the crowd. Ogoh Ogoh monsters often have multiple heads and arms and carry swords or pitchforks. Some of them also include modern elements like motorcycles or surfboards criticising today’s trend of superficial self-staging.

 These are just a sampling of the 20 or so Ogohs at the festival.  Each village pulls together to design, assemble and provide the teams to carry their Ogoh.  There were first, second and third places given, but it was hard to determine the criteria.  I did wonder about the time and expense required to build an Ogoh.  The Bukit, and Pecatu in particular, rely upon tourism for their livelihood.  The rainy season and the recent volcanic activity in January have stunted the usual busy tourist season and I did notice it and discussed it with the various restaurants and retail stores.  Most agreed that business was off.  A barbecue place I was looking forward to trying (if not just for the name) , Pig’s Panic, had closed indefinately.  In spite of this dip in income, the show must go on, and, lucky for us, it did.

One of my faves. The balancing act.

 

The participants are proud to be a part of the festivities.

 

Ogoh Ogoh Parade ends with countless bonfires, which I saw and what made my ride to the airport  almost 3 hours long.  The laboriously designed monsters are burnt ceremonially and fall to ashes. The key question that might be burning on your mind like Ogoh Ogohs in the dusk, is probably asking ‘why’! Unfortunately there is no clear evidence. Many argue that Ogoh Ogohs have been used since the age of the ancient Balinese kingdom Dalem Bangkiang, who had been using them as integral part in a cremation ceremony. Others believe that the dolls were first inspired by a ritual from the village of Selat, where they had been a medium to repel the evil spirits. The Balinese believe that bad spirits are made to move into their Ogoh monsters by making noise and playing instruments and can be banished by burning. It is an important act of purification for the locals to herald the new year and Nyepi, the following day.

Nyepi

Nyepi or Silent Day is a very unique holiday that you will only find on Bali and its neighbouring islands Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Its purpose is to celebrate the Balinese New Year. Since Balinese people follow a different calendar system (their year has 210 days and is 78 years behind the Georgian calendar), it does not always happen on the same date as we know it. However, it usually  takes place in March and this year (2018) it is on the 17th.

On Nyepi Day, complete calm enshrouds the island. The Balinese Hindus follow a ritual called the Catur Brata Penyepian, roughly the ‘Four Nyepi Prohibitions’. These include amati geni or ‘no fire’, amati lelungan or ‘no travel’, amati karya ‘no activity’, and amati lelanguan ‘no entertainment’. Some consider it a time for total relaxation and contemplation, for others, a chance for Mother Nature to ‘reboot’ herself after 364 days of human pestering. No lights are turned on at night – total darkness and seclusion goes along with this new moon island-wide, from 06:00 to 06:00. No motor vehicles whatsoever are allowed on the streets, except ambulances and police patrols and emergencies. Hotel guests are confined to their hotel premises, but free to continue to enjoy the hotel facilities as usual. Traditional community watch patrols or pecalang enforce the rules of Nyepi, patrolling the streets by day and night in shifts.

Mitch and Kelsi prepared for Nyepi by buying groceries to make all of their meals on the 17th and planning what to watch via the WiFi connection.  I had bought two boxes of wine in preparation even though I was flying out late that night..  Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much quality control with Balinese wine.  Identical boxes – the first one was OK but the second one tasted like medicine; an experience I had with a previous bottle of wine by the same vintner – Hatten.  Another vintage added to the Wine Aversion Therapy Program.

 

 

 

The Beaches (Pantai)

This post is dedicated to Mitch and Kelsi who planted the Bali bug in my ear when they were planning their own Far East odyssey.

The Bukit rises high above the sea.  This means many steps down and even more coming back up. 

My favourite beach is Balangan which has the fewest steps and is the nicest beach I have visited.  It has a high promontory that is very popular for weddings.

Balangan Beach, or Pantai Balangan, is one of Bali’s most unknown but most scenic, featuring a gorgeous half-kilometre stretch of golden sand bordered between vegetated limestone cliffs and a reef with one of the longest left-hander breaks on the island.

Balangan Beach shares the same vicinity as Dreamland, set only a kilometre apart, but 5 km by road and separated by a small headland that serves as the famous signature Hole 15 of the New Kuta Golf Course, from where players get the best bird’s eye-view over both beaches and the ocean horizon. Bingin Beach Homestays are clinging to the cliff in the upper left corner.

15th Hole

The beach is long and kept very clean. There are a few surf schools and basic cafes.  Because it is fairly difficult to find, the beach is not busy and the service is very good.  A chair and umbrella rent for 50 thousand Rupiah (CAD$5) per day.  The surf is good, too.

 

The plus is relatively few steps to navigate.

