Brief Encounters of a Special Kind

Something curious and heart-warming occurred today but, to be appreciated, requires a backstory. Rewind about fourteen years. I am walking along ‘our’ beach and encounter a boy, perhaps eight or nine years old. I feel a great affinity with children so, as is my want, I greet him. ‘Are you having fun?’ I tease.  Something about him immediately invites me to proceed further, and thus a conversation ensues and continues as we meander up the beach side by side, the turquoise Coral Sea lapping to our left, the established foreshore trees, dense foliage and  largely obscured houses to our right.

Our feet fall on warm sand, his eager face constantly turns toward me, we make a lot of eye contact, his voice is lively and he smiles readily as we converse. He is an intelligent little boy who is clearly comfortable with adults and we are having a fat time together. His name is Josh and he tells me he is visiting his grandparents who live a few doors up from us in a large house owned by their son Jamie. Eventually we part ways as he heads back through the trees to his grandparent’s place and I continue with my beach walk, heart full. When I return home, I tell Jon of the encounter with this child who has charmed me. When next I see his grandmother, I tell her of our meeting which has given rise to such a feeling of warmth. Naturally, she glows and from time to time over the ensuing years, I ask after him. I can no longer recall quite what he looked like, nor any detail of what we spoke about, but he was immediately engaging and engaged. He had a certain quality that left me feeling he was quite special, and the encounter filled me with delight. I don’t remember seeing him again, but when I next see his grandmother, I mention my meeting Josh.  Some years later, his grandparents move, their son Jamie and wife, Josh’s parents, want to use the place as a holiday home, occasional respite from the mining town out west where they run a tyre business. From time to time I pass Jamie on my morning walk and he too is now privy to my affectionate recollection of Josh.

Today, from my kitchen window overlooking the street, through the many palms growing in our front garden I glimpse two couples strolling by. They are enjoying the late afternoon sun, beer cans and wine glasses in hand, an uncommon sight.  I subliminally register that one of the men may be Jamie. They linger in front of our place, pointing to plants in our garden. I am about to step out for a short late walk and as I reach the road, two of them are now pointing at the house diagonally opposite, while the other two have already disappeared through the adjacent vacant block. ‘Hello’, I say in a friendly voice as I approach them. The woman smiles, returning my greeting. ‘Something over there seems to have your attention’, I comment, curious. ‘It’s the rock wall’, she says. ‘Ah yes, he’s a good stone-mason’, I add. She now indicates that she knows we have a similar rock wall which she has obviously spotted on a previous occasion, because it is barely visible from the adjacent block, being obscured behind thick tropical foliage. She is referring to our Balinese style, open-air shower. Would you like to see it?’, I proffer. She jumps at that invitation.

The pebbles on the path running beside the house crunch beneath our feet as the three of us duck under overhanging palm fronds. Much admiring of and discussion about the wall follows- how it is constructed, the pinkish hue of our chosen rocks, the way it has been laid, that yes, it is local stone and so on.  ‘That’s the sort of stone wall I would like in front of our place’, she announces. And so, inevitably I inquire as to where they live. ‘I live in Brisbane’ says the man, ‘and I live just up the road’ the woman adds, so now I presume that they are not a couple. ‘So, which is your house?’ I ask, curiosity having got the better of me. As she describes its location, I twig. ‘Oh, then you must be Jamie’s wife!’ which she affirms, ‘And Josh’s mother.’ And now I spin into a spiel about the great little kid I met all those years ago on the beach. Clearly, it’s now time to formally introduce myself. No sooner do I start, than she cuts me off saying, ’I know who you are. I know all about you. Josh still talks about you. When he met you, he came running to the house and told me excitedly about the wonderful lady he had met on the beach.’ I am delighted that he remembers me and gobsmacked that he still talks about me! I ask her what he is doing now, though I have received scraps of information from his dad on our occasional encounters.

I learn that Josh is now in is early 20’s, studying Business, majoring in accounting at QUT in Brisbane. She proudly adds, ‘He has also developed an App about dog-friendly ……  Pet ..…’ . I don’t quite take in all the details. Did the App name include the word ‘Paws’ and was it pet friendly camping places?  Anyway, it’s cool, he’s a dog-lover too! ‘Oh yes’, she states, and I suddenly have the urge to connect with him again. ‘Hang on a minute, I will grab my card for you to pass on to him, I would love to be in touch with him’. I run upstairs and return to hand her my now somewhat outdated Bonney Bombach Artist card with its coloured image of an artwork and my contact details, minus my recent web address.  Everyone is smiling as we part ways.

Thus inspired, I begin to write this blog, knowing I will work on it over several days. As I continue, I am frustrated at not remembering the name of the App and suddenly wonder if I could find him online. I move into detective mode- after all, this approach has brought unexpected and pleasurable results in recent years, connecting me with significant people from my past. I type into my search bar ‘dog friendly campsites Qld’ and various things pop up but nothing that suggests Josh. I try again, omitting the word ‘Qld’. Again, many nation-wide doggy campsites jump to the page but still nothing that gels. Maybe I can try with just his name but what is his surname? Patrilineal, must be the same as his grandparents but I can’t remember their surname. Ah, perhaps it is still on our type-written sheet of local phone numbers, and voilà, there it is! So now I type in his full name and am amazed.

The first thing that pops up is ‘Josh Fritz, Director PatchPets’ on LinkedIn. I learn that his studies include Business Strategy, Business Planning, Negotiation and Management Consulting. This entry is followed by ‘21 yo from country Qld makes mad app for pooches’ repeated in several rural newspapers and then Onyapreneur: Josh Fritz, Founder of PatchPets App tells me: ‘Match-making app is going to the dogs. PatchPets, one of top three business start-ups to watch  Congrats, QUT student entrepreneur..…with his dog Quincy who inspired Josh to build a social app for pets, to help all pet-lovers find parks, doggy play-date mates, services and more. It’s going global’. There are many images of an open-faced young man with short-cropped dark hair, grinning, arms slung around his dog Quincy, some with his two dogs. I totally lack entrepreneurial skills but am impressed with this young man’s creativity and get up and go. More to the point,  I am struck by trajectory from my one-off memory of Josh as a child to where he has come, to see so clearly that the intelligence, confidence, warmth and outgoing spirit exuded as an eight or nine year-old, has led him to where he is today.

Putting aside those boy children with whom I have had longer or ongoing relationships, there have been a couple of other such brief encounters, the memory of which has endured. Step back twenty-six years.  Jon and I are visiting his family in Michigan and spend a day with niece Sandy. We are walking along a rural track amidst greenery. Jon walks beside Sandy, a strikingly attractive young woman with thick black hair and coal dark eyes. They are enjoying each other’s company, laughing, and talking intensely. I am walking behind them with her son Nicolas, a beautiful seven-year old with olive complexion, dark hair and dark eyes like his grandfather, Jon’s oldest late brother, Roger. He is sensitive, alert and, it quickly becomes apparent, a nature-lover. We are holding what feels like a very adult conversation, though again, I can’t recall exact details. I think we spoke of nature and wildlife and perhaps things a little philosophical. I am smitten.

This branch of the family are not willing correspondents, so our contact has been intermittent. We hear snippets periodically. I remember that he studied Anthropology which somehow feels consistent with my impression of him as a child.  However, now that Nic unexpectedly enters this blog, I need to update a little, so I write to Sandy. She tells me that after our visit in 1995, I sent him a book (I would guess about Australian flora &/or fauna), and that he and I corresponded for a while. I have forgotten all of this. I’m interested to know that he has been with his partner for 14 years and is the Director of a County Economic Alliance in a poor area with fading family farming and antiquated manufacturing. Ah, a guy with social commitment, that tallies. He now has a 10-month-old baby boy, Henry. Sandy tells me that he has always been fascinated by my artwork and writing and used to do both himself, before getting tied up ‘with a lot of other stuff’. As per Josh, I am touched that he remembers me, that there is still some connection. She also sends a few recent family photographs. I need to gain both her Nic’s permission to quote from her letter and to include the photograph. She replies that ‘Nic would be pleased to be included’, and that he asks for my contact details so I  flick him a quick email, include my web address and next day see that he has chosen to Follow the site.

And so, to one last brief encounter still further back in time. In 1989 Jon and I set off on a four-month adventure in Mexico and Central America. We are particularly interested in seeing the ancient Mayan sites in both the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and in Guatemala, reclaimed from under dense jungle in relatively recent years. In anticipation of this trip, mulling over what work I might make while travelling, something in my practice changes. The Mayan culture suggests earthy colours to me, and so my colour palette will shift from the rich tertiary colours I have been using, to a reduced colour palette of earth tones. I select a few watercolours, a black and white oil stick, and some pre-cut squares of absorptive, oriental paper to work with.

One of the great sites in Guatemala is Tikal, who’s iconic, thousand-year-old ruins of temples and palaces include the giant ceremonial Lost World (Mundo Perdido) Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. A national park was created around the extensive site, thus, we seek accommodation as close as possible to it. We find a small, low key set-up, surrounded by jungle, a short walk from the park entrance. It is run by a rather beautiful and clearly well- educated English woman and her Guatemalan husband. They have one child, a boy about eight years old with his father’s dark colouring rather than that of his very fair mother. Naturally, he speaks both English and Spanish. He prances up to us soon after we arrive, and brightly asks if we would like him to take us on his ‘magic jungle walk’. He is charming and apparently quite a little entrepreneur. He offers us his ‘tour’ for $5, not an insubstantial amount for a little kid in 1989 but clearly an invitation into his world. His enthusiasm is delightful, the offer irresistible. Sometime later, the three of us set off, following narrow earthen tracks which meander through thick humid rain forest. He is alert, intense in his concentration, quite the little bush boy. ‘Look, jaguar tracks’, he says, pointing to tracks on the ground, ‘and here, baby’, he adds pointing to smaller footprints. He is confident and we have no reason to doubt him, knowing Jaguars prevail in the jungles of this part of Guatemala. ‘Have you ever seen one?’, I innocently ask, ‘Oh yes, quite often, mother and baby’, he replies as casual as anything. And so, we make our way on a small circuit with him pointing out the details of the magnificent environment in which he lives, trusting we won’t be devoured by such an animal.

Regardless of their brevity, the encounters with these three wonderful little boys have left their mark, mutually it seems (at least with Nic and Josh) and perhaps pour contact is not yet over. In any case, given the openness and warmth of all three of these children, I imagine they are or will become great partners in their relationships and, if they have children, will be loving fathers. Well nurtured boys grow into wonderful men. May there be many more of them!

A CERTAIN AGE

It’s happened! Another defining moment. Think of them as Life Lessons, they start early. The first – I am three years old, sitting up in a hospital bed awaiting a tonsillectomy. My parents are reading to me. I remember their goodbye hug. Next day, I wonder why the ice-cream, served with red jelly, has the texture of sand. Somehow the sensation doesn’t register as a painful sore throat!  I don’t remember being afraid. Clearly, they have prepared me well. Still, it is telling that I have such clarity of memory of an event seventy-three years ago, hence classify it as a defining moment- learning to deal with separation.

A lesson (or three) in loss. I am perhaps seven years old when our first cat Tuppence dies, and two years later our cocker spaniel dog, Rusty. I am in the USA with my mother, spending a few months with her brother and his wife. It is the first time she has seen him since they were separated as refugees fleeing Vienna in 1938. It is also the first time I have been away from my father for a protracted time. He must remain at home running his photographic studio. Beloved old Rusty is at home in Melbourne with him and dies of old age while we are away. Not only am I missing my dad very much indeed, but now he must break the news of Rusty’s death.                                                        

I am so grateful for the sensitive way he and they handled these events to ease the grief. My Daddy wrote me a beautiful letter, assuring me that Rusty had not suffered and suggesting that I could choose the type of dog we would next have- perhaps the same as the Dalmatian I have befriended next door to my aunt and uncle’s home in LA.? When we return to Melbourne, we indeed procure a Dalmatian puppy, having the thrill of selecting one from a large litter.  I duly name him Chuck, or Chucky, after the LA version.

I am now thirteen and spot blood in my nickers at home one morning. I have started menstruating. Oh, the sight of that blood excites me so. Our family ethos was one of openness and I remember proudly announcing it to my mother as I am already well informed about such matters-reproduction, human sexuality, and birth control. However, I have no recollection of what exactly menstruation signified to me-whether it was reaching child-bearing age or more generally about now being ‘a woman’. It was, nonetheless, a defining moment.                                                    

There have been others along the way, life-changing events such as committing to a full sexual relationship at a relatively young age with my first serious boyfriend. I am not quite sixteen, yep, not actually of legal age but quite a mature and responsible sixteen-year-old. Denise, my closest friend at high school and I, feel rather superior, believing we are the only two girls in our class to have ‘lovers’ and it feels like being part of a ‘grown-up girls’ club. We share our stories, both of us being in enduring relationships. Hers leads to marriage, mine does not which takes me to the next journey, the travails of love, the painful acceptance when deeply meaningful relationships do not take me where I wish to go between my early ‘20’s to early 30’s.  These learnings lead to greater self -knowledge and clarity in finally choosing the right partner in the clever, funny, eccentric, wise Jon, defining experiences.

I was the kid who couldn’t paint or draw, though always an ardent art-lover. As a young woman I live my creative life vicariously, having several friends both in Australia and in Europe where I live for several years, who are artists, writers, and musicians. In Italy I become obsessed with Byzantine and Renaissance art; while living in London, with contemporary art and the great sculptors of the 1960’s.

