My parents came out in September and it had been requested by Eleanor that we go on holiday with them, so the visit was timed to coincide with National Holiday, 1st October, when we get a week’s break. The first 6 weeks or so of term is always a bit manic for Martin and I, and so a week of being beside a beach is always welcome.
My parents wanted to do a beach holiday. I wanted to do a beach holiday but I also wanted a bit of activity. Martin wanted to relax. Eleanor wanted to be with grandparents. We had booked Melia Bali, The Garden Villas Hotel on Nusa Dua, to the south of the island.
Mount Agung had made the news with a possible imminent eruption. Villagers had been evacuated and an exclusion zone had been implemented. Martin and I were quite happy to go and get stuck there, though later we found out that the Indonesian government had an evacuation plan for foreigners, so sadly we would not have had an extended holiday.
In 2017, the Chinese national day was on a Sunday (1st October), which meant that flights were expensive that weekend to fly out of China. We therefore took a circuituous route, and flew from Pudong to Kuala Lumpur then a connecting flight onto Bali. Certainly a longer route, but we took advantage of flying indirectly to Bali and therefore it was slightly cheaper. We did this to and from Denpensar, Bali staying in the KL Airside Transit Hotel. Not luxurious, but it was a bed, fairly quiet given that is was situated in an airport and extremely handy for connecting flights.
Upon arrival in Bali, we met the driver from the hotel, but got slightly tricked into handing our suitcase not to the hotel driver, but to touts wanting to take our luggage for a fee. They were the ones who missed out, we took advantage of them, as we carried no change or notes whatsoever, – nor would they take RMB so they deposited our luggage at the car and went away back to the arrivals area none the richer but maybe a bit wiser not to think that all foreigners carry US Dollars or Indonesian Rupiah on arrival.
At the hotel we were met with the ritualistic welcome gong, tea, my parents and the sell of upgrading our room. We got a “double upper” with our bed and bathroom being on the top floor and the living room/Eleanor’s bed on the ground floor of the room. We got ourselves settled and Eleanor went to the swimming pool before dinner. Eleanor either lived in the sea or by the pool. The sun was really strong and so sun screen was re-applied often and liberally and both of us got a long sleeve neoprene top to give us added protection.
Beach, swimming pool, massages and eating more or less filled our days, save that as an early birthday present to my mum we had bought a cookery school package – for all of us to do. I had booked a couple of weeks in advance. The Balé, another hotel in Nusa Dua were more than accommodating. From what I could gather, the clientele for cookery school is made up of couples or corporate packages, and the cooking will be done in the kitchens in the more exclusive part of the hotel. But as the hotel is age restricted (no minors) they set up the kitchen, including a two ring burner and a mini oven in a beautiful area overlooking the sea (and a massive hotel on the other side of the road – but we weren’t bothered by that!)
We were collected by Chef Benny from our hotel before being driven to a local fruit and vegetable market. Chef Benny let us try honey mango and local snake fruit which has a brown scaly skin which is peeled leaving a bright white flesh with a stone in the middle. It tasted a bit like a dry lychee. This stall was just in an alleyway, we then walked a little but furthergoing inside into an undercover veg market which had uneven concrete floors, trestle tables side by side covered with spices, more fruit and vegetables. We smelt tumeric in its root form (a smaller looking version of ginger) and galangal, also in root form and tried palm sugar and candlenuts. This was not just a look round. This was interactive and Benny was buying what he/we needed. This market was very different to the wet market that I frequent at the Hudong neighbourhood centre in Suzhou. The hustle and bustle was something that I wouldn’t get in Suzhou but then again I am never there at 8.30am!
Back in the car we went to the coast and Jimbaran. We had been here the night before to have dinner on the beach (with thousands of others) to witness sunset. We had chosen (or rather the hotel driver chose) a restaurant were we got to choose our own fish to have cooked. Benny took us though not to a restaurant but the fish market!
Brightly coloured fishing boats on the sand and in the sea was a lovely backdrop. Undercover we entered a large barn with a low ceiling full of tables laden with fish and shell-fish, the mornings haul. Small sharks, long barracuda, red snapper, squid and lots more besides this was an amazing sight. Led by Chef Benny we weren’t hassled allowing us to take the sights (and smells) in. The market was not just for traders or the fishermen, but families were here all selling the fish, or gutting them and young children played behind the stalls or where nursed/fed while one of their family was preparing the fish.
We were all wearing flip-flops and the floor was muddy/wet at times, I already had squashed fruit between my toes from the fruit/veg market, so in hindsight, flip-flops were not the greatest of footwear!
