Archives for category: Bali

To regular readers, an apology; we have been without Internet for over two weeks now and I know you have all been waiting, terribly concerned about the fate of your favourite blogging holidayist and his girlfriend. Well here is some more of what we got up to in Bali, with very little sense of chronology and actually only a vague sense of what happened, given how long ago it was.

The tourism industry in Lovina is centred around the many little boats that line up along the beach and every morning offer rides to see the local dolphins. They even built a sort of charming but mostly really ugly and definitely very tacky statue in tribute to them.

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Yes, that is a dolphin wearing a crown.

After deciding against spending several hundred dollars to take a whale and dolphin spotting cruise in Kaikoura, New Zealand, we were chuffed to find that the ones here cost about $7 per person. And were incredible.

I only had modest hopes of seeing a dorsal fin or two swimming through the ocean and would have given myself a quiet pat on the back if I had managed to pick anything out at all in the twilight as I imagined the colour of the dolphins would be very much the same as the grey-blue sea at this time in the morning. Instead we were treated to the sort of acrobatic show normally reserved for those adverts about holidays in Florida except with no bint in a fluorescent wet suit goading a porpoise with a mackerel. This was just them out for their morning swim, the young ones jumping out of the water and doing tricks in the air for no one in particular’s entertainment. We took the liberty of being entertained anyway and cried tears of life-affirming joy because it was just so fucking beautiful.

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Since the dolphins were having such a good time, and also because the local dive centre salesmen were some of the most persistent people I have ever come across, we went snorkelling a few days later to see what else the Balinese sea could throw up. As it turns out, it was a hell of a lot. I was given a snorkel and mask that had a near enough perfect match for my prescription lenses in and soon enough found myself surrounded by the sort of coral and tropical fish that I literally never imagined I would see without first having paid my entrance fee to the Sea Life Centre in Brighton. Hundreds of different varieties, many of which looked like they had come out of the imagination of my six year old niece with only a packet of Stabilo Boss highlighter pens to colour them in, and plenty more that were almost as beautifully rendered.

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As well as looking at fish, Balinese people like to eat them. In order to learn more about how to cook tuna (and chicken and a very fine vegetable soup) we went to a cooking class at a local restaurant. We started with a trip to the market. This was quite the eye-opener for two people used to European standards and Environmental Health Officers being a constant threat in their previous workplaces. While a man butchered sweaty, unrefrigerated chickens on a wooden block with a dirty knife and a hacking cough, a woman sat with her buckets of prawns and tuna steaks laid out on the floor, wiping off as many ants as she could while depositing them in plastic bags for her customers. These things, plus the rather sick looking cats that were ever present in the kitchen while we cooked, plus the fact that we are both still here today having eaten everything prepared in such a dangerous way by any western standards, without any ill effects, only serves to confirm everything I thought I knew about the health and safety industry as a whole and how it is a contemptuous shit of a world, and anyone who works within it is a contemptuous shit of a person who ought to spend more time filling the voids in their own personalities rather than pointing out the minor flaws in others’ working practices.

As you can see from Lovisa and Wayan’s (our lovely Balinese chef and teacher) smiling faces the class was a success and if you should ever come round to dinner at our place there will almost certainly be chicken satay on the menu.

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The first thing(s) you notice when you arrive in Bali are the mopeds. Hundreds of the bastards everywhere you go. They far outnumber the cars here and a lot of the time they seem to outnumber the people. That is until you count the number of people on each moped and realise that a whole family can fit on one if enterprising enough. We thought it was quite exciting on our way from the airport when we saw a man taking his three children to school on one, until we got to our hotel where just outside we saw one woman with five children all aboard, most of whom seemed to be having a great time while mummy overtook a lorry doing 50mph with a bus load of scuba diving equipment overtaking her on the outside. On a single lane road. In to a blind hairpin turn. Being chased by monkeys. On fire.

However because we are intrepid explorers and are not afraid of anything at all we went ahead and rented ourselves a wee scooter for a couple of days and tried not to get killed out on the roads.

On our first day we drove to the rather wonderfully named Git Git. So horrible they called it a git twice. But actually it wasn’t so horrible at all. After a brief admonishment from the local police in Singaraja – none too impressed that we had attempted to drive the wrong way down a one way street, apparently the only traffic offence that is deemed worthy of police time while school children whizzed past on their 500cc motorcycles – we carried on to Git Git, found what looked like a good place to stop, parked our little bike and followed the signs; ‘to the waterfall.’ Yes Git Git is home to a waterfall that is apparently very beautiful and high and impressive and where you can go swimming as long as there aren’t too many other tourists crowding the pool at the bottom. So we were a little uncertain as we set off in to the rainforest, still following directions to the falls but increasingly coming across reasons to believe that this was not the main tourist trail. Take this bridge as an example. A few lengths of bamboo laid across a ravine, only one of which seemed fit to support a human’s body weight, the rest bowing ominously towards the abyss if you so much as grazed a toe over them.

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Nevertheless we hacked our way on, coming face to face with horrifically enormous and almost certainly quite deadly spiders, while the intensity of noise from the rest of the jungle wildlife grew to an uncomfortable and disorienting din, the sort of sound effect used in films to tell the audience they’re going the wrong way and someone is about to get eaten by something you can’t quite see yet!

But get eaten we did not. We soldiered on, following the sound of streaming water, and soon realised why no other tourists were following this path. If you went swimming in the water at this end of the falls the most you could expect to get was your 20m Freestyle Death badge.

