Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Autumn weekend in Wellington

With the forecast looking grim and a birthday to celebrate we had a think about a place to eat out on a miserable Wellington Friday night. After pondering for a while we decided our money would be better spent buying some seafood, grabbing a bottle of wine and heading to the Rimutaka Forest Park to camp for the night. With the wind blowing a gale and showers passing through we cooked our feast of scallops, blue cod, prawns and squid and supped on red wine and a wee whiskey before slipping into our sleeping bags.

The following day we were off to do some tramping and then to camp for a second night. After managing to pack up without getting wet we headed off for a day of tramping. The weather wasn't great - pretty wet but not too cold. The foliage looked much greener with a bit of rain on it.

The following morning dawned calm and sunny - just in time for Mother's Day. No breakfast in bed for me! After packing up our campsite it was a short walk back to the carpark. After a bit of discussion about what I'd like to do for Mother's Day we ended up at Petone Beach with some lovely grilled fish and chips in the sun for lunch. 

A perfect weekend!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Time out in Bali

I've just returned from a week in Bali - a trip that was my celebration for turning 50 in March. I had always planned that my 50th would be celebrated by climbing a mountain. Unfortunately a tramping accident resulting in a broken sacrum put paid to that idea happening any time soon. So, instead, a week in Bali. I'd never been to Bali before. In fact, the only place in Asia I had visited previously was Japan. When planning this trip to Asia I'd considered Malaysia, Thailand and Bali - obviously Bali won!

I flew into Denpasar on Sunday afternoon after transiting through Brisbane (about 9 hours flying time all up). My initial impressions were of warmth (yay!), crowds and chaos. Luckily I was met at the airport and whisked away to a friend's place near Canggu. After winding down a little we headed off to Canggu Plaza for dinner at Trattoria Canggu for a meal of pasta accompanied by a couple of delicious mojitos. The place we were staying is a large compound which houses the main family house, a training centre and several wooden villas.
Pool at Canggu house
Our room was in a delightfully rustic villa which had two other vacant bedrooms. After an early night we were up at around 7 and headed down to the beach (5-10 minutes walk away) for some body-surfing before breakfast.

Our morning beach
With some help we organised a rental scooter for the week and then headed off on a bit of a tiki tour to see what we could see. After the first few minutes of feeling terrified on the back of the scooter I managed to relax and go with the flow. The traffic was super-busy and there is an apparent lack of any road rules. If the traffic slows down the scooters weave through the cars and trucks utilising whatever flat surface there is - often on footpaths. Intersections proved interesting - loads of horn tooting but all amazingly friendly. We never saw anyone get angry or aggressive over the week we rode around Bali. Our first afternoon ended at a cafe on a beach in the Seminyak area. Relaxing in bean bags on the beach was a nice way to end the day.
Beach at Seminyak
That night we headed off to a nearby surf beach to Dian cafe for barbequed snapper and salad for dinner.

The following morning (Tuesday) we packed a few things up and headed off on an adventure. We borrowed a compass from our friend and headed north. After sticking to back streets / roads we made our way to Ubud. This area is known for its crafts and also has a monkey temple and elephant riding etc close by. Of course the area is teeming with tourists so we ate lunch at a small warung and then jumped back on the bike to continue our journey north.
Our lunch spot in Ubud
The road we took to leave Ubud was lined on both sides by numerous craft shops as well as terraced ride paddies. It was crazy busy! We didn't stop along here as the craft shops seemed to be full off quite junky looking touristy stuff rather than anything particularly authentic e.g. mirror-mosaic dolphins etc.

From Ubud we started to climb and climb towards Penelokan, a small town with a great view of Mt Batur and Danau Batur (Bali's largest lake). On the way we called in to a fruit stall on the side of the road where we bought some bananas, passionfruit and mangosteen. I'd never heard of or tasted mangosteen before but it's now my favourite fruit. Such a shame we can't buy them in New Zealand! The fruit has a dark purple skin and white segments of fruit inside. I can't think of any other fruit I can compare the taste to but, they're delicious.
We stopped at Penelokan for a cup of tea and enjoyed the view of the volcano and lake. The volcano erupted in 1994 and you could still clearly see the lava flow.