Stairs to Balangan Beach

Bingin Beach is a short 5 minute walk from the villa to the top of the cliff before you start a really disconcerting decent on very uneven stairs.  The  walkway to the stairs is very Balinese.

Make an offering and say your prayers!

The Bingin challenge.  Imagine navigating these with your surf board, luggage, and supplies for the rooms at beach level.

And, surprise, I have no pictures at beach side and couldn’t convince myself to make one more decent/accent to get one.

The view from mid stairs at Bingin towards Dreamland Beach.

However, what makes Bingin special is the way that the various Homestay surf rooms cling down the cliff.  Bingin is in the right upper hand corner. A picture says a thousand words.

The view from Dreamland to Bingin Beach

Dreamland Beach.  It sounds so dreamy and looks that way too, from afar.  The beach is relatively small and dominated by a large ugly hotel, Klapa New Kuta Beach Hotel, that guards the entrance down to the beach.  You have to enter the hotel and use their stairs to get to the beach.  They want 600,000 Rupiah (CAD$60) to create an account from each person not a guest at the hotel.  You could then charge drinks, food, chairs and umbrellas.  At the end of your stay, you would get a refund or pay more depending upon how wild you got.

The beach itself is small and pretty with good surf.

The hotel is a favourite package tour destination for the mainland Chinese who love to chain smoke and seem to like looking at their phlegm. A lot.  

The day I first went, I marched in like I belonged and went down to the beach without being challenged for a deposit.  I didn’t stay because the chairs were all taken and the beach was quite dirty.

The second time I  went was with Kelsi and Mitch and it was then that we learned about setting up expense accounts.  We, left but I knew there must be another way down to the beach because we could see motor scooters and food carts across the river valley from the hotel grounds.  Bali, being Bali and the way the roads worked saw us actually driving about 5 kms  back towards our villa and then down a steep bricked road to the beach on the other side of the river.

Road down to Dreamland.
Local shops along the river at Dreamland and the cement bunker that is the hotel.

It was from this vantage point that we could see that there was a problem with pollution.  Both on the beach and in the river. 

But, to our delight, after we went around the rocks to the left, we found a beautiful stretch of deserted sand dominated by an abandoned Homestay/Café/Bar.

Padang Padang Beach.  Locally referred to as Pantai Labuan Sait, for the main road beside it, is one of Bali’s most famous surf spots, located on the north-western coast of the Bukit Peninsula.  This beach features an exotic setting.  The beach is accessible down a flight of stairs through a unique hollow rock entrance.

Labuan Sait crosses a bridge that connects the two sides of the limestone cliffs, offering a glimpse down to the beach from up high. Halfway down the flight of stairs is a temple that overlooks the surf.

Padang Padang Beach was featured as a romantic setting in the 2010 big-screen adaptation of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

I have to admit that I was underwhelmed by the beach after all of the hype.  It has a lot of short seaweed that washes up and if not removed smells bad as it rots in the sun.  The sand is darker so appears dirty.  However, the access stairs, and there are many, are of a uniform height and depth making the going up and coming down relatively easy.  There is also a large parking lot for buses, so the beach gets quite crowded from the packaged tour groups which does make it very busy, indeed.

Suluban Beach access is very unique.  Concealed by natural limestone formations and accessed via steps and log ramps through narrow gaps in the rock. Canopied by a looming cliff face, this small beach may not be ideal for sunbathers, but serves pro surfers well as a base to paddle out and ride adjacent reef breaks, including around Uluwatu, just to the south.

Suluban Cave

Mitch, Kelsi and I made the decent down the cliff, but the  tide was in and prevented us from leaving the cave and accessing the beach.  We did go up to a café to observe the surf where Kelsi determined it was a bit too big for her.

Suluban High Tide. Surfers paddling out.
From the sea. The cave is to the left and it is high tide

I will make another attempt because there are natural swimming pools that appear when the tide is out.

Natural pools at Suluban

And last and certainly one of the most stunning beaches, Nyang Nyang.  Nyang Nyang is a pristine 1.5-kilometre stretch of coastline and also one of Bali’s least visited beaches. This is partly due to its far-flung location and the long trek required to reach it.  The beach is located in the Bukit, but is on the south coast whereas all the others were on the west coast.  It is located half a kilometre’s drive southeast of the Uluwatu Temple.  

There are two routes that I know of branching off from the Jalan Uluwatu main road that leads down to two halves of Nyang Nyang Beach, one of them is via Jalan Batu Nunggulan. From this end, you need to continue on an approximate half-hour trek down moderately rugged terrain and flight of stairs – a journey I was told that was well worth it thanks to the splendid views over the limestone hillside covered in lush greenery and flowering bushes.

