Published: March 10th 2010March 7th 2010
Rain in Bali
From our balcony in Sanur
So, we are in Bali. You did not click on the wrong blog entry and we did not make a wrong turn at Madrid. After a few days of nonstop cold and rain, we were wondering whether La Iruela was right for us in the off season. We managed to find the one internet shop in the area, down the hill in Cazorla. We checked email the first time on Thursday morning. I conducted some research on where we could go. Our initial plan for La Iruela was to stay for a month and use it as a base of operations to explore some other areas of Spain - the Costa del Sol, Seville, Granada, and more. First I checked the weather in each of these areas and it was rain and more rain on the horizon. The Costa del Sol is just what it implies in the Spanish name - the Coast of the Sun. The area averages over 330 days a year of sun. We were there in the thirty days it gets of rain. As we continued to watch the news we learned that some wicked weather was sweeping over the peninsula causing rain and flooding through a
lot of Spain and Portugal. Nothing was poised to change over the ten day forecast. So, I researched locales farther afield, including the Azores, Ibiza, Morocco, and even Malta. The weather for these areas looked better, but last minute transportation was looking expensive. I thought maybe we would go to one of the islands for five to seven days and then return to La Iruela. We left the internet café to talk things over. When we made some preliminary decisions about what to do, we return after lunch and the internet shop was closed, with no hours posted in the window. This is the charm of the small town life. We went back to the house and returned later that day, with the shop still closed. That gave us the night to think more about what we wanted to do and to sleep on our decision.
Our final decision focused on a few things. First, the cold and the rain. We had been in Europe for six weeks in Ireland, Italy, and now Spain. I was not expecting sun in Ireland, but I also did the math. Since our arrival in Europe we only
Peeling off the crispy pork skin
had about three days of sunny weather. It was not how we wanted to wind down our trip, particularly adding in cost. We were spending about €50-60 a night on accommodations before arriving in La Iruela, plus food and other expenses. Eric was just sick of spending the money, particularly while spending our time holed up in a crappy and expensive hotel for most of the day, trying to avoid the rain outside. The house in La Iruela had warmed up a bit after having several fires, but it was still not warm. We also had some problems with hot water. It was no fun trying to shower when it was cold and wet outside. The stars were just not aligned for us. As soon as we made our decision to leave the town the hot water came streaming from the faucets, of course. And, we had the one sunny Saturday with Antonio and his family in the national park, but at that point our plans were set. We were heading to Bali.
Thank God for miles. I asked Eric whether he would want to go to Asia if we could get a decent flight on miles. I figured
we had about 4 or 5 weeks to mess with, which is way longer than most vacations. We had the best option, considering the time of year, to either fly to Bangkok, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur. In the end, we were able to fly on miles all the way to Bali (Madrid to Frankfurt to Bangkok to Bali all in economy). Bali is not easy to get to from anywhere, and we figured we would use the four weeks we had to take the flights needed to get there. So, we scheduled exactly four weeks (limited by a thirty day visa on arrival), cashed in some miles, and made our way to Bali.
As for being tired of planning accommodations, it remained true. We arranged, though, two lengthy stays on points with Starwood (our points and miles balances are running close to empty - dangerously low). We only needed to fill up the other time with some nice little cheap hotels and some cheap roadside food. We were excited. We thought deciding on a Saturday to fly to China later in the week, with just enough time to receive a visa, was a crazy decision, but we were in
Hong Kong when we made that decision. This time, we were in a small town in the mountains of Spain with very little internet access. We made a decision to leave the town on Thursday, we booked a ticket on Friday, on Sunday we drove to Madrid, and we flew out Monday morning - we were Bali bound. This was crazy. We did not even really have warm weather clothing. Yikes. We felt like characters on the Amazing Race - you have corduroy pants, Italian seasonings, an espresso maker, and a map of Spain, and you are headed to Bali - what do you do?