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Still, the view from the top was quite magnificent even if you don’t actually get to see the waterfall itself. Eventually after much backtracking, conversing in very broken english with a hundred year old woman who was up a ladder building her retirement home, and paying what turned out to be way over the odds for parking our moped for the second time that day (the parking attendants only ask for a donation but with no recommendation as to how much one should donate. We paid 5000 Indonesian Rupiah twice before someone told us that the most you should ever pay is 2000) we arrived at the bottom of the same waterfall, with all the splashy falling watery photo opportunities that we had hoped for in the first place.

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At least that tree appears to have earned its swimming badge.

With the wet season in full swing, the flow of water had been turned up to 11 making the prospect of a gentle paddle or cooling dip in the pool at the foot of the falls a rather more perilous one than it might be for the rest of the year. Instead we got back on our bike and started for home.

A few miles along the increasingly foggy mountain road, our bike came to a sudden halt. Immediately I knew something was wrong. We had left it too late to top up the petrol, an armed gang had created a road block and were going to spring out of the forest to rob the bloody hell out of us while we pathetically attempted to push ourselves back uphill to safety. Or Lovisa had spotted a family of monkeys having a picnic by the side of the road and wanted to take some pictures.

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If you’ve grown up and spent most of your life in south east England things like this don’t happen to you ever. You might go to Woburn safari park and have a monkey climb on your car if you are very lucky, but you will be surrounded by signs telling you not to encourage them and certainly not to open your bloody windows. Well here there were no bloody windows. There was no car. It was just man (and woman) and monkey (and monkey woman) and it was at once both brilliant and quite terrifying. Seeing proper wild animals up close and personal is really something that can’t be replicated in a zoo and I was loving the exhilaration of being there and trying to interact with these vaguely human but completely uncommunicative little animals. And then as if to show me what an arrogant, presumptuous, walking, talking, human bastard I was, I got legitimately eye-balled by a crazed looking little macaque, a look that said “I promise if you take one more fucking picture of my wife and kids having a nice day out, I will scratch out each and every one of your four eyes, you Harry Potter twat.” And realising that communication in the jungle was alive and well but not a business I wanted to be involved in, I made a point of how I thought it was time that we were leaving.

Of course as soon as we left the sheltered environs of the monkey’s tree, it started to shit it down with rain, the sort of enormous raindrops that again, one doesn’t see in England. The monsoon lasted for a couple of hours that by the time our shivering, bloodless corpses had found their way back to the hotel, had felt like an eternity standing directly under the thundering waterfall we had earlier deemed too feisty to swim close to.

It almost made this not one of the best days of my life, but of course it was really.

As I write this, I am enjoying my 17th evening in Bali. It’s an incredible island that we have been enjoying a great deal for two weeks, and in due course I will report on the many exciting things we have seen and done before today. However if I may, I would like to skip all that and talk about the cup of cat shit coffee I drank today.

That’s not me doing some creative swearing to emphasise how bad it was. I actually had a coffee that was made with beans that had been passed by a feline-esque jungle dwelling mammal, and apparently it’s the most expensive coffee in the world. The story goes that the little civet (or luwak or weasely/catty/stoat-ish thing) is a very picky animal that has a particular fondness for only the finest coffee berries. It sniffs them out, eats the juicy flesh of the berry but can’t properly digest the bean inside. However some sort of enzyme in its stomach causes a reaction in the beans and removes any hint of bitterness to create a coffee that when brewed tastes smoother than highly polished silk. Because this is rather a long process which relies on wild animals doing their job properly and then local farmers being able to locate their poo and dig through it to find the necessary goodies, the street price of a kilo of this coffee is around $700; coincidentally the exact same amount You Are What You Eat’s Gillian McKeith charges for one of her stool sample sweetcorn fritters. Obviously I’m a fancy pants and I wouldn’t be taking such a ludicrously long holiday if I wasn’t rich beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, but even I have my limits. Fortunately we found ourselves in the cafe of a local cooperative run by a volunteer who is largely motivated by responsible and sustainable farming rather than making a fast buck from excrement, and a cup of his lovely brew cost less than three quid.

Bottom beans apart, the best thing about this cup of coffee was the brewing process. Having ordered a one person pot of coffee I was presented with a sort of Indonesian chemistry set. There was fire, metal, tubes and a big glass with some ground coffee in it. All very exciting but I hadn’t got the slightest idea what I was supposed to do with it.

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After a few minutes and a few words of explanation from the man in charge, things started to happen. The flame heats water in the can above it which, once boiling, overflows through the pipe and into the glass. Then after a few seconds in the ground coffee the water is sucked back up the pipe due to the vacuum created when it left the can. Perhaps. I didn’t really understand what he was saying and I switched off when the explanation became too dependent on science, preferring to put it all down to magic, and I just enjoyed the show instead.

After all the excitement of the brewing process (which you can repeat up to three times depending on your coffee-strength preference; I opted for two because I prefer to sip my coffee rather than eat it with a spoon) the actual drinking of the stuff was going to struggle to keep the momentum of the experience up. It was though a very lovely cup of coffee and was definitely worth the effort of making it. Especially when there are hipsters in New York drinking it for ten times the price I paid. Add to that the fact that they don’t get a plate of the worlds best ever banana fritters with home grown chocolate dipping sauce to go with it, and I’m looking kind of like a freaking genius right now.