Sounds and views of the ocean accompany your steady descent.  The flight of stairs doesn’t end at the beach, but on flat grassy plain. Beyond this prize view is a deserted coastline where you can sink your feet into the coarse sand. The deserted terrain is bordered by slanting cliffs as far as your eyes can see, with thin mists hanging above the ocean. Out at sea you will be able to see the natural reef that breaks the incoming tides, allowing for calm and clear waters bordering the coast.

Or, You can try the new road cut into the cliff.

The road ends a third of the way down where you can park your scooter in the shade.  That black seat gets griddle hot in the sun.  I bought a piece of batik to cover it if it has sat out in the sun for any length of time.  The rest of the decent is via a rough path through the brush.  Imagine carrying a surf board and enough food and water for the day.; there is nothing but sand and surf at the bottom.

The views are worth it.

There was evidence that it was a tough walk and you needed to be prepared.

The dead and dying litter the road

Getting back up presented a real challenge for my amateur scooter talents.  The road is really rough sand and large gravel and too much throttle caused the rear tire to spin and me to go sideways towards the cliff edge.  Easy does it!

There is one small irritant in visiting the beaches of the Bukit and that is the required pay for parking.   The fee really is nominal and I wouldn’t mind paying if the roads to the parking lots and the beach stairs were better.  Some are just trails opened with a grader and very rough to navigate.  Some leave you at the top of the cliff with very rough stairs to access the beach.  Bingin, one of the older established surf beaches charging for parking was the worst.  Padang Padang the best, but most expensive to access.  So, obviously, the parking fees at some beaches are not being used to upgrade or maintain access.  Nyang Nyang, so far, is free.  Beloved Balangan charges a nominal fee and is really easy to access from the parking lot.  Luckily, it is hidden in a maze of roads from Kuta.  From my villa you have to drive through a gated access road to the Splendid condo development, onto the New Kuta Golf Course road that ends at a guard station.  From there, down and up out of a valley on one of the roughest roads you can imagine.  Through another guarded gate before actually getting on a good paved road to the cliff edge.  But once there, your slice of paradise awaits.

 

 

 

 

 

Indonesia and Bali

 

First, some quick facts and geography.  Where Indonesia is on a map.  The blue dot is Bali. To the south is Australia, the land down under.

Indonesia has the second longest coastline in the world after Canada.  The country is made up of about 18,000 islands; the 4th largest country in the world with a population of 260 million.  It is also home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

Bali, The Island of the gods.  The blue dot below is where the Bingin Beach Villas are located.

The Villas are located in an area of Bali called The Bukit peninsula, the southern most region of Bali.  Bukit means hill and after all of the steps I’ve navigated I will never forget the meaning.  The Bukit area includes the famous cliff hanging temple, Pura Luhur Uluwatu and a number of Bali’s very best beaches.   Pantai (beach)Balangan, my favourite and  also some of the top surfing spots on the island.

Pura Uluwatu is situated on a stunning promontory facing west.  The Kecak Dance is performed most nights at sunset.  I had last seen it performed over 30 years ago when my good friend, Tara, and I did a tour of East Asia and stayed on Bali for a few days.  It is only in hindsight that I realize what a fantastic experience we had.

The Kecak dance, or ‘Tari Kecak’, is a captivating traditional Balinese art performance, which also goes by, ‘the monkey chant dance’, and loosely ‘fire dance’, for its occasional use of fire as a centrepiece prop. The Kecak was created around 1930 and is now internationally recognised as one of Bali’s top-three signature dances.  

The Kecak dance is unique in that it has no other musical background or accompaniment besides the chanting of male dancers, intoning a “keh-chack” polyrhythmic choir during most of the performance. Kecak’s storyline is taken from the Ramayana Hindu epic.  

Tari Kecak is simply accompanied by the a cappella chorus of dozens of men including one leader to set the tones, one soloist, one in charge of intoning high and low notes, as well as a narrator. The men wear chequered sarongs and are seated in tight, concentric circles with a central space reserved for the protagonist characters.  

The main characters depict Rama, Sita, Ravana, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Sugriva. The storyline generally starts from when prince Rama goes to the woods with Sita, his wife, and Lakshmana, his brother. There, Ravana kidnaps Sita and imprisons her in his castle. Rama seeks for help and sends Lakshmana to find his friend, Sugriva, the King of the Monkey Kingdom. Hanuman, Sugriva’s commander, is sent to check on Sita in Ravana’s palace and Rama finally begins the battle. At first, Ravana wins, but Sugriva and Hanuman then come to Rama’s aid with monkey troops. Sugriva finally wins. The male chorus chants ‘chack’, representing the sound of the monkey troops. The soft rattling sound of bells around the protagonists’ ankles is the only addition to Tari Kecak’s choral background.

