Back in Australia - August 29th 2015

Now back in Australia after a good flight with Virgin from Bali. It is great to be staying with our daughter Sasha and Granddaughter Sophie. Spent first day back reinstating our Private Health cover in readiness for Erica’s knee surgery and other mundane things like getting car registration up to date. We are looking forward to catching up with all our friends over the next few months.

On reflection of our last 6 months of exploratory travel we both agree that we actually do not need t to choose a country in which to base ourselves until we are too old/unhealthy to travel constantly It is better for us to expend our income on more travel rather than rent somewhere.

After Erica’s surgery we intend to continue to explore the world!  Having only been to about 45 countries there are still at least that many more to visit and we still may not have enough time left on this earth to see them all so we must press on.

If we did have to choose a home base today we would choose Sri Lanka with no hesitation! Whilst in Australia we will put our blog on hold unless something exciting happens to us so until we head off on our next adventure this is Erica and David signing off.

Last day in Bali - August 24th 2015

Our 6 months sojourn is almost at an end and our visit to Australia about to begin. The first thing we have noticed is flying back to Australia on Australian airlines is about twice the cost per kilometre as we have been paying overseas. We notice in the paper today here that Australia is now officially the most expensive country in the world to live in. Looking forward to a few months of “poverty” in Australia before departing again for less expensive parts!

Pork spare ribs

Pork spare ribs

Just returned from a very tasty dinner at a restaurant nearby where we both had local curries and an iced coffee which including 15% taxes cost A$17.30. Last night we lashed out next door and Erica had Pork Spare ribs and I a Pork Curry with a glass of local wine each and it cost A$37.50 but it was ocean front and worth it.

The traffic outside is still horrendous and locals say the trucks are taking gravel and sand from Mt Agung to Denpasar and there numbers are increasing. Here they just dump sand on the footpath and pedestrians have to walk around it. We have noticed only foreigners walk here as all Balinese are on motor scooters!

Dinner spot

Dinner spot

Explored a failed unfinished resort next door that has stood still for about 5 years. It had struck financial problems and is reputed to be Chines/Singapore owned. It is for sale at the moment unfinished.

Hired some snorkelling gear for tomorrow in front of our bungalows. The ex-fisherman who supplied us spent a long time telling us how the increased cost of living has put so much pressure on these gentle Hindu inhabitants. He is 52 and his knees are worn out from carrying his boat ashore each day for years. A lovely gentle soul.

Our pool

Our pool

We have had another lazy day reading and sunbathing by the sea and are now sipping a glass of the local Hatten Rose. Life is good.

Candidasda - August 23rd 2015

We have just had a lazy day. Reading books we bought from a second hand bookshop nearby. Erica has been searching the Internet to see which restaurant we will grace this evening! Last night we bought a bottle of wine and some takeaway and ate on our wonderful terrace. Not sure what tomorrow brings. We may even strain ourselves and do nothing again!

It is nearly 6pm in Candidasda’s and I have just returned from an unsuccessful attempt to cross the road that runs past the Bungalows. The traffic is horrendous and unforgiving. At one stage after 5 minutes or so I managed to reach the middle but was trapped and only just managed to retreat to our side amidst aggressive tooting from motor scooters. There is no pedestrian crossing in this town! The aforementioned scenario does beg the question “Do they want any tourists or not?”

Erica's sunbathing spot

Erica's sunbathing spot

We have noticed that business is not booming in Candidasa and it is supposed to be a popular place with tourists looking for a more peaceful place to stay. It leads us to think that maybe the Balinese have forgotten about the poverty they lived with before tourism boosted their economy. East Bali especially Amed area was listed as Bali’s poorest area some time ago and Government programmes were instituted to assist the poor. Having said all that the staff at our Bungalows are exceptional and caring so it is not all bad here.

The reason that I was trying to cross the road was to get to the Bottle Shop to purchase some wine as the restaurant that Erica has picked for tonight charges double the bottle shop price and we decided to have a glass before dinner on the terrace and a couple after dinner as the Restaurant is next door to the Bungalows. We retiree/pensioner types have to watch our pennies. 

Have just returned from a “Hairy” but successful road crossing and have returned with wine. The practise of charging a 3% surcharge on Visa Card use leads me to think there is a large “Black economy” here. It is also the first place in Bali that we have been asked to pay for our accommodation up front. Maybe all these things contribute to a tourism slowdown for them.

I know I seem to be whinging but am just stating the facts as we see them.

Amed and Candidasa - August 22nd 2015

Another Mt Agung sunset

Another Mt Agung sunset

Yesterday we asked Sony about medical care in Amed. He told us that if you break a leg there is a man here (Not a Doctor) who will set it for you. Child birth is all done at home after taking a “Birthing Potion” and difficult births may end in death. If you have a heart attack you will probably die if living here. All things to consider when thinking about relocating here. The average age of tourist here is mid 20’s and they are almost without exception couples and French or German. They come here because it is inexpensive for a stunning destination and the great snorkelling and diving here. They all looked really fit so no Doctor her not be a matter of concern for them.

Forgot to mention the Village pig we saw yesterday. It was cute and lifted up one ear when we spoke to it and seemed to have no care about the Photo Bombing chook! We use “It” as we were sure it was a sow but on closer zoom examination of the pic in the beasties nether regions we are now unsure! Candidasa in the morning and more to discover. Our observations here are that “Tropical Lassitude” is the norm and that stress of any kind is not known on this coastline!

Our bungalow

Our bungalow

View from our bungalow

View from our bungalow

Just completed totalling cost of 5 nights stay here at Geringsing Bungalow. Room was A$37 a night. We took two tours at A$40 each. Including all food and drinks (Bintang with dinners) the total cost of our stay was A$70 per night. Indeed affordable for an Aussie Retiree/ pensioner couple to while away some time on the beach! Accommodation back off the beach is even cheaper from about A$25 a night with sea views.

Had fabulous Banana Pancakes with honey for breakfast beside the Bali Sea. We will miss this stunning spot. Took our last lingering look at mighty Mount Agung towering above us. A sight we will never forget.

