In the shadow of the volcano: exploring Eastern Bali. January 2019


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The tradition of taking more than a month to write/post my final blog post continues! *sings Fiddler on the Roof to herself* Tradition! Tra-dish-on! It seems if I don’t use my time on the flight home to type this up, then I don’t get around to it. But here I am, finally with a spare moment and the headspace to recount our 3 day explorations of Eastern Bali and Candidasa in January 2019. And I did type a few musings throughout those days, so I’ll share those first, and then I’ll try to do a wrap-up. The bonus of this being delayed is that I’ve uploaded and edited all my photos, so there will be more photos for sharing in this one.

Never knew how prominent a role garlic bread would play on this trip. It’s not the food I’d have thought would provide a “through line” for Hong Kong/Indonesia. Hong Kong Airlines offers garlic bread with their meals. It was unexpected but super tasty treat. Warm and buttery and garlic-y. And such a treat on an AIRPLANE! Then, during the acoustic music night/special bbq dinner at Alena Resort, garlic bread came with our pumpkin soup course. And now it’s been served as an appetizer at a small cafe in Candidasa. Not mad about it. Yum!

“Knives fix everything!” Jen declares as breakfast. Should we be worried?

After getting settled in our room at Candidasa, we head off to find a meal. Oh look, there’s Warung across the street. “Warung Bintang” was just perfect. Locally owned, unassuming building, but the most amazing view of the volcano. And great fun watching the geckos hunt flies and chase each other across the walls/ceiling. The food was quite good, offering Indonesian specialties and some Italian cuisine, too. (AND a piece of garlic bread was served with my bisque). Afterwards we learned this is one of the top places in Candidasa and location couldn’t have been more convenient. And the staff were so nice. Plus, this view!!

We walk into town on our first morning. Candidasa is spread out along both sides of the main highway. There is a small sidewalk (thankfully) but there are lots of vehicles and large trucks driving past. And sometimes waiting to cross the street can take awhile. But we often have glimpses of the ocean and the sun is shining (beating down on us, if i’m honest).

It’s hot but also lovely. We find a local grocery store where we buy a variety of candies and hot sauces as souvenirs. And a small craft shop offers to sell us stamps and mail our postcards, too. Very nice. It took about a month for my postcards to arrive, but it is very far away, and I’m sure they must have been sent by boat. Also, perhaps postal pickup is infrequent in this smaller town? January is rainy season/slow season, so it was pretty empty of tourists. Which meant we were the only people to solicit along the way. Folks kept offering us business cards for their services as taxi drivers or guides. Initially I was taking them to be polite, but then we thought maybe better to decline in person, so they don’t waste the printing costs on that card we’re not going to use. Everyone was friendly, though, and not unpleasantly aggressive in their sales pitches. And so we have small conversations as we wander along. At one point we notice we’re near “Vincent’s,” a recommended restaurant in town. We head over, asking if it requires reservations (as we wouldn’t want to make the 2 mile walk that evening only to find they didn’t have a table). We learn that the restaurant encourages reservations and includes free taxi transport from the area hotels, so that’s convenient! Turns out that’s pretty standard in town, and you can ask the restaurant or your hotel to call to arrange for it. Nice.