Incredibly supple fingers

Tari Kecak actually originated from a Balinese ancient ritual called ‘sanghyang’ in which dancers fall into a trance. It is also a form of an exorcism and can go on for hours or even months. The ritual used to only take place inside temple grounds. In 1930, a German artist, Walter Spies, created a touristic dramatic version of the ‘sanghyang’ by adopting the Ramayana epic as well. He worked together with Balinese dancer Wayan Limbak, and took their innovation on a world tour. Kecak shot to fame.

Kelsi, Mitch and I toured the temple to catch the sunset.  Unfortunately, clouds got in the way but it was still enjoyable.

Sunset at Uluwatu

 

Some quick facts about Bali:

Bali, unlike the rest of Indonesia, is majority Hindu and  most of the Balinese actively practice Hinduism. This is why they are allowed to eat Babi Guling, or suckling roast pig, a delicacy that would be off limits to Muslims.

No need to order all your drinks neat – the ice in Bali is quality controlled by the local government. The tap water is not as belly friendly, unfortunately, so bottled water is necessary and has led to a huge plastic bottle pollution problem.  Bali uses 30 million plastic water bottles a month.  100 million tons of mostly plastic garbage washes up on her shores annually.  There is no real solid waste management on the island, so this has become a huge problem throughout the archipelago.  The Bukit has some issues, but the local villagers are very diligent about keeping the beaches clean.

Major plastic garbage problem along the beaches of Kuta

If invited to someone’s home to dine you might find yourself sitting on the floor and eating with your hands, in which case use your right hand only, and when you’ve had enough, you should leave a little bit of food on your plate to signify you are done.

Nyepi, a Hindu celebration observed mainly in Bali, sees the entire island fall silent, with businesses closing and even the airport shutting up shop.
This ‘Day of Silence’ is seen as an opportunity for self-reflection and to fool the evil spirits into thinking the island is deserted. A night, no visible light should be seen from your house. Its observation is enforced by pecalang – local security officers. Beaches and streets are closed to all – including tourists.  This caused me some concern as Nyepi falls on March 17 and that is when my outbound flight to India is scheduled.  I phoned around, and found that the airport closes from 6 a.m. March 17 until 6a.m. March 18.  My flight is at 1:30 a.m. so I will be okay.  My driver did tell me that we will have to leave around 8 p.m. because the traffic will be very bad.  I was told to offer to pay for the tolls on the toll road and that would make the trip faster.

Mounts Agung and Batur are the two towering peaks of Bali, and these dinosaurs are far from dormant.  Gunung Agung, as it is locally known, last erupted in 1963, killing around 1,500 people, and still makes its presence felt with occasional gassy belches,  the last being on January 18 of this year.  It is one of the reasons that tourism is down significantly in Bali – tourists are unable to get trip cancellation insurance for acts of the gods.  Batur, meanwhile, last erupted in 2000, shooting ash into the air, but harming no one.

North is sometimes south. The Balinese concept of north is the same as “up” – a place where gods and good spirits dwell. In this way, high points such as Mount Agung, which is considered sacred, represent ‘north’, and you’ll find most Balinese dwellings and shrines face ‘north’ – to the mountain. If you are north of Mount Agung and ask where north is, you will almost definitely be directed to the mountain – south of where you stand.

Bali is in a coral triangle.  THE Coral Triangle, in fact. Sitting right in the middle of the world’s richest waters for corals, considered the ‘Amazon of the Seas’ for its marine biodiversity.  Not just 600-odd species of coral, but turtles, more than 2000 species of fish, including tuna – a major food source for millions of local communities.  With this in mind, plastic pollution is a huge concern for the health of the marine environment.

Bali has one of the highest densities of spas in the world.  You do not have to go far to find a massage in Bali – the island has around 1,200 spas. Traditional Balinese massage is, of course, a must.  Characterized by long, not-too-firm strokes focused on pressure points, it’s influenced by Chinese and Indian traditions.  The level of pampering is up to you – you can have a massage on the beach for less than US$10, or opt for a five-star treatment in a luxurious suite.  I was advised not to have any massages at the villa as some are shady and use the visit to “case the joint”.  No problem. I don’t like massages – too ticklish.

Malevolent spirits are not welcome.  Spirits are everywhere in Bali, and there are myriad practices to keep evil ones at bay.  There’s a screen behind compound gateways called an aling aling, intended to keep them out. There are daily offerings of incense and food wrapped in banana leaves to appease them.  It is quite elaborate with offerings placed on the shrines, in the roads, on the bumpers of vehicles.  Sadly, the road offerings attract the free range chickens and many are killed by speeding scooters and cars.  Made makes an offering every day that he comes to my villa.  The daily offerings include burning incense sticks and I will miss the delicate scent that floats over my walls while I enjoy my morning coffee.