Set off from Amed and drove through Amlapura. It is a large town with nothing of note other than its markets. Our driver stopped at The Water Palace further along the Candidasa road. It was a remarkable site. Ponds everywhere with giant fish all over 45cm long. It almost seemed like a “Folly” with grotesque gargoyles spouting water with one large fountain in the centre. There was one pond with giant waterlilies that took Erica’s fancy. It was a very attractive stop off.

Fountain and fish

Fountain and fish

Water lilies at the Water Palace

Water lilies at the Water Palace

Arrived at our Bungalow and it is great. We are one back from the ocean and it is a freestanding stone building. It is large and is a bit like a small house with air-conditioning, wifi, king size bed and close to a bottle shop!  All the necessities of life!

Have just been for a long walk along the street behind the ocean and there are lots of shops, cafes, and three super markets so it should be an enjoyable 5 days before our Australian trip starts. The traffic is terrible so very happy that we are away from the road.

The cost here is A$50 a night (Geringsing Bungalow) and I have to say “The Booking Queen” has done it again. 

The Old Bali life lives on! August 21st 2015

I have at last managed to gain some weight! Not sure if it is living under the auspices of the Sacred Mount Agung that has helped or the many chocolate bars and Magnum ice creams that I have been assiduously consuming.

Village house

Village house

We both had a bad night’s sleep as our host has seen fit to provide us with brand new pillows. The problem is they are not your “Normal” pillow. They closely resemble an overstuffed bean bag and are as tight as a drum! Erica remarked “It is like sitting up in a hospital bed” as the height of the said pillows is over double that of a normal one. I awoke with a very kinked and stiff neck and Erica never awoke as she never got to sleep! At around 5am I got the bright idea to roll up four towels into a pillow like form for Erica and she is now sleeping like a baby.

Sony is going to drive us along the coast road to the east this morning, reputed to be one of the best scenic roads in Bali. The Lombok Island Volcanos should be visible across The Lombok Strait. Watched fishermen carry their boat ashore as Mt Agung loomed overhead this morning.

Yesterday we walked behind the tourist area to a village at the foot of the mountains. It was a moment frozen in time just as they have lived for hundreds of years. The cattle were all tethered and fed long cut dry grass from the surrounding hillsides. These are fattened and then sold for income. The land is desolate and dry and most dwellings very primitive. There was no sign of any crops being grown other than some weedy tapioca. There were a couple of little “Shops” selling the necessities of life and what appeared to be a communal gathering area under some large trees. Amazing that all this is just behind the homestays on the beach. We now understand what Sony has been telling us about poverty in the villages behind us.

Erica at last found some snake fruit to buy. She has so far only consumed one so I think they may not be a gourmet’s delight!

Sony picked us up at 11am and we journeyed east along the winding and narrow coast road to Alas and then on to Kusambi which is close to the most Easterly Point of Bali. The road resembles the Amalfi Coast Corniche Road in Southern Italy except for the road surface and strength of road barriers! The views were breathtaking as we passed fishing village after fishing village. Sony explained these were active fishing villages as there is more fish in the Lombok Straight. Behind these villages on the arid slopes they have terraced land with volcanic rocks to enable them to grow corn, peanuts and long beans in the 6 months wet season. Today the landscape up the mountain side looked desolate.

The road climbs up from the sea above these villages and is quite dangerous. We rarely exceeded 15KMPH on this drive. As we returned we saw hundreds of school children walking back to a village from school. Later we struck many more on motor scooters even blocking the road as there are no school buses here. Children cram into the back of small trucks if they have no motor scooter. Our most interesting observation was that the children were smiling and looked very happy.

Sony told us that his life was carefree and happy when he was a fisherman. It is now complicated by running two homestays and catering for the needs of the occupants. He clearly still pines for the simple life that he once had.  As we departed he showed us the Tamarind Seed Pods his Grandmother is drying on the beach. Each evening she comes out with some sticks and breaks them open to get the seed out before saving the Tamarind paste. The Old Bali life lives on!

Hospitals and healthcare - August 20th 2015

Busy morning sunbathing

Busy morning sunbathing

Last night we tried the food at Amed Resto which gets good reviews. We have to say the food was average. Both had squid with different sauces but was pretty basic with vegies and rice. The food so far in Bali has had the odd high moment but basically is nothing to write home about. Its saving grace is that it is inexpensive!

A word on Hospitals and healthcare. The good hospitals are in Denpasar about two and a half hours drive from here. There is a Medical Centre servicing most of East Bali but it is an hour or so drive away. Living here although appearing idyllic could have a few draw backs as would most of Bali outside of the Denpasar area. In the hills behind Amed there is a lot of poverty and while we have been staying here a lady from Australia who organises bags of second hand clothing for the villages arrived to make a delivery.

The women here do most of the heavy work including carrying buckets of rocks on their heads to construction sites. All shovelling of large heaps of sand and gravel we have noticed is always done by groups of women. The large plastic containers of fish from the boats are carried ashore on women’s heads. My words are not meant as criticism but just our observations.

One could easily live in Bali in places like The Sideman Valley or around the Amed region but you would need to be aware of some of the drawbacks of this apparent paradise.

We spoke to Sony about the dead coral on the shallow reefs off Amed and he told us that they used to fish with dynamite years ago and that knocked a lot of coral out. Also weather conditions in 1988 caused a lot of coral bleaching.

Have had a lazy day today with breakfast, cups of black tea and sunning ourselves on the empty beach. By 11am the black sand had reached an un-walkable bare-foot heat. Sonny told us that in November if the wet season is late the beach actually starts to smoke! Not sure if he was pulling our legs or not! He also said the daytime temperature then hovers around 45C and the bungalows are unbearably hot. Maybe not the time to visit here.

Enjoying every moment of our stay here. Sonny is going to take us for a scenic drive around the area tomorrow and we depart for Candidasa on the beach on Saturday morning.

We have been hatching plans for our next trip after the “repairs” in Australia. Belize and Central America are firming as favourites as we have already traversed most of South East Asia and the Indian Sub-continent. Most of the Central American countries are inexpensive to travel in and visas are no problems. Our lust for New Horizons goes on unabated! 

