Sunday, November 8, 2009

mangoes from god

When the Buddha concluded that life is suffering, he must have been attending our local church service. Around 200 bodies, crammed into a hot, stagnant, concrete box (also known as an inappropriately designed church) for over two hours of ranting and communing with the Big Fella. I am here under invitation from Benja to witness, and more importantly photograph, the christening of his son, Disyon. I hanker down at the back, hoping for a quick getaway.

Looking around the congregation there is no doubt that the population of the developing world is exploding. Kids are everywhere; scrambling under seats, suckling at the breast, bouncing on nana’s knee and singing in the choir. Almost every child that has the ability to hold something in its hand has a fist full of nutritionally void junk food – chips, lollies, sugary drinks and biscuits – and the wrappers are tossed on the ground without reprimand.

As the only buleh in attendance, it is impossible to slip outside without being notice. I find a shady spot and sit in the dirt with a pig, a chook and a few loose children. The animals are for sale at the end of church auction and are very unhappy about their tethered state. I feel their pain. After a brief respite, I am ushered to a seat at the front of the congregation, beside the altar. Now there is no escape.

The high priestess calls forward the first believer and washes the baby’s head three times with holy water. Phew, the little bundle is saved. I am ready with the camera for little Disyon’s big moment with the lord, and feel an unexpected surge of affection for this community I have made my home.

Tom arrives with five minutes to go, fresh from the surf and smug with the knowledge he missed the agony. The fundraising auction begins and Tom puts in the winning bid for a huge bag of mangoes. 103 to be exact. 0.003 cents each. Thanks be to god.

Monday, November 2, 2009

frustrated artist within

“I am harbouring a fugitive, a defector of a kind, and she lives in my soul, drinks of my wine, and I’d give my last breath to keep us alive.” Indigo Girls

Inside me lives a textile artist, a sculpture and a printmaker. Somewhere deep in the core, there also hides a painter, but it is shy to emerge in the presence of my talented husband, despite his gracious encouragement and excellent tutorage. My frenetic scanners mind scopes the possibilities of creativity, but often struggles to bridge the gap between inspiration and production. Then when it does produce, it asks “what is the point of this stick sculpture/printed fabric/tea bag installation?” The idea of creating simply for investigation, process and play is one I endeavour to embrace with each project; to silence the internal critic and give life to childlike abandon.

This series of “prayer flags” hang in our back patio and are a series of swatches, dyed with either coconut leaves or commercial colour. The crackled background was a flour paste resist, over-painted with acrylics, and the motif depicts a teak leaf.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

looking forward

With only one week left in our island home, what I am looking forward about returning to Oz? After the reunion with family and friends, I can’t wait to be able to shop for fresh produce any day of the week. Apples, berries and the promise of summer stone fruit. Avocado and olives. Radio National. Cool spring mornings. Walks on the hard sand of Geographe Bay. All day electricity. Drinking water straight from the tap. Soy lattes. Weekend papers. Juicy lemons from our tree. Warbling magpies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

control of the high seas

Dawn breaks over the lagoon as we load Mick’s tri-maran with snacks, sunscreen, fuel tanks and an array of equipment for water activities. Surfboards : check. Stand-up-paddle board : check. Kiteboard : check. Mask and snorkle : check. A day out communing with nature is imminent.

The water is glassy and clear as we motor around the reef and into the open ocean. A brief interlude for a morning surf, then Mick unfurls the “screecher” and we sail to protected waters for a cuppa and cranberry muffins. The water is like Venetian glass, reflecting a cloudless sky over a white sand bottom. I do my best to channel Jacky Onassis or Princess Mary, lazing away a Thursday on the bow.

We push 6 knots across the channel to the leeward side of “Bat Island” for lunch. Sail, swim, eat, repeat. I’m getting the hang of this sailing gig. The coral garden beneath us is undamaged, a rare display in an area prone to dynamite fishing and a total disregard for preservation. Above us looms a grey, gaping cliff face; ancient reef exposed to the elements in another eon.
The westerly on-shore wind has picked up and we punch into the swell under full sail. It is my first real sailing experience since lolling about in tiny bathtubs for school boating. If I stay on deck I can endure fairly rough conditions, but five minutes in the galley and I’m toast.

