A lightning quick break in Bali for our 10th wedding anniversary turned out to be the best holiday of my life!
We touched down at Ngurah Rai (Denpasar) airport, Bali, and descended the stairs from our AirAsia flight (first time on AirAsia – ok for a budget airline). I looked across the runways, and saw a flat, relatively barren landscape – not the tropical paradise I was expecting!
An hours’ queue getting out of immigration (ouch!) left us wondering if our baggage would still be there to collect – which thankfully it was, so no need to call on our travel insurance at this stage then! Gathering our forces we were soon in the taxi our resort had sent us heading for Kamandalu resort and spa, which was near the arts and crafts heartland in the town of Ubud – ducking and diving amongst the crazy traffic, which was not for the faint hearted.
Kamandalu Resort and Spa, Ubud
Our resort was really beautiful – we were greeted with garlands of sweet smelling flowers around our necks on arrival, bringing tears to our eyes.
We unpacked in our charming rooms, where every detail was attended to. Fragrant petals on the bed, incense in the room, and gorgeous teak furniture throughout. That evening we just hung out by the pool – and what a pool it was! A swim-up bar was in the centre, with bar stools under the water of the pool, meaning you could sit immersed in the warm water, sipping cocktails and talking in the jasmine-fragrant air.
Saturday comes after a restful sleep, and we are determined to see as much as possible of the *real* Bali, steering well clear of night clubs and beaches – we’re ‘culture vultures’!
Temple Festival Preparations
Our guide arrives and we set off onto the scooters, bikes and cars, once again with our hearts in our mouths. The first stop is unscheduled – we pull up by two dozen women who are preparing offerings for an upcoming festival at the temple next door.
We step over to get a closer look, nervous about intruding and getting our cameras out. But we are met with the warmest, welcoming smiles, and genuinely friendly faces. It was extraordinary the detail and effort going into the offerings – woven grasses, flowers, and baked shapes made out of flour and colourings – so much care and attention.
The Local School
Then we arrive at a local school. We step into the playground where schoolgirls are practicing traditional dances. Tears of joy part two, as their graceful movements and sheer joy in their culture charmed our hearts.
Stepping into a classroom it was my turn as a school teacher, as I took an impromptu English language class, quizzing them for answers in English, and giving out pens and stationary as prizes. The kids were utterly charming: with none of the attitude you’d get from kids back in London, my hometown. No-one tries to be cool or tough in front of the foreigners, just a lovely innocence, and real happiness at receiving our little gifts as prizes.
A Local Market
A quick stop-over at the local market near the school was a crazy mixture of sights and smells to delight, together with rubbish strewn ground with rats scurrying around! After grabbing some Salak (snake skin) fruits we were back in the tour car.
Buddhist Temple – Vihara Shanti Bhumi
Another stop well off the tourist trail – this quiet temple overlooks a river below the gorgeously bamboo forested hillsides, at once auspicious and peaceful. We made friends with someone at the temple, and shared understandings on meditation and teachings, though coming from different sides of the world.
By this stage it was becoming clear that there was something truly special about the Balinese – everyone we met was so kind, so open, so relaxed – a world away from our frantic lives in the city.
Mount Batur Volcano
‘Buy one – get one free’ – a stop by a recently active volcano, and a chance to sit down and eat a sumptuous buffet style lunch! It really was amazing to be so close to a volcano that made whole villages up and move location a mere 30 years ago. The vegetation had still to return to the jet black volcanic lava rocks covering half the view in front of us. This was the first time any of us had ever set eyes on a volcano, which was quite stirring, with a sense of the awesome power of nature that lay before us.
Yet somehow the teaming hordes of tourists feverishly prowling the restaurant (yes, I know we were tourists too!) meant it had none of the charm of our previous stops. We ate, and moved on.
Kopi Luwak, and the Coffee Plantation
Back up along winding roads into the hills again, and we find ourselves at a small, un-signposted gate, which leads into a lush abundance of tropical vegetation.We’re at a small local eco-business, where they have begun to help preserve bio-diversity and grow a multitude of fruits, spices and all manner of goodness!
Galangal, chillies, turmeric, tamarind, jackfruit, durian, pineapple, clovers, cinnamon, vanilla, peppers, lavendar and a host of rarer spices were to be found, along with an abundance of coffee varieties. Alongside this array of goodness were some lovely people too, including this dear old lady who was absolutely gorgeous 🙂
A close encounter with Civet cats brought us to the heart of the venture – Kopi Luwak production! For those that don’t know, the Civets eat the coffee beans, pass them through and out of their digestive systems, then these ‘special’ beans are ground and brewed for a unique taste! Sounds bizarre, and even disgusting to some … you need to try it to judge it!
Pura Tirtha Empul – Holy Bath Temple
Back on the road – that crazy road, and our next stop is one of the most sacred sites in Bali – the Tirtha Empul holy baths.
As always we pass through the outer and middle courtyards/shrines of this Hindu temple, each one preparing us for the inner sanctum which houses the natural baths. Whole families bathed together in the cool waters in a ritual of purification.
At once both profoundly meaningful, yet filled with joy and laughter, we left refreshed in both body and spirit, and set out for our last port of call on this extraordinary first day of our holiday in Bali.
Tegallalang – Terraced Rice Paddy Fields
Bali is famous for its terraced rice paddy fields, and our last stop brought us to a roadside stop overlooking a beautiful valley. It really was ‘picture perfect’, and like the beautiful temples exactly as the minds’ eye imagines Bali to be.
Back to our resort for a lovely meal, with the sound of crickets and cicadas serenading us throughout.
What a day, and what a place!