Traditional fishing boat - August 19th 2015

Dinner last night was the grilled Mackerel. Sonny had grilled it over a wood fired grill and the flavour had infused the fish. It was teamed with his wife’s sautéed vegetables and local steamed rice. It was eaten at our table in front of the bungalows with the Bali Sea stretching out before us which we were sure added to the taste!

The sunset over Mt Agung again last evening was stunning. I was up before dawn this morning to catch the sunrise again. My reward this morning was rich. The sun rose over The Bali Sea like a golden ball and at times appeared to be floating on the water. The orange ball of the sun, the colours of the sky and the fisherman’s boats heading out to sea gave me an experience like none before. It was indeed a most memorable and beautiful sunrise! I must apologise in advance for so many sunset and sunrise pics but they are such exceptional opportunities that I cannot stop myself from taking them.

A little sunbathing on the beach filled the morning and Erica has booked a fisherman to take us out in his boat this afternoon. Sonny has supplied some snorkelling gear to take and has instructed the fisherman to come back “Under Sail” so we are assured of a great afternoon.

Just returned from trip in traditional fishing boat to a snorkelling site. We left well prepared and went aboard the beached boat for the trip to the site. Magnificent view of the shore as we motored east along the beaches. On arrival we donned our flippers and snorkels and bravely leapt overboard with a couple of splashes!  The reef where we were was mainly dead but we saw many magnificent looking fish from deep blue to yellow and black in colour. After an hour or so we swam back to our boat.

This is where the problem started! Getting off was easy but for a couple of oldies getting aboard again seemed to be an impossibility? After several valiant attempts that almost ended in a mounting of the steed we flopped back into the briny. Luckily no pics of these efforts were taken as we did not present at our best! Fortunately for us our captain solicited aid from a nearby boat in the form of a short wooden ladder which once affixed to the side of our boat gave us a usable point of entry. Much laughter was had by us and the people on the other boat as we scrambled aboard.

Safely aboard the captain set the sails for a leisurely trip back at the whim of the breezes. At time the boat got up to some very fast speeds with the sail, rather like a spinnaker held by two bits of bamboo, filled to capacity. All in all a great afternoon.

Mt Agung - August 18th 2015

Last night we watched the sun set over the beach. The crescent moon was visible above the mighty Mt Agung and all in all it was a magical experience. We had dinner in front of the bungalows looking out over the ocean as the light dimmed. Hard to think of a more romantic setting in the world!

Awoke this morning at around 6am and went out onto to the beach to witness the sunrise. Another incredible experience to see the colour in the east over the black beach and the ocean and to the west see the first light strike the top of Mt Agung! The world is a remarkable place.

Mt Agung is a still active stratovolcano over 3000 metres high. It puffs smoke and ash from time to time. It last erupted in 1963 killing about 1400 people. The volcanic soil surrounding it and the rain that it draws in have been the source of sustenance for the surrounding Balinese since time immemorial. It is indeed one of the most striking landmarks we have seen especially when viewed from here as it rises directly from the ocean.

Now we can sample breakfast on the beach. After a delicious breakfast we walked west along the beach. We passed many homestays and resorts, mainly devoted to diving pursuits. Eventually we reached an area that looked like we imagine the “Old Amed” looked like. There were less tourist places and much more open space along the beach. The land was lower in this area and large sea walls were the norm. Some that we saw had been undermined already.

Salt in hollowed palm logs

Salt in hollowed palm logs

Passed a salt production facility. Very primitive in that sea water is pumped into earthen evaporation ponds. After some evaporation has taken place the “mud slurry” is placed in conical bamboo containers with a hole in the bottom and the more highly concentrated salt water is pushed through along a drain into a small holding tank. It is the bucketed into hollowed out half coconut palm logs until finally all the water evaporates and it is scooped out and packaged for sale. I had some on my scrambled eggs for breakfast and it does have a unique flavour.

Sonny returns with dinner

Sonny returns with dinner

On arrival back at The Volcano Beach Bungalows Sonny, the owner came over for a chat. It turns out he was originally a fisherman for 20 years, going out each morning before dawn and returning at dusk with his catch of Mackerel. He fished as most do here with a hook and line system. He told us that in recent years large fishing trawlers from other countries have depleted the fish stock to the extent that more than half the fishing fleet is rotting on the beach. He gave up some years ago and cut his boat in half to make the wardrobes in his two rental bungalows. Sonny borrowed money from the bank to build his bungalows and small café on the beach to provide income. His wife and daughter run the café and bungalows and he guides and drives tourists. He told us he still yearns for the fishing life and goes to the beach every day at dawn as he did for years. I spotted him there this morning before the sun rose.

We watched a pair of fishing boats pull up on our beach. One had no catch at all but the second one had fresh mackerel. Sonny hot footed it down to the boat and came back smiling bearing about a dozen mackerels in a bunch. He is going to give us fresh grilled mackerel for dinner tonight.   

We have plan to walk through his old village behind the tourist strip later today.

A place of great natural beauty - August 17th 2015

Sweet potato desert

Sweet potato desert

Yesterday Wayan made a sweet potato salad for us that was just steamed sweet potato from his mother’s garden, a little salt and freshly grated coconut. It was sensational! He followed it with a sweet potato desert dish that was mashed sweet potato with a cube of cream cheese in the centre. It was formed into four patties, each one coated with breadcrumbs, pan-fried until golden brown and served with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Hard to believe anything could taste so good.

For dinner Erica had spiced local chicken cooked in banana leaves with rice. Another culinary gem. I partook of his Chicken Fried rice which though its sounds a little pedestrian I can assure you it was not. The spicy chilli flavour was as good as it gets. Another winner for Chef Wayan!

Off this morning to 5 days on Amed beach overlooked by Mt Agung. Another new adventure and we are champing at the bit!

A great drive with a great driver/guide to The Volcanic Beach Bungalows right on the black sand beach. Drive was stunning passing even more beautiful rice paddies with Mt Agung towering over them. Passed through a Snake Fruit plantation on the way. We had seen the fruit in the Klungkung market but were unaware it was fruit of a very prickly palms

Mt Agung beyond rice paddies

Mt Agung beyond rice paddies

Black sand beach

Black sand beach

View from where I sit

View from where I sit

Amed is a region really, although it does have a town centre. Our Bungalow is sited such that as we sit where I am writing this blog only the black sand beach separates me from the Bali Sea to the North. To the West over the beach and sea looms the mighty Mt Agung. Either side of us on the beach are many fishing boats ready to put to sea. Amed was, and still is primarily a fishing village as much of Bali’s coastal villages were before rampant tourism.