Stopover in Sanur
We arrived in Bali and planned on spending a few nights in one of the more touristy beach towns, thinking we would need to stock up on some stuff. We decided on Sanur, on the east coast of the south end of the island. I did not know much about the area, but after fretting about numerous places on www.agoda.com and on trip advisor, Eric told me just to book something and I clicked on the place I was checking out - it had a pool and was
close to food and the beach. I booked it. No problem. Sanur is different from the more popular areas nearby, Kuta and Legian. Kuta is where most of the big development is, including the shopping mall and the surfer ready beaches with roaring waves. Sanur’s beach is smaller, with no waves, protected by a reef. We walked out our first night and were pleased with our decision. We saw water, sand, palm trees, and children playing in the shallow water. I felt fabulous and best of all, warm.
After our little walk we stopped for our first meal back in Asia (for those of you keeping score, we have now been to Asia three times during this trip). I had been suffering from some stomach problems. I won’t go into detail, but was having digestive problems since our last day in Rome - so for about three weeks at this point. The problem continued on our way to Bali and I was nervous for my first meal. I went conservative with some Nasi Goreng, or fried rice, with a fried egg on top, with a mango shake to drink. The mango shake made me very very happy; I forgot
how much I missed mango. I could not finish my rice, but it was good nonetheless. After our meal, we made our way across the street for some foot reflexology. I was ecstatic to be back to the land of cheap massages. A one hour foot massage for three dollars. Fantastic. With the reflexology, they are “supposed” to cure health problems by using pressure points. I believe in the concept, and am a fan of the related eastern cure of acupuncture, but do not believe that these young kids are generally trained to do anything official. But, I hoped that the reflexology would cure my stomach problems too. Again, without going into too much detail, after my reflexology and less than twenty four hours in Asia, I felt 100% better.
I started eating less conservatively, continuing to drink mango shakes, eat pineapple and banana pancakes for breakfast with fresh fruit, and curry for lunch. We ate Nasi Campur around the corner from our hotel, which is a Balinese specialty - a plate of rice with several different kinds of prepared foods including fried chicken, pork, some vegetables, and the special homemade spicy red pepper sauce called sambal. We even
had an Indonesian Ristafel, which is a series of small dishes to be shared. I don’t think it is traditionally Indonesian; our first experience was in Amsterdam. I thought it was a Dutch creation, eaten in the Netherlands, derived from their times as colonists in the area, and this night we ate at a Dutch restaurant. It was good nonetheless, with sliced green beans with garlic and chili pepper, sweet and sour pork, some beef satay on a stick with peanut sauce, and more. I was on cloud nine surrounded by Asian food, and eating much much cheaper. Generally two entrees with a large Bintang beer came to about USD$10. Much better than the $50 meals we were eating in Europe. We also found a restaurant around the corner from the hotel called Warung Lilla. We ate there repeatedly, for Indonesian chicken curry. Eric enjoyed a curried chicken cooked in a banana leaf, and I became addicted to their black rice porridge. The black rice is usually served for breakfast and at Lilla it was on the dessert menu, but I had it twice, once as an afternoon snack, and once for my lunch. It was a sweet black sticky
rice in a coconut milk. Heavenly.
We spent our days by the pool, trying to get back our tans. We each bought a new sarong, which was a requirement. And, we prayed for good weather. It was the rainy season in Bali, but I had read that if anything it would rain for a bit each day, but it was unlikely to be rainy all day every day. In the four nights we spent in Sanur we had one day with two really good rain showers. During the first shower of the day we spent some time at the hotel restaurant watching the rain splash in the pool while checking email. During the second, we were in our room, sitting on the balcony, reading and watching the rain. There is something about a tropical rain storm that is so different from a cold nasty rain back home (or, apparently, in Spain). It is the sound of the storm, possibly the rain hitting the palm tree leaves, or the nearby rooftops, I am not sure. There is also just a different smell and feel to the rain. I certainly did not mind an occasional rain shower when were able to
spend hours by the pool each day. We definitely made the right decision. Hello Bali.