The red sphere hits the horizon as we enter the lagoon and glide home. The perfect clich├ęd end to a magic day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

road closed for julia

On the way north of Ubud, we ignore the “road closed” signs and continue on our merry way forward. I think we are in the middle of an elaborate celebration, until I see the costume truck, containers of camera gear and bands of security guards. We have ridden our scooters straight into the set of “Eat, Pray, Love”, and are quickly ushered on our way. What, no quality time with Julia?

Our destination is Gunung Kawi Sepatu, a lesser-known attraction than nearby Gunung Kawi, and a tranquil, well preserved gem. The tourist information boasts “you will be healed very much by this temple done remaining quiet very much in a relaxed manner.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

happy christmas Bali style

Today is the celebration of Galungan, a holy day that occurs every 210 days to celebrate the victory of dharma (goodness) over adharma (evil). Balinese reflect on the harmony between the inner self and the outer world and join with their family and community to eat, pray and love. On the right side of every house is erected a penjor, a long bamboo pole decorated according to guidelines set by a high caste hindu priest. Decorations must include agricultural products, such as rice and tubers, to symbolise man’s ownership of the bounty and his willingness to use it for right purpose. The arched habit of the pole echoes the holy Mount Agung, and is a metaphor for human beings to live with sincerity and respect for the Gods. It sure beats tinsel bought at Woolies and thrown over a plastic tree in haste.

At the base of the penjor is an ornately decorated spirit house, where offerings are made to the Gods. In the home of a newlywed couple, special woven banners hang from the spirit house and village members visit with gifts of rice, fruits and cakes. These presents are a gesture of support for the new couple, offered with blessings for a happy life together. A penjor remains in place for 35 days, throughout the extended celebrations of Galungan and Kuningan, after which it is burnt and the ashes buried inside the family compound in a final endeavour to produce fertility and prosperity.

As with Christmas, Galungan is an exciting time for children. They are on school holidays and receive new clothes and money as gifts from their parents. The day following Galungan is a family recreation day, which may be a nature destination, supermarket or department store. The Balinese equivalent of our frenzied Boxing Day sales.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

spa cuisine at the maya

I have a quirky addiction to travel research, in particular flight timetables, accommodation rates and menus, and my idea of a good time is calling into boutique resorts to check out their facilities. In Bali this practice is rewarded with golf buggy rides, travelator trips and previews into some of the best spas and villas your rupiah/dollar/yen can buy. A peek into the other world - the world of space beds and 24 hour butlers.

It was on a recent “reccie”, that I decided on the Maya Resort and Spa's River Cafe for Zoe’s birthday lunch. None of the other guests would have arrived via scooter, but once through security and over the foyer pond threshold, we were as suave as any high flyer. Down the promenade, framed by coconut palms and exclusive villas, to the elevator, and a pain free trip to the valley below. One wouldn’t want to break a sweat on the stairs. The River Cafe is a tribute to fresh “spa cuisine”, served overlooking the infinity pool, abundant garden and rushing river.

We are momentarily put off our food by the arrival of a middle-aged Euro sporting nothing but a short canary yellow t-shirt and red cock-jocks. Does paying a certain amount of money give sanction to wearing no pants out to lunch?

With a delightful lunch over and the Mastercard signed off, we make ourselves acquainted with the swimming pool, until the schedule asserts that we towel off and move on to Zoe’s massage and floral bath appointment. The life of a princess is never dull.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

voices of the coffee lands

It is the final day of the Ubud writers festival and my friend Zoe has arrived from Perth to the promise of long girly chats over coffee, body scrubs, massage and two for one mojitos. We kick off with the former at Bali Buddha, and a breakfast of fruit salad, green smoothies and bagels.

