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.

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