Mt Batur
From here we climbed a bit higher before turning off the main road and heading to the coast. It had been quite cold up in the hills so it was a relief to descend down into warmer air. The side road we took wound its way down the hills, through tiny villages until we reached the coast once more. By now it was dark so we started to keep an eye out for some accommodation. We called into one place where we shown a villa we could stay in for the night for a cost of about $100 - way more than we were willing to pay. We carried on for a while before we spotted Marputu Restaurant (in the Bukti district), a cafe along the beachfront that had a banner proclaiming that accommodation was coming soon. On a hunch we called in there to find that their accommodation was open and available (they were waiting for delivery of a new banner!). We were the second group of people to use their guestrooms. The price for the night here was around $40 a night. This was still pricier than what we were looking for but we decided to stay there as it was getting late.
Our home for the night in Bukti
The following morning we swam in the sea, had breakfast at the restaurant and then headed off along the coast towards Singaraja and Lovina. The road along the coastline was a bit rougher than those we had ridden on previously so we needed to keep an eye out for the best path through the numerous potholes. As we entered Singaraja we rode past a large supermarket so decided to "go round the block" to get back to it. Sadly this was more difficult than we expected and, at one stage, we ended up riding along a little track through rice paddies - awesome fun. Eventually we got back to the supermarket and called in to pick up a few supplies. We drove through Singaraja and Lovina before stopping at the beach for a drink (papaya juice - delish!). Today we had the best meal of the entire holiday. We stumbled across a small warung where you could choose your own whole fish from a big bin which they then barbequed and served with rice and vegetables. This place was real back to basics with the meal eaten with no cutlery and you sat cross-legged at little raised tables. The fish was perfectly spiced and cooked.
Fresh fish for lunch
We then headed off to look for a place to stay. We called in to a few places before finding a room at Bagus homestay for about $30. Bagus is right on the beach so we were pretty happy about that - until we went to go for a swim before dinner and found that the sea was so full of rubbish we couldn't stomach swimming in it. Luckily there was a swimming pool at Bagus which provided us a clean place to splosh around and cool down.
Rice paddies across the road from Bagus homestay
We saw a sign up the road to a Buddhist temple so zipped up the hill to have a look around.
Buddhist temple
Lotus flowers in a pond at the Buddhist temple
Sunset at Bagus homestay
We headed out on foot to find somewhere for dinner. Sadly the local warungs were closed for the night so we ended up at a restaurant at another accommodation place owned by some Germans. The food and service were both average - the most disappointing meal of the holiday. The following morning we went and had another look at the beach which was surprisingly rubbish-free so had a dip as the sun came up. After breakfast we were back on the road, headed back to the south coast through the mountains. As we climbed into the mountains we took the time to stop for a few photos along the way.
Terraced rice paddies up in the mountains
Lake Tamblingan on the right and Lake Buyan on the left
As we drove from Lake Tamblingan to Lake Buyan we descended down quite a steep hill where we spotted several monkeys on the side of the road. Sadly I missed getting photos of them. As we continued to descend we decided to take a side road to avoid the traffic. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as there had been some sort of a celebration at a nearby temple so the roads were full of trucks and motorbikes as the event had just finished. We called into a small warung for some lunch before carrying on our way back to Canggu.

Friday was to be our last full day in Bali so we spent a bit of time shopping after the usual swim in the morning. We had a massage at a place close to where we were staying. It cost about $6 for an hour - I wish it was that cheap at home. The massage was fantastic - just deep enough to work out some knotty bits but relaxing enough too. That night we ate out at a restaurant built around it's own lake. Most of the tables were set into individual pavilions where you sit cross-legged on the floor.
Fish restaurant on the lake
There was also a little landing where you could sit with your feet in the water and feed the numerous fish in the lake. We ate a variety of different fish dishes here accompanied with rice and vegetables. Dessert of durian icecream followed - that's an acquired taste which I have not yet acquired. Blergh!

Saturday dawned bright and sunny (as it did every day!) so we headed off for our last morning body surf at the local beach before having breakfast and getting ourselves packed up ready for departure. I wasn't flying out until later that night so headed off to Seminyak for a bit of shopping and wandering around by myself. After finishing off my packing I hopped into the taxi to the airport. Here is a little trap for visitors to Bali. The driver asked me "Price or meter?". I asked him what his price was and he told me it would cost 150,000 rupiahs. Knowing that the price should be more like 80,000 rupiah I went with "meter". We were stuck in heavy traffic for a lot of the way to the airport and I wondered if my choice had been the wrong one. Eventually we got to the airport and the meter showed....... 81,000 rupiah! So glad I went with the choice I did. 80,000 rupiah is about $10 (NZD). Not bad for an hour taxi ride. When I went to pay the driver with a 100,000 rupiah note he declared he had no change. I dug around in my bag and managed to come up with exactly 81,000 rupiah - he looked rather annoyed at that so I reckon his "no change" was an attempt at getting me to pay more. Anyway, I'm glad I didn't get totally ripped off by him.

I was at the airport in plenty of time to check in. Lucky I was, as it took over an hour to get to the check in counter with a very long queue.

In summary, Bali as a holiday destination is great. You can dine and stay there cheaply. Meals at local warungs usually cost around $3 - $4. A lot of places make fresh juice - my favourite is papaya juice. I don't think I missed a day of having papaya juice at least once. The easiest way of getting around is on a scooter - you don't get held up in traffic, they're cheap to hire and cheap to run. Fuel is readily available and is cheap - around 50cents a litre. If the heat on the coast is too much for you, head inland into the hills - much cooler there. Most days the temperature on the coast was in the low thirties - up in the hills it's more like the low twenties.

And now? I'm back in wintry Wellington. A difference of about 20 degrees in temperature, loads of rain and cold wind. Ugh! I need to find a good recipe for nasi goreng - I ate this almost every day, either for breakfast or for lunch.

The trip makes me wonder if I can find a business analyst role where I can work remotely. I can just see myself in a little villa by the sea in Bali getting my work done after my morning swim. I can dream, right?