Afternoon tea is a special event at Linda Garland’s house. The theme is coffee, and we espouse our position on the deck with a fresh brew, cappuccino gelato and carrot cake. Four authors are invited to share their words, both poetry and prose, humorous, harrowing and informative, about their experience with the world’s favourite neurostimulant. A native Haitian speaks in a heavy French accent of his youth infused with the aroma of coffee, and an English author reads his account of all night coffee fuelled assignments at university.
Live samba music completes the theme, and one could be forgiven for geographical ambiguity as the afternoon slides on.

Known worldwide as “the bamboo lady”, and the founder of the Environmental Bamboo Foundation, Linda Garland is an interior designer with a famous clientele, including Richard Branson and Mick Jagger.

She has kindly opened her house and villas for our perusal, and it is a treat to scout the palatial bedrooms, outdoor bathrooms and sitting nooks. The kind of place you can imagine writing your memoirs.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

some days are diamonds

To those of you at work today, especially those that do not like their position, I take no responsibility for the suffering you may experience in comparing your day to mine.

A cool wet-season morning in Ubud, and I am up and eager for the early bird class at the Yoga Barn. All shapes, nationalities and abilities salute the day in the open-air pavillion, as the Balinese instructor asks us to “find your gazing.”

Nyoman delivers tea and fruit salad to my balcony, and with it I devour a whole punnet of strawberries, tossing the hulls into the tangled jungle below. Breakfast number one is complete, so it must be time for a green smoothie and coffee chaser at Kafe.

Now that Tom has entered the computer age, there is competition over who gets to use the precious battery during the day, and who gets first digs when the power comes on at night. When I mentioned taking the laptop away to Bali, it provided the impetus for Tom to offer me an early birthday and Christmas present offer I couldn’t refuse. You are now reading a post from my new Asus Eee PC – all gorgeous 10 inches of it. Who said size doesn’t matter? Light, strong and fast, just like my husband, but more portable.

Ubud is buzzing with bookish types: people with glasses and sensible clothes. There are visitors from all corners of the globe here for the Writers & Readers Festival, “one of the six best literary festivals in the world”, a curious slogan - not the best, or second best, but in the top ten. I have volunteered to help over the week, and my first posting is possibly the most unappealing item of the schedule – “A workshop for inspiring poets on writing political poetry.” Blah. I didn’t know such a genre existed, let alone warrant a workshop in the finer details.

Back to the Vitamin Blast with basil and spinach. Every girl needs retail therapy in her perfect day, especially the girl who lives in a village where mass produced sarongs and polyester shirts at the weekly market constitute the latest in fashion. Don’t tell Tom, but I bought a pair of pants from the yoga shop...they were having a sale...

With food, beverage and internet needs met, it must be time for a massage? Next door to the guesthouse is a small sign offering traditional Balinese treatment. The brochure explains that Mr Win learned from his father, who in turn learned it from his father, and “we are professional masseurs.” Mr Win greets me wearing his motorbike helmet, and offers the customary limp handshake, before showing me to a dimly lit room decorated with plastic flowers and a poster of New York. This is not your five-star day spa overlooking a river valley with hanging gardens and cool water features. Here the sounds at the heart of Ubud infiltrate the roughly painted plaster walls; motorbikes, roosters and the rhythmic clunk of the overhead fan.

Mr Win is about 50, has a plaited beard and soft hands. It takes a certain amount of trust to stay relaxed as I lay face down stark naked while a male stranger climbs up on the foot of the table. As his hands sweep the sciatic region, I wonder if my butt crack requires the attention and if he notices my cheeks clenching. I chant, “we are professional masseurs” like a mantra in my head. Rolling over to expose my full frontal glory, I wonder how many different bodies this man has seen in his 17 years of practice. The breast rubbing part of a Balinese massage has always amused me, and Mr Win doesn’t neglect to include it. Overall, the massage is firm and focused, and I emerge 90 minutes later, puffy eyed and wobbly, ready for afternoon tea.

The sweet crunch of an apple brings a contented sigh and much salivating after months of banana and papaya. I reflect on the simple joy of nature’s bounty then wander off to Kue for a pot of Darjeeling tea and date cake. The leaf tea is organic and strong, the cake dry, and the music is painful Indonesian elevator-meets-Kenny G genre. The mix with traffic noise below has me sipping my tea in haste. Their bread and chocolate truffle selection is worthy of take-away, but I won’t be rushing back for the serenity.

