We arrived in Bali during the afternoon of Sunday 18th March – it was more than a little sticky on arrival. There seemed to be hundreds of drivers holding up name plaques … but we managed to spot ours in the crowd … he had the biggest smile. His name was Suka and he was very proud to announce himself as our tour guide and welcome Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Rose (with a great roll on the R). Lots of chatting on the way to the car and we soon discovered that Suka had the same “Waaah” sound that our tour guide in Bangkok had, every time he said something funny, whilst showing us the largest set of teeth you could ever imagine fitting into one mouth! We were handed over to the driver who had the address of our hotel but had clearly never been there before – we drove through some heavy traffic to start then onto more country lanes until we found a little obscure spot which was our hotel – Alam Bidadari Boutique Culture Villas and Spa, Seminyak.
Well, once again we have found ourselves in a little piece of paradise – away from all the hustle and bustle of Seminyak main town – just 9 villas in a perfect setting – our own individual swimming pool, all meals served to our outdoor eating area, a four poster bed with mosquito net which makes it look dead romantic (haven’t seen any mosquitos yet!), stunning bathroom set up, spa treatments provided in your villa – it’s like a honeymoon suite! Even robes and slippers (simple things make me happy) and for a fraction of the cost you would pay for this elsewhere. We love it.
So for the first couple of days we just enjoyed the luxury and privateness of our villa, loads of lounging on sunbeds, loads of reading, regular pool dips, eating, drinking etc. etc. We did also exercise daily with runs and walks (Steve trying desperately to build up for his marathon …. but struggling with the heat and humidity) and always a visit to the beach at some point. Seminyak Beach is pretty spectacular – large expanse of golden sand, big waves … and it certainly comes alive at night … great selection of bars and restaurants. And absolutely stunning sunsets – the sky is ablaze with colour.
Wednesday 21st March 2018
So today we had arranged for Suka to pick us up from the hotel at 8.00am, to take us on a whole day sightseeing tour of Bali. He was punctual and as smiley as ever, and off we set. The plan was to discover the more rural areas and mountains as well as learn a little more about regional crafts along the way. Whilst driving first through the town/city areas, Suka gave us an overview of Bali and Indonesian history, as well as informing us of various aspects of religion. Although Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, Bali is in fact predominantly Hindu … Suka seems to be a very religious man and was so eloquent in explaining their Hindu beliefs and practices. Today in fact was the feast of Pagerwesi so we saw many ladies bringing their colourful offerings to the temples.
The roads are just a little crazy with traffic, but not too fast luckily. It’s mostly the scooter riders that would appear to have a death wish … and there are thousands of them. Suka explained that Bali has a population of 4 million … and that there are probably 3 million scooters, as all families have at least one or two.
Our first stop was to see a traditional Balinese house … really interesting with its outside living aspect, one outside room kept for ceremony only and of course each house has its own temple. We met the lady of the house as she was leaving the only indoor space – the bedroom! She was very humble and welcoming.
We were moved swiftly along next door to where they were demonstrating batik crafting – a row of lovely ladies handcrafting and a young man to explain the art … and then swiftly on again to a huge shop area, selling everything batik. Which would have been fine but the young chap did not leave our side and made for an extremely pressurised shopping experience.
From there we drove on to another region and another craft – silverware. Again the craft was demonstrated and then we were guided into the largest jewellery outlet I have ever seen. Once again, whichever cabinet we peered into, the lady was hovering with information and suggestions. It became a bit of a dodging game but she won out every time!
Suka had planned to take us on to other ‘regional crafts’ but we suggested we’d prefer less shopping opportunities and more countryside practices. And that was fine, he didn’t pressurise us in any way. So we moved on to see some traditional Bali dancing – a little unusual but skilled all the same – beautiful dancing and costumes, some acting and comedy, accompanied by an orchestra of Balinese musicians.
Our trip then took us further out into the country area where we first visited a coffee plantation. As we walked through the plantation area, Suka was very knowledgeable in pointing out the various plants – coffee, cocoa, various tea plants (lemongrass, ginger, rosella etc. ) … there was tumeric, garlic, aloe Vera, vanilla, coconut, papaya, durian, avocado, banana plants etc. …. so not just coffee, an amazing variety. When we got further in we were then whisked off by a young man who was to deliver a tasting session – all pretty commercialised but interesting … and tasty. And then, naturally there was the shop!!
Whilst there we were also introduced to their collection of wild civets, most in cages (due to their viciousness) and a couple who are clearly tamed. These cats are bizarrely used to eat and defecate coffee cherries – the part digested bean is literally picked out of the animal’s poo and goes on to produce the world’s most expensive coffee – Luwak coffee. This apparently brings much controversy due to force feeding. They jokingly refer to it as Cat Poo Chino.
From there we drove on into the rainforest area where we saw plenty of oranges growing together with all kinds of vegetables. By this time the roads were getting steeper and steeper as we headed for the mountain area – we stopped for lunch with a stunning view over Mount Agung which a currently active volcano (but 17km from where we were) and surrounding mountains.
After lunch we drove on further to see some terraced rice fields – Suka told us that he used to work in the rice fields when he was younger and explained the back-breaking process. Bali youngsters are not so inclined to this occupation now so the Government has been offering initiatives. Amazing to see the terraces and learn all about the irrigation and farming of these family owned fields. We met a couple of enterprising old chaps – one of them dropped something out of his basket and asked me to hold his baskets while he picked it up … and so it became a photo opportunity that of course required payment – £1 well spent however!!
And we finished our tour off with a visit to Suka’s own community temple which was so beautiful. They only visit the temple of two occasions a year as each family home has its own temple, except when they go to collect holy water. All other ceremonies such as weddings, funerals etc take place in a dedicated room at the family home. Suka proudly showed us all around the temple and we all washed ourselves in the holy water.
After all this we had a two hour drive home and there were a few sleepy bobbing heads, including Suka, but luckily not the driver!
So lovely to get out and see some of Bali … now it’s back to relaxing 😎