Disclaimer; if you’re the type of holidaymaker who loves boozing in Kuta, yelling ACDC songs while wearing a Bintang singlet, the following is not for you.
With trepidation I left for my second holiday to the Australian “Mecca of Boganality”, Bali (not the Gold Coast during Schoolies). It wasn’t for the cheap beer and mammoth hangovers this time; I wanted to avoid my country persons and do what they don’t.
Fortunately, with forward thinking and preparation, Bali Mark 2 eclipsed the first.
I chose Nusa Dua to bed down. It provided distance from said “bogan areas” and a relaxing hideaway. Interestingly, locals smile more in Nusa Dua – that happens when not slaving (as much) to King Bazza from the lands of Australia West.
Kuta can still be reached by taxi for 160,000 rupiah (approx $16.00 AUS) if the booze or shopping bug hits (careful though, don’t confuse that bug with Bali belly) and it only takes about 25 minutes.
Nusa Dua’s draw card is its beach. Clear, clean and swim-able and its sands are free of beggars and beach entrepreneurs – who wants a penis shaped bottle opener anyway?
After a day or two of the ‘gnarly’ beach lifestyle it was time to explore.
With little effort (thank god as I was stressed after two days on the beach), I found myself hightailing it to Bali Zoo for their Night at the Zoo, which runs throughout the year and is worth a visit.
In a small collective we wondered the grounds talking to staff about their programs to rehabilitate and populate endangered species and it’s all done minus the animals (in this case I mean the screaming kids – huge bonus), for the record there’s no shortage of real animals – Sumatran tigers being a highlight.
I fell madly in love with Anna, the elephant. She ate corn out of my hand and did it with more grace than some humans. I also played with a Binturong (Bear cat), a baby crocodile and a fluro yellow python.
After the tour came dinner and it wasn’t your average buffet. While dining I was treated to traditional fire dancing which brought a cultural perspective to end the evening. A few days later, I achieved a goal: attending the Anika Balinese Cooking Class. Simply amazing – heaven in a mortar and pestle.
The day started with a chef chaperoning us through a (locals only) food market. Food markets are where Southeast Asia comes alive; the hawker food, the intriguing vegetables and fruit, the aroma, colour and sounds make for an experience seldom seen in Australia – largely to do with our OH&S obsession.
I was inspired to get my “iron chef” on. They teach the intricacies of Balinese cuisine and give you the knowledge (and cook book) of how to prepare it – start to finish. The menu consisted of: Grilled fish in banana leaves, Beef satay, Chicken curry, Spinach in tomato-chilli sambal, Gado-gado, Nasi goreng, Carrot and cucumber salad, Fresh sambal and Green pancakes with coconut, and Black rice pudding.
After stuffing my guts like a kid at Smorgys, I went for a massage in their facilities a short walk down the road. The service was professional, and the only time I’ve fallen asleep, due to being relaxed and not fearful of a “surprise rub-n-tug”.
With newfound flexibility the next day I threw myself, two wheeled, down a rather steep trail – from Mount Batur, and active volcano, to Ubud with Infinity Mountain Biking.I raced across 35 kms of thick jungle foliage on little traversed or visual tracks, through villages filled with friendly schoolkids who happily sang out “hello” and wanted high-fives as we rode past, over rice fields bursting with vibrant green hills, precise symmetry and farmers patiently attending to their crop with ancient tools.
This was it, the Bali that needs to be experienced. Free of tourists, cheap merchandise and the oppressive humidity, as the mountain air provides coolness; as rare in Bali as sophistication in a Kuta pub.
On my final night, Jimbaran Bay offered me seafood straight from the ocean a mere one hundred meters away. For roughly $40 AUS, Bawang Merah Beachfront Restaurant serves stunning and delicious seafood; a huge lobster tail, whole red snapper, three large prawns, three squid skewers, rice and condiments. Find a place in Australia that would do that so cheaply.
The view made the seafood even better. Watching the sun fade over a rolling ocean as the restaurants fire-lamps took control and fishing boats swayed in to shore. To entertain further, Balinese dancers, in traditional dress and make-up, showed perfect ngumbang and lelok skill to a delighted audience. This was magic.I simply can’t agree; Bali is not a wrecked paradise for the Bogan elite.
Here’s a challenge, get out of tourist traps and you will surprise yourself – Selamat Menikmati.
This article first appeared in The Australia Times Travel magazine.