We were then taken to The Balé after the shopping adventure via a Pottery shop/factory. Not hassled to buy anything it was a lovely stop. You can paint a pot here too. We did buy a few things… but I had my mind on a Starbucks mug, so we only came away with a few cards and a key ring for Eleanor’s friend.
Then onto the cookery course. Chef Benny and his sous chef taught us how to prepare 4 dishes. We cut up the vegetables we had seen that morning, practised our knife skills, tasted everything as we went along and were taught how to fillet the red snapper that had been bought that morning. Mum and I did the job – exceptionally well if I do say so myself!!!
Eleanor was given her own menu and recipes to make. The sous chef instructed her to make mini pizzas and mini burgers. Choosing her own toppings and rolling out the dough for the pizza as well as frying the burgers and choosing the salad filling.
Hers were made first and then she helped Chef Benny in mixing up our Tuna Salad and taking the various leaves from the plants for the recipes.
The food made was delicious and plentiful. Chef Benny was kind, patient, humorous and joyful and it was an excellent early birthday present for my mum.
The other excursion I wanted to do, was not met as enthusiastically by any of the family… Martin came along for the ride (literally), and perhaps that may have been because of the 7am start, or the exercise that was going to happen was against the ethos of a “relaxing” holiday. The night before Eleanor stayed with my parents in our room, and Martin and I went to my parents room so as not to disturb Eleanor when we left.
It had been recommended that we do a bike tour, the Halo bike, http://www.halobiketour.com tour and so I also booked that a couple of weeks before we arrived through Yoga the owner of the company. The profits of this venture fund a teaching English programme that runs 3 times a week. He set it up and it runs practically in his back yard.
Despite being labelled as family friendly no-one wanted to come with us. and when Yoga and the driver picked us up, it transpired that we had Yoga to ourselves – no-one else was joining us.
We stopped at rice terraces for a photographic opportunity
before heading further into the island and going to a coffee plantation. Luwak coffee was on offer and we got a chance to taste it (50,000 IDR) (GBP2.75ish). We declined for the thought of coffee that includes part-digested coffee beans eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civit is enough to turn my stomach. It may well be the most expensive coffee in the world, but as someone who doesn’t like coffee, the experience would be completely wasted on me. (A bit like me going to the Guinness Factory in Dublin when I just had a coca-cola as my free drink!)
The tour was free as was a tasting platter of 12 teas/coffees. Yoga was really informative showing us cacao beans, papaya, arabica coffee beans, vanilla and much more besides.
The tasting was done in our own time and then we departed for our second breakfast. Breakfast in a local restaurant was at about 11am ish. We overlooked Mount Batur, another volcano. We didn’t see nor go near Mt Agung but this island is feeling the effects of social media and a volcano that has not yet erupted. Many holidays have been cancelled and on an island that depends on tourism it is sad to see.
Anyway, after breakfast with a stunning view we got back in the car and were dropped off at a local temple to find our bikes waiting.
With Yoga in the lead we freewheeled downhill through quaint villages. Stopping every now and again to see the paddy fields, be shown the life cycle of rice and see village life.
We hadn’t gone far, when we stopped at a wall, on looking up and in the trees we saw a massive spread of spider webs. You didn’t need to inspect it closely to see the spiders, for they were huge. We both declined touching one, but I was fascinated by the multitude of these creatures that I hate all gathered in one place.
Onwards and we encountered two hills. Both of us attempted to cycle them. The first one we failed and we were reduced to walking up and the other we saw in the distance as we came down the side of another hill, so neither of us braked (much) and let momentum carry us up.
The villagers we encountered were clearly used to cycling tours going through as we were pretty much ignored.
We got to the end and back in the car before being taken to the home of the owner for some delicious food. Yoga’s wife cooks the food and we were told that she also does cookery courses. Their home is also home to his parents and a B&B. After a delicious buffet lunch which we shared with an Australian family who had been on another biking tour just behind us. Food was plentiful. Lunch ended and we then went to the “English school” funded by the businesses that Yoga runs.
The pupils aged 10 with about 40 in number then had an impromptu introduction to us, where we came from, our ages and then… Martin took to the whiteboard…
An awesome day and well worth it as got to see a part of the real Bali away from the tourists.
Back to the hotel, we spent the remaining few days in the water, reading and taking photographs. I realised that I am not a natural stand-up paddle boarder, but that Eleanor is.
And the volcano… didn’t erupt while we were there but did so in November.