As a result of encouragement from various people over these years, in my mid ‘20’s and with great trepidation, I enrol in an adult education class in sculpture at the Camden Institute in London. A sequence of life-changing events unfolds. I am driven in a new and thrilling direction, discovering aspects of myself hidden until then. Back in Melbourne, now in my early ‘30’s I find my way into art school as a mature-age student, privileged with some prominent and influential teachers. I soon leave behind a decade of practice in Melbourne and London as a social worker and student counsellor to recreate my life as a practising visual artist, and in more recent years, in writing.

I have lost a few friends to death over the years but when my father dies, aged one hundred, I move back to Melbourne to care for my mother for three years. This is a great lesson in caregiving, especially since I have not had children, which decision was another protracted and complex defining moment. The loss of my mother feels momentous. The depth of grief is unlike anything I have experienced before and am now the only remaining member of our immediate family, and the only one in Australia.

So, to the present and the source of this story, expanding unexpectedly backwards into the past. Some days ago, I set out on a beach walk which, with one recent exception, I haven’t done for some time. Beach walking used to be a daily occurrence, but arthritic hips demand certain conditions these days, the sometimes-firm sand at low tide and a flat surface. It is a long weekend within school holidays so there are several people walking along the usually unpopulated beach.                                      

Late afternoon, mid- winter, a gentle 24C. The sky is cloudless, the sea a shimmering silver in the low tide. I am wearing well-cut beige shorts, a blouse purchased in Hawaii (all dreamy pastel tones, palm fronds and frangipani blooms), the usual many pearl studs in my ears, and the rings-on-my-fingers, bells-on-my-toes gig, hair up in its quasi ‘40’s style and feeling great. As I round the stony point at Blackcurrant island, a group of people, perhaps numbering ten, are approaching- two or three adults, the rest children of various young ages. I step aside, though the lead person, a young woman, has invited me to proceed first. A small, blue-eyed girl with long blond plaits, perhaps five years old, now approaches, looks up at me, turns to her mother and in her little voice says: be careful of the old lady.

Well there you have it! Old lady!!!! I start to giggle, smile at the child and, unable to resist, jokingly say to her: You’re famous now. This is the first time anyone has called me old. Her mother, by way of an unnecessary but kind apology, says: she thinks I am old too. I think the child is a little embarrassed, but she’ll survive.

I find this SO funny, and through her eyes, I must indeed seem quite old.  I am immediately taken back to nursery school, aged three, with my beloved teacher ‘Harper’. I thought she was as old as Methuselah, with her grey hair puffing out around her ears like my favourite toy koala. She was probably less than sixty, possibly even in her fifties, far younger than I am now.

Still, I cannot define myself as old, not even elderly – no pink perm and twinsets for me, though perhaps that is a long-outdated image. There are many other adjectives I might use to describe myself but old is not amongst them. It raises the question of what terminology would be appropriate. Perhaps I am simply a well-preserved woman of a certain age.

The Family of Man

I was perhaps 11 years old when on my photographer fathers’ bookshelves I found a publication entitled The Family of Man. I was instantly enthralled and many images within it remain embedded in my memory over 60 years later. Two come to mind immediately-the wonder of new life-a visceral, glistening image of a baby being delivered, a symbol of hope and renewal and probably my first exposure to this. The other, a gaunt faced young mother, possibly from the Appalachians, elbow on table, hand to cheek gazes through strained eyes into the unknown, two small, raggedly dressed  children bury  their heads on her shoulders, a depiction of abject poverty and despair.

I now know The Family of Man was conceived as a photography exhibition, hailed as the most successful ever assembled and opened at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York) in January 1955. It then toured the world for eight years to record-breaking audience numbers. The exhibition was curated by noted photographer and Director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, Edward Steichen and the book is a permanent embodiment of this monumental exhibition. It reproduces all the 503 images by 273 photographic artists and is a celebration of the universality of the human experience, a declaration of global solidarity in the decade following World War II and the Cold War. Poet Carl Sandburg wrote the eloquent prologue and the book’s title is lifted from one of his poems.

Amongst many other things of significance to me, I retained this precious book after my father’s death at the age of 100 years. Its striking cover made its way into my work, an installation piece, exhibited in 2011, Memento Mori: Tree of Life, Artspace Mackay and beyond.

It is interesting to reflect upon one’s life, to recognize how early are laid down the building blocks which come to later define us. I see a photograph of myself aged three, bending down to touch and rejoice in the fragrance of a flower; mountain walking at Mt Buffalo between my mother and a friend who  grasp my little  hands; digging in the sand at a Melbourne beach; or lovingly  embracing my first cat. It appears I am already a nature, plant and animal lover.

In my parents’ home, the radio was always tuned to the ABC, classical music filled the house and I was taken to concerts and art galleries. As refugees who fled Vienna in 1938 escaping Nazi persecution, human rights and social justice were of great import to them. The legacy this bestowed upon me was to be vigilant in the face of intolerance, oppression and persecution and my work as an artist since the ‘90’s has addressed these concerns. To remain silent is to be complicit.

And so, to where this ramble started. I recently joined a zoom event hosted by Grandmothers for Refugees. One refugee and two asylum seekers, both still in detention after seven years, spoke movingly and eloquently. At the close of the event, a poem was read and this is what I would like to share with you. It was written by a Warsan Shire, a prolific young poet and activist born in Kenya of Somalian parents who lives in London.

The poem is titled Home and I hope you will find it as moving as I do, for it is the task of artists and others to keep at bay the dest­ructive forces of bigotry and fear. To quote John Donne:

Any man’s death diminishes me because
I am involved in Mankinde
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

HOME

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a
truck feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in
your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
I don’t know what I’ve become
but I know that anywhere
is safer than here

Warsan Shire
2015

Copyright Warsan Shire, 2015

Reference:2019 Christine Cummins, Dignity in a Teacup-True Stories of Courage and Sacrifice from Christmas Island,  ARCADIA

More Poems!

Hello again to you all.                                                                                                                                                            Since coming back from Bali at the beginning of February I have, as you know, added the Bali Travel journal (in POSTS under the HOME page) plus many photos from that trip (under TRAVEL WRITING- yes, I know, completely illogical placement but for a reason,  the details of which I won’t bore you by repeating).                                                                                                                                                           The Corona virus was in its early stages when we left Australia for Bali at the end of January and it is astonishing to see and experience what has transpired since! Everyone’s life is altered in various ways and to various degrees and so there have been so many lives tragically lost.  While I am very concerned about friends and family in Italy and USA, our Balinese family are forefront in my mind. Like so many in less developed countries, they live a pretty hand-to-mouth existence at the best of times and now there are no tourists and thus no business in the warung (restaurant). And that’s before taking health and medical services into consideration. Ever resourceful, they have experimented with various little enterprises to bring in a few dollars, most recently making takeaway pizzas for the locals who love them. But the path ahead is very uncertain. Thank goodness for WhatsApp so we can at least easily be in frequent communication.

I hope everyone who reads this is safe and well. Those of you in countries other than Australia, of which there are quite a few, have my special thoughts and best wishes because we are most fortunate here with measures taken early, few deaths (so far a total around 90) and the curve flattening nicely, even though lives are restricted and large numbers of people are out of work and  all the implications that entails both now and into the future.

I have kept in touch with many people and have been writing something called Covid Times, sending it out more or less weekly via email, though I may not continue with this so regularly. I would LOVE to hear from those who have been reading it but haven’t been in touch with me, just to know you are OK. And if anyone would like to be added to the list to receive, should I continue it, please send me your name and email address.

Meanwhile I have been working on poems, some quite new, some written in recent years waiting patiently for me to re-visit and re-write to completion. So, seventeen new poems for you poetry buffs to discover. The new ones appear beneath the previously existing ones in each section. To SELECTED POEMS, I have added another eight; seven to THE NATURAL WORLD and two to PORTUGAL POEMS. Any thoughts/ comments welcome.

That’s it for now. Take care. Explore your new world.

Bonney

Bali 2020 photos

Hello again! Been home from Bali almost 2 weeks, Corona virus has spread far more, glad we arn’t out there travelling now, lots of hand-washing and care to you all! I do hope it wont impact too badly on any of you.

Today something unexpected and charming occurred- our old magpie pair haven’t produced babies for years but keep trying – building nests, taking food we give them back to the nests. Our geneticist friends, Pete and Jane, who are also magpie experts, think our pair are weirdos, trying to reproduce out of season etc. Father magpie, Dadita, turned up today, happily eating food I threw down onto the deck as usual; shortly thereafter, to my great astonishment, a baby appeared, so I put some food on the railing for it, stood back a little and before the baby could get to it, Dadita, grabbed it. I shooed him away, put more food out and behold, a second baby arrived! So there you have it, two healthy little magpies who no doubt will be eating from our hands in due course. My face could barely contain my grin!

Those following my Bali journal on the Home Page under Posts can now go to Travel Writing, Bali 2020, and find photo-documentation of the trip with headings mirroring the journal entries. Enjoy.

RETURN TRIP TO BALI 2020, 5TH & FINAL POST

Ubud, Our Proper Room and Other Matters

Next morning we relocate to the room we booked, mirror image of where we were last visit – floor to ceiling sliding glass doors overlooking Mt Agung if no clouds and the dense greenery and the Ridge. Many huge frangipani trees are in full pink, larger and more slender-bloomed than those we have at home. So far, aside from lolling in pool, reading, writing, eating and doing the daily Yellow Flower Cafe Walk, we have had interesting conversations with two westerners who live in the area- one Australian woman painter who has visited Bali over many years and finally built what she describes as a mansion with pool for $300,000 including the land which is on a 25 yr lease (she hopes to extend to 50yrs.)

And a woman from Brooklyn, NY who has lived here for 25 yrs and owns five properties, the largest of which we pass daily. They spend extended periods eg 4 months in other places where they meet up with their kids.Vietnam and Mexico were mentioned.They live off the rentals of these accomodations; the big house rents for $6000 p.mth, a good earner. She explained that they had 90% occupancy in the past but as so many foreigners have built here, the competition is stiff and it’s now around 50%. We find the stories of ex-pats endlessly fascinating, a bit of vicarious stuff going on on our part I suspect.

A couple of nights ago, Dave and I went to the traditional Balinese dance/ gamelan orchestra performance in the magnificent outdoor setting and architecture of the Saraswati Temple behind the Lotus Pond in town, always an absolute treat.

Feb. 18,Ubud: Our Slovenians Have Arrived!

Long awaited pleasure to reunite with our ‘Slovenian family’, Petra and Bostjan and their daughters Lara, now 11.5 yrs and Tajda just 10 yrs. We’ve enjoyed quite an ‘ international’ friendship, starting in 2003 when they were a young unmarried couple Woofing with us, and since then having been together at their home in Slovenia, in our home again, in Denmark then Barcelona four years ago and now here! The girls’ English is now astonishingly good and they are impressive in many ways – mature, interested, interesting. This time together will be just wonderful. So after joining us here at Elephant for breakfast with protracted conversation, we taxi for a few minutes as far as the vehicle can go, after which we walk ten minutes in the now extremely hot sun along the narrow concrete paths to their place. The path, though similar in size, differs from the Yellow Flower walk as it passes some little houses, art/ craft stalls, fields of flowers and vegetables but is also busy with motorbike traffic so one is constantly stepping aside, pressed against the high wall to let them pass enveloped in smelly fumes (which are getting to me a bit in Bali now with unrefined petrol and many motorbikes, often difficult to avoid) . But their accommodation is delightful – three old houses in one compound-one for the owner, two rentable, in the midst of fields and sometimes rice paddies. The buildings are unique, incorporating parts of old traditional structures with some modern touches. Two-storey, the floors are solid dark timber, glass windows are interspersed with timber shutter doors and windows, one corner wall is of latticed brickwork to allow light and airflow. Some wall sections and internal doors are of pale heavy carved timber. The kitchen has polished concrete bench tops and the kitchen/dining/ living room is one large open space. Downstairs consists of a huge bathroom and one small bedroom. A modern spiral staircase again of heavy dark timber with black steel railings leads to the large open upper room where two more double beds with mosquito nets stand. A balcony with couch overlooks the fields facing back over both ridges toward our place. As the crow flies, we are a minute away. In fact from my room at Taman, I see the large house almost adjacent to their place! I was surprised at how cool their house felt with only ceiling and standing fans, no air-con.

Together, we go out for a late lunch in their little area five minutes from the house to a cafe raised on stilts overlooking the rice fields. The food, though local, is muted to the western palate, thus disappointing .

By 3.30 Jon and I head home to a darkening sky and make it back to the accompaniment of distant thunder. Within half an hour it starts raining, then pelting down and two hours later is still raining though not so heavily. This is only the third rain in our time in Bali. The thunder is close and loud and it’s moody and beautiful.

Feb.19, Ubud : Galungan

We awaken to overcast and humid but no rain. And so it remains all day. It’s Galungan today, one of the biggest festivals in Bali where preparations start days in advance. Penjor, tall bamboo poles with offerings suspended off the ends, line the streets. Various food offerrings are made in sequence over three days -cooked bananas, fried rice cakes and a pig or chicken is sacrificed the day before Galungan. The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

I oversleep after a not so good night, and one of the staff presents herself at 8.30 a.m at our room to inform us that the kitchen will close at 9 a.m. We already knew that Elephant, which supplies breakfast to Taman Indrakila guests, would be closed for the day after breakfast, but not the precise time. The Taman staff are already dressed in their traditional finery for the ceremony and there has been much discussion about scarcity of taxis, what will be open or closed etc for the holiday.The men have made it clear that they won’t go to town with me to see the festivities and I am having difficulty letting go of the idea. Obviously we are getting older  and I too sometimes have problems summoning energy or overcoming aches and pains. The extreme humidity also takes its toll…so, sad to say, none of us go into Ubud centre for Galungan. It doesn’t bother the men but I feel foolish and as though I am letting myself down, being the cultchavultcha that I am. Taxis will be difficult to find today especially for returning to our accomodation so I finally accept my decision, grateful that I have seen the big ceremony before at Kintamani and have good memories and many photos of it. Instead, I check out the street in front, watch a large number of locals, men all clad in traditional white with the head scarf, women in colourful sarong, kebaya and sash, riding to town on their motorbikes or in the opposite direction uphill, presumably to their family homes with their little temples.