Now if you will excuse me, I have an appointment to listen to Bach, played by an international concert violinist, in the shadows of a candlelit temple.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

people smugglers

Having lunch at the hotel and a major scene unfolds as 22 Afghani refugees are brought ashore. Police intercepted the people smuggler's wooden craft on the neighbouring island and asked Greg if they could use the hotel's two dinghys to transfer the refugees to the beach where they would be moved onward to the mainland and an uncertain future. The police form a "guard of honour" in flourescent orange jackets as the refugees march up the beach in single file, their hands on the shoulder's of the person in front. Locals have swarmed the area to get a closer look at the action. We can only imagine the harrowing history that has brought these people here in hope of a new start, and what will become of them in the hands of the Indonesian authorities.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

animal rescue

A tiny two-day old piglet has become separated from his clan and is sniffing along our rock wall for a way free. He lets me pick him up, then squeels and squeeks in protest while I try and reassure him. I hold him close to my chest, stroking and coo-ing, and the little bugger bites my nipple! He sure won’t find any sustenance there. We can’t find his family, so I take him to into the village and leave him in the care of another mumma pig who I hope will lead him home.

The other day, Matt rescued Tali and Clipper, our pet goats, from Gerry’s rubbish pit. They would have suffered rapid dehydration and overheating in the midday sun at the bottom of the sandy hole, and I am sure it was a bleet of thanks and relief when Matt climb in and lifted them out.

Donations to the RSPCA can be made directly into our account.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

the love seat

Hear ye, hear ye, I have successfully finished a project. The love seat is in place and ready for the passage of many a resting buttock. The weathered timber complete with peeling paint, was left over from a canoe (the hull of which became our outdoor shower), and with Guruji Tom’s patient tutoring I fashioned it into a useful garden feature.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

smoothies & scrabble

After loosening the constraints of our diet while Matt was here, we are now reigning it back with a green smoothie & salad blitz. Out comes the Scrabble board, and a blender full of banana, papaya and silverbeet is knocked back between words. Let it be know that I am still the champ.

Monday, September 28, 2009

curried cabbage

It is Matt’s last night with us and the fridge is bare, save for a few carrots and a handful of limp leafy greens. I swore last time I ate at Johnny G’s (see May 4th) it would take a famine to get me there again, and while I we are in no danger of fading away, I can’t expect our special guest to start a water fast this evening.

I have heard – from meat eaters - that Mary cooks an ok curry, so I order vegie curry for Tom and I, and a chicken curry for Matt. Out comes the rice…and out comes the curried cabbage. Cabbage. Just cabbage. Not a sliver of carrot or hint of bean. Cabbage. With oil and MSG. This is not a fine dining experience.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

pet composters

A mother and kid have made themselves at home in our yard, visiting at regular intervals throughout the day in tune with the tossing of fruit and vegie scraps. We have named them Tali (the mum) and Clipper (the kid) and relish their curious visits. Over time they have become quite game and will walk up the front steps into the kitchen, in the hope of scoring a fresh banana. If another goat comes sniffing, Tali defends her territory with vocal bleets.

Given the chance, goats are not scavengers and prefer to eat fresh fruit and greens from the plant. As such, they don't like their food covered in sand and will wipe it on their rump to clean it before eating. With this knowledge we provide a smorgasboard service to our pets on an elevated slab. They dutifully turn the scraps into perfect little pellets of poo, which I can then pick up and add to the garden. Fun for all the family.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

pink pancakes

The markets offer a selection of sweet “treats”, various combination of flour, sugar, fat and fluorescent colouring. Over the years Tom and I have tried them all, and can vouch that the majority are unidentifiable food objects that can be used as emergency surfboard ding repair. Think of eating pink glue or congealed oily rubber and you’ve got the taste sensation. They are most definitely not raw, vibrant, or wholesome. There are only two that we consider edible – pink pancakes and caramel cake. The first are thin crepes filled with shredded coconut and palm sugar. Last year they were green, this season pink is the in thing. The second is a dense spongy number that slightly resembles the taste and texture of what we know cake to be... slightly.