Monkeys have no manners.  You don’t need to go to the Monkey Forest to have your phone stolen by a macaque – it could happen anywhere you see these, I find them kind of malevolent, critters.  There is a large troupe at Uluwatu temple and Padang Padang beach. 

Emboldened by travelers who feed them and take selfies with them, monkeys at any Bali tourist site may try to take your bag/hat/sunglasses/food.  I  was told to appreciate them from a distance, and to remember that smiling at them with bared teeth is basically challenging one to fight you.

Ubud is vegan heaven.  Mitch, Kelsi and I went to this picturesque bohemian town in central Bali to white water raft.   The  van ride there was longer than the rafting, but the rafting was still awesome because it is the rainy season and there were some exciting spills and rescues.  Not us!  The worst that happened was I flipped over backwards into a young Dutch nurse’s lap.  I had visions of becoming a #metoo tweet.   From the raft we were able to see jungle resorts perched on the cliffs cut by the river.  They looked so peaceful and green.  It is also the wellness destination on the island.  Vegetarian, vegan and raw food cafes and restaurants abound, with an emphasis on locally grown organic fruits and vegetables.  Liking my protein freshly killed, and having a fantastic butcher/chef cousin, I don’t see the appeal.  

Bali is an island of thousands of gods.  Combining Hinduism with some Buddhist mythology, ancestral spirits, animism, (black) magic and indigenous deities, Balinese Hinduism has a higher than average number of gods.
This complex belief system results in an island with more than 20,000 shrines (pura), which is why it’s called the Island of the Gods.

The Balinese usually have one of the following four names: Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. They simply mean First born, Second born, Third born and Fourth born and it doesn’t matter if the child is a boy or a girl!

This one is for my friend, Mark.  The most expensive coffee is Kopi Luwak.

 


Do you fancy coffee made from civet droppings?   Mark calls it cat shit coffee.  The prices for this coffee can go up to as high as 50 dollars a cup! Kopi Luwak is not exclusive to Bali, but it is one of the few places where you can get authentic Kopi Luwak.

Next, the beaches of the Bukit.

 

The Reality Of A Tropical Home

Everyday life during an extended stay in Bali does have its challenges.  This villa is really more suited for short term glamping – glamorous camping, especially with the pool. What you see of the kitchen is everything except for a rice maker I never use and salt and pepper, etc. that are in the wood cupboard.  No oven or grill.

Open air cooking

The kitchen and living area are open and not screened.

Glamorous camping. The roof structure in the back is the Homestay kitchen next door.

Mosquitos are not a problem and I seem to have gotten used to the bites because they no longer itch on the odd occasion I do get bit.  The villa provides mosquito coils and fancy tin burners that catch the ash. 

Decorator mosquito coil containers

Of course, being tropical, there are roaches. Not out of control, and the ones I do come across are either dead or dying.  The poison is a strong neuro toxin and, since roaches eat their dead, it’s a gift that keeps giving.

Dead and still so ugly the resident tree frog won’t touch it.

The villa owner, Olivier, drove over from his home in Sanur because Made had reported my comment about seeing roaches and he became concerned especially because after my dinner at Café La Pasion, I discovered a fruit rat (sleek and grey and not creepy) in the wood cupboard over the sink. I had come home and the cupboard door was slightly ajar, so I closed it. While watching TV, I could hear  a scratching noise but thought it was the people at the homestay kitchen on the other side of the back wall (which I’m sure is the source of the roaches). But it wasn’t them making the noise. I finally got the courage to open the door and found the resealable bag from the almonds I had bought. It was all chewed up, but no rat.

I pulled the rice maker and the biggest part of the bag out (with the pointy end of an umbrella) and left the door open to see (at that time I didn’t know what it was) what would come out. Nothing, and because it was night, the light was poor and I couldn’t really see anything. I have a flashlight app on my phone, so I got it and started looking. Yes, I discovered the rat sitting on a partition at the top of the cupboard. To shorten the narrative, it jumped down the back of the kitchen wall and disappeared. The bag was empty anyway, because I had put the almonds in a plastic container and they were in the fridge (I keep everything in the fridge). I was saving the almond bag to put my coffee grounds in because of my fear of the roaches getting into the big garbage can. Made the handyman came and put a glue trap with poison bait inside the cupboard but all it caught was a mosquito.

Olivier the owner is very concerned since a bad review could kill his AirBnB rating.  But I think the rat getting into the cupboard was a one time thing. It could smell the almonds and, very clever, nosed open the cupboard door and dragged the bag in to shred at its leisure.

