Welcome to Bali!

Day 421 – 25 April, 2016

For the first time since I started this journey, having a flight disruption turned out to be a good thing. From Day One, my philosophy has been such that I wouldn’t worry when travel was delayed or cancelled or I missed a connection. Why should I worry or get worked up when I never had anywhere that I needed to be? I was due to fly to Bali on Sunday night, meeting Krystal and Sarah at our accommodation on Monday morning after their flight had arrived. On Sunday morning, Air Asia informs me that my flight time has been changed to the wee hours of Monday. Not a delay, but a deliberate change. I had booked the Sunday night flight because it was cheaper, but had also realized it was completely inconvenient to go a day before the other two so when Air Asia opened up the door for me to negotiate a new flight free of charge, I took full advantage to sync up my itinerary with my friends.

Collectively arriving at Denpasar International Airport on Monday morning, the three of us jumped in a car bound for Seminyak. Seminyak is known as one of the trendier upscale beach towns on the west coast of the island and we checked into our cozy modern bungalow just steps from the beach scene. Bali is one of those places that you fantasize about. You think it’s going to be a tropical paradise with umbrella drinks and white sand beaches where you can throw your feet up to relax. You think the locals will greet you with a wide smile and a traditional blessing as a welcome to their island. The reality is not like that at all. My first impression of Bali was that it was congested, overpopulated, chaotic, dirty and loud. My second impression was there were more tourists than locals.

Sorry, I know this is the unpopular opinion. People love Bali. And by no means do I want to take away from an incredibly fun week with Krystal and Sarah or to tarnish Sarah’s one big vacation for the year. Once we were sealed behind the gates of our charming hotel it held the illusion of an idyllic island. Villa Blubambu had impeccable service, a top rate breakfast served to order, and high end amenities and was a perfect hideaway from the outside world. However, we spent our first afternoon on Seminyak Beach. I was in the unfortunate mind of comparing this beach to Thai beaches I had been to recently and sadly, I was underwhelmed. The sand was coarse and gritty. The waves were downright devilish that only a surfer could appreciate. The water was an opaque blue, quite unlike the aquamarine in Thailand. I don’t love being in the position to compare apples to oranges. I want to appreciate each place for its unique position on Earth. Apparently, my ugly cynicism is a direct byproduct of being well-traveled and I apologize for bursting anyone’s honeymoon bubble or your nine-to-five daydream.

Seminyak did have some redeeming qualities. The shopping was above anything else I had seen in Asia. The restaurant quality was also top end considering all the competition. You could still get a cheap massage on the beach as we all enjoyed immensely. And the locals did, in fact, greet you with a smile, although in the tourist parts, I got the impression that they only were interested in seeing how thick your wallet might be. (Later, I did meet some lovely locals but outside of the tourist zone!)

A side trip to Uluwatu Temple took us to the far southern tip of the island for a stunning sunset. This was a highlight for me. I’m a sucker for a sunset and this one did not disappoint. We hired a private driver who warned us about the monkey problem and then we were reminded every 10 minutes or so via a loudspeaker to stay vigilant of the monkeys. Don’t flaunt sunglasses or cell phones or keys because they are thieving little bastards (or something to that effect). We walked the length of the viewing platform that followed the cliff’s edge, taking in the view of waves crashing below in a light that faded from vibrant red to orange to a pale yellow. Power in numbers, the monkeys stayed at bay.   I slightly regret that we didn’t stay for the touristy traditional dance performance in conjunction with the sunset only because I believed I would have the opportunity to see one of these shows at another time, although I never did.

One night we had dinner at La Luciolla. Krystal and Sarah had massages and some shopping to do while I hung behind, but we had plans to meet at the restaurant for sunset. To get there, I took a pleasant walk along the beach. The tide had gone out so the waves were much further out and much quieter. The reflection of the setting sun on the small pools left behind was picturesque and magical. I wished that the girls were with me so they could see how beautiful it was. I arrived to the restaurant about five minutes early, but the sun was already low. I was seated on an upper level, although I was still alone. I made several trips to a better vantage point to snap some photos. Krystal and Sarah arrived after the sun was already gone. They had been stuck in a traffic jam….because this is Bali and it does traffic jams really well. I didn’t mind that they were late, but I only wished they could have seen the beautiful view.

Dinner was phenomenal.  I don’t even remember what I ate, but it didn’t matter.   It was a celebration of friendship and the wine was flowing copiously.  After dinner, we even ordered shots of Limoncello. Somehow, I think I did at least two of those shots after Sarah turned up her nose? I don’t know, the details are kind of fuzzy.

Krystal left one day before Sarah and I did, but we decided to spend the last day together at Tanah Lot, a rock formation that is home to another temple a bit further up the western coast of the island. The tide had come in and the rocks were separated by a wide pool of foamy water, the waves crashing on the side. Of course, this didn’t deter many camera-wielding tourists to wade out and try to reach the far outcropping. Meanwhile, the girls and I watched the brave pilgrims on the other side. On the way back from Tanah Lot, our driver took us to a Luwak coffee farm. The luwak is a small weasel type creature who has been known to eat coffee beans and in a rather intensive process, his coffee bean droppings are then collected and turned into luwak coffee. This type of coffee is extremely expensive at $3000/kg and after a sample, I can confirm that it is indeed creamier than traditional coffee, but not worth keeping the little creatures in a cage to harvest their poop. Vietnam has a similar process and I can’t get behind this sad tradition.

Sadly, Krystal left later that day and Sarah and I spent one last night together on the beach. We parked at one of the brightly colored bean bag setups right on the heart of the beach. It was perfect for people-watching and another sunset to add to our collection. Having these two friends share a part of my journey and help to create such wonderful memories was a blessing that will be difficult to match. Until next time, friends!  

*I wrote this entire post while a large gray haired biker dude stared at me from the adjacent table in the Czech Republic. Theoretically, this would make it hard to concentrate, but nothing a little beer can’t fix. Luckily, CR does beer well.

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