Published: February 25th 2010February 17th 2010
I don't know if many other people know the words and tune to the song Bali Hai from South Pacific, but I've known that song since I was a kid. I was (still am) a big fan of musicals. So I was singing it a lot before our trip and now I have it stuck in my head. The gist of the song is that Bali is a special island and it calls to you. Truer lyrics have never been written. Bali was so fabulous and amazing I have to blog about it before anything else. The scenery, the experiences, the people. Magical. Oh and I had a big birthday mixed in to all that so it was all about me for part of the trip and I loved that too.
I'll do more of my usual play by play later, and cover Kuala Lumpur where went for the first few days, but for now I have to share some Bali highlights and get you some pictures. I have been getting nudges from certain family members that my communication about this trip has been unusually absent. The reason for this is I barely had Internet access and we were doing
stuff during the days and at night I was too tired to use my computer for more than transferring pictures off my camera to prepare for the next day's adventure. Also, I was reading up a storm. Had 3 new books on my Kindle and finished the third one on the last day. Basically, I was on vacation.
I have said this a lot these last 2 years, but this was truly a fantastic trip. Great family time, new adventures for us all and another experience of learning about new cultures and seeing new parts of the world.
We stayed at 2 villas in Bali. Villa is a broad term. Some people stay at resorts. Others rent entire homes with many rooms and a private pool and those are also called villas. We went smaller scale (and smaller budget). These were both beautiful properties but modest in size and scope. The first was called the Dewani Villa. It was in a rural location, about 15 minutes from Seminyak and Kuta where the beach as well as the larger resorts and the shopping can be found. It has 7 rooms, one of which is a suite that we rented
for 3 nights. The suite was on the top floor of the main entrance and looked like somewhere the Swiss Family Robinson might set up house. The American Family Slaven loved it. Our entrance was off the garden, with a winding wooden staircase up to a round main room. The ceiling was made of woven wood and looked like a giant woven cone shaped basket. We would stare at that ceiling and wonder about how it was made. We saw no rain leakage during the few showers we experienced, so the construction, though appearing old fashioned, was quite sound. the bathroom was amazing--it had a couch!--and a stone jacuzzi tub and separate shower.
The property had a lovely garden and pool, which we took full advantage of on each of our days there. We even swam in the rain which was tropical and fun. Breakfast was included and served outdoors. The staff was wonderful and they surprised us by knowing all of our names (kids included) upon our initial meeting. English is spoken by many Balinese. We had no issues ordering food, taking taxis or communicating with the vendors who wanted to sell us everything from a bow and
arrow set and fish harpoons to watches and sarongs.
We saw many Chinese tourists. Heard a lot of Mandarin spoken by tourists and Balinese shopkeepers. We giggled to ourselves about our ability to understand Mandarin--never gets old. It was all numbers and exclamations of "too expensive" and "give me a better price" but we knew the routine and all the phrases.
The currency was not the easiest. Even Mark, the usual whiz kid of currency conversion got stumped a few times. The conversion was 8900 to 1 USD. Not easy math. So we used 10,000 and rounded up but even that got confusing. 300,000 is about $30 and 30,000 is about $3 but we were often thinking things were way more or way less after our initial quick conversions. Nathan kept us in line, though. He of course got the concept and was not confused at all.
We had to use our sharp, Chinese trained bargaining skills a lot on this trip. We won some, we lost some but we had fun playing the game. The Balinese have a unique way of soliciting business. They ask you your name, tell you theirs, become your friend first and
make it harder to resist. However, no matter how nice the guy was with the book of non-permanent tattoos, we didn't want any and never would. He was persistent though. Same with the women that surrounded me as Emily got a manicure on the beach. Sarongs, dresses, bracelets were paraded before me as I waited with Emily for her nails to dry. I took advantage of these situations and interrogated the locals about life and culture in Bali. Tried to turn the tables a bit. They also used an interesting tactic of promising you luck (and making you wonder what the opposite effect might be if you did not buy the item and thereby earn the good luck). We still said no a gazillion times.
