Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bali-loving

 Hello everybody. Long time no see. 

It's been a long time since I wrote anything here. I blame it on work for sucking the life out of my imaginary pen. However, I am pleased to inform you that I have been nursing that imaginary pen of mine to some semblance of life, now that I am on my 6 months break. (Hooray!) 

You may expect lots of ramblings here, with a splash of adventure there for I'll be spending a short 3 months in Fukuoka, Japan soon. For now, please bear with me while I digest my most recent 5-day Chinese New Year getaway to Bali, Indonesia.

 

Bali 

The word brings to mind a land of lush tropical vegetation, exotic Balinese-Malay dance, architecture and food, bustling street markets swollen with vendors and customers alike, haggling over prices, amid touristy commercialism. That is if you stay in highly populated areas like Kuta and Ubud.

My traveling companions, Mum, UncleK and Aunt A, and I wanted a quieter trip, less talking, more seeing, hence we chose The Damai, a resort located at Lovina, the Northernmost tip of Bali for two nights, and later Eco Bali Stay, a nest of lodges hidden in the rice paddy hills 2 hours from Ubud.

Arriving at Denpasar airport, the old, rundown though still traditionally beautiful airport (there is a new airport under construction, to be ready late 2013/early 2014, so they say...), our driver from The Damai is already waiting to take us on the 3 hour ride to Lovina. The driver, who when asked told us to call him "Made", pronounced as Ma-Di (which we belatedly realised is a salutation of sorts for drivers in general after all our subsequent drivers offered their names as "Made"), brought us to lunch at a local fuss-free Nasi Padang stall. Nasi Padang is very similar to Singapore's mix vegetable rice, where you pair the rice with vegetable dishes laid out by the chef, except with Nasi Padang, all the dishes are placed on serving plates on your table in which you eat whatever you like, and the leftovers will go back to the big containers where they came from. Not the most hygienic way to go about eating, but its so damn (pardon the french) tasty.


The way to Lovina is long and winding, includes traversing across a mountain. You'd need a strong stomach for the ride but the view of the rolling valleys and the cool, misty breeze blowing across your face, especially at the top of the mountain, is well-worth the rough and tumble of the road.

 We arrived at The Damai in the evening at around 7pm, just enough time for a light dinner and then sleep.

The Damai is a beautiful, well-kept resort which boasts of its own vegetable garden and superb facilities. You can see, we were surrounded by greenery and could literally pluck any fruit we fancy with the help of the abundant supply of gardeners. The rooms were tastefully decorated a la Balinese, with all the modern comforts you can ask for, and kept rigorously clean. I was especially charmed by the outdoor bath and jacuzzi. It is such an experience to bathe amid ferns, creepers and calla lilies.

The next morning.

Breakfast starts with a plate of fresh fruits and a glass of fruit juice of your choice. I had papaya to help with my perpetual constipated condition.

Breakfast evolves from a intermediary home-made bread basket into a scrumptious Mie Goreng.

We basically enjoyed the facilities of the resort thoroughly (read: lazed around), trawling its gardens and visiting the spa pavilion for famous Balinese massages.

2nd morning: American style breakfast.

Japanese style breakfast.

I was mighty impressed by the presentation of the grilled mahi-mahi (local fish) over smoked green-tea.
Good-bye modern comforts!


Shortly after breakfast, the driver (another Made) from Eco Bali Stay came to pick us up. En route to Ubud, we visited the Singaraja local market, which is quite a pop-up event, hidden behind a row of shop houses. Our prized purchases: local palm sugar and Balinese rice!

A local sweet sold by the grandmotherly lady who kept smiling at us, the camera-wielding foreigners. The sweet comprises a sort of rice pancake drizzled liberally with palm sugar and dessicated coconut, with some sweet glutinous rice at the side.


Mum was strangely durian-crazy during the trip, ever since she spotted road-side durian vendors with her sharp eyes on one of our rides. You can imagine how happy she was to find durians in the market!