The afternoon is spent in the pool! As we were walking to the Bayshore Villas main pool (it is this truly shocking blue color tiles, and then lit with blue lights in the evening for an otherworldly experience), the brash Australian owner comes over, introduces himself to us, and lets us know that we’re also welcome to use the smaller infinity pool around the corner, and that that pool has a breeze as it’s on the ocean. And so we do that. It’s great watching the waves crash, and it’s always relaxing to float in a pool. Candidasa doesn’t really have beaches you can walk along or go swimming in the ocean. As Lonely Planet states “The beach here was pretty well destroyed in the 1970s, when its offshore reef was mined for lime to make cement and other construction materials, so those seeking to swim, snorkel or dive in the sea shouldn’t bother. However, the hinterland is attractive, the picturesque lagoon in the centre of town is full of water lillies that bloom in the morning and many of the local hotels have beachside pools where guests can laze their days away.” Back in our hotel room and the power is out. The resort has power, but our room does not. And there are no phones in the rooms, so we always have to walk across the grounds to discuss room issues (there were several, surprisingly. Giant wasp nest in the shower. AC stopped working one night. Power outage. Only 2 of the 7 lightbulbs worked, so I had to use my headlamp to see in my bedroom (They replaced one of the lightbulbs so I had a very dimly lit bedroom and still had to use my flashlight. I’m guessing that the main bedroom lighting fixture itself was broken, then). Honestly, our “Terrace Suite” was shockingly not up to the standards of the rest of the place. The TV was missing, with just bare wires and cables dangling from the wall/shelf. Maybe it just hadn’t been updated. This particular 2-bedroom option was not listed on their website anymore by the time we checked in, so maybe they were phasing it out, but didn’t want to move us to another room. Maybe we should’ve asked for that, but that seemed even a bigger hassle. The other rooms we walked past had updated nicer fixtures and furniture, so I guess our room just hadn’t been updated? The staff and the grounds are lovely, but our room feels forgotten and abandoned). In any case, we shower/dress in the twilight/by flashlight, and head out to our dinner reservations/waiting taxi, letting the front desk know about the power issue.

Vincent’s is super cool, jazz and Vincent van gough themed space. Great service. Delicious food. Lovely internal garden/courtyard for dining. Fun watching geckos race across replicas of impressionist paintings. It was a very special evening. And, when we got back to our room, they sent over two guys who investigated and replaced a fuse, restoring our electricity!

Our final full day in Bali, and we’ve got a tour set up to explore much that Eastern Bali has to offer. It’s a rainy day, but our spirits are not dampened. Honestly, we’d been prepared for daily rain this trip and were mostly blessed with sunshine! Our first stop is the Lebah Honeybee farm. It’s fascinating learning about the two types of bees/honey they cultivate: a more familiar Oriental bee and these itty bitty Bali bees that don’t have stingers.

They make this sour black honey. It was super interesting and tasty. (If we’d had internet, we could’ve researched customs/import rules on honey and bought some to take home. But honey is so often not allowed for international transport that we didn’t want to risk it).

Then we visited the Tenganan Village, home of the Bali Aga people – the descendants of the original Balinese who inhabited Bali before the Majapahit arrival in the 11th century. They’re understandably fiercely proud of their distinct culture and language. Our guide showed us around, explaining the local festivals and showing us the intricate woven decorations still left out from the previous night’s wedding. Then he took us to visit his house. Many of the houses are also artisan workshops. He demonstrated some traditional weaving and carving, and we got to meet his dog who had just had puppies! Honestly, I could’ve played with the puppies all day. He also showed his fighting rooster, that he’d dyed all sorts of colors. Not for any traditional reasons, “Just for fun.” It was pretty cool.

Next stop, Ujung Water Palace. It continues to be rainy, but lovely. The grounds were gorgeous, with lots of amazing plants. The gardening crew required to maintain this site must be immense! When my sister saw the photos of the figure with the triple parasol, she became quite excited. “Wait. Is a triple parasol a thing? Why didn’t I know about this?!? I want one!!!” It was a lovely place to wander, with fun people watching, too.

Then on to Tirta Gangga Royal Water Garden, with an impressive fountain and these stepping stones along the water. I knew my own lack-of-balance enough to not venture too far, but Sarah and Jen were brave/well balanced enough to wander about.

Lots of statues and bridges to explore. Lots of rain, but laughter and smiles and tons of fun photo opportunities.

Our driver and guide Komar was a delight throughout the day, with a big smile and good stories.

A common part of this Eastern Bali tour is the white sand beach, but we’d been unsure whether we wanted to visit in the rains. But the skies quieted, so we decided to head over. Along the way, we saw many gorgeous cows wandering and eating along the small roadways. And we drove through the village of “bugbug” which was delightful to say and see signs for. *smile* At the white sand beach, there was one beachside shack/restaurant, and it was a lovely place for lunch.

Some chickens wandered by on the beach, we had a beer, we watched local fishermen launch their boats. Sarah had some exceptionally fresh fish, and my coconut curry was great.