We plan to relax for the rest of today on the beach and maybe go for a walk later. This is a place of great natural beauty like we have not seen before.

Bright City Lights - August 16th 2015

Our last day in Sidemen at the wonderful Pondok Uma Ayu. We will certainly miss it and our host/chef Wayan who has cared for us so well!

Not doing anything much today just relaxing (as my leg is still sore after my misadventure yesterday and Erica’s joints got a big work out and need rest). It is giving us time to reflect on our stay in this valley of vistas.

I have to point out here that it is not all a “Bed of Roses” for the farming inhabitants. In the early days before motor scooters, mobile phones and the need for an education life moved at an even slower pace here. People had little needs other than for food and shelter as they were basically subsistence farmers. Their children stayed with them and continued the farming as they grew too old to work the fields. Their strong Hindu faith fortified them and they lived a tranquil peaceful life.

Today the pressures of the modern world have started to change the old pattern of life here. Talking to the local farmers we find that most couples now have only two children and that many of them now go to the cities for tourist related jobs leaving the older and weaker to tend the farms. The need for TV, mobile phones, expensive Education and healthcare (all new costs) have driven small area farmers to take tourist related jobs to subsidise their farm incomes that cannot support these extra expenses. The still embryonic tourism industry in this valley does provide, guiding, driving, and homestay jobs for many but we can see that rampant tourism as witnessed in Ubud could destroy completely their way of life.

The drift by young people and failing farmers to the cities is not a new phenomenon as it is well documented if my memory serves me right in Gibbon’s Volumes on The Roman Empire or a similar reputable tome. One such quote that I clearly remember from my early 20’s laments “The movement of farmers and their children from their farming villages to large towns where they are residing in up to four storey buildings”. The only difference today is the height of the buildings they move to and the numbers of children due to modern contraception.

This drift to cities is destroying rural life all over Italy and France and appears to be unstoppable. As the old lyric goes “How can you keep them down on the farm once they have seen Paris? Both Erica and my siblings although bought up in the country moved to the bright city lights to improve our lots.

Having said all that it is our utmost hope that this valley, so rich in culture and strong in beliefs does somehow survive much as we have experienced it this week. The Sacred Mount Agung has given life and prosperity to so many Balinese here that we cannot imagine its power allowing it all to be taken away.

My pics today are more of the wonderful vistas from yesterday that are burned into our memories forever. How could we be so lucky to have spent time here! 

Breathtakingly Beautiful Landscape - August 15th 2015

Worlds best Omelette.jpg

Our day began sharing one of Chef Wayan’s fabulous vegetable omelettes. Today was our day to go on a guided tour of the Sidemen Valley rice paddies. The sun was shining and a perfect day for our walk.

Our Guide Gusti Tanggi met us and we walked down the road across the fallen bridge, through the village we had explored earlier and then we turned off into the rice paddies. The experience is impossible to describe with words but I will attempt to.  The track that we took to commence with was a concrete edge of a large water channel that gradually rose upwards towards the base of the mountain that cradled the area. The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful! We passed young rice, baby rice seedlings, long beans, sweet potato, peanuts, corn, tapioca and offering flowers.

The real star was the vista of endless terraces dotted with day huts usually with a cow inside. The cows are fed cut vegetation and their droppings is then used to fertilise the rice. The farms are all quite small and this form of agriculture is very intense and requires a lot of manual labour.

We walked along terrace banks, some no wider than our feet, for over two hours all the time partaking of some of the most magnificent vistas you could imagine.  The sighting of a flock of ducks on a terrace was exactly what Erica had wanted to see. Eventually we reached a tiny village and were back on a road. A suspension bridge enabled us to recross the pristine river below and after another 20 minute or so we arrived at the site of the “Once in Fifty Years” ancestor ceremony that has been going on all week.

Today was the last day and the people had already departed to the sea to let free the souls of their ancestors. The Hindu people here cremate their dead as they believe they do not own the land and have no right to be on it when they are dead. They generally use an open air cremation technique and this area adjoins a special Cremation Temple into which dead persons can be taken. This takes care of the physical but the soul according to them is not released until the ancestors have held the week long ceremony. At this ceremony the culmination comes with the cremation of two effigies, one for women and one for men. This had happened last night amid much feasting in the most elaborate temporary structures made especially for this ceremony.

We were able to enter as the festival was over and marvelled at the structures. We rested a while there and were given water by the remaining staff who had been manning a giant kitchen. Thinking the walk was almost over we headed off again behind Tanggi our guide.

Well the most difficult part was left until last as we traversed through many narrow paths with precipitous drops until we reached his farm. He proudly showed us some fighting cock chickens he was rearing and explained that his long bean crop had failed this year as it was too dry and the previous Chilli crop had failed because it was too wet. We tasted some of the remaining beans and they were yummy.

Now we headed off cross country to our bungalow. The terrain became much more difficult and Tanggi called out warnings about “fall holes” and thin and slippery surfaces every minute or so. It was one of these “slippery” calls that bought me undone. Stepping across the slippery section on the edge of the water channel I slid sideways into it! Erica and Tanggi rushed to my aid and were both relieved to find that bar a graze and a twisted knee I had survived alive! I was quickly on my feet again and we continued albeit with Erica giving many backward glances when we reached difficult sections.  

Erica Gingerly Mounts the Log.jpg

Just when we thought we had mastered this sort of terrain we came to a deep and wide channel with the only realistic option of crossing for us old folks being a skinny gnarly log sloping from one side to the other! There was no choice and although the fear of slipping and falling was great I with assistance from Tanggi negotiated a shaky crossing. Erica was next as her knees can just give way on her at times I decided to let Tanggi do the honours. I stood back and snapped some pics! She made it with flying colours and we continued for about another 20 minutes on increasingly thinner rice terrace walls until we arrived at The Village Temple undergoing renovation. It was originally surrounded by houses but when Mt Agung last erupted the villagers fled from the area and it is now all rice paddies.