My favourite for personality are the “diaphragms”. A rice flour batter is deep fried then soaked in palm syrup, the result being a round unctuous pastry-like disc that looks unnervingly like a diaphragm. If you close your eyes and really extend your imagination, you can almost pretend your eating a terrible croissant. A lovely lady of 76 comes every week, sets up her little table and chair at the entrance to the markets and sells sweating diaphragms from a plastic box. They are cheap, very cheap, so I often buy some for the goats, and think of the money as a donation.

Friday, September 18, 2009

extreme gardening

Enough about brave men on big waves. Back to the hardcore activity of extreme gardening. It is dry, hot and dusty. Temperature is hovering around 34 degrees C in the shade and as the wet season approaches the humidity will increase to suffocating levels. I have all but given up on the garden for two main reaons :

1. Being that there is no food around this time of year, every seed I plant is taken by either a hermit crab, ant or rodent. Snails are one thing, hungry hermit crabs are another. Out of a whole packet of marigolds, one seedling survived. My next plan of attack is to raise some seedlings in covered punnets to transplant when the rain begins.

2. At the end of the dry season our well goes a bit salty. It is still within the levels for safe drinking, however the plants are sensitive. The well is tidal effected, and without rain to replenish the ground water supply, the salt infilitrates the fresh water.

My vision of a lush Bali style garden is impractical. The reality is we live on the beach – a harsh environment of sand, salt, wind. Tropical exotics that love humidity and volcanic soil are not happy here, as much as I may coax them along. I need to think zen, scree and coastal salt tolerant heath species for next season.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

eating nemo

Rice is the staple food for locals, supplemented by a scant amount of vegetables and fish, and the odd bit of anorexic chicken. Pigs and goats are reserved for special occasions, more so for dogs and cows. Many people survive on one meal per day, and it is common for this to be simply rice with chilli and sea salt. There is no refrigeration, so unless they grow greens in their yard (as many do), fresh vegies are only consumed on market day or soon after.

The lagoon is a vital source of seafood, and both men and women forage at low tide. Anything that moves - other than starfish - is fair game for their nets, spears and hands. Molluscs, crustaceans, slugs, snot-like creatures and fish of any size are captured for the next meal. Sadly, there is not knowledge of conservation, and generational habits of raping the reef will likely continue as population increases, leaving the lagoon barren, and the locals shifting to a diet of highly processed and nutritionally void food. I have tried to talk to them about sparing the undersized fish and am met with a laugh or vacant stare of mistrust. Their baskets look like an aquarium of tropical fish that I am sure are not usually prize eating. Angel, clown and parrot fish; their colours vibrant in the sunshine as they gasp their last breath.

Fish is caught and brought to shore where it is divided equally and taken home, or eaten immediately over the coals. Skin, scales, guts and all. Straight in the fire as humans have been doing for eons. That’s the meal : no sauce, no side dish, no dessert, no plate, no problem.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

surfing santa

Christmas has come early to the island, with the arrival of our friend Matt, fresh in from the old US of A. His luggage is brimming with goodies - edible, readable and wearable. His Santa sack includes Trader Joe’s organic trail mix with choc bits and cranberries, sulphur free dried New Zealand apples, the latest Surfer’s Journal, and a mammoth hard cover cook book titled “Clean Food”. Matt has just finished a contract with Oakley and I am thrilled to receive a new “sponsored” wardrobe; singlets, boardies, rashie, t-shirt, hat & sarong. Tom is spoilt too with a pair of Waterjacket surf sunnies. He has been wearing a pair of Sundogs from Aus, and didn’t have a back up. No sooner has Matt delivered the new sunnies and Tom loses his Sundogs in the big swell – the third pair to go missing this season. More expense…

Thanks Matt. You know the way to a girl’s heart is not only through her stomach, but through her wardrobe.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

three wise monkeys who surf

With a particularly large swell cracking on the horizon, the boys spend quality time on the "bullshit platform" discussing, debating and theorising over board selection, the capricious breeze, and tidal influence.