On the drive back to Candidasa we also encountered some macaques! Alongside the road and climbing the road signs. Monkey achievement!

That evening, our last in Bali, we made reservations at Warung Lu Putu, and it is a truly SPECIAL place. Locally owned, with a lovely sign stating all are welcome here. The owner picked us up/drove us to the restaurant (still dressed in his finery, having come from a funeral ceremony at the temple). The restaurant space is gorgeous, with an internal courtyard/garden, some semi-wild rabbits that hop around. Several kinds of rabbits from white and fluffy to sleek and brown. It was delightful to watch. And there’s a small water feature running between the tables, a small “canal” with koi fish. The food was really delicious (and prices continued to be amazing, compared to the much more popular Ubud). Jen and I ordered the special to share…it’s a traditional “everything” plate often served at weddings, and the different offerings each came in their own banana-leaf dish. Very cool, and super tasty, and amazing to get to try all the things. They also had arak (local rice wine) cocktails. It was such a special and unique last night.

Because we had an afternoon flight, we didn’t have to do a “mad dash” in the morning. Still, Candidasa is 2-3 hours from the airport. So we had our final breakfast at the resort, and went back to our room to finish packing and relax. Jen and I crossed the street to Warung Bintang for an afternoon snack/last Bali taste. She’d been craving their black rice pudding, but had been too full after our meals to get dessert. And so she had the delicious black rice pudding with coconut milk, and I had the traditional Balinese coconut filled pancake (dadar gulang). Yum! Then it was the long drive to the airport, where all three of us nodded off at times. Grabbed some last minute airport souvenirs and checked out the airport lounge. The flight to Hong Kong was nice and uneventful. We landed at midnight and would leave to San Fransisco the next morning, so it didn’t make sense to travel all the way into the city and back. Instead, we relaxed at the airport hotel (so convenient!). The next morning, we went swimming in the hotel pool before breakfast. Because, why not?!? Gotta say I’ve never had “swimming pool” be part of an airport layover before, and I highly recommend it. Great fun.

Plus, the locker room had this swimsuit dryer/centrifuge thing that would spin your suit super super fast, helping whisk away most of the moisture. Pretty cool and made it easier to pack up for our flight (still put the suits in a plastic bag, but they were only slightly moist instead of truly damp). Long flight back to the states. No complaints about business class. Some wishes that we three were better about sleeping on airplanes. Even with the fancier seats, we only slept intermittently and never well. Still, one of the most pleasant ways to be sleepy on an airplane, if that makes sense. Then we’ve got 7 hours to kill at SFO, but Alaska Air won’t take our luggage until 3 hr before the flight (which makes sense, from a logistics standpoint, but is irritating from a traveler standpoint). The international terminal does have a luggage storage place. Kind of expensive, though. Still, we dropped off our bags and took our travel groggy selves into the city. Got dim sum in chinatown. Wandered around the city for a bit.

We finally admitted we were all too tired to really care about any of this, so headed back to the airport (mistakenly thinking we’d have a nice lounge we could relax in). Huge security lines (this was still during Trump’s government shutdown). And then we discovered that our gate/terminal was super tiny and lacking in any amenities. There was just one place for food, even (but we’d already eaten, at least). We found three chairs near our gate, propped our feet on our backpacks and all three of us basically passed out for the next hour (our flight wouldn’t be leaving for 2 hours). That nap was much needed. And bonus, we found that our Alaska flight home was one of the former Virgin America planes that had yet to be converted. And i’d upgraded us to First class (Because it had been super cheap!). And the Virgin America first class seats actually are recliners. Super nice. They even had small tv’s that folded out from the armrests. Super unexpected bonus on a 2 hr domestic flight. However, being that they’re not part of the standard Alaska Air planes, the seats aren’t maintained much. My seat would recline (yay) but couldn’t be turned back into a seat. The helpful flight attendant had me get up and she had to bend over and do this weird manual re-set thing from behind the seat to turn it into a chair so I could eat the lunch. Ha. And boy was it good to be back home, too. What a journey. Rarely stressful, full of gorgeous people, and delicious food, and wonderful sites, and lifetime memories. Highly highly recommend. Just what my heart and soul needed.

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