After a wonderful three hour walk we arrived home. It was the most remarkable and memorable experience to have walked amongst a form of agriculture than has been going on unchanged for thousands of years and it gave us an even greater understanding of rural Balinese life.    

There is a certain synchronicity of life and it is not much better illustrated than by this. As we passed on this walk below The Villa Idanna, Tanggi mentioned it and told us he does massages there all the time. We mentioned our friend had stayed there about 2 years ago and on enquiring his name Tanggi exclaimed “Mr Graham”. It turns out he had showed Graham his farm and given him massages during his stay. It truly is a small world! 

Klungkung - August 14th 2015

Forgot to mention yesterday our tasty dinner the night before. I had Chicken Pad Thai and Erica Fried Noodles with Chicken Vegetables and an Egg. Hard to believe these two dishes cost us A$8. Our host had told us yesterday that he had a special Sidemen duck dish available last night for two. We promptly ordered it as we love duck! About 5pm yesterday a man arrived carrying the said duck feathers and all by its neck and delivered it to the kitchen. That’s what I call fresh! I watched him depart with money in his hand and assumed it was our dinner.

Our Duck.jpg

Am sitting in the pavilion having a cup of tea provide by Wayan our perfect host. He is without a doubt the best host we have encountered anywhere. He is graceful, charming and obliging. Nothing is too much trouble for him. He runs the Uma Ayu, greeting all the guests and carrying their bags to their cottages. He organise tours and transport and above all he is the chef cooking marvellous food freshly from an extensive menu. It turns out he has trained in a Bali city hotel. We are blessed to have him care for us in this tranquil place.

Last night the fresh duck was delicious. We devoured it in no time. It had been steamed and the barbequed which gave it a great flavour. It was served with a fabulous finely chopped Jack Fruit salad with lime juice and other spices. The pictures tell it all.

Today we have to travel to Klungkung the nearest place with a Visa compatible ATM as everything in Sidemen is cash based as is our next destination. Our driver was late due to a Marching Competition for schools blocking some streets so he sent another driver who spoke excellent English. We shared the vehicle with 4 French people who were going on to Ubud. Soon after leaving Sidemen we came upon halted traffic due to a truck accident. Our local driver knew another way and we had a delightful detour through Bali countryside seldom seen by tourists.  The Driver dropped us off at the ATM in the centre of Klungkung and told us to meet him at the same spot in two and a half hours on his return from Ubud.

We withdrew the required cash and wandered up and down the main street which was just like most country towns with hardware, phone shops, fabric and all the other prerequisites of life. We spotted a Pharmacy and decided to try our hand at buying some cold and Flu Tablets. After many hand movements including clutching our noses and miming coughing we eventually got some Paracetamol and Pseudoephedrine tablets which we hope will help relieve our symptoms.

Walking through the large local market Erica spotted some mandarins and just had to buy some. It was a busy place and we spotted a lady making temple Offerings from brightly coloured flowers. One of our other missions here was to buy some books to read at Amed but we were to be disappointed as several locals we asked told us there is no book shop in Klungkung. Later we realised that if there was they would all have been in Indonesian and no use to us!

Next we entered small convenience type store as we were told by locals there is no large supermarket in Klungkung. Our plan here was to buy some laundry detergent, shampoo, water and a few snacks. Erica struck the first problem while asking a young assistant if the product she had in her hand was for washing clothes. He must have misinterpreted her miming as he became very coy and the started laughing. (Maybe it was here over zealous body rubbing mime.) Another female assistant was consulted and eventually a third person helped out and we discovered it was laundry detergent!

We now had three helpers as we shopped and our next difficulty arose when we spotted what looked like sliced and fried Broad beans that we had enjoyed in Malaysia. Attempting to ask non English speaking persons if they were indeed broad beans was getting us nowhere so Erica suggested drawing a broad bean and showing it to them. Well I have never excelled at drawing but I made an attempt and showed it to the three of them who promptly burst into uncontrollable laughter whilst making comments to each other. This went on for quite a while and not being sure what was so funny Erica and I checked my drawing. To our surprise my bean sketch looked for all the world like a flaccid male member! I quickly shoved it in my pocket and one of the young men eventually showed us packet of broad beans so now we were sure and made the purchase. They were still all smiling as we left the store.

Now we sat down to wait for the driver eating ice creams outside a little shop. Next thing the place was overrun by shouting Policemen of many different types calling out to clear the area. A fire had started on the main street just where we were to meet our driver and all streets were locked down with barricades in no time at all. The fire Trucks arrived and it turns out the smoke was from an electrical fire in a kitchen near the market. Our Driver as a result was delayed almost an hour. He explained that he could not get near us as the Police treat all such incidents as if a terrorist attack is underway after their Bali Bombing experiences and lock down all access roads around the site. We had wondered why the Police were shouting instructions so loudly in an almost panicked manner and that explained it all. We have never seen so many Policemen in the one spot so they were doing a good job if the problem had been something worse.

Our driver eventually found us and we took long walk to where he had parked. It was still all in all a very amusing and interesting day in Klungkung. Back in the peaceful Sidemen Valley with just the sound of rushing water from the river and all is well in our world.

Sidemen Valley - August 13th 2015

Awoke to more morning rain. The valley again shrouded in clouds and looking stunning.

An interesting fact is the cost of living like this. Did a calculation last night and to stay here eating 3 meals a day and a Bintang or two costs about A$150 a week less than the current Australian Government aged pension for a couple! That means one could live here indefinitely and still have spending money left over. I am not suggesting that we would as there are too many other places to explore but it is interesting how far your money goes here.

Set off with our driver to explore the Sidemen Valley. Drove towards Selat along a winding road surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Paused at Iseh to view the many rice terraces which cover this fertile valley. Passed many Chilli farms with women picking the last of the crop before the rice is planted. Smoke has been rising in the valley each day as they burn the old Chilli plants in heaps after pulling them out. We are witnessing a way of life that has basically remained unchanged for centuries.

Saw many roads covered in rice drying and the farmers had no problem with us driving over them slowly.