I take a walk up the street, get talking to a couple who seem to be looking for somewhere to eat and offer to show them the organic gardens attached to Warung Pulau Kelapa, one of our favorite eating places. I always love walking through their magnificent grounds, over the sturdy, newly constructed bamboo bridge and into the extensive cultivated organic gardens containing ducks, a large variety of familiar and less familiar vegetables and fruits, including mulberries and asparagus, neither of which I would have expected in the tropics. And of course chillis, garlic, gingers, turmeric, lemon grass and much much more.

It transpires that the couple are Lebanese Australians, and we have interesting conversation about the migrant experience, how they met, (her brother in Australia is his good friend).She married him to get out of Lebanon and describes how difficult the early days were, neither speaking each other’s language. But here they are, thirty+ years , three children and four grandchildren later, energetic, attractive, youthful still and clearly happy. He is in the police force in Melbourne working as a cultural liaison officer, a nice man.

A dip in the pool. The two skinny black dogs we see around the place run down the steps and head for the small temple next to the pool, where more elaborate canang sari were earlier placed for Galungan. One skips back and out of sight, the other makes a grab for something and hurtles past me with a rice ball in his mouth! Every dog has his day.

The place is dead, no one in sight except for the unusually constant line of people on the Ridge Walk beyond, mostly locals dressed for ceremony heading toward town. I return to Warung Kelapa with the men for another outstanding lunch.Surprisingly, on our return mid afternoon, Mt Agung is fully visible but for some cloud streaks just under its irregular, blown-off peak. The constant stream of ridge-walkers continues, this time in the opposite direction, people returning from ceremony and the usual tourist/ traveller walkers.

It’s our last day with Jon’s brother and we go out for coffee in the as yet unexplored upper level bar/coffee room at Indus, owned by Australian Janet de Neefe.It’s just up the road saving the many steps down to the restaurant area where we usually go. It’s Happy Hour so we indulge in elegant cocktails- nice as I haven’t been drinking at all and Jon has only has a few beers in 3 wks. This is a magnificent space also, with high carved bleached timber ceilings, pale grey shuttered doors which slide completely open along two sides, marble floors and marble topped tables with heavy elegant timber chairs.

Feb. 20, Ubud: Leg Pain, Balinese Massage And A Night Out

My first massage on this holiday, more fool me! An hour later and $15 poorer, I am sure much tension has no been released from muscles overcompensating for a dicky hip! We see Dave off by taxi to tackle the long journey back to Michigan, brave soul and the day rolls past until it’s time to taxi to town and meet our Slovenians, Petra and the family, at Casa Luna, the other restaurant owned by Janet de Neefe.It also has marble topped tables, huge spaces, gloriously generous vases of exotic tangerine-colour gingers, a burnt orange wall with huge gilt mirror over the entry counter, gorgeous light fittings- the Bali aesthetic is everywhere. It’s Happy Hour again, a repeat performance and a delicious light meal of grilled chicken in Balinese sambal, rice and a green vegetable/grated coconut dish for me; breaded duck confit balls in a slightly

spicy sauce, a quite wonderful, European/ Asian fusion followed by nasi campur for Jon. It a delight to be with our young Slovenian friends and we now meet the friends with whom they are travelling and ready ourselves to go to a traditional dance performance, again in the Saraswati Temple. As we are about to leave the restaurant, the sky opens and it’s pouring soon after. Jon and I came with small umbrellas but the others are ill- prepared. Petra has no hesitation in asking the waitress whether it might be possible to borrow an umbrella and her request is immediately granted. How gracious and trusting. Can you imagine this anywhere else? Lara huddles under my little umbrella with me, and arm in arm we skip across overflowing gutters and in a short time arrive at the temple to be told to go upstairs into a charmless room with three other people already sitting there. Fortunately the rain eases, then stops, the performance will indeed proceed on the outdoor usual ‘stage’ in front of the great illuminated temple under huge frangipani trees and we are instructed to come back down. The plastic seats are wiped off, the stone paved stage area likewise, the gamelon players arrive and the performance commences. Regular flashes of lightening add to the already bright illumination of the temple structure, the orchestra and the performers but the sky remains closed. A perfect night enjoyed by all. Petra and the kids ask if the dancers have had their fingers broken, so astonished are they at the flexibility of their fingers of the dancers!

Feb.21, Ubud: At Last The Ridge Walk!

Yesterday’s massage gave me a very good sleep so I am determined not to leave Ubud without doing the Ridge Walk.There’s only so much a woman can forgive herself for! Jon agrees to join me so, concession to knees, hips, steps and heat, we arrange to taxi to Keliki, the village at the far end of the ridge from where we will start along the narrow paved road. Although a stone’s throw away as the crow flies, it is a circuitous route and a good ten + minutes drive to go round the ravine passing through densest rainforest.Blessedly it is overcast today so even at 8.30 a.m. it’s not too hot.It’s the first time Jon has done this short walk (less than 3 km in total), my third in several years and, although overheated by the end, he thoroughly enjoys it. Flanked with rice fields bright green with new shoots, we pass a few small warungs. The fields are sparsely dotted with houses and accommodations. Karsa Spa is the most obviously impressive place we pass so I lead him downhill on a path beyond it’s cafe and through their most beautiful grounds. Several ponds are brim-full of large pink water lilies;huge stone pots are overgrown with mosses and lichens containing large plants.The cafe and many small open roofed pavilions which serve as individual treatment rooms, overlook the paddies.

Back on the little road we continue, noting the various accommodations, as I have always yearned to stay up here away from the pollution and noise of Ubud’s roads, Jon has always been put off by its relative ‘remoteness’. My other issue is number of steps, irregular in height and large in number, at Taman Indrakila especially , even more down to the pool, as the premises is built on the side of the steep ravine. We look in on a fine-looking establishment, much younger in years than Taman and presumably more expensive and are delighted to find it traditional/modern, beautiful grounds, huge swimming pool accessed by only a few steps, all overlooking the steep ravine. Surprisingly it’. Not too much more expensive than Taman and if we were to stay a week, they would certainly cut a deal. We are both won over! The daily walk would be flattish along the level section of the ridge with many small concrete paths coming off it into the rice fields, a few little eating places, perfect for the future.

Back home, Jon takes a large load to the laundry lady which will cost something like $3! By 12.30 it is raining lightly, much cooler and I am ready for lunch.

Petra et al decide to join us so we take them to, guess where, Kelapa the organic (yet again- hard to beat a place of this excellence). I notice an unusual spread of small dishes at one table and figure it’s the famed rijsttafel (lit. rice table), a meal consisting of a large number of small dishes and sambals originating in W.Sumatra and adapted by the Dutch. We have only eaten this once before several years ago and certainly didn’t know it was available here. A separate menu is given to us and what a feast. The kids order individual dishes and the adults two of the above, each recommended for two persons but would be sufficient for three. After eating, we walk ‘the Slovenians’, (I love referring to them thus, sound formal and funny) through the organic gardens between rain showers and then back to a Indus for coffee. Heavy showers are keeping the temperature down. We say our good byes, as we all leave for Lovina tomorrow and will meet up with them again there.

Feb. 21, Return Trip To Lovina

The drive from Ubud takes an unexpected three full hours as, being Sunday and still school Holidays, there is much traffic around Lake Bratan, the Twin Lakes and Bedugul. The latter has a substantial and long-standing Muslim population and we pass some small mosques and see women with headscarves. Creeping up the mountains we head into a bit of rain but my bet of fine weather down on the coast proves right. Heavy traffic again as we go through Singaraja, Bali’s second largest city and one I always enjoy passing through because of its Dutch colonial architecture, impressive administrative buildings and tree-lined streets.

Again a feeling of ‘coming home’ as we are welcomed back to Summer Guesthouse. This time it is full, even the one dormitory room which has seven beds and the tent rooms.

Gardeners are drawn to gardeners, dog lovers to dog lovers and Ketut of Summer Guesthouse and I bonded over both on our 2018 visit. She has just finished grafting cuttings from the wonderful red flowering frangipani in front of Wayan’s warung and a second colour onto hers;likewise with her desert roses.

We spend time and enjoy lunch at the warung with Wayan and later Putu who is home for less than 24 hours, and borrow her large umbrella for the 2-minute walk home as the sky is black. A huge rain sets in and, as before, feels as if it will never end but an hour or two later the clouds lift. Coffee and the adored Greco Napoleon (custard with mille feuille pastry) early evening are followed by the walk down the the sea and back up the small parallel street dropping in again at the warung to spend more time with Putu. However, she has gone into town to a kids’ playground with brother Ciri and little Elina.

Feb 22, Lovina:A Busy Day

We wake to sun, blue skies and how beautiful are the tropics!The ‘green walk’ alone before breakfast is always a wonderful start to the day, still cool and shaded enough for almost an hour and so much to observe! I pick my way through puddles from last night’s rain and come to the nearby building construction which, in the five days since we were here, has almost completed stone foundations. A lorry is tipping off a load of gravel and an hour later on my return, has delivered another load of soil. Later, when we pass en route to lunch, a huge new pile of rock has been delivered.

Opposite in the wet field, a young man crouches down and I can’t make out what he is doing. In his hand is a fine metal thread one end of which is embedded in the ground and which he gently pulls on, as if fishing. What could it be? Frogs? Lacking his patience, I continue on my way after a few minutes, none the wiser. A small boy responds to my pagi (mornin’) with a grin, emerging from the field where his parents are working. Further along, three boys dressed in their Sunday best, sporting sophisticated hairdos, shyly greet me and call hello to me when they spot me on my return.

Many of the village houses I pass on these small concrete lanes have chickens running round the yard and several have a black pig or two, one of whom is clearly demanding breakfast from its owner! Another plot has a small structure with palm frond roof under which two doe-eyed Balinese cows are tethered together with two young calves, all curious about my close presence.

After breakfast, we spend time with Putu before she must leave to return to her new nursing placement, this time just two weeks in Infectious Diseases before two months in an out- patient clinic nearby here, an outreach service of a large public hospital.

We have decided to go to Buda Bakery and restaurant in the backstreets of the village, a hot 15-minute walk but well recommended by Trip Advisor which we haven’t used before.It’s a delightful setting one storey up in a tiny quiet residential street overlooking red tiled roofs and huge coconut palms laden with young fruit, large and very tall clumps of bananas, mango, other dense foliage and large trees. Jon chooses an asian coconut- chicken soup followed by chicken cordon bleu, something European for a change and I have a tomato and feta salad

and grilled fish fillet with sambal and rice.Somehow we are disappointed with the meal, appreciating Wayan’s cooking as far superior.

After a short time in the pool it’s time to meet up with Wayan to undertake a mission-a seamstress to make up something I want for Jon. This involves riding on the back of Wayan’s motor scooter, something I haven’t done for many years. Oh dear, hip and legs haven’t been brilliant for the last couple of days and getting the leg over the seat is a bit challenging and distinctly unpleasant. But once on, I brave the main road traffic for a short distance seated behind Wayan, both helmeted, before we turn off. After a few minutes on the village road we arrive at our destination. Now a very short ride to Wayan’s massage lady where we have been together once before. It’s a treat she can’t normally afford and needs.Two massage tables in a small room, two sisters, both had undertaken a six month course years ago in Denpasar and one had spent four years working in Turkey just as Ciri’s wife now is doing. She spoke positively of the experience and said it was no problem being a single woman there. Good to hear.

Getting back on the motor scooter after the massage was noticeably easier and the massage quite wonderful. I could become addicted! Heavy rain fell during our massage but luckily has stopped.

Just as I am about to walk home from the warung, Jon turns up so we set off for coffee at Cafe Greco and the delicious mille feuille pastry Greco Napoleon again, repeat the round walk to the sea, pass many empty or almost empty eating places and feel sad for the struggling locals. In The entrance to one shop is flanked with two cats looking like statues. Not far along, we see a tall European woman with a puppy in her arms and stop to chat. Dutch, married to a Balinese, she has already adopted six dogs and hopes her husband will accept this seventh, feverish pup!

The ‘busy’ day ends back at the warung and more quality time with Wayan and Kembar. We are pleased that she has had quite good customer numbers since our return yesterday and tomorrow brings more as our Slovenian friends, together with the other Slovenian family, seven in all, are taking her Cooking Class in the morning and in the evening, Jon and I have arranged a 40th birthday feast prepared by Wayan for Petra.

We have been joking with Wayan that by the end of the day she will be tired but rich!

Feb 24, Lovina: Ketut’s Garden, Learning More and The 40th Birthday Feast

Today the plastic wrap surrounding her new grafts came off the desert roses and frangipanis. Now she sits under the bale, the open-sided raised pavilion at the end of the pool, with sharp knife and palm leaves preparing offerrings for Kuningan, the next ceremony. While she commences this, Desi, one of her three employees, washes Domi the dog who stands patiently and seems to enjoy all the touching.

These offerrings, again made from sectioned pieces of palm leaves, differ again from the Galungan ones. The small segments are stapled together making a round shape, representing the earth. Prior to the use of staples, fine strands of bamboo were used and our Wayan still uses this method.