Olivier explained that the traditional roofs in Bali are great for roaches; they are made of half rounds of bamboo and the roaches like them because in the rainy season (now), their channels are damp and warm. He has the channels fumigated with a neuro toxin and that is why I only come across the dead or dying. The ants, in really amazing feats of organization, carry them off immediately which resolved me to stay abed later until the ants have carted away the carcases.  

I think the poison eventually kills the ants, too, because there are less and less of them. I keep no food out in the open and only cook breakfast here and then wash the dishes immediately. Lunch is usually snack type stuff; cheese, almonds or gazpacho. I go out every night for dinner. 

My best friends.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I am really enjoying my time here – TripAdvisor named Bali the #1 travel destination for 2018 – and spending time in other hot places, I knew the openness of the house would present some challenges.  Most people only stay at these villas for 3 days and then move on to other parts of Bali. They are gone exploring or to the beach most of the day, so don’t really see the things that I see because I’m here most of the day and staying for a much longer time. 

I also share the house with a tree frog that spends the day in my umbrella, a praying mantis, quite a few geckos of various sizes and a regular frog that sometimes needs rescuing from the pool.  The furniture and door frames have wood worms but they mind their own business and don’t get in the way except for the wood dust that Yuli has to sweep up each day.  I’m hoping I will be long gone before the place crashes down like the House of Usher.

Occasionally, a cat will climb over the wall and spend the night on the bed in the loft.  Yulie minds, but I don’t.  It is awfully thin and I’m sure Mr. Rat makes it a point to avoid the place when Cat is in residence.

The Bingin Beach Villas – March 4

I had read that you should wait to buy your Rupiahs after you land in Indonesia.  The rate is much better than you would pay at a Canadian Bank.  It was also suggested that you only purchase enough at the airport (worst exchange rate) to get you to your destination.  Since I had the villa owner arrange transport in USD I saw no need to get Rupiahs at the airport.  I had also arranged for a motor scooter but, unfortunately, Yulie advised that they would only accept Rupiahs and would be delivering the scooter before the money exchanges were opened.  Made offered to drive me to a local exchange so we set off on his scooter.  No helmets!  Luckily the roads were not busy and I did get my money exchanged.  So, back to the Villa to settle in for my first night.  

The first time I plugged in my fancy converter, I thought I had burnt it out (and was cursing my cheapness that led me to buy it). I shut everything down in order to conserve batteries and started a plan in my head for a solution the next day when my motor scooter and helmets would be delivered.  $100 US for the month with two rather “used” helmets. Yulie told me that the Nirmala Market would have electronics so I resolved to head off on the 7th. Night came and I had no lights in the kitchen, living area and bedside. Found the breaker panel and there was a circuit breaker in the “off” position. However, it refused to reset and I gave up and went to bed after crushing a few candies.

On the 7th, the motorbike arrived with Yulie. Of course, thinking I knew it all, I didn’t listen too closely and found I couldn’t open the seat to release the helmet. Yulie showed me how, and off I went for the first time.  She has also had to show me how to open the salt shaker.

Born to be wild while staying alive, staying alive.

By the third attempt Yulie had the breaker fixed, my nose was burnt (even after SPF 50 Sunscreen) and I decided to write down the directions.

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I set off a 4th time.  Oh, and once the breaker was reset, my converter worked. I was advised not to plug my Ikea multi-extension cord into it – go figure – but I’d burnt it out anyway (big spark and acrid smell of burnt rubber).  I made it to Nirmala Market on that 4th attempt.  Electronics up and running, $40 worth of groceries. $20 was for a bottle of wine, Two Oceans Shiraz. Sadly, this one must also join the growing list of vintages that are part of the wine aversion program. Two days later and there was still half a bottle.  There wasn’t much selection at Nirmala, mostly condiments and packaged food appropriate for the Scandinavians who are here in hordes.  Made suggested that I go to Pepito Market further down the road because it is “more complete”.  He means larger variety but I like the way he says it.  Went to Bingin Beach my second day here for dinner ($4) and met a father and son from Perth who are on a surf holiday and we ended up having a few glasses of wine (okay two bottles).  There was a deluge and I couldn’t leave until 9 pm.  There is very little street lighting in the rural areas, Bingin Beach included.  Pitch black and like climbing up a waterfall as the runoff was using the stairs as a way to the sea.  I was  scared out of my wits because it is about a hundred uneven rock steps up from the beach to the road. Luckily, the few glasses of wine seemed to have fortified my climb back up.  The vintage, best described by the British TV character, Horace Rumple, as a fine bottle with the bouquet of the Thames Left Embankment at low tide .  Surprisingly, I made it home, soaking wet, but with no injuries. 