Turning off at Muncan we headed south towards Angkan Gunung. It is a small village that specialises in growing and drying cloves. We found a street devoted to drying them and we learnt from the farmer that he picks them by hand by climbing the trees and it takes up to 5 days in the sun on the road before they go brown and look like the ones we buy in the supermarket. Women were tending them with wooden rakes, turning them over to make sure they dry evenly. The air was filled with a heady aroma of cloves!

Temple of Puri Bukit

Temple of Puri Bukit

Above the village of Sangkan Gunung, lies the mystical Temple of Puri Bukit. We can see it from our cottage window. Erica decided to wait below on account of her knees and the driver and I headed up. I am not sure of the number of steps but it was the most I had ever climbed! Reaching the top I donned a sari and entered the Puri Bukit Temple alone. This was a wonderful experience as the site is unrivalled looking North to The Sacred Mount Agung and to the south east to the sea. It also has vistas over the Sideman Valley including one over the area where we are living. Probably one of the best Temple sites I have experienced and well worth the climb.

Now we headed down towards Klungan that we had visited on foot over the broken bridge. Stopped to take a pic of Sidemen Village in the distance. We then stumbled on The Villa Idanna the haunt of the rich and famous including our great friend Graham from Coorabell in the Byron Bay Hinterland who has graced its halls on more than one occasion! Erica posed outside, as close as we will ever get to it!

On returning to our cottage the driver spotted his 7 year old daughter walking back from dancing at the Festival taking place in Sidemen this week. The girls looked beautiful in their golden attire as we passed them.

Sitting in the pavilion writing this after a wonderful drive. Life does not get much better than this.

Living in the present - August 12th 2015

Yummy food again in the pavilion last night especially the spring rolls which we both declared were the best we had ever eaten. Awoke to another rainy morning and we returned to the pavilion for a great breakfast. The omelette that I had was full of vegetables and was delicious. Erica tasted it and decided she would have one tomorrow. It was so good I had eaten it before I remembered to take a pic!

The Sidemen valley is a good place to ponder life. I think the current Dali Lama summed it up well when asked what surprised him most about humanity he answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he is so anxious about his future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived”. Indeed a very wise man.

In this valley the people go about there every day lives “Living in the present” and this may well be why they seem content with their simple and rewarding way of life. Again I keep asking myself the question “How far has mankind progressed?”

We live in a world where we are stressed almost every single moment. In the early days of mankind there was stress but only in short sharp bursts with much non stressful time to recover. The classic example that I like to use is when ancient man lived in high up shelf caves above the dangers of the valley below he was safe. We have explored such caves in France and seen the evidence of their occupation and marvelled at the way early mankind was insulated by them from the danger below.

When he had to leave the safety of the cave to hunt he was under extreme stress avoiding the wild animals that could easily kill him.  Eventually he would kill an animal and take it back to the cave to eat. He responded to this stress as his hormones kicked in by being super alert, strong, and able to hunt well and survive. On returning to the cave he could then recoup with no stress for a long period before he needed to hunt and encounter stress again.

My point in all this is that mankind was designed to get great benefits from stress in small doses but not to be stressed continually as we are in the modern city life. This “Over Stress” is I believe responsible for much of the problems of modern society, the drugs, the drinking, the crime and domestic violence so common today.

Enough philosophising! Back to this beautiful valley.

We watched a staff member cutting the grass next to our cottage this morning with a sickle. He then dug the area up with a pair of hoe’s, one forked and one normal and proceeded to plant many plant cutting to form a new garden. He has the enjoyment of achievement and being creative without the stress of our city way of life.

Decided to walk down to the Tukad Yeh Unda River that flows through the valley. As we started our downhill walk we struck a bike load of beans ready for market. The road descended quite steeply and we passed a great sign outside a retreat that captured in words what this valley is all about. A little further along a bamboo barrier heralded a problem with the bridge. It was a real problem as a fully loaded gravel truck had tried to cross with disastrous results, plummeting to the river below taking the bridge with it. The enterprising local people not to be deterred have rigged up a side way to get onto it and life goes on including motorbikes crossing the wrecked structure. We walked across no problems although it did look to be only hanging by a thread! Everyone is using it as if it was still in its rightful place! The river was a stunner filled with large volcanic boulders and crystal clear.

 Now we were in a little village at the foot of a valley escarpment. Saw school children leaving the village school who smiled and said hello, women carrying bags of rice on their heads, workers in the field’s rice paddies and the village itself consisting of humble dwellings and family compounds. All the local people smiled when we said hello and we felt most welcome in their village.

We both have picked up our first cold/flu and think we got it on the Air Asia Flight to Bali as many Chinese were coughing and spluttering as we now are. Decided to spend the rest of today before our next wonderful dinner resting and reading a book.

Balinese rural life - August 11th 2015

Awoke early this morning to the sound of heavy rain. It continued for about 3 hours and when we stepped outside the valley was shrouded in mist much like the Wilsons Creek Valley that we had lived in for 11 years. A truly beautiful sight. Rain was still falling as we headed of for breakfast from the quaintly worded menu in the pavilion.

Last night we both had the Indonesian Barbeque, I the fish and Erica the chicken. Flavours were delicious. As we lay in bed this morning we were fascinated by the ceiling structure which is timber pieces supporting a bamboo matting. Very Balinese.

We decided to walk into Sidemen after breakfast. On the way we spotted a farmer digging red sweet potatoes and later saw a market stall with a display of still mud coated ones. Everywhere in the valley farmers were working. One man with a hoe was directing the water into his rice paddies. The vistas were the thing of Coffee Table Books! An amazing curved terrace caught our eye with the rice seedling behind it a bright green and ready to plant soon.

Reaching the village of Sidemen which is essentially old style rural Bali we were horrified at the large number of trucks trundling down the main street. They are carrying volcanic sand and rocks from a quarry near Mt Agung to the rest of Bali and they rush through in convoys of at least six at a time. The side of road walking pastime here is not for the faint hearted! In the main street was a rock sawmill cutting up black volcanic rock into pavers and temple ornamentation.

Without the trucks the village would be charming having just a series of general stores rather than a supermarket. Rural village life here I suspect is virtually unchanged by the modern world. They do however have one ATM machine.

Saw many people working on a large construction site and many women were doing the hard work such as shovelling sand into a cement mixer. They seemed to wearing pink maybe to identify themselves as women.