Kuningan marks the end of the 10-day Galungan period and the Balinese believe that Kuningan day is the day when their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during Galungan celebration. They make offerings to be given to the ancestors on their farewell day. The offerings include yellowed rice (Kuningan is derived from the word kuning which means yellow) which is placed in a small “bowl” made of woven coconut leaves. Other common offerings are chicken, seeds, fish and fruit like papaya and cucumber. The yellow rice is the symbol of human’s gratitude towards God for life, joy, wealth, health and prosperity given. The ‘bowl’ is placed on a woven tray and surrounded by fruits and the small, colourful canang sari described earlier, sit on top.

Due to the amount of preparation needed, the local government allows a two-week vacation period for (almost) everyone. That way, people can prepare for both Galungan and Kuningan.

Yesterday on talking with a Ketut, I learned that they own a shop near the beach which was her first business and behind which she, her husband and two boys used to live.When they accrued sufficient money, they built this guesthouse and she tells me they are constructing another accomodation nearby. Putting two and two together, I realize this is the building site with the stone foundations mentioned earlier which I pass on my daily green walk. So today I stop and chat with one of the workers,mention Ketut and Summer Guesthouse and get a warm reception. They plan to make the new accomodation exclusively a hostel, without swimming pool and convert the one dormitory room here into another large room for two like ours. They also own a third block of land nearby, not yet developed.

The Birthday Feast

Petra turns 40 and we have asked Wayan to prepare a feast for nine. She has also, said in consultation with us, ordered a black-forest cake decorated with ‘Petra 40’ on top and a few candles.The foodp, all Balinese except for the cake, is wonderful consisting of many different dishes – ikan pepes (fish baked in banana leaves), nasi goreng, tempe with roasted peanuts, fried chicken pieces with sambal, fish sate sticks, uraban( green vegetable and coconut dish) and more. Everyone is delighted and Jon and I feel so proud of her. She joins us when she has finished cooking and charms everyone with her engaging personality. As her kids help her in the kitchen when available, Kembar is ‘on duty’ and I tell the group a bit about this. Petra relates very well to this as she also leads a hectic life as a full time professional lawyer, now in partnership with her husband Bostjan,lectures part-time at the university and is a wonderful mother. An interesting conversation ensues. Petra has a lovely manner with people, empathetic and warm and there is something special for me seeing two younger woman ‘of my life’ connecting so well. Precious moments.

Later, twin Kembar and girlfriend Indra briefly join us and their grace impresses, especially given their limited English, their youth and Slovenian accents to deal with.

Feb 25, Lovina: A Visit To The Villa

We have never been in a Balinese villa which is what Petra et al have rented for a few nights. It’s in Dencarik, a 15-minute drive west of Lovina set well off the road on a rough track like our place, which then leads onto smooth concrete running parallel to the beach along which stand villas, each large houses on very large blocks of land. Five bedrooms and four bathrooms, full time gardener and staff of two who prepare three daily meals and clean. There is a huge swimming pool, a bale with soft mattress and cushions, many outside lounging chairs and couches and beautiful gardens.It faces onto the sea and the gentle breeze is noticeable.

I am curious as to the owner (I am curious about everything, and not being shy, ask lots of questions and learn much). The owner is Chinese- Javanese like the adjoining property.

We share a meal and spend several hours talking around the outside table.Sad to think our reunion will finish by the end of tomorrow when we will all eat at Wayan’s again. It is a special friendship.

Feb.26, Lovina: Dolphins And A Dandy Pampering

On my recommendation the Slovenians decide for the dolphin trip which Jon and I did a few years ago as this part of the north coast is rich with them. We start out at 7 a.m on an overcast morning with two outriggers and within fifteen minutes are amongst another ten or more boats already hovering out there. Almost immediately we spot small pods of bottlenose dolphins.They slip so silently and fluidly in and out of the water, sometimes breaching entirely and landing back with a loud smack; occasionally blowing air audibly from their blowhole. In fact they do this 4-5 times per minute but as they are constantly on the move one doesn’t hear it often. Nonetheless, there is something touching about it, being reminded that they, like us are mammals and air is their life source. The kids shriek with delight (sometimes the big kids too!) every time one breaches or spins in the air or a group come right beside the boat.They’re so endearing. The boats follow the pod(s) gently and it is apparent that the dolphins have no discomfort with this as they could easily out-swim us and don’t. It’s impossible to know how many individuals we actually see but the sightings must be in the hundreds. Looking back to land, the mountains behind the coast are partially shrouded in cloud, the water is mercurial, it’s a subtle vision of grey on grey, gorgeous!

I have badly neglected my fingernails and toenails and decide to treat myself, aged almost 75, to a manicure and pedicure for the first time in my life! Fussed over hand and foot by two beautiful young Balinese women who snip and file and buff and push cuticles and still more before washing, applying creams and massaging; they finally apply multiple layers- 1 clear, 3 coats of my chosen red and a final clear coat. Seventy-five minutes later and only $30 poorer, I emerge feeling like a queen and committed to repeating this indulgence as needed at home! Who could EVER do their nails like that alone (though I won’t bother with colour on the fingernails- too much housework and gardening to sustain it).

By mid afternoon the black clouds over the mountains once more break open, accompanied by some lightening and thunder and really heavy rain for an hour or two before easing. The thunder becomes more distant, the dropped temperature stays with us.

Feb.26, Lovina: Last Supper with The Slovenians

They join us for dinner at Wayan’s warung without their friends, everyone choosing individual dishes.My rendang pork is absolutely delicious and the others all enjoyed their food. Everyone agreed that it was perfect to just be the six of us alone. Our relationship with the girls is precious as they were little kids when we were last together and spoke little English. Our Skype and WhatsApp calls in more recent years where they are always present, indicated a deepening connection but this time together has moved the relationship profoundly. They are people in their own right with humour, grace, warmth, empathy, sophistication and the brightest of intelligence and, it seems, they can’t give or receive too many hugs! And the closeness between the sisters is something to marvel at. A wonderful family to have in our life.

Another unexpected joy is the way Wayan and Petra connected, starting with the cooking class the Slovenians did with Wayan and growing with each interaction.Little Tajda said of their connection, I think they are like sisters.From entirely different cultures and worlds, their paths have curious parallels, each having come from humble (relatively speaking) backgrounds, both being extremely intelligent (though educational opportunities were never available to Wayan and Petra is a Ph D), extremely hard-working and determining their respective paths.

Feb. 27, Lovina: The Sound Of Water, Buying Fruit & Tea With The In-laws

Last full day, up and out early on green walk much of which is, for the first time, accompanied by the sound of water gurgling down the concrete channel beside the dirt track.I have beaten the construction workers whose site is a mud bath after all the rain, but see them squatting on the ground eating breakfast(makan pagi)under the adjacent temporary woven structure where they appear to be living while working on the site.

At the next dogleg, a channel about two metres wide has a veritable stream of muddy water rushing along it! The mountains behind this area are nearby and rise at least 1000-1500 mt thus create much run-off. As at home, they experience the same prolonged dry season and I can’t help but wish there was some system of storing this precious commodity.

I zig-zag up and down a few of the little lanes walking along the main village road for only one block. The fruit stalls and the few shops are now open, so I take the opportunity to buy my favorite fruit, mangosteen and some rambutan. I know what this should cost so when the price is doubled I jack-up. Happily another local on her motorbike speaks reasonable English and intervenes, explaining that the prices are high as Kuningan approaches. Business is business wherever one is but we negotiate and I am happy to have a half kilo of each for about $3. A win-win, we are all smiling.

Once again I find myself in the lane where Ciri’s in- laws live and *Ketut(yes, another), the father-in-law, spots me and comes to greet me. We shake hands and he immediately calls his wife Tomy and they invite me into their compound for a cup of tea, first time for me although I had talked with Ketut when I first met him a few years ago selling jewellery on the beach before he was ‘connected’ to Ciri.

A handsome well built man with several decorative tattoos and a most beautiful smile, he is, like his wife,warm, open, personable and intelligent. They treat me as a member of the extended family, no longer attempting to sell me anything even when I pass Tomy’s clothing stall and are always pleased to see me as am I seeing them. Like most Balinese,he has a ready smile and a good sense of humour.

I sit on the tiled stoop in front of their humble home and drink sweet black tea with them and we talk for quite some time about life, the terrible floods currently afflicting Jakarta which leads to talk of moving capital cities, rising seas, extreme weather and the implications of climate change. He talks about greed and sharing and makes reference to god or a higher power. I can’t remember his exact words but his is not a guilt-based belief system. Several times he says this is life and that maturity reduces ego which the young still struggle with.There is much wisdom in what he says.His humanity and empathy come across loud and clear and I am struck by the fact that several Balinese people with whom we have had in-depth conversation express the same philosophy.

I ask about Kuningan preparations as none are evident, which gives me an opportunity to discuss ceremony. As there are at least thirty per year of which a handful are major, I suggest this is very time-consuming and must be quite costly. He explains that one makes offerings in accordance with ones ability,so if poor or suffering lean times, water,a little rice and some flower petals will suffice.

*A Little About Balinese Names

A complex subject which I have by no means mastered but here is a starting point.

The name most Balinese people will give you is not a personal name at all. In this ancient culture, the most commonly used names simply indicate the person’s position in the family as first, second, third or fourth born child.

There is only one ‘fourth born‘ name: Ketut.

While Wayan is the most common name for first born children, they may have the alternative names Putu, Gede or (for girls only) Ni Luh . The second child in the family is usually called Made, which means “middle”,  but is just as likely to be called Nengah, Ngurah or Kadek. The third born child is called Nyoman or Komang.

In previous centuries Balinese families were not encouraged to have more than three children and may have practised some form of traditional birth control. Nowadays there are plenty of fourth born children, so a name was needed. Ketut means “little banana” – the smallest banana at the end of a bunch.

A family with a fifth born child might call him “little Wayan”, the sixth “little Made” – and so on.

As most of these names are also the same for boys and girls, they might add the prefix “I” (pronounced “ee”) for boys and “Ni” (nee) for girls. They are similar in meaning to “Mister” and “Ms”.

There isn’t an equivalent of a family/surname which would indicate relationship, but rather a ‘personal’ name added to the above and also a name which indicates caste.It is endlessly complicated for the simple-minded!

Kembar has been interested to see my website and we arrange to spend time with him in the warung today. I show him some of my artwork, none of which he/they have seen and am astonished at the sustained level of interest, even with work that is not straightforward. He asks the meaning behind the work and understanding my explanations.

As there are no customers in the warung, we sit with Wayan and Kembar.It’s not often we get concentrated time for discussion. Wayan is really smart and there is a lot of give and take in our conversations. We also learn much from her. While we sit talking, someone appears at the front step asking for money and she gives him 5,000 IDR ( ca.40 cents). So we discuss the problem of to whom and how much one gives. She tells us there is an entire village of people who live in decent homes, have motorbikes and cars but live from begging.They drive to a given location in a van wearing tattered clothes, sometimes with dirty, ragged babies in tow and older children. They then separate out and commence begging. We have encountered three such children in front of the Cafe Greco(also two lots on the Yellow Flower Walk in Ubud, one with four kids in tow, too close in age to all be hers, a giveaway as to her modus opera did). Not long after she has given the man the money, a woman appears. She presumes it to be his wife or certainly of the same group hence gives no more. This sounds very much like the Gypsies of Europe we have encountered. She seems quite tolerant of it and says she feels guilty if she gives nothing, just like me and we agree that one can’t give to everyone

Feb. 28, Lovina: Lifting Heavy Rocks

Last morning walk and as usual I pass the construction site and the man who speaks a little English greets me again. Although not raining now, the site is a thick sludge of mud and in parts is ankle deep in water. The men are continuing to fill with rocks a trench which runs down one side of the new stone foundations. They carry the smaller, still sizeable rocks one by one on their bare shoulders, covered only with a piece of towelling. With this heavy weight they trudge through the sludge. Another man is slowly manuovering a large rock, perhaps 50mm in diameter, slowly this way and that in order to slip a rope around it to sling onto a bamboo pole in order that two people may lift it into a nearby metal wheelbarrow that has seen better days. I marvel that the barrow hasn’t yet fallen to pieces. This will then be pushed through the wet mud to where it is required. And all this under a punishing sun and sweltering humidity. I look at these small thin men and contemplate the stress this must place on their bodies and imagine them ageing well before their time and suffering with bad backs. Mind you, it is women one sees constantly, as everywhere in the less developed world, carrying huge and often heavy loads balanced on their heads

A Summation

I leave Bali with a tumble of emotions. I feel for the poverty that remains so obvious, the struggle of ordinary people, our Wayan included, the ridiculously low wages and the gulf between rich and poor, not exclusively the domain of Bali of course. Many things have improved however, in the years since we were first here- motorbikes, and to a lesser extent cars, replace walking and bemos though the infrastructure to support them lags behind. The resultant dense traffic on narrow roads emits considerable fumes, even penetrating many outdoor eating places.Really unpleasant especially around food. Nonetheless, life for many is much improved. When Jon first came to Bali in 1974 Kuta had no electricity and I doubt there are any places without it today. Everyone, but everyone, reaps the benefits of mobile phones even if internet connections are sometimes a little patchy and internet speed apparently on the slow side.

The landscapes, Balinese architecture including the omnipresent temples, the welcoming gentle people, the smiling faces, the food are all quite wonderful yet the grime, the lack of maintenance of buildings and footpaths with treacherously uneven surfaces and gaping holes, all indicators of poverty, sometimes depress.