Balinese Pig -Pork and more Pork
After acclimatizing in Sanur, we cashed in our Starwood Points at the LeMeridien Nirwana, near the water temple, Pura Tanah Lot. This is where we finished our stay the first time we were in Bali and we were happy to return. For a minimum amount of points a night (4K), it was a steal, and with our two room suite, we decided to stay for ten days. To keep on budget, we needed to make some adjustments, though. The food at the hotel is not only fairly pricey, but also not spectacular. We wanted to limit the meals we ate there. So, we went food shopping in Sanur and bought fruit, cereal, milk, ramen noodles, and snacks. We figured we had about seven breakfasts and four lunches covered. We also were aware that there were food stalls near the temple, which we could walk to or take a free shuttle to. We were set.
Our days were spent hanging by the pool, with four levels of different types of pools. We met an expat
View at the Pool
Those are Eric's feet looking out to the water in the distance.
family from the UK who were living in Jakarta and taking a weekend trip to Bali. Alan and Sue have a nine year old son, Matthew, and a six year old daughter, Hanah. We saw them every day until they departed, and when Matthew and Hanah saw us at the pool or at a restaurant they would wave hello to us - Matthew called out “Hey Eric!” Eric and Matthew even became swim buddies, constantly going down the slide into the lower pool. It was pretty funny to see, and I was happy Eric had a play friend for a few days while I concentrated on my reading.
Aside from the pool, we would try to head out of the hotel for one meal a day, or have spicy ramen noodle in our room. We ate some meals at the hotel, even downing some burgers and club sandwiches. The hotel provided us with three pieces of fruit each day, making the daily fruit delivery a little of an occasion. We eagerly anticipated the delivery, wondering what type of fruit we would receive. We generally received Asian pears, or the exotic Granny Smith apple. We also had a rotation of something a little more exotic, salak, or snake fruit, so named because of the brown scaly skin on the outside. Once peeled, the inside has a sweet crunchy fruit and a large pit in the middle.
While out at the temple cruising for food, we frequented Warung Babi Guling, meaning Restaurant Roasted Pig. One of the hotel security guards, Sumitra, runs a restaurant outside of the hotel with his wife. Every three days they roast a giant pig on a spit over an open fire next to the restaurant. We tried the restaurant during our first stay in Bali. Our first time back to the Warung was the day before a new pig was delivered. We were served what was left from the last pig, cooked two days prior. We ate shredded pork with curry type seasoning, some tougher pork, similar to a bacon or jerky, crispy seasoned pork skin, green beans and a pork soup that could be ladled over the rice. It was pork as many different ways as you could serve it and it was all good. We washed it down with Teh Botol, a sweet iced bottled tea, which is a steal in comparison to the cost of beer. The tea and the pork totaled $5 for both of us - much better tasting and much cheaper than hotel prices. Sumitra told us to come back the following day for the fresh pig.
We arrived the following day just as the pig was pulled from the spit. We watched them carefully pull the crispy and golden colored pork skin from the animal and then sat in the restaurant waiting for the meal to arrive. While waiting we spent time talking with Sumitra and one of his friends, who is on the committee for the protection of the temple nearby. When the food arrived, it was good, but not my favorite, I have to admit. I think the fresher pork meant that the meat was pulled from the outside of the pig, which is where the fat is located. I understand that fat means flavor, but it was too fatty for me. After several additional trips back to the Warung, I realized that the third day was my favorite day to go, with the best tasting meat.
During one of our last visits it was the last day for the pig. As we ate, we heard a deep guttural oinking sound from around back. We stuck our head around and there was a large ugly pink hairy pig in a wicker and wood cage. We looked at him and said, sorry buddy. See you tomorrow. When we arrived the following day, Sumitra was there and he gave us a treat to taste, a small bag of fried tiny eels. Well, we think they were eels. He did not know the word in English, but after talking to some other people, we realized they were eels. They tasted a little bit like minerals, and I was not thrilled with the taste, but they were fine. I think I could get used to the flavor, but I saved room for the fantastic pork, babi guling, one last time before we moved on from Tanah Lot. The following day, Sumitra’s son provided the transport north to Ubud.