The sun is out this afternoon and we spotted Mt Agung looming over the region behind us. The locals surrounding Uma Ayu are out with sickles and scythes cutting grass away from channels, harvesting greens and picking up sticks for firewood. The roosters are crowing and we feel immersed in Balinese rural life. Just what we wanted. 

Pondok Uma Ayu Sidemen - August 10th 2015

Great Grandmother at Dewi Antara

Great Grandmother at Dewi Antara

Finally got a nice pic of Great Grandmother at Dewi Antara. We both have to say we can thoroughly recommend a stay here for anyone wishing to immerse themselves in Balinese family culture. It has been a very enjoyable experience and raises a lot of questions about the western lifestyle!

Our driver awaits and we are off to new adventures and discoveries! Life is good.

After an interesting 2 hour drive we arrived at Pondok Uma Ayu Sidemen.  Set in the Sidemen valley near the river this is a new place that has only been open a few months. The setting is superb, just three separate cottages of immense charm set amongst an old rice terrace farm. We were welcomed by the most delightful young man.

Dining pavilion

Dining pavilion

We sat in the dining pavilion over one of the ponds sipping a welcome watermelon and banana drink while he explained that he cooks dinner for us. He explained that we should order now so he could get the fresh ingredients for tonight. Ordered Ikan Bakar (Indonesian BBQ) with fish and one with chicken served with special Balinese sauce, vegetables and steamed rice. I don’t think we will be eating anywhere else on our seven days here! We are able to eat in the pavilion or on our terrace if we so choose. The same applies for breakfast that has four different menus.

Our cottage is typical Balinese style with high bamboo constructed roof open at the eaves. The breezes flow through the building through four windows that seem to disappear on opening. The bed is made from large bamboo and has a mozzy net over it. The outdoor bathroom is to die for with the shower completely outside enclosed by a courtyard. This is our kind of place as it reeks of peace and tranquillity after the frenetic Ubud. “The Booking Queen” has done it again! Seven days here will not be hard to take!

Last day in Ubud - August 9th 2015

Our last day in Ubud. We went for our usual 3 hour walk amongst the hordes of tourist and have to say that one of our lasting impressions of Ubud is the pollution and noise from the traffic. Stood at the side of Monkey Forest road near the Palace for a while and observed that 95% of the traffic was tourist transfer vehicles. The thousands of motor scooters make walking anywhere difficult including the walking street that hosts the market! It seems to us that years of tourism has left some of the locals a tad jaded and not as courteous as they could be when pushing through pedestrians with their scooters.

Having got that of my chest I can say that we have enjoyed our stay here. Off in the morning to the Sidemen Valley at the foot of Mount Agung. “The Booking Queen” spent hours this morning finalising our accommodation up till we depart for our Australian trip. It seems that the many flight cancellations due to the Volcanic ash Cloud at Denpasar has resulted in some cancellations and it has opened up more choice of where to stay.

We are booked a week in Sidemen at Pondok Uma Ayu which is situated among rice paddies with views of Mount Agung. From there we head to the Amed area on the East coast for 5 days at Volcano Beach Bungalows. The Bungalow is on the volcanic pebble beach and has stunning views of Mt Agung and the ocean. From there we head to Candidasa to be nearer the airport and are staying at Bungalow Geringsing again right on the beach. Surprisingly we are doing all this at retiree/pensioner prices and the only drawback is the cold shower at Volcano Beach!

We hope the Volcanic ash does not disrupt tourism here further as so many of these gentle folk depend on it for a living.

An interesting observation here has been the ramp in the middle of the entry steps to all family compounds. Snapped a great pic of our host leaving on his motorbike which is the reason they are there. Because of the critical traffic/parking problems he keeps his car 2 km away and when needed he rides his motorbike to pick it up. Also took a pic of his Dad cooling his stomach on the street outside the compound “Bali Style”

It has been the most interesting 11 days in this compound observing their family life. We learnt only yesterday that the great grandfather is living here also but bedridden. Until recently the two daughters lived here too but when they married they had to move to their husband’s family compound.  Somehow they seem to live in harmony. 

The Four Seasons Ubud Resort - August 8th 2015

Yesterday Flights in and out of Bali from Australia were cancelled and the same today as the Volcanic Ash cloud drifts over Denpasar. The eruption seems endless and it is a bit spooky to think that all that heat is just below the surface here. We are hopeful that the long dormant Mt Agung does not decide to spring to life whilst we are beneath its slopes for a week from Monday!

Quiet day planned as Erica’s knees are suffering from busy day yesterday. We think they will make the distance to the “Repair Shop” back in Australia. She has an appointment with “The Mechanic” for assessment on the 7th September!

I have had trouble trying to regain weight and this morning Erica suggested to peals of laughter that to save money on our next trip she would be able to take me in her bag as “Carry-on Luggage”! Must eat more fattening foods.

The rest of today has been about The Four Seasons Ubud Resort. As I mentioned in an earlier Blog our great friend Zuzee from Coorabell had given us “The good oil” on this place.  Well Zuzee was right what an exceptional place in such a wonderful position! Being of “Slender means” we decided after a little research by The Booking Queen to partake of their afternoon tea that had great reports on the internet reviews.

We took the Dewi Antara son’s Taxi to the resort. On arrival he drove us through security (who checked under our car with mirrors on sticks for anything untoward) down to the entrance below. We ventured across the bridge to the main resort and down the staircase to the Jati Bar where afternoon tea is served. Taking a seat with the breathtaking view we ordered.

Afternoon Tea Selection.jpg

When Afternoon tea arrived it consisted of a three tiered stand with Baked Pandanus and raisin Scones with Strawberry jam and cream, assorted fresh fruit tartlets with rum pastry crème, lemon and passion fruit pies, smoked salmon bagels, chicken breast sandwiches with truffle mayonnaise and a chocolate mousse with white chocolate shard. Accompanying this generous repast were two pots of black tea. We were in heaven as it was all so tasty and freshly prepared. There were two of each item so there was no need to fight over who got what! Without doubt one of life’s great experiences.