It’s an ongoing lesson about appreciating all one has and not taking it for granted. A mere cosmic accident that we were born to such privilege. One inevitably must try come to terms with with the discomfort of this discrepancy, not easy.The bottom line is that I’m a privileged white(almost!)woman with my painted nails! But you have to laugh too, as the Balinese do so readily, laugh and smile…and be grateful and kind.

And A Funny Addendum

So, here we are in the Lounge at the airport in Denpasar, enjoying the comforts and food, this trip being our first experience. I decide to have a glass of wine and am somewhat surprised when, instead of pouring from a bottle, the barman takes the silver bladder of a wine cask and squeezes the dregs into my glass! Less than elegant. Jon had stumbled on an unseen protrusion on the floor where we sat and I hadn’t taken much notice. Not long after, having helped myself to food, I am carrying a plate of vegetables and salad back to where we are sitting and trip, almost falling over on the same protruding object.I instinctively let out a bit of a shriek as I think I am going to fall, exclaiming how dangerous this thing is. Pieces of cauliflower fly, Monty Python-style, from my plate to Jon’s trousers and then decorate the floor. Jon looks put- out but happily, a staff member on hearing my little shriek, comes to the rescue, bends down and forces the power point flush to the floor and snaps the lid closed as it should have been all the time. All is well. You’ve got to laugh!

March 1, Hydeaway Bay: Journey’s End, Home Sweet Home, From Green Walk to Blue/Green Walk

Yesterday we spent a total of nine hours at Denpasar and Brisbane airports with a six hour flight in between and only two hours sleep. My heart begins to sing immediately we fly our of Brisbane- the landscape below is green and as we approach Proserpine, the glory of the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday islands lays itself bare once again. Below, I gaze upon a myriad of greens in the patchwork of cane fields and then the hills dense with trees. The ground below is no longer brown but a velvet carpet of emerald. Nothing but nature with an occasional farmhouse at the end of a long dirt road winding between hills. How the Balinese would envy this open space and clean air! I rejoice at being home and consider myself blessed to live in such a beautiful area.

It’s amazing how exhaustion lifts, bringing enough energy to start the nesting process at home-things empty out of suitcases into washing basket or cupboards, a bit of sweeping and mopping, moving a few potted plants back into place, Jon sorting through mail and finally a deep long sleep.

Although we were told how hot it is here, it seems easy- 30C but only about 60% humidity, a far cry from Bali’s 90%. We have had many inches of rain in our almost five- week absence and the frangipani trees have grown much taller and filled out with foliage for the first time since the devastating cyclone almost three years ago. Weeds are rampant all through the paths and elsewhere.

Today I set out on my usual walk incorporating both foreshore and road. I go to the end of the sealed section where the houses stop, and then a few minutes further on the gravel section high above the sea, to the top of Oh My God Hill before turning back. It’s Sunday, so only one car passes, otherwise only birdsong, SO much more than in Bali, fresh unpolluted air and the familiar fragrance of a weed in flower. Before we left, the Kapok trees were just beginning to sprout new leaves and were full of large, fragile pods ready to release their white fibrous contents. They are now plush with leaves, barely a pod remains and they form a dense foreground to the sea below. Wherever my eyes fall, I see either blue or green. Sad as I was to leave Bali, I couldn’t be happier! Home sweet home.

RETURN TRIP TO BALI 4TH POST

Candidasa continued

The internet weather is trying to convince me that’s it’s at least 28c right now but, having brought nothing other than four very light summer dresses on this trip (underlayers for the plane) I am SO grateful that after freezing aircon start at Prossie and Brisbane airports I borrowed a long sleeved top to go under a dress. Thanks Jilly! So here I am with black 3/4 leggings and top under summer tunic dress cosy at last! Never imagined this necessary in Bali at sea level! And I don’t believe the weather. info either.

The men, of course, are in shorts and shirts.

Met our first Candidasa Russian today at the pool where I was the only person..probably everyone thinks it will be cold in the water because it’s grey and has been raining a lot. A lovely young woman, not a tattoo to be seen (how refreshing, my god we’ve seen ghastly amounts of them) who speaks excellent English and seems to have travelled extensively with her parents (they made a brief appearance and both looked interesting and cool). They just came up from Kuta today and she described the beach as disgusting, showed me some pics and I couldn’t believe my eyes- the sand looked grey and muddy and was literally littered with rubbish- coat hanger, tins cans, plastic, obviously washed in from sea by the heavy rain. I commented on how perfect and kemp it was when we were there a week ago and she said that even so, if you swim there you bump into such stuff and commented on our polluted oceans.I felt very sad for her generation. And now sitting overlooking the sea, I see her and her mother bobbing through the waves, obviously deemed sufficiently clean.

Looking down the coast toward Padang Bai port, I count at least ten fairly large ferries where on previous days I saw few. Perhaps fewer go out on Sundays or perhaps the inclement weather but I have also learnt that from this port they service not only Nusa Penida but also Nusa Lembongan and Lombok and the Gili’s.

Threatened rain never comes. It’s a huge tease just like at home

Feb.11, Candidasa, No Rain, Village Walk, A Touching Last Supper

I want to do a more extended Sengkidu village walk, Dave wants to join me so wanting to save our energy for the village, we take a taxi to the village entry arch and there the pleasure begins. I notice a narrow concrete path off the village entry road which takes us through banana and coconut plantations, shaded and quiet.The odd person on a motorbike passes us. Shortly, we reach the parallel road which is village proper, accompanied by a variety of dogs, all friendly. It appears to be balinese middle-class, well kempt, not a scrap of rubbish to be seen and varied attractive traditional houses. We join with the original village road which soon becomes rural again. A father clasps a wee child in front of him on a motorbike, neither wearing helmets though generally out on the main roads all adults wear helmets. The children who sometimes accompany them ,however, rarely do.

An excited dog lurches periodically at something moving in the grass alongside a high wall where a chicken runs. We then realise there are two little chicks who the mother is trying to protect. Ibu Bonney takes a stand shooing the dog repeatedly, telling him to go home, having no idea if he understands English or ‘speaks’ Bahasa, Balinese, German or something else.My persistence pays off, he disappears and for now at least, the chicks are safe.

After an hour we head back passing the kindergarten where tiny children wave and call out as I peer over the fence and then pass the primary school near the corner of the main road and take a taxi the short hot distance home.

Breakfast at Loaf with the men and then deal with extreme heat and humidity mostly by the pool. I had the idea of either a little boat trip along the coast here or the Water Palace some 20 km from here but the men weren’t interested and the heat beat me!

Dave and dine together, yet again to Warung Bintang where I try the grilled snapper which is beyond fabulous. Bintang and Loaf are the only two places where we have eaten in our five days here. Seems very unadventurous, my alternative suggestions not embraced but in the end it feels great because we establish quite a connection with owner Ketut, the beautiful young man and girl wait staff, the lads in the kitchen, the female manager and Ketut’s wife, a cast of thousands!

So refined, genteel, graceful, attentive, they gather around to farewell us on our last night, asking after Jon who is a tad under the weather today and absented himself. Ketut’s wife kisses me Bali-style on both cheeks and we are thanked for our patronage.

And so ends a lovely few days here.

Feb. 12, Candidasa- Lovina

Most excellent, careful driver Lomod asks which route we want to take and I suggest going east rather than back and up the centre which we have done many times. Three hours 15 minutes, first climbing the highest hills through dense vegetation, Mt Agung hidden behind clouds. Agung, at over 3000 mts.on clear days is apparently visible from anywhere in Bali.

We pass the famous water palace at Tirta Gangga and then the spectacular Tirta Gangga rice terraces, (see photos) , dog- legging continuously on mostly very small roads, passing through numerous small villages and little markets, one of which is a small wholesale fruit and vegetable market starting at 3 am from which sellers take locally grown produce to others smaller towns and villages in the area. Eventually the sea comes within sight, NE Bali, and we head in through Tulamben, one of Bali’s famous dive sites on the East coast.This side of the island is very dry and all the rivers we cross are devoid of water. The countryside, gently undulating and tree- clad, is still very green from recent rain but no rice or other vegetable crops are grown here though mangoes and some other fruits thrive. Singaraja, the one time administrative capital of Bali and the Lesser Sunda islands, is our landmark indicating that we are nearing Lovina and our family. Twenty minutes later we arrive at Summer Guesthouse, the charming place we stayed at last year, two minutes walk from Wayan’s warung. Ketut, the female owner, lights up when I walk in, Bu, she cries out, short for Ibu or mum, a term of familiarity and affection. So touching. And the identical tiger-striped dogs Domi, the male and Susi the female who had four 6-week old pups last time, are here, beautiful as ever and I think recognise us. The young garden has obviously grown, the building and dark blue pool, as charming as ever.

Walking across to Wayan after unpacking our minimal belongings, it feels as if we have not been apart at all, so familial and loving. Little Elina, her now almost 3 yr old grand daughter, is now a little person speaking a lot and still hanging out with the two darling little daughters of Ilu, Wayan’s best friend and part-time kitchen assistant- Winda now 6yrs and Mesya now 4yrs. They are surprisingly excited to see us and rush over, Winda making the little prayer gesture of greeting before hugging me. The three little girls are like sisters and suddenly I realize I have been remiss in only bringing a present (soft toy koala) for Elina. A new dynamic is upon me so no presents can be given yet- I discuss this with Ilu.Later Wayan lets me know that Ilu didn’t understand the entire conversation and we decide that it will be Wayan who comes shopping with me for the girls. Winda is now of an age that she would prefer something related to school (colouring book, pencils or similar) so it will be fun to do.

Dear reader, the background to our Balinese family is in the Travel Writing section of this website under Lovina, thus I am not repeating what I have already covered.

Ciri, the now 19 yr old father of Elina is here and we are delighted to find a noticeable improvement in his English which was very poor. He is less shy and within a day is managing quite well, certainly his comprehension is good.

We have a delicious very late lunch here and all Jon’s raving about what a great cook our daughter is, is reconfirmed. Better than anywhere!

Four older white women, clad in daggy sun hats and skirts, gather on the footpath reading Wayan’s menu. As they linger, I take the opportunity to see if I can hustle some business for her- I can recommend the food here, she is a wonderful cook, I offer. They are interested in doing her Cooking Class. As I don’t know the cost, I usher the four Australians in and hand over to Wayan. A day later, having bargained the price down a little, they confirm and enjoy the 3-hr class.Wayan need s all the business she can get.

Jon, Dave and I take a sunset walk to the beach, sit with a drink and gaze on the still sea with its little insect- like outriggers and hear a bunch of Balinese boys playing guitars and singing Balinese songs with bikini clad western girls.

Not hungry, Jon’s decides to skip dinner and return home but Dave agrees to checkout an interesting authentic-looking restaurant that advertised Balinese dancing tonight at 8pm. Good choice- a wonderful venue – restaurant/accommodation/museum, it is committed to the traditional. We sit at a little table near the street entry. The decor is of traditional items and funky/chic – a series of glass jars hang at different levels and serve as lights.

Out in our open area sits another long table with Balinese men and two women, one of whom is a westerner married to one of the men with their two very young beautiful daughters. Behind the long table is a wall comprised of brightly painted, traditionally carved wooden panels. section off this eating area is A series of low stone pots and large timber logs containing plants, separates this eating area from the street entry. It is just charming.

I wander through to see what is beyond the space where we sit and find myself in an amazing old timber-framed space which serves as both Reception for the accomodation and a small museum full of traditional artefacts.

Our waiter Rudi, dressed in traditional clothing, arrives with iced water in wine glasses, a bowl of delicious roasted peanuts and a platter with four little bruschetta, oddly and genuinely Italian. We order drinks and after another half hour, a dancer appears in the small space in front of us with a version of cendrawasih, bird of paradise dance usually performed by two dancers. The exotic hand and eye movements,the groundedness, the bare feet, the head movements, the hips, captivating as always. The dance is accompanied by recorded traditional music and live kendhang , (an elongated double-ended drum) played by the father of the little girls who prance around freely, almost touching the dancer. They sometimes attempt to imitate her movements and it becomes difficult to know where to focus, both so entertaining! The kendhang player re-emerges at the start of the second short dance in the role of a spooky old man leaning on a stick, in mask with wig of bedraggled hair. His little daughters are simultaneously thrilled and terrified, pak pak ( dad dad) they squeal as he repeatedly moves closer toward them before retreating again – it’s so funny. The dancer then appears, interacts with him, girls still squeaking, before he returns to playing the kendhang. The dancer invites patrons to join in the dance, starting, oh my god, with me! I set a bad precedent by shyly refusing as do two others before one of the waiters, familiar with the dance and dressed appropriately, joins her briefly.

En route home we pass Wayan’s warung and seeing her, of course walk in. Kembar, Ciri’s twin brother is hanging out to see us so Wayan calls him and in a few minutes he arrives. He is a darling boy, has put on a little weight since we last saw him which, for the first time allows me to distinguish one from the other, so identical are they! What a relief (though as it later transpires, initially this only works if I see them together!). Now his English, which was always better than Ciri’s, is way better than last visit and we can have slow proper conversation with occasional help of Google translate. We had already told Wayan that we will pay for the one year, post- school hospitality training the boys want to undertake but we need to be clear about their motivation. Nonetheless, she has been enquiring about a bank loan to pay for it and has indeed already paid the required deposit. It is this not taking our assistance for granted that we find touching and her integrity has always been unquestionable. However we are cognisant of her stress levels and now Kembar in particular is very tuned in to this and worried about her.Thus it is good to see the effort both boys have put into preparing for the next stage, taking steps forward with English and helping their mum. Kembar is full-time at school finishing in a few months and Ciri is doing 6 mths work with teensy weensy pay, working in hospitality which counts toward school with only exams still to go for both of them. In July they will start a 1 yr certificate which will enable them to get work on cruise ships. Ciri will focus on cooking, bar and waiting with the desire to become a cook; Kembar is more interested in room boy tasks that bring him more in contact with the clients.