2.5 hours later, with a sore bum and a slightly upset stomach from the extremely bumpy ride, we were safely deposited at Eco Bali Stay.

Eco Bali Stay is a truly secluded (more so than The Damai) lodging situated deep inside the hills, at the heart of the paddy fields. We actually passed several village settlements before getting to Eco Bali Stay. John, the investor and mastermind behind these beautiful lodges, is very kind to open his place to the local village kids, who use the fields to practice silat, a traditional Malay dance-form.

We stayed at the Harvest lodge, the largest out of the six available, with two bathrooms and bedrooms. Our lodge offers this amazing view of the paddy fields, which is literally a stone's throw distance away. During the night, you could hear all sorts of living creatures, singing, creaking, tapping, adding their individual parts in harmony to the great orchestra of Mother nature. As a city girl, I wasn't quite used to the sounds, and was in fact in fear of a frog invasion from the loud croaking that was coming from all directions. But come second night, I found it rather enjoyable, just sitting at the living area listening, with a cup of hot tea and a book on my lap. Then you could slowly pick out the unique voices of these little singers of the night.

Alas! If only I could combine The Damai's rooms and facilities with Eco Bali Stay's ideal location, then it would have been the perfect trip. If you are determined to be pleased with the lodges at Eco Bali Stay, then you shouldn't have too high an expectation of its comfort and cleanliness. In fact, it is best not to have an expectation at all. Mum and I are still scratching at the "souvenirs" given by whatever bugs that deemed us tasty enough to have bitten us so thoroughly during our stay. haha, scratch away!


I guess the best part of Eco Bali Stay besides its superb scenic views, is the Mini's kitchen and restaurant. The kitchen uses fruits and vegetables harvested from its extensive gardens, and poultry from the outside village. You can tell everything is uber fresh from the taste and look of the dishes. I was definitely very happy with the food. :)

Bakso and Malay spiced chicken soup (I forgot the name of this dish).

Mini's chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
We spent our time trawling the grounds as usual.
Into the paddy fields.
Dinner: Nasi Campur

Breakfast: Balinese pancake. As it was written on the menu. But it tasted like a lighter version of french crepe, probably from the rice flour it uses. The nutty and very fragrant local palm sugar was heavenly!

Straight after breakfast, we attempted the approximately 10km long Red Trail, which brought us through the mountain passes surrounding Eco Bali Stay. 
Into the flora and fauna we go!

Armed with our hats, water bottles (kindly prepared by the kitchen girls), and camera...
we passed the curious inhabitants of the trail...

crossed bridges, scrambled across stone paths, and muddied our way through ditches...

and seen many spectacular sights that most people wouldn't even dream of seeing.

The last bit of the road leading back to our lodges was frankly physically exhausting. It was an uphill climb upon gravelly roads through the villages with the unforgiving afternoon sun beating down on our backs. I have not sweated like this in the longest time. I remembered thanking the gods for every little breeze that came our way.



Rest stop! Mum continued her quest for durian...
More durians!
I did not touch any. 
I cannot imagine eating durian, this pungent, sticky, creamy fruit on such a hot day. I was plenty grateful for a bottle of Aqua.

Lunch after a 3.5 hour hike was particularly satisfying. It was like my stomach finally recovered from the bumpy, upsetting ride the day before, and started growling. Finally.

We arranged for pak pak (grandfather) from the village to teach us basket-weaving.

I honestly still do not understand the intricacies of basket-weaving even after completely the lesson. But lots of smiling and nodding got me a pretty basket! (made mostly by pak pak, haha)

2nd Dinner: A very organic Bebek betutu. Roasted spiced duck.

Once again, Mini's awesome kitchen.

Must not forget Ash, the crazy dog who gnawed and slobbered all over my hands, must be the happiest dog I have ever seen. She is the only dog I have seen who shows every single one of her teeth when she smiles.

Good-bye Eco Bali Stay! I will miss you and your rice fields! But no itchy-scratchy please!
End.




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