In these discussions with local people, I learned about the offering baskets that are all around town. They are filled with flowers, sometimes fruit or other bits of food. Incense often burns in them and the baskets themselves are lovely and hand woven. These are prepared and presented each day by Balinese women as offerings to their gods. It is part of the Hindu religion, which is practiced by many people in Indonesia (there
is a particularly strong Hindu presence in Bali, according to one person I spoke to). We saw women preparing and placing these baskets everywhere we went. They were in front of shops, in doorways to buildings and homes. The temples also had the baskets throughout the grounds and you could donate money and have one prepared and presented on your behalf. We did this the day before my birthday. It was nice, and the woman lit incense, put the basket on an alter and sprinkled me and the kids with some special water... but then the woman said we needed to donate more money (again with the conversion!) and it dampened the feeling of spirituality a bit and made it feel more like a financial transaction.
On our first night, we wanted to get dinner and decided to walk to a nearby restaurant. It was dark, the cars drive on the left, so we were careful to pay close attention to oncoming traffic on the dark, narrow street we were walking down. When I saw a black thin something in the road, my first thought was snake, but then I thought, nah, it's probably a piece of rubber or
lime juice, ice, vodka, blended
tire, or wood. Emily stepped on "it" and it jumped and moved. SNAKE! I screamed. Then she screamed. I'm not sure what the boys did but I do recall yelling back to Nathan not to even think about picking it up. Emily jumped into my arms and I had to carry her the rest of the way. I was sorry I had reacted. Lesson learned. She might not have noticed if I hadn't freaked. She watched the road more carefully after that.
Dinner was great. We had a complimentary cocktail and the kids had juices after we sat down. The Balinese are big into welcome drinks. Had them at the hotels too. Then we had dinner and Emily kept her feet tucked up on her chair, or she sat on our laps the entire meal. When she noticed the geckos all around the walls and ceilings, I decided we better have "the talk". You know the one. How it's important to go with the flow and not scream and cry at every sign of nature. I said what would Aunt Laura do? She's a big nature lover and she wouldn't cry if she saw these things. Emily said "she
would be scared and jump off the road too!" and I had to consider that she was probably right. That was our only snake sighting. We later learned the snakes are attracted to the area's plentiful rice fields. Makes sense.
It's hard for me to give lessons on loving creatures small and large. I'm a wimp when it comes to things like spiders and snakes. I'm a screamer. But I realized I had to try harder to help Emily be braver than I am. So when I saw huge spiders later on the trip, I calmly scooped them up with paper and put them outside without a sound or announcement to all family members of my bravery. The white wormy thing in the sink just took a trip to the ocean via the drain. I saw flushed away. It's all good. I can't say it was all smooth sailing though. When Emily spied a giant (her and Mark attest to the hugeness of this creature) gecko in our bathroom one night, we all jumped into bed together and debated how important teeth brushing really was that night. Finally we braved it--the gecko was gone (or so we convinced ourselves)
and we didn't see that one again. Random aside, did you know geckos sleep during the day and make these barking sounds at night? Yep. They do.
We went to the beach and Nathan tried boogie boarding and loved it. He was a natural. That lithe, strong body became one with the board and he practically floated on the waves as he took long rides back to shore. I told Nathan I used to have a boogie board of my own and he was impressed. I grew up in California, I told him. Of course I had some basic beach skills. I tried a few turns on his board and it was fun. Emily was not quite ready to give it a try but we spotted her and let her imagine what it would be like.
Mark took a surfing lesson and spent about an hour showing us his hang ten moves. He did great. Got up on many occasions and did dramatic arm balancing moves straight out of a surfing movie to make more dramatic photo opps for me. I sat in a beach chair using the zoom lense and snapped a bunch of pictures of the
boys on their boards. Emily body surfed and had tons of fun in the warm water. We all spent a lot of time in the Indian Ocean (we checked the map later to confirm our exact swimming location) and enjoyed the warm water and fun waves. We did our usual shell collecting but didn't have great success in our search for treasures.
We knew the sun was very hot in Bali and had been properly warned about the need for caution and lots of sunscreen. When we went to the beach, we used sunscreen but did not do a second application and Nathan and Mark (the fairest of us all) suffered some minor burning (I can hear Mark saying "minor?!!") on their arms and on Mark's back. Poor them. Emily and I, the browner bears, were okay. We took much more care the following days with our sunscreen regimen.
There are many more stories to follow.
There are more photos below