Feb 13, Lovina: Two Village Walks, Indulgent Coffee and Cake and our ‘Daughter’s’ Food

Our day starts with what I call the ‘green’ village walk, from our place heading away from the road up the little track, past the vegetable cultivation fields where a few folk are already at work, some cutting grass for sapi (cow), gathering the huge bundle onto their heads from field to path and then on their motorbike, making their way along the narrow path to wherever they keep their few cows. Another ploughs a field with a hand pushed but motorised cultivator; some are constructing a new building – quite a few have appeared since we were here 16 months ago. One such building is a 2-story construction made from unpainted, bright orange shipping containers. All the new buildings I see here are based on the traditional, so this modernist edifice is a first for me. We lunch with Wayan and I have a sweet time with little granddaughter Elina and 6 year old Winda who are riding their bikes on the paved area in front of the Warung, well aware to keep away from the busy main road from which it is well recessed.

We have already seen two motorbike accidents there in three days! Unlike last visit, Elina is now comfortable around me, smiles and plays and interacts.

Late afternoon the three of us head down the main road to the only air-conditioned place we know, a great coffee shop and Jon and I share a first’s class, european-style vanilla slice. Our little table faces the street, at the intersection with Lovina’s only traffic lights so a fabulous place to people-watch and snap endless close-ups of the motorbike traffic banked- up at the lights- four on one, a tiny kid standing in front of dad who is driving, another in mum’s arms or a baby on dads knees as he drives, no helmets on the kids of course, unbelievable. I worry about ‘ours’ out in this dense traffic. Tomorrow Putu will ride her motorbike 2+ hours from the hospital in Bangli where she is on placement, her day off to see her family and us, her ‘oma’ and ‘opa’ as she calls us, grandmother and grandfather, the terms originating from the Dutch (and the same as in German)

After coffee the guys go home but I decide to head to my other favourite walk, the Fishing Village Walk. I wrote about it last time but now, on the narrow tree-lined path running along the seafront, I pass groups of locals relaxing on their small, sheltered platforms built in the trees over-hanging the beach.Selamat sore ( good afternoon) I smile at everyone I pass to the warmest response almost without exception everywhere. A young couple crouch washing a baby girl with gold rings in her ears under a hose in front of their house; pigs laze in a small paddock between two houses; chickens run hither and thither; people returning from work pass me, kids play on the beach below, the little insect- like outriggers of the fishermen and dolphin tours shimmer on the silvery late afternoon sea, simple life unfolds.

A late but delicious meal at Wayan’s – she makes absolutely THE best fried calamari- big chunks, fresh, tasty, not tough with a wonderful chilli/ tomato based sambal to accompany, and a bowl of her spinach dish (other dishes we have eaten are chicken rendang, fabulous ayam betutu- chicken cooked with lemon grass, unbelievable), she is just a fantastic cook, the beautiful Kembar sits with us for quite a time and we practise English conversation while I show him photos from Oz on my phone which he really enjoys.

Feb. 14, Lovina: Jalan Jalan Pagi Pagi (Early walk)

Writing while things are still fresh and reading poetry in bed keeps me up too late after an already late dinner, leaving me overstimulated and sleepless so my intention to rise and beat the heat with an early walk fails miserably.Jon and Dave feel it is already too hot and have breakfast but I set off at 8.30 to repeat the ‘green village walk’. Again I pass the tall man walking his dog who I passed yesterday and we chat a little. Clearly he is a ‘local’ and on asking, I learn that he lives in a beautiful villa he owns , one of many in the area facing the fields and has lived here for 5 years.

Instead of repeating my usual route, I turn off the narrow concrete path onto one of several parallel concrete roads leading back to the village main street, then head off toward the fields, ending up on a narrow compacted dirt path walled on either side by greenery. Don’t exactly know where I am but my sense of direction is always good and Im ant get lost. It’s cooler here and eventually I reach a narrow sealed road which I assume is the village road. By now I am feeling the heat and hoping it’s not too far back, so on passing a tiny stall, ask and am told it will take me 30 minutes more. My heart sinks a little until I remember this is Bali time, Bali pace and I can probably halve this estimate.

A few motorbikes pass in either direction and then lo and behold, a wider concrete road appears on my left and I follow it. Shortly thereafter I recognise the name of a little gang (lane/ path) and almost immediately am in familiarity territory and stagger into Summer Guesthouse dripping wet but happy having walked for an hour.The men, of course, would refuse to be shamed by my effort and as they are such old fellas, I don’t intend to shame them!

We are the only folks here but for a couple from Holland (she Dutch, he Dutch Indonesian) who apparently have been coming for years and spend two months here every year.They are serious walkers, yesterday getting a lift up the mountain and doing a 3-hour walk down in this heat! Wish I had that stamina. The man is a sweetie who I hope to have more conversation with. Yesterday evening they appeared bearing two small cuttings which Ketut and her son Awan immediately dug tiny holes for. They were all crouched around as in went the plants in front of Dave’s room, apparently a tri-colour red/white/yellow frangipani .Nice gesture.

The weather on this trip reminds me so much of home, a constant tease of rain bursting from dark skies before disappearing entirely with only two decent rain exceptions, both brief but cooling. But I am reconciled to not doing much, had prepared for it. I have apparently reached an age where I can appreciate a holiday as a break from physical work, no backache making dinner or washing dishes, hip good though I note I walk like a duck!

More Ceremonies, Present Buying and a Family Gathering

Yesterday Wayan began preparing the ubiquitous canang sari (offerrings). It is a smaller, family- based ceremony tomorrow and she asks me if I would like to help her so today after lunch there, I am in the kitchen with her, little Elina occupying herself and wandering in and out of the kitchen desiring more attention. Sumi, Wayan’s sister- in- law who speaks no English and is always in the kitchen, helps. Every time, I am amazed at how elaborate these Hindu rituals are, how much time and money is spent indulging the Gods, three of which are being honoured here, and warding off the bad spirits. Cold rice has been moulded into balls, eggs have been hard boiled; from the market – dragon fruit, bananas, little package of sticky rice rolled in dried banana leaves, little pink sweet cylinders of something, lacy- looking pale orange biscuits etc. All this, in addition to the canang sari we see placed daily in the family temples and in front of shops and houses, elaborate, handmade of carefully cut banana leaf and flower petals. As she constructs the little things, she adds a touch of to tobacco to some ( for the ancestors), a green substance to others.The rice balls are rubbed with turmeric to add an invisible bit of yellow; each different colour petal represents something different, the yellow marigolds, the sun. So much time, work and money is spent as these ceremonies occur many times a year. These canang sari are added to the small and large woven platters full of all described above and then they are piled onto trays and the larger ones into woven lidded baskets. By now the kitchen table is covered with the finished items waiting to be distributed to the three small temples in the Warung and the five in her home.

As mentioned earlier, in an oversight I didn’t think to buy gifts for Ilu’s little girls who are like sisters to Elina and are always there because they live next to the Warung -a family of four in one large room, part of the unused hotel that the owner of the building has developed. Ilu cleans the (unused) rooms in exchange for rent and works with Wayan the rest of the time. Wayan takes me to a couple of little stores nearby and we buy some pretty yellow thongs with flowers on them for little Mesya, a pink pair for Elina and several writing and drawing books and crayons for Winda for school. Throw in a lipstick for Wayan and all this cost $13! Into a big bag with the soft koala I bought from Oz for little Elina and all is sorted. I am by now so overheated that I want to go to the air conditioned coffee place nearby where we each have a healthy veg and fruit drink and sit and talk before returning to cool off in the pool while darling daughter goes back to cook for tonight.

Putu has a day off from her post- graduate nursing training and will be home tonight, thus the planned feast for us and Putu.

The boys are wearing the aboriginal designed singlets I ordered online for them in Oz. They look unbelievably handsome and are quite thrilled. Elina squeals with delight at the koala, cuddling it to her and then they unwrap,today’s purchases. They are so excited and happy.

The Feast

Several tables are pushed together and then the many dishes Wayan prepared with Sumi’s help in just an hour are brought out, each distinct in flavour and all incredibly delicious- sweet crispy tempe with peanuts, vegetable rendang, omelette, a cellophane noodle dish, another vegetable dish, something with pork. At the table are Wayan , Putu and the boys, Ciri’s Elina, Putu’s boyfriend Aria, Ilu and the two little girls, sister-in-law Sumi and the three of us, so thirteen in all.Photos are taken, much conversation, the boy’s English confidence growing before our eyes and ears. Wayan and Putu surprise the three of us with gifts- a shirt each, size perfect for Papa Jon and Uncle Dave and a loose fitting comfortable cotton dress for me.This is accompanied by the most loving note expressing , as she so often does in our frequent messages, her love and appreciation of the support of her and for the children’s education. She is astonishing in her judgement and skill. Putu has three little cellophane wrapped white roses for Valentine’s Day for each of us.It’s all so touching.

Feb. 15, Lovina: A Different ‘Green’Walk

Again I sleep in so only set out at 8 a.m by which time it’s hot but what an exciting walk:

Minutes from home, pagi-ing to the house builders sweating in the morning sun pushing wheelbarrows of stones for a new building, one of their little kids is crouched on the ground. On closer inspection, I see the little fella is playing with a praying mantis, gently encouraging it to move from finger to finger. Too engrossed or too shy, he quite ignores my greeting. Opposite, two farmers I had seen yesterday, greet me.They are cutting an entire paddock of foot- high grass with a scythe, squatting. Feed for sapi (cow).

At the corner, I take the first little turn off to the village road in order to check if a Warung we loved last year is still operating. En route I hear a thudding sound and look into the coconut grove surrounding me to see a man way way up at the top of the very tall tree, feet clinging to the trunk. He is holding on with only one arm; in the other, a scythe with which he chops down dry fronds and coconuts, perhaps thirty or more in the short time I watch him.

I cross the road and head up another dirt track where I see the four Australian ladies of the Cooking Class, sisters, two of whom are on their first trip to Bali. Their guide has brought them to a wonderful small brick Buddhist stupa which I haven’t seen before. It was discovered only 5 yrs ago, foundations and a bit of the stupa buried under the earth. Once confirmed that it was 500 yrs old, the government reconstructed the missing bulk of it but it has been done so sensitively that it isn’t obvious.

Nearby stands the Hindu temple. With permission, I follow this little group as they traipse through a grassy paddock as this is unknown territory and maybe will offer me a new ‘green’ walk. After a couple of minutes the dirt track opens onto a paved concrete gang which I follow and am astonished at how extensive these small paths are, meandering through the village on this unfamiliar side of the village road. Hello, a voice calls, and a man invites me into his compound for coffee. A moment of hesitation and I enter the compound where he sits on a raised platform with some traditional masks and invites me to sit. His name is Gede and he is involved with promoting cultural continuity with a groups of children who perform traditional dance weekly in front of the Dolphin statue on the beachfront. In his paid job he works with local disabled kids.He is a good guy and we spend an enjoyable twenty minutes talking before I excuse myself, well overheated by now and needing breakfast and the pool!

The heat has been relentless, rain refusing to come, a constant tease, sufficient for the staff to daily fold down the two sun umbrellas by the pool and cover the timber pool furniture. For two days we have watched the rain pouring down on the nearby mountains!

Putu must return to the hospital today so we spend time with her at the warung where I ask her more about her work at the mental hospital. I learn that there is only one in Bali, with 700 patients who sleep in wards of 15-25 people. Of course this sounds like something from the dark days at home but she describes what sounds like reasonable treatment facilities with many psychiatrists, psychologists etc, a day clinic for supervising medications for those already discharged and therapeutic activities for including gardening, making canang sari (offerrings) a traditional and meditative process, cleaning motorbikes, badminton- so a nice range of activities which sound better than OT in our institutions!

The last of the presents have been given, and a few hours spent in the afternoon with a wonderful but too big lunch, we take an evening walk to the Dolphin statue but apparently missed the kids dancing. We sit and ponder the silent sea before I take the men on the Fishing Village Walk.En route we pass the little clothing shops that line the promenade and I hear my name called. It is mother-in- law Tomy who has a stall here, then shrieks of delight as ‘baby’ Elina and Winda run out to greet me. It is SO village. Variations of this occur daily, bumping into people one now knows.

A drink at a quiet little cafe right on the sand follows, the sea beyond tinged pink at the last of the sun and, instead of dinner, a final coffee and shared cake in the air-conditioned cafe.Two men who were there yesterday sit in the exactly same position as yesterday. One, well into his 60’s, is dressed in long white pants and loose long white shirt, white shoes. His blond hair is in ponytail and he looks exactly like the artist represented on the cover of a magazine in the magazine rack which I had already seen last year. I figure it is he, a resident Dutch artist. I can’t resist, head to their table and quip that perhaps they are statues who haven’t moved since yesterday! It transpires that the ‘other’ somewhat younger Dutch man is the owner of the business and sits there most of the time.

Final goodbyes from Dave to Wayan et al, more good conversation with Ciri who, with a little help,from GoogleTranslate, elaborates on his passion for cooking and how he sees ‘many good( western) dishes’ being made on iTube which he then tries out in the warung kitchen. I believe he has the potential to become a very good cook.