Hear no evil - Matt Bunn, USA, special guest
See no evil - Tom McAuliffe, Aus

Speak no evil - John Richards, Aus, next door neighbour

The fourth and wisest monkey is taking the photo.

With conditions ripe - a 3.4m swell, offshore, mid-tide - boards are waxed, sunscreen smeared and cameras fired, and we rally together for a boat ride out the back with our salty-dog neighbour Gerry.

All manner of craft come and go to the safety of the shoulder. Locals make a bit of pocket money ferrying surfers out to the wave in questionable craft, and for guests at the hotel a center console dingy with 120 HP of grunt is on hand to whip you out at full throttle.

Tom taking the drop and settling in to his happy place.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

home improvements

There are many small projects around our house & yard that seem to escape completion, even with the richness of time. The “in-box” is always full, and I in particular have a trail of half finished projects dotted around, with a list of new ideas vying for a start in life. While I was away Tom embraced the DIY bug, and with the help of a local “handyman” connected the power to our bedroom pod. A year after finishing the building, we finally have light and a power point. A grand step toward luxury. The well pump is now hardwired into a switch, a safer option than the dodgy plug that zapped me twice. We originally asked for the electrics to be earthed, but the earth wire got lost in the middle of a bird’s nest tangle and only two wires emerged out the other side.

I imparted Tom with the job of building a towel rail for the beach shower area with free creative licence. Using drift wood found on the south coast of the island, he fashioned a unique sculptural piece. Form and function – his two essential elements of design. The shower is a single piece of wood from an old canoe that was abandoned in front of our house. We bought it from the local owner for $25 and put it to creative use. The rest of the wood is on it's way to becoming a garden bench.

Tom also got excited and started building a little generator shed with a line to the kitchen so we can make smoothies without lugging the blender and the gennie together from their respective storage zones.
I really should go away more often.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cafe Bali

A visit to Seminyak is not complete without time spend at Cafe Bali. Of the many eating establishments along Jalan Oberoi, this is my favourite. It is decorated in the plantation style, reminiscent of a colonial home. Whitewashed wood, shutters and missmatched chairs lend a relaxed, casual tone, while the candlight, chandeliers and white lace tablecloths make the mood just right for romance. Unfortunately, the only romance I am having at the moment is with my pot of Darjeeling tea. The corner lounge area is the perfect spot for coffee or cocktails, and the photo above is Louise taking time out on her visit in July.

Next time you are in Bali, treat yourself. Next time I'm in Bali, I'll bring my camera and take some more photos of this devine restaurant for the armchair travellers and diners out there.

Friday, September 4, 2009

what women want

I don’t want to leave Ubud, but I take solace in the fact I’ll be back in a month for the writer’s festival. The rain has stopped and the air is still and heavy with humidity. I make one final visit to Kafe, take delivery of two kilos of raw cacao beans from Leah at Raw Food Bali and jump on the rickety bus back to the lowlands.

On the short trip through Legian to my hotel, the proud taxi driver tells me that Australian’s always choose Bluebird Taxis because “they safer, have correct meters and handsome drivers.”

Full of courage from my scooter riding around Ubud, I hire a zippy pink step-through and set off onto the traffic clogged streets of Legian. It is slow going through the jam, so there is little chance of a serious dingle. It is not the pleasant experience it was winding through the peaceful backroads of Ubud, and I breathe in enough pollution to warrant detoxing for the rest of my life in Antarctica.

In my search for bed-sheets at Bali Galleria I see a swish Loreal hair salon and divert my wanderings for a hair cut. The male staff are as gay as a mardi gras. When I comment on the all male staff, he tells me, “men like us know what women want.”
My hairdresser’s name is Ee-aw, as in donkey, and he is horrified at the damaged state of my hair.
“Where did you get this colour done? Oh darling, don’t you use a vitamin product after surfing?”
He insists on cutting off a long chunk of my hard earned blond tips, and holding up the mirror so I can see my new do, he seems quite happy with himself.
“Now you look like Celine Dion.”
That’s a long call, but I feel rather glamorous, until I put my bike helmet on and it all goes flat.

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