Now, a tour of the place that will be my home for the next 40 days.  First the street side:

The neighbours across the road. Friendly, but dumb – no sense to get out of the rain.

The Yard:

The door in the first photo is the entrance to the villa.  Above it is a loft bedroom and the outdoor shower is behind the colourful crotons.  Below the loft on the other side of the door is the “scooter” port.  The best feature is the pool.  My morning routine is to put the kettle on for coffee, clean the leaves that have fallen into the pool and skimmer, make my coffee and watch the sky and birds while I enjoy my first cup.  Then I have my morning swim to get rid of bed head.

Come inside:

 

The kitchen is raised, but I can’t figure out why or what is underneath.  The propane tank, for typical Balinese safety reasons and convenience, is just below the sparking gas hob.  I can occasionally smell gas, but try not to worry because the place is well ventilated. “To the moon, Alice, to the moon”.  In terms of cooking utensils, what you see is what you get – not much.  The idea of preparing meals became an impossibility due to the lack of proper pots, pans and utensils.   I did try cooking, but the lid from the pasta pot has a deep indent under the handle which is deeper than the frying pan so you have to shape the food like a donut in order to cover the pan.  Also, once you start cooking, hordes of ants appear out of nowhere.  I do get my heart rate up running the dishes and silverware up and down the kitchen steps to the china hutch in the sitting area.  No matter, eating out is very reasonable.  Observe the wood cabinet over the sink.  It has a starring roll in an upcoming post.

The dining table seats eight and is handy as a place to type my blog and dry my Rupiah after it and I went for a swim. 

 

2+ million wet Rupiah slowly drying in the high humidity.

 

Breakfast is eaten standing up otherwise I’m sharing with an ant or two.  In all fairness, you can hire a cook to come in and cook, serve and clean for a reasonable price.   There is a serving station with sink below the back kitchen counter.

The house’s architecture is considered traditional Balinese.  However, after being here a month, I have determined that no person in Bali wants to live in an open air house.  Their’s all have doors and windows which comes in handy during the rainy season.  The villa does have polypropylene rain blinds that roll down from the ceiling.  However, because it rains rivers the water ends up as far as the couch (if the wind is right) before I get them down and tied in place.  By that time, too, the floor is wicked slippery and a deadly trap if you try to navigate the furniture too fast. 

Rain proof

The Bedrooms:

Both bedrooms have AC.  You do need it to reduce the humidity otherwise the bed feels damp like when I was little and shared with my younger brother.  The beds are very comfortable and Yulie makes them everyday and ties up the mosquito netting.

The Baths:

Each bedroom has a bathroom with shower and large open skylight.  It may sound like a great feature, but NOT during the rainy season.  When it rains, the bathrooms and everything gets soaked.  Wiping hands and face with a wet towel defeats the purpose.  Trying to be optimistic, I looked for the positive:

Rain cloud’s silver lining

All said, it is a very special place to escape the winter and I’m glad I came.

On My Way February 4, 2018

My flight to Vancouver was scheduled for 9:15 p.m. Of course, it started to snow a lot around 4:00 p.m.  Never being known to remain calm, I loaded all of my things into my car and headed up to my brother Malcolm’s house to store my car in his garage while I was away. Arriva cleans our parking garage 4 times a year and all vehicles must be removed. Got the car in the garage and set up the trickle charger on the battery. Called up Uber and in 15 minutes we were on our way, slowly, to the airport. The Air Canada agent recognized my panic and put me on the earlier flight to ensure making my connection to Taipei from Vancouver. By the time our flight was de-iced, we ended up leaving much later and when we got to Vancouver, my 9:15 flight was arriving 30 minutes after us and I would have been fine time wise. I’m flying Vancouver/Taipei Taipei/Denpasar with EVA Airline. I flew back from Thailand with them in October and they are now my favourite airline for Trans-Pacific flights.

Over the years, through work travel and personal expenses, I have amassed hundreds of thousands of points with American Express. It works out really well if you upgrade from Economy to Business class using a combination of dollars and points. The flight from Vancouver to Taipei is about 15 hours, so having an actual bed is a real luxury. EVA gives you a mattress for the bed and a quilt. Their travel pack includes slippers, toiletries and designer pajamas. Their toilets in Business class are twice as big as regular airplane toilets and include a fold down bench to make getting changed clean and easy. And, those pajamas came in handy once I arrived in Bali for watching TV as I got used to the mosquitos.

The day I received my retirement package, I called up my now investment advisor in Canada (I followed his financial blog for years) and we talked about investments, budgets and timelines.  He caught me off guard when he asked me what I wanted out of retirement.  Having not thought too much about actually being retired, I said the first thing that came into my head “I don’t want to travel economy and battle for the arm rest”.  He laughed and said it was well within my budget.  So,  I decided, with retirement, that I was going to enjoy the getting there as much as the destination.