Some words from Jon

Bali Dogs, Destiny and Nurses Pay

Here every dog must have its day and to interfere in this is not a good karma thing. I remember a story from one of the other times we were staying here where there was a vicious nasty brute of a dog that delighted in biting people. A westerner took it to a vet and had it put down. His efforts were not appreciated as he had interfered with this dogs destiny. Cats are viewed differently.

There are stray dogs and dogs that belong somewhere as evidenced by some sort of ribbon or marking around the neck. A lot of them are related to various degrees, (but aren’t we all?), the two here at Summer Guesthouse which Bonney describes at tiger-striped, being typical.

Putu, our almost granddaughter, will get the magnificent sum of IDR 1,500,000 a month when she finishes her specialist nursing training. This equates to about AUD $37 per week in a public hospital, about $65 p.w. in a private hospital.

Bali remains beautiful…kind gentle folk….hard to believe 500,000 Chinese were killed not that long ago in Indonesia. I see where Indonesians have to fill out 17 pages or perhaps it is only 14 and pay $140 to get into Oz whereas we get in here on a nod and a wink.. it’s a good thing it is nothing about race or religion. God forbid they come and take a job from our employable who are lining up to clean toilets and pick fruit and vegetables, make beds and serve in restaurants. Vigilance, except for sporting grants, is the order of the day.

Feb. 16: Up,Early, Pigeons, A Beautiful Journey Back to Ubud

Leaving the men sleeping, I am out by 6.45 for the Green Walk. It is cool and only a few farmers are out scything grass for the cows. I pass Dewi, who works at Summer Guesthouse, on her motorbike heading to her 7 a.m start- her day ends at 5 pm and not an idle moment in between. The place is perfectly maintained in every aspect. I am surprised by the sight of a young woman pushing her 3-month old baby in a stroller, the first I have seen in Bali. The baby is grinning at her ‘ big’ sister perched on the pusher holding a picture book for the baby to see.

I revisit the Buddhist temple, this time with camera. A few motorbikes wind along the road en route to work, a flock of pigeons wheel overhead several times, clearly belonging to locals, as I have observed at least two yards in the village containing pigeon cages.

After breakfast, a comfortable 2.5 hr drive in a brand new car belonging to Summer Guesthouse. We start climbing the mountains within a few minutes and are amazed at how long the climb persists.The 1500cc car is working hard, often in first gear. Every time we cross the island it is sheer pleasure. There are four roads that go between Lovina and Ubud and this is the narrowest, aimed at avoiding Sunday traffic. It’s hard to describe how narrow these roads are and how many times we dogleg left and right. Densely tropical, punctuated with small and larger Balinese houses and occasional villages, we rise and rise, the coast now far below. At one point we are above cloud and eventually the descent begins. We pass the famous twin lakes, by now on a route that is familiar, pass through Bedugul and eventually arrive at Taman Indrakila to find that Komang made a small error in our booking, expecting us tomorrow! No matter, there is a spare room which Jon and I will have for one night, smaller etc but fine and tomorrow we will be in our larger room as planned.

The staff at Elephant welcome us back, the lady in the nearby laundry smiles to see us and laundry delivered at 2pm is washed , dried and ironed ready for collection 2 hours and $1.5 later! How is this possible, how can she make a profit? the girl at the tiny shop where I purchased my Indonesian phone SIM smiles and waves.It’s nice returning to a place you have already familiarised yourself with and to be recognised by locals.

The day finished with an outstanding meal at the organic garden restaurant where we have had several meals on this and the previous trip, possibly is the best food we have eaten in Bali. Organic homegrown produce from their huge gardens and superb – it is also ridiculously inexpensive.

RETURN TRIP TO BALI 3RD POST

Feb. 6, Ubud

It’s incredibly hot and humid, this is the time for writing, reading, swimming, family and friends as expected. Couldn’t sleep after 4 a.m so had the rare pleasure of sunrise, the palm studded silhouette across the gorge through a waking sky. I set off at 6.30 intending to do the Ridge Walk but my hip advised me against it so did a variant of the Yellow Flower Cafe walk exploring the smallest gangs (narrow concrete paved lanes) each with a series of steps at intervals following the drop of the small rice terraces sandwiched between ever-encroaching houses, quite a number of which are rentals for tourists.

My first encounter is as follows:

Rice Field Raga

Ducks offer their early song to the paddy
more Dvorak than Bach or Brahms.
Two dogs strain on morning leashes,
more confident than I on the concrete strip
that bounds the paddy. Tiled roofs throw
shadows to the shallow water, a tapestry
of shimmering silver and tufted green, the
infant crop cool as the wading ducks.
Heat rises rapidly, sweat trickles.
The ducks have it all over me!

Jon is so sure it will rain today as huge cumulus clouds grow, and though we hear distant thunder, by 7 pm still not a drop. And just as I write a few drops fall. But that’s it! It’s our last day here for the first ’round’, Candidasa tomorrow where we will meet up with Jon’s brother Dave flying over from the USA.

Feb 7. Ubud-Candidasa

She of the cast iron stomach has come down with a bit of Bali belly and as we made our way to breakfast up the steps became very poorly for a short time so not much food today.

The 1 1/2 hour drive, like any in Bali, is interesting and most enjoyable. We pass through small streets where artisans make and sell their various products – heavy wooden furniture, doors, wall partitions, stone temple pieces and as we get into the rural, plant nurseries. The road for the first hour was familiar as it was the route to the hospital Jon was in on our last trip. So great to see him managing this trip so well.

We pass through diverse landscapes of rice paddies. The sea appears on our right as we approach the Candidasa area, to our left hills, mountains and thick groves of coconut palms. It is intensely green and extraordinarily beautiful and I am somehow reminded of Goa, India.

Our accommodation, Bali Santi Bungalows, is set back off the small but busy main road, approached through a little lane and is located on the sea. Here we have free-standing bungalows all set on a diagonal along two parallel paths surrounded by lush tropical plantings, large handsome stone tubs with plants and at night large handsome rattan lights illuminate the paths. The room is a huge 32sq.mts. with a large L-shaped couch, desk, various lighting alternatives, large glossy white tiles and an outdoor mandi (bathroom). The front porch has a rocking chair and 3-person couch. All this for $60 p.d and much better value than our Ubud accommodation. The open dining area, bar and pool face out to sea overlooking Nusa Penida, a large island. Dave arrives an hour after us having survived the long flight from USA via Hong Kong and the coronavirus scare, good going at a young 78!

The infinity pool overlooks the sea and after an always empty pool at Taman Indrakila in Ubud, it is a change to share it with a few (overweight) Poles who entirely ignore me – suits me fine. No Russians so far.

Grey skies set in during the afternoon and this time it does rain dropping the temperature several degrees immediately, so much so that we have no need of the aircon and even lower the fan. Hard to believe that outside I feel a tiny bit chilled after a sweltering eight days! It pours down for an hour or more leaving a few centimetres of water on the paths and roads and flooding the little garden beds.

A stroll around the immediate area an hour later reveals several resorts, warungs (cafe/restaurant), two rated highly by Trip Advisor and an enticing place called Loaf, tiny with contemporary decor where everything including fabulous looking breads and cakes and espresso coffee is made on site.

Feb. 8, Morning Walk, Green Bananas/Afternoon Coffee and Cake

Breakfast at Loaf, a four-minute walk away but Miss Bali Belly eats green bananas (beyond delicious) and yoghurt. I chat to the waiter, another elegant, handsome young man with pierced ears wearing traditional clothes, and learn that it is owned by an older Australian man married to a Balinese woman for whom the waiter used to clean house. They became very close, we are like brothers, and the Australian announced his intention to build a cafe which he wanted the young man to run. That was four years ago. A great business with a small menu of excellent non-Indonesian food. A lovely story.

The men enjoy delicious food before we walk into the heart of Sengkidu, a village a couple of kilometres down the road, noisy motorbikes whirring. Only now do I see a high mountain across the rice fields and notice it has a blown off top. Behold, Agung the great volcano! We take a side turn down to the beach, by now very hot, time for a cold drink and Jon has another ‘breakfast’! Cab back and into the pool to cool. The place is filling up and, while not a Russian is here, the Aussies have taken over! A respectable but uninteresting lot.

Later, leaving a well fed Jon sleeping, Dave and I try out Warung Bintang, rated #2 of 80 local places by Trip Advisor and very inexpensive. It is wonderful. Very simple, no decor a raised terrace overlooking the glorious rice fields and mountains (Agung not visible), soft Balinese music plays and the wait staff dress traditionally. These are the places we most enjoy. I figure by now I should try some rice and order a chilli-less nasi goreng, very good.

It’s starting to sound like all we do is eat but the days are hot and humid and much reading and writing goes on in between. By late afternoon it’s time to try the after-4pm, low-rate coffee-and-cake at Loaf, the reduced price aimed to clear what is there and ensure constant freshly baked produce. The coffee is excellent and Dave orders a slice of incredibly rich dense chocolate cake of which I sample a small fingernail-size bit, and Jon an apple pie, choc full of apple of which I eat a third. Oh how good!

While there, we get talking to an older American woman, a teacher who has been living in Bali for 25 years. She is the only westerner living in her area near Tirta Gangga and in recent times alcohol has become a problem amongst the locals, leaving her feeling unsafe for the first time. She needs to relocate. She was there with her friend and driver Ketut whose family owns and runs a program called Side By Side, created by volunteers and globally concerned citizens and student groups around the world. Their aim is to preserve an indigenous way of life, encourage cross-cultural understanding and help the local farmers return to an organic, green way of life. It also offers a homestay and restaurant. The American woman has been teaching English to farmers and children of the local village. While talking to them about the disconnection of city kids from the natural world, Singapore comes into the conversation as an unusual example of an intensely urbanised city which has embraced greenness. Ketut informs me that Singapore imports rich soil from the Indonesian island closest to it, and that being only 20 minutes away by ferry, many Singaporeans come over for rural, replenishing weekends!

The men return to Bali Santi but I round the corner to explore a little of the side road I have been curious about. On one side it’s bounded by paddies for some distance, with houses opposite before a considerable hill covered with more houses, rises. Some wonderful traditional architecture so shoot a few more photos. Whenever I walk in local areas, dogs bark at me – they certainly recognize a tourist as different. Turning up a short small street running off the tree-lined road, I pass a few little boys, the slightly older one speaks a little English, the younger boys none but we communicate and then the youngest ‘secretly’ follows me, so I gesture for them to come and we walk together to the nearby end. Sampai jumpa lagi (see you later) I say in my very best Bahasa and we all wave bye-bye, only to be repeated as I turn onto the proper road and head home via a short stroll through the paddies.

Jon and I go to Warung Bintang alone for dinner after 8pm, Dave worried about slipping on wet surfaces. Quite a few people are already eating and we are surprised to see at least six manning the small kitchen. I order soto ayam, chicken soup with glass noodles and a little vegetable, no chilli yet thanks, very good, Jon has calamari followed by fried chicken with a great spicy tomato sambal and we share a black sticky rice cooked in coconut milk, figuring that would serve my stomach well.

The owner joins us and we talk for a long time. Has built this business over four years, the first two tough, making just enough to pay wages. He has three trainee cooks at any time but is happy to see them move on for better job opportunities after training , just as he did. Hotels can offer better wages of course than small warungs.

Feb.9 Candidasa: The Rain Sets In

Rain overnight but a clear patch to walk to Loaf for yoghurt/boring/banana and delicious food for the men! Yep, feeling Ok but the runs remain with me after last night’s food. More green bananas. We had thought to go to Candidasa proper to have a look see but it’s torrential by mid morning.

Ubud, Mt Kintamani, sunrise

More photos…https://bonneybombach.com/travel-writing/bali-2020/

RETURN TRIP TO BALI 2ND POST

Feb 4. People, Lazy Days and Squirrels

Jon’s words-

Yesterday we met some more interesting people all at the Elephant Cafe attached to Taman Indrakila where we are staying. I love the way we both can make contact with strangers.  For me it is being open like all Aussies are, direct and friendly or maybe it is just Queensland!

One was a young man from Dalby who has been around a lot and is working on some new energy Aether-energy technology here.  The South Koreans are also interested in this process as are the Yanks but the apparently Aussies have zero interest. He definitely felt Oz lacks the will to embrace.

Later in the afternoon while drinking our latte, a true mark of a labour supporter and greenies everywhere, we met three young folks, one from Russia married to a Ukrainian woman travelling with a mate from Belarus.  The lad from the Ukraine had excellent English having working in Sweden, Estonia, Portugal and other places where English is the medium.  The future and the planet is indeed theirs, neither looking particularly good.  Wonderful to meet people from countries like this!

Back to Bonney- I couldn’t take my eyes off the young Russian man, so beautiful was he, with dark hair in a man- bun, olive complexion a beautiful profile and startlingly alive large hazel eyes. I absolutely thought he was Southern European. He and his wife  are staying in Canggu, (the so- called digital nomad capital of Bali) in the large house of a friend where they come each year for a couple of months to re- charge or did he say re-load?

Such an intelligent and lovely person, a vegan whose politic and social conscience matched ours. Interestingly, he is so disillusioned by world politics that he wants to absent himself totally.

This conversation followed on the heels of another with one of the guys, Wayan, working behind the bar here, again smart, treading lightly on the planet in his beliefs, with impressive English given he is self- taught, like our ‘daughter Wayan’, probably having had little education.