Cost was US$25 including all taxes and service charges. (About the same price as good cake and coffee at Twisted Sister in Byron Bay) The resort itself which we the proceeded to walk around on the levels we were allowed is a masterpiece as it just blends into the hillside overlooking the rushing river below. The large pond on the roof was quite remarkable and views from the deck there were stunning.

After exceeding our daily retiree/pensioner budget for the day we should be drinking water for dinner. However we are still elated from our afternoon tea experience and have just popped up and purchased a local bottle of Rose, some Brie, tomatoes and grainy bread to finish our near perfect day. Have made myself a note to cut back on expenses tomorrow!

Tanah Lot - August 7th 2015

Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot

Well, today we played the tourist. Took a Tanah Lot Bedugul Tour costing A$40. We were lucky that we were the only ones in the car so it was like a private tour.

Set off across the Ayung River to Mengwi passing Balinese planting rice by hand, and many wide open rice paddies until we reached The Royal Family Temple. Large crowds were in attendance but we still enjoyed the manicured grounds and the Temple Structures surrounded by a moat (under repair). On this road we passed a motorbike with 2 men on it with the rear one holding onto a wheelbarrow while travelling at about 60kph!

After the Temple we followed a wide road towards Denpasar and then turned off to Tanah Lot to see the famous seaside temple. The 50 buses in the car park looked ominous and our driver said” They are all Chinese” He was correct! The site was magnificent as the temple actually sits upon a giant rock outcrop in the ocean. Like nothing we had seen before but the crowds were so large we decided not to join the que to enter and explored the surrounding grounds instead. One of the “must see sights” in Bali.

Next we headed north towards Bedugul stopping at Uma Luang to view the rice terraces. Erica had done research on this that said the Café from which you view got really bad reviews for food and facilities so we had to just urge our way in to get some pics. The food people were eating from the buffet seemed to match the reviews!

Ulundanu Beratan Temple

Ulundanu Beratan Temple

Now we were climbing and the smoke started to thicken. It was coming from Mainland Indonesia on the westerly wind and is from seasonal forest burning there. It almost started to feel like night time. Arrived at Bedugul and Lake Beratan on the shores of which is situated Ulundanu Beratan Temple.

The Temple site was superb although the smoke blocked our view of the other side of the lake which is the verdant rim of an old volcano. It would qualify as one of Bali’s best views. As they say “You cannot win them all” Maybe next time. The crowds here were also huge but less Chinese and mainly European.

Onwards to the highlight of our day, The Holy Monkey Forest at Sangeh. Only a few other tourist were there. The Forest is over 300 years old many of them being Pala trees all dead straight. A guide/Monkey keeper attached himself to us and explained it all to us. We came upon two lots of Brides and Grooms getting their pre wedding pics and they were happy to let us take pics too. Judge for yourself but they were in the most beautiful and tranquil place. The temple there is also about 300 years old and was superb. We spent an hour in that peaceful place and it was a pleasant break from Bali’s incessant traffic.

Another Monkey Friend.jpg

Erica befriended a couple of monkeys one of which sat on her shoulder and the other older one on her lap! We had become tourist like everyone else!

Found out a couple of facts today from our driver. Petrol is about A$0.75 a litre here. There were no Chinese Tourists coming here 5 years ago and they now are the largest group to visit Bali at around 23% of visitors.

Off to find some dinner.

Real Estate in Bali - August 6th 2015

Dinner last night at Pundi Pundi facing the same Lotus pond as the previous night. Nasi Bakar Lyus was Erica’s choice. It was great as it consisted of fried rice with seafood and Balinese Spices wrapped and cooked in a Lotus Leaf with two prawns on top. A great dish to eat whilst sitting next to a Lotus pond. Cost with Bintang Beer and Lime Drink A$ 17. The place opposite where we had a lovely evening was now swarming with 3 busloads of mainland Chinese! Thank goodness we were not there then.

Must mention Real Estate here. Prices are very high (US$1.5M for a villa) and many are leasehold if cheaper. We would not consider buying here even if we had the money, especially after reading the sage advice on Planet Boomer website re buying in Bali. The rules of foreign ownership could change at any time and involving a Balinese as part owner and leasing back is fraught with danger. Each to their own and if you want to purchase just go ahead with eyes wide open.

Temple entrance

Temple entrance

Bali’s great success as a Tourist Island has come at a great cost to locals. 80% of the Gross National Product is now generated by tourism. This land of gentle subsistence farmers has been turned on its head. Their Hindu faith is however still intact with special ceremonies almost every day. In theory they should be better off financially but we have seen little evidence of this.

The typical Balinese just takes life as it comes and hastens slowly in everyday activities. The elderly are looked after by the family but their lives are not prolonged by invasive medical procedures and they just accept that their “Batteries have gone flat” and pass away at home. The sort of existence many old cultures had before we poked our noses in! Needless to say with an average life expectancy of around 70 years Alzheimer’s is not a problem here.

We have noticed that building heights are no more than 4 stories and this has helped preserve the village feel. Building methods are old fashioned with work in our compound being done with buckets of hand mixed concrete /cement and tiles being winched up on a rope to upper levels. Noticed a band of women moved about 10 Cubic metres of sand by large buckets from the roadside into the compound. It does appear that women are the “Work Horses” of Balinese society.

For those who might be wondering we are not missing the home ownership lifestyle we lived in Australia. Not having to mow lawns, clean windows trim plants day after day in a never ending cycle (a little like a Hamster wheel) has been a blessed relief. Erica has declared many times that she has no desire to cook or clean again. The never ending world of travel with just two bags is still as alluring as ever!

Have decided to approach our forthcoming visit to Australia as just that. A trip to another country to catch up with loved ones and friends and get a few repairs done (Erica’s Knees) before we set off again to new horizons! We are already planning new destinations.

Taking a day trip in the morning (we are still in tourist mode) to Tanah Lot on the coast and Bedugal in the centre of the Island at Lake Bretan.

Had lunch today at Warung Sopa just up the street after a long walk through the Tourist part of Ubud including the Markets. The traffic fumes are very bad and there seemed to be more cars and bikes than ever. The effect of all this is to make you much hotter than you would be in a normal street situation. Once again all Europeans and Chinese on the street. Bought a couple of second hand books and am settling down with one now.