An interesting thing about the Taiwanese is that they love cartoon characters; especially Hello Kitty. Everyone had Hello Kitty pillows on the plane, too.   In the Taipei terminal EVA has a large lounge done up in the Hello Kitty theme. It reminded me of my second cousin Samantha’s U of T roommate who had Hello Kitty bedding and a hanging that covered the door.

After a short layover in Taipei, it was on to Denpasar, Bali.   We arrived at 3:30 p.m.  on the sixth of February, having crossed the International Date Line somewhere over the Pacific.  It was an easy pass through Immigration.  There are two options for Indonesian Immigration Control.  A no-charge 30 day tourist visa that is not extendable and a $35 visa that is extendable for a further 30 days.  I purchased the $35 Visa On Arrival as I would be in Bali for 42 days.  It ended up being an expense I didn’t need to incur.  If you did not pay the $35 and wanted to stay longer, you could not PERIOD!  It was only after further research that I discovered that with the $35 visa you could get the extension in person in Denpasar but the process took 3 trips to the Immigration office in pretty frightening traffic.  You can hire an agent to manage it for you.  That process takes a week, costs about $200 and requires you handing your passport over to the agent for the duration of the process AND getting finger printed.  That was the deal breaker for me.  I have opted to fly to Singapore for the day and return to Bali same day.  The new Immigration stamp will give me an additional 30 days.  I have coincided my return from Singapore to match the date my second cousin, Kelsi, and her fellow, Mitch, arrive from Kuala Lumpur .  This way we can all ride from the airport back to Bingin Beach together and I won’t have to wait up till past midnight to welcome them.  My flight gets in at 11:45 and theirs at 12:05.

Arriving in Bali

After I had passed through Immigration and collected my luggage, I was met by Wayan (which means oldest son) carrying a sign “Richard Calgary”.  Off we went for 45 minutes of hair raising driving.  The traffic is chaos; especially the motor scooters.  Eventually the traffic subsided and we ended up on narrow paved roads with little traffic on the road the villas are on.  Pak Made (Mawday –  means middle son) and Yulie met us at the gate.  The both of them will look after me and the villa during my stay.

Made (means second born son) is from Bali and Yuli is from Java. They come everyday to make the bed, clean the pool and tidy the yard. Yes, Made cuts the grass with shears and there is no vacuum cleaner so all the floors are washed everyday, too. They are both always smiling and get very serious when I talk to them. Footwear is always removed before entering a house – and some stores, too – and there is a woven rug at the door with which you wipe your feet. Everyday Pak (Mr.) Made leaves an offering with burning incense on the Hindu shrine that is in the yard.

Pecatu, Bali – February 2018

Let me start with a brief explanation of how I ended up choosing Bali and India for my winter 2018 destinations. The whole trip was hatched in a 5 day whirlwind of on-line booking in late January. My original plan was to tour in East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia,Bali and Thailand) after completing the September tour of China, Japan and Thailand with my good friends from my TD days.   Luckily, fate intervened and prevented me from, probably, making a huge mistake with the original complicated travel plan. I had asked my current landlords for an early lease renewal in June and they agreed, but at a higher rent. Since Calgary is currently a renter’s market – a lot of apartments vacant and panicked owners willing to negotiate – I gave my notice with the intention of putting my stuff in storage and looking for a new place when I got back, under the original plan, from East Asia in March. Of course, I never got organized enough to upsticks and send them to storage. The easiest solution was to return to Calgary at the beginning of October which would give me 3 weeks to purge more of my “junk” shove the stuff into storage and head someplace hot for the rest of the winter.   During my time back in Canada, my second cousin, Kelsi, and her partner, Mitch,  where in the final stages of planning their far east tour and thought it would be fun to meet up in Bali.  So Bali became a possible destination.  My cousin, Anita, and her husband, Delmer, had planned a 23 day tour of India and thought it would be great to meet in Goa for a few days while they wound down from their hectic tour.  So, Goa India was added to my list.  Eventually, I decided to stay on after they return to Canada to see more of the Indian west coast before taking a 9 day river tour down the Ganges.

Before I left for Asia, I had looked at my current apartment in August, but couldn’t justify paying double rent until October, so passed it up. When I returned to Calgary in October, the listing was gone from RentFaster.com. Out of curiosity, I called the agent and he advised it was still available and he would give me a good deal for a two year lease and that is how I ended up moving into the Arriva. I love my apartment so much that I really didn’t feel the urge to go anywhere UNTIL the cold weather arrived. So, the trip was planned.

Yes, it is this comfortable. Even The Beverly Hillbillies couldn’t hold his attention.