A lazy day today, we’ve really done nothing but eat, sleep (Jonny of course), swim (Bonney of course) and write. Early in the morning we have a clear view of Kintamani, one of Bali’s big volcanic mountains which blew some years ago coming very close to ‘our’Wayan’s parents land. Soon it disappears even in the absence of obvious cloud. It’s really too hot for me to do much so we take breakfast and light lunch here at Elephant. It is a wonderful place to sit with expansive views over the old rambling gardens, gully & ridge and we know and have fun with the wait-staff of whom we have favourites remembered from last visit. I envisaged that this time away would be a time for writing for me, both journal and poetry so am perfectly content to proceed with both.

Looking from the Elephant down to the old pool below and vice versa to the Elephant above,this is what most captivates me:

Greenery shudders in the still air,
my eyes and brain seek explanation
until I spot a furry thing streaking
down a banana leaf, tiny against 
the velvet expanse, tail delivering 
its semaphore message.

It leaps, confident in its momentum,
from rippled edge to frangipani, 
scurries across limbs gnarled as an 
old man, a diminutive speed-freak in 
its private playground.

I concentrate to keep apace.
Before my eyes, a virtuosic display of
aerial sportsmanship, a flying machine
airborne time and again as it scales 
the treetop heights then dashes down 
a sturdy yellow bamboo and out of sight.

Overhead, all shimmers 
slowly 
to stillness.

On our morning walk yesterday I saw a poster advertising jazz at a venue in our immediate area. Turns out it is part of Bridges restaurant of ‘casual fine dining set on seven levels overlooking the gently flowing Wos River, one of Ubud’s culinary destinations ideal for memorable dining’. We decided to indulge, knowing we would not spend the money for the equivalent at home. What a lovely evening. A fifteen-minute, still hot  walk down the steep main road, motorbikes whizzing by, to the Campuan Gorge bridge. We enter thru various staircases into several levels of white painted plantation-style-meets-Bali architecture overlooking exotic trees and plants far below and looking up to the bridge that crosses the gorge, really unusual. Impeccable and gracious service, gorgeous food after which we were escorted still further down into the jazz venue with the same densely tropical overlook with comfortable couches and chairs, a bar and first class modern Balinese jazz quartet led by a woman. In the small audience, was a blond Ozzie woman who could not stop talking for a minute and too loudly at that. Jon felt irritated enough to move and after another few minutes I followed suit. He leant over to a couple sitting next to him saying ‘don’t you hate dumb blondes’ which amuses them both. As soon as the silly couple left we charged back to the comfortable couch! In all quite a treat!

Feb. 5, To Market To Market,No Fat Pig But Other Observations

It’s hot,32C with only 67% humidity but, as they say, feels like 38!

The old boy spends most of his time, between feeds, lying reading on the bed in our air conditioned room but with the expansive view through plate glass, the outside is brought inside so he can pretend he is indeed there! The view is what we most love about this place. It’s an older establishment and ,like us, not slick and glitzy and the environment, likewise. It has a slightly overgrown wild feel about it and is just glorious. The place is full of Russians and young yoga maidens in their slightly inappropriate gear and plenty of, mostly artistic, tatts! Amusing, and takes me back to living in Rome aged twenty-two, wearing undoubtedly equally inappropriate clothes- mini-skirts/ dresses and wondering why the Italian men were hot for me!

Went into town after breakfast this morning to beat the heat, a seven-minute/$4 taxi ride, perused the large market,made a few small useful purchases, visited the one really good bookshop buying a Nobel prize winning  Ishiguro and the NYTimes. Depressed myself reading how the Far Right in Europe is now considered the New Normal, as opposed to twenty years ago when it first re-emerged amidst much protest. Not having TV is great, a break from the over- exposure to coronavirus and bushfire news, neither good.

RETURN TRIP TO BALI, FEB 2020

BALI BLOG 2020

Jan.31/Feb.1, 2020

You know the finally finally syndrome when for 2 days you tell yourself finally everything necessary has been done. Well, get thru that accompanied by the first decent rain in six months, 75 mm….will we get through to the airport OK? Having passed that hurdle, we arrive early  and try to understand the mumbled announcements about planes unable to land due to poor visibility.Cutting to the chase, our plane is cancelled and  we spend 6 hrs at our local airport awaiting the only other plane for that day, unsure as to whether it will make it. Suddenly the winged giant roars down the runway, ‘yeah’, I sing out, a lone voice amongst so many- oh that Anglo Saxon reserve gets me all the time! Luckily the late plane could accomodate us and packed to the gills, takes off. We spend three days in Jill and Al’s beautiful  river house in Murwillumbah for the usual catch- up with old besties from our farm days.

The background to this trip is the corona virus scare. All day in the overly air-conditioned airport and plane leaves Jon quite unwell for a couple of days just when reduced immune system matters most. Ah, the joys of travelling as an older person! Just in the nick of time he improves and, armed with pharmacy products, we have arrived safe and sound in Bali.

Arriving in Bali is fun. We are at the front of the plane queued to disembark, delayed waiting for a bus to the terminal. The  Captain stands right beside us and so we engage in what turns into quite a conversation. A friendly man, tall, lean, 40ish, I ask about his flying schedule & he tells us pilots love to surf while on layover and all rent motorbikes while here but the other crew are not permitted to do so. The idea that pilots are somehow better positioned than the other staff to survive the Kuta traffic on motorbikes amuses Jon.

Jon’s first trip to Bali was in the early ‘70’s when cows still roamed the sand streets of Kuta. My only stay in Kuta was with him maybe 20 yrs ago leaving me with abiding opposing impressions- delicious frog legs and our charming, frangipani-lined laneway, and the narrow crowded streets full motorbikes and cars and stalls with vulgar T- shirts and drunk young Ozzies. Nonetheless, as we are to arrive late at night, we decided to have two nights here and have a poke around. I booked a lovely hotel ( Adi Dharma, Kuta, recommended) for about $70 AUD which promised to be quiet. 

The taxi doglegs its way left and right from the airport for what seems a long time. In the throng of Kuta/Legian lined with small restaurants and people eating late, we finally turn off the narrow noisy street into our tiny laneway, instant quiet. The ubiquitous yellow frangipanis, many little shops, now closed, and several nice accomodations, ours being at the very end.

One almost forgets how beautiful this culture is so I am immediately enthralled as we turn into the property with its 3-storey, traditional style buildings surrounded by gardens, the usual open- sided, gleaming tiled reception area  furnished with traditional rich timber and the large adjacent  dining area. Generous room with two 3/4 beds, aircon, mini fridge & our own little balcony. And a great sleep! I include a photo of the hotel brochure showing the ‘usual/ unusual’ hazards of travelling here!

Breakfast is included but what a spread -fresh fruit salad, other salad items, three traditional Indonesian dishes, and egg area, a pancake area and seven young preparers and serving  men wearing  traditional sarong and head gear. The manageress, graceful and gracious, welcomes us and comes to talk to each patron.This is a large establishment, 100 rooms, 30 years old but I only realize this today when I scour the grounds arranged around a large pool where I sit writing.

We set out at 8 a.m to explore the immediate environment and beat the heat heading to Kuta beach, 10 minutes away. Our laneway is devoid of people, quiet and peaceful, too early for “morning price” quips Jonny & still a pleasant temperature.

Jon says if you want to know the value of your currency without reading the Wall Street journal or the Financial Times, the money exchangers have a much more realistic rate, a great barometer. As we near the beach, more little shops, mostly selling cheap clothes etc, are opening and then we arrive at the beach. It is a glory of wide flat sand, gently rolling surf and a wide treed strip, freshly raked and swept dotted with large umbrellas, little stalls with seats  and some tables.Vendors are selling drinks and fresh coconuts for juice. This extended area leads onto an area specialising in surf board rentals and lessons and the boards lean  clustered against tree trunks where squirrels scurry and scour the gelatinous insides of the coconuts wedged between branches for them.

Jon loves the T- shirt he sees on the drippingly hot way back to leap into the pool:’I’m not gay but $20 is $20’. I wasn’t quite as amused!

And as the afternoon proceeded, clouds gathered and just I managed to drag the man to the pool area, a rare event, it started to gently rain. Within a few minutes we moved to our little balcony off our room and watched the rain pour off the roof and drench the gardens below. We decided to eat ‘in’, dinner as excellent and authentic as the Indonesian selection at breakfast- cap cay ( mixed vegetables with seafood) and Soto Ayam (chicken soup on fine noodles with hard boiled egg on top), both really delicious.

The rain cooled everything down so immediately that we took a short stroll to the end of our now deserted little laneway chatting to a couple of indifferent typical stripes Balinese dogs en route. And so ended our short Kuta stay. We would do it again.

Feb.2, Ubud, Feels Like Coming Home!

We are back at Taman Indrakila where we stayed 18 mths ago a little out of the centre of Ubud so go out for dinner. Indus, the upmarket restaurant run by Australian Janet de Neefe (also,of Ubud Readers and Writers Festival and the Ubud Food Festival fame) is just up the road but undergoing renovations. The nearby temporary premises is part of the Writers Festival site and is as impressively beautiful as the ‘real’ one.  A huge open-sided space with high thatched ceilings finished with detailed Balinese carving, overlooks the gorge. Round timber tables with a Dutch colonial touch, candle lighting throughout, all surrounded by lush gardens create a plush exotic ambience.

Our delicious meal consists of tapas for two- two pieces each of sate stick mushrooms, fried chicken, tempe and mini spring roll accompanied by three little condiments in mini banana leaf trays- sate sauce, sweet pickled cucumber and spicy chilli dip. For mains,Jon chooses a Sumatran chicken coconut curry which is served in the coconut shell and I a balinese version of Sumatran jack fruit curry. I haven’t eaten jackfruit before and found it reminiscent in texture to eggplant, absorbing the flavour of the curry sauce and quite filling. Including two beers and a lime soda it came to about $20 per head which is expensive in Balinese terms but reasonable for what we ate. At a local Balinese place it cost approximately half this.

Nearby, two men, one extremely heavy set, are struggling for minutes trying to convey to the skilled waitress what they want.Clearly their English isn’t good. At last I step forward and ask if I may assist, understanding where the confusion lies. What language do you speak, I ask, Russian they reply. Oh I don’t speak Russian, but in no time have them sorted to get a large plate consisting only of prawns, only being the stumbling point, lost in translation. They are unnecessarily appreciative and gracious and Jon makes a gentle joke, they beam at us. This all repeated as we depart.

Internet access is sporadic here and makes one conscious of our absurd dependency on immediacy. Nonetheless, I want to check that we aren’t the only ones having difficulties, so ask a couple of younger women sitting their little balcony a few rooms up from us. The usual where are you from question comes from them and it transpires that the too are Russian and lively and engaging, one speaking better English than the other. Good to see they dont confirm our rather negative experiences of Russian travellers. As Jon says, in general Bali is so laid back that even the Russians are smiling! He feels this reflects more about Bali than about nationalities.

Feb 3. The Yellow Flower Cafe Walk And General Delights

No rain last night so we decide to beat the heat and take a morning walk before breakfast. Let’s do the Yellow Flower Cafe/ rice field walk I brightly suggest and am delighted that Jon agrees. In his words: Early morning walk following my leader who knows where and how to navigate through the winding pathways around the back lanes. As it is fairly early shops still closed but Westerners emerging from their digs going to yoga, mostly women of various ages, long hair of a type going to do the downward dog and other tricks.  They appear to be recovering from failed relationships,my vibe, and are probably bitter and twisted, much like the men in our home neighbourhood.

 As it was fairly early…shops still closed but Westerners emerging from their digs going to yoga..mostly women of various ages…long hair of a type going to do the downward dog and other tricks.  They appear to be recovering from failed relationships…my vibe and are probably bitter and twisted….much like the men in our neighbourhood.  In general the place is so laid back and even the Russians are smiling.  

Having written in detail about it in my 2018 Bali diary, I won’t elaborate much except to reiterate that to me this walk is the quintessential Bali, and to comment on changes and people. As it’s wet season, the verges of the narrow concrete path are quite overgrown, several new buildings and little cafes have popped up, all charming. It is amazing to see so many new eating places, also along our main Campuan road. One wonders how everyone eeks out a living especially as tourism has been down. Due the coronavirus scare, the Chinese tourists have stopped. As they come in large numbers, I worry that this would have a huge impact on their fragile economy so asked our taxi yesterday driver, an intelligent man we have used before. He, like Jon, feels it is not so, because the Chinese, as in Australia, stay in hotels and eat in restaurants etc wonder by Chinese and hence not much of their spending here would benefit the local economy.

If you have never visited Bali, it is difficult to convey how dominant the aesthetics of this place is, how surrounded by beauty one is everywhere- from the larger scale of the landscaping of grounds and traditional architecture, to the smallest detail of small offerings on the ground, tiny personal temples, walls decorated with Hindu sculptural icons, huge pots filled with plants carefully placed, the traditional clothes worn not only for ceremony but by wait staff and hotel staff at ‘better’ establishments and so on. All the sweating and heat is worth it! And now I am off to leap in the pool at the bottom terrace of the vast grounds of Taman Indrakila, good compensation for the lack of soap in the soap dispenser or the fact that the room boy forgot to replace the hand towel he removed or wipe the taps to sparkle. 

Our room, same as last time, is at the end of the terraced path with the small offering temple next to it and has sliding plate glass doors across the front and two large windows on the external wall all of which overlooks the terraced gardens, palms,frangipanis,crotons, banana palms cascading down the slope and disappearing into the ravine from which the eye is led up the other side to the palm filled Campuan Ridge. At any time of day you can see a trickle of people walking along the ridge-walk path. If it’s too hot outside, you could lie on the huge bed in the aircon, as Jon does, and overlook all of this.

Just to let you know I am struggling a bit with internet access and technology here so will have to add relevant photos later, maybe after the one month trip is complete, so check back in the site again if interested.