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Bali Baby!

Originally Posted: October 07, 2010

Bob Schiff

A scenic view in Bali. (Bob Schiff)

Editor's Note: Our roving international correspondent, Bob Schiff, has been traveling throughout Asia, reporting on the obscure and exotic. Here is his fourth of many communiques detailing his travels. Enjoy Shiff's musings on the locals, customs, accommodations, and certainly the visual and descriptive majesty of the sites he is visiting and documenting.

A three hour van from Ijen to the port on the western tip of Java, a half hour ferry ride across to Bali followed by a three hour bus ride to Denpasar and a half hour taxi ride and I arrived at my hotel in Legian. I think everyone has an image of Bali in their minds - idyllic tropical island with beautiful white sand beaches and an exotic culture unlike anything back home. Wrong - at least in the tourist area of south Bali. South Bali is a heavily overbuilt and crowded tourist scene. Australian is the predominant language spoken here, mate. There are a few areas that range from high-end Seminyak to the young and wild party enclave of Kuta. The beach runs all along the western shore but with all the development it's not very inviting. It does have killer sunsets though. Rip tides claim quite a few tourists; three people drown on Kuta beach the day I took my first surfing lesson.

Padang Padang beach, about 45 minutes south of the Legian/Kuta area.

Surfing is huge throughout south Bali. The breaks off the entire southern peninsula are legendary. Most of the rental motorbikes have u-shaped brackets to hold surf boards. Surfer shacks and guesthouses dot the cliffs of the southern Bukit peninsula.

There is a great beach near the southern end of Bukit called Padang Padang that runs true to my vision of Bali - tiny crescent of white sand surrounded by steep cliffs. Calm turquoise water with a surf break beyond the bay out in the Indian Ocean. Lunch is available from a traditional warang right on the beach. I went there three times during my week stay in south Bali.

Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali is primarily Hindu; a beautiful interpretation of Hindu unique to Bali. After weeks of traveling through Java during Ramadan it was refreshing to get to somewhere where there was pork and a vibrant nightlife. The Balinese dishes are a nice change from the rather bland and somewhat limited food choices in Java. My plan is to wait out the rest of Ramadan here in Bali. The holy month ends with the two day festival of Idul Fitri and a nine day holiday of Lebaran when Muslim people go back to their villages to celebrate with their families. It is a crowded time to travel in Indonesia. In Bali many of the workers (mostly from Java) go back home and many of the rich from Jakarta come to Bali with their families for holiday. Many hotels are booked during this period and prices are firm.

Padang Padang beach.

Now this is a magical place. Ubud is in the hills a little over an hour north of the south Bali tourist area. Steeped in the Balinese rendition of Hindu culture it exudes charm. Incredibly green rice fields and tropical mountain jungle everywhere. Many of the vistas are breathtaking. Unfortunately it is deservedly-so a major tourist destination. The roads were never designed to handle the larger vehicles used by the hotels and tour operators to move people around so traffic is a nightmare. Not unlike Rt. 27 in the Hamptons in August. On a motorbike with no visible enforcement of traffic regulations I easily skirt the worst of the congestion.

There are endless performances and religious celebrations and festivals. Every evening just after sunset one can hear a mix of many gamelan musical performances throughout the village. One can't help but feel the spirituality and ancient mysticism in this special place. One evening there is a parade from the main temple in town to another a few kilometers away. Most of the local townspeople, dressed in traditional costume, participate in the procession.

Tough to find good value with accommodations but I did luck into two great places for my week long stay. There are many four and five-star hotels and spas and plenty of great restaurants. Nightlife is limited. As I'm exploring the area by motorbike I'm distracted by the sweet smell of barbeque from a smoking grill on the sidewalk in front of a crowded warang - Naughty Nuri's Place. It's packed with Asian tourists. I strike up a conversation with a table of local expats and am invited to sit down. One of the guys, Brian, is a very funny New Yorker and immediately we hit it off. He and his wife, a local named Nuri own the place. It's the same scene as at Cyril's table in Amagansett - a group of middle-age guys sitting around all afternoon drinking and telling tales while the place just jams with business. I feel right at home and spend about five afternoons there with my new friends. Oh, and easily the best pork ribs for thousands of miles.

The Balinese architecture around Ubud is spectacular. Dozens of temples and traditional family compounds. There is a large artist community and many galleries. Crafts - wood carvings, stone carvings, architectural details, garden features, etc. - from all over Indonesia are presented to the wholesale export trade in the Ubud area. I'm tempted to try my luck at a container of goods but quickly come to the realization that I'd most likely loose my shirt. Plus, I'm not ready to stop traveling yet.

Finally I tear myself away from the beauty of Ubud and my new friends at Naughty Nuri's and head to Sanur to sort out transportation to Gili Trawangan island - my next port of call.


Sunset at Jimbaran beach.


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